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Of the polity, rule, or discipline of the church in general.
I. The things last treated of concern the essence of the church, or the essential constituent parts of it, according unto the appointment 31of Christ. It remains, in the next place, that we should treat of it as it is organical, or a body corporate, a spiritually political society, for the exercise of the powers wherewith it is intrusted by Christ, and the due performance of the duties which he requires. Now, whereas it is brought into this estate by the setting, fixing, or placing officers in it, method would require that we should first treat of them, their nature, names, power, and the ways of coming unto their offices; but whereas all things concerning them are founded in the grant of power unto the church itself, and the institution of polity and rule therein by Jesus Christ, I shall first treat somewhat thereof in general.
That which we intend, on various considerations and in divers respects, is called the power or authority, the polity, the rule, the government, and the discipline of the church. The formal nature of it is its authority or power; its polity is skill and wisdom to act that power unto its proper ends; its rule is the actual exercise of that power, according unto that skill and wisdom; its government is the exercise and application of that authority, according unto that skill, towards those that are its proper objects; and it is called its discipline principally with respect unto its end. Yet is it not material whether these things are thus accurately distinguished; the same thing is intended in them all, which I shall call the rule of the church.
II. The rule of the church is, in general, the exercise of the power or authority of Jesus Christ, given unto it, according unto the laws and directions prescribed by himself, unto its edification. This power in actu primo, or fundamentally, is in the church itself; in actu secundo, or its exercise, in them that are especially called thereunto. Whether that which is now called the rule of the church by some, being a plain secular dominion, have any affinity hereunto, is justly doubted. That it is in itself the acting of the authority of Christ, wherein the power of men is ministerial only, is evident: for, — 1. All this authority in and over the church is vested in him alone; 2. It is over the souls and consciences of men only, which no authority can reach but his, and that as it is his; whereof we shall treat more afterward.
III. This is the especial nature and especial end of all power granted by Jesus Christ unto the church, namely, a ministry unto edification, in opposition unto all the ends whereunto it hath been abused; for it hath been so unto the usurpation of a dominion over the persons and consciences of the disciples of Christ, accompanied with secular grandeur, wealth, and power. The Lord Christ never 32made a grant of any authority for any such ends, yea, they are expressly forbidden by him, Luke xxii. 25, 26; Matt. xx. 25–28, “Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
All the pleas of the Romanists are utterly insufficient to secure their papal domination from this sword of the mouth of the Lord Jesus; for whereas their utmost pretence and defence consists in this, that it is not dominion and power absolutely that is forbidden, but the unlawful, tyrannical, oppressive exercise of power, such as was in use among the princes of the Gentiles, never was there any dominion in the world, no, not among the Gentiles, more cruel, oppressive, and bloody than that of the pope’s hath been. But it is evident that our Lord Jesus Christ doth not in the least reflect on the rule or government of the kings and princes of the Gentiles, which was good and gracious; yea, he speaks of them in an especial manner whom their subjects, for their moderate and equal rule, with their usefulness unto their countries, called εὐεργέται, or “benefactors.” Their rule, as unto the kind and administration of it in the kingdoms of the world, he approves of. And such a power or pre-eminence it was, — namely, good and just in itself, not tyrannical and oppressive, — that the two disciples desired in his kingdom; which gave occasion unto this declaration of the nature of his kingdom and the rule thereof. For in this power or dominion two things may be considered:— 1. The exercise of it over the persons, goods, and lives of men, by courts, coercive jurisdictions, processes of law, and external force in punishments; 2. The state, grandeur, pre-eminence, wealth, exaltation above others, which are necessary unto the maintenance of their authority and power. Both these, in the least participation of them, in the least degree whatever, are forbidden by our Saviour to be admitted in his kingdom, or to have any place therein, on what pretence soever. He will have nothing of lordship, domination, pre-eminence in lordly power, in his church. No courts, no coercive jurisdictions, no exercise of any human authority, doth he allow therein; for by these means do the princes of the Gentiles, those that are the benefactors of their countries, rule among them. And this is most evident from what, in opposition hereunto, he prescribes unto his own disciples, the greatest, the best in office, grace, and gifts, namely, a ministry only to be discharged in the way of service. How well this great command and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ hath been, and is, complied withal by those who have taken on them to be rulers in the church is sufficiently known.
33Wherefore there is no rule of the church but what is ministerial, consisting in an authoritative declaration and application of the commands and will of Christ unto the souls of men; wherein those who exercise it are servants unto the church for its edification, for Jesus’ sake, 2 Cor. iv. 5.
It hence follows that the introduction of human authority into the rule of the church of Christ, in any kind, destroyeth the nature of it, and makes his kingdom to be of this world, and some of his disciples to be, in their measure, like the princes of the Gentiles; nor is it, ofttimes, from themselves that they are not more like them than they are. The church is the house of Christ, his family, his kingdom. To act any power, in its rule, which is not his, which derives not from him, which is not communicated by his legal grant; or to act any power by ways, processes, rules, and laws, not of his appointment, — is an invasion of his right and dominion. It can no otherwise be, if the church be his family, his house, his kingdom; for what father would endure that any power should be exercised in his family, as to the disposal of his children and estate, but his own? what earthly prince will bear with such an intrusion into his rights and dominion? Foreign papal power is severely excluded here in England, because it intrenches on the rights of the crown, by the exercise of an authority and jurisdiction not derived from the king, according unto the law of the land; and we should do well to take care that at the same time we do not encroach upon the dominion of Christ by the exercise of an authority not derived from him, or by laws and rules not enacted by him, but more foreign unto his kingdom than the canon law or the pope’s rule is unto the laws of this nation, lest we fall under the statute of præmunire, Matt. xx. 25–28. The power of rule in the church, then, is nothing but a right to yield obedience unto the commands of Christ, in such a way, by such rules, and for such ends, as wherein and whereby his authority is to be acted.
The persons concerned in this rule of the church, both those that rule and those that are to be ruled, as unto all their civil and political concerns in this world, are subject unto the civil government of the kingdoms and places wherein they inhabit, and there are sundry things which concern the outward state and condition of the church that are at the disposal of the governors of this world; but whereas the power to be exercised in the church is merely spiritual as unto its objects, which are the consciences of men, and as unto its ends, which are the tendency of their souls unto God, their spiritual obedience in Christ, and eternal life, it is a frenzy to dream of any other power or authority in this rule but that of Christ alone.
To sum up this discourse: If the rulers of the church, the greatest of them, have only a ministerial power committed unto them, and are precisely limited thereunto; if in the exercise thereof they are 34servants of the church unto its edification; if all lordly domination, in an exaltation above the church or the members of it in dignity and authority of this world, and the exercise of power by external, coercive jurisdiction, be forbidden unto them; if the whole power and rule of the church be spiritual and not carnal, mighty through God and not through the laws of men, and be to be exercised by spiritual means for spiritual ends only, — it is apparent how it hath been cast in or cast out of the world, for the introduction of a lordly domination, a secular, coercive jurisdiction, with laws and powers no way derived from Christ, in the room thereof. Neither is it possible for any man alive to reconcile the present government of some churches, either as unto the officers who have the administration of that rule, or the rules and laws whereby they act and proceed, or the powers which they exercise, or the jurisdiction which they claim, or the manner of their proceeding in its administration, unto any tolerable consistency with the principles, rules, and laws of the government of the church given by Christ himself. And this alone is a sufficient reason why those who endeavour to preserve their loyalty entire unto Jesus Christ should, in their own practice, seek after the reduction of the rule of the church unto his commands and appointments. In the public disposals of nations we have no concernment.
IV. Whereas, therefore, there is a power and authority for its rule unto edification given and committed by the Lord Christ unto his church, I shall proceed to inquire how this power is communicated, what it is, and to whom it is granted; which shall be declared in the ensuing observations:—
1. There was an extraordinary church-power committed by the Lord Jesus Christ unto his apostles, who in their own persons were the first and only subject of it. It was not granted unto the church, by it to be communicated unto them, according unto any rules prescribed thereunto; for their office, as it was apostolical, was antecedent unto the existence of any gospel church-state, properly so called, neither had any church the least concurrence or influence into their call or mission. Howbeit, when there was a church-state, the churches being called and gathered by their ministry, they were given unto the church, and placed in the church for the exercise of all office with power, unto their edification, according to the rules and laws of their constitution, Acts i. 14, 15, etc., vi. 1–4; 1 Cor. iii. 22, xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11–15.
2. This power is ceased in the church. It is so, not by virtue of any law or constitution of Christ, but by a cessation of those actings whence it did flow and whereon it did depend. For unto this apostolical office and power there were required, — (1.) An immediate personal call from Christ himself; (2.) A commission equally extensive unto all nations, for their conversion, and unto all churches 35equally, for their edification; (3.) An authority in all churches, comprehensive of all that power which is, in the ordinary constitution of them, distributed among many; (4.) A collation of extraordinary gifts, as of infallibility in teaching, of working miracles, speaking with tongues, and the like. Whereas, therefore, all these things do cease, and the Lord Christ doth not act in the same manner towards any, this office and power doth absolutely cease. For any to pretend themselves to be successors unto these apostles, as some with a strange confidence and impertinency have done, is to plead that they are personally and immediately called by Christ unto their office, that they have authority with respect unto all nations and all churches, and are endued with a spirit of infallibility and a power of working miracles; whereof outward pomp and ostentation are no sufficient evidences: and certainly when some of them consider one another, and talk of being the apostles’ successors, it is but “Aruspex aruspicem.”2020 An allusion to a saying of Cicero respecting soothsayers: “Mirabile videtur quod non rideat aruspex cùm aruspicem viderit.” — De Nat. Deor. lib. i., cap. xxvi.; and De Divina lib. ii., cap. xxiv. — Ed.
3. Least of all, in the ordinary state of the church, and the continuation thereof, hath the Lord Christ appointed a vicar, or rather, as is pretended, a successor, with a plenitude of all church-power, to be by him parcelled out unto others, This is that which hath overthrown all church rule and order, introducing Luciferian pride and antichristian tyranny in their room. And whereas the only way of Christ’s acting his authority over the churches, and of communicating authority unto them, to be acted by them in his name, is by his word and Spirit, which he hath given to continue in his church unto that end unto the consummation of all things, the pope of Rome placing himself in his stead for these ends, doth thereby “sit in the temple of God, and show himself to be God.” But this is sufficiently confuted among all sober Christians; and those who embrace it may be left to contend with the Mohammedans, who affirm that Jesus left John the Baptist to be his successor, as Ali succeeded unto Mohammed.
4. All those by whom the ordinary rule of the church is to be exercised unto its edification are, as unto their office and power, given unto the church, set or placed in it, not as “lords of their faith, but as helpers of their joy,” 1 Cor. ii. 3, iii. 21–23; 2 Cor. i. 24; Eph. iv. 11–15; 1 Pet. v. 1, 2: for the church is the spouse of Christ, the Lamb’s wife, and, by virtue of that relation, the enfeoffment into this power is her due and dowry. All particular persons are but her servants for Christ’s sake; for though some of them be stewards, and set over all their fellow-servants, yet he hath not given them the trust of power to rule his spouse at their own will, and to grant what they please unto her.
365. But as this whole church-power is committed unto the whole church by Christ, so all that are called unto the peculiar exercise of any part of it, by virtue of office-authority, do receive that authority from him by the only way of the communication of it, — namely, by his word and Spirit, through the ministry of the church; whereof we shall treat afterward.
V. These things being thus premised in general concerning church-power, we must treat yet particularly of the communication of it from Christ, and of its distribution as unto its residence in the church:—
1. Every individual believer hath power or right given unto him, upon his believing, to become a son of God, John i. 12. Hereby, as such, he hath a right and title radically and originally unto, with an interest in, all church-privileges, to be actually possessed and used according to the rules by him prescribed; for he that is a son of God hath a right unto all the privileges and advantages of the family of God, as well as he is obliged unto all the duties of it. Herein lies the foundation of all right unto Church-power; for both it and all that belongs unto it are a part of the purchased inheritance, whereunto right is granted by adoption. Wherefore the first, original grant of all church power and privileges is made unto believers as such. Theirs it is, with these two limitations:— (1.) That as such only they cannot exercise any church-power but upon their due observation of all rules and duties given unto this end; such are joint confession and confederation. (2.) That each individual do actually participate therein, according to the especial rules of the church, which peculiarly respects women that do believe.
2. Wherever there are “two or three” of these believers (the smallest number), right or power is granted unto them actually to meet together in the name of Christ for their mutual edification; whereunto he hath promised his presence among them, Matt. xviii. 19, 20. To meet and to do any thing in the name of Christ, as to exhort, instruct, and admonish one another, or to pray together, as verse 19, there is an especial right or power required thereunto. This is granted by Jesus Christ unto the least number of consenting believers. And this is a second preparation unto the communication of church-power. Unto the former faith only is required; unto this, profession, with mutual consent unto and agreement in the evangelical duties mentioned, are to be added.
3. Where the number of believers is increased so as that they are sufficient, as unto their number, to observe and perform all church-duties in the way and manner prescribed for their performance, they have right and power granted unto them to make a joint solemn confession of their faith, especially as unto the person of Christ and his mediation, Matt. xvi. 16–18; as also to give up themselves unto him and to one another, in a holy agreement or confederation to do 37and observe all things whatever that he hath commanded. Hereon, by virtue of his laws in his institutions and commands, he gives them power to do all things in their order which he grants unto his church, and instates them in all the rights and privileges thereof. These believers, I say, thus congregated into a church-state, have immediately, by virtue thereof, power to take care that all things be done among them as by the Lord Christ they are commanded to be done in and by his church.
This, therefore, is the church essential and homogeneal, unto which the Lord Christ hath granted all that church-power which we inquire after, made it the seat of all ordinances of his worship, and the tabernacle wherein he will dwell; nor, since the ceasing of extraordinary officers, is there any other way possible for the congregating of any church than what doth virtually include the things we have mentioned.
4. But yet this church-state is not complete, nor are the ends of its institution attainable in this state, for the Lord Christ hath appointed such things in and unto it which in this state it cannot observe; for he hath given authority unto his church, to be exercised both in its rule and in the administration of his solemn ordinances of worship. The things before mentioned are all of them acts of right and power, but not of authority.
5. Wherefore the Lord Christ hath ordained offices, and appointed officers to be established in the church, Eph. iv. 11–15. Unto these is all church authority granted; for all authority is an act of office-power, which is that which gives unto what is performed by the officers of the church the formal nature of authority.
6. Therefore unto the church, in the state before described, right and power is granted by Christ to call, choose, appoint, and set apart, persons made meet for the work of the offices appointed by him, in the ways and by the means appointed by him. Nor is there any other way whereby ordinary officers may be fixed in the church, as we have proved before, and shall farther confirm afterward.
That which hereon we must inquire into is, How, or by what means, or by what acts of his sovereign power, the Lord Christ doth communicate office-power, and therewith the office itself, unto any persons, whereon their authority is directly from him; and what are the acts or duties of the church in the collation of this authority.
The acts of Christ herein may be reduced unto these heads:—
1. He hath instituted and appointed the offices themselves, and made a grant of them unto the church, for its edification; as also, he hath determined and limited the powers and duties of the officers. It is not in the power of any, or of all the churches in the world, to appoint any office or officer in the church that Christ hath not appointed; and where there are any such, they can have no church-authority, 38properly so called, for that entirely ariseth from, and is resolved into, the institution of the office by Christ himself And hence, in the first place, all the authority of officers in the church proceeds from the authority of Christ in the institution of the office itself; for that which gives being unto any thing gives it also its essential properties.
2. By virtue of his relation unto the church as its head, of his kingly power over it and care of it, whereon the continuation and edification of the church in this world do depend, wherever he hath a church called, he furnisheth some persons with such gifts, abilities, and endowments as are necessary to the discharge of such offices, in the powers, works, and duties of them; for it is most unquestionably evident, both in the nature of the thing itself and in his institution, that there are some especial abilities and qualifications required to the discharge of every church-office. Wherefore, where the Lord Christ doth not communicate of these abilities in such a measure as by virtue of them church-order may be observed, church-power exercised, and all church-ordinances administered according to his mind, unto the edification of the church, it is no more in the power of men to constitute officers than to erect and create an office in the church, Eph. iv. 11–15; 1 Cor. xii. 4–10, etc.; Rom. xii. 6–8.
This collation of spiritual gifts and abilities for office by Jesus Christ unto any doth not immediately constitute all those, or any of them, officers in the church, on whom they are collated, without the observation of that method and order which he hath appointed in the church for the communication of office-power; yet is it so prerequisite thereunto, that no person not made partaker of them in the measure before mentioned can, by virtue of any outward rite, order, or power, be really vested in the ministry.
3. This communication of office-power on the part of Christ consists in his institution and appointment of the way and means whereby persons gifted and qualified by himself ought to be actually admitted into their offices, so as to administer the powers and perform the duties of them; for the way of their call and ordination, whereof we shall speak afterward, is efficacious unto this end of communicating office-power merely from his institution and appointment of it, and what is not so can have no causal influence into the communication of this power. For although sundry things belonging hereunto are directed by the light of nature, as it is that where one man is set over others in power and authority, which before he had no natural right unto, it should be by their own consent and choice; and some things are of a moral nature, as that especial prayer be used in and about affairs that need especial divine assistance and favour; and there may be some circumstances of outward actions herein not to be determined but by the rule of reason on the present posture of occasions, — yet nothing hath any causal influence into the 39communication of office-power but what is of the institution and appointment of Christ. By virtue hereof, all that are called unto this office do derive all their power and authority from him alone.
4. He hath hereon given commands unto the whole church to submit themselves unto the authority of these officers in the discharge of their office, who are so appointed, so prepared or qualified, so called by himself, and to obey them in all things, according unto the limitations which himself also hath given unto the power and authority of such officers; for they who are called unto rule and authority in the church by virtue of their office are not thereon admitted unto an unlimited power, to be exercised at their pleasure in a lordly or despotical manner, but their power is stated, bounded, limited, and confined, as to the objects of it, its acts, its manner of administration, its ends, and as unto all things wherein it is concerned. The swelling over these banks by ambition, the breaking up of these bounds by pride and love of domination, by the introduction of a power over the persons of men in their outward concerns, exercised in a legal, coercive, lordly manner, are sufficient to make a forfeiture of all church-power in them who are guilty of them. But after that some men saw it fit to transgress the bounds of power and authority prescribed and limited unto them by the Lord Christ, — which was really exclusive of lordship, dominion, and all elation above their brethren, leaving them servants to the church for Christ’s sake, — they began to prescribe bounds unto themselves, such as were suited unto their interest, which they called rules or canons, and never left enlarging them at their pleasure until they instated the most absolute tyranny in and over the church that ever was in the world.
By these ways and means doth the Lord Christ communicate office-power unto them that are called thereunto; whereon they become not the officers or ministers of men, no, not of the church, as unto the actings and exercise of their authority, but only as the good and edification of the church is the end of it, but the officers and ministers of Christ himself.
It is hence evident, that, in the communication of church-power in office unto any persons called thereunto, the work and duty of the church consists formally in acts of obedience unto the commands of Christ. Hence it doth not give unto such officers a power or authority that was formally and actually in the body of the community by virtue of any grant or law of Christ, so as that they should receive and act the power of the church by virtue of a delegation from them; but only they design, choose, and set apart the individual persons, who thereon are intrusted with office-power by Christ himself, according as was before declared. This is the power and right given unto the church, essentially considered, with respect unto their officers, — namely, to design, call, choose, and set apart, the persons, 40by the ways of Christ’s appointment, unto those offices whereunto, by his laws, he hath annexed church power and authority.
We need not, therefore, trouble ourselves with the disputes about the first subject of church-power, or any part of it; for it is a certain rule, that, in the performance of all duties which the Lord Christ requires, either of the whole church or of any in the church, especially of the officers, they are the first subject of the power needful unto such duties who are immediately called unto them. Hereby all things come to be done in the name and authority of Christ; for the power of the church is nothing but a right to perform church-duties in obedience unto the commands of Christ and according unto his mind. Wherefore all church-power is originally given unto the church essentially considered, which hath a double exercise; — first, in the call or choosing of officers; secondly, in their voluntary acting with them and under them in all duties of rule. 1. All authority in the church is committed by Christ unto the officers or rulers of it, as unto all acts and duties whereunto office-power is required; and, 2. Every individual person hath the liberty of his own judgment as unto his own consent or dissent in what he is himself concerned.
That this power, under the name of “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” was originally granted unto the whole professing church of believers, and that it is utterly impossible it should reside in any other, who is subject unto death, or if so, be renewed upon any occasional intermission, is so fully proved by all Protestant writers against the Papists that it needs not on this occasion be again insisted on.
VI. These things have been spoken concerning the polity of the church in general, as it is taken objectively for the constitution of its state and the laws of its rule. We are in the next place to consider it subjectively, as it is a power or faculty of the minds of men unto whom the rule of the church is committed; and in this sense it is the wisdom or understanding of the officers of the church to exercise the government in it appointed by Jesus Christ, or to rule it according to his laws and constitutions. Or,
This wisdom is a spiritual gift, 1 Cor. xii. 8, whereby the officers of the church are enabled to make a due application of all the rules and laws of Christ, unto the edification of the church and all the members of it.
Unto the attaining of this wisdom are required, — 1. Fervent prayer for it, James i. 5. 2. Diligent study of the Scripture, to find out and understand the rules given by Christ unto this purpose, Ezra vii. 10; 2 Tim. ii. 1, 15. 3. Humble waiting on God for the revelation of all that it is to be exercised about, Ezek. xliii. 11. 4. A conscientious exercise of the skill which they have received; talents traded with duly will increase. 5. A continual sense of the account 41which is to be given of the discharge of this great trust, being called to rule in the house of God, Heb. xiii. 17.
How much this wisdom hath been neglected in church-government, yea, how much it is despised in the world, is evident unto all. It is skill in the canon law, in the proceedings of vexatious courts, with the learning, subtilty, and arts, which axe required thereunto, that is looked on as the only skill to be exercised in the government of the church. Without this a man is esteemed no way meet to be employed in any part of the church-government; and according as any do arrive unto a dexterity in this polity, they are esteemed eminently useful. But these things belong not at all unto the government of the church appointed by Christ; nor can any sober man think in his conscience that so they do. What is the use of this art and trade as unto political ends we inquire not. Nor is the true wisdom required unto this end, with the means of attaining of it, more despised, more neglected, by any sort of men in the world, than by those whose pretences unto ecclesiastical rule and authority would make it most necessary unto them.
Two things follow on the supposition laid down:—
1. That the wisdom intended is not promised unto all the members of the church in general, nor are they required to seek for it by the ways and means of attaining it before laid down, but respect is had herein only unto the officers of the church. Hereon dependeth the equity of the obedience of the people unto their rulers; for wisdom for rule is peculiarly granted unto them, and their duty it is to seek after it in a peculiar manner. Wherefore those who, on every occasion, are ready to advance their own wisdom and understanding in the affairs and proceedings of the church against the wisdom of the officers of it are proud and disorderly.
I speak not this to give any countenance unto the outcries of some, that all sorts of men will suppose themselves wiser than their rulers, and to know what belongs unto the government of the church better than they; whereas the government which they exercise belongs not at all unto the rule of the church, determined and limited in the Scripture, as the meanest Christian can easily discern; nor is it pretended by themselves so to do: for they say that the Lord Christ hath prescribed nothing herein, but left it unto the will and wisdom of the church to order all things as they see necessary, which church they are. Wherefore, if that will please them, it shall be granted, that in skill for the management of ecclesiastical affairs according to the canon law, with such other rules of the same kind as they have framed, and in the legal proceedings of ecclesiastical courts, as they are called, there are none of the people that are equal unto them or will contend with them.
2. It hence also follows that those who are called unto rule in the 42church of Christ should diligently endeavour the attaining of and increasing in this wisdom, giving evidence thereof on all occasions, that the church may safely acquiesce in their rule. But hereunto so many things do belong as cannot in this place be meetly treated of; somewhat that appertains to them shall afterward be considered.
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