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Chapter VIII.

The nature of church polity or rule, with the duty of elders.

Having declared who are the rulers of the church, something must be added concerning the rule itself which is to be exercised therein. Hereof I have treated before in general; that which I now design is what in particular respects them who are called unto rule only, whereunto some considerations must be premised:—

1. There is power, authority, and rule, granted unto and residing in some persons of the church, and not in the body of the fraternity or community of the people. How far the government of the church may be denominated democratical from the necessary consent of the people unto the principal acts of it in its exercise, I shall not determine; but whereas this consent, and the liberty of it, are absolutely necessary, according to the law of obedience unto Christ, which is prescribed unto the church, requiring that all they do in compliance therewith be voluntary, as unto the manner of its exercise, being in 131dutiful compliance with the guidance of the rule, it changeth not the state of the government. And therefore, where any thing is acted and disposed in the church by suffrage, or the plurality of voices, the vote of the fraternity is not determining and authoritative, but only declarative of consent and obedience. It is so in all acts of rule where the church is organical or in complete order.

2. That there is such an authority and rule instituted by Christ in his church is not liable unto dispute. Where there are “bishops, pastors, elders, guides, rulers, stewards,” instituted, given, granted, called, ordained; and some to be ruled, “sheep, lambs, brethren,” obliged by command to “obey them, follow them, submit unto them in the Lord, regard them as over them,” — there is rule and authority in some persons, and that committed unto them by Jesus Christ; but all these things are frequently repeated in the Scripture. And when, in the practical part or exercise of rule, due respect is not had unto their authority, there is nothing but confusion and disorder. When the people judge that the power of the keys is committed unto them as such only, and in them doth the right of their use and exercise reside; that their elders have no interest in the disposing of church-affairs or in acts of church-power, but only their own suffrages, or what they can obtain by reasoning; and think there is no duty incumbent on them to acquiesce in their authority in any thing (an evil apt to grow in churches), — it overthrows all that beautiful order which Jesus Christ hath ordained. And if any shall take advantage of this complaint, that where the people have their due liberty granted unto them, they are apt to assume that power unto themselves which belongs not unto them, an evil attended with troublesome impertinencies and disorder, tending unto anarchy, let them remember, on the other hand, how, upon the confinement of power and authority unto the guides, bishops, or rulers of the church, they have changed the nature of church-power, and enlarged their usurpation, until the whole rule of the church issued in absolute tyranny. Wherefore, no fear of consequents that may ensue and arise from the darkness, ignorance, weakness, lusts, corruptions, or secular interests of men, ought to entice us unto the least alteration of the rule by any prudential provisions of our own.

3. This authority in the rulers of the church is neither autocratical or sovereign, nor nomothetical or legislative, nor despotical or absolute, but organical and ministerial only. The endless controversies which have sprung out of the mystery of iniquity, about an autocratical and monarchical government in the church, about power to make laws to bind the consciences of men, yea, to kill and destroy them, with the whole manner of the execution of this power, we are not concerned in. A pretence of any such power in the church is destructive of the kingly office of Christ, contrary to express 132commands of Scripture, and condemned by the apostles, Isa. xxxiii. 22; James iv. 12; Matt. xvii. 5, xxiii. 8–11; Luke xxii. 25, 26; 2 Cor. i. 24; 1 Cor. iii. 21–23; 2 Cor. iv. 5; 1 Pet. v. 1–3.

4. As the rule of the church, in those by whom it is exercised, is merely ministerial, with respect unto the authority of Christ, his law, and the liberty of the church, wherewith he hath made it free, so in its nature it is spiritual, purely and only; so the apostle affirms expressly, 2 Cor. x. 4–6. For its object is spiritual, — namely, the souls and consciences of men, whereunto it extends, which no other human power doth; nor doth it reach those other concerns of men that are subject unto any political power. Its end is spiritual, — namely, the glory of God, in the guidance and direction of the minds and souls of men to live unto him, and come to the enjoyment of him. The law of it is spiritual, even the word, command, and direction of Christ himself alone. The acts and exercise of it, in binding and loosing, in remitting and retaining sin, in opening and shutting the kingdom of heaven, are all spiritual merely and only. Neither can there be an instance given of any thing belonging unto the rule of the church that is of another nature; yea, it is sufficient eternally to exclude any power or exercise of it, any act of rule or government, from any interest in church-affairs, that it can be proved to be carnal, political, despotical, of external operation, or not entirely spiritual.

5. The change of this government of the church fell out and was introduced gradually, upon an advantage taken from the unmeetness of the people to be laid under this spiritual rule; for the greatest part of them that made up Christian churches being become ignorant and carnal, that rule which consists in a spiritual influence on the consciences of men was no way able to retain them within the bounds of outward obedience, which was at last only aimed at. There was therefore another kind of rule and government judged necessary, to retain them in any order or decorum. And it must be acknowledged that where the members of the church are not in some degree spiritual, a rule that is merely spiritual will be of no great use unto them. But principally this change was introduced by those that were in possession of the rule itself, and that on two grounds:— (1.) Their unskilfulness in the management of this spiritual rule, or weariness of the duties which are required thereunto, — this made them willing to desert it, — with that perpetual labour and exercise of all sorts of graces which are required in it, and to embrace another more easy and more suited unto their inclinations. (2.) A desire of the secular advantages of profit, honour, and veneration, which tendered themselves unto them in another kind of rule. By these means was the original government of the church, which was of divine institution, utterly lost, 133and a worldly domination introduced in the room thereof. But the brief delineation given of it before, with what shall now be added, will demonstrate sufficiently that all those disputes and contests which are in the world between the church of Rome and others about church power and rule are utterly foreign unto Christian religion.

I shall therefore briefly inquire into these three things:— 1. What is the skill and polity that are required unto the exercise or administration of the government of the church; 2. What is the sole law and rule of it; 3. What are the acts and duties of it, what it is conversant about, especially those wherein the office of ruling elders doth take place:—

1. The polity of church-government, subjectively considered, is generally supposed to consist, — (1.) In a skill, learning, or understanding in the civil, and especially the canon law, with the additional canons accommodating that law unto the present state of things of the nation, to be interpreted according unto the general rules of it (2.) Knowledge of and acquaintance with the constitution, power, jurisdiction, and practice, of some law-courts, which being, in their original, grant of power, manner of proceeding, pleas and censures, merely secular, are yet called ecclesiastical or spiritual (3.) A good discretion to understand aright the extent of their power, with the bounds and limits of it; that on the one hand they let none escape whom they can reach by the discipline of their courts, and on the other not intrench so far on the civil power and the jurisdiction of other courts, according to the law of the land, as to bring themselves into charge or trouble. (4.) An acquaintance with the table of fees, that they may neither lose their own profit nor give advantage unto others to question them for taking more than their due. But in these things we are not at present concerned.

The skill, then, of the officers of the church for the government of it is a spiritual wisdom and understanding in the law of Christ for that end, with an ability to make application of it in all requisite instances, unto the edification of the whole church and all its members, through a ministerial exercise of the authority of Christ himself, and a due representation of his holiness, love, care, compassion, and tenderness, towards his church.

(1.) The sole rule and measure of the government of the church being the law of Christ, — that is, the intimation and declaration of his mind and will, in his institutions, commands, prohibitions, and promises, — an understanding herein, with wisdom from that understanding, is, and must be, the whole of the skill inquired after. How this wisdom is bestowed as a spiritual gift, how it is to be acquired in a way of duty, by prayer, meditation, and study of the word, hath been intimated before, and shall fully be declared in our discourse 134of Spiritual Gifts.2424    See vol. iv. of the author’s works. All decrees and decretals, canons and glosses, come properly in this matter under one title of them, namely, extravagant. The utmost knowledge of them and skill in them will contribute nothing unto this wisdom; neither are any sort of men more strangers unto it or unacquainted with it than they are, for the most part, who are eminently cunning in such laws and the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. But in the knowledge of the will of Christ as revealed in the Scripture is that alone which is of use in the government of the church.

(2.) A part of this wisdom consisteth in an ability of mind to make application of the law of Christ, in all requisite instances, unto the edification of the church in general and all the members of it respectively. This wisdom is not notional only, but practical. It consists not in a speculative comprehension of the sense of the rule, or of the mind of Christ therein only, though that be required in the first place; but in an ability of mind to make application of it, whereunto diligence, care, watchfulness, and spiritual courage, are required. Some are to be admonished, some to be rebuked sharply, some to be cut off; in which and the like cases a spirit of government acting itself in diligence, boldness, and courage, is necessary. And this is one reason why the Lord Christ hath appointed many elders in each church, and those of several sorts; for it is seldom that any one man is qualified for the whole work of rule. Some may have a good understanding in the law of the church’s government, yet, through a natural tenderness and an insuperable kind of modesty, not be so ready and prompt for that part of this discipline which consists in reproofs and severity of censures. Some may not have so great an ability for the indication of the sense of the law as others have, who yet, upon the knowledge of it being discovered unto them, have readiness and boldness in Christ to apply it as occasion doth require. All elders, therefore, in their variety of gifts, are to be helpful to each other in the common work which they are called unto. But such as are utterly destitute of these gifts are not called unto this work, nor to any part of it.

(3.) The power that is exercised herein is the power and authority of Christ, committed unto the elders: “Our authority which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for destruction,” 2 Cor. x. 8. It is granted unto the rulers of the church, not formally to reside in them, as the power of a king is in his own person, but ministerially and instrumentally only; for it must be the authority of Christ himself, whereby the consciences of men are spiritually affected with reference unto spiritual ends, — whereby they are bound or loosed in heaven and earth, have their sins remitted or retained. And the consideration hereof is that alone which gives a due regard 135unto the ministry of the church, in the discharge of their office, among them that desire to commend their consciences unto the Lord Christ in what they do.

(4.) The especial design of the rule of the church in its government is, to represent the holiness, love, compassion, care, and authority of Christ towards his church. This is the great end of rule in the church, and of all the discipline which is to be exercised by virtue thereof. Whilst this is not attended unto, when the officers and rulers of the church do not endeavour, in all the actings of their power and office, to set forth these virtues of Christ, to exemplify that impression of them which he hath left in his laws and rule, with the divine testimonies which he gave of them in his own person, they utterly deviate from the principal end of all rule in the church. For men to act herein in a way of domination, with a visible elation of mind and spirit above their brethren; with anger, wrath, and passion; by rules, order, and laws of their own devising, without the least consideration of what the Lord Christ requires, and what is the frame of his heart towards all his disciples, — is to reflect the highest dishonour imaginable upon Christ himself. He who comes into the courts of the king in Westminster Hall, when filled with judges, grave, learned, and righteous, must ordinarily be allowed to judge of the king himself, his wisdom, justice, moderation, and clemency, by the law which they proceed upon and their manner of the administration of it. But God forbid that Christians should make a judgment concerning the holiness, wisdom, love, and compassion of Christ by the representation which, as is pretended, is made of him and them in some courts wherein church rule and discipline is administered! When any had offended of old, their censure by the church was called the bewailing of them, 2 Cor. xii. 21; and that because of the sorrow, pity, and compassion whereby, in that censure, they evidenced the compassion of the Lord Christ towards the souls of sinners.

This is scarce answered by those pecuniary mulcts and other penalties, which, with indignation and contempt, are inflicted on such as are made offenders, whether they will or no. Certainly, those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and have a due honour for the gospel, will, at one time or another, begin to think meet that this stain of our religion should be washed away.

2. The rule and law of the exercise of power in the elders of the church is the holy Scripture only. The Lord Christ is the only lawgiver of the church; all his laws unto this end are recorded in the Scripture; no other law is effectual, can oblige or operate upon the objects or unto the ends of church-rule. If the church make a thousand rules, or canons, or laws for government, neither any of them, nor all of them in general, have any the least power to oblige men unto obedience or compliance with them, but only so far as virtually, 136or materially they contain what is of the law of Christ and derive force from thence: as the judges in our courts of justice are bound to judge and determine in all cases out of and according to the law of the land; and when they do not, their sentence is of no validity, but may and ought to be reversed. But if, wilfully or of choice, they should introduce laws or rules not legally established in this nation, judging according unto them, it would render them highly criminal and punishable. It is no otherwise in the kingdom of Christ and the rule thereof. It is by his law alone that rule is to be exercised in it. There is nothing left unto the elders of the church but the application of his laws and the general rules of them unto particular cases and occasions. To make, to bring, to execute, any other rules, laws, or canons, in the government of his church, is to usurp on his kingly dominion, whereunto all legislative power in the church is appropriate. Nor is it possible that any thing can fall out in the church, that any thug can be required in the rule of it, nor can any instance be given of any such thing, wherein, for the ends of church-rule, there is, or can be, any more left unto the rulers of it but only the application and execution of the laws of Christ. Unto this application, to be made in due manner, the wisdom and skill before described is requisite, and that alone. Where there are other laws, rules, or canons of the government of the church, and where the administration of them is directed by laws civil or politic, there is skill in them required unto that administration, as all will confess So is the wisdom we before described, and that alone, necessary unto that rule of the church which the Lord Christ hath ordained; the instrument and means whereof is his word and law alone.

3. The matter of this rule about which it is conversant, and so the acts and duties of it, may be reduced unto three heads:—

(1.) The admission and exclusion of members. Both these are acts of church power and authority, which are to be exercised by the elders only, in a church that is organical and complete in its officers. There is that in them both which is founded in and warranted from the light and law of nature and rules of equity. Every righteous voluntary society, coalescing therein rightfully, upon known laws and rules for the regulation of it unto certain ends, hath naturally a power inherent in it, and inseparable from it, to receive into its incorporation such as, being meet for it, do voluntarily offer themselves thereunto; as also to reject or withhold the privileges of the society from such as refuse to be regulated by the laws of the society. This power is inherent in the church essentially considered, antecedently unto the instating of officers in it. By virtue of their mutual confederation, they may receive into the privileges of the society those that are meet, and withdraw the same privileges from those that are unworthy. But in these actings of the church, essentially considered, 137there is no exercise of the power of the keys as unto authoritative rule but what is merely doctrinal There is in what it doth a declaration of the mind of Christ as unto the state of the persons whom they do receive or reject. But unto the church as organical, as there are elders or rulers instated in it according unto the mind of Christ, there is a peculiar authority committed for those acts of the admission and exclusion of members. Unto this end is the key of rule committed unto the elders of the church to be applied with the consent of the whole society, as we shall see afterward.

(2.) The direction of the church in all the members of it, unto the observance of the rule and law of Christ in all things, unto his glory and their own edification. And all these things may be reduced unto these four heads:— [1.] Mutual, intense, peculiar love among themselves, to be exercised continually in all the duties of it. [2.] Personal holiness, in gracious moral obedience. [3.] Usefulness towards the members of the same church, towards other churches, and all men absolutely, as occasion and opportunity do require. [4.] The due performance of all those duties which all the members of the church owe mutually unto each other, by virtue of that place and order which they hold and possess in the body. About these things is church-rule to be exercised; for they all belong unto the preservation of its being and the attainment of its ends.

(3.) Hereunto also belongs the disposal of the outward concernments of the church in its assemblies, and in the management of all that is performed in them, that “all things may be done decently and in order.” The disposal of times, seasons, places, the way and manner of managing all things in church-assemblies, the regulation of speeches and actions, the appointment of seasons for extraordinary duties, according unto the general rules of the word and the reason of things from present circumstances, are acts of rule, whose right resides in the elders of the church.

These things being premised, we may consider what is the work and duty of that sort of elders which we have proved to be placed by Christ for rule in the church; for considering that which hath been spoken before concerning the pastoral office, or the duty of teaching elders of the church, and what hath now been added concerning its rule in general, I cannot but admire that any one man should have such a confidence in his own abilities as to suppose himself meet and able for the discharge of the duties of both sorts in the least church of Christ that can well be supposed. Yea, supposing more teaching elders in every church than one, yet if they are all and every one of them equally bound to give themselves unto the word and prayer, so as not to be diverted from that work by any inferior duties, if they are obliged to labour in the word and doctrine to the utmost of their strength continually, it will appear 138at length to be necessary that there should be some whose peculiar office and duty is to attend unto rule with diligence. And the work of these elders consists in the things ensuing:—

1. They are joined unto the teaching elders in all acts and duties of church-power for the rule and government of the church; such are those before declared. This is plain in the text, 1 Tim. v. 17. Both sorts of elders are joined and do concur in the same rule and all the acts of it, one sort of them labouring also in the word and doctrine. Of both sorts is the presbytery or eldership composed, wherein resides all church-authority. And in this conjunction, those of both sorts are every way equal, determining all acts of rule by their common suffrage. This gives order, with a necessary representation of authority, unto the church in its government.

2. They are, in particular, to attend unto all things wherein the rule or discipline of the church is concerned, with a due care that the commands of Christ be duly observed by and among all the members of the church. This is the substance of the rule which Christ hath appointed, whatever be pretended unto the contrary. Whatever is set up in the world in opposition unto it or inconsistent with it, under the name of the government of the church, is foreign unto the gospel. Church-rule is a due care and provision that the institutions, laws, commands, and appointments of Jesus Christ be duly observed, and nothing else. And hereof, as unto the duty of the elders, we may give some instances; as, —

(1.) To watch diligently over the ways, walking and conversation of all the members of the church, to see that it be blameless, without offence, useful, exemplary, and in all things answering the holiness of the commands of Christ, the honour of the gospel, and the profession which in the world they make thereof; and upon the observation which they so make, in the watch wherein they are placed, to instruct, admonish, charge, exhort, encourage, comfort, as they see cause. And this are they to attend unto with courage and diligence.

(2.) To watch against all risings or appearances of such differences and divisions, on the account of things ecclesiastical or civil, as unto their names, rights, and proprieties in the world, as are contrary unto that love which the Lord Christ requireth in a peculiar and eminent manner to be found amongst his disciples. This he calls his own “new commandment,” with respect unto his authority requiring it, his example first illustrating it in the world, and the peculiar fruits and effects of it which he revealed and taught. Wherefore, the due observance of this law of love, in itself and all its fruits, with the prevention, removal, or condemnation, of all that is contrary unto it, is that in which the rule of the church doth principally consist. And, considering the weakness, the passions, the temptations of men, the 139mutual provocations and exasperations that are apt to fall out even among the best, the influence that earthly occasions are apt to have upon their minds, the frowardness sometimes of men’s natural tempers, the attendance unto this one duty or part of rule requires the utmost diligence of them that are called unto it; and it is merely either the want of acquaintance with the nature of that law and its fruits which the Lord Christ requires among his disciples, or an undervaluation of the worth and glory of it in the church, or inadvertency unto the causes of its decays and of breaches made in it, or ignorance of the care and duties that are necessary unto its preservation, that induces men to judge that the work of an especial office is not required hereunto.

(3.) Their duty is to warn all the members of the church of their especial church-duties, that they be not found negligent or wanting in them. There are especial duties required respectively of all church-members, according unto the distinct talents, whether in things spiritual or temporal, which they have received. Some are rich, and some are poor; some are old, and some are young; some are in peace, some in trouble; some have received more spiritual gifts than others and have more opportunities for their exercise. It belongs unto the rule of the church that all be admonished, instructed, and exhorted to attend unto their respective duties, not only publicly in the preaching of the word, but personally as occasion doth require, according to the observation which those in rule do make of their forwardness or remissness in them. In particular, and in the way of instance, men are to be warned that they contribute unto the necessities of the poor and other occasions of the church, according unto the ability that God in his providence hath intrusted them withal, and to admonish them that are defective herein, in order to their recovery unto the discharge of this duty in such a measure as there may be an equality in the church, 2 Cor. viii. 14. And all other duties of an alike nature are they to attend unto.

(4.) They are to watch against the beginnings of any church-disorders, such as those that infested the church of Corinth, or any of the like sort, with remissness as unto [attending] the assemblies of the church and the duties of them, which some are subject unto, as the apostle intimates, Heb. x. 25. On the constancy and diligence of the elders in this part of their work and duty, the very being and order of the church do greatly depend. The want hereof hath opened a door unto all the troubles, divisions, and schisms, that in all ages have invaded and perplexed the churches of Christ from within themselves; and from thence also have decays in faith, love, and order insensibly prevailed in many, to the dishonour of Christ and the danger of their own souls. First one grows remiss in attending unto the assemblies of the church, and then another, first to one degree, then to another, 140until the whole lump be infected. A diligent watch over these things, as to the beginnings of them, in all the members of the church, will either heal and recover them that offend, or it will warn others, and keep the church from being either corrupted or defiled, Heb. iii. 12, xii. 15.

(5.) It belongs unto them also to visit the sick, especially such as whose inward or outward conditions do expose them unto more than ordinary trials in their sickness; that is, the poor, the afflicted, the tempted in any kind. This in general is a moral duty, a work of mercy; but it is moreover a peculiar church-duty by virtue of institution. And one end of the institution of churches is, that the disciples of Christ may have all that spiritual and temporal relief which is needful for them and useful to them in their troubles and distresses. And if this duty were diligently attended unto by the officers of the church, it would add much unto the glory and beauty of our order, and be an abiding reserve with relief in the minds of them whose outward condition exposeth them to straits and sorrows in such a season.

I add hereunto, as a duty of the same nature, the visitation of those who suffer under restraint and imprisonment upon the account of their profession, adherence unto church-assemblies, or the discharge of any pastoral or office duties in them. This is a case wherewith we are not unacquainted, nor are like so to be. Some look on this as the duty of all the members of the church who yet enjoy their liberty; and so it is as their opportunities and abilities will allow them, provided the discharge of it be useful unto those whom they visit, and inoffensive unto others. But this duty diligently attended unto by the elders, representing therein the care and love of the whole church, yea, of Christ himself unto his prisoners, is a great spring of relief and comfort unto them. And by the elders may the church be acquainted what yet is required of them in a way of duty on their account. The care of the primitive churches herein was most eminent.

(6.) It belongs unto them and their office to advise with and give direction unto the deacons of the church as unto the making provision and distribution of the charity the church for the relief of the poor. The office of the deacons is principally execute, as we shall see afterward. Inquisition into the state of the poor, with all their circumstances, with the warning of all the members of the church unto liberality for their supply, belongs unto the elders.

(7.) When the state of the church is such, through suffering, persecution, and affliction, that the poor be multiplied among them, so as that the church itself is not able to provide for their relief in a due manner, if any supply be sent unto them from the love and bounty of other churches, it is to be deposited with these elders, and 141disposed according to their advice, with that of the teachers of the church, Acts xi. 30.

(8.) It is also their duty, according to the advantage which they have, by their peculiar inspection of all the members of the church, their ways and their walking, to acquaint the pastors, or teaching-elders of the church, with the state of the flock; which may be of singular use unto them for their direction in the present work of the ministry. He who makes it not his business to know the state of the church which he ministers unto in the word and doctrine, as to their knowledge, their judgment and understanding, their temptations and occasions, and applies not himself in his ministry to search out what is necessary and useful unto their edification, he fights uncertainly in his whole work, as a man beating the air. But whereas their obligation to attend unto the word and prayer confines them much unto a retirement for the greatest part of their time, they cannot by themselves obtain that acquaintance with the whole flock but that others may greatly assist therein from their daily inspection, converse, and observation.

(9.) And it is their duty to meet and consult with the teaching-elders about such things of importance as are to be proposed in and unto the church, for its consent and compliance. Hence nothing crude or indigested, nothing unsuited to the sense and duty of the church, will at any time be proposed therein, so as to give occasion unto contests or janglings, disputes contrary unto order or decency, but all things may be preserved in a due regard unto the gravity and authority of the rulers.

(10.) To take care of the due liberties of the church, that they be not imposed on by any Diotrephes, in office or without it.

(11.) It is incumbent on them, in times of difficulties and persecution, to consult together with the other elders concerning all those things which concern the present duty of the church from time to time, and their preservation from violence, according unto the will of Christ.

(12.) Whereas there may be, and ofttimes is, but one teaching-elder, pastor, or teacher in a church, upon his death or removal it is the work and duty of these elders to preserve the church in peace and unity, to take care of the continuation of its assemblies, to prevent irregularities in any persons or parties among them, and to go before, to direct and guide the church in the call and choice of some other meet person or persons in the room of the deceased or removed.

These few instances have I given of the work and duty of ruling-elders. They are all of them such as deserve a greater enlargement in their declaration and confirmation than I can here afford unto them, and sundry things of the like nature, especially with respect unto communion with other churches and synods; but what hath 142been spoken is sufficient unto my present purpose. And to manifest that it is so, I shall add the ensuing observations:—

1. All the things insisted on do undoubtedly and unquestionably belong unto the rule and order appointed by Christ in his church. There is no one of them that is liable unto any just exception from them by whom all church-order is despised. Wherefore, where there is a defect in them, or any of them, the church itself is defective as unto its own edification; and where this defect is great in many of them, there can be no beauty, no glory, no order in any church, but only an outward show and appearance of them. And that all these things do belong unto the duty of these elders, there needs no other proof or confirmation but that they all undoubtedly and unquestionably belong unto that rule and order which the Lord Christ hath appointed in his church, and which the Scripture testifieth unto both in general and particular; for all the things which belong unto the rule of the church are committed to the care of the rulers of the church.

2. It is a vain apprehension, to suppose that one or two teaching officers in a church, who are obliged to “give themselves unto the word and prayer,” to “labour” with all their might “in the word and doctrine,” to “preach in season and out of season,” — that is, at all times, on all opportunities, as they are able, — to convince gainsayers, by word and writing pleading for the truth, to assist and guide the consciences of all under their temptations and desertions, with sundry other duties, in part spoken to before, should be able to take care of, and attend with diligence unto, those things that do evidently belong unto the rule of the church. And hence it is that churches at this day do live on the preaching of the word, the proper work of their pastors, which they greatly value, and are very little sensible of the wisdom, goodness, love, and care of Christ, in the institution of this rule in the church, nor are partakers of the benefits of it unto their edification. And the supply which many have had hitherto herein, by persons either unacquainted with their duty, or insensible of their own authority, or cold, if not negligent, in their work, doth not answer the end of their institution. And hence it is that the authority of government and the benefit of it are ready to be lost in most churches. And it is both vainly and presumptuously pleaded, to give countenance unto a neglect of their order, that some churches do walk in love and peace, and are edified without it, supplying some defects by the prudent aid of some members of them; for it is nothing but a preference of our own wisdom unto the wisdom and authority of Christ, or at best an unwillingness to make a venture on the warranty of his rule, for fear of some disadvantages that may ensue thereon.

3. Whereas sundry of the duties before mentioned are, as unto the substance of them, required of the members of the church in their 143several stations, without any especial obligation to attend unto them with diligence, to look after them, or power to exercise any authority in the discharge of them, to leave them from under the office-care of the elders is to let confusion and disorder into the church, and gradually to remove the whole advantage of the discipline of Christ; as it is come to pass in many churches already.

It is therefore evident, that neither the purity, nor the order, nor the beauty or glory of the churches of Christ, nor the representation of his own majesty and authority in the government of them, can be long preserved without a multiplication of elders in them, according to the proportion of their respective members, for their rule and guidance. And for want hereof have churches, of old and of late, either degenerated into anarchy and confusion, their self-rule being managed with vain disputes and janglings, unto their division and ruin, or else given up themselves unto the domination of some prelatical teachers, to rule them at their pleasure, which proved the bane and poison of all the primitive churches; and they will and must do so in the neglect of this order for the future.


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