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Of a particular church; its nature — Frequently mentioned in Scripture — Particular congregations acknowledged the only churches of the first institution — What ensued on the multiplication of churches — Some things premised to clear the unity of the church in this sense — Every believer ordinarily obliged to join himself to some particular church — Many things in instituted worship answering a natural principle — Perpetuity of the church in this sense — True churches at first planted in England — How they ceased so to be — How churches may be again re-erected — Of the union of a particular church in itself — Foundation of that union twofold — The union itself — Of the communion of particular churches one with another — Our concernment in this union.
III. I now descend to the last consideration of a church, in the 174most usual acceptation of that name in the New Testament, — that is, of a particular instituted church. A church in this sense I take to be a society of men called by the word to the obedience of the faith in Christ, and joint performance of the worship of God in the same individual ordinates, according to the order by Christ prescribed. This general description of it exhibits its nature so far as is necessary to clear the subject of our present disquisition. A more accurate definition would only administer farther occasion of contesting about things not necessary to be determined as to the inquiry in hand. Such as this was the church at Jerusalem that was persecuted, Acts viii. 1, — the church whereof Saul made havoc, verse 3, — the church that was vexed by Herod, chap. xii. 1. Such was the church at Antioch, which assembled together in one place, chap. xiv. 27; wherein were sundry prophets, chap. xiii. 1, as that at Jerusalem consisted of elders and brethren, chap. xv. 22, — the apostles, or some of them, being there then present, which added no other consideration to that church than that we are now speaking of. Such were those many churches wherein elders were ordained by Paul’s appointment, chap. xiv. 23; as also the church of Cæsarea, chap. xviii. 22, and at Ephesus, chap. xx. 17, 28; as was that of Corinth, 1 Cor. i. 2, vi. 4, xi. 18, xiv. 4, 5, 12, 19, 2 Cor. i. 1; and those mentioned, Rev. i., ii., iii.; — all which Paul calls the “churches of the Gentiles,” Rom. xvi. 4, in contradistinction to those of the Jews; and calls them indefinitely “the churches of Christ,” verse 16; or “the churches of God,” 2 Thess. i. 4; or “the churches,” 1 Cor. vii. 17, 2 Cor. viii. 18, 19, 23, 24, and in sundry other places. Hence we have mention of many churches in one country, — as in Judea, Acts ix. 31; in Asia, 1 Cor. xvi. 19; in Macedonia, 2 Cor. viii. 1; in Galatia, Gal. i. 2; the seven churches of Asia, Rev. i. 11; and unto τὰς πόλεις, Acts xvi. 4, αἱ ἐκκλησίαι answers, verse 5, in the same country.
I suppose that, in this description of a particular church, I have not only the consent of them of all sorts with whom I have now to do as to what remains of this discourse, but also their acknowledgment that these were the only kinds of churches of the first institution. The reverend authors of the Jus Divinum Ministerii [Evangelici] Anglicani, p. 2, cap. vi.,1010 A work published by the Provincial Assembly of London, in 4to, 1654. — Ed. tell us that “in the beginning of Christianity the number of believers, even in the greatest cities, was so few as that they might all meet ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, in one and the same place; and these are called the church of the city; and the angel of such a city was congregational, not diocesan;” — which discourse exhibits that state of a particular church which is now pleaded for, and which shall afterward be evinced, allowing no other, no not in the greatest cities. In a rejoinder to that treatise, so far as the case 175of episcopacy is herein concerned, by a person well known by his labours in that cause, this is acknowledged to be so. “Believers,” saith he, “in great cities were not at first divided into parishes, whilst the number of Christians was so small that they might well assemble in the same place,” Ham. Vind., p. 16.1111 Dr Hammond’s Vindication of the Dissertations concerning Episcopacy. — Ed. Of the believers of one city meeting in one place, being one church, we have the like grant, p. 18. “In this particular church,” he says, “there was one bishop, which had the rule of it, and of the believers in the villages adjacent to that city; which as it sometimes was not so, Rom. xvi. 5, so for the most part it seems to have been the case: and distinct churches, upon the growth of the number of believers, were to be erected in several places of the vicinage.”
And this is the state of a particular instituted church which we plead for. Whether in process of time, believers multiplying, those who had been of one church met in several assemblies, by a settled distribution of them, to celebrate the same ordinances specifically, and so made many churches, or met in several places in parties, still continuing one body, and were governed in common by the elders, whom they increased and multiplied in proportion to the increase of believers; or whether that one or more officers, elders, or bishops, of that first single congregation, taking on him or them the care of those inhabiting the city wherein the church was first planted, designed and sent some fitted for that purpose, upon their desire and choice, or otherwise, to the several lesser companies of the region adjacent, which, in process of time, became dependent on and subject to the officer or officers of that first church from whence they came forth, — I dispute not. I am satisfied that the first plantation of churches was as hath been pleaded; and I know what was done afterward, on the one hand or the other, must be examined, as to our concernment, by what ought to have been done. But of those things afterward.
Now, according to the course of procedure hitherto insisted on, a declaration of the unity of the church in this sense, what it is, wherein it doth consist, with what it is to be guilty of the breach of that unity, must ensue; and this shall be done after I have premised some few things previously necessary thereunto.
I say, then, —
1. A man may be a member of the catholic church of Christ, be united to him by the inhabitation of his Spirit, and participation of life from him, who, upon the account of some providential hinderance, is never joined to any particular congregation, for the participation of ordinances, all his days.
2. In like manner may he be a member of the church considered as professing visibly, seeing that he may do all that is of him required 176thereunto without any such conjunction to a visible particular church. But yet, —
3. I willingly grant that every believer is obliged, as in a part of his duty, to join himself to some one of those churches of Christ, that therein he may abide, in “doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers,” according to the order of the gospel, if he have advantage and opportunity so to do; for,
(1.) There are some duties incumbent on us which cannot possibly be performed but on a supposition of this duty being previously required and submittal unto, Matt. xviii. 15–17.
(2.) There are some ordinances of Christ, appointed for the good and benefit of those that believe, which they can never be made partakers of if not related to some such society; as public admonition, excommunication, participation of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
(3.) The care that Jesus Christ hath taken that all things be well ordered in these churches, — giving no direction for the performance of any duty of worship merely and purely of sovereign institution, but only in them and by them who are so joined, — sufficiently evinces his mind and our duty herein, Rev. ii. 7, 11, 29, iii. 6, 13, 22; 1 Cor. xi..
(4.) The gathering, planting, and settling of such churches by the apostles, with the care they took in bringing them to perfection, leaving none whom they converted out of that order, where it was possible for them to be reduced unto it, is of the same importance, Acts xiv. 23; Tit. i. 5.
(5.) Christ’s institution of officers for them, Eph. iv. 11, 1 Cor. xii. 28; calling such a church his “body,” verse 27; exactly assigning to every one his duty in such societies, in respect of the place he holds in them; with his care for their preservation from confusion and for order, — evince from whom they are, and what is our duty in reference unto them.
(6.) The judging and condemning them by the Holy Ghost as disorderly, blamable persons, who are to be avoided, who walk not according to the rules and order appointed in these churches; his care that those churches be not scandalized or offended; with innumerable other considerations, — evince their institution to be from heaven, not of men, or any prudential considerations of them whatever.
That there is an instituted worship of God, to be continued under the New Testament until the second coming of Christ, I suppose needs not much proof. With those with whom it doth so I am not now treating, and must not make it my business to give it evidence by the innumerable testimonies which might be alleged to that purpose. That for the whole of his worship, matter, or manner, or any 177part of it, God hath changed his way of proceeding, and will now allow the will and prudence of man to be the measure and rule of his honour and glory therein, contrary to what he did or would allow under the law, is so prejudicial to the perfection of the gospel, infinite wisdom and all-sufficiency of Christ, and so destructive to the whole obligation of the second commandment, having no ground in the Scripture, but being built merely on the conceit of men, suited to one carnal interest or other, I shall unwillingly debate it. That, as to this particular under consideration, there were particular churches instituted by the authority of Jesus Christ, owned and approved by him; that officers for them were of his appointment, and furnished with gifts from him for the execution of their employment; that rules, cautions, and instructions for the due settlement of those churches were given by him; that those churches were made the only seat of that worship which in particular he expressed his will to have continued until he came, — is of so much light in Scripture that he must wink hard that will not see it.
1. That either he did not originally appoint these things, or he did not give out the gifts of his Spirit in reference to the right ordering of them, and exalting of his glory in them; or that having done so then, yet that his institutions have an end, being only for a season, and that it may be known when the efficacy of any of his institutions ceaseth; or that he doth not now dispense the gifts and graces of his Spirit to render them useful, — is a difficult task for any man to undertake to evince.
There is, indeed, in the institutions of Christ, much that answers a natural principle in men, who are on many accounts formed and fitted for society. A confederation and consultation to carry on any design wherein the concernment of the individuals doth lie, within such bounds and in such order as lie in a ready way to the end aimed at, is exceeding suitable to the principles whereby we are acted and guided as men. But he that would hence conclude that there is no more but this, and the acting of these principles, in this church-constitution whereof we speak, and that therefore men may be cast into any prudential form, or appoint other ways and forms of it than those mentioned in the Scripture as appointed and owned, takes on himself the demonstrating that all things necessarily required to the constitution of such a church-society are commanded by the law of nature, and therefore allowed of and approved only by Christ, and so to be wholly moral, and to have nothing of instituted worship in them. And also, he must know that when, on that supposition, he hath given a probable reason why never any persons in the world fixed on such societies in all essential things as those, seeing they are natural, that he leaves less to the prudence of men, and to the ordering 178and disposing of things concerning them, than these who make them of pure institution, all whose circumstances cannot be derived from themselves, as those of things purely moral may. But this is not of my present consideration.
2. Nor shall I consider whether perpetuity be a property of the church of Christ in this sense; that is, not whether a church that was once so may cease to be so, — which it is known I plead for in the instance of the church of Rome, not to mention others, but whether, by virtue of any promise of Christ, there shall always be somewhere in the world a visible church, visibly celebrating his ordinances. Luke i. 33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end,” is pleaded to this purpose; but that any more but the spiritual reign of Christ in his catholic church is there intended is not proved. Matt. xvi. 18, “Upon this rock will I build my church,” is also urged; but to intend any but true believers, and that as such, in that promise, is wholly to enervate it, and to take away its force and efficacy. Matt. xviii. 19, 20, declares the presence of Christ with his church wherever it be, not that a church in the regard treated of shall be. To the same purpose are other expressions in the Scripture. As I will not deny this in general, so I am unsatisfied as to any particular instance for the making of it good.
It is said that true churches were at first planted in England. How, then, or by what means, did they cease so to be? how, or by what act, did God unchurch them? They did it themselves meritoriously, by apostasy and idolatry; God legally, by his institution of a law of rejection of such churches. If any shall ask, “How, then, is it possible that any such churches should be raised anew?” I say, that the catholic church mystical and that visibly professing being preserved entire, he that thinketh there needs a miracle for those who are members of them to join in such a society as those now spoken of, according to the institution of Christ, is a person delighting in needless scruples.
Christ hath promised that where two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be in the midst of them, Matt. xviii. 20. It is now supposed, with some hope to have it granted, that the Scripture, being the “power of God unto salvation,” Rom. i. 16, hath a sufficient efficacy and energy in itself, as to its own kind, for the conversion of souls; yea, let us, till opposition be made to it, take it for granted that by that force and efficacy it doth mainly and principally evince its own divinity, or divine original. Those who are contented, for the honour of that word which God delighteth to magnify, to grant this supposition, will not, I hope, think it impossible that though all church-state should cease in any place, and yet the 179Scripture by the providence of God be there in the hand of individuals preserved, two or three should be called, converted, and regenerated by it. For my part, I think he that questions it must do it on some corrupt principle of a secondary dependent authority in the word of God as to us; with which sort of men I do not now deal. I ask whether these converted persons may not possibly come together, or assemble themselves, in the name of Jesus? May they not, upon his command, and in expectation of the accomplishment of his promise, so come together with resolution to do his will, and to exhort one another thereto? Zech. iii. 10; Mal. iii. 16. Truly, I believe they may, in what part of the world soever their lot is fallen. Here lie all the difficulties, whether, being come together in the name of Christ, they may do what he hath commanded them or no? whether they may exhort and stir up one another to do the will of Christ? Most certain it is that Christ will give them his presence, and therewithal his authority, for the performance of any duty that he requireth at their hands. Were not men angry, troubled, and disappointed, there would be little difficulty in this business. But of this elsewhere.
3. Upon this supposition, that particular churches are institutions of Jesus Christ, which is granted by all with whom I have to do, I proceed to make inquiry into their union and communion, that so we may know wherein the bonds of them do consist.
There is a double foundation, fountain, or cause of the union of such a church, — the one external, procuring, commanding; the other internal, inciting, directing, assisting. The first is the institution of Jesus Christ, before mentioned, requiring peace and order, union, consent, and agreement, in and among all the members of such a church; all to be regulated, ordered, and bounded by the rules, laws, and prescripts, which from him they have received for their walking in those societies. The latter is that love without dissimulation which always is, or which always ought to be, between all the members of such a church, exerting itself in their respective duties one towards another in that holy combination whereunto they are called and entered for the worship of God, whether they are those which lie in the level of the equality of their common interest of being church-members, or those which are required of them in the several differences whereby, on any account whatever, they are distinguished one from another amongst themselves; for “love is the bond of perfectness,” Col. iii. 14.
Hence, then, it appears what is the union of such a church, and what is the communion to be observed therein, by the appointment of Jesus Christ. The joint consent of all the members of it, in obedience to the command of Christ, from a principle of love, to walk together in the universal celebration of all the ordinances of the 180worship of God, instituted and appointed to be celebrated in such a church, and to perform all the duties and offices of love which, in reference to one another, in their respective stations and places, are by God required of them, and doing so accordingly, is the union inquired after. See Phil. ii. 1–3, iv. 1–3; 1 Cor. i. 10; 2 Cor. xiii. 11; Rom. xv. 5, 6.
Whereas there are in these churches some rulers, some ruled; some eyes, some hands in this body; some parts visibly comely, some uncomely, upon the account of that variety of gifts and graces which are distributed to them, — in the performance of duties, a regard is to be had to all the particular rules that are given with respect to men in their several places and distributions. Herein doth the union of a particular church consist; herein have the members of it communion among themselves, and with the whole.
4. I shall farther grant and add hereunto, that, over and above the union that is between the members of several particular churches, by virtue of their interest in the church catholic, which draws after it a necessity for the occasional exercise of duties of love one towards another; and that communion they have, as members of the general church visible, in the profession of the faith once delivered unto the saints; there is a communion also to be observed between these churches, as such, which is sometimes, or may be, exerted in their assemblies by their delegates, for declaring their sense and determining things of joint concernment unto them. Whether there ought to be an ordinary combination of the officers of these churches, invested with power for the disposal of things and persons that concern one or more of them, in several subordinations, by the institution of Christ; as it is not my judgment that so there is, so it belongs not unto my present undertaking at all to debate.
That which alone remains to be done, is to consider what is our concernment as to the breach of this union, which we profess to be appointed by Jesus Christ; and that both as we are Protestants and as also farther differenced, according to the intimations given at the entrance of this discourse. What hath already been delivered about the nature of schism and the Scripture notion of it might well suffice as to our vindication in this business from any charge that we are or seem obnoxious unto; but because I have no reason to suppose that some men will be so favourable unto us as to take pains for the improvement of principles, though in themselves clearly evinced, on our behalf, the application of them to some present cases, with the removal of objections that lie against my intendment, must be farther added.
Some things there are which, upon what hath been spoken, I shall assume and suppose as granted “in thesi,” until I see them otherwise disproved than as yet I have done.
181Of these the first is, That the departing or secession of any man or men from any particular church, as to that communion which is peculiar to such a church, which he or they have had therewith, is nowhere called schism, nor is so in the nature of the thing itself (as the general signification of the word is restrained by its Scripture use), but is a thing to be judged and receive a title according to the causes and circumstances of it.
Secondly, One church refusing to hold that communion with another which ought to be between them is not schism, properly so called.
Thirdly, The departure of any man or men from the society or communion of any church whatever, — so it be done without strife, variance, judging, and condemning of others, — because, according the light of their consciences, they cannot in all things in them worship God according to his mind, cannot be rendered evil but from circumstances taken from the persons so doing, or the way and manner whereby and wherein they do it.
Unto these I add, that if any one can show and evince that we have departed from and left the communion of any particular church of Christ, with which we ought to walk according to the order above mentioned, or have disturbed and broken the order and union of Christ’s institution, wherein we are or were inwrapped, we put ourselves on the mercy of our judges.
The consideration of what is the charge on any of us on this account was the first thing aimed at in this discourse; and, as it was necessary from the rules of the method wherein I have proceeded, comes now, in the last place, to be put to the issue and trial; which it shall in the next chapter.
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