« Prev Chapter II. The especial original of the… Next »

Chapter II.

The especial original of the evangelical church-state.

Our principal concernment at present is in the evangelical church-state, or the state of churches under the New Testament; for this is 231that about which there are many great and fierce contests among Christians, and those attended with pernicious consequents and effects. What is the original, what is the nature, what is the use and power, what is the end of the churches, or any church, what is the duty of men in it and towards it, is the subject of various contests, and the principal occasion of all the distractions that are at this day in the Christian world; for the greatest part of those who judge themselves obliged to take care and order about these things having interwoven their own secular interests and advantages into such a church-state as is meet and suited to preserve and promote them, supposing πορισμὸν εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν, or that religion may be made a trade for outward advantage, they do openly seek the destruction of all those who will not comply with that church form and order that they have framed unto themselves. Moreover, from men’s various conceptions and suitable practices about this church-state is advantage and occasion taken to charge each other with schism, and all sorts of evils which are supposed to ensue thereon. Wherefore, although I design all possible brevity, and only to declare those principles of truth wherein we may safely repose our faith and practice, avoiding as much as possibly I can, and the subject will allow, the handling of those things in a way of controversy with others, yet somewhat more than ordinary diligence is required unto the true stating of this important concernment of our religion. And that which we shall first inquire into is the special original and authoritative constitution of this church-state. Wherefore, —

1. The church-state of the New Testament doth not less relate unto, and receive force from, the light or law of nature, than any other state of the church whatever. Herein, as unto its general nature, its foundation is laid. What that directs unto may receive new enforcements by revelation, but changed, or altered, or abolished, it cannot be. Wherefore, there is no need of any new express institution of what is required by that light and law in all churches and societies for the worship of God, but only an application of it unto present occasions and the present state of the church, which hath been various. And it is merely from a spirit of contention that some call on us or others to produce express testimony or institution for every circumstance in the practice of religious duties in the church, and on a supposed failure herein, do conclude that they have power themselves to institute and ordain such ceremonies as they think meet, under a pretence of their being circumstances of worship; for as the directive light of nature is sufficient to guide us in these things, so the obligation of the church unto it makes all stated additions to be useless, as on other accounts they are noxious. Such things as these are:— the times and seasons of church assemblies; the order and 232decency wherein all things are to be transacted in them; the bounding of them as unto the number of their members, and places of habitation, so as to answer the ends of their institution; the multiplication of churches when the number of believers exceeds the proportion capable of edification in such societies; what especial advantages are to be made use of in the order and worship of the church, such as are methods in preaching, translations and tunes of psalms in singing, continuance in public duties, and the like. The things themselves being divinely instituted, are capable of such general directions in and by the light of nature as may, with ordinary Christian prudence, be on all occasions applied unto the use and practice of the church. To forsake these directions, and instead of them to invent ways, modes, forms, and ceremonies of our own, which the things whereunto they are applied and made use of in do no way call for, require, or own (as it is with all humanly-invented stated ceremonies); and thereon, by laws and canons, to determine their precise observation at all times and seasons to be one and the same, which is contrary to the very nature of the circumstances of such acts and duties as they are applied unto, — their use, in the meantime, unto the general end of edification, being as indemonstrable as their necessity unto the duties whereunto they are annexed is also, — is that which hath no warranty either from divine authority or Christian prudence.

This respect of the gospel church-state unto the light of nature the apostle demonstrates, in his frequent appeals unto it in things that belong unto church-order, 1 Cor. vii. 29, 33, 37, ix. 7, xi. 14–16, xiv. 8–11, 32, 33, 40; and the like is done in sundry other places. And the reasons of it are evident.

2. But such is the especial nature and condition of the evangelical church-state; such the relation of it unto the person and mediation of Jesus Christ, with all things thereon depending; such the nature of that especial honour and glory which God designs unto himself therein (things that the light of nature can give no guidance unto nor direction about); and, moreover, so different and distant from all that was before ordained in any other church-state are the ways, means, and duties of divine worship prescribed in it, — that it must have a peculiar, divine institution of its own, to evidence that it is from heaven, and not from men. The present state of the church under the New Testament the apostle calls τελείωσις, Heb. vii. 11, — its perfection, its consummation, that perfect state which God designed unto it in this world. And he denies that it could be brought into that state by the law, or any of the divine institutions that belonged thereunto, chap. vii. 19, ix. 9, x. 1. And we need go no farther, we need no other argument to prove that the gospel church-state, 233as unto its especial nature, is founded in a peculiar divine institution; for it hath a τελείωσις, a perfect consummate state, which the law could not bring it unto, though itself, its ordinances of worship, its rule and policy, were all of divine institution. And herein doth its excellency and preference above the legal church-state consist, as the apostle proves at large. To suppose that this should be given unto it any other way but by divine authority in its institution, is to advance the wisdom and authority of men above those of God, and to render the gospel church-state a machine to be moved up and down at pleasure, to be new moulded or shaped according unto occasions, or to be turned unto any interest, like the wings of a mill unto the wind.

All the dignity, honour, and perfection of the state of the church under the Old Testament depended solely hereon, that it was, in the whole and all the particulars of it, of divine institution. Hence it was “glorious,” that is, very excellent, as the apostle declares, 2 Cor. iii. And if the church-state of the New Testament have not the same original, it must be esteemed to have a greater glory given unto it by the hand of men than the other had, in that it was instituted by God himself; for a greater glory it hath, as the apostle testifieth. Neither can any man, nor dareth any man alive, to give any instance in particular wherein there is the least defect in the being, constitution, rule, and government of the gospel church-state, for want of divine institution, so as that it should be necessary to make a supply thereof by the wisdom and authority of men. But these things will be more fully spoken unto, after we have declared who it is who hath divinely instituted this church-state.

3. The name of the church under the New Testament is capable of a threefold application, or it is taken in a threefold notion; as, — (1.) For the catholic invisible church, or society of elect believers in the whole world, really related by faith in him unto the Lord Jesus Christ as their mystical head; (2.) For the whole number of visible professors in the whole world, who, by baptism, and the outward profession of the gospel, and obedience unto Christ, are distinguished from the rest of the world; and, — (3.) For such a state as wherein the worship of God is to be celebrated in the way and manner by him appointed, and which is to be ruled by the power which he gives it, and according to the discipline which he hath ordained. Of the nature of the church under these distinct notions, with our relation unto either or all of them, and the duties required of us thereon, I have treated fully in my discourse of Evangelical Love, Church Peace, and Unity; and thither I must remit the reader. It is the church in the latter sense alone whose original we now inquire after; and I say, —

2344. The original of this church-state is directly, immediately, and solely from Jesus Christ; he alone is the author, contriver, and institutor of it. When I say it is immediately and solely from him, I do not intend that in and by his own person, or in his personal ministry here in the earth, he did absolutely and completely finish this state, exclusively unto the ministry of any others that he was pleased to make use of therein; for as he took it on himself as his own work to build his church, and that upon himself as its foundation, so he employed his apostles to act under him and from him, in the carrying on that work unto perfection. But what was done by them is esteemed to be done all by himself. For, —

(1.) It was immediately from him that they received revelations of what did belong unto this church-state, and what was to be prescribed therein. They never did, neither jointly nor severally, once endeavour, in their own wisdom, or from their own invention, or by their own authority, to add or put into this church-state, as of perpetual use, and belonging unto it as such, either less or more, any one thing greater or less whatever. It is true, they gave their advice in sundry cases of present emergencies, in and about church-affairs; they gave direction for the due and orderly practice of what was revealed unto them, and exercised authority both as unto the ordination of officers, and the rejection of obstinate sinners from the society of all the churches; — but to invent, contrive, institute, or appoint any thing in the church and its state, which they had not by immediate revelation from Christ, they never attempted it nor went about it. And unto this rule of proceeding they were precisely obliged by the express words of their commission, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20. This, I say, is so plainly included in the tenor of their commission, and so evident from all that is divinely recorded of their practice, that it will admit of no sober contradiction. In what others think it meet to do in this kind, we are not concerned.

(2.) The authority whereby they acted in the institution of the church in its order, whereon the consciences of all believers were obliged to submit thereunto, and to comply with it in a way of obedience, was the authority of Christ himself, acted in them and by them, 2 Cor. i. 24, iv. 5. They everywhere disclaim any such power and authority in themselves. They pleaded that they were only stewards and ministers; not lords of the faith or obedience of the church, but helpers of its joy; yea, the servants of all the churches for Christ’s sake. And hereon it follows, that what is recorded of their practice, in their institution, ordering, or disposing of any thing in the church that was to be of an abiding continuance, hath in it the obliging power of the authority of Christ himself. Wherefore, if the distinction that some make concerning the apostles, — namely, 235that they are to be considered as apostles, or as church-governors, — should be allowed, as it is liable to just exceptions, yet would no advantage accrue thereby unto what is pretended from it; for as what they did, appointed, and ordered in the church for its constant observation, as apostles, they did it by immediate revelation from Christ, and in his name and authority, so what, in distinction from hence, as church-governors, they did or ordered, they did it only by a due application unto present occasions of what they had received by revelation. But as they were apostles, Christ sent them, as his Father sent him; and he was so sent of the Father as that he did “stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God,” Mic. v. 4. So did they feed the sheep of Christ in his strength, and in the authority or majesty of his name.

5. Christ, therefore, alone is the author of the gospel church-state. And because this is the only foundation of our faith and obedience, as unto all that we are to believe, do, and practice, by virtue of that church-state, or in order thereunto, the Scripture doth not only plainly affirm it, but also declares the grounds of it, why it must be so, and whence it is so, as also wherein his doing of it doth consist.

Three things, amongst others, are eminently necessary in and unto him who is to constitute this church-state, with all that belongs thereunto; and as the Scripture doth eminently and expressly ascribe them all unto Christ, so no man, nor all the men of the world, can have any such interest in them as to render them meet for this work, or any part of it:—

(1.) The first of these is right and title. He who institutes this church-state must have a right and title to dispose of all men, in all their spiritual and eternal concernments, as seemeth good unto him; for unto this church-state, namely, as it is purely evangelical, no man is obliged by the law of nature, nor hath any creature power to dispose of him into a condition whereon all his concernments, spiritual and eternal, shall depend. This right and title to the sovereign disposal of mankind, or of his church, Christ hath alone, and that upon a treble account:— [1.] Of donation from the Father: he appointed him the “heir of all things,” Heb. i. 2, 3. He gave him “power over all flesh,” John xvii. 2. Especially he hath given unto him and put into his absolute disposal all those who are to be his church, verse 6. [2.] By virtue of purchase: he hath by the price of his most precious blood purchased them unto his own power and disposal. He “purchased his church with his own blood,” Acts xx. 28; which the apostle makes the ground of that care which ought to be had of it. And this is pleaded as a sufficient reason why we should be wholly at his disposal only, and be free from any imposition of men in things spiritual: 1 Cor. vii. 23, “Ye are bought with 236a price; be ye not the servants of men.” The purchase of this right and title was one great end of the principal mediatory acts of Christ: Rom. xiv. 9, 10, “For to this end,” etc. [3.] Of conquest: for all those who were thus to be disposed by him were both under the power of his enemies, and were themselves enemies unto him in their minds. He could not, therefore, have a sovereign right unto their disposal but by a double conquest; — namely, first of their enemies, by his power; and then of themselves by his word, his Spirit, and his grace. And this twofold conquest of his is fully described in the Scripture.

Whereas, therefore, there is a disposal of the persons that are to belong unto this church-state, as unto their souls, consciences, and all the eternal concernments of them, by an indispensable moral obligation to a compliance therewithal, until men can manifest that they have such a right and title over others, and that either by the especial grant and donation of God the Father, or a purchase that they have made of them unto themselves, or conquest, they are not to be esteemed to have either right or title to institute any thing that belongs unto this church-state. And it is in vain pretended (as we shall see more afterward) that Christ, indeed, hath appointed this church-state in general, but that he hath appointed no particular form of churches or their rule, but left that unto the discretion and authority of men as they think meet, when they have outward power for their warranty. But if by these particular appointments and framings of churches with their order, men are disposed of, as unto their spiritual concernments, beyond the obligation of the light of nature or the moral law, we must yet inquire who gave them this right and title to make this disposal of them.

(2.) Authority. As right and title respect the persons of men to be reduced into a new form of government so authority respects the rules, laws, orders, and statutes to be made, prescribed, and established, whereby the privileges of this new society are conveyed, and the duties of it enjoined, unto all that are taken into it. Earthly potentates, who will dispose of men into a state and government absolutely new unto them, as unto all their temporal concernments of life, liberty, inheritances, and possessions, so as that they shall hold all of ahem in dependence on and according unto the rules and laws of their new government and kingdom, must have these two things; — namely, right and title unto the persons of men, which they have by conquest, or an absolute resignation of all their interests and concerns into their disposal; and authority, thereon to constitute what order, what kind of state, rule, and government, they please. Without these they will quickly find their endeavours and undertakings frustrate. The gospel church-state in the nature of it, and in all the 237laws and constitution of it, is absolutely new, whereunto all the world are naturally foreigners and strangers. As they have no right unto it as it containeth privileges, so they have no obligation unto it as it prescribes duties; wherefore, there is need of both these; — right, as unto the persons of men; and authority, as unto the laws and constitution of the church, unto the framing of it. And until men can pretend unto these things, both unto this right and authority with respect unto all the spiritual and eternal concernments of the souls of others, they may do well to consider how dangerous it is to invade the right and inheritance of Christ, and leave hunting after an interest of power in the framing or forming evangelical churches, or making of laws for their rule and government.

This authority is not only ascribed unto Jesus Christ in the Scripture, but it is enclosed unto him, so as that no other can have any interest in it. See Matt. xxviii. 18; Rev. iii. 7; Isa. ix. 6, 7. By virtue hereof he is the only “lawgiver” of the church, James iv. 12; Isa. xxxiii. 22. There is, indeed, a derivation of power and authority from him unto others, but it extends itself no farther, save only that they shall direct, teach, and command those whom he sends them unto to do and observe what he hath commanded, Matt. xxviii. 20. “He builds his own house,” and he is “over his own house,” Heb. iii. 3–6. He both constitutes its state, and gives laws for its rule.

The disorder, the confusion, the turning of the kingdom of Christ upside down, which have ensued upon the usurpation of men, taking upon them a legislative power in and over the church, cannot easily be declared; for upon a slight pretence, no way suited or serviceable unto their ends, — of the advice given and determination made by the apostles with the elders and brethren of the church of Jerusalem, in a temporary constitution about the use of Christian liberty, — the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries took upon themselves power to make laws, canons, and constitutions for the ordering of the government and the rule of the church, bringing in many new institutions on a pretence of the same authority. Neither did others who followed them cease to build on their sandy foundation, until the whole frame of the church-state was altered, a new law made for its government, and a new Christ or antichrist assumed in the head of its rule by that law; for all this pretended authority of making laws and constitutions for the government of the church issued in that sink of abominations which they call the canon-law. Let any man but of a tolerable understanding, and freed from infatuating prejudices, but read the representation that is made of the gospel church-state, its order, rule, and government, in the Scripture on the one hand, and what representation is made on the other of a church-state, its order, rule, and government, in the canon-law, — the only effect of men’s 238assuming to themselves a legislative power with respect unto the church of Christ, — if he doth not pronounce them to be contrary as light and darkness, and that by the latter the former is utterly destroyed and taken away, I shall never trust to the use of men’s reason or their honesty any more.

This authority was first usurped by synods, or councils of bishops. Of what use they were at any time to declare and give testimony unto any article of the faith which in their days was opposed by heretics, I shall not now inquire; but as unto the exercise of the authority claimed by them to make laws and canons for the rule and government of the church, it is to be bewailed there should be such a monument left of their weakness, ambition, self-interest, and folly, as there is in what remaineth of their Constitutions. Their whole endeavour in this kind was at best but the building of wood, hay, and stubble on the foundation, in whose consumption they shall suffer loss, although they be saved themselves. But in making of laws to bind the whole church, — in and about things useless and trivial, no way belonging to the religion taught us by Jesus Christ; in and for the establishment or increase of their own power, jurisdiction, authority, and rule, with the extent and bounds of their several dominions; in and for the constitution of new frames and states of churches, and new ways of the government of them; in the appointment of new modes, rites, and ceremonies of divine worship; with the confusions that ensued thereon, in mutual animosities, fightings, divisions, schisms, and anathematisms, to the horrible scandal of Christian religion, — they ceased not until they had utterly destroyed all the order, rule, and government of the church of Christ, yea, the very nature of it, and introduced into its room a carnal, worldly church-state and rule, suited unto the interests of covetous, ambitious, and tyrannical prelates. The most of them, indeed, knew not for whom they wrought in providing materials for that Babel, which, by a hidden skill in a mystery of iniquity, was raised out of their provisions; for after they were hewed and carved, shaped, formed, and gilded, the pope appeared in the head of it, as it were, with those words of his mouth: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty,” This was the fatal event of men’s invading the right of Christ, and claiming an interest in authority to give laws to the church. This, therefore, is absolutely denied by us, — namely, that any men, under what pretence or name soever, have any right or authority to constitute any new frame or order of the church, to make any laws of their own for its rule or government that should oblige the disciples of Christ in point of conscience unto their observation. That there is nothing in this 239assertion that should in the least impeach the power of magistrates, with reference unto the outward, civil, and political concerns of the church, or the public profession of religion within their territories, — nothing that should take off from the just authority of the lawful guides of the church, in ordering, appointing, and commanding the observation of all things in them, according to the mind of Christ, shall be afterward declared. In these things “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our statute-maker, the Lord is our king; he will save us.”

It is, then, but weakly pleaded, “That seeing the magistrate can appoint or command nothing in religion that God hath forbidden, nor is there any need that he should appoint or command what God hath already appointed and commanded; if so be he may not by law command Such things in the church as before were neither commanded nor forbidden, but indifferent, which are the proper field of his ecclesiastical legislative power, then hath he no power nor authority about religion at all;” — that is, if he hath not the same and a co-ordinate power with God or Christ, he hath none at all! One of the best arguments that can be used for the power of the magistrate in things ecclesiastical is taken from the approved example of the good kings under the Old Testament. But they thought it honour enough unto them, and their duty, to see and take care that the things which God had appointed and ordained should be diligently observed by all those concerned therein, both priests and people, and to destroy what God had forbidden. To appoint any thing of themselves, to make that necessary in the church and the worship thereof which God had not made so, they never esteemed it to be in their power, or to belong unto their duty. When they did any thing of that nature, and thereby made any additions unto the outward warship of God not before commanded, they did it by immediate revelation from God, and so by divine authority, 1 Chron. xxviii. 19. And it is left as a brand on those that were wicked, not only that they commanded and made “statutes” for the observation of what God had forbidden, Mic. vi. 16, but also that they commanded and appointed what God had not appointed, 1 Kings xii. 32, 33. And it will be found at last to be honour enough to the greatest potentate under heaven to take care that what Christ hath appointed in his church and worship be observed, without claiming a power like unto that of the Most High, to give laws unto the church for the observation of things found out and invented by themselves or other men.

Of the same nature is the other part of their plea against this denial of a legislative power in men with respect unto the constitution of the evangelical church-state, or the ordaining of any thing to be 240observed in it that Christ hath not appointed: for it is said, “That if this be allowed, as all the dignity, power, and honour of the governors of the church will be rejected or despised, so all manner of confusion and disorder will be brought into the church itself; for how can it otherwise be, when all power of law-making, in the preservation of the dignity of the rulers and order of the church, is taken away? And therefore we see it was the wisdom of the church in former ages that all the principal laws and canons that they made, in their councils or otherwise, were designed unto the exaltation and preservation of the dignity of church-rulers; wherefore, take this power away, and you will bring in all confusion into the church.”

Ans. 1. They do not, in my judgment, sufficiently think of whom and of what they speak who plead after this manner; for the substance of the plea is, that if the church have its whole frame, constitution, order, rule, and government from Christ alone, though men should faithfully discharge their duty in doing and observing all what he hath commanded, there would be nothing in it but disorder and confusion. Whether this becomes that reverence which we ought to have of him, or be suited unto that faithfulness and wisdom which is particularly ascribed unto him in the constitution and ordering of his church, is not hard to determine, and the truth of it shall be afterward demonstrated.

Ans. 2. As unto the dignity and honour of the rulers of the church, the subject of so many ecclesiastical laws, they are, in the first place, to be desired themselves to remember the example of Christ himself in his personal ministry here on earth: Matt. xx. 28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many;” — with the rule prescribed by him thereon, verses 25–27, “But Jesus called them 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 shall be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant;” — with the occasion of the instruction given therein unto his apostles, verse 24, “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren;” — as also the injunction given them by the apostle Peter, on whom, for their own advantage, some would fasten a monarchy over the whole church, 1 Pet. v. 2, 3, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock;” — and the blessed expressions of the apostolical state by Paul, 1 Cor. iv. 1, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the 241mysteries of God;” 2 Cor. i. 24, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy;” chap. iv. 5, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” It may prepare their minds for the right management of that honour which is their due. For, secondly, there is, in and by the constitution of Christ and his express laws, an honour and respect due unto those church-guides which he hath appointed, abiding in the duties which he requireth. If men had not been weary of apostolical simplicity and humility, if they could have contented themselves with the honour and dignity annexed unto their office and work by Christ himself, they had never entertained pleasing dreams of thrones, pre-eminencies, chief sees, secular grandeur and power, nor framed so many laws and canons about these things, turning the whole rule of the church into a worldly empire. For such it was, that as of all the popes which ever dwelt at Rome, there was never any pretended or acted a greater zeal for the rule and government of the church, by the laws and canons that it had made for that end, than Gregory VII., so if ever there were any antichrist in the world (as there are many antichrists) he was one. His Luciferian pride; his trampling on all Christian kings and potentates; his horrible tyranny over the consciences of all Christians; his abominable dictates asserting of his own god-like sovereignty; his requiring all men, on the pain of damnation, to be sinful subjects to God and Peter (that is, himself), which his own acts and epistles are filled withal, — do manifest both who and what he was. Unto that issue did this power of law or canon making, for the honour and dignity of church rulers, at length arrive.

Ans. 3. Let the constitution of the church by Jesus Christ abide and remain, — let the laws for its rule, government, and worship, which he hath recorded in the Scripture, be diligently observed by them whose duty it is to take care about them, both to observe them themselves and to teach others so to do, — and we know full well there will be no occasion given or left unto the least confusion or disorder in the church. But if men will be froward, and, because they may not make laws themselves or keep the statutes made by others, will neglect the due observation and execution of what Christ hath ordained; or will deny that we may and ought, in and for the due observation of his laws, to make use of the inbred light of nature and rules of common prudence (the use and exercise of both which are included and enjoined in the commands of Christ, in that he requires a compliance with them in the way of obedience, which we cannot perform without them), — I know of no relief against the perpetuity of our differences about these things. But after so much scorn and contempt hath been cast upon that principle, that it is not 242lawful to observe any thing in the rule of the church or divine worship, in a constant way, by virtue of any human canons or laws, that is not prescribed in the Scripture, if we could prevail with men to give us one single instance, which they would abide by, wherein the rules and institutions of Christ are so defective as that, without their canonical additions, order cannot be observed in the church, nor the worship of God be duly performed, it shall be diligently attended unto. Allow the general rules given us in Scripture for church order and worship to be applied unto all proper occasions and circumstances, with particular, positive, divine precepts; allow, also, that the apostles, in what they did and acted in the constitution and ordering of the churches and their worship, did and acted it in the name and by the authority of Christ; as also that there needs no other means of affecting and obliging our consciences in these things, but only that the mind and will of Christ be intimated and made known unto us, though not in the form of a law given and promulgated, which, I suppose, no men of sober minds or principles can disallow; and then give an instance of such a deficiency as that mentioned in the institutions of Christ, and the whole difference in this matter will be rightly stated, and not else. But to return from this digression.

The Scripture doth not only ascribe this authority unto Christ alone, but it giveth instances of his use and exercise thereof; which comprise all that is necessary unto the constitution and ordering of his churches and the worship of them. (1.) He buildeth his own house, Heb. iii. 3. (2.) He appointeth offices for rule in his churches, and officers, 1 Cor. xii. 5; Rom. xii. 6–8. (3.) He gives gifts for the administrations of the church, Eph. iv. 8, 11–13; 1 Cor. xi. 12. (4.) He gives power and authority unto them that are to minister and rule in the church, etc.; which things must be afterward spoken unto.

(3.) As unto this constitution of the gospel church-state, the Scripture assigneth, in an especial manner, faithfulness unto the Lord Christ, Heb. iii. 2–6. This power is originally in God himself; it belongs unto him alone, as the great sovereign of all his creatures. Unto Christ, as mediator, it was given by the Father, and the whole of it intrusted with him. Hence it follows, that in the execution of it he hath respect unto the mind and wilt of God, as unto what he would have done and ordered, with respect whereunto this power was committed unto him. And here his faithfulness takes place, exerted in the revelation of the whole mind of God in this matter, instituting, appointing, and commanding all that God would have so ordained, and nothing else. And what can any man do that cometh after the King?

Hereunto there is added, on the same account, the consideration of his wisdom, his love, and care for the good of his church; which 243in him were ineffable and inimitable. By all these things was he fitted for his office and the work that was reserved for him, so as that he might in all things have the pre-eminence. And this was to make the last and only full, perfect, complete revelation of the mind and will of God, as unto the state, order, faith, obedience, and worship of the church. There was no perfection in any of these things until he took this work in hand; wherefore, it may justly be supposed that he hath so perfectly stated and established all things concerning his churches and worship therein, being the last divine hand that was to be put to this work, and this his hand, Heb. i. 2, 3, that whatever is capable of a law or a constitution for the use of the church at all times, or is needful for his disciples to observe, is revealed, declared, and established by him. And in this persuasion I shall abide, until I see better fruits and effects of the interposition of the wisdom and authority of men, unto the same ends which he designed, than as yet I have been able, in any age, to observe.

The substance of the things pleaded may, for the greater evidence of their truth, be reduced unto the ensuing heads or propositions:—

First. Every church-state that hath an especial institution of its own, giving [it] its especial kind, supposeth and hath respect unto the law and light of nature, requiring and directing in general those things which belong unto the being, order, and preservation of such societies as that is. That there ought to be societies wherein men voluntarily join together for the solemn performance of divine worship and joint walking in obedience before God; that these societies ought to use such means for their own peace and order as the light of nature directs unto; that where many have a common interest they ought to consult in common for the due management of it, with other things of the like importance, are evident dictates of this light and law. Now, whatever church-state may be superinduced by divine institution, yet this light and law, in all their evident dictates, continue their Obliging power in and over the minds of men, and must do so eternally. Wherefore, things that belong hereunto need no new institution in any church-state whatever. But yet, —

Secondly. Whatever is required by the light of nature in such societies as churches, as useful unto their order, and conducing unto their end, is a divine institution. The Lord Christ, in the institution of gospel churches, their state, order, rule, and worship, doth not require of his disciples that in their observance of his appointments they should cease to be men, or forego the use and exercise of their rational abilities, according to the rule of that exercise, which is the light of nature. Yea, because the rules and directions are in this case to be applied unto things spiritual and of mere revelation, he giveth wisdom, 244prudence, and understanding, to make that application in a due manner, unto those to whom the guidance and rule of the church is committed. Wherefore, as unto all things which the light of nature directs us unto, with respect unto the observation of the duties prescribed by Christ in and unto the church, we need no other institution but that of the use of the especial spiritual wisdom and prudence which the Lord Christ gives unto his church for that end.

Thirdly. There are in the Scripture general rules directing us, in the application of natural light, unto such a determination of all circumstances, in the acts of church rule and worship, as are sufficient for their performance “decently and in order.” Wherefore, as was said before, it is utterly in vain and useless to demand express institution of all the circumstances belonging unto the government, order, rule, and worship of the church, or for the due improvement of things in themselves indifferent unto its edification, as occasion shall require; nor are they capable to be any otherwise stated, but as they lie in the light of nature and spiritual prudence, directed by general rules of Scripture.

These things being premised, our principal assertion is, — That Christ alone is the author, institutor, and appointer, in a way of authority and legislation, of the gospel church-state, its order, rule, and worship, with all things constantly and perpetually belonging thereunto, or necessary to be observed therein. What is not so is of men, and not from heaven. This is that which we have proved in general, and shall farther particularly confirm in our progress. Hence, —

6. There is no spiritual use nor benefit of any church-state, nor of anything therein performed, but what, on the part of men, consists in acts of obedience unto the authority of Christ. If, in any thing we do of this nature, we cannot answer that inquiry which God directs in this case to be made, namely, “Why we do this or that thing,” Exod. xii. 25–27, with this, “That it is because Christ hath required it of us,” we do not acknowledge him the Lord over his own house, nor hear him as the Son. Nor is there any act of power to be put forth in the rule of the church, but in them by whom it is exerted it is an act of obedience unto Christ, or it is a mere usurpation. All church-power is nothing but a faculty or ability to obey the commands of Christ in such a way and manner as he hath appointed; for it is his constitution that the administration of his solemn worship in the church, and the rule of it, as unto the observance of his commands, should be committed unto some persons set apart unto that end, according unto his appointment. This is all their authority, all that they have of order or jurisdiction, or by any other ways whereby they are pleased to express it. And where there is any gospel 245administration, any act of rule or government in the church, which those that perform do not give an evidence that they do it in obedience unto Christ, it is null, as unto any obligation on the consciences of his disciples. The neglect hereof in the world, — wherein many, in the exercise of church-discipline or any acts that belong unto the rule of it, think of nothing but their own offices, whereunto such powers are annexed, by human laws and canons, as enable them to act in their own names, without designing obedience unto Christ in all that they do, or to make a just representation of his authority, wisdom, and love thereby, — is ruinous unto church order and rule.

7. There is no legislative power in and over the church, as unto its form, order, and worship, left unto any of the sons of men, under any qualification whatever; for, —

(1.) There are none of them who have an interest in those rights, qualifications, and endowments, which are necessary unto an investiture into such a legislative power; for what was given and granted unto Christ himself unto this end, that he might be the lawgiver of the church, must be found also in them who pretend unto any interest therein. Have they, any of them, a right and title unto a disposal of the persons of believers in what way they please, as unto their spiritual and eternal concernments? Have they sovereign authority over all things, to change their moral nature, to give them new uses and significations, to make things necessary that in themselves are indifferent, and to order all those things by sovereign authority in laws obliging the consciences of men? And the like may be said of his personal qualifications, of faithfulness, wisdom, love, and care, which are ascribed unto him in this work of giving laws unto his churches, as he was the Lord over his own house.

(2.) The event of the assumption of this legislative power, under the best pretence that can be given unto it, — namely, in councils or great assemblies of bishops and prelates, — sufficiently demonstrates how dangerous a thing it is for any man to be engaged in; for it issued at length in such a constitution of churches, and such laws for the government of them, as exalted the canon law into the room of the Scripture, and utterly destroyed the true nature of the church of Christ, and all the discipline required therein.

(3.) Such an assumption is derogatory unto the glory of Christ, especially as unto his faithfulness in and over the house of God, wherein he is compared unto and preferred above Moses, Heb. iii. 3–6. Now, the faithfulness of Moses consisted in this, that he did and appointed all things according to the pattern showed him in the mount; that is, all whatever it was the will of God to be revealed and appointed for the constitution, order, rule, and worship of his church, and nothing else. But it was the will of God that there 246should be all those things in the gospel church-state also, or else why do men contend about them? And if this were the will of God, if they were not all revealed, appointed, prescribed, legalized by Christ, where is his faithfulness in answer to that of Moses? But no instance can be given of any defect in his institutions, that needs any supplement to be made by the best of men, as unto the end of constituting a church-state, order, and rule, with rites of worship in particular.

(4.) How it is derogatory unto the glory of the Scripture, as unto its perfection, shall be elsewhere declared.

8. There is no more required to give authority, obliging the consciences of all that do believe, unto any institution, or observation of duty, or acts of rule in the church, but only that it is made evident in the Scripture to be the mind and will of Christ. It is not necessary that every thing of this nature should be given out unto us in form of a law or precise command, in express words. It is the mind and will of Christ that immediately affects the consciences of believers unto obedience, by what way or means soever the knowledge of it be communicated unto them in the Scripture, either by express words, or by just consequence from what is so expressed. Wherefore, —

9. The example and practice of the apostles in the erection of churches, in the appointment of officers and rulers in them, in directions given for their walking, order, administration of censures, and all other holy things, are a sufficient indication of the mind and will of Christ about them. We do not say that in themselves they are institutions and appointments, but they infallibly declare what is so, or the mind of Christ concerning those things. Nor can this be questioned without a denial of their infallibility, faithfulness, and divine authority.

10. The assertion of some, that the apostles took their pattern for the state and rule of the churches, and as unto divers rites of worship, from the synagogues of the Jews, their institutions, orders, and rules, not those appointed by Moses, but such as themselves had found out and ordained, is both temerarious and untrue. In the pursuit of such bold conjectures, one22    It was not till five years after the publication of this work that Dr Spencer’s celebrated work, “De Legibus Hebræorum Ritualibus,” appeared, in which he contends that the Hebrew ritual had been borrowed from the religious ceremonies of the Egyptians, and accommodated by Moses to the purposes of divine revelation. It is impossible, therefore, that Owen can allude to this work, although, from the wide-spread influence it exerted on theological literature in this country and abroad, it has been named as one of the causes that gave birth and impulse to neological speculation. Mr Orme (“Biblioth. Biblic.”) affirms that the hypothesis had been already borrowed from Maimonides, and warmly urged by Sir John Marsham in his “Canon Chronicus Ægyptiacus,” published in 1672; and perhaps Dr Owen refers to this author. In a learned treatise, however, on the “Urim and Thummim,” published by Spencer in 1669, the same opinion is maintained, and the allusion of our author may after all be to Spencer. The views of the latter as to the Egyptian origin of the Urim and Thummim had been already propounded by Le Clerc; and Grotius had long before committed himself to the notion of Maimonides, that the Hebrew rites had been copied from Egypt. Witsius and Shuckford have distinguished themselves in the refutation of this hypothesis. — Ed. of late hath affirmed that Moses took most of his laws and ceremonies from the Egyptians, whereas it is much more likely that many of them were given on purpose to alienate the people by prohibitions from any compliance with the Egyptians, or any other nation; whereof Maimonides, in his “Moreh Nevochim,” 247gives us sundry instances. This assertion, I say, is rash and false; for, — (1.) As unto the instances given for its confirmation, who shall assure us that they were then in use and practice in the synagogues when the apostles gave rules unto the churches of the New Testament? We have no record of theirs, not one word in all the world, of what was their way and practice, but what is at least two hundred and fifty years younger and later than the writings of the New Testament; and in the first of their writings, as in them that follow, we have innumerable things asserted to have been the traditions and practices of their forefathers from the days of Moses, which we know to be utterly false. At that time when they undertook to compose a new religion out of their pretended traditions, partly by the revolt of many apostates from Christianity unto them, especially of the Ebionites and Nazarenes, and partly by their own study and observation, coming to the knowledge of sundry things in the gospel churches, their order and worship, they took them in as their own. Undeniable instances may be given hereof. (2.) Wherein there is a real coincidence between what was ordained by the apostles and what was practised by the Jews, it is in things which the light of nature and the general rules of the Scripture do direct unto. And it is dishonourable unto the apostles, and the Spirit of Christ in them, to think or say that in such things they took their pattern from the Jews, or made them their example. Surely the apostles took not the pattern and example for the institution of excommunication from the Druids, among whom there was some things that did greatly resemble it, so far as it hath its foundation in the light of nature.

« Prev Chapter II. The especial original of the… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection