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The preface to the reader.
The church of Christ, according as it is represented unto us, or described by the Holy Spirit of God, in the Old and New Testament, hath but a twofold consideration, — as catholic and mystical, or as visible and organized in particular congregations. The catholic church is the whole mystical body of Christ, consisting of all the elect which are purchased and redeemed by his blood, whether already called or uncalled, militant or triumphant; and this is the church that God gave him to be head unto, which is his body and his fullness, and, by union with him, Christ mystical, Eph. i. 22, 23; and this is that πανήγυρις (the only word most fully expressing the catholic church used in Scripture), “the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven;” Heb. xii. 23, that is, in the Lamb’s book of life; and they shall all appear one day gathered together to their Head, in the perfection and fullness of the New Jerusalem state, where they will make a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish. The day of grace which the saints have passed in the respective ages of the church was but the day of its espousals, wherein the bride hath made herself ready; but then will be her full married state unto Christ, then will be the perfection not only of every particular member of Christ, but of the whole body of Christ, called “a perfect man,” and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” to which we are called, edifying and building up by the ministry and ordinances of Christ, whilst we are “in via,” in our passage unto this country, a city with a more durable fixed foundation, which we seek.
In order, therefore, unto the completing this great and mystical body, Christ hath his particular visible churches and assemblies in this world; wherein he hath ordained ordinances and appointed officers for the forementioned glorious ends and purposes.
There is no other sort of visible church of Christ organized, the subject of the aforesaid institutions spoken of, but a particular church or congregation (either in the Old or New Testament), where all the members thereof do ordinarily meet together in one place to hold communion one with another in some one or more great ordinances of Christ. The first churches were economic, when the worship of God was solemnly performed in the large families of the antediluvian and postdiluvian patriarchs, where, no doubt, all frequently assembled to the sacrifices as then offered, and other parts of worship then in use.
After the descent of a numerous progeny from Abraham’s loins, God takes them to himself in one visible body, a national but congregational church, into which he forms them four hundred and thirty years after the promise, in the wilderness; and although all Abraham’s natural posterity, according to the external part of the promise made to him, were taken into visible church fellowship, so that it became a national church, yet it was such a national church always, in the wilderness and in the Holy Land, as was congregational, for it was but one congregation during the tabernacle or temple state, first or second. They were always bound to assemble at the tabernacle or temple thrice at least every year; hence the tabernacle was still called “The tabernacle of the congregation.” They were to have but one altar for burnt-offerings and sacrifices; what others were at any time elsewhere, called “high places,” were condemned by God as sin.
Lastly, When Christ had divorced this people, abolished their Mosaical constitution by breaking their staff of beauty and their staff of bands, he erects his gospel church, calls in disciples by his ministry, forms them into a body, furnisheth them with officers and ordinances, and after he had suffered, rose again, and continued here forty days, — in which time he frequently appeared to them and acquainted them with his will, — ascends unto his Father, sends his Spirit in a plentiful manner at Pentecost, whereby most of them were furnished with all necessary miraculous gifts, to the promoting the glory and interest of Christ among Jews and Gentiles.
Hence the whole evangelical ministry was first placed in the church of Jerusalem (so far as extraordinary, or such a part of it as was [not] to descend to churches of after ages); neither were they placed as abiding or standing officers in any other church, as we find. In this church they acted as the elders thereof; and from this church they were, it is very likely, solemnly sent, by fasting and prayer, to the exercise of their apostolic function in preaching, healing, and working miracles, gathering churches, and settling officers in them, even so as Paul and Barnabas were sent forth by the church of Antioch.
Their distinguishing apostolic office and charge (from which the evangelist differed but little) was to take care of all the churches, — not to sit down as standing pastors to all or any particular congregation, but at the first planting to gather, to direct, and confirm them, in practice of their doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and in prayer. Wherefore this apostolic care committed to them proves nothing either of the catholic authority claimed by an œcumenic pastor, or that charge of many congregations claimed by diocesan bishops.
Whence it is most evident that all church-officers, so far as they had any pastoral or episcopal office, were given to a particular congregation as the πρῶτον δεκτικόν. We read of no pastors of many congregations, nor of any church made up of many congregations, to which officers were annexed, nor of any representative church, as some would have.
That apostolic power did descend to successors we utterly deny, it being not derivable; for none after them could say they had been eye-witnesses of our Lord before or after his resurrection, none since so qualified by an extraordinary measure of the Spirit for preaching and working miracles, and none but the pope challenges such an extensive care for and power over all churches. That which descends from them to the ordinary ministry is a commission to preach and baptize: and why not to head, it being always, in the commission that Christ gave, a pastoral relation or presbytership which was included in their apostleship, and exercised toward the church of Jerusalem? Such presbytership John and Peter both had. Hence there remains no other successors “jure” to the apostles but ordinary pastors and teachers.
These are relative officers, and are always in and to some particular congregations; we know of no catholic visible church that any pastors are ordained to. 1. The Scripture speaks of no church as catholic visible. 2. The thing itself is but a chimera of some men’s brains, it is not “in rerum natura;” for if a catholic visible church be all the churches that I see at a time, I am not capable of seeing many more than what can assemble in one place. And if it be meant of all the churches actually in being, how are they visible to me? where can they be seen in one place? I may as well call all the cities and corporations in the world the catholic visible city or corporation, which all rational men would call nonsense. Besides, if all organized churches could be got together, it is not catholic in respect of saints militant, much less of triumphant; for many are no church members that are Christ’s members, and many visible members are no true members of Christ Jesus. Where is any such church capable of communion in all ordinances in one place? and the Scripture speaks of no other organized visible church.
Again: to a catholic visible church constituted should be a catholic visible pastor or pastors; for as the church is, such is the pastor and officers. To the mystical church Christ is the mystical head and pastor; he is called “The chief Pastor,” 1 Pet. v. 4; and “The Shepherd of our souls,” chap. ii. 25. Hence the uncalled are his sheep, as John x. 16. But to all visible churches Christ hath appointed a visible pastor or pastors; and where is the pastor of the catholic visible church? he is not to be found, unless it suffice us to take him from Rome. To say that all individual pastors are pastors to the catholic church is either to say that they are invested with as much pastoral power and charge in one church as in another, and then they are indefinite pastors, and therefore all pastors have mutual power in each other’s churches; and so John may come into Thomas’ church and exercise all parts of jurisdiction there, and Thomas into John’s; or a minister to the catholic church hath an universal catholic power over the catholic church, — if so, the power and charge which every ordinary pastor hath is apostolic; or, lastly, he is invested with an arbitrary power, at least as to the taking up a particular charge where he pleaseth, with a “non obstante” to the suffrages of the people, for if he hath an office whereby he is equally related to all churches, it is at his liberty, by virtue of this office, to take [himself] where he pleaseth.
But every church-officer under Christ is a visible relate, and the correlate must he such, whence the church must he visible to which he is an officer. It is absurd to say a man is a visible husband to an invisible wife; the relate and correlate must be “ejusdem naturæ.” It is true, Christ is related to the church as mystical head, but it is in respect of the church in its mystical nature, for Christ hath substituted no mystical officers in his church.
There is a great deal of difference between the mystical and external visible church, though the latter is founded upon it and for the sake of it. It is founded upon it as taking its true spiritual original from it, deriving vital spirits from it by a mystical union to and communion with Christ and his members; — and it is for the sake of it; all external visible assemblies, ministers, ordinances, are for the sake of the mystical body of Christ, for calling in the elect, and the edifying of them to that full measure of stature they are designed unto.
But the different consideration lies in these things, —
That the mystical church doth never fail, neither is diminished by any shocks of temptation or suffering that, in their visible profession, any of them undergo; whereas visible churches are often broken, scattered, yea, unchurched, and many members fall of the grace of God by final apostasy. Likewise Christ’s mystical church is many times preserved in that state only, or mostly, when Christ hath not a visible organized church, according to institution, to be found on the face of the earth. So it was with his church often under the old testament dispensation: as in Egypt; in the days of the judges, when the ark was carried away by the Philistines; in the days of Manasseh and other wicked kings; and especially in Babylon. In such times the faithful ones were preserved without the true sacrifices, the teaching priest, and the law. So hath it been in the days of the new testament, in divers places, under the draconic heathen persecutions, and afterward in the wilderness state of the church, under the antichristian usurpations and false worship. Which mystical state is the place prepared of God to hide the seed of the woman in from the dragon’s rage for the space of one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Again: unto this mystical church is only essentially necessary a mystical union unto the Lord Jesus Christ, by the gift of the Father, acceptation and covenant-undertaking of the Son: the powerful and efficacious work of the Spirit of the Father and the Son working true saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and sincere love to him and all his true members; whereby, as they have a firm and unshaken union, so they have a spiritual communion, though without those desirable enjoyments of external church privileges and means of grace which they are providentially often hindered from, visible churches being but Christ’s tents and tabernacles, which he sometimes setteth up and sometimes takes down and removes at his pleasure, as he sees best for his glory in the world.
But of these he hath a special regard, as to their foundation, matter, constitution, and order. He gives forth an exact pattern from mount Zion, as of that typical tabernacle from mount Sinai of old.
1. The foundation part of a visible church is the credible profession of faith and holiness, wherein the Lord Jesus Christ is the corner-stone, Eph. ii. 20; Matt. xvi. 18. This profession is the foundation, but not the church itself. It is not articles of faith, or profession of them in Particular individual persons, that make an organized visible church. We are the “household of faith, built upon the foundation,” etc. 2. It is men and women, not doctrine, that are the matter of a church, and these professing the faith and practising holiness. The members of churches are always called in the New Testament, “saints, faithful, believers.” They were such that were added to the churches. Neither is every believer so, as such, but as a professing believer; for a man must appear to be fit matter of a visible church before he can challenge church privileges or they can be allowed him. 3. It is not many professing believers that make a particular church; for though they are fit matter for a church, yet they have not the form of a church without a mutual agreement and combination (explicit, or at least implicit), whereby they become, by virtue of Christ’s charter, a spiritual corporation, and are called a” city, household, house,” being united together by joints and bands, not only by internal bonds of the Spirit, but external. The bonds of union must be visible, as the house is by profession.
This is a society that Christ hath given power to, to choose a pastor and other officers of Christ’s institution, and enjoy all ordinances, the word, sacraments, and prayer, as Christ hath appointed.
Hence a visible church must needs be a separate congregation; separation is a proper and inseparable adjunct thereof. The apostle speaks of church-membership, 2 Cor. vi. 14, “Be not unequally yoked together,” ἑτεροζυγοῦντες, yoked with those of another kind (the ploughing with an ox and ass together being forbidden under the law), “with unbelievers,” ἀπίστοις, — that is, visible unbelievers of any sort or kind: “for what participation, μετοχὴ, hath righteousness with unrighteousness? what κοινωνία, communion or fellowship, hath light with darkness. Verse 15, Τίς δὲ συμφώνησις, What harmony hath Christ with Belial?” men of corrupt lives and conversation; “or what part μερὶς πιστῷ μετὰ ἀπίστου, hath a believer;” that is, a visible believer, “with an unbeliever?” It ought not to be tendered “infidel,” but it was done by our translators to put a blind upon this place as to its true intention, and to countenance parish communion; for why did they not here, verse 14, and everywhere else, render ἄπιστος, “an infidel?” Verse 16, Τίς δὲ συγκατάθεσις ναῷ Θεοῦ μετὰ εἰδώλων, What consistency hath the temple of God, that is, the gospel church, “with idols?” etc. I take this place to be a full proof of what is before spoken, — that a gospel church is a company of faithful professing people, walking together by mutual consent or confederation to the Lord Jesus Christ and one to another, in subjection to and practice of all his gospel precepts and commands, whereby they are separate from all persons and things manifestly contrary or disagreeing thereunto.
Hence, as it is separate from all such impurities as are without, so Christ hath furnished it with sufficient power and means to keep itself pure, and therefore hath provided ordinances and ministers for that end and purpose; for the great end of church-edification cannot be obtained without purity be also maintained in doctrine and fellowship.
Purity cannot be maintained without order. A disorderly society will corrupt within itself; for by disorder it is divided. By divisions the joints and bands are broken, not only of love and affection, but of visible conjunction; so that, roots of bitterness and sensual separation arising, many are defiled.
It is true, there may be a kind of peace and agreement in a society that is a stranger to gospel order; when men agree together to walk according to a false rule, or in a supine and negligent observation of the true rule. There may be a common connivance at each one to walk as he listeth; but this is not order, but disorder by consent. Besides, a church may, for the most part, walk in order when there are breaches and divisions. Some do agree to walk according to the rule, when others will deviate from it. It is orderly to endeavour to reduce those that walk not orderly, though such just undertakings seem sometimes grounds of disturbance and causes of convulsion in the whole body, threatening even its breaking in pieces; but yet this must be done to preserve the whole.
The word translated “order,” Col. ii. 5, τάξις, is a military word; it is the order of soldiers in a hand, keeping rank and file, where every one keeps his place, follows his leader, observes the word of command, and his right-hand man. Hence the apostle joys to see their close order and steadfastness in the faith, their firmness, valour, and resolution, in fighting the good fight of faith; and the order in so doing, not only in watching as single professors, but in marching orderly together, as an army with banners. There is nothing more comely than a church walking in order; when every one keeps his place, knows and practiseth his duty according to the rule, each submitting to the other in the performance of duty; when the elders know their places, and the people theirs. Christ hath been more faithful than Moses, and therefore hath not left his churches without sufficient rules to walk by.
That order may be in a church of Christ, the rules of the gospel must be known, and that by officers and people. They that are altogether ignorant of the rule, or negligent in attending it, or doubtful, and therefore always contending about it, will never walk according to it. Hence it is the great duty of ministers to study order well, and acquaint the people with it. It is greatly to be bewailed that so few divines bend their studies that way. They content themselves only with studying and preaching the truths that concern faith in the Lord Jesus, and the mere moral part of holiness; but as to gospel churches or instituted worship, they generally in their doctrine and practice let it alone, and administer sacraments as indefinitely as they preach, and care not to stand related to one people more than another, any further than maintained by them. Likewise many good people are as great strangers to gospel churches and order, and, as their ministers, have a great averseness to both, and look upon it as schism and faction. And this is the great reason of the readiness of both to comply with rules of men for making churches (canons established by human laws), being carried away (if they would speak the truth) by corrupt, Erastian principles, that Christ hath left the church to be altogether guided and governed by laws of magistratic sanction. Reformation from the gross, idolatrous part of antichristianism was engaged in with some heroic courage and resolution; but the coldness and indifference of Protestants to any farther progress almost ever since is not a little to be lamented. Many think it enough that the foundation of the house is laid in purity of doctrine (and it is well if that were not rather written in the books than preached in pulpits at this day), but how little do they care to set their hands to building the house! Sure a great matter it is, from that spiritual slothfulness that many are fallen under, as likewise from being ready to sink under the great discouragements laid before them by the adversaries of Judah, when they find the children of the spiritual captivity are about to build a gospel church unto the Lord. And how long hath this great work ceased? And will the Lord’s ministers and people yet say, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built?” Is it time to build our own houses, and not the house of the Lord? Surely it is time to build; for we understand by books the number of years whereof the word of the Lord came to Daniel the prophet, and to John the beloved disciple and new testament prophet, that he would accomplish twelve hundred and sixty years in the desolation of our Jerusalem and the court which is without the temple, namely, the generality of visible professors, and the external part of worship, which hath been so long trod down by Gentilism. Wherefore, “Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord,” Hag. i. 8. Men, it may be, have thought they have got, or at least saved, by not troubling themselves with the care, charge, and trouble of gathering churches and walking in gospel order; but God saith, “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house,” verse 9. I doubt not but the time is nigh at hand that the gospel temple must be built with greater splendour and glory than ever Solomon’s or Zerubbabel’s was; and though it seems to be a great mountain of difficulties, yet it shall become a plain before Him that is exalted far above all principalities and powers; and as he hath laid the foundation thereof in the oppressed state of his people, so his hands shall finish it, and bring forth the headstone thereof with shouting in the New Jerusalem State, crying now, “Grace, grace,” but then, “Glory, glory to it.”
This hastening glory we should endeavour to meet and fetch in by earnest prayers and faithful endeavours to promote the great work of our day. The pattern is of late years given forth with much clearness by models such as God hath set up in this latter age in the wilderness, and sheltered by “cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory hath been a defence,” yea, and it hath been “a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from the storm and from the rain.” Neither have we been left to act by the examples or traditions of men. We have had a full manifestation of the revealed mind and will of Christ, with the greatest evidence and conviction, God having in these latter times raised up many most eminent instruments for direction and encouragement unto his people, which he furnished accordingly with great qualifications to this end and purpose, that the true original, nature, institution, and order, of evangelical churches might be known, distinguished, prized, and adhered to, by all that know the name of Christ, and would be followers of him as his disciples, in obedience to all his revealed mind and will; amongst which faithful and renowned servants of Christ the late author of this most useful and practical treatise hath approved himself to be one of the chief. I need say nothing of his steadfast piety, universal learning, indefatigable labours, in incessant vindication of the doctrines of the gospel (of greatest weight) against all oppositions made thereto by men of corrupt minds. His surviving works will always be bespeaking his honourable remembrance amongst all impartial lovers of the truth. They that were acquainted with him, knew how much the state and standing of the churches of Christ under the late sufferings and strugglings for reformation were laid to heart by him, and therefore how he put forth his utmost strength to assist, aid, comfort, and support the sinking spirits of the poor saints and people of God, even wearied out with long and repeated persecutions. It is to be observed that this ensuing treatise was occasioned by one of the last and most vigorous assaults made upon separate and congregational churches by a pen dipped in the gall of that persecuting spirit under which God’s people groaned throughout this land. He then wrote an elaborate account of evangelical churches, their original, institution, etc., with a vindication of them from the charges laid in against them by the author of “The Unreasonableness of Separation.” This he lived to print, and promised to handle the subject more particularly; which is here performed. He lived to finish it under his great bodily infirmities, whereby he saw himself hastening to the end of his race; yet so great was his love to Christ, that whilst he had life and breath he drew not hack his hand from his service. This work he finished, with others, through the gracious support and assistance of divine power, and corrected the copy before his departure. So that, reader, thou mayst be assured that what thou hast here was his (errata of the press only excepted), and likewise that it ought to be esteemed as his legacy to the church of Christ, being a great part of his dying labours; and therefore it is most uncharitable to suppose that the things here wrote were penned with any other design than to advance the glory and interest of Christ in the world, and that they were not matters of great weight on his own spirit. And upon the perusal that I have had of these papers, I cannot but recommend them to all diligent inquirers after the true nature, way, order, and practice, of evangelical churches, as a true and faithful account, according to what understanding the professors thereof, for the most part, have had and practised. Whoever is otherwise minded, he hath the liberty of his own light and conscience. Lastly, whereas many serious professors of the faith of the Lord Jesus, it may be well grounded in the main saving truths of the gospel, are yet much to seek of these necessary truths for want of good information therein, and therefore walk not up to all the revealed mind of Christ, as they sincerely desire, let such, with unprejudiced minds, read and consider what is here offered to them, and receive nothing upon human authority, follow no man in judgment or practice any farther than he is a follower of Christ. And this is all the request of him that is a lover of all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ.
J. C.1919 The initials probably of Isaac Chauncey. See vol. v. p. 404 and vol. vii. p. 503. [Isaac Chauncey, M.A. and M.D., was pastor of Bury Street congregation, London, from 1687 to 1702. It was the congregation of which Dr Owen had the charge in 1683, when he died. Dr Chauncey was the son of Mr Chauncey, President of Harvard College, New England, and had been ejected from the living of Woodborough, Wiltshire, at the time of the Restoration. On demitting the charge of his congregation in 1687, he was succeeded by the celebrated Dr I. Watts. He was subsequently appointed tutor to a new academical institution at Homerton, London, — the same institution which has acquired wide-spread celebrity under the able and honoured presidency of the Rev. John Pye Smith, D.D.]
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