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dispensations. The first was limited, local, secular, temporary, ceremonial, typical, carnal, worldly and national
at least, in many or most respects. The latter is and was designed to be--catholic, spiritual, unworldly and perpetual; a religion of peace on earth and good will toward men; of hope, joy, charity and holiness; of everlasting life and felicity through faith in the atoning sacrifice of the eternal Son of God, to all generations, without respect to persons, and without distinction of nations or families.
The worship and ritual service of the tabernacle, and more especially of the temple, were imposing, costly, burdensome, magnificent, and altogether without a rival in external splendour, pomp and grandeur. Whatever appertained to the system or to the priesthood, was also most minutely and accurately prescribed. So particular and so precise, indeed, were the directions and descriptions recorded in the Jewish law-book, that no room was left for doubt, or for diversity of opinion, in regard either to the substance or form of any commanded observance. Thus, the manner in which circumcision was to be performed and the passover to be celebrated, was so clearly indicated and so well understood, that no dispute or controversy ever arose upon the subject. Now, in all these respects, the Christian economy presents a direct contrast to the Jewish. Christ's kingdom is not of this world: and he demands the homage of the heart. The temple, the sacrifice, the Levitical priesthood, had accomplished the purposes of their institution; and were superseded
by a service which every sincere disciple or believer could render at any time, in any place, under cumstances, and without regard to external or conventional formalities. Under the Gospel, no importance is attached to forms or modes. There are no rites or ceremonies—at least, in the Jewish meaning of the terms. Or if Baptism and the Eucharist be exceptions, they are very different in character, object and signification. There is no particularity or specification of details. No minute directions are given about form, manner, time and other incidents. Of course, much is left to human discretion—with a wide scope or margin for differences in mere non-essential modes; and for the exercise of charity and mutual forbearance among Christian sects and parties.
5. The Bible is our only authoritative guide and standard in the government and discipline of the Church, as well as in doctrine and conduct.
6. In the absence or want of explicit scriptural directions, we must be guided by the spirit and manifest scope of the Gospel. That system of ecclesiastical polity is best, which most surely promotes, cherishes, and accords with, the principles of the Gospel:—which most effectually maintains purity of doctrine and holiness of life among the people.
7. According to the "judicious” Hooker: “The necessity of polity and regimen in all churches may be believed, without holding any one certain form to be necessary in them all. And the general principles are such, as do not particularly describe any one; but sun
dry forms of discipline may be equally consistent with the general axioms of Scripture.”
The practical applications of this apparently liberal announcement, by the celebrated author of the “Ecclesiastical Polity," will be noticed hereafter.
8. Diversity in the forms of church government, as well as in doctrine and ceremonial, has prevailed almost from the apostolic age. These, under various modifications, may be denominated or classified, as Popish or Roman Catholic, Prelatical or Episcopal, Independent or Congregational, Presbyterian, and Erastian.
There are three strongly-marked and distinct systems, which embrace the elementary grounds of difference and controversy among Protestants, namely: The Independent, the Episcopal and the Presbyterian. These appeal mainly to Scripture for their respective peculiarities.
All non-Episcopal churches, as Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, etc., may be regarded as Presbyterian, so far as the question of mere parity among the preaching clergy is concerned. The Friends or Quakers claim to be without government, discipline, creed or ministry—though, in fact, they have them all.
9. In order to arrive at a just and impartial estimate of the scriptural basis of church government, let each one for himself group together, at his leisure, the various passages and facts of the New Testament relating to the subject; and endeavour to ascertain their precise legitimate import in connexion with the context and with each other. Let this be done without prepossession or prejudice. Let us also, with equal candour, consider the structure and organization of the churches actually established by the apostles: as those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus,—and others.
10. In what respects, and for what purposes, they, or any of them, may be consulted and relied on as authority. As regards the testimony of the Fathers, we should inquire, What do they teach or testify?
11. Candid inquirers generally admit, that the details of church government are not explicitly stated either in the New Testament or in the works of the early Christian writers. They profess to find there only fundamental principles; which, if combined into a system, will naturally lead to these details. These elementary principles, according to the judgment of non-Episcopal Protestants, are UNION, PARITY, REPRESENTATION. These stand out, with great prominence, they think, both in the divine record, and in the writings of the primitive Fathers: and no system of ecclesiastical polity can be scriptural or defensible, from which either of them is excluded.*
12. No a priori or presumptive argument in favour of any existing form of church government, as being cspecially or pre-eminently adapted to the exclusion of error and heresy; or to the preservation of orthodoxy, peace, order and unity; or to the prevention of schism, sectarism, dissent, controversy or non-conformity; is per tinent, reliable or conclusive.
The primitive apostolic church did not accomplish any of these objects. Bad men were admitted to its communion and membership-as Judas, Ananias and Sapphira, Simon Magus, Demas, Diotrephes, Hymenaeus, Alexander, etc.
* See Biblical Repertory, vol. xvi. p. 20, etc.
The tares and wheat were suffered to grow up together. Heresies and irregularities of various kinds are specified. Antichrist, even, had begun to appear.
Has any ancient or modern national established church succeeded any better? Roman, Greek, English, French, Dutch, Swiss, Scotch, Genevese? How has it fared with voluntary, free, unprotected, and even persecuted, churches? The past history and the present condition of the numerous ecclesiastical organizations, both in the Old World and in the New, will furnish abundant, if not very satisfactory, answers to all inquiries of this kind.
While we object to this species of argument, as usually paraded by almost every denomination in its own behoof, we nevertheless do hold and affirm that the genuine, scriptural, apostolic system of polity and discipline, is not only the sole legitimate authoritative system, but also the most efficient guardian of truth and holiness in the Christian Church. If it cannot prevent the occurrence or intrusion of heresy and hypocrisy, its seasonable and judicious discipline will, sooner or later, purify the Church, by cutting off, or excluding from its communion, all contumacious incorrigible offenders,—to the extent, at least, contemplated by the divine Head of the Church.
13. Again: the argument in behalf of any church constitution, founded on, or derived from, its assumed or supposed resemblance or analogy to any particular