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In these ordinations, a Paul or a Titus would preside; but the other elders who were present would unite in brotherly concurrence, and in importuning a blessing on the parties: and hence there would be the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, or elders.
I may add, though it does not immediately respect any question here at issue, If the first missionaries, and those appointed by them, planted churches set them in order, and presided at the ordination of elders, it was not because the same things would not have been VALID if done by others, but because they would not have been DOne. Let but churches be planted, set in order, and scripturally organized, and whether it be by the missionaries or succeeding native pastors, all is good and acceptable to Christ. And such, I conceive, is the state of things with respect to the apostles and succeeding ministers. The same things which were done by the apostles were done by others appointed by them; and had they been done by elders whom they had not appointed, provided the will of Christ had been properly regarded, they would not have objected to their validity. This is certainly true in some particulars, and I see not why it should not be in all. Paul left Timothy at Ephesus that he might charge some that they taught no other doctrine: but if the Ephesian teachers had been themselves attached to the truth, neither Paul nor Timothy would have been offended with them for having superceded their interference. He also left Titus in Crete to set in order the things that were wanting, and to ordain elders in every city: but if the Cretians themselves had had sufficient wisdom and virtue to have regulated their own affairs by the word of God, I believe their order would not have been reckoned disorder. Had there been elders already ordained among them competent to assist in the ordination of others, if we may judge from the general tenor of apostolic practice, instead of objecting to the validity of their proceedings, both Paul and Titus would, though absent in the flesh, have been with' them in the spirit, joying and beholding their order, and the steadfastness of their faith in Christ.
The sum is, that church government and discipline are not a body of ceremonies; but a few general principles and examples,
sufficient for all practical purposes, but not sufficient to satisfy those who, in New Testament directions, expect to find an Old Testament ritual. It is not difficult to perceive the wisdom of God in thus varying the two dispensations. The Jewish church was an army of soldiers, who had to go through a variety of forms in learning their discipline: the Christian church is an army going forth to battle. The members of the first were taught punctilious obedience, and led with great formality through a variety of religious evolutions: but those of the last, (though they also must keep their ranks, and act in obedience to command whenever it is given,) are required to attend, not so much to the mechanical as to the mental, not so much to the minute observations of forms, as to the spirit and design of them. The order of the one would almost seem to be appointed for order's sake: but in that of the other the utility of every thing is apparent. The obedience of the former was that of children; the latter of sons arrived at maturer age.
As our Saviour abolished the Jewish law of divorce, and reduced marriage to its original simplicity; so, having abolished the form and order of the church as appointed by Moses, he reduced it to what, as to its first principles, it was from the beginning, and to what must have corresponded with the desires of believers in every age. It was natural for "the sons of God" in the days of Seth to assemble together, and "call upon the name of the Lord;" and their unnatural fellowship with unbelievers brought on the deluge. And even under the Jewish dispensation, wicked men, though descended from Abraham, were not considered as Israelites indeed, or true citizens of Zion. The friends of God were then the companions of those that feared him." They "spake often one to another," and assembled for mutual edification. What then is gospel church fellowship but godliness ramified, or the principle of holy love reduced to action? There is scarcely a precept on the subject of church discipline but what may, in substance, be found in the proverbs of Solomon.
It does not follow from hence that all forms of worship and church government are indifferent, and left to be accommodated to times, places and circumstances. The principles or general
outlines of things are marked out, and we are not at liberty to deviate from them; nor are they to be filled up by worldly policy, but by a pure desire of carrying them into effect according to their true intent to which may be added, that, so far as they are exemplified in the New Testament it is our duty in similar cases to follow the example.
It does follow, however, that scripture precedent, important as it is, is not binding on Christians in things of a moral nature, unless the REASON of the thing be the same in both cases. Of this, proof has been offered in Letter IX, relative to the washing of the feet, the kiss of charity, &c. It also follows that in attending to positive institutions neither express precept nor precedent is necessary in what respects the holy manner of performing them, nor binding in regard of mere accidental circumstances, which do not properly belong to them. It required neither express precept nor precedent to make it the duty of the Corinthians when meeting to celebrate the Lord's supper, to do it soberly and in the fear of God, nor to render the contrary a sin. There are also circumstances which may on some occasions accompany a positive institution, and not on others; which being, therefore, no part of it are not binding. It is a fact that the Lord's supper was first celebrated with unleavened bread; for no leaven was to be found at the time in all the Jewish habitations; but no mention being made, either in the institution, or in the repetition of it by the Apostle, we conclude it was a mere accidental circumstance no more belonging to the ordinance than its having been in "a large upper room." It is a fact, too, that our Lord and his disciples sat in a reclining posture at the supper, after the manner of sitting at their ordinary meals; yet none imagine this to be binding upon us. It is also a fact, with regard to the time, that our Saviour first sat down with his disciples, on the evening of the fifth day of the week, the night in which he was betrayed; but though that was a memorable night, and is mentioned by the apostle in connexion with the supper, yet no one supposes it to be binding upon us; especially as we know it was afterwards celebrated on the first day of the week by the church at Troas.
Much has been advanced, however, in favour of the first day of the week, as exclusively the time for the celebration of the Lord's supper, and of its being still binding on Christians. A weekly communication might, for any thing we know, be the general practice of the first churches; and certainly there can be no objection to the thing itself; but to render it a term of communion, is laying bonds in things wherein Christ has laid none. That the supper was celebrated on the first day of the week by the church at Troas is certain; that it was so every first day of the week, is possible, perhaps probable; but the passage does not prove that it was so; and still less, as Mr. Braidwood affirms, that "it can only be dispensed on that day." The words of the institution are, As oFTEN as ye eat, &c. without determining how of ten. Those who would make these terms so indeterminate as not to denote frequency, and consequently to be no rule at all as to time, do not sufficiently consider their force. The term "often," we all know, denotes frequency; and "as often" denotes the degree of that frequency where frequency itself is not. It might as well be said that the words, How MUCH she hath glorified herself, SO MUCH torment give her, convey no idea of Babylon having glorified herself more than others, but merely of her punishment being proportioned to her pride, be it much or little.
The truth appears to be that the Lord's supper ought to be frequently celebrated; but the exact time of it is a circumstance which does not belong to the ordinance itself.
Similar remarks might be made on female communion, a subject on which a great deal has been written of late years in the baptismal controversy. Whether there be express precept or precedent for it, or not, it is of no consequence: for the distinction of sex is a mere circumstance in no wise affecting the qualifications required, and therefore not belonging to the institution. It is of just as much account as whether a believer be a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free man; that is, it is of no account at all: For there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female; but all are one in Christ Jesus. Express precept or prece
*Letters, p. 44.
dent might as well be demanded for the parties being tall or low, black or white, sickly or healty, as for their being male or female.
To accommodate the spirit of New Testament practice to the fluctuating manners and inclinations of men is certainly what ought not to be but neither can it be denied that many of the apostolic practices were suited to the state of things at the time, and would not have been what they were if circumstances had been different. To instance in their proceedings on the seventh and first days of the week-It is well known, that in preaching to the Jews, and others who attended with them, they generally took the seventh day of the week:* the reason of which doubtless was, its being the day in which they were to be met with at their synagogues. Hence it is that on the first day of the week so little is said of their preaching to unbelievers, and so much of the celebrating of Christian ordinances, which are represented as the specific object of their coming together. But the same motive that induced the Apostles to preach to unbelievers chiefly on the seventh day of the week would, in our circumstances, have induced them to preach to them on the first, that being now the day on which they ordinarily assemble together. In countries where Christianity has so far obtained as for the legislature to respect the first day of the week as a day of rest, instead of having now and then an individual come into our assemblies, as the primitive churches had, and as churches raised in heathen countries must still have, we have multitudes who on that day are willing to hear the word. In such circumstances the apostles would have preached both to believers and unbelievers, and administered Christian ordinances all on the same day. To frame our worship in things of this nature after apostolic example, without considering the reasons of their conduct, is to stumble in darkness, instead of walking as the children of the light. Yet this is the kind of apostolic practice by which the churches have been teazed and divi ded, the great work of preaching the gospel to the ungodly neglected, and Christianity reduced to litigious trifling.
*Acts xiii. 42. xviii. 4. xvi. 13. + 1 Cor. xi. 20. Acts xx. 7.