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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 terin 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.
If the practice of Christ and his apostles be in all cases binding upon Christians, whether the reason of the thing be the same or not, why do they not eat the Lord's supper with unleavened bread, and in a reclining posture? And why do they not assemble together merely to celebrate this ordinance, and that on a Lord's day evening? From the accounts in 1 Cor. xi. 20. and Acts xx. 7. two things appear to be evident-First: That the celebration of the Lord's supper was the specific object of the coming together, both of the church at Corinth, and of that at Troas the former came together (professedly) to eat the Lord's supper; the latter are said to have come together to break bread. Secondly: That it was on the evening of the day. This is manifest not only from its being called the Lord's supper, but from the Corinthians making it their own supper, and from its being followed at Troas by a sermon from Paul which required "lights," and continued till "midnight."
I do not mean to say that the church at either Corinth or Troas had no other worship during the first day of the week than this; but that this was attended to as a distinct object of assembling, and, if there were any other, after the other was over.
It may be thought that these were mere accidental circumstances, and therefore not binding on us. It does not appear to me, however, that we are at liberty to turn the Lord's supper into a breakfast. But if we be, and choose to do so, let us not pretend to a punctilious imitation of the first churches.
It is well known to be a peculiarity in Sandemanian societies not to determine any question by a majority. They, like the first churches must be of one mind; and, if there be any dissentients who cannot be convinced, they are excluded. Perfect unanimity is certainly desirable, not only in the great principles of the gospel but in questions of discipline, and even in the choice of officers; but how if this be unattainable? The question is, whether it be more consistent with the spirit and practice of the New Testament for the greater part of the church to forbear with the less, or Diotrephes like, to cast them out of the church; and this for having, according to the best of their judgments, acted up to the scriptural directions? One of these modes of proceeding must of VOL. III.