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As obedience to the will of God in all particulars, concerning which the Scriptures have given us instruction, is the duty of every professor of Christianity; I have considered it as a branch of that regard which I owe to those sacred records, to inquire whether they contain any instructions relative to the formation and order of that society, which constitutes the visible church of Christ on earth.
I was aware that this subject had been a fruitful source of controversy among Christians of different denominations. But having neither leisure nor inclination to peruse many massy folios, which might perhaps have perplexed, rather than instructed me; I determined to apply to the fountain-head of knowledge; and, without inquiring after the opinions of others, to attempt the settling of my own, by a careful perusal of the New Testament.
Sensible of the effect which education has, in fixing a firm prepossession in our minds, I strove to lay aside all pre-conceived opinions; and endeavoured to find out the meaning of the inspired writers, by comparing those passages which treat upon the subject that I had in contemplation.
In pursuance of this design, I wrote down on one page every passage, or, at least, the principal passages of Scripture, which had a relation to my subject; and, on the opposite page I remarked what appeared to me to be the plain meaning of, or obvious conclusion from, the several passages which I had transcribed. Having finished this task, I examined the result, and drew up a general view of the subject. From this investigation, I obtained
more satisfaction than I expected to find, when I set out upon my inquiry.
My papers have lain by me for many years, having been compiled for the guidance of my own conduct, and the instruction of my children. They have, indeed, occasionally, though rarely, been shown to a serious friend, with whom I might happen to converse upon the subject.
About three years ago, happening to read in a periodical publication a paper upon church government, which seemed to me to contain some unwarrantable assertions, I drew up the following observations on the orders of ministers in the christian church, which you were pleased to think might be of use to some, whose minds are wavering upon the subject. I send them to you in consequence of the request, which, perhaps, the partiality of your friendship has led you to make, and commit them to your disposal. If you should incorporate them into any work of your own, designed for public view, I have only to intreat the candour of your readers, that they would not try them by the writings of polemical divines, but by the New Testament, whence I have endeavoured faithfully to extract them. I have prefixed a few general reflections on church government; but my principal observations are confined to the orders of ministers, and the manner of their appointment, as being that branch of church government, which is, perhaps, the most clearly laid down in the New Testament, and that which involves in it some of the principal questions on which Christians of different denominations are at variance.