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me as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ORDINANCES as I delivered them to you. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. But were we to attempt to draw up a formula of church government, worship and discipline, which should include any thing more than general outlines, and to establish it upon express New-Testament authorities, we should attempt what is impracticable.
Doubtless the apostles acted under divine direction: but in things of a moral nature, that direction consisted not in providing them with a model or pattern, in the manner of that given to Moses, but in furnishing them with general principles, and enduing them with holy wisdom to apply them as occasions required.
We learn, from the Acts and the Epistles, that the first churches were congregations of faithful men, voluntarily united together for the stated ministration of the word, the administration of Christian ordinances, and the mutually assisting of each other in promoting the cause of Christ; that they were governed by bishops and deacons of their own choosing; that a bishop was an overseer, not of other ministers, but of the flock of God; that the government and discipline of each church was within itself; that the gifts of the different members were so employed as to conduce to the welfare of the body; and that in cases of disorder every proper means was used to vindicate the honour of Christ and reclaim the party. These, and others which might be named, are what I mean by general principles. They are sometimes illustrated by the incidental occurrence of examples; (which examples in all similar cases are binding;) but it is not always so. That a variety of cases occur in our time respecting which we have nothing more than general principles to direct us, is manifest to every person of experience and reflection. We know that churches were formed, officers chosen and ordained, and prayer and praise conducted with "the understanding," or so as to be understood by others: but in what particular manner they proceeded in each, we are not told. We have no account of the formation of a single church, no ordination service, nor any such thing as a formula of worship. We are taught to sing praises to God in psalms, hymns, and spirit
ual songs, but have no inspired tunes. We have accounts of the election of church officers; but no mention of the mode of proceeding, or how they ascertained the mind of the church. If we look for express precept or example for the removal of a pastor from one situation to another, we shall find none. We are taught, however, that for the church to grow unto an holy temple in the Lord, it requires to be fitly framed together. The want of finesse in a connexion, therefore, especially if it impede the growth of the spiritual temple, may justify a removal. Or if there be no want of fitness, yet if the material be adapted to occupy a more important station, a removal of it may be very proper. Such a . principle may be misapplied to ambitious and interested purposes; but if the increase of the temple be kept in view, it is lawful, and in some cases attended with great and good effects.
This instance may suffice instead of a hundred, and serves to show that the forms and orders of the New-Testament church, much more than those of the Old, are founded on the reason of things. They appear to be no more than what men possessed of the wisdom from above, would, as it were instinctively, or of their own accord, fall into; even though no specific directions should be given them.
That such were the principles on which the apostles proceeded is manifest from their own professions, or from the general precepts which they addressed to the churches. These were as follows: Let all things be done TO EDIFYING.-Let all things be done DECENTLY AND IN ORDER.-Follow after the things that MAKE FOR PEACE, and things wherewith ONE MAY EDIFY ANOTHER. Whatever measures had a tendency to build up the church of God and individuals in their most holy faith, these they pursued. Whatever measures approved themselves to minds endued with holy wisdom as fit and lovely, and as tending, like good discipline in an army, to the enlargement of Christ's kingdom, these they followed, and inculcated on the churches. And, however worldly minds may have abused the principle by introducing vain customs under the pretence of decency, it is that which, understood in its simple. and original sense, must still be the test of good order and Christian discipline.
The discipline of the primitive churches occupies no prominent place in their character. It is not that ostentatious thing which, under the name of an "ordinance," has become of late a mere bone of contention. It was simply the carrying into effect the great principle of brotherly love, and the spirit with which it was exercised was that of long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and meekness.
The way in which the apostles actually proceeded, in the forming and organizing of churches, corresponds with these statements. When a number of Christians were assembled together in the days of pentecost they were the first Christian church. But at first they had no deacons, and probably no pastors, except the apostles and if the reason of things had not required it, they might have continued to have none. But in the course of things new service rose upon their hands, therefore they must have new servants to perform it ;* for, said the apostles, It is not REASON that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables: wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. In this proceeding we perceive nothing of the air of a ceremony, nothing like that of punctilious attention to forms, which marks obedience to a positive institute; but merely the conduct of men endued with the wisdom from above; servants appointed when service required it, and the number of the one proportioned to the quantity of the other. All things are done decently and in order; all things are done to edifying.
In the course of things, the apostles, who had supplied the place of bishops, or pastors, would be called to travel into other parts of the world, and then it is likely the church at Jerusalem would have a bishop, or bishops of their own. As the number of deacons was regulated by the work to be done, so would it be by bishops, both in this and in other churches.. A large church, where much service was to be done, required seven deacons ; and where they abounded in numbers and spiritual gifts there might be a plurality of pastors. With respect to us, where the reason of the things exists, that is where there are churches whose numbers re
* A DEACON, as well as a minister, means a SERVANT. VOL. III. 60
quire it, and whose ability admits of it, it is still proper: but for a small church to have more pastors than one is as unnecessary as to have seven deacons. Such a rule must favour idleness, and confine useful ministers from extending their labours. To place two or three in a post which might be filled by one, must leave many other places unoccupied. Such a system is more adapted for show than for promoting the kingdom of Christ.
It may serve to illustrate and simplify the subject if we compare the conduct of the apostles with that of a company of missionaries in our own times. What, indeed, was an apostle but an inspired missionary? Allowing only for ordinary Christian missionaries being uninspired, we shall see in their history all the leading characteristics of apostolic practice.
Conceive of a church, or of a society of Christians out of a number of churches, or of " any two agreeing together," as undertaking a mission among the heathen. One of the first things they would attend to would be the selection of suitable missionaries; next they would instruct them in the things necessary to their undertaking; and after this, send them forth to preach the gospel. Such exactly was the process of our Lord towards his apostles. He first selected them; then, during his personal ministry, instructed them; and, after his resurrection, gave them their commission, with a rich effusion of the Holy Spirit to fit them for their undertaking.
The missionaries on arriving at the place of action would first unite in social prayer and fellowship, and this would be the first
I say whose ability admits of it: for there is equal proof from the New Testament that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel, as there is of a plurality of elders. But the zeal for the latter has not always been accompanied by a zeal for the former. If the term elder must be understood to be not only a term of office, but of the pastoral office exclusively, and a plurality of them be required, why is not a plurality of them supported? The office of elder in those churches which are partial to the system is little more than nominal: for while an elder is employed like other men in the necessary cares of life, he cannot ordinarily fulfil the duties of his office. No man that warreth in this warfare, (unless it be in aid of a poor church,) ought to entangle himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
Christian church. Thus the apostles, and those who adhered to them, first met in an upper room for prayer, preparatory to their attack on the kingdom of Satan; and this little "band of about an hundred and twenty" formed the first Christian church: and when others were converted to Christ and joined them, they are said to be" added to the church."
Again: The first missionaries to a heathen country could not be chosen by those to whom they were sent, but by him or them who sent them; nor would their influence be confined to a single congregation, but, by a kind of parental authority, would extend to all the societies that might be raised by means of their labours. It would be different with succeeding pastors, who might be raised up from among the converts; they would of course be chosen by their brethren, and their authority be confined to those who elected them. Thus the apostles were not constituted such by the churches, but received their appointment immediately from Christ; nor was their authority limited to any particular church, but extended to all. In this they stand distinguished from ordinary pastors who are elected by the churches, and whose authority is confined to the churches that elected them.
Again The first missionaries to a heathen country would be employed in the planting of churches wherever proper materials were found for the purpose; and if the work so increased upon their hands as to be too much for them, they would depute others whom God should gift and qualify, like-minded with themselves, to assist them in it. Some one person at least of this description would be present at the formation and organization of every church, to see to it that all things were done "decently and in order." And if there were any other churches in the neighbourhood, their elders and messengers would doubtless be present, and, to express their brotherly concurrence, would join in it. Thus the apostles planted churches; and when elders were ordained, the people chose them, and they, by the solemn laying on of hands, invested them with the office :* and when the work increased upon their hands, they appointed such men as Timothy and Titus as evangelists, to "set things in order" in their stead.† 1 2 Tim. ji. 2. Titus i. 5.
*Acts xiv 23.