Page images
[ocr errors]


was I

Gal. i. 1. And again, in the 11th and 12th verses, I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man; for I neither received it of man, neither taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.'

This revelation to St. Paul extended not merely to points of doctrine, but conveyed to him likewise the knowlege of historical facts; as is plain from 1 Cor. xi. 23. where, speaking of the institution of the sacrament of the Lord's supper, he says, . I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread ; and when he had given thanks, he brake it;' and so goes on to give an historical account of what was said and done at the last supper ; agreeing with the account given by those Apostles who were present at the transaction,

From these things laid together, it is evident that the Apostles were witnesses and teachers of the faith, and had no authority to add any thing to the doctrine of Christ, or to declare new articles of faith.

Now if the Apostles, commissioned directly by Christ himself, and supported by the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, had not this power, can any of their successors in the government of the church, without great impiety, pretend to it? Did the bishops and clergy of the ninth and tenth centuries know the articles of the faith better than the Apostles did? or were they more powerfully assisted by the Holy Spirit? No Christian can think it or say it. Whence is it then that the church of Rome has received the power they pretend to, of making new articles of faith, and dooming all to eternal destruction who receive them not ? Can any sober serious Christian trust himself to such guides, and not tremble when he reads the woe denounced by St. Paul; “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel -- let him be accursed '

When the corruptions of the church of Rome were generally felt and complained of, and no applications whatever could prevail to obtain any alteration ; the fear of owning an error, and thereby weakening the authority claimed, being more powerful to continue the old errors than the force of truth or even of conviction was to reform them; . what had serious

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Christians left to do, but to seek after, if happily they could find,' the faith once delivered to the saints ;' to separate beIween the old doctrines of the gospel, and the new inventions of men; and to build up a church on the foundation of the Apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the head corner-stone ?'

What has hitherto been said relates merely to the doctrinės of the gospel ; to points of Christian faith : in these neither the Apostles of Christ nor the church after them had any authority, but to preach and publish to the world what they hael received. If we extend this farther, and say that the Apostles and church after them had no more authority in any thing else than they had in articles of the faith, we run into an extreme that can produce nothing but disorder and confusion ; which must be the destruction of all Christian societies, and end in making every man a church by himself.

It may be worth our while to consider the grounds of this distinction, as they are to be found in holy Scripture.

In the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew, in the fifteenth and following verses, we have this direction from our Saviour: . If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone ; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every

be established. But if he shall

nego lect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen and a publican.'

- In cases which fall under this direction (and some there are without doubt, or there would have been no direction about them) the church has a judicial authority, and a right to inflict the punishment mentioned. This power may be, and often has been, most flagrantly abused; but to say the church has no ay,

1 thority in cases which come under this direction, is to deny not only the authority of the church, but the authority of Christ likewise, who gave the direction,

This authority of the church is taken notice of by St. Paul; and he rebukes the church of Corinth for not making use of it, to separate from them the incestuous person, who had given offence not to one, but to all Christians,

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

".. But there is another power which the Apostles had and exercised, and which they committed to those who succeeded them; I mean the authority of settling churches, and prescribing rules of order and decency to them.

If we consider St. Paul's conduct in the disputes which happened in the church of Corinth, we shall see how carefully he distinguishes between his duty to preach the gospel of Christ just as he had received it, and his authority in matters of order and decency. The Corinthians had been guilty of great misbehavior in eating the Lord's supper, as if they had forgot the end and the use of it. St. Paul, to set them right, gives them an account of this institution; and here he expressly says, that he delivered to them what he had received of the Lord :' but in directing some circumstances of their behavior at this

supper, he speaks in his own name : • When ye come together to eat,' says he, ‘tarry one for another; and if any man hunger, let him eat at home :' and concludes, with reserving to himself the giving farther directions at a proper time : « The rest,' says he, swill I set in order when I come.'

As he exercised this authority himself, so he committed the like authority to those who succeeded him in the pastoral care. The Epistles to Timothy and Titus are full of rules or canons for the government of the respective churches under their care; which were to be supplied, as occasion required, by orders of their own :

. For this cause,' says St. Paul to Titus, I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.'

Which particulars laid together manifestly show that there was a power or authority in particular churches to settle matters of discipline, order, and decency for themselves; and that there were no rules of this kind of universal obligation to all churches.

As the Apostles, considered singly as commissioned and inspired teachers, had no authority over the faith, neither had they when met together in council : for the doctrine and gospel of Christ could no more be altered by his twelve Apostles than it could be by one of them. We have but one instance of an apostolic council, which was held at Jerusalem; and the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

proceedings of it are recorded in the fifteenth of the Acts of the Apostles.

The matter here controverted, and settled by decree of the council, was plainly a matter of government and discipline, and not of the substance of faith ; and it was determined by prudential considerations, arising from the circumstances of the Christian church at that time. The case was this: St. Paul had converted many among the Gentiles, and settled several churches in Asia. The Jewish Christians insisted that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, and observe the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas, Apostles of the Gentiles, withstood this demand of the Jews, and had, as the words of the text are, no small dissension and disputation with them.' They agreed to refer the question to the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem; and thither they went. The council being assembled, the case was opened with much disputing' on both sides : then St. Peter rose up and declared his opinion, and the reasons of it: he reminds them that he himself was the


chosen by God to be the first preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles, and that God had given a token of his accepting the Gentiles, by giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he had given it to the Jewish Christians, and put,' as his own words are, 'no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith ;' and then concludes against laying the burden or yoke of the law of Moses on the Gentile converts.

St. Peter's argument is drawn from the case of Cornelius, to whom he was sent by express revelation to preach the gospel, Cornelius was a Gentile, no observer of the law of Moses; nor was St. Peter, when sent to preach to him, instructed to require of him obedience to the law of Moses : and yet in this state God accepted Cornelius and his household, and the gift of the Holy Ghost was poured on them. And St. Peter's conclusion is, that since God accepted Cornelius and his family without calling them to the observance of the Mosaic law, the observance of the Mosaic law was not a condition to be imposed on the Gentile converts.

After St. Peter, Barnabas and Paul gave an account what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles


[ocr errors]

from among

[ocr errors]


by them; which was strengthening St. Peter's argument, by showing that what had happened in the case of Cornelius had also happened in many instances during their ministry among the Gentiles,

St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, speaks next: he approves the reasoning of St. Peter, and shows, from the ancient prophecies, that the call of the Gentiles into the church of Christ was, from the beginning, the design of Providence: "Where

6 . fore,' says he, my opinion is, that we trouble not them, which

the Gentiles are turned to God.' It is manifest that this reasoning extends to every part of the ceremonial law, and that the Gentiles were bound no more by one point of that law than by another; and yet we shall find that in the conclusion of the council some points of the law of Moses were required to be observed in the Gentile churches,

It is one thing to be bound to observe the law of Moses as matter of necessary duty; it is another thing to comply with some parts of that law, on motives of Christian charity and prudence. It was lawful for the Gentile converts to live without observing any part of the law of Moses; but though all things are lawful, yet,' as St. Paul says, all things are not expedient--all things edify not :' and again, meat commend eth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse:' 1 Cor. viii. 8.

This being the reason of the case, the circumstances of the Christian church of that time weighed with this apostolical council to require of the Gentile converts a compliance with some particulars of the Mosaic law. St. James, who opens this advice, gives the reason of it: he considered that in all the cities where Gentile churches had been planted, there were Jewish converts likewise, who were zealous of the law, and would hold no communication with the Gentiles who eat blood, things strangled, and the like; and therefore, unless the Gentile Christians complied in such particulars, there must be an irreconcilable division in the church of Christ, to the loss of that charity on which the gospel sets so great a price.

St. James therefore, after declaring his opinion that the Gentile converts were not bound by the law of Moses, proposes however to write to them to abstain from pollution of idols,



« PreviousContinue »