« PreviousContinue »
are deprived, in this way, of gospel ministers and ordinances; and if there be any such instances, they can be no objection to this institution of Christ.
These ministers and officers in the church are to be devoted to the business of their station and office, and to give themselves to this work which they have undertaken, in preaching the gospel and administering the ordinances of Christ-in taking care of the church, and presiding in all the public transactions of it, acting with the concurrence and consent of the church; for they have no authority to dictate to the church, and control it in any matter, contrary to their judgment and consent. They are, indeed, said to have the rule over the churches, (Heb. xiii. 7, 17, 24,) but this means only to take the lead or preside in the churches in their public devotions and transactions, as the word in the original signifies. The churches, and every particular member of them, are obliged to submit to them and obey them, so far as they preach the doctrines of the gospel, and urge the commands of Christ; for, so far as they do this, they have all the authority of Christ; and disobedience to them, when they declare the will of Christ and urge obedience to his laws, is disobedience to Christ, and rejecting him. But of this the members of the church are to judge for themselves, whether what they preach and dictate be agreeable to the revealed will of Christ; and if they judge it to be contrary to revealed truth, they will consider the minister as having no authority, and themselves under no obligation to regard him in those things; and he has no authority to compel them to obedience to his dictates, or to inflict any punishment upon them, or subject them to any worldly inconvenience on this account. They are, indeed, accountable to Christ for their judgment and conduct in such cases, and to him alone, as he has commanded them to judge and act right, and will condemn every thing that is not so, and is the final Judge to whom all appeals are to be made.* Thus the elders of the churches are not to be lords over them, but to lead them, and be examples to them, while they preside as overseers, or bishops, feeding them by preaching the truths of the gospel to them, and declaring the whole counsel of God. (1 Pet. v. 2, 3. Acts xx. 28.)
This is said with reference to the whole, or the majority, of a church. If particular members, or the minor part of a church, reject the doctrines, and refuse to practise the duties, which the pastor inculcates as prescribed by Christ, and the majority of the church approve of them, the former are so far accountable to the church as to be the proper subjects of discipline, and may be rejected by the church as those who, in their judgment, refuse to obey the truth, and walk disorderly.
There are other officers in the church, called deacons, who have the care of the temporal, worldly concerns of the church. The church, when regulated according to the laws of Christ, makes provision for the support of public religion-for a decent and convenient place in which they may attend public worship, the support of the ministers of the gospel, and furnishing the table of the Lord. They are, also, to provide for the relief and comfort of the poor members of the church. The care and oversight of this provision is committed to the deacons. And they are, more especially, to distribute to the poor, out of the common stock of the church, and take care that no one may suffer for want of the necessaries and comforts of life. We have a particular account of the institution of those officers in the church, in the beginning of the sixth chapter of the Acts. The church pointed out and chose those whom they thought best qualified for this office, and presented them to the apostles, who ordained them to this office by laying their hands on them and praying.
It does not appear, from the Scripture, that there are more distinct orders of men and officers appointed in the church than these two, viz., elders or bishops, and deacons. Both of these are repeatedly mentioned together as being the only officers in the church, as nothing is said of any other. The apostle Paul, when he is directing Timothy in his regulating the churches in which he had a particular concern, and ordaining officers, mentions only elders or bishops, and deacons, and particularly describes the qualifications of these. And he directs his letter to the church at Philippi in the following words: "To all the saints which are in Christ Jesus, at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." Had there been any other order of officers in that church, it may be presumed he would have mentioned them when he directs so particularly to these. This same apostle says, that, when Christ ascended to heaven, "he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." (Eph. iv. 11.) Some have supposed there are more than two orders of ministers mentioned here; but there does not appear to be any evidence of this. By apostles and prophets are intended the extraordinary gifts and officers in the primitive church, who were not to continue, but ceased when those miraculous gifts, with which they were endowed, ceased, the church having no further need of them. And if evangelists were not also extraordinary officers, and, accordingly, ceased with the others mentioned before, they were ordinary ministers of the gospel, ordained to travel and preach at large, not being confined to a particular church, city, or country. Pastors and teachers were
the same office, which every elder in particular churches sustained, so that, by evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but one sort and degree of officers is meant, viz., ministers of the gospel.
Public Institutions, Ordinances, and Worship of the Church.
SOCIAL and public worship, consisting in prayer, singing psalms or hymns, and in preaching and hearing the gospel, appears to be an institution of Christ, from what is recorded in Scripture. The disciples of Christ, after his ascension, met together, and continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, being about an hundred and twenty. (Acts i. 14, 15.) And when converts were multiplied, and a church was formed at Jerusalem, "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and prayers. And continued daily with one accord in the temple, praising God." (Acts ii. 42, 46, 47.) At Antioch, Barnabas and Saul assembled themselves with the church a whole year, and taught much people. (Acts xi. 26.) It appears that the church at Corinth often came together into one place, to attend on the preaching of the gospel, prayer, singing psalms, and the administration of the Lord's supper. (1 Cor. xi. 18, etc., and chap. xiv. throughout.) Christians had places convenient for them to convene in public assemblies, and attend on public worship. (Jam. ii. 1-10.) And they were commanded "not to forsake the assembling themselves together" for public exhortation and mutual edification, etc. (Heb. x. 24, 25.)
Public worship being an institution of Christ, this necessarily implies a place where this may be attended decently, and with the greatest convenience to the members of the church, which is to be agreed upon and provided by the church, using all such help and assistance as the head of the church shall, in his providence, afford them. They are to assemble on the first day of the week for public worship, and at any other time which the church shall judge is agreeable to the will of Christ, as best suited to promote his cause and their edification. And there may be special calls in divine providence, to public fasting and prayer, or thanksgiving; and particular circumstances may render it proper and important to meet oftener, and to spend more time in public worship, at some times than at others.
It has been observed that the bishops, or overseers of the church, are to preach the word, and to preside and lead in
public prayers, to which they are to devote themselves; and they are on this account to be counted worthy of double honor, and be decently supported with the necessaries and comforts of life. For Christ has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. (1 Cor. ix. 14. Gal. vi. 6. 1 Tim. v. 17, 18.)
The stated time for public worship is the first day of the week, which the apostles, under the inspiration and particular direction from Christ, fixed upon, and appointed to be the Christian Sabbath. The Jewish seventh-day Sabbath, which was a type and shadow of that redemption which was in a peculiar sense and degree effected by the sufferings and death of Christ, from which he rose on the first day of the week, and of the rest into which the Christian church entered, upon this ceased and was abolished, when the substance and the things typified by it took place. With reference to this, the apostle Paul says to Christians, "Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." (Col. ii. 16, 17.) The apostle has respect to the Jewish rites respecting meat and drink, and to their feast days, new moons, and their weekly Sabbaths, and declares that Christians, especially those who were Gentiles, were not under any obligation to observe them. This has no respect to the Christian Sabbath. This was observed by the apostles and Christian churches in their day. Christ having risen on the first day of the week, he appeared repeatedly to his disciples, while they were together on this first day. And on this first day of the week, "when the day of Pentecost was fully come, and they were all with one accord in one place," the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, and they spake with tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And Peter preached to the multitude who were collected on that occasion, and great numbers were converted. (Acts ii. 1, etc.) The day of Pentecost was always on the first day of the week. (Lev. xxiii. 15-21.) And this day of the week was honored by this remarkable event, and not the seventh day of the week, which was the Jewish Sabbath. And no reason can be given why the church were together in one place on that day, but that it was the day of the week on which they were directed, and used to assemble for instruction and worship.
Accordingly, we find that, on the first day of the week, Christian churches used to assemble for public worship, with the apostles' approbation. When the apostle Paul, and his companions in travelling, came to Troas, they continued there
seven days without meeting for public worship. "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." (Acts xx. 7.) By this it appears, that the first day of the week was the day on which Christians used to meet for public worship. If the seventh day of the week had been their Sabbath, why did they not meet on that day to hear Paul preach and to break bread, that is, to partake of the Lord's supper? That Christian churches were wont to meet on the first day of the week for religious purposes, is evident from the following direction which this apostle gives to the church at Corinth: "Now, concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye: upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." (1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2.) It appears from this, that Christian churches in general, or rather universally, assembled together on every first day of the week; the reason of which cannot be given, unless this were their Sabbath, on which day they attended public worship. And this was a proper time to make a collection for the poor saints, which is to be considered as an act of public worship. Nor can it be supposed that the churches would all agree in fixing on this day, to meet together for public worship, unless it were by the direction of the apostles, which they gave to all the churches, as from Christ, who had instructed them in this matter before his ascension, or had since communicated it to them by inspiration. In this view, there appears a consistency in all the facts and assertions concerning this which have been mentioned.
And the words of the apostle John are a confirmation of all this, when he says, "I was in the spirit on the Lord's day." (Rev. i. 10.) By the Lord's day, he must mean some particular day of the week, which was known by this name to the churches of Christ, as distinguished from all other days; for otherwise it would not be saying any thing which would be intelligible to Christians, or of any signification. It supposes there was one day in the week consecrated to the honor and service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that this was therefore called the Lord's day; as that repast of bread and wine, which was instituted by Christ, and observed in the churches, in remembrance of him, was called the Lord's supper, to distinguish it from all other eating and drinking together, as peculiarly consecrated to his use and honor. And that this day, which for this reason the apostle John calls the Lord's day, is the first day of the week, is evident beyond a doubt, in that this day, and no other day of the week, has been distinguished and 8