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The fourth head I propose, was to represent some of the duties which plainly arise from such an agreement of christians to walk and worship together, for the support of their religion.
1. May we not say, that “all the duties which the disciples of Cbrist owe to their fellow-christians throughout the world, are more particularly incumbent upon those who are united by their own consent in the same religious society ?” Such as to love one another, to assist, comfort, and succour one another in things that relate to this life, or the life to comc; to watch over and warn one another, lest any fall into sin ; to admonish one another in love, and to restore those that are fallen with holy tenderpess, and in general to fulfil all kind and friendly offices to each other in vindication of their common faith, and in the practice of pure religion. We are commanded to do good to all men, esperially to the household of faith; Gal. vi. 10. and what is due to all the churches of Christ on earth, seems more particularly due to the church of which we are members, because these are within the reach of our notice and our assistance, and we expect the same friendly offices from them, since we have mutually given up ourselves to one another in the Lord.
2. “ Those who are united by such an agreement, ought most usually to attend on the public assemblies and ministrations of that church, where it can be done with reasonable conveniency;" for we have joined ourselves in society for this very purpose. It is granted indeed, that many particular circumstances in life may give a just occasion for persons, more or less, frequently to join with other churches in their solemnities, which it would be too large at present to reckon up; but if upou every trivial bumour we absent ourselves from that worship, and those ministrations' which we have agreed to support, it has a tendency to destroy that very fellowship which we engage to maintain; and if cach take their liberty in this respect, without just reason, to wander where they please, the minister may preach to the bare walls, nor can any ordinances be celebrated with constancy and honour.
I might add also, that the constant attendance upon the same ministry, is the way to obtain a more uniform and regular knowledge of the whole scheme of christianity, since it is to be supposed that there is more uniformity in the sentiments of the same preacher, upon the several parts of the christian doctrine, and that in a course of years he will run through the various articles of faith and practice.
3. It is the duty of persons thus united “ to maintain their church or society, by receiving in new members amongst them by a general consent. Now when persons profess that they be. here all the necessary ani most important articles of the claristian faith, when they declare they have solemnly given up themselves to Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their Lord, according to the requirements of the gospel, and when they engage to walk in all the ordinances of Christ, and desire to join with that particular society, it is the business and duty of the members thereof to receive such professors," supposing always that their good character in life gives a probable witness to the truth and sincerity of their profession. My text bids the converted Romans receive one another in the Lord, as Christ has received them, and every church should receive such as desire to join with them upon these principles.
4. “ In order to keep the church pure from sin and scandal, they should separate themselves from those that walk disorderly, who are guilty of gross and known sins ;" 2 Thess. iii. 6. They should reprove them with just severity, as the offence deserves; and if the crime be such as makes void their profession, they should be cast out of the church, or excommunicated, as the Corinthian offender, who committed incest, was cast out by his brethren, when the church was gathered together at the order of the apostle; 1 Cor. v. 4, 5,–7–11–13. They must put away wicked persons from among them, lest they be charged with encouraging or indulging iniquity. When there are settled elders or ministers among them, these ought to go before the church, in a way of advice and direction according to the will of Christ, and by their lips persons should be received into, or cast out of the congregation : This is called the “ discipline of the church.” Yet it is still to be deemed an act of the church; for Paul's epistles, which are written to the churches require them to receive worthy members, and they are required to cast out those who are proved to be unworthy: Therefore this sentence inflicted on the Corinthian sinner is called the punishment that was inflicted by many ; 2 Cor. ii. 6. and in the 7. and 8. verses, the church is commanded to forgive and receive him again upon his deep repentance.
5. “ It is necessary that officers be chosen by the church, to fulfil several services in it, and for it." What person will take upon him constantly to speak in prayer, and be as the mouth of the people to God? Who shall preach, and be as the mouth of God to the people? Who shall baptize and administer the Lord’s-supper Who shall take care of a place for worship, or provide bread and wine for the Lord's table? Wlio shall collect and distribute the money of the church to the minister or the poor, if no particular persons are appointed for these purposes? But how many sorts of officers belong to a christian church, and what their distinct services are, shall be shewn under the next general head.
6. “ It is the duty of those whose circumstances will afford it, to contribute of their earthly substance toward the cominon expences of the society;" that is, for the provision of the place of worship, the maintenance of the minister, the support of the poor, and for every thing that relates to the outward preservation and interests of the church : And each one should give according to his ability: This is but a piece of common justice, and it is sometimes fit to tell them so.
7. Shall I add in the last place, “ That every thing of church affairs ought to be managed with decency and order, with harmony and peace?” So the apostle directs the Corinthians; I Cor. xiv. 40. and chapter xvi. 11. Let all things be done decently and in order: Let all your affairs be done with churity: So in my text, with one mind, as well as with one mouth glorify God. It is true indeed, every man has a will, and particular sentiments and inclinations of his own; but the most common and peaceful way of determining public affairs, is by the will and inclination of the major part manifested by a vote : And in matters of lesser moment it is generally wisest and safest to submit to such a determivation of the majority, where it may be done without sin : But it is a very desirable thing, if possible, to do nothing without the unanimous approbation of those that are concerned. If there are differences arising, those who dissent from the major part ought to be treated with all tenderness in order to convince and persuade them to conseut. But if any thing be determined by the majority, which they cannot comply with, they may peaceably make their remonstrances; and if they please, bé dismissed from that society, or depart.
The fifth general head leads me to enquire “ who are the officers which Christ hath appointed in his churches ?” The names of the officers are these two, which probably include all the rest, bishops and deacons ; so they are called ; Phil. i. 1.
Bishops and elders in primitive times are both called overseers in the Greek, and seem to be the same officers, for St. Paul gives Titus the several characters of a bishop, in order to direct what sort of persons should be chosen for elders. Their business is to teach and instruct, to go before the people in performing, acts of worship, to give themselves up to the ministry of the word and prayer; Acts vi. 4. and to exhort and govern the flock, not by their own will, nor by rules of their own invention, but only by the general rules that Christ has given, which must be applied to particular cases by their prudence, and in matters of moment they should do nothing without the consent of the society. What the difference is betwixt pastors and teachers, and whether there be any elders who only are called to rule, but not in a stated manner to teach or adıninister ordinances in the church, I cannot now tarry to enquire or determine.
The other officers are called deacons, the institution whereof you find in Acts vi. 1-6. and whose business it is to take care of the poor, and serve tables, that is, to see that the table of the Lord, the table of the poor, and the table of the minister be supplied; for the apostle informs us that the poor must be relieved, and they which preach the gospel must live of the gospel, so has the Lord ordained; 1 Cor. ix. 14. and other things which relate to the convenience of such a society in their public meeting, are generally supposed to come under the care of the deacons*
When a christian society is furnished with such officers, it seems to have every thing within itself that is necessary to the being or well-being of a church of Christ. Here are all things that are needful, which are within the power of man, for the preservation of piety and purity among them, and for the continuance of the same religion with decency and honour in a constant succession, so long as the gospel shall call in new converts out of this sinful world.
It remains only that I make a few reflections upon the present discourse.
Reflection I. “ How beautiful is the order of the gospel, and the fellowship of a christian church? How strong and plain are the foundations, and the grounds of it? It is built on eternal reason, and the relations of things, as well as on the word of God." How happy it is that the very light of nature dictates to christians far the greatest part of those duties which church fellowship requires, supposing still that the revealed doctrines and sacraments of christianity are first known and acknowledged. The peculiar positive prescriptions relating to christian churches are but few, whereas the general duties are such as reason and the light of nature seem to propose and approve in all voluntary religious societies whatsoever. If a deist, who professes nothing but natural religion, once came so far as to receive the christian faith and the sacraments, his reason would lead him into almost
* Now all these officers must be chosen by the church. Whatsoever may be pretended to he done by the apostles themselves, or what directions soerer are supposed to be given to Timothy or Titus toward the settling of churches, or ordaining of officers, by virtue of their extraordinary gifts in the primitive times, without an explicit declaration of the choice of the people recorded, yet there is no authority given to any person that I can find, to make themselves, or any other persons elders or deacons in a particular church; without their free consent: And indeed in those very primitive days, the choice of the people was plainly required towards the making of deacons; Acts vi. 3. Look ye out among you men of honest report, &c. though the apostles are said to ordain thein by prayer and imposition of hands, verse 6. And in the earliest histories and records we bare of these matters, the people's choice or consent was required to introduce elders or bishops into a church. Nor codeed is it proper that the souls of the people, por church's money, should be intrusted with elders or deacous imposed upon them by others.
all the parts of christian communion, which I have described. It is the evil mixtnre of the needless and fanciful inventions of men, with the plain and common dictates of the light of nature and scripture in public religion, and the imposition of these things upon conscience, that has been the disgrace and ruin of many christian churches, and is a high misdemeanour against Christ, who is the Lord and King of his church. Reason and revelation are the only principles of his religion, and of the government of his kingdom.
II. “ How little do they value the true interests of the christian religion, the public honour of Christ and his gospel, or the edification and comfort of their own souls, who neglect this holy communiun?" There are twenty little excuses that some persons are ready to make against uniting themselves in fellowship: But let conscieuce do its office, and examine sincerely whether such excuses will be a sufficient apology in the great day. A late eminent divine well known to some of us, viz. Mr. Nathaniel Taylor, gives this direction to those who have given up themselves to God in Jesus Christ. “ Join yourselves, says he, as members to some particular church of Christ or other. For the better edification of his body, our Saviour has appointed the erecting of particular churches. And wherever a sufficient number of persons were called, it was the constant practice of the primitive times, to unite in such societies as stated members of thein, under the guidance and conduct of those pastors and teachers, which with their own consent the Holy Ghost had set over them to rule and feed them. This is a constitution of Christ, which is directly thwarted and opposed by a generation of loose and rambling christians, that content themselves with bare hearing, and that too in a very odd way. For they are a sort of volatile auditors, perpetually frisking to and fro, who can fix no where. Were ali men of this humour, there could be no such thing as particular churches, which Christ has appointed for the edifying of his members : And how they can rationally expect to flourish either in grace or peace, while they live in a direct opposition to a manifest institution of our Lord Jesus, which was not more an effect of his authority, than of his wisdom and goodness, I wish men would seriously consider. Are any of you so self-sufficient that you need no pastor, nor the assistance of your fellow-christians to watch over, admonish, rebuke, exhort, comfort, strengthen, and counsel you? Are there none of the churches of Christ that are pure enough? None of them that have latitude or strictness enough for you? None of them worthy enough for you to join yourself unto? When our Lord hath given such variety of gifts to his ministers, is there none of them whose abilities suit you, and please your curious palates, that by settling under them you may be edified ? I may say to such persons as Constantine