THE GOSPEL DEVELOPED
William Bullein Johnson
Johnson, W. B., D.D., was one of the most active and useful ministers that ever labored in South Carolina. "Soon after 1820" he was a member of the Saluda Association, and presided over its deliberations for a number of years. Subsequently he was the acting pastor at Edgefield Court-House, and a member of the Association bearing the name of his church, and of this Association he was chosen moderator.
The State Convention founded in 1821 had a very warm friend in Dr. Johnson. He was one of a committee of three who drafted its constitution. In 1822 he preached the introductory sermon, and prepared the address of the Convention to the churches, which was printed in the minutes of that year, a document of great ability, and penetrated by a thoroughly missionary and evangelical spirit. In 1823 he was elected vice-president of the Convention. In 1824 he preached the annual charity sermon, and in 1825 he was chosen president on the death of the honored Dr. Richard Furman, whose name is justly venerated in South Carolina, and by hosts of Baptists all over our country. Dr. Johnson held this position for a great many years, an office the duties of which were discharged not only by Dr. Richard Furman, but by Dr. Basil Manly, Chief-Justice O’Neall, and other distinguished men. The reputation of Dr. Johnson spread over our whole country, and for three years he was president of our great national missionary society, "The Triennial Convention of the United States," and after the division in that body he was chosen the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In no section of our country was any Baptist minister more highly honored by his brethren.
He was a solid and impressive preacher, deeply versed in the sacred writings, and full of his Master’s spirit. He was very hospitable, and his life was blameless. To the Saviour he rendered noble service, which was fruitful in an unusual measure.
Under Dr. Wayland’s presidency Brown University gave him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He died at Greenville, S.C., in 1862, when he was about eighty years of age.
The State Convention, in 1863, appointed its president, Dr. J. C. Furman, to preach a sermon "in honor of the memory of their venerable brother, the late Rev. W. B. Johnson, D.D.," and after the delivery of the discourse the Convention requested a copy for publication, and a committee was also appointed "to raise funds to erect a monument over his remains."
—William Cathcart, 1881
GOVERNMENT AND ORDER
CHURCHES OF JESUS CHRIST
by W. B. Johnson
H. K. ELLYSON, 176 MAIN ST.
I DO MOST SOLEMNLY DEDICATE THIS ESSAY TO GOD, THE HOLY SPIRIT, BY WHOSE INFLUENCE IN THE PRAYERFUL STUDY OF THE WORD OF INSPIRATION, I BELIEVE I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT WHATEVER TRUTH IS HEREIN SET FORTH. AND MY EARNEST PRAYER IS, THAT HE WOULD ACCEPT AND BLESS THIS EFFORT TO PROMOTE THE CAUSE OF TRUTH IN THE EARTH.
CHAP. I.—INTRODUCTION—the author’s purpose in writing
this Essay—reasons which led to the adoption and publication
of his views—principles of church government and order drawn
from the New Testament . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .166
CHAP. II.—THE CHURCH OF CHRIST—scriptural import
of the term church—use of it by the Saviour and writers of
the New Testament . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .169
CHAP. III.—FORM OF GOVERNMENT INSTITUTED FOR
THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST—its democratical and independent
form—the power of a church not original, not transferable—
ecclesiastical councils unknown to the gospel dispensation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172
CHAP. IV.—THE MATERIALS OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST—
Conscious subjects, baptized upon profession of faith in Christ,
and taught to observe all his commands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
CHAP. V.—BAPTISM—uniform meaning in the original—
difficulties considered and removed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180
CHAP. VI.—THE OFFICE AND WORK OF THE EVANGELIST—
the office is general, not particular—qualifications of the
evangelist—his duties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .184
CHAP. VII.—THE FORMATION OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST—
the mother church at Jerusalem a pattern—changes of
membership—letters of dismission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .187
CHAP. VIII.—THE RULERS OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST—
provided by the King in Zion and clothed with authority—known
by various titles—plurality of rulers ordained—their power not
legislative, but ministerial and executive only—their duties and
responsibilities—rulers equal in rank—plurality in the bishopric
important—duty of the churches to furnish a liberal support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .189
CHAP. IX. —THE DEACONS OR SERVANTS OF A
CHURCH OF CHRIST—their qualifications—their duties—deaconesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196
CHAP. X.—THE STATED TIME AND PLACE FOR THE
MEETING OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST—the time for meeting—
institution of the seventh day—first day of the week the Christian
Sabbath—place of meeting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .199
CHAP. XI.—THE ORDINANCES OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
IN HER STATED MEETINGS—exercises of divine worship—
duty of excluding offenders, and restoring the penitent—of breaking
bread in the Lord’s supper—of exercising spiritual gifts, and
contributing for the support of the poor saints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
CHAP. XII.—ORDINATION TO THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE—
definition of this term—historical examiniation—principle,
authority and manner of appointments to ministerial office . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207
CHAP. XIII.—ORDINATION TO THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE
CONTINUED—ordination of elders in the churches by Paul
and Barnabas—by Titus in Crete . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212
CHAP. XIV.—ORDINATION TO THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE
CONTINUED—setting apart of Barnabas and Saul at Antioch—
the appointment of the "seven men"—case of Timothy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
CHAP. XV.—ORDINATION TO THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE
CONCLUDED—each church possesses the right to appoint its
own officers—ordination to ministerial office should be done
by the churches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219
CHAP. XVI.—ON THE DISCIPLINE OF A CHURCH OF
CHRIST—its comprehensive and proper sense—exclusion of
disorderly members, and restoration of the penitent—two classes
of offences—importance of the proper exercise of discipline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
CHAP. XVII.—ON THE DUTY AND MODE OF SENDING
THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE—the agency employed
by the apostolic churches—modern benevolent organizations the
genuine fruits of the gospel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223
CHAP. XVIII.—THE DESIGN OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
CHAP. XIX.—FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT AND
ORDER AUTHORITATIVELY TAUGHT IN THE SCRIPTURES—
one form of government and one order of duties enacted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228
CHAP. XX.—FORM OF GOVERNMENT ADAPTED TO THE
DEVELOPMENT OF THE GOSPEL—a Christocracy—meaning
of this term—union among members of a church—impropriety of
human compilations as a standard of faith and practice—
advantages of the Christocratic form of government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
CHAP. XXI.—ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE GOSPEL
THROUGH OR BY THE ORDINANCES—Lord’s day—
Lord’s supper-collection for the poor saints—reading of the scriptures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
CHAP. XXII—SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED—exclusion from
membership—exercise of gifts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 239
CHAP. XXIII.—CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 242
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent, that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Ephesians III: 8–11
It is evident from the above passage, that the church of the Lord Jesus is the chosen agent for the exhibition of the manifold wisdom of God. The unfolding, the clear and full display of this wisdom, will necessarily present all the attributes of the divine Being in their harmonious, their sublimest operations. These operations will develope the scheme of that "salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." It is not surprising then, that the church in her progress to full maturity, presents to the view of angels those things into which they desire to look. If the church in the changes through which she passes to the completion of her honored destiny, attracts the gaze of "the principalities and powers in the heavenly places," she should be no less an object of intense regard to "all men" on this earth. But to those who are found in her membership and her ministry, her interests, her success, her honor, should be most dear. With those, her spiritual nature and constitution, her high obligations, and exalted destiny, should be subjects of profound study and growing importance. For on whom else than on her sons and daughters, has the Lord imposed the delightful duty of rendering her agency effective? By what other instrumentality has Jehovah decreed that his eternal purposes of mercy shall be accomplished?
The church will never be presented to her admiring beholders as an entire whole, before the resurrection morn. It is only successively and in parts that she will be seen, until her congregated myriads shall appear in the last day in one body, as a bride splendidly adorned for her nuptials. During her progress to full maturity, she will be exhibited in the churches of the saints. Each church, from the relation she sustains to the whole church, which Christ loved, and for which he gave himself, may be called "the body of Christ;" and on this obvious principle, that a part may be taken for the whole. As it is impracticable for the entire body of Christ to be present in one place before the resurrection, the different parts, as they rise into existence, act, each in its place, till the whole number of the parts shall have completed their work, and the entire body be prepared for the final consummation. How vast then are the responsibilities of the churches of Christ on this earth! How solemn, how imposing their duties! These responsibilities must be met by the membership and the ministry. The slumbers of the saints must be broken. Their dreams of worldly aggrandizement, honor and pleasure, must not be indulged. Isaiah’s voice must be heard. The command of Isaiah’s Lord must be obeyed: "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee."
As it is in the revelation of the gospel of the grace of God, that these things are brought to light, and as their fuller manifestation is committed, under the administration of the Holy Spirit, to the churches, as parts of the great whole, my purpose in this Essay is to delineate the government and order of these parts, by means of which "all men" may see the mystery of redeeming grace, and "the principalities and powers in heavenly places" become acquainted with the manifold wisdom of God.
It was my privilege to be born of parents, who were immersed upon a profession of their faith in Christ. My sainted mother took great care to give me instruction in the principles of the Bible, by interesting me in the reading of its holy pages. I was of course trained up in the principles of the Baptist denomination, for which I trust I am devoutly thankful. Before I submitted to the baptismal rite, however, I was led, by the state of things in the community of which I was a member at the time, to examine the subject of baptism. The result was a thorough conviction of the duty of believers to be immersed in water upon a profession of their faith in Christ; and I, therefore, so put on Christ. Being satisfied that the Baptists were right in the ordinance of baptism, I became a member of a Baptist church, without a scriptural examination of its government and order. For several years I carefully observed the system of church order adopted by my brethren. But some years afterwards, and about thirty-three years since, an incident of no great moment, drew my attention to the scriptural examination of the whole subject of church order. I engaged immediately in the study of the New Testament with prayerful attention, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual." The result was a thorough conviction on my mind of the truth of the order of things treated of in this Essay, as taught by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
Being at Greenville, in this State, during the last summer, I was requested to deliver a course of lectures on the government and order of the churches of Christ. I did so, and was requested to publish them in the Carolina Baptist. I complied with this request also. And now, I publish my views with corrections and additions in the present form. I am led to this measure by the requests that have been, at various times and by various persons, made to me for their publication. The present state of the religious world has also no small influence on my determination to present my views in a more permanent form than the columns of a newspaper afford. The religious world seems to be anxiously enquiring for the union of the friends and followers of Christ, and plans are being laid for securing it. Union, spiritual union in the truth, is demanded in the Saviour’s prayer. It is demanded in the exhortations of the apostle of the gentiles. It is demanded in the fundamental principles of the gospel of the grace of God. In the full and affecting view of his awful sufferings, the Lord Jesus said to his father, "neither pray I for these alone, but for them also, which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they all may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." Paul, in the spirit of his divine Master, exhorted his brethren at Ephesus to "endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." For "there is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
The union for which the Saviour prayed, and which the apostle exhorted his brethren to endeavour to keep, is union in the truth. To secure this union should be the great object of every Christian’s prayer and effort. For upon its success depends the conversion of the world to God. But this union can only be secured by obedience to the law and will of God. These are taught in the scriptures. To these then all must come. To the law and the testimony all must conform. The standard scriptures must be the sole standard of faith and practice. It was on this great, this only safe principle that Chillingworth nobly exclaimed, "the Bible, THE BIBLE, is the religion of protestants." To the sentiment thus expressed, I give a hearty response, and repeat it most emphatically with the change of one word only: the Bible, THE BIBLE, is the religion of Christians. And, now, that I may contribute my feeble effort to promote this union, I send forth this little volume with all readiness of mind, to draw the attention of my readers to the Bible, that in the study of this book, we may learn the government and order of the churches, in the observance of which, the principles of union are to be so developed, that it may rest on its true basis, and become universal.
I dare not affirm, that I have unerringly reached the entire system, but if I have been permitted to see and to set forth some of its parts, an abler hand may take up the subject and carry it out to completion.
The denomination to which I have the honor to belong, holds the true fundamental principles of the gospel of Christ. These are, the sovereignty of God in the provision and application of the plan of salvation, the supreme authority of the scriptures, the right of each individual to judge for himself in his views of truth as taught in the scriptures, the independent, democratical, Christocratic form of church government, the profession of religion by conscious subjects only, and the other principles of scripture truth growing out of these or intimately connected with them. My purpose in this Essay, is simply to carry out these principles in the light of the truth to their legitimate results; and to ask the serious attention of my brethren to these results. In the prosecution of my design, the Bible shall be my text-book and my commentary. Of "the fathers" I shall make no use, nor shall I quote from ecclesiastical historians. Not because, if asked, they would refuse to come to my help; but because in this discussion their help is not needed. Nothing that they can say on the subject of which I treat, can be authority, and that alone which is authority, is what I want. This authority is furnished by the word of God, which we have in its completeness and fulness in the Bible.
The ecclesiastical polity, of force under the Old Testament dispensation, being abolished, I shall draw my views of church government and order from the New Testament. The Jewish ritual of carnal ordinances being superseded by the Christian order of spiritual observances, I shall not go to Moses to ask what Christ has said, or to finish what he left incomplete; but drawing from him and his inspired apostles the order which they have established, I shall present that order on their authority.
In this exhibition of my views, I intend no censure upon my brethren, or others who entertain different views. The right which I exercise in holding my views of divine truth, I cheerfully accord to all others to hold theirs. My sole design is to state what I believe to be the truth on an important subject, and not to assume the office of reformer, censor, or dictator. I most sincerely deprecate disruption in churches, and disturbance of harmony among members. For love’s sake, therefore, I rather beseech my brethren, being such an one as William the aged, that they would consider these things prayerfully, and may the Lord give us all an understanding in them.
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.
I propose in this chapter, to ascertain the scriptural import of the term church; and to state definitely, the sense in which I shall use it in this Essay.
This term is, in the original language, ecclesia, which signifies assembly or congregation. It is used in the following passage to denote an assembly, both lawfully and unlawfully convened: "If ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly, ecclesia. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly, ecclesia." Acts xix: 39–41. The case was this: Demetrius had called the craftsmen and the men of like occupation, of Ephesus, together in a tumultuous assembly, ecclesia. Acts xix: 24, 25. The town-clerk dismissed that assembly, by telling them of its dangerous character, and directed them to an assembly, ecclesia, that would be lawful, in which their difficulties would be adjusted. From the use of this term in this passage, it is evident that it means a congregation or assembly of people.
This term is used by the Saviour, and the writers of the New Testament, to designate an assembly, congregation, or body of the Lord’s people, as appears from the following scriptures: "On this rock I will build my church, ecclesia, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matt. xvi: 16–18. "Christ also loved the church, ecclesia, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water, by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, ecclesia." "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" Eph. v. 25, 26, 27, 30. "Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church, ecclesia, of the first born, which are written in heaven." Heb. xii: 22, 23. "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, ecclesia, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Eph. i: 22, 23.
This term, then, as designating the people of God, has, as its first leading sense in the New Testament, the whole body of the redeemed, from Adam to the last believer. This body consists of all that the Father hath given to Christ, and this is his church, ecclesia, and by way of distinction, I shall call it the universal church; not the invisible church, as I know not of any scriptural view of this church, that renders such a term applicable to it, but the contrary. Paul says, "Unto me is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ—to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be made known by the church, ecclesia, the manifold wisdom of God." Eph. iii: 8–10. And again, "Unto him be glory in the church, ecclesia, by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." Eph. iii: 21. A church, which is to accomplish these great ends, must be visible. The members of this church, that have passed into the number "of the spirits of just men made perfect," were visible on this earth, both to men and angels, and are still visible to the latter. Those now on earth, in a course of preparation for joining that august assembly, are visible to the same beholders, as those, who through all future time, will become subjects of the like preparation, will likewise be visible to them. And the whole body, when complete, will continue in the full view of the moral universe. Invisibility, then, is not predicable of the church of Christ. I therefore style the whole body of Christ’s people, the universal church, in contradistinction to parts of this body, formed into distinct bodies on earth, which I would call particular churches, and to the consideration of which I now proceed.
The second leading sense in which the term church, ecclesia, is used to designate the people of God, will appear from the following scriptures: "And the Lord added to the church, ecclesia, daily the saved." "And great fear came upon all the church, ecclesia." "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church, ecclesia, which was at Jerusalem." "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, ecclesian." "Then had the churches, ecclesiai, rest." "Then tidings of these things came to the ears of the church, ecclesia, at Jerusalem." "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, ecclesian." "And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, ecclesias." "Then pleased it the apostles and elders and the whole church, ecclesia." "As I have given order to the churches, ecclesiais, of Galatia." "John to the seven churches, ecclesiais, of Asia." Acts ii: 47; v: 11, viii: 1, 3; ix: 31; xi: 22; xiv: 23; xv: 4, 22; 1 Cor. xvi: 1; Rev. i: 4.
From these scriptures we learn, that the terms church and churches, ecclesia and ecclesiai, are used to designate given portions of the universal church, formed into distinct bodies, and located in different places. The first nine quotations relate to the church in Jerusalem, and very satisfactorily shew, that the term church indicates one church, one body of the Lord’s people, meeting together in one place, and not several congregations, forming one church. For all the members in Jerusalem were together in their public meeting, and met in one place for their exercises. In further support of these positions, the following scriptures will be found conclusive. "All that believed were together, and had all things common." "And they continued daily, with one accord, in the temple." "And being let go, they," Peter and John, "went to their own company,"—the multitude just spoken of, which were together. "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul." "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, 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 wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. And the saying pleased the whole multitude." "And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and of the apostles and elders." "Then pleased it the apostles and elders and the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch." Now, it is worthy of particular attention at this point, that the church at Jerusalem was the first church, and that it was formed under the immediate guidance and supervision of the apostles, who were acting under the commission of their divine Lord, by which they were required to teach the baptized disciples to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded them.
It may be supposed, that the number of disciples in Jerusalem was too large to admit of their assembling in one place, and that, therefore, there were several congregations in the city, which yet formed only one church. But the terms church and congregation, as translations of ecclesia, are of precisely the same import, as has been shewn. Such supposition, then, is in contradiction of the record, and consequently inadmissible. It may also be supposed, that there was no place sufficiently large in Jerusalem to contain the multitude of believers in one place. But this again is in direct opposition to the record, for it is positively said that the twelve called the multitude together, and that according to their direction, seven men were chosen, to whom the daily ministration of the poor saints was committed. Let it be remembered, that for sometime, the disciples had the unrestricted use of the temple, for they were daily in it, "praising God, and having favor with all the people." And when they were forbidden its use, some house in the city, or the open fields, could have afforded the opportunity of assembling together until the dispersion occasioned by the great persecution, when they were all scattered abroad except the apostles.
Besides, it is not to be supposed that all the converts made at Jerusalem remained there permanently. There were, on the day of Pentecost, members of fifteen different nations present, and most probably some of all these different nations were baptized, who would soon return to their homes, to carry the glad tidings to their own country. Others, too, would be drawn to Jerusalem by the report of the great things in progress there, who, becoming disciples also, would return home with the good news of salvation. The largest number that we read of at any time, is five thousand, and we know that assemblies as large have been convened in one place, for civil, political and religious exercises, and the transaction of business.
It is, then, evident from the record of truth, that the term church, ecclesia, in a secondary or restricted sense, imports a distinct portion of the universal church located in one place on this earth. Such a body I shall call a church of Christ, and as contradistinguished from the universal church, I shall style it a particular church. These are the leading senses in which I shall use the term ecclesia in these lectures, as employed in the scriptures as descriptive of a congregation of the Lord’s people. And that I may not be misunderstood, I here explicitly state, that in treating of the government and order of a church of Christ, I mean a particular church, a distinct body of the Lord’s people associated together in one place, on the principles of the gospel: and not the universal church, nor a given number of distinct individual churches associated together under a confederated system of government, nor the officers of any one or more churches, or their representatives united in a council.
FORM OF GOVERNMENT INSTITUTED
FOR THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST
Tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
—Matthew XVIII: 17
Sufficient to such a man, is the punishment which was inflicted of many.
—2 Corinthians II:6
The government of a church is sometimes called democratical, that is, a government by the members of the body. And so far as the mode of administering the laws of Christ is regarded, this is a proper term. For, in the account given of the first churches, each one managed its own affairs within itself, by the voice of its own members, not amenable to any other church or body of churches. This appears in the Acts of the Apostles, and their epistles to the churches. Take for example, the command of Paul to the Corinthian church, to put away the incestuous man. This act was done, as we learn from the following passage, by a majority: "sufficient to such a man is the punishment which was inflicted of many"—ton pleionon, the greater part. This is in accordance with the direction of the Saviour, in the case of trespass by one brother against another. In both cases, the church whose member commits the offence or the trespass, is made the last resort in the final adjustment of the matter, without the right of appeal on the part of the offender or trespasser, to any other tribunal on the earth. Again, the apostle forbids the Corinthians to go to law, brother with brother, and directs them to settle disputes in the church, without any intimation of reference to any other human tribunal. To the church of the Thessalonians, he says: "from every brother that walketh disorderly, withdraw thyself." And when the Corinthian church and the seven churches of Asia, that were in disorder, were addressed, they were addressed as distinct bodies, and directed to put away their own errors, without any intimation that if they did not, a council formed of delegates from any given number of churches, should interpose for the purpose. The government, then, of the first churches was democratical, purely so, as far as the application of the laws of Christ is considered, in the exercise of a popular vote by the members.
The government of a church is sometimes called independent. And this must necessarily be so, if the democratical form be its mode of government. But this is true only as the relation of one church to all the others is regarded. The power of a church is derived, not original, delegated, not transferable. Its power is then necessarily dependent upon him from whom it is derived, and therefore, restricted to those objects which he commands them to accomplish, and within those bounds which he prescribes. Unless, then, there is, in the character of the church, authority to transfer its power to some other body, it may not so transfer it. Now, so far as I understand the New Testament, I see no authority given to a church of Christ to transfer its power or authority to any other church or body of men on earth. The New Testament knows nothing of a confederation of churches by delegates, with authority to enact any rule for the churches represented. It is a stranger to associations, synods, conventions, or general councils having authority over churches. The primitive churches sent out evangelists to preach the gospel, and employed agents to carry their contributions to their suffering brethren, and to the apostle for his support. But they never appointed delegates to form ecclesiastical councils, such bodies being unknown to the gospel dispensation.
I am aware that some suppose the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, contains a model and authority for such councils. I propose now, to examine this chapter, for the purpose of ascertaining the ground of such supposition. And I request the reader at this point to stop and read the chapter through, that he may the better understand the examination which I shall now institute. The chapter begins thus: "And certain men which came down from Judea, (to Antioch) taught the brethren and said, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When, therefore, Paul and Barnabas had no small dissention and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about the question."
"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and of the apostles and elders. "Then," after a full discussion of the subject, "pleased it the apostles and elders, and the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, and wrote letters by them after this manner: The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia: forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying ye must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, to whom we gave no such commandment, it seemed good unto the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from meats offered unto idols, and from blood and from things strangled, and from fornication, from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well."
From the above, it satisfactorily appears that the brethren at Antioch, being gentiles, were unwilling to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, as those men, under pretended authority, had taught them to do. Messengers were therefore sent up to the apostles and elders, to inquire if they had given authority for such teaching. The answer is to the inquiry, and it is in the negative: We gave no such command to these men. If it be asked, why did they send to Jerusalem? The answer is, there abode the apostles, the ambassadors of Christ, who gave the law to the churches. There dwelt the first church with her elders all appointed and acting under the immediate instruction of the apostles. Here then, was the place at which the enquiry should be made. When the question was to be agitated, "the apostles and elders came together for to consider this matter." In the discussion, none but the members of the church and the apostles took part. They alone formed the council, if council it were, but the proper term for the body is the church, as the spirit of inspiration calls it. Having thus answered the enquiry, important construction is added—instruction that is authoritative, for it had the seal of the Holy Ghost, and was delivered to the brethren in the cities, for to keep as "decrees that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." Acts xvi: 4. These decrees were sent "unto the brethren which are of the gentiles in Antioch, in Syria, and Cilicia," from the last two of which there was not even a messenger. Here, then, there is no model or authority for councils to advise or do anything for the regulation of churches. Each church as an independent body, so far as the control of any other body on earth is regarded, acts freely. To Christ, her only Head, Lawgiver and Ruler, is she accountable; no other authority may exercise any control over her. For her government, Christ has enacted a perfect code of laws for every possible case. With this complete standard then, what need have the churches of councils formed of uninspired men? With what authority can such bodies assemble, and act in regulating the affairs of the churches? These churches have only delegated power for specific purposes, with no liberty to transfer that power. The delegates cannot give themselves the power. Whence, then, can they derive it? The truth is, that the very genius and letter of the gospel stand opposed to such councils. They are intruders into the perfect scheme of the King of Zion.
The form of the government then, appointed for the churches, is the democratical, independent form, on the principle stated above. But these terms do not convey the whole truth on the subject; for Christ is the King in Zion, the Head of the whole body of his people. As the only Lawgiver, he has given, by his apostles, a code of laws which is absolute and binding upon his people. "Go," said he to his apostles, "Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The imperative duty of each church, is to ascertain her Lord’s will, and implicitly to obey it. "If ye love me keep my commandments." Now where the word of the king is, there is power. The element of monarchy, then, enters into the government of the church of Christ; and I know no single term that will better express the true character of this government, than Christocracy—a government of which Christ is the Head, and in which his power is manifested in perfect accordance of the freedom of his people. Under this government, all things must be done, not according to our own preconceived notions of what is fit, but in obedience to the will of Christ. The members must come "to the law and the testimony;" "to the whole scripture, which is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." To this scripture nothing can be added, and from it nothing taken away. If a sinner is to come under the government of a church of Christ, he must first believe in him who is the Head, and be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Thus giving himself to the Lord, he then gives himself to his brethren in the church relation by the will of God. The church receives such an one in accordance with the word of God. The bishops of the church are the gifts of Christ, and placed in their offices by the Holy Ghost. The stated day for their assembling, and the duties to be performed when assembled, are all appointed by Christ. The administration of discipline is to be by "the power of the Lord Jesus." Every thing in the church character, is done with solemn reference to Christ’s authority. "How readest thou?" is the great question by which the church should be exercised in all that she does. It is for these reasons that I use the term Christocracy, as descriptive of the government of the church of Christ.
As the churches stand related to each other, they are parts of a great whole, and the more they are conformable to the will of Christ the nearer in affection and harmony will they be to one another. But in point of government they are wholly independent of each other. In the exercise of their freedom as the servants of Christ, they will find ample scope for all their powers in the study and application of the laws of their King. In the church, the members, as brethren in Christ, are all on a footing. In this sense, the church is a democratical assembly, in which the rights of each member are respected, and by a popular vote, all business is regulated.
THE MATERIALS OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ, which are at Colosse. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
—Colossions I: 2; II: 12
The Lord Jesus having finished the work which his Father had given him to do, cried, "It is finished." He then bowed his head in death and was buried. On the third day, he arose from the dead, made himself known to his disciples by many infallible proofs, and gave to his eleven apostles, as he was about to leave them for his Father’s courts, the following commission: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." These apostles were thus constituted the ambassadors, the plenipotentiaries of our Lord. And to enable them to execute the commission, which they had so solemnly received, he endued them with power from on high; he gave them the Holy Spirit, "to lead them into all truth," and "to bring all things to their remembrance, whatever he had said unto them." There could, then, be no mistake committed by them, in fulfilling this commission. To the manner, therefore, in which they executed it, we are to look for the character of the materials of which the churches of Christ are to be composed. And not only for the character of such materials, but for the character of their officers, and for the whole course of duty enjoined upon the churches, and upon individual christians. An attentive consideration of the order of instruction given to the apostles in the terms and members of the commission, will the better prepare us to understand their acts and teachings in carrying out its design.
The commission required the apostles, 1st, to teach all nations; 2nd, to baptize them; 3rd, to teach them all other things commanded. It is important here, to state the difference of meaning between the words in the original, rendered in the translation by the terms teach and teaching. The first is, matheteusate; the signification of which is, disciple or make disciples. The second is, didascontes; the signification which is, the imparting of instruction. According to the first, the disciple is to be made. By the second, the disciple is to be instructed in all his duty. The proper rendering of the commission in our language, then, would be "Go ye, therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." And this rendering will be more clearly understood from the following fact: In the commission the term ethne, translated nations, is in the neuter gender, and the pronoun autous, translated them, which seems to refer to nations, is in the masculine gender. When, then, the Saviour said, "Go make disciples in all nations, baptizing them," he could not mean that the nations, as nations, were to be baptized, but those individuals of the nations who received the teaching given, and became disciples; because, the pronoun them being in the original of the masculine gender, could not relate to the nations, which is neuter, but to those of the nations that should be made disciples. The above rendering of the commission seems now to be perfectly clear, and makes it entirely accordant with the version of it given by Mark, "Go ye into all the world, and teach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. He that believeth not, shall be damned." It is, also, accordant with the example of our Lord, as recorded by John iv: 1, 2: "When the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard, that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.)" These being made disciples before baptism.
According to this rendering, you will see that those who became disciples under the labors of these men, were to be baptized, and then brought to observe whatsoever things Christ had commanded. And that this was the order which they, and those who acted under their instruction, did observe, I think will satisfactorily appear in the progress of the investigation that I am now about to institute, through the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles to the churches.
On the day of Pentecost, they were all with one accord in one place. The Holy Ghost descended upon them in a miraculous manner. This being noised abroad, the multitude came together, and Peter, standing up with the eleven, preached Christ unto them, closing his discourse with these solemn and impressive words: "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. And when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day, there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And the Lord added to the church daily, the saved."
We have, in this narrative, a full and explicit account of the manner in which the apostles, under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, understood and obeyed the commission. They taught the multitude, and having made disciples, not a few, they baptized them. After their baptism, they were added to the church and taught other duties. They, therefore, continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers. What a clear exemplification is thus given of the character of the materials of which a church of Christ should be formed.
On the morning of the Pentecostal day, the number of the names of the disciples was small. In the evening, this number was increased to more than three thousand. In a short time, it reached five thousand, of which number only two or three proved false. But the awful punishment which overtook them, deterred not others from the exercise or the profession of faith in Christ, for "believers were the more added to the Lord, both men and women." Not long after, the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the priests were obedient unto the faith. Now, it deserves especial consideration, that the church at Jerusalem was wholly under the forming hands of the apostles, and was, therefore, regulated according to the pattern shown them by their Lord. What then are the scriptural materials of a church of Christ? Evidently penitent, believing sinners, baptized upon a profession of faith in Christ, conscious subjects, capable of being taught all things which Christ commands.
In consequence of the persecutions against the church which was at Jerusalem, "they were all scattered abroad, except the apostles." "Then Philip went down to Samaria, and preached Christ unto them." "And when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." Philip, taught by the apostles, acted as they had done. He made disciples of the Samaritans, and baptized them. These were afterwards formed into a church, and taught to observe the things commanded by Christ, as we learn in the following scripture: "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." The members of this church were like those of Jerusalem, baptized believers. Philip, also, baptized the eunuch. Saul, receiving the Holy Ghost, was baptized, after which he was with the disciples in Damascus, and became the apostle upon whom rested the care of all the churches.
Cornelius, the centurion, was instructed in a vision to send for Peter, who should tell him what he should do. Peter was instructed, in like manner, to go to Cornelius. He obeyed, and found on his arrival at the centurion’s, that he "had called together his kinsmen and near friends," and that they were all present before God, to hear all things that were commanded of God to his apostle. Then Peter opened his mouth and preached Christ, and the remission of sins through faith in Christ. And whilst he was uttering the very doctrine, "the Holy Ghost fell upon all that heard the word." "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, seeing that they have received the Holy Ghost as well as we. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Peter, in rehearsing the matter before his brethren of the circumcision, said, "that they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ." The centurion and his company were then baptized as believers, and as we read of a church in Cesarea, which Paul went up and saluted, it is evident that the members of the church in that city were baptized believers. At Jerusalem, "the pattern" was given to the Jewish disciples. In this centurion’s company, the same "pattern" is given to the gentiles.
During Paul’s abode in Philippi, he baptized Lydia and her household, and tarried with them certain days. This household is called "brethren," another name for disciples. He was afterwards imprisoned, but being released, he returned to Lydia’s house, and when he had seen "the brethren" and comforted them he departed. He also baptized the jailer and his household, all believing and rejoicing in God. These were among the number of the members of the church at Philippi. Many of the Corinthians, also hearing, believed and were baptized, who became members of the church at Corinth.
In the above instances we have seen, that, without a single exception, when disciples were made by teaching, they were baptized, and we have seen also, in the Jerusalem church, that the disciples were there taught to observe the other things which Christ commands.
I proceed, now, to the epistles, for the purpose of ascertaining the character of the materials of which the churches were formed.
I begin with the epistle to the Romans, in which the apostle writes "to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." He addresses them also as baptized, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death?" The materials of this church, then, were saints. They exercised faith, and were baptized. The members of the Corinthian, Galatian, Ephesians, Philippian, Colossian, and Thessalonian churches, are all recognized by the apostle as sanctified, justified, believing, baptized persons, as appears from the reading of the epistles themselves. Indeed, the principle upon which any of the apostles addressed letters to churches or to individuals, was the principle of their having put on Christ in baptism. Thus, then, it is evident, that the materials of which the primitive churches were composed, were conscious subjects, who, upon profession of faith in Christ, were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. And as patterns for all succeeding churches, they should be imitated, since every church of Christ, throughout all time, should be composed of such materials as the primitive churches were composed of.
I have now this further use to make of the epistles in this connection. It is to show that the third particular embraced in the commission was strictly observed by the apostles, viz: the instruction of disciples in all the commands of Christ, obedience to which, required the materials for the membership of the churches, that we have just seen were uniformly required. In these epistles, general and minute instructions are given touching the whole duty of the believer in all the relations of life. These instructions are addressed to conscious subjects, who have professed their willingness to conform to the requirements of their Lord. So far, then, all seems plain and clear as to the materials of the church of Christ. But what are we to understand by baptism? Some difficulty seems to have attended the import of this word, and, therefore, it is necessary that we bestow some attention upon it, for which the reader is referred to the next chapter.
We are buried with him by baptism into death.
—Romans VI: 4
The terms baptize and baptism, are brought into our language from the Greek. In the original language, their uniform meaning is immerse, dip, immersion, dipping. Hence, the baptism of a believer is the immersion of a believer, and to baptize a believer, is to immerse or dip a believer in water. We read in the New Testament of believers being buried with Christ in baptism, that is, in immersion. Now this figure illustrates the true import of baptism. The believer professes to be dead unto sin, but to be risen with Christ to a newness of life. The immersion of his body in water, and his coming out of the water, represent this death and this resurrection. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized, immersed, into Jesus Christ, were baptized, immersed,—into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism, immersion, into death; that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, if henceforth we should not serve sin." Rom. vi: 3–6. This passage most clearly sets forth the true import of baptism, the character of its subjects and their immersion.
Difficulties may occur in the minds of some, as to the practicability of immersion in the cases we have been considering, which it may be well to remove. John baptized in Jordan, at Bethabara, and Enon. Jordan was a river, having fords, and at certain seasons overflowed its banks. It, therefore, afforded water above and below its fords of sufficient depth for immersion. Bethabara was situated on the east side of the Jordan, at which was a ferry or crossing place; of course there was a sufficiency of water to be found there for the administration of the ordinance. Enon was selected as a place of baptizing, because there was much water there; in the original, udata polla, many waters, a large collection of water; and as a space, measuring less than seven feet in length, four feet in width, and the same in depth, is sufficient for the administrator to immerse a subject in, there can be no reasonable doubt that these afforded a sufficient quantity of water for the ordinance.
At Jerusalem, the disciples had on the day of Pentecost, and for some time after, the free use of the temple for their meetings and services, as will appear from the following scriptures: "and they continuing daily with one accord in the temple." Acts ii: 46. "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." Acts iii: 1–3. "And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch." Act v: 12. "They entered into the temple early in morning and taught." v: 21. "And daily in the temple and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."—42. This use of the temple would secure to them the use of its appliances, which were ample for administering the baptismal rite.
There was in the temple the brazen sea, containing two thousand baths. 1 Kings vii: 23–26. A bath contains seven and a half gallons. The quantity of water in the sea, then, was fifteen thousand gallons. This quantity of water would surely suffice for the immersion of three thousand persons in a very short period of time, if there were a sufficient number of administrators present. The difficulty of procuring a sufficient number of administrators, now remains to be removed.
In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that there were about an hundred and twenty disciples who united in the appointment of Matthias to the vacant apostleship. Now these were all with one accord in one place, on the day of Pentecost. The spirit descended and sat upon them like cloven tongues as of fire, and they spake with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. How many of these were men, I have no means of knowing. But as Matthias was chosen from the number of those who had companied with the apostles all the time that the Lord Jesus had gone in and out among them, we may rationally conclude, that the seventy disciples were present whom the Lord had sent out to preach. These, supposing Matthias to have been taken from the seventy, and added to "the eleven," would make eighty-one preachers and baptizers. Now if we divide three thousand by eighty-one, the result will be a fraction over thirty-seven. We will however say, that thirty-eight were assigned to each of these administrators. These eighty-one administrators could baptize eighty-one persons at one time, in the space of one minute, as forty persons have been baptized in thirty minutes by one administrator. The eighty-one administrators could then have baptized the three thousand in half an hour. And here let me state, that as the mode of dressing at that time was not so complex as at the present time, there was no hindrance on that account, to an immediate compliance with the duty of immersion, on the part of administrator or subject. An inner and an outer garment constituted the chief articles of dress. By throwing off the outer garment and the sandals from the feet, both were ready; and when the service was performed, the outer garment and the sandals being replaced, the parties could repair to their respective places of abode for the necessary change of habiliments. Thus all things were done decently and in order.
But, admitting for a moment that the disciples had not the free use of the temple appliances for the ordinance, yet there were pools which afforded sufficient water for its observance. There was "the King’s pool," "the pool of Siloah," and another "pool." Neh. ii: 14, and iii: 15, 16. There was also "the sheep pool, called Bethesda." John v: 2. Concerning some of these pools, we have from the pen of Dr. Durbin, a recent traveler in the East, some important information. In his "Observations on the East," the Doctor says "passing out at the Jaffa gate," in Jerusalem "I found the head of the valley, or as we would call it, ravine of Gihon, about five minutes walk from the wall on the north-east. It is a broad, shallow bowl, inclining on all sides towards a large tank in the centre, constructed for the purpose of collecting all the waters of the adjacent ground. This tank is generally called the upper pool of Gihon. I did not measure its dimensions, but they are given by Dr. Robinson at 316 feet, by about 200. All the surplus water passed down the valley by a subterranean conduit, to the lower pool of Gihon, which is a vast reservoir, some 600 feet by 300, formed by extending strong walls, like dams, across the ravine, the natural rock itself probably forming the pavement." Vol. 1, p. 360. "Ascending but a few steps higher, we came to
‘Siloa’s brook, that flowed
Fast by the Oracles of God.’
"How little like the fountains of Siloam that I had pictured in my imagination. Before, it was a deep, artificial pool; now, dry and dirty. In front on the left, is a flight of steps descending to the pool, and on the right is a path leading to an arched opening, by which you enter and descend to the basin, some six feet wide, which is called the fountain of Siloam. It is well ascertained, however, that there is no spring here, but that the water which supplies the basin flows through a long subterranean passage, from the fountain of the Virgin, situated 1100 feet to the north, in the western edge of the valley of Kedron." pp. 263, 264.
Of the sheep pool, called Bethesda, Mr. Maundrell, who visited it in 1697, thus writes, "On the 9th April, we went to take a view of what is now called the pool of Bethesda, which is 120 paces long, 40 broad, and 8 deep." A pace is a measure of five geometrical feet. The extent of this pool will then be 600 feet in length, 200 in width, and 40 in depth. "From the account of Sandys, it appears, that the basin being hewn deep in the rock, and upon, ‘above,’ that rock the northern wall standing, and the spring issuing from between the stones of the wall of this well, the place from whence the spring issues must be several feet above the level of the water in the basin, which basin being deeper in some places than at others, uneven at the bottom, might be deep enough to swim in, in some parts, while in others it might serve to wash the sheep without their swimming at all."—Calmet.
The very extensive use of water among the Jews in their religious rites, required the abundant supply in these pools. And thus the facilities for immersing the thousands of disciples that were made at Jerusalem, were at hand for immediate use. How ample the means, then, of shewing the practicability of immersing the three thousand on the day of Pentecost.
Of the appliances in the city of Samaria for immersion, we have no specific information. But with so fine a well in its neighborhood, as we know the people had, I suppose there can be no reasonable doubt of their possessing sufficient accommodations for the immersion of the body in water, particularly as in eastern regions, public and private baths were in common use.
The water used for the baptism of the eunuch is described as "a certain water," by which we are to understand that it had some peculiarity attending it. And it is natural to suppose, that this peculiarity fitted it for the purpose of immersion, as both Philip and the eunuch went down into it, and came up out of it. For any purpose short of this, the conveniences which such a distinguished man, an ambassador, traveling in his chariot, would take with him, would be amply sufficient.
Damascus was situated on the river Pharpar, and therefore had an abundant supply of water for immersing the body. Cesarea and Corinth were seaports, supplied with abundant water. Philippi was, like Damascus, situated on a river, in whose waters the households of Lydia and the jailer could have been immersed without difficulty, though at midnight. But in the latter case, the tank or bathing font, which all the jails in eastern cities were furnished with, for the bathing of the prisoners, presented the opportunity of immersing the household within the precincts of the yard.
Thus I think it satisfactorily appears, that all the difficulties supposed to attend the immersion of the first converts are removed, and that, as the term baptism imports immersion, dipping, so it is evident that the primitive disciples were all immersed in water upon a profession of faith in Christ. We are then, I think, fully warranted in saying, that the materials of which a church of Christ should be formed, are penitent, believing sinners, immersed in water upon a profession of faith in Christ; conscious subjects, willing to observe his commands.
THE OFFICE AND WORK OF THE EVANGELIST
Do the work of an evangelist; make full proof of thy ministry.
—2 Timothy IV: 5
In the preparation of the materials for the churches of Christ, evangelists or preachers of the gospel are, under the Holy Spirit, the chief agents, and their work the chief instrumentality. "For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
The office of evangelists is general, not particular, not limited to any given church or region of country. Their commission directs them to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." The world, then, is their field, and in whatsoever part of it their lot is cast, there does their official character go with them. When the great persecution against the church at Jerusalem scattered all its members abroad, except the apostles, "they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord." Of Philip, one of their number, who is called the evangelist, we have a particular account. He "went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them." And "when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women." He also preached Jesus to the eunuch, and baptized him.
To Timothy, "an evangelist," Paul gives the following charge: "Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering." To Titus, his own son after the common faith, he addresses a similar charge: "Speak thou the things that become sound doctrine. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."
The work of an evangelist, then, is to preach the gospel of Christ, and to baptize believers in him; such being the materials, as has been shewn in a former chapter, of which the churches of Christ should be formed. The evangelists then, are, if I may so speak, general officers of the Redeemer’s kingdom on earth, and the most useful body of men in our world. Qualifications of a high order are necessarily required in officers of such dignity and importance. The first and chief of these is, the possession of the saving grace of God in the soul, and manifested in the life by exercises of deep and ardent piety. Such qualifications had Timothy, in the unfeigned faith, which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice, which Paul was persuaded dwelt in him, their honored descendant, also. On this foundation, Paul required him to "be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Not to strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves."
A second qualification consists in ability to teach, as we learn in the following passage: "The things that thou hast heard of me among" or by "many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." For surely, he who is to teach others, must possess the capacity for imparting knowledge to them.
To the capacity for teaching, must be added its diligent exercise in seeking an acquaintance with the subjects to be taught. Hence, the necessity of a third qualification, STUDY. Timothy had, by the laying on of the apostle’s hands, received a gift, a special gift of the Holy Ghost, in accordance with "the prophecies that went before concerning him." The apostle, nevertheless, wrote to him thus solemnly and impressively: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." "Neglect not the gift that is in thee. Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear unto all."
The duty of improving the talents for the ministry, by diligent cultivation, is illustrated with great clearness and force by our Saviour, in the care which he bestowed upon the apostles. For, notwithstanding the miraculous powers which he conferred on these men, he kept them with him for more than three years, instructing them by day and by night, and then required them to remain at Jerusalem until they should be imbued with power from on high, before they should go forth fully to preach the gospel; so that when they did engage in the work, they were well instructed, well educated men. This example of the Saviour, should lead all those who intend to be preachers of the gospel, to see that they have the qualifications for the ministry that are required, and those who have entered upon its duties, to improve their powers to the best advantage. A neglect of these obvious requirements in the ministerial character, in his day, by the denomination to which he belonged, extorted from the poet of the fast-anchored isle, the following severe reproof:—
"From such apostles, oh! ye mitred heads,
Preserve the church; and lay not careless hands
On skulls that cannot teach, and will not learn."
It is the duty of the churches of Christ, to see that the evangelists whom they receive possess these qualifications; and in cases where they have not the means of improvement, the churches should afford them the necessary supply. Hence the importance of establishing and sustaining institutions of learning, at which our young men, who have the ministry in view, may acquire the necessary improvement for the great work.
It is a part of the duty of evangelists to baptize believers. The proof of this is so clear, from the commission already quoted, and the practice under it, as recorded in the Acts of the apostles, that nothing is required on the subject in this place. In the performance of this duty, the whole responsibility rests upon the evangelist. No church or individual is to share it with him. The commission is, "go," "teach," "baptize." Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, and when the awakened hearers asked what they should do, he answered, "Repent and be baptized," &c. "And they that gladly received his word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Philip preached to the Samaritans, and baptized those that believed. He baptized the eunuch also. Ananias baptized Saul. Peter baptized the centurion and his friends. Paul baptized Lydia’s and the jailer’s household, together with the believing Corinthians. With these baptizers no churches or others shared the responsibility.
It is also a part of the duty of the evangelist, to teach the baptized believers all other things that Christ has commanded.
It will now be seen, that evangelists are no inconsiderable officers of Christ’s kingdom, and that they hold no inferior rank in the line of instrumentality for the building up of that kingdom. It should be the concern, then, of every church to have an evangelist in her bishopric, laboring in her midst, and in the regions around her. Indeed, I cannot see how any church can prosper long, if at all, without such a servant of the most high God, seeing that his services are indispensable under the order of things established by her Head, who "gave some evangelists, some pastors and preachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." As soon, then, may it be expected that the natural body will be vigorous without its proper food, as that the body of Christ will be edified without the instituted ministry of the word.
But it is required that these men be supported to their work. "For the Lord has ordained that they that preach the gospel, shall live of the gospel." And what can be more reasonable? These evangelists are, as the term euangelistes in the original imports, bearers of good news, of glad tidings of great joy. They are the heralds of the Saviour of men, preaching peace through him. A work of such magnitude requires all the time and labor which can be bestowed upon it. And, therefore, those who are called to it should not be hindered by attention to the things of this world, but set at liberty, that they may give themselves "continually to prayer," and to the faithful discharge of its duties. And that they should be thus unfettered from the distracting cares of life, will appear the more necessary from the fact, that they are the appointed agents for preparing the materials, under the guidance of the divine Spirit, of which the churches of the Redeemer, those important bodies in our world, are to be composed.
THE FORMATION OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
And the Lord added to the church daily, such as should be saved.
—Acts II: 47
Immediately after the ascension of the Redeemer, the apostles "returned to Jerusalem, and continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." "And in those days the number of the names" of the disciples "was about an hundred and twenty." "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." "And the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." "And the Lord added unto the church daily, such as should be saved."
In these scriptures, we have a satisfactory account of the formation of the mother church at Jerusalem. One accord, mutual consent in the truth as it is in Jesus, constituted the principle on which the church was formed. The apostles taught the disciples the duty, and the principle, of the church relation, and they complied with it. But no official act of the apostles beyond teaching, do we learn, gave validity to its existence. With the pattern thus clearly given, and the scripture record of numerous churches in different places, we are taught, that wherever a sufficient number of believers in Christ, baptized upon a profession of faith in him, live sufficiently contiguous to each other for the purposes of the church relation, they should unite together in such relation on the principle of ONE ACCORD, mutual consent in the truth. The Bible is their only standard of doctrine and duty.
In the changes of membership from one church to another, which are necessarily effected in the providence of God, the same principle of one accord, of mutual consent, should be observed. When a member removes from one church into the neighborhood of another, his membership is necessarily dissolved with the first church, and should be taken in the second. The very design of a church, and the objects that its formation is to accomplish, make this plain and obvious. A church is a congregation, a company of disciples, redeemed from sin and condemnation, associated together to perform certain duties, and to effect certain ends. They are to meet every Lord’s day, to engage in the duties of social worship, to combine their energies, and to act in concert as a band of soldiers under the Captain of their salvation. Hence the exhortation of the apostle, "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." For these purposes the members must live near enough to each other to meet every Lord’s day, and to see each other often. Now, when a member goes from the vicinity of one church to the vicinity of another to take up his abode, he only changes the company with which he will associate for carrying on the purposes of God. Hence, on such removal, he will state the fact, and ask a letter of commendation, as to character and standing, from the church he leaves. This he will take to the church near which he goes to reside, and presenting it, ask admission into its membership, which, where all is fair, will doubtless be granted with all readiness.
Letters of dismission, as now used in such cases as the above, assume a principle, and state a fact, neither of which is recognized in the New Testament. The principle is, that a Church has authority to dismiss a member, and that by such letter he is dismissed. The proper meaning of dismiss is, to send away, or discard. A church may dismiss an officer with whom she is dissatisfied, but it is difficult to see how she can dismiss a member without excluding him. The membership of the individual is dissolved by his removal, and the church, as suggested above, in her letter of commendation only states that fact, with his character. And he becomes a member of another church, as soon as opportunity offers. By this arrangement, the church is relieved of all responsibility in the case of the member removing. She enters the fact upon her church book, and there the matter ends. In the present order of things in the case, a member obtains a letter, in somewhat the following form: "We do hereby testify, that our brother , who is a member in full fellowship with us, is dismissed from us at his request, and when joined to another church of the same faith and order, will be considered as dismissed from us;" or, "We do hereby certify, that our brother is dismissed to join another church of the same faith and order." With this letter the brother dismissed may remove to a distance beyond the control of the church, or her means of knowning any thing about him. He retains the letter and behaves disorderly. Now, by the terms of either of the above forms, he is yet a member of the church that dismissed him. Yet he is recorded as a member dismissed, and so reported to the association. The church is thus placed in a serious dilemma. But from this she is delivered, upon the plan suggested above. A recurrence to first principles will very much assist us in this case.
When a believer is baptized upon a profession of faith in Christ, he is baptized, not into the membership of any particular church, but into subjection to the authority of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He is then to be known and recognized as a subject of the King in Zion. Wherever his lot is cast in this world, and a church of Christ exists there, it is his privilege to be a member of it, and it is his duty to present himself for membership without delay. During his abode within her precincts, he is bound to perform his duties to the church and her members, and they to him. On his removal beyond her precincts, his membership in the church ceases, but not his subjection to the King of Zion. Taking with him a letter of commendation, he presents it as a letter of introduction to the church, in whose neighborhood he fixes his abode, and there takes his membership on the principle of mutual consent. If he shall withhold his application for membership, the church should withhold from him her privileges; for where privilege is enjoyed, the obligation to duty is binding. The following illustration may throw some light upon the subject. A foreigner, who desires to become a citizen of this Union, is required to live within its boundaries a given term of time, maintain a fair moral character, and then take the oath of allegiance to the government, in open court. Upon complying with these requirements, he becomes a citizen, not of any one individual State, but of the United States, and thus acquires a right to become a citizen of either of the States; but his actual citizenship is determined by the place of his residence. No announcement to the authorities of a State is required from a citizen on his removal, nor certificate to be presented for admission into another State. Neither is any thing of the kind required in the case of the member of a church who removes, but as the King of Zion requires his subjects to be courteous, it is becoming in them to give notice of removals, and receive letters of commendation, to be used as circumstances require.
In some churches, it is the custom to require of the applicant for membership, a relation of his experience, notwithstanding the most favorable letter of dismission which he presens. And there is sound philosophy in the custom. It commends itself to general imitation.
THE RULERS OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls.
—Hebrews XIII: 17
In every well regulated society, rulers are necessary for the management of its affairs. The King in Zion has, therefore, provided such for his churches, whom he clothes with authority, and to whom he requires that obedience and respect be rendered. On all these points we have full instruction in his holy word, and to those portions of it which contain this instruction, I now invite your attention: "We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake." 1 Thes. v:12, 13. "Remember them that have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and forever. Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you. Salute all them that have the rule over you." Heb. xiii: 7, 17, 24.
These rulers are designated by various titles, in connection with the duties which they are to perform, as will be seen in the scriptures that follow: Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church." The messengers from Antioch were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, at Jerusalem. "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said to them, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts xiv: 23, and xv: 4, and xx: 17, 18, 28. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine." 1 Tim. v: 17. "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee; if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless as the steward of God." Titus i: 5, 6, 7. "The elders which are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder. Feed the flock of God, which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" 1 Pet.v: 1, 2, 3. Christ "gave some pastors." Eph. iv: 11. "Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil, in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick." James v: 14, 15.
In a review of these scriptures, we have these points clearly made out:—
For the better understanding of the terms elder, pastor, bishop, overseer, as having the same import in the above scriptures, I observe, that the terms bishop and overseer, are translations of the term episkopos in Greek. And as this term is rendered in the passages from Timothy and Titus by the word bishop, it would have been more proper to have rendered it by the same word in Acts xx: 28, thus, "over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops." Now all these terms are applied interchangeably to the office of ruler, as the same qualifications are required in all. The appropriateness of these terms in designating the office of the rulers, appears from their distinctive meaning. The Greek term for elder is presbuteros, which signifies one advanced in years, who is supposed to have dignity and experience. Episkopos is softened from the Saxon bichop, by dropping the c, and reads bishop in our language, which imports overseer. Pastor is the Latin for shepherd, a term that denotes one who has charge of a flock, to the feeding and management of which he is specially devoted. Of all these terms I should prefer overseer, if it were not that it has been applied to worldly avocations in such manner, as to lessen its dignity in its application to a spiritual ruler. Bishop, perhaps, is on the whole to be preferred, as it is rather more a term of office than the term elder, and includes what is meant by the term overseer.
It is worthy of particular attention, that each church had a plurality of elders, and that although there was a difference in their respective department of service, there was a perfect equality of rank among them. Let us now endeavor to ascertain the respective departments of service assigned to the members of the bishopric.
In the solemn address which the apostle made to the Ephesians elders, bishops, he says, "take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, bishops, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Therefore watch and remember, that by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one of you night and day with tears." To the Hebrews, he thus writes, "remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken to you the word of God." "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they WATCH FOR YOUR SOULS, as they that must give account." And the address to the same elders by Peter, is in perfect accordance with that of his "beloved brother Paul;" "Feed the flock of God, which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but as being ensamples to the flock." "Let the elders that rule well, be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine." The duties of these rulers are evidently various. Governing, not as lords, but as ensamples; feeding, which implies speaking the word of the Lord, from the experience of its power; watching for souls, warning and admonishing them; laboring in word and doctrine, by preaching the word, being instant in season, out of season; taking heed unto themselves and to all the flock. These seem to be the prominent duties of the bishopric—duties which render necessary the qualifications that are required in the epistles to Timothy and Titus; all which are fully detailed in the following scriptures: "A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient; not a brawler; not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them that are without, lest he fall into reproach, and the snare of the devil." 1 Tim. iii: 2–7. These qualifications most obviously fit their possessors for the various and important duties of the bishopric. The particular department of service which each shall occupy, will be determined by the talent which he has for one or the other line of duty. For example, one of the bishops may have a particular talent for presiding over the body, for regulating its affairs by advice, admonition, rebuke. Let such an one be the presiding bishop. Another may have a particular capacity for teaching the flock by exposition of scripture and exhortation, and in visits to the members. Let this be his department. A third may be endowed with the talent for superintending a Sabbath school, directing the course of studies, gathering up children for the school, and alluring them to the reading of the scriptures and religious works. To this service, then, let him be devoted. And a fourth may be endowed with the gift of laboring in the word and doctrine, that is, of preaching the gospel of Christ. This one should give himself wholly to the ministry of the word. I mean not by the above view, to determine the number of bishop for each church at four, but simply to exhibit what services the bishops might respectively render to a church.
The importance and necessity of a bishopric for each church, embodying gifts for various services, is thus most obvious for the accomplishment of one of the great ends for which Christ came into the world, and for which, when he ascended up on high, he received gifts for men. This end is stated at large in the following passage from the epistle to the Ephesian church: "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Eph. iv: 12–16. This is the noble end for which "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given."
A plurality in the bishopric is of great importance for mutual counsel and aid, that the government and edification of the flock may be promoted in the best manner. At stated meetings of the bishopric, the members would report their separate doings, and confer together upon the teachings of scripture, which they would bring forth to the church for its consideration and adoption. Such a body would constitute the proper council of advisers to the church collectively, and to the members individually. Interchangeably each would aid the other in his department, and when necessary, would unite in any one department. Oh, what a blessing would such a bishopric be to a church! But ah! where are we to find men, whose gifts fit them for composing such a bishopric? The answer is given in the passage above referred to. "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men,—some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers." To the ascended Redeemer and Head of the churches, must we go for these gifts. For he will be enquired of for them. The churches must desire them. They must understand this part of their divinely instituted order, and must earnestly wrestle with their Lord for the gifts that are necessary to carry it out.
They must be willing to do another thing. This is to afford these gifts a liberal support. The divine command is, "let the elders that rule well, be counted worthy of double honor, especially they that labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And the laborer is worthy of his hire." I Timothy v: 17, 18. The principle on which compensation is here required to the elders, is obviously correct. It is payment for work done, for service rendered. For "who goeth a warfare at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk there-of?" The principle of compensation for service rendered, admits of graduation in the amount, according to the extent and quality of the labor performed. The duties of those elders who do not "labor in the word and doctrine," might be attended to by some, without interfering with their avocations in life, or by others in so small a degree, that a moderate compensation would be sufficient for the service done, whilst a larger remuneration would be necessary for those, who do "labor in the word and doctrine," since such should give themselves wholly to the work, in a profound study of the Bible, and in actual preaching "the truth as it is in Jesus."
Whilst a plurality of bishops is required for each church, the number is not fixed, for the obvious reason, that circumstances must necessarily determine what that number shall be. In a church where more than one cannot be obtained, that one may be appointed upon the principle, that as soon as another can be procured there shall be a plurality. And when, from the poverty and fewness of the members, it may be impracticable for them to afford a support to the ruler or rulers they may have, let the members faithfully do what they can, and let the rulers imitate the example of Paul, who "ministered with his hands to his necessities, and to them that were with him."
I have said above, that of all the terms by which the rulers of a church are designated, I would prefer "overseer," if it were not that it has been applied to worldly avocations in such a manner, as to lessen its dignity in its application to a spiritual ruler. Bishop, perhaps, is on the whole to be preferred, as it is rather more a term of office than the term elder, and includes what is meant by the term overseer. As we are familiar with the term overseer, in this country, and its import is embodied substantially in the word bishop, I shall now point out, in some particulars, the analogy between the offices of the spiritual, and the temporal overseer. The temporal overseer has the charge of a body of laborers. The spiritual overseer has the oversight of a church of spiritual laborers in the cause of God. The temporal overseer governs the laborers, not by the laws which he or they enact, but by those which the employer lays down. The spiritual overseer governs the church, not by the laws which he or the members pass, but by those, which the chief Shepherd and Bishop establishes. The temporal overseer receives the compensation for his services out of the produce of the laborers’ work. The spiritual overseer receives his from the same source. The office of the temporal overseer is executive only, not legislative. Such is also the authority of office which the spiritual overseer holds. The complete code of laws for the church is contained in the Bible, and neither the church nor the overseer has any authority to abrogate, alter, or add to any part of this code. Should the church and her overseers so disagree in their understanding of this code, that they cannot continue together profitably, let them separate in love.
For the spiritual as for the temporal overseer, a support is required; and upon the obvious principle of mutual obligation. "Do ye not know," says Paul, " that they which minister about holy things, live of the things of the temple and they which wait at the altar, are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" I Cor. ix: 13, 14. "Let him that is taught in the word, communicate unto him that teacheth, in all good things." Gal. vi: 6. And what can be more reasonable? As citizens we cheerfully pay our taxes for the support of government, that its officers may give themselves to the making and the maintenance of the laws; and thus, under God, secure the prosperity of the land. And why not give our money to support the rulers of the churches, which their great Head has appointed, not for the making, but the maintenance of the laws of his kingdom, and the advancement of the prosperity of his people? We will give to overseers of our temporal property, full compensation for managing our temporal business; and why should not the churches exercise equal justice in compensating their spiritual overseers, to whose management the Holy Ghost has committed them and their affairs? We will spend large sums in splendid habitations, furniture, equipage, costly entertainments for carnal pleasure, all in conformity to this world; why not spend equal sums in conformity to the will of God, by sustaining the ministry of the word, the full bishopric of the churches, and thus lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.
That we should not think, in thus complying with our duty, we have done a meritorious deed, the apostle asks, "if we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" Does a man deserve any credit, who pays another a just price for the labor which that other has done for him? Christians are taught to say, when they have done all these things which are commanded them, "we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do." Oh! may the churches wake up to the importance of the bishopric, and the duty of its support.
THE DEACONS OR SERVANTS
OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
They that have used the office of a deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
—1 Timothy III:13
The welfare of every society requires servants, as well as rulers. And hence the provision of servants for the churches by their Head, whose qualifications will be found in the following scriptures: "Likewise must the deacons, diaconous, be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved, then let them use the office of a deacon, diakonitasan, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons, diakonoi, be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well, diakonesantes, purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith, which is in Christ Jesus." 1 Tim. iii: 8–l3. "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, diakonois." Phil. i: 1. "I commend unto you, Phebe, our sister, which is a servant, diakonon, of the church which is at Cenchrea, for she hath been a succorer of many and of myself also." Rom. xvi: 1, 2. The term diaconos, rendered deacon in all the above passages, except the last, in which it is rendered servant, occurs in the New Testament twenty-eight times, if I am not mistaken in numbering them. In five places as above, it is rendered deacon. In the rest it is translated servant or minister, which terms are synonymous. Deacon, diakonos, is in the original of common gender, as you see from Paul’s calling Phebe a diakonon, female servant or deaconess.
In the above qualifications, an aptitude to teach is not one. It is no part of the official duty of the deacons, then, to engage in teaching the church. Neither are they called rulers. Nor are the terms bishop, overseer, pastor, elder, shepherd, applied to them. We have no intimation in the scripture, that any of the spiritual concerns of the church are committed to their charge, as these are all assigned to the bishops.
It may be asked, what then is their line of service to the church? What affairs are committed to their hands? These questions I shall now attempt to answer.
There are two kinds of service which are essential to the prosperity of every church. These are spiritual and temporal. The spiritual service has respect to the moral condition of the church, the walk of the members, and the general state of all the spiritual interests of the flock. These, we have very clearly seen, are assigned to the bishopric. The qualifications of deacons look not so much to the intellectual capacity of rulers, spiritual guides, feeders of the flock, teachers, as to trustworthiness, capacity for business, excellence and stability of moral character. As the term deacon means servant, as contradistinguished from ruler or teacher, whatever temporal service the interests of a church may require, should be committed to the hands of the deacons. For this reason their particular duties are not pointed out, while the duties of the bishops are defined, and the limits of their authority prescribed. These are rulers, and their duty, and the extent of their power, must be known. To restrict the deacons to the service of tables only, is to confine their useful labors to bounds which are too narrow. Whatever of temporal care the interests of the church require, that care falls upon the deacons, as the servants of the church. And that these temporal interests require much care, and that the spiritual prosperity of the church is intimately connected with these temporal interests, will satisfactorily appear from the following facts:
Now, for all these objects, money will be needed, and should be contributed by each member according to his ability, as "God loves a cheerful giver," and accepteth "a man according to that he hath, and not according to that he hath not." The care of the meeting house and the poor, together with the payment of the "hire of the bishopric," and the transmission of money for the various benevolent objects adopted by the church, all fall under the supervision of the deacons. And as there is work enough for the bishopric in the care of the spiritual concerns of the church, so there is work enough for the deaconship in the care of the temporal concerns of the church, and hence the plurality in the deaconship, as in the bishopric, is required, and for the same reason. There are different departments of service in the deaconship, as in the bishopric, and the members of the deaconship need mutual counsel, as do the members of the bishopric. The particular department of service, which each member in the deaconship would occupy, would be determined by the talents possessed. To one, the keeping of the money, and the specialties of the church, might be committed. A second might keep the records of the church. A third might exercise a supervision over the meeting house and its arrangements, that all things may be kept in a decent and orderly manner, attracting hearers to the sanctuary of God. A fourth might be employed in attending to the poor, seeking them out, relieving their wants, and giving them good counsel. In these two last departments, deaconesses would be particularly useful. In visiting the female poor, and in attending to the interior of the meeting house, their services would be exceedingly valuable. And, therefore it is, that the deaconship admits of females into its number. Phebe was a diaconos, deaconess, or female servant of the church at Cenchrea, a succorer of many, even of the apostle himself. These brethren would have stated meetings, confer upon the temporal matters of the church, and make report of their doings to the flock. What a blessing would such a deaconship be to a church? He who instituted the office has gifts to fill it. Let the church earnestly beseech Him to give them such, if they have them not, and He will be heard of them. I mean not, by what I have said above, to fix the number or specific employment of the deacons. Each church must use her own discretion in relation to both.
In the sixth chapter of Acts, we have these two lines of service, the bishopric and the deaconship, adumbrated or intimated. The apostles undertook at first, to supervise both the spiritual and temporal interests of the church at Jerusalem, but they found it impracticable. They then desired the brethren to select seven men, whom they would set over the daily ministration of the alms to the necessitous, whilst they would give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Both the apostles and the seven men were extraordinary officers, if I may so speak, attending to the interests of the church at Jerusalem, until the ordinary state of things should take place in a regular organization of the churches. In the missionary tour of Paul and Barnabas, this organization was effected. And Paul has given us, in his epistle to Timothy, the settled order of officers, bishops and deacons. The one to be the rulers over the churches, having charge of their spiritual concerns; the other to be the servants of the churches, having charge of their temporal affairs. Ample provision is thus made for the right management of the churches, and if the members will sustain these officers, and these officers will do their duty, the Great Head of the Church will send down his blessings upon them without reserve.
It is too obvious to need remark, that, from the nature of the government of the churches, as stated in chapter III, each one is invested with full authority to appoint its own officers, independent of any dictation or control from any man or body of men on earth.
THE STATED TIME AND PLACE FOR THE MEETING
OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
of rational beings, that they have a stated time and place of meeting, and stated services, in which they should engage, when met. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose, that the Head of the churches would give instruction to his ambassadors on these points. And happily for us, they have caused such instructions to be recorded in the scriptures of truth, as the following passages will clearly, shew: " Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church." "And so ordained I, in all churches." "Be ye followers of me, even 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 unto you." "If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." 1 Cor. iv: 17, and vii: 17, and xi: 1, 2, and xiv: 37.
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bred.
Under the authority of these scriptures, I shall, in the first place, endeavor to ascertain the time for the stated meetings of the churches of Christ, in which effort I shall begin with the institution of the seventh day, and its sanctification by Jehovah. "And on the seventh day God ended his work, which he had made, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work, which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because, that in it he had rested from all his work, which God created and made." Gen. ii: 2, 3. That this day was statedly observed by the Israelites, previous to the delivery of the ten commandments on mount Sinai, and previous also to the enactment of the Levitical law, is apparent from Exodus xvi: 22-30. "And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, this is that which the Lord hath said, to-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, how long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? So the people rested on the seventh day."
The term "Sabbath," is of Hebrew origin, and signifies rest. It points out the intention of the seventh day, which God has sanctified, but does not prescribe its employments. In the law of the ten commandments, commonly called the moral law, the fourth precept requires that we "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates, for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore, the Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." Ex. xx: 8-11. In this precept, a distinction between the day and its design is evidently made, by calling the seventh day the Sabbath. The term "Sabbath" denotes rest from earthly labor, the term "seventh" denotes the portion of time for that rest.
It is worthy of notice, that this precept forms a part of that law which the Saviour came to "fulfil, and not to destroy,"—Matt. v: 11, 12,—of that law whose penalty is thus written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gen. iii: 10. It is further worthy of notice, that of all the laws which God has given to man, none were given under such tremendous sanctions, as those which accompanied this law,—none were written by the finger of Jehovah upon tables of stone, but this law. Why all the startling circumstances of its delivery? Why the curse? Evidently to indicate its unbending authority, its perpetuity, and the awful doom of its transgressor. All the precepts of this holy law stand upon the same footing, and are, therefore, enforced by the same sanctions. They are, by consequence, all equally obligatory. Of course, a violation of any one of these precepts, exposes the transgressor to the curse, as a violation of the whole does. For, "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill. Now, if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." James ii: 10, 11.
But it may be said, however correct this reasoning is in relation to the Sabbath under the former dispensation, yet it is not so under the present; for the strict observance of the Sabbath was enjoined under the Levitical law; but, as that is now abrogated, so also is the strict observance of the Sabbath. To point out this sophism, this misapprehension of the subject, (for it is nothing else,) it will be proper to revert to the distinction, which we have already made, between the seventh day and the Sabbath. The term seventh relates to a given portion of time, the term Sabbath to the design of that portion. As the seventh portion of time was originally set apart for rest, it is evident that there was a moral reason, that is, a reason originating in the constitution of things, for such a portion to be so set apart. But whether that portion should be in the beginning, the middle, or the end of the week, depended upon the pleasure of the Creator, and therefore might be altered at his pleasure, without abolishing its use, changing its design, or weakening its authority. Saturday, the last day of the week, was the day under the Jewish economy. Under the Christian dispensation, as we shall presently show, Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day set apart, as the day of rest and holy use.
You will observe, that the institution of the Sabbath did not originate with the Jewish or Levitical law,—it originated before Abraham, the father of the Jewish race, was born. It was instituted in the garden of Eden, and was designed not for one people only, but for all mankind. The division of time by weeks was known to the heathen, and observed by them. Laban said to Jacob, "Fulfil her week." Gen. xxix: 27. The Philistines had seven days festival at a wedding. Judges xiv: 12, 15, 17. And heathen writers speak of the division of days by sevens, and of the sacredness of the seventh day. Noah, in sending out his winged messengers to ascertain the state of the waters, observed the period of seven days. Gen. viii.10–12. Now, all these facts serve to show, that the institution of the Sabbath of this seventh day was of universal obligation, and handed down by tradition to the nations of the earth, though often abused, and in process of time, perhaps forgotten. The Sabbath of the seventh day formed, then, no part of that covenant, (the Levitical or Jewish law,) which in the apostles’ time, waxed old and was ready to vanish away. For it depended upon the appointment of Jehovah, in the garden of Eden, and therefore is obligatory upon all men.
Now, that only which is essential to the appointment of the Sabbath, is, that a given portion of time be set apart by divine authority for sacred rest and holy dutues. And the obligations upon all men to osbserve this portion of time, when it is made known to them, is as binding as the obligation to have no gods before Jehovah, to abstain from murder, theft and adultery. From what has been said, then, you will readily perceive, that the Lord God, who set apart the seventh portion of time,in the garden of Eden, as the Sabbath, and fixed that portion for the Jews on Saturday, the last day of the week,may, if he please, change that portion of time, by fixing it on Sunday, the first day of the week, as the Sabbath for another people, or for all men, without abrogating the holy day of rest, or weakening its moral obligation.
Having thus, as we trust, clearly shewn the design of the Sabbath, and the principle on which its institution rests, we shall now proceed to show, that Sunday, the first day of the week, is the Christian Sabbath, the stated time for the meeting of the churches of Christ.
Our Lord arose from the dead on the first day of the week, Matt. xxviii; and the same day at even, stood in the midst of his disciples, who, for fear of the Jews, were assembled with closed doors. On that day of the week, Jesus again stood in the midst of his disciples, who were assembled as before. John xx:19–26. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they (the disciples,) were all with one accord in one place." Acts ii:1. The term "Pentecost"is of Greek origin, and signifies fiftieth. An account of the institution of this day is given in Leviticus. "And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be complete, even unto the morrow of the seventh Sabbath, shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord." This fiftieth day is the "Pentecost," the morrow after the seventh Sabbath, and therefore the first day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath being Saturday, the last day of the week. In the 20th of Acts, it is said, that "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples were come together," at Troas, "to break bread, Paul preached to them." Acts xx: 7. It would therefore appear, that the first day of the week was the stated time for the meeting of the disciples at Troas.
In the epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle directs that "Upon the first day of the week, every one should lay by him in store, as God had prospered him, that there be no gatherings when he came." 2) I Cor. xvi: 2. These contributions were evidently not to be laid up by each at home, but in store, in the treasury of the church; since if they were not thus laid up in one place, under the care of the church, gatherings would have been necessary on the apostle’s arrival; but being there laid up, they would be at once committed to the hands of those who should, on his coming, be approved by the church, and sent by him to bring their liberality to Jerusalem. If, then, these contributions were thus to be laid up by the members of the church, on the first day of the week, the church must have met on that day. It is true, that the apostle does not, in this passage, direct the church to meet on the first day of the week. But the order to make the collection for the poor saints on that day, clearly shows, that it was the stated day of their meeting. And if the first day of the week was the stated day of the meeting of the Corinthian church, it was also the stated day of the meeting of the churches in Galatia; for the apostle had given to those churches the same order that he had given to the church at Corinth. And as he taught the same things everywhere in every church, it follows that the first day of the week was the stated day of meeting in all the churches of Christ in the apostolic age. But how did the churches know that the first, instead of the last day of the week was the Sabbath, the day of rest, and the day for their holy assembling for social worship? They knew that they were allowed six days for work, and that the seventh was a day of rest, to be kept holy. But whether that day should, under the new dispensation, be the last day of the week, as had been the usage of the Jews, or some other day, they could not know, except by divine revelation. Indeed, if left to their own judgment, they would more naturally have observed the seventhday of the week than any other, because it has been set apart by God himself for his people. The only means, then, of knowing which day should be the Sabbath of the new dispensation, was by revelation from its Author. And the manner by which he made it known was most satisfactory. He arose from the dead on the first day of the week, and appeared on the same day to "the eleven and them that were with them," who were assembled together, and said unto them, "Peace be unto you."On the next first day, Jesus "stood in the midst"of them again. On the day of Pentecost, the first day of the week, as we have seen, the disciples "were all with one accord in one place,"when the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Saviour, descended upon them in a miraculous manner, and wrought the wonders which Luke records. Thus has the Lord honored this day above all other days. It is the resurrection day,emphatically called the Lord’s day. The Jewish economy is ended. Its Sabbaths are gone. A new covenant unfolds its privileges, and the first day of the week is its Sabbath. This is the day the Lord has made. In honor and in commemoration of His resurrection, this day, on which this glorious even took place, becomes the day of rest from earthly toil, and the day of holy activity in spiritual labors. Thenceforward the churches of Christ assembled on the first day of the week, to commemorate the resurrection of their ascended Lord. And hence the disciples at Troas came together on this day, to break bread in the Lord’s supper, and Paul preached to them. Hence, too, the Corinthian and the Galatian churches collected for the poor saints on the same day. It was, then, by the authority of the Lord Jesus, that the apostles taught the churches the observance of the first day of the week, as the christian Sabbath. This day, then, dropping what was peculiar to the Jews in its observance, stands upon its original footing, as the seventh portion of time for rest and use, and to be employed by the church, in such duties as their Lord shall direct.
Having thus shewn the authority for the keeping of the first day of the week, as the christian Sabbath, and also as the stated day for the meeting of the churches of Christ, I shall now proceed, in the second place, to speak of the place of meeting for these churches. We read of churches in different cities, and some of them meeting in private houses. "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, likewise the church that is in their house." Rom. xvi: 3, 5. "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house." Coloss. iv: 15. The place of meeting is necessarily a matter of convenience, and should be made to suit the locality and circumstances of the members and the community. Contiguity of residence should, to a certain extent, determine the local position of the meeting houses. But they should not be too near to each other, lest the churches meeting in them should be frittered down to small inoperative bodies. Sacrifices ought, therefore, to be generously made by the members, so that although they may have to travel a few miles to meet their brethren, in the church relation, they may be compensated by the advantages of a larger number, greater zeal, and more effectiveness in the cause of their divine Master. Especially should the meeting houses be neat, comfortable and attractive to hearers. The following rule for the members in their proceedings, ought not to be overlooked in the arrangements of the place of meeting: "Let all things be done decently and in order."
THE ORDINANCES OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
IN HER STATED MEETINGS
Now I praise you, brethren, that you keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.
—1 Corinthians XI:2
I use the term ordinances, paradoseis, in the sense that I understand the apostle to use it in 1 Cor. xi: 2, as meaning exercises of divine worship, enjoined upon the disciples in their stated meetings. And in treating of these, I shall use more particularly the epistles to the church at Corinth, as they contain a more complete "pattern" of the ordinances of a church of Christ, than any other part of the New Testament.
The first ordinance mentioned in the fourth epistle, is the putting away of the incestuous man, concerning whose separation from the church, the apostle gives this direction, "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one to satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus; therefore, put away from yourselves that wicked person." 1 Cor. v: 4, 5, 13. What the delivery of any one to satan for the destruction of the flesh was, I do not know. The last verse, however, plainly directs that the offender be put away from the fellowship of the church with strong disapprobation. By this case, we are taught that the church should proceed without delay or admonition, to put away from her membership, a notorious offender. The exclusion of this man was to take place when the church was gathered together, and as the time for such meeting was the first day of the week, it was on this day the act was to be done. In the second epistle, we learn that the excluded member was restored to the fellowship of the church. Restoration, as well as exclusion, then, are religious services, or ordinances of a church of Christ, forming a part of the duties of the first day, when there are cases to require them.
The apostle, in the same epistle, censures the church for the abuse of the Lord’s supper. "When ye come together, therefore, into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For, in eating, every one taketh before the other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken." 1 Cor. xi: 20, 21. He then recites the manner in which the supper should be received, and corrects its abuse. It is evident that the church came together professedly to receive the supper of the Lord, but instead of doing so aright, indulged in a carnal feast. But when did they come together? Evidently on the first day of the week, as we have already seen. Therefore, the ordinance of the Lord’s supper was to be observed on the first day of the week by the church at Corinth.
In connection with the time for the observance of this supper, I invite your particular attention, in this place, to the participation of this ordinance by the disciples at Troas. "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, (ready to depart on the morrow.") Paul had been with these disciples at Troas "seven days," and yet we read not of their assembling together until the last day of his abode with them. On that day, the first day of the week, being the stated day of convening, they came together, broke bread, and heard Paul preach. Acts xx: 6, 7. Thus we see that the disciples, both at Corinth and Troas, met together on the first day of the week, and also for the purpose of breaking bread in the supper.
Again in the same epistle, the apostle treats at large of the various gifts which the Spirit imparts to the members for the edification of the church, and the conversion of the unlearned or unbelievers. In the list of these he enumerates singing, prayer, prophesying, exhorting, teaching, as will be seen in the following scriptures; "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers." "He that prophesieth, speaketh unto men, to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." "Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore, let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue, pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." "If, therefore, the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth." "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace," that is, wait till he has done; "for ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." 1 Cor. xii: 28, and xiv: 3, 12–15, 23–25, 29–31.
A prophet not only predicts events, but also teaches and exhorts, as it is said above, "he that prophesieth speaketh unto men, to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." In the former part of the office of a prophet, we have none now; but in the latter part of the office, God continues such teachers to his churches for their "edification, and exhortation, and comfort." "Having then, gifts, differing according to the grace that is given unto us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." Rom. xii: 6, 7, 8. Those, then, who possess gifts for singing, prayer, prophesying, teaching, exhortation, should feel at liberty and under obligation, to employ such as they have for the up building of the church, and the conversion of unbelievers, and they should be encouraged by the church to exercise them; that strengthened by such exercise in the presence of their brethren, they may improve, and be better fitted to use them elsewhere, as in the providence of God a door may be opened for employing them to his honor and the good of man. It is when the whole church is come together into one place that these gifts are to be exercised for the benefit of the whole. And as the church at Corinth came together on the first day of the week, it was on that day of the week that these gifts were exercised in that church.
We have now seen that the apostle taught the Corinthian church, as ordinances or injunctions from the Lord, the duty of excluding offenders from their membership, and of restoring such as might become penitent, of breaking bread in the supper of the Lord, of exercising the various spiritual gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit, and of contributing of their substance for the support of the poor saints, and that all these were to be observed on the first day of the week. Now as the apostle taught the same things everywhere in every church, it follows that he taught in every church, those ordinances and the time of observing them in all the churches, that we have just seen he taught in the church at Corinth. We have then in this church, the "pattern shewn" us by which all the churches of Christ should be regulated. In a former part of this work, I shewed, from the authority of the New Testament, that the materials of a church of Christ are penitent, believing sinners, immersed in water, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, who first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to one another, by the will of God, in the church relation. I have also pointed out, from the same authority, the officers of the church, viz: bishop and deacons. We thus have the complete "pattern" shown us for the formation and organization of a church of Christ, to which all his churches should be conformed. The only exception to this law, which I conceive to be laid down in the case, is the impossibility of compliance, arising from circumstances beyond the control of the members. But where they possess their physical liberty, and the control of their affairs, I see no difficulty in the way of conforming to the "pattern" thus shewn. For example: a church is formed, her constitution is the Bible, and by its directions she proceeds to the choice of her officers, or if she postpones the choice, she appoints some persons for the time being, till the choice is made. At the hour appointed, the church assembles on the first day of the week. The presiding officer takes the chair, opens the statute book, the charter of privileges and duties, and reads a portion for the edification of himself and the brethren. He then announces a hymn, which is sung. He offers, or asks a brother to offer a prayer. The door is opened for the admission or dismission of members; then for dealing with delinquents or restoring penitents. The opportunity is, after these services, successfully given for the exercise of gifts, the contribution for the poor saints, and for any other business to which the attention of the church should be called. The reception of the Lord’s supper terminates the services with a hymn, and the members go out. The meeting is adjourned. Let the preacher, if the church is provided with one, then preach to the congregation. I see no difficulty in doing this every Lord’s day, for if a church can meet on one Lord’s day, she can meet on every Lord’s day, and the days are of sufficient length for all these services.
The practicability of thus conducting these services, has been tested with us. We meet every Lord’s day at 9 o’clock, a.m., and attend to the services mentioned above, with the exception of the supper and the contribution. To these we attend only on one Lord’s day in the month, in connection with the others. But we could as well attend to them all on every Lord’s day, as we do on one. By thus statedly meeting on every Lord’s day, we are always up with our business, and have much time for exposition of scripture to the church. Preaching to the congregation suffers no interruption with us. In the afternoon, the negroes are taught and the Sunday school is attended to. The advantages attending this order of things are of great importance, for we obtain a larger number of the members of the church in her meetings, and have the colored members in attendance. And our minds are more free from the influence of secular concerns, and are in a more spiritual frame for the duties of the Lord’s house.
I have said above, that where the members of a church enjoy their liberty and have the control of their affairs, I see no difficulty in their attending, on every Lord’s day, to the services stated above. There may be occasional circumstances, however, that will render it impracticable for a church to observe the above services on every Lord’s day. Sickness, removals, deaths, the unavoidable absence of such as have gifts for the various services, may prevent the observance of the whole order of duties. In such a case, let the members present do what they can. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them," saith the Saviour.
ORDINATION TO THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
When Christ ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men. "And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers." Eph iv: 8, 11. Apostles have ceased from the earth, and prophets, as foretellers of events, have finished their course. But evangelists, who are preachers of the gospel; pastors, who are the rulers of the churches; and teachers occupying subordinate places in the ministry, are mercifully continued to the churches. The necessity of some mode, by which these important gifts are to be recognized, and those who receive them, known, is obvious; and I shall therefore now endeavor to point out from the scriptures, that mode which I understand them to teach.
It is evident from the word of God, that Christ ordained his apostles, and that the apostles ordained elders in every church. I propose in this chapter to ascertain, and fix definitely, what I understand by the term ordination to ministerial office in the churches of Christ, and for this purpose invite the attention of the reader to the following scriptures: "And he, (Christ,) ordained, epoiese, twelve, that they should be with him; and that he might send them forth to preach." "Wherefore of these men that have companied with us, must one be ordained, genesthai, to be a witness with us of his resurrection." "It is he, (Christ,) which was ordained, orismenos, of God, to be the judge of quick and dead." "When they, (Paul and Barnabas,) had ordained, kirotonisantes, them elders in every church." "They delivered them the decrees for to keep, which were ordained, kekrimena, of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." "The powers that be, are ordained, tetagmenai, of God." "And so ordain I, diatassomai, in all churches." "The Lord hath ordained, dietaxe, that they who preach the gospel, shall live of the gospel." "Where unto I am ordained, ethene, a preacher and an apostle." "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest ordain, katasteses, elders in every city." Mark iii: 14; Acts i: 21, 22, and x:42, and xiv: 23, and xvi: 4; Rom. xiii:l; 1 Cor. vii: 17; and ix: 14; 1 Tim. ii: 7; Titus I:5.
The distinctive and appropriate meaning in the original, of the terms which in the above passages are rendered ordain, ordained, are as follows: constituted, become, appointed, chosen by vote, judged proper, ordered, enact, enacted, appointed, constituted; and with these words in place of ordain and ordained, the passages would be thus rendered: "Christ constituted twelve;" "must one become a witness;" "which was appointed of God;" "when they had by votes chosen them elders;" "the decrees that were judged proper of the apostles and elders;" "the powers that be, are ordered of God;" " and so enact I in all churches;" "the Lord hath enacted, that they who preach the gospel shall live of the gospel;" "whereunto I am appointed a teacher and an apostle;" "for this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest constitute elders in every city."
The simple import of these words is appoint, enact, and of course the true import of ordination is appointment, enactment. In the ordination of Matthias to the vacant apostleship, and of the elders by Paul and Barnabas, both of which were appointments to office, we perceive that more than one person acted. In the former case, the whole number of the disciples constituting the first christian church on earth, took part, and the ordination was by casting lots, which is the same with the giving of votes. In the ordination of elders by Paul and Barnabas, the act is expressed by a term which imports, as stated above, the casting of votes in an appointment to office. In the following passage, we have the same verb used in its primary, unequivocal meaning: "And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel, throughout all the churches. And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches, alla kai kirotonetheis upo ton ecclesion, to travel with us with this grace." 2 Cor. viii: 18, 19. The appointment of this brother to accompany Paul, was made evidently by the votes of the churches. Now the use of this same verb, in Acts xiv: 23; to express the ordination of elders in the churches indicates that it was done by the votes of the members of those churches, and this is confirmed by the evidently popular vote given at the election of Matthias to the apostleship.
I shall now examine the New Testament historically on the subject and begin with the ordination of the twelve apostles, and the seventy disciples. And when "he, (Christ,) had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave the power over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease. These twelve Jesus sent forth." Matt. x: 1, 5. "He, (Christ,) ordained, epoiese, twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." Mark iii: 14. "And when it was day, he, (Christ,) called unto him his disciples, and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles." Luke vi: 13. To whom he said, "I have ordained, etheka, you that ye should go and bring forth fruit." John xv: 16. The term ordained, used by Mark, is, in the original epoiese, as above, which signifies constituted. The same term used by John is, in the original, etheka, which signifies appointed. Christ, then, constituted or appointed the twelve apostles. "After these things the Lord appointed, anedeixen, other seventy also." Luke x: 1. This word, anedeixen, means, as it is rendered in the translation, simply to appoint. In these passages we evidently see, that ordination and appointment are identical terms, meaning precisely the same thing. We see also, that no imposition of hands was used by the Saviour in the ordination of his apostles, or of the seventy. No ceremony of induction into office was observed, as a separate act, giving validity to the original appointment. This case is worthy of attentive consideration, since the Saviour came to teach by example, as well as by precept. In baptism, the supper, and in every other duty, we have his example, as well as his precept. But in ordination we have not, in his example, the imposition of hands in appointments to ministerial office. Having made the appointment of his servants, he sent them forth, without other ceremony, to their work. When he was leaving the world for his Father’s courts, he appointed ambassadors, and instructed them in all their duty. And that they might not mistake in its performance, he gave them his own Spirit to lead them into all truth, and bring all things to their remembrances that he had taught them. Let us then proceed in our historical enquiry, to examine the Acts of the Apostles, who were his ambassadors, on this subject.
Soon after the ascension of Christ, the disciples met together to the number of one hundred and twenty, in the midst of whom, Peter stood up and said, "Men and brethren, of these men which have companied with us, must one be ordained, genesthai, that is, become a witness, &c., to be a witness with us of his, (Jesus’) resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, Lord, thou knowest the hearts of all men, shew whither of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell; and they gave forth their lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." Acts i: 15, 16, 21–26. Upon thus ascertaining whom Christ had appointed, he was received into the number of the apostles without imposition of hands, or further ceremony. This case deserves a more particular attention, as it settles some important principles.
Preparatory to its more particular consideration, I make the following statements:
On the day of the Saviour’s resurrection, "being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, peace be unto you. Then said Jesus unto them again, peace be unto you; as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." John xx: 19, 21–23. He remained with them after this for "forty days, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God;" but performed no work. Even the number of apostles was left incomplete by him. The complement was made up by his disciples after he left them. The reason of which is obvious. The resurrection of Christ was the final deed to be personally done by him on earth until his second coming. Thenceforth his kingdom was to be conducted on earth by the divine Spirit, and therefore, he, on the day that he arose, breathed on his apostles that heavenly agent. It is true that the miraculous descent of this agent was not witnessed by the multitude, or felt by the disciples generally, until the day of Pentecost. But he was given to the apostles on the very day that Christ arose, to teach and guide them in the interval between his resurrection and that ever memorable day.
After thus breathing on the apostles, and imparting to them the Spirit, he gave them particular instructions on the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and leading them out to Bethany, delivered to them their last commission, in which they were instructed to teach the baptized disciples all things whatsoever he had commanded them. Then lifting up his hands, he blessed them and departed from them. These holy, inspired apostles returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and abode there with one accord in prayer and supplication, waiting in obedience to their Lord’s command, for the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fresh from the solemn scene of their Lord’s departure, under his and the Spirit’s teaching, they could make no mistake. Thus prepared, they proceeded to the necessary work of filling up the original number of the twelve apostles, that the full body of these divinely commissioned men might be in readiness to receive the heavenly, the miraculous visitation.
This case develops some fundamental principles in the kingdom of Christ that are particularly worthy of notice.
That these principles are developed in the above case, is, I think, evident from its facts. Peter does not address his brother apostles only in the proposal to ordain the twelfth apostle, but the body of the disciples, the church. They approve the proposal, they unite in the prayer and in the casting of the votes. The act is the act of the body. The apostles and the disciples all unite in it. This first act of the church unfolds in her incipiency, the independent, democratical, Christocratic form of her government. In this act, we learn too, the obedience which was rendered to apostolic authority. Peter instructs the disciples in their duty, and they obey, promptly obey. Here, then, we have an important pattern set, to which all churches of Christ should conform.
The principle, authority, and manner of appointments to ministerial office being thus settled, I proceed in our historical enquiry to other parts of the Acts, which speak of evangelists, or preachers of the gospel, and bishops. Stephen, "full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people," which arrayed against him a host of opponents, "but they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake." Called before the Jewish council, he delivered a noble discourse in its presence, for which he was stoned and then "fell asleep" in Jesus. By reason of "the great persecution of the church at Jerusalem, the disciples were scattered abroad, except the apostles. Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word." Of these, Philip went down to Samaria, preaching the word and baptizing believers. Others traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word unto none but unto the Jews only. But some of them spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Acts xi: l9, 21. We read also in the ninth chapter of Acts, of Saul of Tarsus receiving his sight and the Holy Ghost, by the imposition of the hands of Ananias, and that after his baptism he was certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues that he is the Son of God. "Barnabas, too, a son of consolation, was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; and much people was added unto the Lord." "Apollos was an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures, and being fervent in the Spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord." Timotheus was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him. This youth was a preacher, an evangelist. Titus, Paul’s own son after the common faith, was also a preacher of that faith. Now who ordained these men, and where, and what were the accompanying circumstances of their designation to their ministerial office? No other answer can be satisfactorily given to these enquiries, I apprehend, than that, with the exception of Apollos, they were ordained by the churches with which they were associated, according to the pattern shewn in the ordination of Matthias. That is, that these churches, hearing these brethren exercise their gifts, were satisfied of their piety and qualifications for office, and seeking direction of the Lord in prayer, recognized them as his ministering servants. If in this way they were not recognized, I should be much pleased to know the manner in which it was done. Paul was after his baptism, certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus, and straightway preached Christ in the synagogues. Gladly did these disciples receive and recognize this apostle. Of Apollos we learn that he was received by Aquila and Priscilla, and Paul, and the Corinthians. But of what church he was a member, or in what manner he was inducted into the ministry, we have no knowledge. One thing is certain, that in relation to the appointment of any of these men to the ministry of the word by any human authority, we have no specific information. I take for granted, therefore, that the principle, authority, and manner, developed in the case of Matthias, obtained in the other cases mentioned above, with the exception of Apollos, concerning whose introduction into the ministry, as I have said before, we have no certain information, and concerning which, therefore, I cannot speak with any certainty.
ORDINATION TO MINISTERIAL OFFICE
I shall now, more particularly, examine the ordination of elders in the churches, by Paul and Barnabas, as related in the following words: "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord." Acts xiv: 23. If we here take the word ordained, in its simple meaning, it is far from conveying the fact, that hands were laid on these elders. If we understand it in the primary sense of the original, kirotonesantes, chosen with lifting of hands, then imposition of hands is positively excluded. So that, if we cannot find authority elsewhere for such an act in the ordination of these elders, it is evident that no such act was employed in their ordination. The scripture says, that Paul and Barnabas ordained these elders, and uses the word that signifies, primarily, a choice by lifting up of hands, as a manner of voting. I am aware that this word is also used to signify an appointment to office without votes, as in Josephus: Ant. lib. 6 c. 4, §2. Basileus upo ton Theon kirotonetheis, A king appointed by God. But there is one fundamental rule in the interpretation of words, which must be kept in mind. This is, that the primary meaning should be retained, unless the context or circumstances show, that a secondary meaning should be used. The primary meaning of the word in question, is to elect by suffrages, indicated by the lifting up of hands. Let us now inquire into the circumstances attending the ordination of these elders, to ascertain whether the primary or secondary meaning should be used. Paul and Barnabas, as the plenipotentiaries of Christ, made a tour through the churches by divine appointment. As the churches were without elders, one part of their duty was to appoint such officers for them. These officers were to possess certain qualifications, as follows: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, and greedy of filthy lucre, but patient; not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his child in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how, shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without, lest he fall into reproach, and the snare of the devil." 1 Tim. iii: 2–7.
Of the men that possessed these qualifications, these apostles were ignorant, since only those, among whom they lived, could with certainty, know them. On the arrival of Paul and Barnabas at the church, they would of course, (Paul more especially, as on him came the care of all the churches,) act as moderators or presiding officers. They would, then, teach the church the duty of having elders or bishops, (as the terms are synonymous,) and pointing out the necessary qualifications, say to the brethren, "Present, from your numbers, such men as have these qualifications." This being done, they would propose their names for the approbation of the church, and ascertain it by their votes. Thus the original meaning of the term is preserved, whilst the whole transaction was conducted under the guidance and authority of Paul and Barnabas. So that it may be truly said by the historian, these men "ordained elders in every church." When, too, a derivative of this same verb, kirotonetheis, is used in 2 Cor. viii: l9, in precisely this sense, I cannot see that the context or circumstances show that the secondary meaning of appointment without votes is to be received, and the primary, which requires votes, should be rejected. The derivation to which I have just referred, is found in the following verse: "Who was also chosen, kirotonetheis, of the churches to travel with us with this grace." This choice was assuredly a popular one, made by the votes of the churches. Thus, in using scripture to explain scripture, it seems satisfactorily clear, that the ordination of the elders was attended with the approbation of the churches. One thing is certain in the ordination of these elders, which is, that they were not first appointed or chosen, and then ordained sometime afterwards, as is the present practice. But that the whole transaction was done at one time.
I am strengthened in the view of the subject given above, by the circumstances attending the ordination of Matthias to the apostleship. In that case it is evident, that his ordination was by the votes of the church, and without any imposition of hands. Now since we have but one faith, that is, one system of principle and practice, the same revelation made to Peter was given to Paul, and therefore the historian uses the word kirotonesantes, to indicate the exercise of the popular voice in the ordination of the elders by Paul and Barnabas, as the same voice had been exercised in the ordination of Matthias.
But, admitting that Paul and Barnabas did appoint the elders, irrespective of the popular voice in the churches, I cannot see that any argument can be urged from the fact, in support of the usage which now obtains of having ministers of the gospel to come, at the call of a church, to appoint by the laying on of their hands, their elders for them, or to appoint evangelists to their work. The churches, through which Paul and Barnabas traveled, did not first choose their elders, and then send for these men to ordain them. But these men went through the churches without such call, and whether they ordained the elders with, or without the votes of the members, they did it authoritatively. How unlike their example is the present order of things with us.
A church first tries and approves a member for an office, and then chooses him. A time is appointed for his ordination, and ministers are invited to attend for the purpose, who, on their arrival, form an ecclesiastical council, and proceed to interrogate the candidate as to his conversion, faith, and call to the ministry. Satisfied of his fitness for ordination, they proceed to the act by the imposition of hands, and other services. Now surely the example for this is not found in the scripture.
That the ordination of elders in the churches by Paul and Barnabas, was authoritatively done, will not, I suppose, be questioned by any one. But this fact does not show that ministers of the gospel, as such, are now vested with the like authority; and for this obvious reason, that no ministers since the apostles days, have been clothed with the power with which they were invested. They were plenipotentiaries of Christ, entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven on earth. They opened its treasures, they delivered its laws, they established its ordinances. Since their day, we have no such characters; and the action of the first church at Jerusalem clearly shows, that the divinely inspired apostles taught the churches their duty, and saw that they did it, as did Paul and Barnabas. And now the churches themselves, by their own act, are to ordain their elders and should always accompany the solemn act with fasting and prayer; as the sole power of ordaining to the pastorate, or bishopric, is lodged with the churches. There can be no objection to the presence of bishops or evangelists, when such men are ordained, or to their affording assistance to the churches in their choice, but the discrimination should be carefully made between assistance and power or authority. Let this be done, and our ecclesiastical councils, convened to ordain ministers, unknown to the scriptures, would become unknown to us.
Paul directed Titus to "ordain elders in every city." The manner in which Paul ordained the elders in the churches that he visited, was the manner in which, doubtless, Titus was to perform the same service in Crete. What, therefore, has been said concerning the ordination of elders by Paul, applies to the ordination of elders by Titus. With regard to Titus, it is to be particularly observed, that he was not sent for by the churches of Crete, but went there as Paul’s agent, his accredited herald; and, therefore, what he did, was as though Paul had done it. Now, if the authority which Paul had, died with him, surely the authority of Titus must have ceased with his agency. And, if Paul, as Christ’s ambassador, had no successor, surely Titus, as Paul’s agent, could have none.
The churches of Crete did not first choose their elders, and then send for Titus to come and ordain them. Nor did Paul, after such choice was made, send Titus to invest them with pastoral authority. The ordination of the elders in Crete, too, was all attended to at one time, as had been the case in the churches that Paul visited. In the case of Titus, then, though an ordinary minister of the gospel, no example is furnished to ordinary ministers since that time, for the exercise of authority in the ordination of elders; because, what Titus did in the ordination of elders in Crete, was not done as an ordinary minister, but as the agent of an ambassador or plenipotentiary.
ORDINATION TO MINISTERIAL OFFICE
I proceed, now, to the examination of the following scriptures: "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch, certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work where unto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." Acts xiii: 1-3. This transaction took place in the year 45, twelve years after Barnabas became a preacher of the gospel, and ten years after Paul became an apostle. By consulting the dates, as computed in the larger Bibles, it will be seen, that Barnabas was a member of the church at Jerusalem in the year thirty-three; that he was then called "a son of consolation;" that according to the record in the 11th chapter of Acts, he was sent in the year 41 by the church to Antioch, and that "when he came, and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and exhorted them all, that with full purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord."
It will be found, too, that in the year 35, Paul was visited by Ananias, who, "putting his hands on him, said, brother Saul, the Lord (even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest,) hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost and straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God." Acts ix: 17, 20. The setting apart, then, of these men, as above, could not have been to the ministry of the word, or to the apostleship; for the one was a preacher, "full of the Holy Ghost and faith," and the other "an apostle," long before hands were laid on them at Antioch. But on the supposition that these men were licentiates merely, the one for twelve years, and the other for ten, and that their ordination took place at Antioch, how long should men of these days be licentiates before they are ordained? The truth is, these distinguished men were ordained to the ministry of the word, long ere this period, as before shewn. But there was an important work, to the performance of which they were set apart, under the teaching of the Spirit, by the prophets and teachers at Antioch. And this work consisted in visiting the churches for their confirmation in the faith, and for the ordination of elders, and preaching the gospel, as opportunity offered, to the gentiles. And when they had fulfilled the work for which they were thus set apart, they returned to Antioch, and "gathering the church together, rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the gentiles." Thus it is evident, that the transaction at Antioch, in the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas, furnishes no example or authority for the ordination of men to the ministerial office by imposition of hands.
The appointment of the "seven men" by the Apostles, to superintend "the daily ministration," is worthy of particular attention, because it has been thought to furnish an unequivocal example of joint action between the ministry and the membership of a church, in the ordination of church officers. This action is thus recorded: "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a nurturing of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, 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 wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." Acts vi: 1–4.
The number of the disciples had increased at this time to a multitude, numbering five thousand at the least, and the liberality of the rich was so great, that "they sold their houses and possessions, and laid the money at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to every man as he had need." By this means, a considerable amount of money came into the hands of these men, the management of which required some skill and much time, as the distribution was made daily. It will now be remembered, that the church had not yet received either bishops or deacons, but that the apostles presided over all her interests, spiritual and temporal. In their attempt to distribute the alms of the faithful, they failed, and a murmuring arose on the part of the Grecians, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. In this extremity, they desired the disciples to look out "seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," whom they might set over that business. The disciples did so, and the character of the men selected and appointed to the service, gives proof of its difficulty and of the high capacity which was required for its faithful performance. Of two of them we have a deeply interesting account—Stephen and Philip. "Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people," and after a noble discourse before the council, died a martyr to the truth. Philip, after the disciples were scattered abroad from Jerusalem, "went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them, and the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. And when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."
The qualifications of these men were of a very high order, and were possessed previous to their being set before the apostles, and the laying of their hands on them; for they were not only to be of honest report, but full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. This fact shews the very great importance of the service over which they were set. That this service was not the ordinary service of the church, is evident from the fact, that the occasion which rendered it necessary, was an extraordinary one. Such an one is not recorded as having taken place in any other church. It was confined to the church at Jerusalem, and was not even obligatory in that church. Hence it follows, that neither the occasion, nor the men appointed to meet its exigency, affords an example or pattern for the imposition of hands by ministers in the ordination of men to the ministry of the word, or to any other office in the churches.
The case of Timothy, recorded in the epistles written to him by Paul, now invites our attention. "Neglect not the gift that is in thee," saith Paul "which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands." 1 Tim iv: 14; 2 Tim. i: 6. It will here be remembered, that in the first of his letter, Paul says, "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare." 2 Tim. i: 18. Taking these scriptures together, we learn, that predictions of a most favorable character had indicated the future usefulness and distinction of this young man, especially that he should receive a gift of the Holy Ghost; all which was fulfilled. That gifts were imparted by the laying on of the hands of the apostles is evident from the following scripture: "Now, when the apostles which were at Jerusalem, heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. Then laid they their hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost." Acts viii: 14, 15, 17. The presbytery in this case, consisted of two apostles, but in laying their hands on the Samaritan believers to impart the Holy Ghost, we have no account that they also ordained them to any ministerial office. Who constituted the presbytery, with Paul, when by laying on of hands a gift was imparted to Timothy, we are not informed; but of this one thing we are certain, that one of its members was an apostle, and from the example in the case of the Samaritan believers, who received the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, by apostles only, it is evident that those whom Paul associated with him in his presbytery, were none other than apostles. Surely then, this case affords no example in favor of ordination to ministerial office, whether of bishop, evangelist, or deacon, by the imposition of hands on the part of ministers or others, much less by the imposition of the hands of ordinary ministers. This is the more apparent from the fact that, as we have already shewn, neither in the ordination of the apostles, the seventy, Matthias, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Paul, Apollos, Timothy, Titus, or any of the rest of the disciples, who went everywhere preaching the word, or in the ordination of the elders, was imposition of hands used. Let it be further remarked, that the gift of Timothy was in him, and not official, which would be exterior to him.
This leads me to speak of the following direction to Timothy, "Lay hands suddenly on no man." 1 Tim. v: 22. This general direction has no absolute meaning. It is only, as hands may be laid on for good or evil for war or peace, carnally or spiritually, officially or otherwise. To determine its relative import, we must know the subject to which it refers. Let us then attend to its connection in this place: "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angel, that thou observe these things, without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure." 1 Tim. v: 19-22. Now, if the meaning of the direction, "Lay hands suddenly on no man," be determined by the connection in which it is found, is it not obvious from the connection in which we find it here, that it relates to the administration of affairs in the church at Ephesus? and, that it was intended to teach Timothy not to be precipitate in his measures in that church? Observe, that he must not entertain an accusation against an elder but upon due consideration, on the testimony of two or three witnesses. All that he did must be done, not upon hasty impressions, but deliberately, and on just grounds; that he should not be a partaker of other men’s sins, but preserve himself pure, by not being misled by others, or hastily doing what was committed to his hands. Again, if imposition of hands be necessary in ordination to the ministry, it would seem that it would have been mentioned in the third chapter of the epistle, where the qualifications of church officers are laid down. But as it is not, and there is not a solitary case in the New Testament of ordination to the ministry by imposition of hands, I cannot suppose that the direction of Paul to Timothy, to "lay hands suddenly on no man," does refer to imposition of hands in ordination to the ministry of the word.
If my exposition of the above passages be correct, it will appear that they contain no example or authority for the imposition of hands in ordination to the ministry of the word or in any office in the churches. The remaining argument on the subject will be drawn from the form of government under which Christ has placed the churches, and will be found in the next chapter.
ORDINATION TO MINISTERIAL OFFICE
The last argument that I shall use on the subject of ordination, is derived from the form of government instituted by Christ for his churches. This is the independent, democratical form, as has been already shewn, having the Lord Jesus as their only Head. Each church is, therefore, vested with entire control over all her own affairs, subject to him alone. The authority thus given, is delegated, and not transferable; consequently, no individual, or body of individuals, may exercise official authority in or over any church of Christ of which such individual or body is not a member, without special command from the Lord Jesus. And this arises from the nature of the government which he has instituted.
Now one of the inherent, inalienable rights of an independent government, is the appointment of its own officers. Each church of course, as an independent body, possesses the right, and may not surrender it, except by the command of her Lord. And I rejoice that this principle is firmly held by the denomination to which I have the honor to belong. But along with this principle, a distinction is admitted between appointment to office and ordination to office. The first is conceded to each church, but the last is claimed for the ministers of the gospel, as such, the presence and imposition of whose hands are believed to be necessary to give validity to the appointment of the church. The necessary consequence of this distinction is, to make a church dependent for her officers on the ministers of the gospel, as a privileged order of men. Now I most respectfully submit whether such a principle and practice do not violate the independence of the churches. And I further submit, whether we should not have a command or an example most clear and unequivocal, for the adoption of a principle and practice, which most obviously violate the principles of a government that the Head of the church has established.
I have shewn, I think, in a former part of this work, that the distinction between appointment to office and ordination to office has no foundation in the scriptures. If I have been successful in doing so, then we must have ministers to appoint to ministerial office, or have the churches to ordain to such office. To the first, our churches will never, I trust, be brought to consent. To the practice of the last, however, I hope that they will attain by the teachings of the New Testament; so that the choice of officers, their appointment, ordination, or investiture with official authority, shall all be done by the church, without imposition of hands, but with fasting and prayer. And allow me to ask why a church of Christ may not be trusted with this whole matter? Is not a church of Christ "God’s husbandry, God’s building?" Is she not composed of "lively stones, built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ?" Is she not "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that she should shew forth the praises of him who hath called her out of darkness into his marvelous light?" Is it not said in the scriptures, that the "body of the believer is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and that he dwells in it?" And what is a church but a company of those whose bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost? With the inspired volume then in their hands, and the Holy Ghost dwelling in their bodies, is not such a company competent to select, to ordain their own officers? What a reflection upon the great Head of the church, to suppose that such a company, a part of his own body, is not competent to ordain its own officers!
But it may still be said, that the ordination of ministers can be better done by those who have been already inducted into the sacred office. If so, surely he who is infinite in wisdom, would not have failed to perceive it, and to have given commandment accordingly. But as he has not done so, we ought to question the correctness of any opinion contrary to his order of things.
Again, it may be thought, that the part which ministers, according to the present practice, bear in ordination to the ministry, is necessary to ministerial fellowship. But really I do not see that this is taught in "the law and the testimony." Fellowship between christians is produced by the evidence which each affords to the other of his relation to Jesus Christ. Upon the same principle is it that ministerial fellowship is produced. He who professes to be a minister of Christ Jesus, gives in the qualifications he possesses, the evidence of his call to the ministry to the church of which he is a member. The church, satisfied with the evidence, recognizes the gift which Christ has given, and receives its possessor as a minister of Jesus Christ. The certificate of this from the church, is his introduction to others, on whom then lies the same amount of obligation to receive him as a minister, as can arise from his ordination by brother ministers.
The only passage of scripture that has any bearing on this subject, is the following: "When James, Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision." Gal. ii: 9. Surely this does not refer to their fellowship as apostles, ministers, or christians, but to the specific lines of service in which they were respectively to engage; Peter, James and John, to go to the circumcision, and Paul and Barnabas to the uncircumcision, the heathen. Much less can it relate to ministerial ordination by which ministerial fellowship was acquired. And yet we have drawn the practice of giving the right hand of fellowship not only into ordination, but into the receiving of members into church-fellowship, and messengers from sister associations, thus applying it to purposes not known to the New Testament.
ON THE DISCIPLINE OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
—2 Timothy III:16, 17
Discipline, in its comprehensive and proper sense, imports the whole course of instruction appointed by the master for the improvement of the disciple or scholar, and the means necessary for enforcing that instruction. The subject matter of instruction communicated by the great Master and Teacher, is contained in the scriptures of inspiration. An important department of the means of enforcing this instruction is committed to the churches, and to be employed in their government and order; the particulars of which may be summarily comprehended in the following statement: The official meeting of the members of each church statedly on every Lord’s day; the performance of the duties enjoined upon them in their assembled character; the supervision of the bishops, and their instruction to the members individually and collectively; the faithful discharge of the duties of the members to each other; the like faithful discharge of the duties of the deacons or servants of the church; and the exclusion of the disorderly from membership, with the restoration of such as become penitent. All that is necessary for the faithful and profitable carrying out of this discipline, is contained in the scriptures. Seeing that it is profitable for doctrine, dedaskalia, as containing a complete system of principles and duties for both teachers and learners; for reproof, elenchon, as administering a salutary demonstration of errors opposed to the truth as it is in Jesus; for correction, epanorthosin, as giving a right direction to the life and conduct; for correction in righteousness, paidesan tene en dikaiosune, as training up the disciple in a course of righteous action; "that the man of God," whether private christian, evangelist, bishop, or deacon, "may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good words."
Of the several particulars mentioned above, I have already treated, with the exception of the exclusion of disorderly members, and the restoration of such as become penitent. The general direction on the subject of exclusion, is given in the following scripture: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." 2 Thess. iii: 6. It appears from this language, that a church of Christ is not a judicial court for the trial of offenders, with authority to inflict pains and penalties upon the guilty, but a voluntary society with instructions to keep itself pure from the pollutions of the unworthy.
There are two classes of offences which require the exclusion of the offenders. The first is noticed by the Saviour. "Moreover, 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 word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Matt. xviii: 15-17. The second class embraces those that are more public violations of the rule of conduct prescribed, in the scriptures, and are thus stated by Paul "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have told you in time past, that they which do such things cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Gal. v: 19-21. That those who will not hear the church, after the faithful but unsuccessful private efforts for reclaiming them, which the Saviour directs, should be separated from the membership of the church, is as obviously right, as it is that those who are guilty of the sins enumerated by the apostle, should be so separated. The exclusion of a delinquent by the church should be regarded by both as a solemn and awful measure, having for its object the recovery of the former from his error, and the firmer establishment of the latter in the ways of righteousness. When Paul directed the Corinthian church to put away the incestuous man, it was that the spirit should be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. When, therefore, he heard of his penitence, forgiveness, and restoration to the church, he rejoiced at the good done both to the delinquent and to the church.
In cases of honest difference of opinion affecting membership, between a church and one or more of its members, whilst there should exist no charge of immorality against them, a dissolution of their membership may be allowed without censure; and hence, as some such cases may occur, it is desirable that we should have an additional column in our statistical tables, with the term separated at its head, as contradistinguished from the columns with the terms dismissed and excluded at their head, for the purpose of inserting the number of those who have been allowed to leave the church without censure, on account of honest difference of opinion, or some other reason.
In relation to this part of the discipline of a church, (the exclusion of disorderly members,) it is important to understand, that a proper attention to its exercise is indispensable to the welfare of the body. And further, that by the faithful, vigilant supervision of the rulers of the church and the duty of the members, the necessity of its exercise may be, as far as possible, prevented. Deviations from the path of duty, are, at first, slight, but their natural tendency is to increase with rapidity, and to affect others; for "evil communications corrupt good manners;" hence the duty of faithfully attending to the following commands: "Thou shalt in anywise rebuke thy neighbor and not suffer sin upon him." "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him." "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." "Exhort one another daily while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." In the exercise of such brotherly supervision, delinquencies would be prevented, spiritual strength invigorated, and brotherly love increased and continued.
ON THE DUTY AND MODE OF SENDING THE
GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE
Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
—Mark XVI: 15
The commission to "the eleven" requires that the gospel shall be preached in all the world, and to every creature. But the apostles could not live always, and therefore could not personally obey the command to its fullest extent. Evangelists were, therefore, among the gifts which the Saviour obtained from his Father, that the commission should be fulfilled to its largest extent. These were employed in preaching the gospel whilst the apostles lived, and have been since their days, zealously engaged in the same great work. Philip, Timothy, and a host of others "went everywhere preaching the word." Others were to be brought into it also; "faithful men, who should be able to teach others also." For these laborers in the vineyard of their Master, a support is required. "For the laborer is worthy of his hire." "Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they that preach the gospel shall live of the gospel." For "who goeth a warfare at his own charges?" And from whom is this support to come? From the enemies of the gospel, or from its friends? From its friends truly. Whilst then it is the duty of the evangelist to preach, it is the duty of the churches to support the evangelist in the work. Paul received support from the churches, as we learn from the following scriptures: "Now ye Philippians know, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me, as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica, ye sent once and again into my necessity. Not because I desire a gift; but because I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God." Phil. iv: 15–18. "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service." 2 Cor. xi: 8. From these teachings and examples, it is evident that the churches should support the preachers of the gospel, and even when they are engaged in the work in places from whence the support does not come.
The money or support which Paul received, was sent by Epaphroditus, the messenger or agent of the Philippians. The plan of an agency, thus adopted by the church at Philippi, was also adopted by other churches, when contributions for the poor saints were raised and sent to their relief. Paul says to the Corinthians, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, 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. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem." Such agency was also employed by the churches of Macedonia, of whom the apostle makes this honorable mention: "That in a great trial of their affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power I bear record, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty, that we would receive the gifts and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints." 2 Cor. viii: 2–4. Titus was associated with Paul in the agency to the Corinthians, and seems, from the following scripture, to have been first engaged in it: "We desired Titus, that, as he had begun, so he would finish in you the same grace also." The apostle further says, "we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us." 2 Cor. viii: 18, l9. And not only were agents sent with the liberality of the churches to the destined point and the suffering disciples, but they were also sent to stir up the churches to liberal contributions, and to have them ready by the proper time. For says Paul, "I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they should go before unto you, and make up before hand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness."
We thus see very clearly and satisfactorily the example of the appointment of agents by churches, in the collection and application of money for benevolent objects, in cases where one church cannot so well attend to the matter. And hence arises, in the true spirit of the gospel, the appointment of agents by the churches of the present day, for collecting money for missionary, Bible, theological and other benevolent objects, and of taking the amounts so collected to some common organization, such as a missionary, Bible, theological convention, society, or board, for their right application.
In the effort to sustain missionaries, and to provide them with the appliances necessary for the great work of preaching the gospel to the heathen and the destitute, single churches would fail, and so would fail similar efforts to translate and print the Bible, and to sustain theological institutions. But by the combination of many churches, through their fiscal agents, such efforts would be successful. Hence, as the genuine fruits of the gospel, we have now so many well directed efforts in benevolent christian arrangements for sending the living teacher with the written word to evangelize the world.
ON THE DESIGN OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
I purpose now to shew, that the faithful observance of the government and order of the churches of Christ, will develop the gospel. But before I enter upon this part of the subject, I shall present the following statement of the condition of things in the moral government of God, which the gospel is designed to affect, and then give a general view of the gospel scheme for accomplishing the end proposed.
The Creator and moral Governor of the universe, subsists in the social state. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit constitute a society of the most pure, holy and noble character. We, the creatures of the divine power, are made for the social state also; and are, therefore, endowed with those properties of body and of mind, which preeminently fit us for such a state of existence. For the right exercise of these powers, and for the preservation of the social intercourse between our Creator and us, he has established certain fixed relations. From these relations arise certain obligations, and these obligations imperatively require the performance of certain duties,—duties which call into requisition all our energies.
From this order of things proceed the two fundamental laws of the divine government, thus promulgated by the Lord Jesus Christ: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." The obligation to obey these commandments manifestly arises from the relations stated above; and whilst these relations are sustained, these commandments will be obeyed, and happiness will be the result. But a disturbance of these relations will inevitably derange the moral system, and disobedience to these commandments will follow as a matter of course. Such disobedience is sin, for "sin is the transgression of the law." And such transgression will necessarily produce misery. For "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death," and naught else.
The relation between God and us, is the relation of the creature to the creator, of the subject to the ruler; and hence comes the right of supreme control on the part of God, and the duty of implicit submission on the part of man. But we have withheld this submission. We have refused to obey the commands of God, our Maker, and thus given clear proof that we do not love him supremely. It is evident, then, that we have disturbed the relation between God and us.
The relation between ourselves, is the relation of creatures, the descendants of a common parent; and, therefore, we are under obligation to love one another, as we love ourselves, and as is required in the second commandment. But instead of thus loving one another, we are "foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another." We have, then, disturbed the relations between ourselves also.
The relation existing between all holy intelligences and us, is the relation of subjects of the same Creator and moral Governor, placed under the same fundamental laws as stated above. The disobedience to these laws, which has disturbed the relations between God and us, and between ourselves, has necessarily disturbed the relation between these holy intelligences and us.
In thus disturbing these great relations, which lie at the foundation of all righteous authority, and obedience; of the social state; of order and of happiness; the awful consequences of insubordination, disorder, and wretchedness have come in upon our world, as a desolating flood. To whom shall we look for relief in this exigency? To whom but to Him who is the founder of the relations that have been disturbed, and who only can readjust them, that in their reestablishment by His gracious interposition, we may obtain the removal of existing disorders. And blessed be His holy name, we shall not look in vain. For He has laid help upon one that is mighty; even Christ the righteous, who is God over all, blessed forever more.
It is evident from what has been said, that the disturbance of the relations between God and us has involved our whole race in infinite guilt. It is equally evident that, having violated an infinite law, the penalty of whose violation is everlasting banishment from the presence of God and the glory of his power, we cannot now remove the penalty by our imperfect obedience to the law, neither can we endure and survive the penalty. It is impossible, therefore, for us to readjust the disturbed relations. But in the gospel of our Lord Jesus, our heavenly Father has made ample provision to meet the exigency of the case. He has so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For he sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. For this purpose, when the fulness of time was come, he sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Being made under the law, he became subject to its requirements, and having rendered a perfect obedience to them all, he suffered the penalty on the cross, was buried, and rose again triumphantly from the grave. In his obedience and suffering, his death and resurrection, he magnified the law and made it honorable, and became its "end for righteousness to every one that believeth." He who knew no sin was made a sin offering for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. And hence, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
The Saviour has thus readjusted the relations which we had disturbed. And therefore, "when he ascended up on high he received gifts for men, yea for the most rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them." "He is now at the Father’s right hand, as the advocate and intercessor of his people. He "is exalted as a prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel and redemption of sins." It hath pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell, and that of his fulness we all should receive, and grace for grace." The most ample provision has been made for the return of sinners to God, in the exercises of penitence and faith, of love and obedience, of self-denial and holiness. The divine Spirit has descended, as the fruit of the Saviour’s mission and the gift of God, to regenerate and sanctify by the truth of God, which is his word, the hearts of returning sinners, and to make their bodies the temples of his abode. And through this gracious provision every sinner is invited to come back to his offended God, to have the most endearing and permanent relations reestablished between himself and his God, and the whole moral system. And just in proportion as sinners accept this invitation, and return to their allegiance to the Creator and moral Governor of the universe, through the gospel plan, will all the disturbed relations between our world and its Maker, between ourselves, and between all holy intelligences and us be readjusted. These are the good tidings which the gospel reveals, good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for the gospel shall be published in all lands, and "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." And "in the dispensation of the fulness of time, he will gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in him."
When the disturbed relations were readjusted by our Lord Jesus Christ, the way was open for the reconstruction of the social state, for which man was originally created. Hence, immediately after the Saviour’s ascension, a church was formed at Jerusalem, and wherever the gospel was preached and sinners were converted and baptized, they were formed in churches, embracing in their membership those who resided within convenient limits. In these holy societies, principles the most pure and elevated were inculcated, truths the most sublime taught, characters the most distinguished held up for imitation,—characters of whom the world was not worthy. Above all, the spotless example of the meek and lowly Jesus was presented as the perfect pattern, to which all were to look and all were to be conformed. In such communities, trained by the teachings and living under the influences of their Head, the most spiritual and noble society should be found. There should personal holiness thrive. There should zeal glow with unabated ardor. There should efforts worthy of the cause in which they are engaged, originate and be carried on with liberality and perseverance. It is manifest, then, that the churches of Christ are charged with an important agency in carrying on the purposes of God to final triumph; and that, in fulfilling the duties of this honored agency, they will develop the glorious gospel of the Son of God. But it is equally evident, that the right fulfillment of this agency for developing the gospel, must depend, under God, upon a faithful observance of the form of government and the order of duty which their prophet and king, the Lord Jesus, has commanded to his churches. My object will then be, in the succeeding part of this work, to shew that the gospel will be developed by the churches, in the faithful observance of that government and order which Christ has instituted for them.
FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT AND ORDER
AUTHORITATIVELY TAUGHT IN THE SCRIPTURES
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
I am now about to point out the adaptation of the government and order instituted by Christ for his churches, in the observance of which his gospel will be developed. Preparatory to this, however, I shall assign some reasons for believing, that he has authoritatively enacted one form of government, and one order of duties for their adoption and practice.
One prominent object of the gospel revelation, is, as we have seen, to reconcile all things to God, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. Hence the exhortation: " Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace; which is urged upon the ground, that "there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." One faith, that is, one system of faith, as the perfect standard of doctrine and duty, of principles and practice, to which all are to be conformed. And not different systems or standards, modified to suit the various and opposite notions, views and preferences of imperfect, misjudging minds. And as we have seen that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works," we must come to this scripture as the supreme authority.
Now it is evident, that the perfection of Christian character contemplated in the social state, requires, from the constitution of our nature, the establishment and observance of an authorized form of government, and of certain modes of worship, to the conception and enactment of which no sinful, uninspired man is competent. It is the prerogative of Him only, who knows what is in man, and whose "kingdom is not of this world," to appoint these modes, these forms, and to give them their authority. Under the former dispensation, all the forms of worship for the congregation of Israel, were instituted by Jehovah, and given to Moses with special order that "all things should be done according to the pattern shewn in the mount." Under the present dispensation, all the modes and forms of worship for the churches of the saints, were ordained by our Lord Jesus and given to his apostles, with the like command, to teach them to his disciples. Of these holy, inspired men, Paul was selected to present the system of the gospel with greater clearness and to delineate the order of the churches with greater fulness than the other apostles. And for this reason, we are to consult his writings more particularly for a knowledge of the order of the churches.
That all these arrangements should be committed to men, to whom the spirit of inspiration was given, was indispensable to their certainty and their authority. For how could Jew or gentile, or both together, devise the order of the churches, by which the truth should be developed, or the glory of its author promoted? The Jew, attached to the rite of circumcision, the synagogue worship, the authority of the Sanhedrin, and the whole order of the Levitical economy, would have very naturally preferred a continuance of his system of carnal ordinances, as far as would be practicable, as is evident from the acts of the apostles and their epistles. The gentile, on the contrary, devoted to the ceremonies and sacrifices of the heathen worship, would have urged a translation of these into the service of Christ. In the union of the Jewish and gentile converts in one church, then, there was no prospect in human view of an agreement upon the modes of worship in which they should engage, "with one heart and one soul." The union of all his people, for which Christ so earnestly prayed, could not, in such a state of things, be secured. And the exhortation of the apostle to be of one mind, to speak the same thing, would have been nugatory. If it be admitted that the members of the first churches could have settled down upon a given order, as the result of mutual agreement, such order would have had no authority over succeeding churches. Hence, in the progress of the churches through consecutive ages, similar difficulties would have been ever recurring. Hence, then, the absolute necessity of an authoritative order of government and service in the churches of Christ; and hence the command to the apostles, "Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Hence the language of Paul to the Corinthians, "wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved brother, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways, which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church." Paul was solicitous to have his Corinthian brethren imitators of him, as far as he followed Christ, and therefore sent Timothy to strengthen their memories, and wrote down in his epistle to them, the ways that he had taught them, that they might the better remember them, and that, as a part of the scripture, they might be handed down to all succeeding churches, for their observance. Under this authority, the ordinances that he taught them were delivered as they were received from Christ, and hence they were obligatory, not only upon the Corinthians, but also upon all churches of Christ, as a part of the law and the testimony, the standard of their faith and practice. Even with the care which the apostle has taken to make the government and order of the churches plain, and to clothe them with the authority of his Lord, what awful mistakes have been made by those who have professed allegiance to his authority, as is manifest in the various forms of church order that have been set up in the world. And if we had no first principles, firmly established in the gospel of the Redeemer, we should despair of seeing on this earth the union of his disciples, in answer to his prayer. But blessed be God, we have these, and if by his grace we will go back to them, and bring them up in their right application, we need not despair of such union. For if God is pleased to make a communication to us in human language, we will be able so to understand it as to know what is required at our hands, or the communication would be of no avail.
It may be laid down as an incontrovertible position, that an intelligent being, in determining upon the pursuit of an object, will adopt the best plan within his power, for its accomplishment. Jehovah is an intelligent being, with an understanding that is infinite. He has determined to accomplish the noblest object in the universe. It is his own glory. The plan for its accomplishment must necessarily be the best, for his understanding is infinite. This plan embraces a course of instrumentality reaching through all time. Since the ascent of Christ to his Father’s courts, the administration of the affairs of his kingdom on earth, is committed more immediately to the Holy Spirit. This spiritual being was poured out on the day of Pentecost, on the apostles, in such effusion that they were baptized in him, immersed, overwhelmed in him. Thenceforth, he became their infallible guide in the execution of the commission received from their Lord, the Christ. This guide, says the Saviour, "shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." The apostles could not fail then to remember, and teach every iota of doctrine and duty, of principle and practice which the Prophet and King of his church requires them to receive and do, to believe and perform: Hence the obligation on believers to study and know all that is taught by the apostles in the New Testament appertaining to their duty.
Every observant mind knows the indispensable necessity of a minute attention to the smaller, even the minutest parts of a scheme, to secure the accomplishment of its end. For of what is any scheme composed but of its parts? If, then, the parts fail, the scheme fails. When God gave directions to Moses for the building of the tabernacle, he said, "see that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount." And when Jesus Christ commissioned his apostles to declare his will in the rearing up of his church, was he less particular? Did he not say, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you?" If this command was obligatory upon the apostles, so that they must teach the all things, is not the duty to observe the all things as obligatory upon those who are thus taught? "If ye love me, keep my commandments," says Jesus. The obligation to obedience is then imperative upon believers. And how any who profess to be believers can relieve themselves from this obligation, is not taught in the law of God. If the duty to obey the teachings of Christ be imperative, the duty of knowing these teachings is equally so. Ignorance, then, of these teachings where the means of knowledge is in our reach, is sin, is rebellion against the King in Zion, and necessarily draws after it guilt in proportion to the opportunity of acquiring the necessary knowledge.
The New Testament is comparatively a small book, and can be deliberately read through in two days’ continuous reading. It will be practicable, then, to read this book through once a month with care, so that a comprehensive view of the whole may be obtained in that time. And if such a reading of this book was to be observed once a month, it would be read through twelve times in a year. And what an acquaintance with the commands of Christ would be received in this period of time. And if to this frequency of reading this book, prayer, spiritual, fervent prayer for the aid of the Holy Spirit, be added, and if, when believers met, they would talk about what they had read, and assist each other in understanding it, and yet again, if they would faithfully obey the teachings of that book as fast as they learn them, who could calculate the amount of knowledge which they would acquire—knowledge, not speculative, but practical, spiritual, sanctifying—in one year? O! what a different aspect would the churches then present! What a moral power would they exert upon the world, for they would then be removed from the false position in which they now too generally appear, and occupy their right position.
FORM OF GOVERNMENT ADAPTED TO THE
DEVELOPMENT OF THE GOSPEL
The form of government instituted by Christ for his churches, is, as we have seen, a Christocracy. By this term I mean that form of government of which Christ is the head, and under which he requires his people to receive all their principles of actions from, and to frame all their doings according to, his laws and precepts contained in the Bible. He is their prophet and their king, and his dominion over them is absolute, for they are not their own, but belong unconditionally to him. They are, therefore, gathered together in the church relation by his sole authority. Being baptized into Christ, they have put on Christ. They have renounced their devotion to the world, and their allegiance to satan. "They have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," and "sin shall not have dominion over them." They have pledged themselves to submit to Christ’s authority, to obey his laws, and to promote his cause and glory in the world.
In this form of government, the wisest plan is laid for union among the members of a church. As there is but one "foundation" for their hope of salvation, so there is but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." All the members of a church of Christ meet as equals, for they are "fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of faith," "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all." Whatever distinctions may exist between these members in society, (and distinctions there must necessarily exist,) they are not known in the church relation, for the members of this body are all one in Christ Jesus," having equal rights and equal privileges. The Jew, on entering the church, claimed no preeminence over the Greek, and the Greek, in becoming a member of the same body despised not the Jew, but both harmoniously joined in the one faith to serve the one Lord. How gracious, how just, how wise the principle on which the members of a church of Christ are gathered together. How admirably calculated to harmonize the materials of such a body brought together from different communities, nations and empires, and educated under systems of different and opposing principles and forms.
Now, to preserve the union of these materials, this first principle must ever be kept in view. That they are the subjects of one Master to be governed not by their own opinions, or by the opinions of others, but by the laws of Christ. In all their enquiries, their judgments, their acts, the question must not be, how feelest though? how thinkest thou? but, how readest thou? They must bring their feelings, their thoughts "to the law and the testimony;" "to the scripture which is given by inspiration of God, and which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Hence the duty of searching the scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation; and hence the inconsistency of studying other books to learn from them what the scriptures teach. If a citizen would know what the laws of his State require at his hands, he must study her constitution and the enactments of her legislature, not the writers on these points.
Keeping this first principle in view, that Christ is the one Lord of his people, and has given the revelation of his will in a complete and perfect code of laws and precepts, the impropriety of having any human selection and compilation of these, as a standard of faith and practice, is manifestly evident. If it be said that the compilation thus prepared contains what is in the Bible, the question comes up, why then form the compilation? Why not use the Bible as the standard? Can man present God’s System in a selection and compilation of some of its parts, better than God has himself done it, as a whole in his own book? Suppose the legislature should select portions of the constitution of the State and compile them into a book, and set it forth as the standard by which its laws should be made. Would the people allow it?
The manner in which divine truth is taught in the Bible, is not that frigid, dry manner which system makers adopt; but like its divine author, grand, striking, powerful. Is it respectful to the great Teacher, who spake as never man spake, to turn away from his teachings to human compilations, to learn from them what their common master has required them to learn from Him, in his incomparable book, the Holy Bible?
If union, then, is to be secured in the church it must be in the truth as it is in Jesus, in drawing from the one fountain of knowledge, drinking into the same spirit of grace, in habitually referring every thing to the one standard, "the law and the testimony."
And that this may be effectively done, what is learnt from this standard must be reduced to practice. "Happy are ye, if ye know these things, if ye do them." "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." "If ye love me keep my commandments." "He that keepeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me." The Lord has not given us his revelation to admire and approve in words, and then to neglect and disregard and trample it under our feet. But he has given it to us as the "more sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to take heed, as to a light that shineth in a dark place;" and to which implicit obedience is to be rendered.
In the government of a church thus formed by Christ, one is not the representative or delegate of another, for the principle of proxy in the church relation is abhorrent from its genius. Great responsibility thus rests upon each member of a church, a responsibility which cannot be shaken off. This responsibility may not be met, the duties which it imposes may be neglected; but the responsibility remains in all its force—it cannot be thrown off. And what a responsibility is this! The apostle says, "as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Such have voluntarily bound themselves to "observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them." This responsibility requires obedience,—implicit obedience. Now knowledge is necessary to obedience, and hence the necessity of studying the scriptures to know the commands of Christ, that we may obey them.
A church of Christ, then, should be an intelligent, moral, spiritual community, maintaining intercourse with its Head, doing all things in obedience to his will and for his honor. Provided with a perfect code of laws for its government, and blessed with the presence and teaching of the Holy Spirit, such a body is an independent community of the highest rank on earth. Its members are to be living epistles of the truth, known and read of all men. Such a community is the representative of Christ on earth. According to the principle on which the Christocracy is formed, one church of Christ is not to take another as her "pattern." She is not to enquire how another acts, in order to know how she should act. Nor is she to be deterred from acting in conformity with the "pattern" shewn by the apostles, because others are not conformed to that pattern. The value of the Christocratic form of government consists in this, that each acting in reference to Christ alone, all will be conformed to Christ, and thus conformed to each other. And this is the manner by which uniformity is to be secured and preserved, and not by confederations of churches, confessions of faith, or written codes or formularies framed by man, as bonds of union for the churches of Christ.
When a church is formed, the enquiry touching the order which she is to adopt, should not be, what are the usages of other churches? but, what are the laws and ordinances which Christ has appointed for the government of his churches? And if, in the adoption of these, there be a departure from the usages of other churches, the enquiry should not be, what will those churches think of such measures? but, are they right? are they taught in the word of God?
Another obvious advantage attending the Christocratic form of government is, that it frees the churches from the influence of mere human customs, and the authority of men. The history of our race develops a strong propensity in man to submit to the guidance of mere names, and to yield obedience to customs of mere human origin. Hence the power of the traditions of men. The principle on which the government of the churches of Christ is founded, scatters to the wind all this extraneous influence. It carries us back beyond our fathers, and places us at the feet of Christ. It delivers us from the traditions of men, and brings us under the authority of the Lawgiver in Zion. It takes us back to the fountain, to first principles, and enables us to break from our necks the iron dominion of mere names, by teaching us to call no man master or father on earth.
The Christocratic form of government does not treat the members of the churches as mere machines, but as rational, moral beings, the free exercise of whose powers is required in ascertaining and performing their duty, upon high and noble principles of truth and righteousness. It makes provision, therefore, for the exercise of the voluntary, independent, democratical principle, as has been shewn in the second chapter of this work. The noble principle of equal rights is also wisely maintained and guarded, in perfect consistency with enlightened and entire submission to the authority of the king in Zion. This form of government is, then, adapted most fitly to the development of the gospel, as a scheme of salvation by grace, and for securing union between the dissevered parts of His kingdom, who will "gather together into one all things in Christ."
ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE GOSPEL
THROUGH OR BY THE ORDINANCES
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.
—1 Corinthians II:2
One prominent design of the gospel is to readjust disturbed relations between social beings, that the social state may be reconstructed on proper principles. Hence the importance of organizing the redeemed of the Lord on this earth into churches, and of their frequent meetings for the purpose of closer union and greater improvement in these relations. For by this means, they will be the better prepared for the purer and nobler society of heaven, which will comprehend the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the whole church; and the angelic host. These churches must then have a local habitation, and stated periods of assembling. The Lord Jesus has, therefore, instituted one day in seven for their coming together, and that day is the first day of the week. This day is emphatically called the Lord’s day, because it is the day on which he arose from the dead in glorious triumph over "death and him that had the power of death, that is the devil." It is the day on which that event occurred, from which proceed justification from guilt and all our spiritual blessings here, our victory over the grave, and our admission into heaven. In devout admiration of all these unmerited blessings, the apostle of the circumcision thus pours forth his adoring gratitude and praise: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time."
Intimately connected with the resurrection of Christ, is his death. And these events are placed in the scriptures in such close connection as to indicate that when we meet to commemorate the one, we should always associate with it the other. Hence the practice of the primitive churches in "meeting together on the first day of the week to break bread." By uniformly meeting together on every first day of the week to break bread, the churches not only "shew forth" or develop the death of the Saviour, until he come, but also his resurrection. And in the commemoration of these events at the same time, they develop the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, and the justification of the forgiven sinner—two cardinal points of the gospel, viz: that Christ "was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification."
The faithful observance of these two ordinances in the order of the churches, viz: The stated meeting on the first day of the week, and the breaking of bread in the supper, will develop much, very much of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as to the foundation of a sinner’s hope for salvation.
The collection for the poor saints on the return of each Lord’s day, is a beautiful and striking development of the gospel, inasmuch as it is an exhibition of that sympathizing, liberal spirit which the gospel inspires. The rule "concerning the collection for the saints," is, "upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him." Each member of the church is to do this and to do it out of the means which God has given him. All the members are thus constituted almoners of the Lord’s bounty to the Lord’s poor. And for this obvious reason, that they might cultivate the same sympathy, liberality, and generosity that adorned him, who though "he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich." He whose "is the earth and its fulness, the silver, and the gold, and the cattle upon a thousand hills," could easily supply all the wants of the poor directly from himself. But instead of this, he first gives to one portion of his people the means of supplying the wants of another portion, that they might feel the gratitude due to the divine Giver, and then enjoy the blessedness of giving, which is greater than the blessedness of receiving.
In connection with this benefit, there will be found another of no small importance to the Christian. It is the enlightened economy that will attend his business. The conscientious weekly contributor must have a good degree of acquaintance with the state of his finances, or he cannot know how much he can give. It is true, he ought to know, in order that he should regulate his mode of living aright. On this point, however, too many are very careless. But in obeying this law of Christ, the collection for the saints, there is an additional incitement to bring Christians to this duty. And this duty performed, they will be restrained from extravagance and reliance upon anticipated resources. By their weekly contributions, they will feel their dependence on God more simply and forcibly. And feeling this dependence on God aright, they will realize that they are stewards, not absolute owners, that they are put in trust of his substance, not for the gratification of their own vain thoughts, worldly ambition, or carnal desires, but for the glory of God, and thus they will be led not "to waste their Lord’s money," but to employ it profitably, "till he come."
It may be objected that though a weekly contribution may be observed by those who do a cash business, yet to those who receive their funds once a year only, it would be impracticable. The answer to this objection is found in the condition of the rule to be obeyed: The prosperity which is given by God. If the disciple receives his funds once a year only, then he can contribute but once a year; because until he does receive his funds, he cannot know what his prosperity is. But this same disciple must have money throughout the year for support of his family, and for many other things. He must form some judgment of his finances to enable him to provide these things. Can he not, by the same rule, form some judgment which he can contribute something at least weekly, for the present wants of the poor, reserving the full contribution for the end of year, when he will be able accurately to know what he can give? The faithful observance then, of the ordinance of the contribution of the saints, will not only develop the gospel in its liberal, generous spirit, "as to receiving and giving," but in that discretion which it teaches a good man to observe in the ordering of his affairs.
The reading of the scriptures as an ordinance of the church, is of peculiar value in the development of the gospel to all who may be present to hear, but especially to the members. 1st. It is making them intimately acquainted with its rich treasures, its animating hopes, and its powerful incitements to action. And secondly, by its preparing them to use the word of the Lord as the sword of the Spirit, for attack or defense in the Christian warfare. For these purposes, Timothy was directed to "give attendance to reading, exhortation and doctrine"—all of them exercises of a public character for the benefit of the church at Ephesus. And for the same purposes, doubtless, did Paul say to the Colossians, "when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea." And to the Thessalonians, "I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren."
In the reading of the holy word, as the act of the church, with the light that will be thrown on its different parts in the exercise of the gifts of the members, their minds will be led up "to the law and the testimony," as the perfect and only standard of faith and practice. The principles of the doctrine of Christ, the privileges and the duties of his people, will all come under review in their proper connection and with their proper sanctions. Obscurity will be removed from passages that are dark, apparent inconsistencies reconciled, and the duties enjoined by the Head of the church enforced with an authority not to be resisted. "The law and the testimony" will become the standard of faith and practice, in fact and not in name only. We shall then no more hear from Christians, "I do not feel to do this or that," although such feeling may be in direct opposition to the word of God. Neither shall we witness the unscriptural conduct based upon such an unscriptural sentiment. Feeling will not be the standard of duty, but the word of the Lord. The enquiry as to the duty to be performed, will not be, "how feelest thou? But "what is written in the law?" "How readest thou?"
Now it is a well known fact, that the body of Christians, as well as of mankind in general, are in limited circumstances, so that their time is mostly occupied in making provision for the temporal support of themselves and their families. Very little of it is therefore left for reading, and that little too seldom rightly employed. Not a few also are incapable of reading especially among our domestics. Now the stated reading of the scriptures in the church every Lord’s day, will remedy this deficiency, a deficiency which the preaching of the gospel does not fully supply, as the reflecting mind will evidently perceive. How wisely then is this ordinance of the church calculated to develop the gospel, by having its grand design, with its peculiar requirements, set forth before the members of the church and the attending audience, in the words of the most High; that all may hear in their own tongues the wonderful works of God, and that the members themselves may be thoroughly taught in the whole scripture, which is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Thus taught, how happily and firmly prepared as the soldiers of the cross, are they to use "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, in their attacks upon the kingdom of Satan, and in their defense against his attacks upon them." With a "thus it is written," in imitation of the Captain of their salvation, they will successfully urge their onward course to victory and the victor’s crown.
ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE GOSPEL
THROUGH OR BY THE ORDINANCES
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye keep the ordinances as I delivered them unto you.—
1 Corinthians II:2
The gospel is a system of purity, and therefore requires its subjects to be holy and obedient to righteous authority. The churches are required, therefore, to withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions received from the apostles of the Lord. Exclusion from membership for disorderly conduct, then, is an important ordinance of the churches. It is designed for their preservation from irregularity and pollution, and the reclaiming of offenders, and thus fitly accords with the benevolence of Him who came to save sinners from their sins, and not in them. The exclusion of the incestuous man from the Corinthian church, is an exemplification of its design in keeping the church pure, and his penitence and restoration, of its sanative influence in reclaiming the delinquent. It is, therefore, a development of the gospel as a system of pure morality, worthy of Him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
The gospel comes to ignorant man, full of instruction. It reveals Christ as the light of the world, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. The word of the Lord is, therefore, a light unto our feet, a lamp unto our paths. But since it has been committed to writing, the greater part of those to whom it has been sent have not been able to read it. God has therefore in great mercy raised up and qualified holy men, apt to teach, for the purpose of calling the attention of men to this word. And as one of the fruits of the Saviour’s mission, "when he ascended up on high, he received gifts for men. And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Eph. iv: 8, 11, 12. The apostles, and prophets as foretellers of events, have ceased, but the remaining gifts are still continued. Paul in his letter to the Romans says, "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given unto us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness." Rom. xii: 6-8. To the Corinthians he saith, "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another, faith by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For, as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members, every one of them in the body as it has pleased him." "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." 1 Cor. xii: 7–18, 27. Again, "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." 1 Cor. xiv: 29–31.
In the delineation of the natural body, and the various uses of its members, we have a striking illustration of the church, the body of Christ, and the benefits resulting from the appropriate exercise of the gifts of her various members. For, as the members of the natural body form a complete whole, and produce their results by united and appropriate acts; so the members of the church constitute the spiritual body of Christ; and in the performance of their respective duties in their appropriate places, form one complete spiritual whole. It is true that the various gifts of the church may and should be exercised at other times than those when the members are convened, yet it is in the collective character, when assembled on the first day of the week, that they are to be developed, receive their proper direction, and gain their proper energy. Now, it is evident, that if the natural body is to maintain its dignity and usefulness, it must be by the united exercise of its members as a whole, under the guidance of the animating spirit within; so if the church of Christ is to maintain her dignity and usefulness, it must be by the union and appropriate exercise of her members, under the guidance of her great Head. One important direct design of the gospel, contemplated by the exercise of gifts, is, as we have seen, that "all may learn, and all may be comforted."
Another is, the increase of the worshippers of God, as thus stated by the apostle: "If, therefore, the whole church be come together into one place, and all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one that is unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all, and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth."
Another design is, that those who possess gifts will fall into their proper places. There is a diversity of gifts for the accomplishment of different objects, all tending to the grand result of edifying the body of Christ. It is, therefore, all important that every one should know and use his proper gift of God. This is to be ascertained by their exercise before the church, who is constituted the judge. Upon the present plan of the church’s meeting on some day or evening in the week for business only, and not assembling on the Sabbath for the exercise of gifts, or spending the day together as a body for social duties, no opportunity is presented for the members to exhibit their different talents for usefulness. Hence many a modest spirit is repressed and kept back, till urged forward by some powerful agency, or sore affliction. Hence, too, has arisen the unscriptural order of things among us, which knows no intermediate office in the ministry between the deaconship and the preaching office. Hence it is too, that many who are sensible of no call to the preaching of the gospel, but who possess profitable gifts for exhortation, are hindered from that useful department of service to the church; whilst others, who have gifts for exhortation only, present themselves in a vain conceit of their powers as candidates for the pulpit, into which they are too easily admitted by their brethren, who exercise not the discrimination necessary for distinguishing between the different gifts and their respective destinations. Now, the assembling of the church on every first day of the week for social worship, would open the way, without embarrassment, for each member to exhibit his gift, and the judgment of the brethren would place him in his proper sphere. When should we have the exhorter, the evangelist, the pastor, the man of wisdom, the man of knowledge, come forth to his proper service, a benefit of incalculable importance to the church, and the cause of the church’s Head. Thus does it appear, that the exercise of gifts in the churches will develop the design of the gospel in diffusing light and knowledge, in increasing the worshippers of God, and in placing every possessor of a gift in his proper place.
Intimately connected with the exercise of gifts for the teaching of the truth, is the ordinance of singing, as is evident from the following scripture: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ." In this exercise, also, we offer praise to God which glorifies his holy name, the ultimate design of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer, which moves the hand that moves the universe, is the expression of the soul to God in deep contrition, under a sense of sin and guilt, with an anxious desire for mercy, as exemplified in the petition of the publican, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner." This exercise admits of enlargement, nay, such enlargement is required in the prayer which our Lord taught his disciples. As an ordinance of the church, it tends to develop the gospel, inasmuch as it brings out and improves the very state of mind which the gospel inspires, humility and dependence on God. In its exercise there is an acknowledgment and adoration of God as our Father who is in heaven; the earnest desire for the coming of his kingdom, and the universal prevalence of his will in all the earth. In this exercise there is, also, the daily petition for temporal mercy and the forgiveness of sin, the humble entreaty for preserving power. Thus the soul honors God in this near approach to his throne, and intimate converse with him who sits upon it, through Jesus Christ.
In the appointment of evangelists, bishops and deacons, for the gathering of the materials for the churches, for the building up, teaching, and governing of these materials, and the management of the fiscal concerns of the churches, we clearly perceive the wise arrangement of the Head of the church for developing his gospel in its fullest extent.
In the contemplation of the government and order of the churches of Christ, delineated in the preceding chapters of this work, I have been deeply impressed with the beautiful simplicity and moral power of the whole system, as wisely adapted to the development of the gospel of Christ. By this system, the churches have one supreme, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Head, who is infinitely wise, good and faithful, and who has redeemed them out of every nation, kindred, tongue and people, by his own blood, his word and his Spirit. These all, whether "Jew or Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free," are all one in him. To him all these look by faith, and in his written word, under the influence of his Spirit, they are to learn his will. Their only rule of duty is contained in the Bible, given by inspiration of God. These churches, independent in point of government of each other, and of all other bodies of men, civil or ecclesiastical, are amenable to Christ alone. Their officers are given by him with the qualifications and authority that they have. Each church forms within herself an independent democracy, under the King in Zion, with a perfect code of laws for every case, and the divine Spirit dwelling in the body of each member, to exert a heavenly influence upon each one and upon the whole society. How ample her appliances for improvement, for action, for successful, triumphant action! What need of diligence, of study, of intelligence, of courage, of growth in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, in each member, for the fulfillment of the high destiny of all the churches. What a pattern of purity of principle, of courtesy of manners, of disinterestedness of heart, and unity of spirit, should the churches manifest! What proof should the members give of the readjustment of the social relations, by an exhibition of supreme love to God, and a love to one another beyond the measure of self-love, even the measure of that love wherewith the Saviour has loved them, so as to be willing to lay down their lives for the brethren! In such a course, how beautifully and successfully would they develop the gospel!
It is with societies of this sort, that the Lord, in the organization of his churches, designs to dot this world, as oases in the desert to refresh the moral eye. He places them in various parts of the earth as leaven to leaven the whole lump; and as these churches multiply and extend their benign influence, the whole earth will be brought into conformity to the will and image of Christ. Such bodies, in thus developing the gospel, will give no reasonable grounds of disquietude to the governments of the earth. Spiritual, moral, obedient to the laws, peaceful, exemplary, doing good to the souls and the bodies of men, they will in no wise interfere with the affairs of these governments, civil, ecclesiastical or military; but they will purify and prepare their people, citizens or subjects for a more faithful obedience to law and order, so that the whole earth will be ultimately brought under the authority and dominion of the Lord Jesus. The kingdoms of this world will then become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ.
To attain to such a high state of excellence and usefulness, the instituted means must be used. "Paul plants, Apollos waters," and then "God gives the increase." There is an intimate connection between means and ends in the government of God; hence the imperative obligation upon his creatures to use the means of his own appointment. The gospel individualizes man. It singles out the individual from the mass, renews him by the Spirit and the truth, makes him feel his responsibility, and then brings him into the church relation with his fellows that have passed through the same process. For the society thus brought together, the whole system of faith and practice by which it is to be governed is established by divine authority. By this, all other systems for the government of the church are excluded on the sound principle of law thus expressed, adoptio unius, exclusio alterius, the adoption of the one is the exclusion of all others. It is then obligatory more especially upon Christians, to observe, minutely and faithfully to observe, the system of faith and practice instituted by their prophet and king, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am aware that difference of opinion on what this system teaches and requires, prevails among those who love the Lord in sincerity and truth. Some think that general principles only are laid down in the New Testament, on the government and order of the churches, and that believers are at liberty to adopt the details according to their own judgment. Others believe that the Head of the church has authoritatively settled by his apostles, not only the form of government which his churches should adopt, but also the ordinances which they should observe under that form. A distinguished writer, after describing with much accuracy from the New Testament, the order of the primitive churches, says, if I remember right, "it is not probable, nay it is not possible, that this order was intended for universal adoption and practice." Why then, it may be asked, did Paul so particularly enjoin upon the Corinthians, an imitation of him, in the "ways which be in Christ, and which he taught everywhere in every church?" Why did he praise them for keeping the ordinances as he had delivered them? Why did he send Timothy to them with a long letter, in which these matters were all treated of, that he might, by means of that authoritative document, strengthen them more successfully and effectively in the observance of these ordinances? Why did he request his son Timothy to abide at Ephesus, notwithstanding the church there had her full corps of elders and write to him two letters of instruction, to teach him how he ought to behave himself in the house of God? And lastly, why did he leave Titus in Crete, that he should set in order the things that were wanting, and ordain elders in every city? Why all this solicitude about the government and order of the Corinthian, Ephesian and Cretian churches? Why the minute instruction on these points to the church at Corinth? Why all this, too, in letters to the church and to his two sons in the gospel, which letters now form a part of "the law and the testimony,"—"of the scripture which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works?" Obviously was all this done for the instruction of all succeeding churches, that they may be conformed to a divine "pattern."
It cannot be true, then, that general principles only are laid down in the New Testament on church government and order, with liberty to believers to frame the details according to their own judgments. It cannot be true, that there is no definite "form of sound words" on these subjects in the book of God, which we are "to hold fast." But on the contrary, it is true that the Head of the church has legislated on these points with particular care, and that his legislation is of paramount authority. Whether I have succeeded in bringing out fully and satisfactorily in this little work, the system of government and ordinances taught in the gospel, I leave to the judgment of others, after a scriptural examination of the word of God.
Permit me then, my brethren, immersed upon a profession of your faith in Christ, to request you to enter upon this examination with prayerful hearts, in the light of the New Testament. Upon you rests great responsibilities. You are called of late, in the providence of God, more especially to take a prominent stand in the advancement of the truth. Brethren of the Southern Baptist Convention, it is evident that God has called us to effective action. The two lines of service for successful action, are through the churches and the ministry. Piety, ardent piety, glowing zeal, love to God and man, must be cultivated in our churches, to bring them up to their high duty for successful effort. That religion which they are sending to others, they must feel and live themselves; then will their offerings be acceptable to God, and their labors blessed by him. Their liberality will abound, and the means will be afforded for carrying on the work of the Lord. How shall they arrive at this? Through the truth, the instrumentality of the truth, under God’s grace; for the truth only can make us free from all error. Let us come to the truth, then, in doctrine and in duty, in our personal and social relations, that the gospel of our Lord Jesus may be fully developed.
Brethren in the ministry, to you is committed the high trust of teaching the truth to the people. The priests’ lips should keep knowledge. Permit me, then, most affectionately to request your attention to the points treated of in this work. I most sincerely desire the good of Zion, and of those who are planted on her walls as watchmen. That they should see eye to eye, is most desirable and important; and therefore I ask your attention to these points now set before you. Reject whatever is wrong in my treatment of the subject, and receive only the truth as it is taught in the New Testament.
The subjects on which I have written, appear to me to be of peculiar interest to the churches at the present time. The claims of the "man of sin" are being reasserted in the present day with a boldness that is astonishing. Refuted as they have been from time to time, they seem to gather strength from defeat. It becomes the lovers of truth and its defenders more especially, then, to bestir themselves in its defense. (An important part of our conflict is with "FORMALISM." Whilst the forms of religion are intimately connected with its vitals, formalism tends to their destruction.) It is essential, then, to the full vigor of religious principle, that it be cherished and developed by means of the forms which its divine author has instituted. Hence the obligation which rests upon the people God to maintain the spirituality of those ordinances of the churches, which their Head has commanded.
Oh! what a time will that be, when the churches shall all come up to their high privileges—when, on each returning first day, they shall appear in the majesty of their Lord—when in the spiritual observance of all the ordinances delivered by the apostles, the whole moral force of their spiritual engines shall be brought under the command of "the Captain of their salvation," to bear upon the purposes of God! Then shall the windows of heaven be opened and a blessing be poured out most abundantly upon the saints and the whole earth! Then will energy divine fall upon the counsels, the plans, and the efforts of "the servants of the most high God!" Then will that vast moral machinery, now in operation for pulling down the strongholds of satan, and for the upbuilding of the Redeemer’s kingdom, exert its mighty influence with success! Then will the conquests of Immanuel be pushed to universal empire, and the headstone of the glorious super structure be brought out with shoutings of GRACE, GRACE, UNTO IT!