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II. We have an account of the visible church, which is described as a society, made up of all such, who, in all ages, and places of the world, profess the true religion, and of their children. In this description of the church, we may observe,
1. That it is called visible, not only because the worship performed therein, and the laws given to those particular churches, of which it consists, are visible; but its members are so, or known to the world: and the profession they make of the true religion, or subjection to Christ, as their Head and Sovereign, is open, free, and undisguised, whereby they are distinguished from the rest of the world.
2. It is called a society, which denomination it takes from the communion which its members have with one another : but, inasmuch as the word is in the singular number, denoting. but one body of men, it is to be enquired whether this be a proper mode of speaking, though frequently used.
(1.) It is allowed, by all Protestants, that there re, and have been, ever since the preaching of the gospel by the apostles, many particular churches in the world *; and this is agreeable to what we often read of in the New Testament, as the apostle Paul directs his epistles to particular churches; such as that at Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, &c. Some of these were larger, others smaller, as denoting, that no regard is to be had to the number of persons of which each of them consists thus we read of churches in particular houses, 1 Cor. xvi. 19. and these may each of them, without the least impropriety of expression, be styled a visible church, for the reasons above mentioned.
(2.) It must also be allowed, on the other hand, that the church is spoken of in the singular number, in scripture, as. though it were but one: thus it is said that Saul made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison, Acts viii. 3. and, speaking of himself, he says, Concerning zeal, persecuting the church, Phil. iii. 6. and elsewhere, that, beyond measure, he persecuted the church of God, and wasted it, Gal. i. 13. Now it is certain, that it was not one particular church that he directed his persecuting rage against, but all the churches of Christ, wherever he came, especially those in Judea, which he speaks of in the plural number, ver. 22. by which he explains what he means, by his persecuting the church of God; for it is said, He which
*The Papists, indeed, pretend that there is no other church in the world, but that which they style catholic and visible, of which the bishop of Rome is the head; but we may say, in answer to this vain boast, as it is said concerning the church in Sardis, in Rev. iii. 1. Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Pretestants, though they speak oftentimes of the visible church as one, yet they don't deny but that there are many particular churches contained in it. See the asseny bly's Confession of faith, chop. 25. § 4.
bersecuted us in times past, now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed, ver. 23. and elsewhere it is said, God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers, 1 Cor. xii. 28. by which we are to understand all the churches; for the apostles were not pastors of any particular church, but acted as pastors in all the churches wherever they came, though every church had its own respective pastor set over it, who was, in a peculiar manner, related to it; yet all these churches are called, in this place, the church. Therefore we are not to contend about the use of a word, provided it be rightly explained, whether persons speak of the church in the singular, or churches in the plural number. If we speak of the church, as though it were but one, the word is to be taken collectively for all the churches of Christ in the world: this the apostle explains, when he speaks of them all, as though they were one body, under the influence of the same Spirit, called in one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all, Eph. iv. 46. this is that unity of the Spirit which they were to endeavour to keep, and so to act agreeably to their faith herein; and, in this respect, we freely allow that all the churches of Christ are one; there is but one foundation on which they are built, one rule of faith, one way to heaven, in which they all professedly walk. Moreover, the churches of Christ have not only communion with one another, in their par ticular societies, but there is a communion of churches, whereby they own one another, as walking in the same fellowship with themselves, express a sympathy with each other in afflictive circumstances, and rejoice in the edification and flourishing state of each other. In these respects we consider the churches as one, and so call them all the church of Christ.
Nevertheless, this is to be understood with certain limitations; and therefore we are not to suppose that the church, as the seat of government, is one; or that there is one set of men, who have a warrant to bear rule over the whole, that is, over all the churches of Christ; for none suppose that there is one universal pastor of the church, except the Papists. All Protestants, however they explain their sentiments about the catholic visible church, allow, that the seat of government is in each particular church, of which no one has any right to give pastors to other churches, or to appoint who shall be admitted into their respective communion.
(3.) There is another thing in this description of the visible church, which stands in need of being explained and defended. when it is said, that it consists of all such as, in all ages, and places, of the world, do profess the true religion: if nothing be Intended hereby, but that no one has a right to the privilege of
communion of saints, or fit to be received into any church of Christ, but those who profess the true religion, namely, the faith on which it is built; this I am far from denying; for that would be to suppose that the church professes one faith, and some of its members another; or that it builds up what it allows others to throw down.
But I am a little at a loss to account for the propriety of the expression, when the church is said to be a society, professing the true religion, in all ages. It cannot be supposed that the church, or churches, that are now in being, are any part of that society which professed the true religion in Moses's time, or, in the apostolic age; but it is principally the propriety of expression that is to be excepted against; for I suppose, nothing is intended hereby, but that as the church, in every respective foregoing age, consisted of those who embraced the true religion, it consists of no other in our age.
There is one thing more which I would take leave to observe in this description of the church, which renders it incomplete, inasmuch as it speaks of it as consisting of those who profess the true religion; but makes no mention of that bond of union which constitutes every particular branch of this universal church of Christ. It speaks, indeed of those qualifications which belong to every one as a Christian, which is a remote, though necessary condition of being received into church communion; but takes no notice of that mutual consent, which is the more immediate bond by which the members of every church coalesce together: but this we may have occasion to speak of under a following head.
The last thing I observe, in this description of the visible church, is, that it consists not only of the professors of the truc religion, but of their children; this is rather to be explained, than denied: however, I cannot but observe, that many have run too great lengths in what they have asserted concerning the right of children to this privilege. Some of the Fathers have not only considered them as members of the church, but brought them to the Lord's table, and given them the bread dipped in the wine, the same way as food is applied to infants, when they were too young to discover any thing of the design thereof; that which led them into this mistake, was their misunderstanding the sense of our Saviour's words, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you, John vi. 53. supposing that this was meant of their eating bread, and drinking wine in the Lord's supper, though they might easily have known that this was not our Saviour's meaning; inasmuch as the Lord's supper was not instituted, till some time after, and, when instituted, it was not designed to be reckoned so necessary to salvation, as that the bare not parVOL. II.
taking thereof should exclude from it. Cyprian gives an account of his administering it to an infant brought by her mother; and relates a circumstance attending it, that savours so much of superstition, in that grave and pious Father, that I forbear to mention it. And this was not only practised by him, but by several others in some following ages. And many in later ages speak of children as incomplete members of the church; and some suppose that this is the result of their baptismal dedication; others that it is their birth-right, and as the consequence hereof they have maintained, that when they come to be adult, they rather claim their right to church-communion than are admitted to it, as those are, who are not the children of church-members, and as a farther consequence deduced from this supposition, they assert, that if they are guilty of vile enormities, and thereby forfeit this privilege, they are in a formal way to be excommunicated, and that it is a defect in the government of the churches in our day, that this is not practised by them.
This is not what is intended by children's being members of churches, together with their parents, in this answer; but that which I think all will allow of, viz. that children being the property of parents, they are obliged to dedicate them, together with themselves, to God, and pursuant thereunto to endeavour to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, hoping that through his blessing on education, they may, in his own time and way, be qualified for church communion, and then admitted to it, that hereby the churches of Christ may have an addition of members to fill up the places of those who are called off the stage.
As to the concern of the church in this matter, which in some respects redounds to the advantage of the children of those who are members of it, they are obliged to shew their regard to them, so far as to exhort their parents, if there be occasion, to express a due concern for their spiritual welfare; or, if they are defective herein, to extend their censure rather to the parents, than to the children, as neglecting a moral duty, and so acting unbecoming the relation they stand in to them. Thus 'concerning the description given of the visible church in this answer; we shall now proceed to speak more particularly of it, and accordingly shall consider the former and present constitution and government thereof. And,
I. As to what concerns the state of the Jewish church before the gospel-dispensation; this was erected in the wilderness, and the laws by which it was governed, were given by God, and transmitted to Israel by the hand of Moses. There was a very remarkable occurrence preceding their being settled Vid. Cipr. de Laps, cap. 1. § 13.
as a church, that we read of, Exod. xix. 7, 8. in which God demanded an explicit consent from the whole congregation, to be his people, and to be governed by those laws he should give them, upon which they made a public declaration, that all that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returns the words of the people unto the Lord. And soon after this there was another covenant-transaction between God and them, mentioned in a following chapter, when Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all his judgments; and the people answered with one voice, saying, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. And this was confirmed by sacrifice, and he took half the blood thereof, and put it in basons, and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar, and he took the book of the covenant and read it in the audience of the people; upon which they repeat their engagement, all that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you, concerning all these words, Exod. xxiv. 3, 5-9. and then we have an account of an extraordinary display which they had of the divine glory, They saw the God of Israel, and did eat and drink, ver. 11. which was a farther confirming this covenant. And upon some important occasions they renewed this covenant with God, avouched him to be their God, and he condescended at the same time to avouch them to be his peculiar people, Deut. xxvi. 17, 18. Thus they were settled in a church-relation by God's appointment, and their solemn covenant and consent to be his people.
After this we read of God's settling the form of their churchgovernment, appointing those various ordinances and institutions which are contained in the ceremonial law, and settling a ministry among them, and giving directions concerning every branch of the work that was to be performed by them. Aaron and his sons had the priesthood committed to them, who were to offer gifts and sacrifices; the High-Priest was to be chief minister in holy things, the other priests assistants to him in most branches of his office; and when the temple was built, and the service to be performed therein established, the priests attended in their respective courses, each course entering on their ministry every Sabbath, 2 Chron. xxiii. 4. and there being twenty-four courses, 1 Chron. xxiv. it came to their respective turns twice every year. The porters also, who were to wait continually at the avenues of the temple day and night, to prevent any unclean person or thing from coming into it, as well as its being plundered of the treasures that were laid up in chambers adjoining to it; these also ministered in their courses, the number whereof was the same with that of the priests, 1 Chron. xxiii. 5. compared with chap. xxvi, And the singers,