Page images

fact is, that in Scotland the established church of that country is seldom or never, in writing, now called by the name of kirk, but by the ordinary English word church. So much for the mere effect of words on the great and on the little vulgar. But to return from this digression; the Greek word nuganov, or church, from signifying the house or temple where assemblies were held for religious worship, came, by an easy metonymy, to signify such assemblies themselves. Both these significations the word church still retains in the Engligh language. But the original term, commonly used in the New Testament to signify church, is inxλnoía, whose primary signification is, a calling out; and, from use, it came to denote an assembly or congregation. It is sometimes employed to denote a particular society of Christians in some particular place; as the seven churches of Asia, the church of Thessalonica, of Jerusalem, of Corinth; sometimes the faithful of one family, and such as might assemble with them in the same house for solemn worship; at other times, the whole aggregate of Christians, however separated or dispersed over the world; and, lastly, all only who sincerely believe and practise the doctrines and precepts of the gospel.

[ocr errors]

a Rev. i. 4. 2 Thess. i. 1. Acts viii. 1. 1 Cor. xiv. Rom. xvi. 5. Col. iv. 15, Philem. 2. 1 Cor. i. 2. Rev. ii. 7. Eph. i. 22, 23. Col.

In order to form some adequate notion of the Christian church, in whichsoever of these senses it may be viewed, it is necessary to have recourse to its institution, according to the accounts given of it in the New Testament.

This has already been stated under the head of the facts on which Christianity is founded. Some of these, however, more particularly connected with the present subject, it is requisite for the sake of connexion to recall.

Our blessed Saviour having, by his own preaching and miracles, converted many to the belief of his divine mission, selected, from the whole number of his disciples, twelve whom, under the name of apostles, he appointed to carry on the work which he had begun. These he invested with miraculous powers, but limited their commission to the "lost sheep of Israel." Having, in the execution of it, met with remarkable

i. 18.-See Suiceri Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus e Patribus Græcis, in vocibus Kugianòv et 'Exxλnoía. This last word also occurs frequently in the Septuagint, and is that by which the Hebrew p is commonly translated. The word is there used in two different, but related senses. One is for a whole nation, considered as constituting one commonwealth or polity. In this sense the people of Israel are denominated πᾶσα ἡ ἐκκλησία ̓Ισραὴλ, and πᾶσα ἡ ἐκκλησία Θεοῦ. The other is for a particular congregation or assembly, either actually convened, or accustomed to convene in any particular synagogue; for every synagogue had its own ἐκκλησία, See Dr. Campbell's note on Matt. xviii. 17.

a Matt. x. 5, 6.

success, they returned and reported this to their master. To these he added other seventy disciples, and "sent them two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself should come." Those who professed the religion which Jesus and his disciples preached, were, by the Jews, called "the sect of the Nazarenes." " After our Saviour's resurrection he extended the commission of his apostles to the teaching and baptizing of all nations. As this was a work of difficulty insuperable to human power, he commanded them to "tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high." Accordingly, after his ascension, they returned to that city, "waited for the promise of the Father, and continued with one accord in prayer and supplication." The number of apostles and disciples together was, at this time, one hundred and twenty.'


But when the miraculous effusion of the Holy Ghost, on the day of Pentecost," had qualified the apostles for the great work which they had been ordained to execute, Peter, on that very day, by means of one single sermon," converted to the Christian faith, "about three thousand souls, who continued steadfastly in the apostles'

a Luke x. 1.

d Luke xxiv. 49.

s Acts ii. 1-13.

b Acts xxiv. 5.

e Acts i. 4, 14.

h Acts ii. 14-36.

c Matt. xxviii. 19.

f Acts i. 15.

doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Thus the first church was formed at Jerusalem, consisting of our Lord's apostles and immediate disciples, together with the accession of new believers above mentioned. All these had been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, agreed in the same faith, were united in the same bond of peace, partook in the same commemoration of the Saviour's death, and joined in the same religious worship.

But the apostles soon carried the gospel into the different parts of Asia and Europe; and the power of God so remarkably sped their labours, that in almost every considerable city in these divisions of the civilized globe, a Christian church was planted, which, we may conclude, was formed on the model of that of Jerusalem above described. How far any dependence or subordination subsisted among these churches, I shall not at present inquire. It is, at any rate, certain that they corresponded with each other concerning the interests of the common faith, and, during the lives of the apostles, submitted these and all doubts and controversies to their decision. As As among the Jews, the disciples of Christ were called Nazarenes; so, among the

a Acts ii. 41, 42, 47.

Gentiles, they were denominated Christians, a name first bestowed on them in Antioch.a

The terms of communion, and the qualificacations requisite for becoming a member of the primitive church, seem to have been simply a profession of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, of which a brief summary, as is implied in several passages of Paul's writings, appears to have been deposited in every church.


It is to be observed that, though there was great diversity of opinions among Christians, even in the apostolic times, and that too in regard to several points to which the highest importance was afterwards attached, and in some churches a shocking corruption of morals and scandalous indecency in celebrating the Lord's supper existed; yet, in all the epistles addressed to the churches by their inspired writers, which at this day form so considerable a part of the standard of belief and practice, the whole body of professing Christians, whether good or bad, orthodox or heretical, are instructed, exhorted, or rebuked.

This is exactly conformable to the description of the visible kingdom of God given on several occasions by our Lord himself. He compares it sometimes to a field in which wheat and tares grow up promiscuously until the harvest ; at

b 1 Tim. i. 12. 2 Tim. i. 13. Heb. x. 23.

a Acts xi. 26.

c Matt. xiii. 24-30.

« PreviousContinue »