« PreviousContinue »
read of the church at Jerusalem: did this church consist of a single congregation meeting in one place? The number at an early period amounted very nearly to five thousand men, (vdp,) exclusively, as it would seem, of women and children.1 Afterwards we read that there were " many ten "thousands" that "believed:" miras pupiades. 2 Did all these meet for worship in one place? for certainly they were all one church.
They had also many elders, besides the apostles: were these all placed over one congregation? This would be very little like the practice of those in modern times, who plead for primitive Christianity,' against establishments. The same may be observed in respect of the elders of Ephesus, and the church of Ephesus. 3 We admit, indeed, that the word did not include the whole population of any city or country; for there was no establishment of any kind. But, if some extend the
meaning of the word too largely, others narrow it much more than accords with scripture: and Independents generally restrict it to the communicants, to the exclusion of most of the congregation.-Again, it is assumed that the whole church at Jerusalem met together, to frame and sanction the decree of what is commonly called the first general council.' But let us carefully attend to the narrative. "When Paul and Barnabas came "to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, "and of the apostles and elders; and they de"clared all things that God had done with them.
Acts iv. 4.
2 Acts xxi. 20.
3 Acts xx. 17-35.
"Then there arose up certain of the Pharisees " which believed, saying that it was needful to "circumcise them, and to command them to keep "the law of Moses. Then the apostles and elders "came together for to consider of this matter." i Here is no intimation that any came together but "the apostles and elders :" and it is highly unreasonable to suppose that all the Christians assembled on the occasion. We cannot rate the number of Christians at this time in the church of Jerusalem, at less than ten thousand persons probably it was far more. Now how, even in popular governments, do the mass of people consent to public measures, but by their representatives? However chosen, (certainly not in defiance of the will of the other Christians,) the elders with the apostles were their representatives; and what they unanimously decreed was the act of the whole church. These spoke the sense of the body at large; though probably there were some dissentients.-Perhaps some other select persons might also form a part of the assembly, though there is no intimation of it.
It has been said, that the twenty-third article of our church sets aside all preaching and ministration, not sanctioned by ecclesiastical officers appointed by the crown.' No doubt those who framed this article intended to condemn all public preaching and ministering of sacraments by unordained persons; the propriety of which practice, or the contrary, constitutes a question of
Acts xv. 4-6..
itself, which has divided the opinions of the wisest and best men, in different ages of the church. 1 But mark the cautious language of the article: Those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by 'men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation, to call and send ministers ' into the Lord's vineyard.'-Let us next hear the fair and just interpretation of this by one of our bishops, of high authority on such subjects. "That ' which is simply necessary as a means to preserve the order and union of the body of Christians, ' and to maintain the reverence due to holy things, is, that no man enter upon any part of the holy ministry, without he be chosen and called to it, ' by such as have an authority so to do, that, I say, ' is fixed by the article: but men are left more at 'their liberty, as to their thoughts concerning the 'subject of this lawful authority. That which we believe to be lawful authority, is that rule ' which the body of the pastors, or bishops and
clergy of a church shall settle; being met in a
body under the due respect to the powers that 'God shall set over them. They who drew the 'article had the state of the several churches be'fore their eyes, that had been differently re'formed.'2 Much more occurs in explaining this, and applying it to the case of Christians, where there is no establishment, and under persecution. I am persuaded, that Bishop Burnet gives the meaning of those who drew the article correctly;
See note in the author's Commentary on Acts viii. 4. "Burnet on the Articles.
and that, though episcopal themselves, they never meant to deny the validity of Lutheran, or even Presbyterian, ordination: and let it not be forgotten, that Independency, however modified, had not then appeared, in modern churches at least ; yet with a little allowance on this ground, the article may take in all regularly ordained ministers, even among the Independents.
In respect to all objections against the use of a liturgy, however excellent it may be, I would just observe, that all the psalmody at the temple was by a preconceived form, as psalmody in general must be; that a form of blessing was appointed, in which the priests were to bless the congregation of Israel; that our Lord taught his disciples a form, saying, "When ye pray, say, &c.:" and that the request of the disciples, that he would teach them to pray, 66 as John taught his dis"ciples," implies that he had taught them some form. 2 Our Lord also instituted a form for the administration of baptism. I am not disposed to urge the objections against extemporary prayer, which numbers do; not being much afraid lest a pious minister should present requests, to which I cannot say, Amen. But comprehension, as far as I have heard, is often wanting; many things that should be included, are wholly omitted, while others are enlarged on with needless repetition. Indeed many of those, who do not fail in this way, avoid it merely by adopting a method, in arranging the several parts of their prayers, supplications, and thanksgivings, in a manner which
Num. vi. 22-27.
2 Luke xi. 1-4.
assimilates it to a liturgy. Men of fervent piety and ability perform this often in a very edifying and affecting manner: but, considering all things, I must in present circumstances esteem our liturgy as, even in this view, a great advantage; while the cases above stated shew it not unlawful in itself.
I. In respect of establishments in themselves. II. Some thoughts on the advantages arising from our establishment.
I. What I mean to add to that which I before wrote on establishments, will be comprised under one topic, namely, The state of things under the Old Testament; compared with some of the prophecies concerning the future glorious times of the church.
It seems conceded, even by those who consider establishments as necessarily secular and political, and inconsistent with Christianity, that the church of Israel was an establishment; and yet, in the modern sense of the word, it could scarcely be called so till the times of David and Solomon. The Lord however appointed the sacerdotal order, and the Levites as assistants: he allotted a certain portion, yea a large portion, of the produce of Canaan for their maintenance; he connected the priesthood very closely with the political government, under Moses, Joshua, and the judges, till the days of Saul; and afterwards with that of the kings of David's race: and these priests were not only sacrificers, but the regular teachers of Israel. Now this was the Lord's own doing. The question then occurs, Was this establishment secular, po