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FOR THE PRESBYTERIAN MAGAZINE.
With the post-diluvian church God established his covenant, and enlarged her privileges. He gave them also a law, which authorized them to inflict capital punishment upon murderers. Gen. ix. 6.
In the family of Noah, and in the line of Shem, the church subsisted and flourished for a considerable time. But such is the depravity of human nature, that the church became again exceedingly corrupted. Idolatry was introduced, and prevailed universally, till Abraham's time, which threatened, once more, the utter destruction of the church.
But God, having determined to establish his church upon a more permanent foundation, and enlarge her bounds, admonished Abraham to leave his father's house for a land which he would show him. About the year of the world 2083, Abraham set out for the promised land. And it is soon after recorded that he “built an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.” Gen. xii. 8. Sacrifices were unquestionably a part of his religious worship. His family was numerous. It
is said he had “318 trained servants.” Gen. xiv. 14. All these
were members of the church in his house. They all, doubtless, surrounded the altar, and united with Abraham, their priest and ruler, in the solemn, public worship. By the sacrifices of: fered on the altar, the church was rendered visible, as she had been at the beginning, and in the days of Seth. Here is an assembly, or church, of at least 318 worshippers. They had no public edifice which could contain them. At some particular hour, on the Sabbath, I suppose, by some appointment, or signal given, by Abraham their priest and their ruler, they left their tents and assembled, perhaps under some shady tree, and Vol. II.-Presb. Mag.
performed all the parts of public worship which had been prescribed by the Lord their God. Here is a visible church. But no more visible than about twenty centuries before, when men “began to call upon the name of the Lord;” nor when, after the flood, Noah and his family, and the families of his three sons, surrounded the altar, and offered burnt offerings unto the Lord. The church, in Abraham's family, had no additional signs of visibility, till twenty-five years after, when circumcision was instituted as a sign and seal of the covenant which God made with him. If God had no visible church till circumcision was appointed —if this rite only rendered her visible; then, admitting there were female members in the church, she was partly visible, and partly invisible, for circumcision was applied to none but male members. The male part was visible, and the female part, which is now, and perhaps always has been, the largest, was invisible. The fact is, the church was a visible church, in Abraham's family, some years before the institution of circumcision, and that rite was no more than an additional token of visibility, as it regarded the male members. The church remained, with the same badges of visibility, through Abraham's time, and during that of Isaac, and Jacob, and under the same description of officers, the male heads of families. Just before his death, Abraham gave gifts to his other children, and “sent them away from Isaac his son, eastward.” Gen. xxv. 6. The true church was confined, after Abraham's death, to the single family of Isaac, of whom it is recorded, that “he builded an altar, and called upon the name of the Lord.” Gen. xxvi. 25. This, we may suppose, was his constant practice. After Esau was rejected, and after Isaac's death, the church continued in the family of Jacob. On his return from Laban, he builded an altar in Shechem (Gen. xxxiii. 20), and another in Bethel (Gen. xxxv. 7), and, doubtless, he presented offerings and prayers unto the Lord, and continued the practice all his days. No other tokens of visibility were appointed in the church, after the rite of circumcision, till the night in which the Israelites left Egypt. Then the Passover was instituted. From the Abrahamic, till the end of the patriarchal age, the church of God subsisted in families; and all the members of families, adult and infant, were members of the church. All the males were circumcised; and all the males and females partook of the paschal feast. Thus God gradually appointed tokens to render the existence of his church visible. Abraham was the elder both in age and authority, who governed the church in his family. So was Isaac, and Jacob. And from Jacob's death, till his posterity left Egypt, the church subsisted in families, and was governed by officers of the same description. But there seems to have been an order of elders, who had the general superintendence of the Israelitish tribes in Egypt. When Moses was sent to deliver them from their vassalage, God commanded him to “go and gather the elders of Israel,” and communicate to them his message. Exod. iii. 16. These elders must have had some authority and power, as rulers, over the people, or it would have been useless for Moses to address them. On one occasion he was asked by an Israelite, “who made thee a prince and judge over us?” This implied that they had acknowledged rulers over them. The church subsisted in families. And these local churches were governed by their male heads. But the elders of Israel seem to have been a number of the most upright and experienced men, selected as rulers, who, when assembled together, should represent the whole church of God. The particular authority which they exercised is not recorded. But it is probable that they adjusted all disputes among their brethren, both of a civil and ecclesiastical nature. Moses was directed to “gather the elders of Israel together.” And it is recorded that “Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel.” Ex. iv. 29. “Moses called,” when the Passover was to be instituted, “for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families.” Ex. xii. 21. When Moses was to smite the rock, he was commanded to take with him “ of the elders of Israel.” Ex. xvii. 5. When he went up into the mount, “seventy of the elders of Israel” were to “worship afar off.” Ex. xxiv. 1. From these and other passages it appears, that all the male heads of families were called elders, and that there was likewise a selected number cf these elders appointed for particular purposes; and that all of this number were invested with some special authority and power as rulers. The seventy elders mentioned in Num. xi. 16, were appointed after Moses went up into the mount. And the seventy elders that were commanded to “worship afar off,” it is probable, were selected, some from each tribe, as representatives, and rulers, of the whole number of Israelites, on all important occasions, as will appear hereafter more fully. The government of the church began now to assume a different external form. At a future period, before referred to, “The Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be elders of the people, and officers over them.” Num. xi. 16. Whether these were the seventy elders first mentioned or not, and it seems evident they were not, it is certain that they were a select portion out of the whole number of elders, and invested with authority and power to represent, and rule over, the whole church. They are expressly called %. over the people. And it is added, “I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee.” This burden was evidently the administration of the government of the whole people. This is supposed by some to be the origin of the great council of the Jews, which, in after ages, was called the Sanhedrim. Though this is questioned by others, yet it is evident that seventy men were chosen out of the elders of Israel, for rulers, antecedent to the establishment of that council. It is manifest, therefore, that the male heads of families were called elders, and they were the exclusive rulers in the local or family churches. And it is likewise manifest, that, in process of time, a number of men were selected from the whole congregation of Israel, and that they were called elders, and invested with authority as rulers over all the people. The court, composed of seventy elders, who had been officers, which was constituted by divine direction, had cognizance of the most important matters of church and state. For at that period the united government of civil and ecclesiastical affairs were committed to the same elders, as rulers of the people. There were elders, likewise, appointed as judges of less important matters in every city. Deut. xix. 12, 17; and xxi. 2, 3, 19. After the priesthood was established in Aaron's family, and the ceremonial system introduced, the Levites were set apart as assistants of the priests. Num. i. 50; and iii. 6, 12. The priests and Levites were constituted judges. “By their word shall, every controversy be tried.” Deut. xxi. 5. If a matter should arise too hard for an inferior court, in any city, they were directed to refer it “unto the priests and Levites, and according to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do.” Deut. xvii. 8–11. Hence it appears that priests, Levites, and elders were rulers in the Jewish church, and that the right of appeal, an important privilege, was allowed from an inferior, to a superior court. Cases of the highest importance were tried and decided in the great council of the Sanhedrim, which consisted of priests and elders. - This government of the church of God continued until the day of Pentecost. After this period she was divested of her national character and government, one great object of which was to secure the visible descent of the Messiah in the line of Judah. When Christ came, the leading objects of the national covenant and national church were accomplished. Her character and government as national was changed, and she was to be governed in her ancient manner. In the first ages of the church she was governed by elders, who also executed the office of priests. All the difference, I can perceive, between the ancient and present government is, that in addition to lay ruling elders, an order of public authorized teachers are connected with the elders. These elders are no longer to perform the functions of ministers, which they did at first, but simply unite in the government of the church with pastors, who are to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances, ordain, and also exercise the office of rulers. Under the gospel the elders are to perform the public office of ruling in conjunction with pastors. But this change does not affect the essential organization of the church. It is hence manifest that ecclesiastical affairs were never determined by the church at large, nor by any promiscuous portion of the church, but by select rulers. First by the male heads of families, till after the patriarchal age, then by elders who had some general authority over all the people; then by elders united with priests and Levites. The highest court was the Sanhedrim. All the members of the church never were rulers, neither before the flood, nor in the patriarchal age, nor during the time of Moses and Aaron, nor under the... and kings of Israel, nor in any one period before the advent of Christ. Hence if no countervailing evidence can be produced, which I believe cannot be done, the argument forcibly concludes, that the government of the church, under the gospel, should not be committed to the whole body of her members, but to select rulers, to ministers and elders. The church is the same substantially and radically under all the dispensations of mercy. Those things which were ceremonial, and typical, and peculiar to the Jews as a national church, were abolished at the death of Christ. But we no where find any intimation that the government was to be essentially changed. If the Jews had universally acknowledged Jesus to be the Messiah, they would not have been broken off, but continued in the church of God. The members would have been the same, parents and children; and the government the same, by ministers and elders chosen to assist them. None of the Jews were, in fact, broken off from the good olive tree, except the unsound members of the church. They were not all Israel, which were of Israel. The true Israel, that is, real saints, or sound members of the church, did embrace Christ, and these composed the first church of Christ under the