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the judgment and conduct of the church appear to them so inconsistent with the truth, and the laws of Christ, that it is his command and their duty, to refuse to conform, and to leave and renounce the church. In this case, no one has any right to control them.
5. The visible. church, the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, was small in the beginning of it ; but is to increase and grow, till it shall be great, and fill the world, and all nations shall come into it, and be members of it; and shall continue forever the only, most happy and glorious society and kingdom. God has had a church in the world ever since the apostasy of man.-Before the flood, there were the sons of God, distinguished from the rest of mankind, who called on the name of the Lord. li continued in the family of Noah, and some of his descendants, till the days of Abraham, when it was more particularly formed in his family; and farther established and regulated among those who descended from hin), the people of Israel, When the christian dispensation took place, the church put on a new form in many respects, though it was the same church, as to the essentials of it, and was still the church of God, the church of Christ.
The christian church, consisting of the professed followers of Christ, was small in the beginning of it ; but Christ foretold that it should grow, and become great, and promised, that it hould continue and live on earth, to the end of the world. He said the gates of hell, (Hades, death) should not prevail against it : That is, that it should not die, or cease to be a visible church on earth. He represented the growth of it, till it should cover the earth, and fill the world, by the following similitudes. “ The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field : Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree ; so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."*
* Matt. xiii. 31, 32, 33.
6. The visible church of Christ is, and will be, in an imperfect state, and in a greater or less degree, impure and corrupt while in this world. All the members of it are in a great degree imperfect, corrupt and sinful ; and many, who are totally corrupt and enemies to Christ, are professed and visible friends to him, and, as such, are admitted into his church. Christ has not made any provision, by which unworthy persons, who are not his friends at heart, can be excluded from his church in this world, so long as there are such who put on the outward appearance and profession of friendship and submission to him, and offer themselves to join the society. He has not constituted any infallible judges to determine who shall be admitted into his visible church, who are able to detect every hypocrite, and reject all who are unworthy members. When the utmost care is taken, and the rules of Christ with respect to this are faithfully regarded and practised, still the heart cannot be certain ly known : and christians must act according to the visibility, or outward appearance and profession of friend. ship to Christ, which hypocrites may put on, and so be admitted into the church, who have no right to a place there in the sight of God. And the members of particular churches may be, and often are, so injudicious and careless, as to admit members which are visibly unqual. ified, and ought not to be admitted ; by which the church becomes more and more corrupt, and proper discipline is not kept up; and those who ought to be cast out are tolerated : And by degrees, through the influence of erroneous teachers, great errors may be imbibed and maintained, and corrupt and evil practices take place; and many customs and rites be introduced, which Christ has not commanded; but are the inven. tions and commandments of men of corrupt minds, by which the purity and beauty of the church is greatly tarnished.
Particular churches, and the visible church of Christ in general, may become in a great degree corrupt in some or all those things : and yet be, and continue the visible church of Christ. And it is difficult to determine how far a particular church, or the church in general, may be corrupted and deviate from the laws of Christ, and yet be visibly a church of Christ, so as to have a ' right to be considered and acknowledged to be a true church, though corrupt and wrong in many things. In this case, particular christians must judge for themselves; and particular churches must judge of other churches s and great caution and prudence ought to be used : Every one ought to judge and act right, and according to the rules which Christ has given in this case, and all are accountable to him for their opinion and conduct.
A church may doubtless become so corrupt, and go off so far from the faith and practice of true christians, and sink so far into gross errors and open conduct, contrary to the gospel, and the express commands of Jesus Christ, as that it ought to be rejected, as not a visible church of Christ; and his commands to his faithful followers, may be, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you."* The church of Rome, or the papal church, has doubtless been visibly not a true church of Christ for many years : It has been so, perhaps, ever since the time of the reformation from popery. Though it was really a corrupt, false church before ; yet it was not visibly so, till the marks of a false church were clearly discerned, and it was known to the reformed visible church of Christ to be the beast, and the great harlot described in the Revelation. Then the voice of Christ was heard speaking to them, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” And then she was visibly and publicly excommunicated by Christ and his visible church ; and consequently was no longer a visi. ble church of Christ, but the contrary.
The reformed church, or the different churches which have taken place in the protestant world, upon the reformation from popery, and since, are far from being wholly purified from a great mixture of error, and from practices which are not according to revealed truth ; and which would cease, were they to be conformed to the pattern described in the word of God: Some are nearer the rule, and others farther from it ; and many
30 • 2 Cor. vi. 17.
are doubtless greatly degenerated from what they once were. And it is probable, that the spirit, maxims and practices of Antichrist, or that are really antichristian, do take place, in a greater or less degree, in all these churches, at this day; and that they will, the most of them at least, grow more and more corrupt in doctrine and practice, till they become like the incurable leprous house in Israel, which was ordered to be wholly demol. ished, that another might be built in the room of it. So, when the millennium comes on, these corrupt churches, which will be too far sunk in error and sinful practices, to be patched up and healed, will be removed and van ish away, sharing with Antichrist in ruin, and giving way to a church which shall be built upon the gospel plan. Then the bride, the Lamb's wife, will put on her beautiful garments, and arise and shine in the light that shall then come, and the glory of the Lord which shall rise upon her.* But even then, the visible church will not be perfect in the beauty of holiness; though the uncircumcised and unclean may no more enter into itt yet not one of the members will be perfectly holy. The most perfect beauty and glory of the church will not take place till after the resurrection.
Those of different denominations and churches, in the christian world, who believe and expect there will be a more perfect state of the church in the millennium, are disposed to think, that the denomination and particular church to which they belong, will be the pattern ; and that all christians will, in that day, conform to that, and that those things in which others differ from them, both with respect to doctrine and practice, will then be relinquished and cease. But most of them, if not all, will be greatly disappointed in their views and expectations with respect to this. A church will then arise, which will have all that is good, right and excellent, in the different denominations and churches, that exist now, or have been ; and will renounce all the superstitions and corruptions, in principle or practice, which have taken place. Blessed are all they, who are real members of the invisible church of Christ. See the Dissertation on the Millennium, subjoined to this System.
† Isaiah lii. 1.
Concerning the Officers of a Church.
EVERY distinct and particular church, in order to be complete, and properly organized, must have officers, or persons distinguished from the members in general, by being chosen and appointed to particular service and duties, who are to superintend the affairs of the church, to preside and act a particular part, in teaching and exhortation, and administering the ordinances which Christ has appointed ; and taking particular care. of the temporals of the church.
Of these, pastors, elders, presbyters or bishops, are the first and most important. "By these names, not different orders, higher and lower, or different offices, are meant; but one and the same person, in one and the same office, is called by all these names ; and therefore they denote the same office. This has been abundantly proved by many who have attended to the subject; therefore it is needless particularly to attend to it here.
The apostles were a distinct and superior order of men, and appointed by Christ immediately, as extraordinary officers, to constitute the first churches, and to give infallible rules and laws to them, by which they were to be regulated and governed : In which extraordinary office they had no successors. The apostles were elders, or presbyters, or bishops, and more; they were appointed immediately by Christ, as ivfallible judges and dictators to the churches. They ordained presbyters or bishops, as being such themselves, in their ordinary capacity ; but their extraordinary commission was not, nor could be transmitted to others; but died with them : And there have been no apostles in the church since their death ; nor will there be any such officers again in the church, to the end of the world.
The apostles ordained elders or bishops in the churches which they constituted, who were first chosen by the members of these churches, or they did it with their consent. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commend,