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at Jerusalem, and the churches of Galatia, Gal. i. 2, 23. and the seven churches of Asia, Rev. i. 4. and the churches of Macedonia, 2 Cor. viii. 1. the church at Cenchrea, a port of Corinth, and distinct from the church there, as were all these churches distinct from one another; so that he that was of one church, was not of another; as Epaphras is said to be one of you, of the church at Colosse, a peculiar member and minister of that church, and not of another, Col. iv 12. And this is the church the nature of which is to be treated of; and may be considered essentially, as to the matter and form of it; and organically, as to its order and power; or as a body corporate, having its proper
I. Essentially considered, as to its matter and form, of which it consists.
1. As to the matter of it, both as to quantity and quality. As to number, Tertullian thought that three persons were sufficient to constitute a church; which may seem to be confirmed by Matt. xviii. 20. Where two or three are gathered together in my name, &c. who may be sufficient to meet and pray together, and edify one another; but a judical process in a church-way, in case of offence, as directed to in some preceding verses, seems to require more; seeing, if the offending and offended parties cannot compromise things among themselves, one or two more are to be taken, which if two make four; if reconciliation cannot be made, the matter must be brought before the church, which must consist of a greater number than the parties before concerned; and which it should seem cannot be less than six more, and in all ten; which was the number of a congregation with the Jews: and a church organically consi dered, or as having proper officers, seems to require more; the church at Ephesus was begun with twelve men, or thereabouts, Acts xix. 7. yet a church should consist of no more than can meet together in one place, where all may hear, and all may be edified; and if it should be so increased that this cannot be, then it should be divided into lesser communities; as an hive of bees, when too many, swarms; and which seems to be the case of the church at Jerusalem; which, upon the departure of those who were converted at Pentecost, and on the scattering of the church by persecution, formed several churches in Judea, and accounts for the early mention of them. But not to dwell on this, the quality of the materials of a gospel-church more especially deserves attention. In general, it may be observed, that all such who are of immoral lives and conversations, and of unsound principles, as to the doctrines of the gospel, are not proper persons to be members of a gospel-church; no unclean persons, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, have, or should have any inheritance, part or portion in the kingdom of God, as that may signify, as it sometimes does, a gospel-church state; and though there may be such secretly, who creep in unawares, yet when discovered are to be excluded; and such persons, therefore, who are to be put away from a church, as wicked men, and such as walk disorderly, are to be withdrawn from, and such as have imbibed false doctrines, are to be rejected; then most certainly
such are not knowingly to be admitted into the original constitution of a church of Christ, or be at first received into the fellowship of one. The persons who are fit materials of a visible gospel-church, are described,
1. As regenerate persons; Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, of the grace of the Spirit of God, he cannot enter, of right he ought not to enter, and, if known, ought not to be allowed to enter, into the kingdom of God, into a gospel-church-state; none but such who are begotten again to a lively hope of the heavenly inheritance, and who, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word and ordinances, that they may grow thereby, having tasted that the Lord is gracious; or, in other words, of whom it is meet to think, and, in a judgment of charity and discretion, to hope and conclude that God hath begun a good work in them; such were the members of the church at Philippi, Phil. i. 6, 7.-2. As called ones; a church is a congregation of such who are called out from among others, by the grace of God; both the Hebrew and Greek words np and exxanoia, signify an assembly of persons called and convened together; so the members of the church at Rome are stiled, the called of Jesus Christ, Rom. i. 6. such who are called out of the world, and from fellowship with the men of it, into the fellowship of Jesus Christ: such who are proper materials of a gospel-church, are such who are called out of a state of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, into the liberty of the gospel; and out of darkness into marvellous light; and are called with an holy calling, and called to be saints, not merely by the external ministry of the word, to outward holiness of life and conversation, who are never effectually called by the grace of God, nor have any appearance of it, and so unfit to be members of churches; for,-3. Such are not only called to be saints, but in and by effectual vocation become really saints, at least are judged to be so, by a charitable discretion of them; so the members of the churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and Collosse, are described as saints, and sanctified persons, and as holy temples, built for habitations of an holy God; hence they are called churches of the saints, because they consist of such; and Christ, who is King and head of the church, is called King of saints.-4. They are described as the faithful in Christ Jesus, or believers in him: so in the article of the church of England a church is defined, "A congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered." For only faithful men, or believers in Christ, can have fellowship with the saints in a churchstate; and none but such can have communion with Christ; for he dwells in the hearts of men by faith, and they live by faith upon him: and only such have a right to the ordinances of Christ, and can receive benefit by them; unless they believe with all the heart, they have no right to baptism; and unless they have faith in Christ, they cannot discern the Lord's body in the supper; nor is the gospel preached of any profit to them, not being mixed with faith; so that they are on all accounts unfit for church-membership, and hence we read, that
those who were joined to the first church at Jerusalem were believers, Acts iv. 14. Hence,5. Those that were added to the church at Jerusalem, are said to be, such as should be saved; as all those who believe and are baptized, shall be saved; according to Mark xvi. 16. And besides, these were added by the Lord himself, as well as to him, and therefore should be saved by him with an everlasting salvation; and such who are admitted to church-fellowship, should be such, who, in a judgment of charity or in charitable discretion, may be hoped, that they are the chosen of God, the redeemed of Christ, are called, sanctified, and justified, and so shall he everlastingly saved. — 6. They should be persons of some competent knowledge of divine and spiritual things, and of judging of them; who have not only knowledge of themselves, and of their lost estate by nature, and of the way of salvation by Christ; but who have some degree of knowledge of God in his nature, perfections, and works; and of Christ, in his Person as the Son of God; of his proper Deity; of his incarnation; of his offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King; of justification by his righteousness; pardon by his blood; satisfaction by his sacrifice; and of his prevalent intercession: and also of the Spirit of God: his person, offices, and operations; and of the important truths of the gospel, and doctrines of grace; or how otherwise should the church be the pillar and ground of truth? 7. The materials of a gospel-church should be men of holy lives and conversations; holiness both of heart and life becomes the house of God, and those who are of it; none should have a place in it but such.-8. Such who are admitted into fellowship with a particular church of Christ, should be truly baptized in water, that is, by immersion, upon a profession of their faith; so the three thousand penitents, after they had gladly received the word, were baptized; and then, and not before, were added to the church: so the first church at Samaria consisted of men and women baptized by Philip, they believing what he said concerning the kingdom of God: and Lydia, and her houshold, and the jailer and his, being baptized upon their faith, laid the foundation of the church at Philippi: and the church at Corinth was begun with persons who, hearing the word, believed, and were baptized; and the church at Ephesus was first formed by some disciples baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, Acts ii. 41. so the members of the churches at Rome, Galatia, and Colosse, were baptized persons, Rom. vi. 3, 4. Gal. iii. 27. Col. ii. 12. But, 9. Not their infants with them; who were neither baptized nor admitted to membership in the churches; no one instance of either can be produced in scripture: they are not members by birth; for that which is born of the flesh, is flesh, carnal and corrupt, and unfit for church-fellowship: nor do they become such by the faith of their parents; for even their faith does not make them themselves church-members, without a profession of it, and giving up themselves to a church, and received by it into it: men must be be lievers before they are baptized; and they must be baptized before they become members; and they cannot be members till they make application to a church, and are admitted into it. Infants, as they are born, are not meet for member
ship, being unregenerate, unholy, and impure by their first birth, and must be born again ere they are fit for the kingdom of God, or a gospel-church-state; their federal holiness, talked of, is a mere chimera, and is unsupported by 1 Cor. vii. 14. they are not capable of understanding and of answering questions put unto them; nor of giving up themselves to a church; nor of consent and agreement to walk with it, the nature of which they are unacquainted with, and of what belongs to a member of it, either as to duty or privilege; nor are they capable of answering the ends of church-communion, the mutual edification of members and the glory of God: and such who plead for their member. ship make a poor business of it; not treating them as members, neither by admitting them to the ordinance of the supper, nor by watching over them, re. proving, admonishing, and laying them under censures, when grown up, and require them, were they members.
11. A particular church may be considered as to the form of it; which lies in mutual consent and agreement, in their covenant aud consideration with each other.
1. There must be an union, a coalition of a certain number of persons to form a church-state, one cannot make a church; and these must be united, as the similies of a tabernacle, temple, house, body, and a flock of sheep, to which a church is sometimes compared, shew; the tabernacle was inade with ten curtains, typical of the church of God; but one curtain did not make a tabernacle, nor all the ten singly and separately taken; but there were certain loops and taches, with which they were coupled together; and being thus joinel, they composed the tabernacle. So the temple of Solomon, which was another type of the gospel-church and which was made of great and costly stone; these stones, not as in the quarry, nor even when hewed and squared, lying singly by themselves, made the temple, until they were put and cemented toge ther, and the head-stone brought in and laid on: thus truly gracious souls, though they are by grace separated from the common quarry of mankind, and are hewn by the Spirit of God, and by the ministry of the word, and are fit materials for the church of God, yet do not constitute one, until fitly framed together, and so grow unto an holy temple of the Lord. A church is called the house of God, a spiritual house, built up of lively stones, living saints; but these, be they ever so lively and living, they do not form a church, unless they are builded together, for an habitation of God. A church of Christ is often compared to an human body; which is not one member, but many; and these not as separate, but members one of another; who are fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth: and sometimes it is called a flock, the flock of God; and though a little flock, yet one sheep does not make a flock, nor two or three straggling ones; but a number of them collected together, feeding in one pasture, under the care of a shepherd.
2. This union of saints in a church-state, is signified by their being joined and as it were glued together; it is an union of spirits so close, as if they were but one spirit; so the members of the first christian church were of one heart and one soul, being knit together in love; and it becomes members to endea vour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Acts iv. 32. Col. ii. 2. Eph. iv. 3.
3. This union between them is made by voluntary consent and agreement; a christian society, or a church of Christ, is, like all civil societies, founded on agreement and by consent; thus it is with societies from the highest to the lowest; kingdoms and states were originally formed on this plan; every body corporate, as a city, is founded on the same plan; in which there are privileges to be enjoyed, and duties to be performed; and no man has a right to the ore, without consenting to the other and in lower societies, no man can be admitted into them, nor receive any benefit from them, unless he assents to the rules and articles on which the society is founded. All civil relations, except the natural relation of parents and children, which arises from the law of nature are by consent and covenant; as that of magistrates and subjects, and of masters and servants, and of husband and wife; which latter, as it is by compact and agreement, may serve to illustrate the relation between a church and its members added to it, and the manner in which they be, by consent; see Isai. Ixii, 5.
4. As the original constitution of churches is by consent and confederation, so the admission of new members to them, is upon the same footing: the primitive churches, in the times of the apostles, first gave their own selves to the Lord, as a body, agreeing and promising to walk in all his commandments and ordinances, and be obedient to his laws, as King of saints; and to us, the apostles, pastors, guides, and governors, to be taught, fed, guided, and directed by them, according to the word of God; and to one another also, by the will of God, engaging to do whatever in them lay, to promote each other's edification and the glory of God: and so all such who were added to them, it was done by mutual consent, as it always should be; as no man is to be forced into a church, or by any compulsory methods brought into it, so neither can he force himself into one; he has no right to come into a church, and depart from it when he pleases; both the one and the other, his coming into it and departure from it, must be with consent: a man may propose himself to be a member of a church, but it is at the option of the church whether they will receive him; so Saul assayed to join himself to the disciples, that is, he proposed to be a member with them, but they at first refused him, fearing he was not a true disciple, because of his former conduct; but when they had a testimony of him from Barnabas, and perceived that he was a partaker of the grace of God, and was sound in the faith of Christ, they admitted him, and he was with them going out and coming in: and it is but reasonable a church should be satisfied in these points, as to the persons received into their communion;