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in the church, and are well known and approved of for their soundness in the, faith and purity of conversation. There is but one sort of deacons of this kind mentioned in scripture; unless it can be thought they were women-deacous, or deaconesses; and, indeed, Phebe is called diangyos, a deacon, or deaconess, of the church of Cenchrea; we render the word servant, Rom. xvi. 1. and some render the wives of deacons, their women, 1 Tim. iii. 11. and by them unders stand deaconesses; and if the same with the widows, as some think, their qualifications, as to age, character, and conduct, are described, 1 Tim. v. 9, 10. and it seems certain there were such in the second century, whether virgins or widows; such seem to be the two servant-maids Pliny speaks of, whom he examined on the rack, concerning the christians, and by whom he says they were called ministra, ministresses, or deaconesses; and Clemens of Alexandria, in the second century, makes mention expressly of women-deacons, as spoken of by the apostle in his epistle to Timothy'; so Jerom ", in the fourth century, speaks of them as in the eastern churches: and, indeed, something of this kind seems not at all unnecessary, but of service and usefulness; as to attend at the baptism of women, and to visit the sisters of the church, when sick, and to assist them. In the third century an officer was introduced called a subdeacon, an under-deacon, who seems to have been an assistant to the deacon, when the churches became large, and their poor numerous, and the deacons required assistance; though it would have been much more proper to have increased their number of deacons; but as for that meteor, as Dr. Owen" calls. him, an arch-deacon, he was not heard of until the fourth or fifth centuries; and then not as the creature which now exists under that name.
IV. The encouragement given to the diligent and faithful performance of the officce of a deacon.
1. Such purchase, or get, to themselves a good degree. The conjecture of Dr. Owen's is very trifling, which I should not have expected from so great a man, as that it signifies a place of some eminence, a seat more highly raised up to sit in, in church-assemblies; something like the chief seats in a Jewishsynagogue: nor by it is meant a higher degree in his own office; for there are no degrees of higher and lower in the offie of a deacon; no sub-deacon nor arch-deacon, as before observed: nor is it preparatory to an higher order; as of presbytery or eldership; since the office of a deacon lies chiefly in the management of temporal things; and not in study and meditation of spiritual things. In after times, in the third century, such a practice began to take place as to go through all ecclesiastical offices, to the office of a bishop, a Cyprian says Cornelius bishop of Rome did; and it is said to be ordered by Caius, bishop of the same place, in the same century, that the degrees to a bishopric, though which men should pass to it, were a door-keeper, a reader, an exorcist, an 'Ep. 1. 10. ep. 97. vid. Pignorium de Servis, p. 109. Stromat. 1. 3. p. 448. "Comment. in a Tim. iii. xi. True Nature of a Gospel-Church, ch. 9. p. 184) * Ibid. p. 187.
7 Ep. 52. p. 96.
acolyte, a sub-deacon, a deacon, a presbyter, and then a bishop'; but this is all of inere human and antichristian appointment: nor is a greater degree in glory meant, which is questionable whether there will be any; but rather an increase of gifts and graces is designed; which, under a divine blessing, may be attained, through a deacon's more intimate conversation with the pastor and the members of the church, and even the poor of it: though it seems chiefly to intend a good degree of honour in the faithful discharge of his office, from both minister, church, and poor, 2. Such obtain boldness in the faith; in the exercise of faith at the throne of grace; and in asserting the doctrine of faith; and in vindicating their own character before men, as faithful men; and in reproving for immorality or error.
V. The duties belonging to a church and its members, to persons in such an office.
1. To supply them with what is sufficient to relieve the wants of the poor; for they are not to supply them out of their own purses; but to distribute faithfully what is put into their hands by the church. - 2. They should be applied unto for direction and counsel in any private matters, and especially which relate unto the church; since they are supposed to be men of wisdom, and capable of judging of things, with respect to particular persons, and between one member and another.-3. They are to be esteemed highly for their work's sake; their office being a very useful one to the church, when diligently and faithfully performed.-4. To be prayed for; for if we are to pray for all civil magistrates and officers, then certainly for all ecclesiastical officers; not only pastors of churches, but deacons also; that they may be supported under all discouragements and difficulties; and that they may be able to discharge their office with reputation and usefulness.
OF THE DISCIPLINE OF A CHURCH OF CHRIST.
THOUGH the light of nature, and the laws and rules of civil society, may be very assisting in the affair of church-discipline; and may in many things serve to illustrate and confirm it; yet it does not stand upon human, but divine authority. By the light of nature it may be known, man being a sociable. creature, that men may form themselves into societies for mutual good; that they have a right to make laws and rules binding on each other, which are not contrary to justice and truth; to admit such into their societies who have a right to dispose of themselves, and assent to the rules of the society, and to keep out or expel such who refuse to be subject to them; and to choose and appoint whom they think fit to preside over them, to see that their laws and rules are put into execution; with other things of like nature. But Christ is sole Head, King, and Lawgiver in his house and kingdom; and no man, nor set of men, • Platina vit. Pontis. p. 34.
have a power to set up a church-society, but what is by direction and accon ing to the rule of his word, and the pattern of his house; nor to make laws and rules, but what he has made; nor to appoint any other sort of officers in his house, but whom he has appointed and directed to, and described the qualifications of; to whom he gives gifts and abilities, office-power and authority to rule under him in his church: nor are any to be admitted into it, nor excluded from it, but according to his directions and orders; hence Ezekiel, after he had described the gospel-church in its purity, as it will be in the latter-day, is ordered to shew the house to the house of Israel; the form, fashion, laws, and ordinances of it, to be copied after, and observed by them, chap. xliii. 10, 11. Now whereas there are various passages of scripture, which are taken for rules of church-discipline, which are misunderstood and misapplied, it will be proper to mark them, that none may be misled by them, As,
I. The words of our Lord to Peter, after he had made such a noble confession of his faith in him, as the Son of God; and Christ had declared, that upon that rock he professed faith in, he would build his church, against which the gates of hell should not prevail; he adds, And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, &c. Matt. xvi. 19. which are usually understood of the admission of members into a church, and the exclusion of them; and of layiug on of censures, and of taking them off. But they have respect, not at all to discipline, but to doctrine. The keys have made a great noise and rattling in the world, and many contests have been raised about them; what they are, and the power of them, in whose hands they are lodged, and who has the right to the use and exercise of them; when, after all, they relate not to church-discipline, but to gospel-doctrine. By the kingdom of heaven is not meant, neither the church in heaven, nor the gospel-church-state on earth; nor do the keys signify any lordly power and domination in it; which Christ never gave to Peter, nor to any of the apostles, and much less to ordinary ministers and elders of churches, who are not allowed to lord it over God's heritage; Christ keeps the key in his own hand, the key of the house of David: but the gospel itself ; hence we read of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; that is, of the doctrines of the gospel: this kingdom of heaven was shut up against men in the Jewish world,t hrough the wickedness or ignorance of the Scribes and Pharisees, who took away the key of knowledge from the people, Matt. xxiii. 13. Luke xi. 52. and in the Gentile world, through the blindness, and ignorance, and want of divine revelation, they were left unto, Acts xvii. 30. Now a mission and commission to preach the gospel, and gifts and abilities for the same, are the keys by which the treasures of grace are unlocked, the stores of it opened and displayed, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven explained, and clearly held forth to the view of others; now though these were given, not to Peter alone, but to all the apostles at the same time, yet Peter was the first who had the use and exercise of them; and with these he opened the door of faith, that is, the gospel; first, to the Jews, on the day of Pentecost, which was the first
sermon after the commission was given, and proved the conversion of three thousand souls: and he was the first who preached the gospel to the Gentiles, to Cornelius and his family, to which first ministration of his to them, both he and James have a respect in the synod at Jerusalem, Acts xv. 7, 14. and that these keys, and the use of them, belonged to all the apostles, as well as to Peter, appears from hence, that to whomsoever the keys, and the use of them, belonged, the same had the power of binding and loosing conferred upon them; and that all the apostles had the latter, is manifest from Matt. xviii. 18. which words are also misunderstood of, and misapplied to, binding inen with censures laid upon them, till they repent, and of loosing them from them when they do; but the words are spoken, not of persons, but of things; it is not said, whoms soever ye bind; but, whatsoever ye hind, &c. and signify no other than deckrations of what is unlawful or lawful; of what is forbidden or free of use; in which sense the words binding and loosing are used in thousands of instances in Jewish writings; and our Lord expresses himself in a manner which the Jews thoroughly understood, and his apostles must; and his meaning is, that whatsoever they bound, prohibited, declared as unlawful to be used, was so, though before lawful; and whatsoever they loosed, declared to be lawful, and free of use, was so; though before the death of Christ, and their commission, was unlawful: thus for instance, they bound, prohibited circumcision, and declared it unlawful; though it was of the fathers, and was enjoined Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their male-seed, to the coming of the Messiah; but since his death, and their commission to preach the gospel, they declared it to be nothing at all no more to be used and practised; yea, that it was pernicious and hurtful; that Christ profited them nothing who used it, and was of no effect to them, Gal
. 1-6. they bound, or forbid, the observance of days, and months, and times, and years, and declared them weak and beggarly elements, and that no man was to be judged or condemned for the disuse of them, though they had been, for ages past used in the Jewish church; as the first day of the year, and of every month, the feasts of pass-over, pentecost, and tabernacles, the jubileeyear, the sabbatical year, and the seventh-day-sabbath, Gal. iv. 9-11. Col. ii. 16. 17. On the other hand, they loosed, or declared lawful and free of use, civil correspondence between Jews and Gentiles; which before had been unlawful, at least according to the traditions of the Jews; and Peter was the first who had light into it, by the vision of the four-footed beasts, which was given him; for before he thought it was an unlawful thing for a man that was a Jew to come into or keep company with one of another nation; but by that vision God shewed him that he was not to call any man common or unclean; and so they all afterwards understood, that under the gospel-dispensation there was neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, nor male nor female; but they were all one in Christ Jesus, Gal. iii. 28. likewise they loosed, or declared lawful and free of use, the eating of any sort of food, of which there was a distinction under the old law, and was forbid; but now they saw, from the
words of Christ, Matt. xv. 11. and Peter, by the above vision; and Paul, by Christ, that there was nothing common and unclean of itself; and that the kingdom of God did not lie in meat and drink, but that every creature of God was good, and nothing to be refused, if received with thanksgiving. And this power of binding and loosing reached not only to practices, but to doctrines; for as the apostles were infallibly guided into all truth; whatever they bound or forbid, and declared as false doctrine, was so; and whatever they loosed, or declared to be truth, was so to be accounted; hence the anathema of the apostle Paul, Gal. i. 8. They had the whole counsel of God, the whole system of gospel-truths made known to them; and which they have declared in their writings; and are to be observed as the rule of faith to the end of the world, being delivered under divine inspiration; of which our Lord's breathing upon them after his resurrection, and their commission from him, was an emblem, when the following words were delivered by him, Whose soever sins je remit, they are remitted to them; and whose soever sins je retain, they are retained, John xx. 23. which respect not any discipline of the apostles in laying on, binding, and retaining censures on persons; and of loosing, remiting, and taking them off, according to their behaviour; but of the doctrine of remission of sins, preached by them: for this cannot be meant of remission of sins by them in an absolute and authoritative way; for none can forgive sins but God, and Christ, who is God; and who yet never gave any such power to his apostles; nor did they ever assume this to themselves; this is the mark of antichrist, who sits in the temple of God, and shews himself to be god, or to assume such a character, by taking upon him to dispense pardons and indulgences: but this is to be understood of the apostles, as ministerially and doctrinally preaching the forgiveness of sins; declaring, that such who repent of their sins, and believe in Christ, shall receive the remission of them; but that whoever do not repent of their sins, and do not believe in him, shall perish eternally, according to Mark xvi. 16. and by this doctrine of the apostles God and Christ will stand; and sooner or later will appear the validity, truth and certainty of their declarations.
II. There are various passages of scripture, which are thought to respect excommunication, or exclusion from church-communion; which seem to havề nothing to do with it, and are not to be considered as rules to proceed by, with respect unto it.
1. The words in Matt. xviii. 17. Let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican; which was no form of excommunication, neither with Jews' nor with Christians. Not with Jews, for that with them was expressed by casting out of the synagogue, especially in the times of Christ: nor with Christians, with whom it was after signified by putting away wicked men from among them; between an excommunicated person, and an heathen man and publican, there was no agreement'; for an heathen man and a publican, however considered by 6'