Of the means of Grace,
and the Marks by which the Church of Christ is to be Known.
HAVING explained the nature of these two societies, the Holy Church and the wicked World; we must consider the use of the Church, and the marks by which it is to be known. It is promised, that he who believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved. But how shall we have this baptism, unless we have it from those whom God hath appointed to baptize? It is also promised, he that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and how shall we receive the body and blood of Christ, but from the Church, to whom he said, when he instituted the Lord's Supper, Do this in remembrance of me? This being the commemorative Sacrifice of the New Testament it can be offered only by a priest: and all the world cannot make a priest. The ministers of the Old Testament were ordained to their office by an immediate commission from God to Moses, the mediator of that time betwixt God and the people. The ministers of the New Testament were ordained by Christ himself, from whom the authority descended to others, and shall reach through a variety of hands, to the end of the world.
This is the way God hath been pleased to take, to make men holy, and bring them to himself, through this dangerous world, as he brought Noah and his family out of the old world into the new, by means of an ark, which was a figure of his Church. It is therefore if infinite Consequence, that we should be able to know, with certainty, whether we are in the Church or out of it. If we are out of it, we are in the world. If we had been out of the ark we should have been drowned. It is true we may be in the Church, and yet be lost; for was not Ham in the ark, who was a reprobate? But if we are out of the Church, how can we be saved?
I would not, for the whole world, unworthy as I am; I say, I would not, for the world, and all the kingdoms of it, be in doubt, whether I was translated, or not, into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I would not be in doubt, whether I have the Sacraments, or whether I have them not. But how can I be sure in this case, unless I know what the kingdom of Christ is; where it is to be found; and what are the marks by which it may be known? Many strange abuses in religion have arisen on occasion, and under the specious name of, the Reformations a very good word; but it hath been applied to a great many bad things, even to madness and blasphemy. We are fallen into times when some say, lo, here is Christ, or, lo, there; in the desert; or in the secret chambers; and are bid to take heed that no man deceive us. What a terrible case should we be in, if we had no sufficient warnings given to us, and no rule to go by! But as the lightning which cometh from the East shineth unto the West, so plain and notorious was the establishment of Christ's kingdom in this world; together with the form of its constitution, and the orders of its. ministry, in all the countries wherever it was planted. It would he unreasonable; indeed it would be lamentable; it would seem as if God had mocked us, contrary to the nature of his mercy, that he should publish a way of salvation, and leave it uncertain where it is to be found.
From what is said of it in the Gospel, it is impossible that the Church should be a society obscure and hard to be distinguished. Ye are the light of the world, said Christ to his disciples, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Light is sure to shew itself; and it comes in strait lines, which direct us to its source. A city placed upon a mountain is so elevated above other objects, that it cannot be difficult to find it; rather, it is impossible to miss it; it cannot be hid: and Christian people in all ages seem to have agreed, that it shall not be hid: for when we approach a city in any part of Christendom, the churches are generally first seen towering over all other buildings.
Christ has given us a precept, that under certain circumstances, we should tell our case to the Church: but unless it be known what and where the Church is, this cannot be done. The precept therefore supposes, that the Church must be known to us. The same must follow from the injunction of St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews.--Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account. Chap. xiii. 17. The Rulers of the Church must therefore be known to us; for it is impossible we should do our duty, and submit ourselves to them, unless we are sure who they are.
The Church then must, in its nature, be a society manifest to all men. Some may slight it, and despise it, and refuse to hear it; but they cannot do even this, unless they know where it is to be found.
When we enquire more particularly what the Church is, it may be best to proceed as we are obliged to do in some other cases; first, to learn what it is not, that we may go upon right ground, and understand with more certainty what it is.
The Church then, as a society, is not the work of man; nor can it possibly be so. I have laid the foundation of all my reasonings upon this subject, in the distinction betwixt the Church and the World, as two separate parties. The Church is so named, because it is called or chosen out of the world. Till it is so called out of the world, it hath no being; but it cannot call itself, any more than a man can bring himself into the world.
Our Christian calling is as truly the work of God, and as much independent of ourselves as our natural birth. The Church must have orders in it for the work of the ministry: but no man can ordain himself, neither can he (of himself) ordain another, because no man can give what he hath not. How shall they preach, saith the Scripture, unless they be sent? And again, No man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. Nay, even Christ glorified not himself to be made an High Priest, but he that said unto him, thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. The Church must have promises; without which it can have no reason or encouragement to act: but no man can give it those promises; which are exceeding great and precious. The Church must have power, without which it can do nothing to any effect: but there is no power but of God, It must have power to forgive sins; the forgiveness of sins in the Holy Catholic Church, being an article of the Apostles Creed: but who can forgive sins, but God only f It must act in the name of God, or not at all, because it acts for the salvation of man: but no man can act in the name of God, but by God's appointment. No ambassador ever sent himself, or took upon him to sign or seal treaties and covenants (such as the Sacraments of the Church are) without being sent; that is, without receiving authority so to do; from an higher power. The act would be so far from beneficial, that it would be treasonable. If an army were to raise itself without commissions, what would such an army be but a company of banditti, leagued together to plunder and destroy the honest subjects of an established community?
Nothing therefore is plainer, on these considerations, than that the Church neither is, nor can be from man. It is no human institution; and as it acts under God, if it acts at all, it must act by his authority and appointment. It is properly called the Church of God, (of the living God, in opposition to the profane societies self-erected for the worship of dead idols) and mankind might as reasonably presume to make God's World as to make God's Church.
Farther enquiry will shew us that the Church is no confused multitude of people, independent of one another, and subject to no common rules: but a regular society, like to other societies, in some respects, and unlike them all in others. It is called a body, a family, a city, a kingdom. A body is a regular structure, the limbs of which being joined together, are subordinate and subservient to one another, and are animated by the same soul or spirit. So saith the Apostle, for by one spirit we are all baptized into one body. 1 Cor. xii. 13. It being also called a family, the members of it must have some common relation to one another: being called a city, it must be incorporated under some common lawss and being a kingdom, it must have some form of government and magistracy. Families, cities, and kingdoms are societies; and the Church, being represented by them, must be a regular society. But in this the Church differs from all other societies, because they belong to this world, and their rights and privileges are confined to it; whereas the Church extends to both worlds, the visible and the invisible, and is partly on earth, and partly in Heaven, In its earthly members it is visible; in its rulers, it is visible; in its worship, it is visible; in its sacraments, it is visible. But being also a spiritual society, it hath a life which is hidden, and in the inward and spiritual Grace of all its outward ordinances it is invisible. As a kingdom in which God is Judge, and Christ is a Mediator, and Angels and Saints departed, are members; it takes in the heaven itself, and is the heavenly Jerusalem, which is the mother of us all; insomuch, that when we are admitted into it, our conversation is in Heaven, and the Angels of Heaven are our fellow-servants; all making one great family under Jesus Christ, in whom all things are gathered together in one, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth: on which consideration, what is rightly done in the Church on earth, stands good in Heaven, as if it had been done there; and the Apostles of Christ received from him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, with a power of binding and loosing, which extends to Heaven itself: and when Christians go to Heaven, they are not carried into a new society, for they are already, by the grace of God, translated into it by baptism; whence the Apostle speaks of their translation, not as a thing expected, but even now brought to pass. He hath translated us, &c. Col. i. 13.
The Church doth also differ from other societies, in that it is catholic or universal; it extends to all places, and all times, and is not confined to the people of any nation or condition of life, but takes in Jews, Greeks, and Barbarians, the rich and the poor, the bond and the free; and is therefore properly signified in one of our Saviour's parables by an inn, whore all that offer themselves are accepted. The commission of Christ to his Apostles, was to teach and baptize all nations.
The Church being a kingdom, not of this world, is of a spiritual nature, and in that capacity it is invisible; but as a kingdom in this world, it is visible, and must have a visible administration. To know what this is, and whence its authority is derived, we must go back to the gospel itself.
Jesus Christ was sent from Heaven by the Father, and invested with the glory of the priesthood by an actual consecration, when the spirit descended upon him. As the Father hath sent him, so did he send his disciples, and gave them authority to send others: so that the Church which followed, derived its authority from the Church which Christ first planted in the world; and the Church at this day must derive its authority after the same manner, by succession from the Church which went before; the line extending from Christ himself to the end of the world: lo, said he, I am with you always, unto the end of the world: certainly, not with those very persons, who all soon died, but with those who should succeed, and be accounted for the same; for a body corporate never dies, till its succession is extinct.
["Take away this succession, and the Clergy may as well be ordained by one person as another: a number of women may as well give them a divine commission;--but they are no more Priests of God, than those who pretend to make them so. If we had lost the Scriptures, it would be very well to make as good books as we could, and come as near them as possible: but then it would not only be folly, but presumption, to call them the word of God." See the second Letter to the Bishop of Bangor: Postscript.]
Our Saviour at first ordained his twelve Apostles according to the number of the tribes of the Church of Israel. Afterwards he ordained other seventy, according to the number of the Elders, whom Moses appointed as his assistants. When the Church in Jerusalem was multiplied, seven deacons were ordained, by the laying on of the hands of the Apostles, to preach, and baptize, and minister, in distributing the alms of the Church, Here then we have three orders of men, each distinct from the other; the twelve Apostles, the seventy Disciples, and the seven Deacons; and by these the first Christian Church in Jerusalem was governed and administered. The Apostles were superior in office to the Disciples; because, when Judas fell from the apostleship, one was chosen by lot out of the Disciples into the apostleship: the Deacons were inferior to both; and it appears that they were appointed by the laying on of the hands of the twelve Apostles; for it is said, Acts vi. 2, "the Twelve called the-multitude of the Disciples unto them," &c.--That the Apostles appointed others to succeed to their own order, is evident from the case of Timothy; who in the ancient superscription, at the end of the second Epistle, is said to have been ordained the first Bishop of the Church of the Ephesians. He is admonished to lay hands suddenly on no man; therefore he had power to ordain: and he is likewise admonished not to receive an accusation against an Elder (or Presbyter), but before two or three witnesses: therefore he had a judicial authority over that order. Directions are given with respect to the Deacons of the same Church; therefore, in the first Church of the Ephesians, there was a Bishop, with Elders and Deacons under him; as in the Church which began at Jerusalem, there was the order of the Apostles, of the Disciples, and of the Deacons. In the Christian Church, throughout the world, we find these three orders of ministers for fifteen hundred years, without interruption. The fact therefore is undeniable, that the Church has been governed by Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, from the Apostles downwards; and where we find these orders of ministers duly appointed, the word preached, and the sacraments administered, there we find the Church of Christ, with its form, and its authority.
The wisdom of God is here very evident, in appointing the orders of the Christian ministry after the pattern of the Jewish Church, which was of his own appointment so long before.--That there might be no uncertainty in a case of such consequence to the souls of men, there was no novelty, but a continuation of the like administration with that which had all along been known and acknowledged in the Church. Aaron was an High Priest, with a ministry peculiar to himself; under him there was an order of Priests, twenty-four in number, who served by course in the daily sacrifices and devotions of the Tabernacle and Temple; and these were assisted by the whole tribe of the Levites. As the law had its passover, its baptisms, its incense, its sacrifices, its consecrations, its benedictions, all to be realized under the sacraments and offerings of the gospel; so its ministry was but a pattern of the ministry which is now amongst us; and we cannot mistake the one, if we have an eye to the other; such is the goodness of God in directing and keeping us, through all the confusions of the latter days, by a rule of such great antiquity, to the way of truth, and keeping us in it.
The great use of the Church is to receive and minister to the salvation of those who are taken out of the world: but this it cannot do without-the truth of the Christian doctrine; the Church is therefore as an instrument, or candlestick, for the holding and preserving of this sacred light. It is called the pillar and ground of the truth; not as if it had any right of making or imposing doctrines of its own; for the ground and the pillar do not make the roof, they only support it; nor doth the candlestick make the light, it only holds the light. And these similitudes will be found just, if we pursue them farther; for as when the pillars are removed, the building must fall; and when the lamp of the candlestick is broken, the light will be extinct: so if the Church be taken away, the truth falls along with it; as we have seen, and do see, in this country. Our Quakers, who are farthest from the Church, are totally departed from the truth of Christian doctrine; and many of those separate congregations, who were Puritans and Believers in the last age, are Socinians and Infidels in this: a consideration which should prevail upon sincere people of all persuasions, who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, to lay aside their animosity, and unite against the Socinians, who are the common enemies of all Christian people, and are now endeavouring to overthrow the faith of our creeds and articles.
When we speak of the use of the Church, we should never forget the great benefit and information which arises from the fasts and festivals of the Church; (totally neglected by the sectaries) by the course of which, the piety of Christians is directed to all the great subjects of the gospel: some of which might otherwise never be revived in our thoughts during the whole year. But the Church spends its year with Jesus Christ, and follows him in faith, through all the great works of his mediatorial office, from his advent to the sending down of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. On this ground, the work of Mr. Nelson is of great value to all Christian families; and we have reason to hope it will never fall into disuse: though all persons, fanatically inclined, are very cold to the merits of it, and the sectaries, it is to be supposed; must reject it on their own principles.
Here I must add, that the wisdom of God is farther manifest, in appointing a provision for his ministers, independent of the people. The maintenance of the Jewish priesthood was from God; for the tythes and offerings, on which they lived, were first dedicated to God, and from Him transferred for the support of his ministry. So doth he himself state the case by the prophet: Ye have robbed me, saith he, in tythes and offerings; as if they were his own property: and so they were; for being dedicated to God, the first proprietor of all things, they belong to him before they belong to his Church. The wisdom and piety of Christian States followed the rule of the scripture from the earliest times; and it still obtains in this country. And what would be the consequence if it were not so? While the minister depends only upon the God to whom he is accountable, he dares speak the truth: but where he is dependent on the people, and the people are corrupt, then he must accommodate himself to their fancy. For this reason, if the people of a congregation, who chuse their own minister, fall into heresy, they rarely or never get out of it, because they will bear no teacher, but one who is of their own persuasion, and will flatter them in their errors.
I have nothing more to say upon the nature of the Church, but to shew the extent of its authority. Every society must have power over its own members, to admit or exclude as the case requires: it cannot otherwise subsist. The Church, from the days of the Apostles, always exercised the power of excommunicating notorious offenders, and of absolving and restoring true penitents. Excommunication is nothing but a reversing of baptism; and they who have authority to baptize, must have authority to excommunicate. The Church must also have authority in directing its own worship and services, as to time, place, ceremonies.--Let all things be done decently and in order: but what is decency, and what is order, is not specified, and must be left to the discretion of the rulers of the Church. The Church has no authority to ordain any thing contrary to the law of God; nor doth the law of God depend upon the authority of the Church. There are three sorts of things about which the Church is conversant; good, bad, and indifferent: the good oblige by their own nature; the bad cannot be enforced by any authority: therefore the authority of the Church must extend to things indifferent, that is to order and discipline, to circumstances of time, place, forms of worship, ceremonies, and such like: and to disobey because they are indifferent is to deny that God hath given power to his Church to regulate any one thing whatsoever.
Ought we not, on the foregoing considerations, to magnify the goodness and wisdom of God, who hath provided a Church for the reception of lost mankind, and given to it the light of truth, and the means of grace? No subject can be plainer than this of the nature and constitution of the Church: and the necessity of its ministry and ordinances to the salvation of man, and the preservation of truth* charity, peace, and godliness, is as clear as the sun. What a blessed thing it would be for us, if all people could see this! What temptations, corruptions, tumults, and miseries, would it prevent amongst mankind! But alas! they are ever ingenious in defeating the purposes of God for their own good. They have ways and expedients, not only of making themselves easy without the benefits of the Christian Church, but of actually casting them all off with a high hand, as needless, superstitious, dangerous, and even sinful, and anti-christian; not helps to salvation, but hindrances. How this matter is, and with what reasonings they deceive themselves; we shall discover with very little inquiry.