« EdellinenJatka »
them any new law or custom, but what he can find prescribed in the laws of their nation, and appointments of the king, or of his ambassadors to China. In these matters, indeed, he may require obe dience in the name of their king; but in all other things he must act according to the agreement or opinion of the society: which must be testified by the vote of the major part.
Among this community, some happen to be aged, or sick, or disabled for work; or they are fallen into poverty, and their circumstances are sunk in the world, notwithstanding their diligence and labour: these are not capable of maintaining themselves; the society therefore, cheerfully contribute toward their support; and they entrust two or three persons with this money, and desire them to take care that the table of the poor be supplied. They entrust also with these persons what money they collect for the honourable maintenance of their teacher; and desire them to take care, that every thing necessary toward their weekly meetings at a certain time, and at a convenient place, be provided at their public charge. They go on in this manner with much comfort and mutual assistance in every thing that relates to their welfare in a foreign land; and rejoice in their hope to meet one day in England. And as they are ever adding to their society by admitting new members, upon their credible profession and appearance to be true Britons, in room of such as are yearly called home; so, if any among them prove to be false or insincere, and are guilty of crimes highly disgraceful to their profession of being natives of England, and their allegiance to their King, they have no other punishment for them besides that they are cut off from the society, and forbid to enjoy the privileges thereof any longer.
Now it is so very easy to apply these transactions of Englishmen in China to a Christian church, that I hardly need display the paral lel. Christians profess to be natives of heaven, to be born from above; they sojourn for a season in the world, as in a foreign land, till their Father and King summon them home. They speak the language of the Gospel, or of the kingdom of heaven, and understand it, and they know each other hereby they agree to meet to gether to worship their king, and pay allegiance to him; to learn
more of his will, and seek his favour. The day of their solemn assemblies is the day of the resurrection of Christ, the Son of God, and their Lord; when they do special honours to him: they eat bread and drink wine, to solemnize the memory of their deliverance from sin and hell, when he was sent into the world to die for them. Then, by calling away their hearts from this world, and conversing about heavenly things, they are continually preparing for their return home. They choose one or more teachers, pastors, or bishops, to instruct them in their duty, and to offer up their common addresses to God, in the name of Christ; to put them in mind of the things of heaven, and to walk before them in exemplary holiness. They choose deacons to relieve the poor, out of their public liberality, as well as to take care that their pastors or teachers be maintained. They receive in new members, who are worthy, upon their profession; and cast out those who are dishonourable. They walk onward in this way toward the heavenly state, and wait the summons from on high, to call them thither by death and the resurrection.
The several Advantages of such a Church, or
So natural a scheme of social religion as this, does not need long and express forms of institution, after the great doctrines and duties of the Christian faith and life are plainly revealed and received. All that is found in the New Testament relating to Christian churches, so happily corresponds with with these dictates of the light of nature and the affairs of a civil life, that it has made these rules much more plain, and easy, and practicable, than those of the Jewish religion, or perhaps of any other religion, that pretends to divine revelation. This scheme is built on the eternal reasons and relations of things, as well as the word of God. The particular positive prescriptions relating to Christian churches are but few, while the general duties of Christian fellowship are such as the light of nature and reason seems to dictate to all societies whatsoever. It is the evil mixture of the needless and fanciful inventions of men, together with the plain and common dictates of nature and scrip ture, and the impositions of these inventions on conscience, which
hath done so much injury to Christianity, defaced its beauty, and tarnished its honours.
II. This scheme is perfectly consistent with every form and kind of civil government, whether it be a kingdom, a senate, or a republic. As it does not mingle itself with the interests of this world, nor assume to itself any civil or coercive power, so it can make no head against the governors of the country; for its power is of another kind, and reaches but to one single society of Christians; nor are they combined by any law of Christ, in such united multitudes, under one common visible head, as to make themselves dangerous to any state. Whatsoever hath been done in the world by men professing Christianity, in a way of resistence to lawful governors, or rebellions against them, hath never been done by them as churches of Christ, formed upon the model I have laid down.
III. This form of a Christian church allows to all its members the most perfect liberty of men and Christians. It is inconsistent with persecution for conscience' sake; for it leaves all civil rewards and preferments, penalties and punishments, to kingdoms, and states, and the governors of this world. It pretends to no power over conscience, to compel men to obedience; no prisons, no axes, fire, nor sword. Its gives its ministers power and authority to command nothing but what is found in the Bible. All other things must be determined by the consent of the people, who are supposed to be led by common prudence, by the necessary reason of things, and by a vote of the major part of the society.
Dr. Watts on the rational Foundation of a Christian Church.
A church, then, I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord, in order to the public worshipping of God, in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls.
I say it is a free and voluntary society. No body is born a member of any church; otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto their children, by the same right of inheritance as their tem poral estates, and every one would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands; than which nothing can be imagined more absurd,
Thus, therefore, that matter stands. No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect; but every one joins himself voluntarily to that society, in which he believes he has found that profession and worship, which is truly acceptable to God. The hope of salvation, as it was the only cause of his entrance into that communion, so it can be the only reason of his stay there. For, if afterwards he discover any thing either erroneous in the doctrine, or incongruous in the worship of that society, to which he has joined himself, why should it not be as free for him to go out, as it was to enter ?
No member of a religious society can be tied with any other bonds but what proceed from the certain expectation of eternal life. A church, then, is a society of members voluntarily uniting to this end. Locke on Toleration,
And here we contemplate the beginning of the establishment of Christ's kingdom in the world; or, which is the same thing, the erection of the first Christian church.
Hence we see that, in obedience to his command," those who gladly received the truth were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." In this ordinance they confessed their faith in him as the Son of God, who died for their sins, was buried, and rose again the third day; publicly professing that all their hope of salvation cen tred in these things. They separated themselves from an untoward generation; and "all that believed were together." They received from the apostles the various ordinances of public worship, the apostles' doctrine, the breaking of bread, and the ordinances of prayer and praise; and in these things they continued stedfastly, having favour with all the people, and receiving into their number, from time to time, such individuals as it pleased the Lord, to call to the knowledge of the truth. Jones's History of the Waldenses.
Therefore, I answer briefly to this question, that the church is universal throughout the whole world, wheresoever the Gospel of God and the sacraments be.
No man is compelled or constrayned to knowe certaynely, whe ther this man or that man be a lyve membre of the churche,
is sufficyent to beleve, that in the earth there is a certayn societyë and felowshyp of them that are predestinated to lyfe, whiche com pany Christ hath glewed or joyned together with his Spirite, whether they be among the Indianes, or els among the Gaditanes, or els among the Hyperboreanes, or els among the people of Afryke.
The reflection we are to make upon this Psalm* is, that the church has often been attacked by the kings and nations of the world, who had conspired together to destroy it; but that God has always watched over it, and rendered the conspiracies of its enemies vain, and turned them to their own confusion. This Psalm assures ust that the church is the dearest thing to God upon earth; that he dwells in the midst of it; that he encompasses it with his protection; and he will always support it. These promises are still better suited to the Christian than to the Jewish church, and ought to convince us of our happiness in being members of Christ's church, and to fill all sincere Christians with stedfast hope and confidence in God.
As we are not apt to consider Christ himself aright, and thereby may probably fail in prescribing good rules to ourselves for the performance of our duty to him; so we have as little regard what service we are to do, and what reverence we are to pay, to that dear spouse of his, the church: many too superstitiously contracting all their devotion to her ivory palaces, and to her raiment of needlework, to outward forms and ceremonies, and to the pomp of divine worship, without much considering the inward operation and effect of religion; and others as licentiously and profanely, under pres tence of being "all glorious within," contemn all outward preparation for, and ornament of, God's service; and because Christ's church consists of the multitude of believers, and that he looks principally upon the heart as the seat of religion, they allow him no other temple to be served in, and believe both churches and priests of no use to the exercise of their devotion. Whereas, though the" king's daugh ter be all glorious within, her clothing is" likewise to be of "wrought gold:" inward sanctity appears the more beautiful, for the outward * 48th.