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The word church in itself, and as used in the scriptures, is no other but a gathering, company, or assembly of certain people, called or gathered together : for so the Greek word signifies, (which is that the translators render church) which word is derived from the verb Evoco, I call out of, from the root Voco, I call. Now though the English word church be only taken in such a sense, as people are gathered together upon a religious account; yet the Greek word, that is so rendered, is taken in general for every gathering, or meeting together of people : and therefore where it is said, The town clerk of the Ephesians dismissed the tumult, that was gathered there together, the same Greek word is used, Acts 19. 41. he dismissed the assembly, (or the church.)
A church, then, in the scripture-phrase, is no other than a meeting or gathering of certain people, which, (if it be taken in a religious sense, as most commonly it is) are gathered together in the belief of the same principles, doctrines and points of faith, whereby as a body they become distinguished from others, and have a certain relation among themselves; and a conjunct interest to the maintaining and propagating these principles they judge to be right: And therefore have a certain care and oversight over one another, to prevent and remove all occasions that may tend to break this their conjunct interest, hinder the propagation of it, or bring infamy, contempt, or contumely upon it; or give such as on the other hand are, or may be banded together to undo them, just occasion against them, to decry and defame them.
Now the way to distinguish that church, gathering, or assembly of people, whereof Christ truly is the head, from such as falsely pretend thereto, is by considering the principles and grounds upon which they are gathered together, the nature of that hierarchy and order they have among themselves, the way and method they take to uphold it, and the bottom upon which it standeth; which will greatly contribute to clear all mistakes.
Forasmuch as sanctification and holiness is the great and chief end among true christians, which moves them to gather together; therefore the apostle Paul defines the Church in his salutation to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 1. 2, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, them that are sancti. fied in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. So the church is such as are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.
The power and authority, order and govern: ment we speak of, is such, as a church, meeting, gathering or assembly claims towards those that have, or do declare themselves members, who own, believe and profess the same doctrines and principles of Faith with us, and go under the same distinction and denomination; whose escapes, faults and errors may by our adversaries justly be imputed to us, if not seasonably and christianly reproved, reclaimed or condemned. For we are not so foolish, as to concern ourselves with those who are not of us; far less, who stand in opposition to us, so as to reprove, instruct, or reclaim them as fellow-members or brethren: Yet, with a respect to remove the general reproach from the Christian name, with a tender regard to the good of their immortal souls, for the zeal we owe to God's glory, and for the exaltation and propagation of his everlasting truth and gospel in the earth, we have not been wanting, with the hazard of our lives, to seek the scattered ones, holding forth the living and sure foundation, and inviting and persuading all to obey the gospel of Christ, and to take notice of his reproofs, as he makes himself manifest in and by his light in their hearts. So our care and travel is, and hath been towards those that are without, that we may bring them into the fellowship of the saints in light; and towards those that are brought in, that they might not be led out again, or drawn aside, either to the left-hand, or the right, by the workings and temptations of the enemy:
These things being thus cleared and opened, we do positively affirm, that we being a people gathered together by the power of God (which most, if not all of those, that arising among ourselves do oppose us herein, have acknowledged) into the belief of certain principles and doctrines, and also certain practices and performances, by which we are come to be separated and distinguished from others, so as to meet apart, and also tu suffer deeply for our joint testimony; there are and must of necessity be, as in the gathering of us, so in the preserving of us while gathered, diversities of gifts and operations for the edifying of the whole body. Hence, saith the apostle, 1 Tim. 5. 17. Let the elders, that rule well, be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine: and this we
suppose neither to be popish nor antichristian, let our opposers say it as oft as they can, without reckoning the apostles such.
Secondly, Forasmuch as all are not called in the same station; some rich, some poor, some servants, some masters, some married, some unmarried, some widows, and some orphans, and so forth; it is not only convenient, but absolutely needful, that there be certain meetings at certain places and times, as may best suit the conveni. encies of such, who may be most particularly concerned in them; where both those that are to take care may assemble, and those who may need this care, may come and make known their necessities, and receive help, whether by counsel or supply, according to their respective needs. This doth not at all contradict the principle of being led inwardly and immediately by the Spirit; else how came the apostle in that day of the powerful pouring forth of the Spirit of God, to set apart men for this purpose? Sure, this was not to lead them from their inward guide ; yea, on the con. trary, it is expressly said, Acts 6. 3. Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. Sure they were not to undertake a business, being full of the Holy Ghost, which might import a contradiction to their being led by it: so we see it is both fit and suitable to the apostle's doctrine, to have meetings about business. Now if any should be so whimsical or conceited, as to scruple their being at set places and times, though these be nothing relative to the essential parts, but only circumstances re. lating to the conveniency of our persons, (which we must have regard to, so long as we are cloth. ed with Aesh and blood: and such notionists, as are against this godly care, work far more in their vain imaginations, than they reduce to practice; being like unto such of whom the apostle James testified, who content themselves, with saying to the naked, be clothed; and to the hungry, be fed ; while they offer not, in the least, to minister to them those things which are needful for clothing and feeding of them.) Yet shall we not scruple to make it appear, that it is not without very good ground that we both appoint places and times. And first, as to the place, I say as before, it is with our bodies we must meet, as well as with our spirits ; and so, of necessity, we must convey our bodies unto one place, that we may speak and act in those things we meet for: And that must be in some certain place, where all must know where to find it; having herein a regard to the conveniencies and occasions of such
Were it fit, that those of the church of Corinth should go do their business at Antioch, or the Church of Jerusalem at Rome? Nay, surely, God hath not given us our reason to no purpose; but that we should make use of it for his glory, and the good of our brethren, yet al. ways in subjection to his power and spirit. And therefore we have respect to these things in the appointing of our meetings, and do it not without a regard to the Lord, but in a sense of his fear. And so the like as to times, which is no contradicting of the inward leading of the Spirit. Else how came the apostle to appoint a time to the