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with a good conscience in the sight of God, that the same Spirit, which leads us to believe the doctrines and principles of the truth, and to hold and maintain them again, after the apostacy, in their primitive and ancient purity, as they were delivered by the apostles of Christ in the Holy Scriptures; I say, that the same Spirit doth now lead us into the like holy order and government to be exercised among us, as it was among them, being now the like occasion and opportunity ministered to us; therefore, what can any christianly or rationally object against it? For that there is a real cause for it, the thing itself speaketh; and that it was the practice of the saints and church of old, is undeniable: what kind of ground then can any such opposers have, (being such, as scrupling at this, do, notwithstanding, acknowledge our principle) that this were done by imposition or imitation, more than the belief of the doctrines and principles? Seeing as it is needful to use all diligence to convince and persuade people of the truth, and bring them to the belief of it, (which yet we cannot do, but as truth moves and draws in their hearts,) it is also no less needful, when a people is gathered, to keep and preserve them in unity and love, as becomes the Church of Christ; and to be careful, as saith the apostle, That all things be done decently, and in order; and that all that is wrong be removed according to the method of the gospel; and the good cherished and encouraged. So that we conclude, and that upon very good grounds, That there ought now, as well as heretofore, to be order and government in the Church of Christ.
That which now cometh to be examined in the third place is,
First, What is the order and government we plead for?
Secondly, In what cases, and how far it may extend? And in whom the power decisive is?
Thirdly, How it differeth, and is wholly another than the oppressive and persecuting principality of the church of Rome, and other antichristian assemblies?
Of the order and government which we plead for.
Ir will be needful then, before I proceed to describe the order and government of the church, to consider what is or may be properly understood by the church: for some (as I touched before) seem to be offended, or at least afraid of the very word; because the power of the church, the order of the church, the judgment of the church, and such like pretences, have been the great weapons wherewith antichrist and the apostate christians have been these many generations persecuting the woman, and warring against the man-child. And, indeed, great disputes have been among the learned Rabbies, in the apostacy concerning this church, what it is, or what may be so accounted; which I find not my place at present to dive much in, but shall only give the true sense of it, according to truth, and the scrips tures plain testimony.
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 sanctified 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 government 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 to 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