« PreviousContinue »
of the gospel dispensation, there is therefore no distinction which ought to be preserved with greater care, than that which exists between the Christian institution, as it addresses the conscience, and regulates the duty of individuals, and as it regards the discipline and government of the Christian church.
It was our Saviour's design, and the first object of his ininistry, to afford to a lost and ignorant world, such discoveries of their Creator's will, of their own interest, and future destination ; such assured principles of faith, and rules of practise ; such new motives, terms and means of obedience, as might enable all, and engage many to enter upon a course of life, which, by rendering the person who pursued it, acceptable to God, would conduct him to happiness, in another stage of his existence.
It was a second intention of the founder of christianity, subservient to the former, to associate those, who consented to take upon them the profession of his faith and service, into a separate community, for the purpose of united worship, and mutual edification, for the better transmission and manifestation of the faith that was delivered to them, and to promote the exercise of that fraternal disposition, which their new relation to each other, arising from a visible participation of the same name, hope, and calling, was calculated to excite.
From a view of these distinct parts of the gospel dispensation, we are led to place a real difference, between the religion of particular Christians, and the polity of Christ's church. The one, as I have stated, is personal, and individual, acknowledges no subjection 'to human authority, is transacted in the heart, is an account between God and our own consciences alone. The other appertaining to society, (like every thing which relates to the joint interest, and requires the co-operation of many persons,) is visible and external, prescribes rules of common order, for the observance of which, we are responsible, not only to God, but to the society of which we are members, or what is the same thing, to those, with whom the public authority of the society is deposited.
Now the privileges, to which the members of the church are entitled, namely, pardon of sin, and eternal life, having been purchased by Jesus Christ, the church must of necessity be a society of his forming. For as the government was upon his shoulder, (Isaiah ix. 6.) and as he is the head of all principality, and power, he only could confer those privileges, by which alone men can be delivered from condemnation with the world, and become heirs with Christ, of an eternal kingdom.
The church then being a society, of which Christ is the liead, from whom alone all the benefits belonging to it are derived ; the appointment of the governors, together with the rules and orders by which this society is to be managed and directed, must originate with, and receive its sanction from him. For man, merely as man, can claim no rule over his fellow creatures ; government, therefore, whether in church or state, must look to that supreme disposer, from whence all power is derived ; by whose authority alone the validity of its exertions, can be established. The reason of the thing
in this case, we shall find upon enquiry, to be confirmed by the history of facts.
We read that John the Baptist had many disciples, but Jesus made and baptised more disciples than John, “and of them he chose twelve, whom he named apostles, and sent them to preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke vi. 13.) After these, the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face, into every city and place, whither he himself would come, Luke x. 1.
Thus it appears, from the holy scriptures, that during our Lord's residence on earth, there were three orders of ministers in the church. First, Christ himself, the shepherd and bishop of souls, “ called of God an high priest, after the order of Melchisedec."* Then the twelve apostles, and after them the seventy disciples, who are so distinguished from one another, as to imply a distinction in their office. They are mentioned apart by different names, and sent forth at different times. In this establishment of three orders in his church, our Saviour adhered as near as possible, to the form in use among the Jews ; Christ himself being head or bishop; the twelve apostles answering to the priests, or second order, and the seventy disciples as deacons, answering to the Levites.*
* Upon this passage, (Heb. v. 10.) Jortin remarks, - What Melchisedec was figuratively, Christ was really. Melchisedec had neither beginning of days nor end of lise, nothing being recorded in scripture with regard to his birth or death ; consequently, the Son of God had
in reality, neither beginning of days, nor end of life ; his existence being coeval and eternally connectedwith that of the Father.
* It is evident, from the New Testament, that previous to his crucifixion our Lord executed the whole episcopal authority in his own person, and gave no power to any, to ordain, or send, or commission others, till after his resurrection. During all that period, the apostles were in the situation of Presbyters only: and although superior to the seventy, and possessing authority to preach and baptize, yet they had no power to .commission or send others to perform the same functions. Of this Christ informs them at the time of his sending them forth, “the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few, pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into