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appear to be no more than what men who were possessed of the Wisdom from above, would, as it were instinctively, adopt, even though no specific directions should be given.
But to place the matter beyond all doubt, let us refer to the professions and practices of the apostles themselves. The principles on which they professed to act, and which they inculcated on others, were these: Let all things be done to edifying.—Let all things be done decently, and in order. Whatever measures had a tendency to build up the church of God, and individuals, in their most holy faith, these they pursued. Whatever measures approved themselves to minds endued with holy wisdom, as fit and lovely, and as tending, like good discipline in an army, to the enlargement of Christ's kingdom, these they followed, and inculcated on the churches. And however worldly minds may have abused the principle, by introducing vain customs under the pretence of decency, it is that which, understood in its simple and original sense* must still be the test of good order and Christian discipline.
The way in which the apostles actually proceeded in the forming and organizing of churches, corresponds with this statement of things. When a number of Christians were assembled together in the days of pentecost, they were considered as a Christian church. But at first they had no deacons, and probably no pastors, except the apostles. And if the reason of things had not required it, they might have continued to have none. But in the Course of things new service rose upon their hands, therefore they must have new servants* to perforin it; for, said the apostles, It is not Reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. In this process we perceive nothing of the air of Ceremony, nothing like that of punctilious attention to forms, which marks obedience to a positive institute; but merely the conduct of men endued with the wisdom from above; servants appointed whe,n service required it, and the number of the one
* A, demons as well as a minister, signifies a servant
regulated by the quantity of the other. All things are done decently and in order; all things are done to edifying.
It is not difficult to perceive the wisdom of God in thus varying the two dispensations. The Jewish church was an army of soldiers, who had to go through a variety of forms in learning their discipline: the Christian church is an army going forth to battle. The members of the first were taught punctilious obedience, and led with great formality through a variety of religious evolutions: but those of the last (though they also must keep their ranks, and act in obedience to command whenever given) are not required to be so attentive to the mechanical as to the mental, not so much to the minute observance of forms as to the spirit and design of them. The order of the one would almost seem to have been appointed for order's sake: but in that of the other the utility of every thing is apparent. The obedience of the former war that of children: the latter that of sons arrived at maturer age.
As our Saviour abolished the Jewish law of divorce, and reduced marriage to its original simplicity; so, having abolished the form and order of the church,as appointed by Moses, he reduced it to what, as to its first principles, it was from the beginning, and to what must have corresponded with the desires of believers iu every age. It was natural for the sons of God, in the days of Seth, to assemble together, and to call upon the name of the Lord; and their unnatural fellowship with unbelievers brought on the deluge. And even under the Jewish dispensation, wicked men, though descended from Abraham, were not considered as Israelites indeed, or true citizens of Zion. The friends of God were then the companions of those that feared him. They spake often one to another, and assembled for mutual edification. What then is gospel church-fellowship, but godliness ramified, or the principle of holy love reduced to action? There is scarcely a precept on the subject of church discipline, but what may, in substance, be found in the Proverbs of Solomon.
Nor does it follow that all forms of worship and church-goverhment are iudifferent, and left to be accommodated to times, places, and circumstances. The principles, or general outlines of things, are marked out, and we are not at liberty to deviate from them; nor are they to be filled up by worldly policy, but by a pure desire of carrying them into effect according to their true intent. and that without any disadvantage to the cause of pure religion. Whatever necessity there may be for withdrawing from those who walk disorderly, we have no warrant to consider those things as the standard of order, and to censure our brethren for deviating from them, which belong not to the laws of Christ, but either to a mere difference of opinion respecting their application, or to some accidental circumstance which may or may not attend them.
It does follow, however, that scripture precedent, important aa it is, is not binding on Christians in a moral nature, unless the reason of the thing be the same in the case to be proved as in the case adduced. The first Christians met in an upper room; for they had no proper places of worship. But it does not follow that we who have more convenient houses should do so. The first Christians were exhorted to salute one another with a Holy Kiss. The reason was, it was the custom in the east for men in general in this manner to express their affection; and all that the apostle did, was to direct that this common mode of affectionate salutation should be used in a religious way. In places where it is a common practice, it may still be used to express the strength of Christian affection: but in a country where the practice is nearly confined to the expression of affection between the sexes, it is Certainly much more liable to misconstruction and abuse.— And as it was never a divine institution, but merely a human custom applied to a religious use, where this custom has ceased, though the spirit of the precept remains, yet the form of it may lawfully be dispensed with, and Christian affection expressed in the ordinary modes of salutation.
Again: The Corinthian men were forbidden to pray or prophesy with their heads covered. The reason was, the head being uncovered was then the sign of authority, and its being covered, of subjection. But in out. age and country, each is a sign of the contrary. If, therefore, we be obliged to wear any sign of the one or the other, in our religious assemblies, it requires to be reversed.
It also follows that in attending to positive institutions, neither express precept nor precedent are necessary in what respects the holy manner of performing them, nor binding in regard of mere accidental circumstances, which do not properly belong to them. It required neither express precept nor precedent, to make it the duty of the Corinthians, when they met to celebrate the Lord's supper, to do it soberly, and in the fear of God, nor to render the contrary a sin. There are also circumstances which may on some
occasions accompany a positive institution, and not on others; and which being therefore no part of it, are not binding. It is a fact that the Lord's supper was first celebrated with unleavened bread; for no leaven was found at the time in all the Jewish habitations: but no mention being made of it, either in the institution, or in the repetition of it by the apostle, we conclude it was a mere accidental circumstance, no more belonging to the ordinance than its having been in a large upper room. It is a fact too, that our Lord and his disciples sat in a reclining posture at the supper, after the manner of sitting at their ordinary meals: yet none imagine this to be binding upon us. It is also a fact, with regard to the time that our Saviour first sat down with his disciples on the evening of the fifth day of the week, the night in which he was betrayed: but though that was a memorable night, and worthy to be noticed as a circumstance tending to show the strength of his love, yet seeing the words of the institution decide not how often it shall be attended to, and no mention is made of its being afterwards a rule, but, on the contrary, of the church at Troas meeting for the purpose on another day, no one imagines it to be a rule of conduct to us.
The same might be said of females being admitted to communion, a subject on which a great deal has been written of late years in the baptismal controversy. Whether there be express preceptor precedent for it, or not, is of no consequence: for the distinction of sex is a mere circumstance, in nowise affecting the qualifications required, and therefore not belonging to the institution. It is of just as much account as whether a believer be a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free man; that is, it is of no account at all.—For there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female; but all are one in Christ Jesus. Express precept or precedent might as well be demanded for the parties being tall or low, black or white, sickly or healthy, as for their being male or female. If the difference between a professed believer and an unconscious infant, with respect to baptism, were no greater than this with respect to the .supper, we would allow it to be lawful to baptize the latter, though neither express precept nor precedent be found for the practice.
It follows, lastly, that many disputes, on which Christians have divided and crumbled into parties, might well have been spared,
Finally, brethren: While you guard against the extremes of certain disciplinarians on the one hand, avoid those of anti-disciplinararians on the other. Allow us to repeat what was observed at the beginning, that an unreserved obedience to the revealed trill of God, in whatever form it is delivered, is the scriptural test of faith and love. Prove what that good, perfect, and acceptable will of the Lord is. Do all things without murmurings and disputings. Remember that the wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Dearly beloved, farewell. The God of love and peace be with you.
THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT THE GRAND ENCOURAGEMENT IN PROMOTING THE GOSPEL.
In our last public Letter, we addressed you on the work of the Holy Spirit: in this we would direct your attention to the promise of the Spirit as the grand encouragement in promoting the spread of the gospel.
We take for granted that the spread of the gospel is the great object of your desire. Without this it will be hard to prove that