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in his name, his charge was, “Preach, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” The same was the doctrine on the day of pentecost. Repentance was enjoined as the first, and the indispensable duty of the convicted multitude. And the repentance required, was something more than a selfish sorrow and regret, that,
they had exposed themselves to misery. It was a sorrow
of heart for sin, on account of its odious and hateful nature; and its fatal consequences. It was a repentance which prepared the hearts of men to receive Jesus Christ, and to relish the blessings of his kingdom. Such a repentance, realized and cherished in the heart, is one of the best evidences of true religion. Another commandment of Christ is, that we believe on him, and receive his testimonies. This, as well as repentance, was taught by the forerunner of Christ, who was a burning and shining light. He taught his numerous followers not to embrace him as the Saviour; but to believe on him that should come after him, that is, on Christ. Christ himself very strenuously required the people to believe on him. “ He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” And the faith which Christ requires is more than a cold assent to the truths of the gospel: it is a faith which works by love—which purifies the heart, and prepares the soul for heavenly enjoyments. It is a cordial assent to the gospel, and implies supreme love to God, and a cheerful obedience to the commandments and ordinances of Christ. This faith is productive of inexpressible joy in Jesus Christ. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice, with joy, unspeakable, and full of glory.” Surely, they who realize such a faith as this, have, in their own minds, a good and comfortable evi
dence of real piety. This is the faith of God’s elect.
We observe further, that humility, meekness, and
submission, self-denial, and compassionate love to our
enemies, are not only required of us; but required as the evidence of religion. We are to love our enemies, do
good to them that hate us, and in all things, demean ourselves, as the meek and humble followers of Jesus Christ, that we may be the children of our Father who is in heaven. “Take my yoke upon you,” said the Saviour, “ and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls.” Ye shall enjoy the evidence of religion. Absolute resignation, and unconditional submission to God, choosing that his counsel should stand, and that he should do all his pleasure; is a bright evidence of grace. “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” “Father, glorify thy name.” “If we are in the likeness of Christ's death, we shall be also, in the likeness of his resurrection. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Many things more might be suggested, as evidences of piety; but the substance of the whole would be the same, that the evidence of religion arises from a discovery and approbation of those things in which religion consists. ould any give diligence to make their calling and election sure P set them “add to their faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge ; and to knowledge, temperance ; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity.” These are such evidences of piety, as are satisfactory, and such as are incontestable.
HAving, in the preceding Essay, considered the evi. dences of piety; it is proper, in the next place, to attend to the institution of the church of Christ; and the proper qualifications of its members. The word church, is abundantly used in the scriptures; and used in various senses. It sometimes means the whole family of saints,
in earth and in heaven; together with all the elect, who are yet to be born, and to become the subjects of divine grace, down to the end of the world. This universal body of saints, constitutes what is called the invisible church. To this church the Apostle has reference, when
he speaks of Christ as being “ the head over all things
to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that
and with one another to walk together in holy worship and ordinances; to watch over, encourage, and aid one another, in the divine life; and, as occasions may require, to exhort, admonish and reprove one another; and faithfully to maintain the holy discipline which the gospel requires, This is a general definition of the church of Christ, as it exists at the present day. Distinct churches are organ. ized, consisting of as many professed believers as are conveniently situated to meet for religious worship and ordinances. All these are so many branches of the whole body, of which Christ is the head. But it is to be considered, that each of these Christian churches, like all other bodies corporate, stands in need of guides and leaders. And without any leaders no church is to be considered as being well organized to transact those important concerns which frequently occur. The admis: sion of members, and more especially, the discipline and exclusion of offenders, requires the wisdom, not only of the body of the church; but also of presiding elders. Hence the Apostles, were careful to ordain elders in every city and church ; plainly implying that elders are essential to the proper and complete organization of churches.
o: the proper officers of the church, and their several duties, we may observe, that since the death of the Apostles, who had no successors in office; it appears from the New Testament, that there is but one order of ministers remaining in the Christian church; and that all their various names and titles and duties, belong to one and the same office. Elder and Presbyter, are words of the same meaning, and from the same original. S0 are Bishop and Overseer. It is also evident from scripture, that the office of an elder and bishop is the same. We read, that Paul in his journeying near to Ephesus, sent and called for the elders of the church; and in his charge to them, he said, “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, or bishops.”. And, * the same elders, or bishops, were also called pastors, is evident from the next words, in the same charge. “Feed the church of
God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” That the elder and bishop are the same in office, is further evident from what Paul said to Titus. “ For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city. If any man be blameless. For a bishop must be blameless.” Here we find, that elders and bishops sustain one and the same office in the church. The Apostles, Paul and Peter, called themselves elders, as well as apostles; and the exhortation of Peter to his fellow elders was, “Feed the flock of God that is among you.” This is the pastoral duty; “taking the oversight,” or bishoprick over them. Thus we find, that the titles, elder, pastor, bishop, and minister, are titles of the same officers in the church. Among all these titles, perhaps, minister of the gospel is the most appropriate, and the most in common to Se.
In the epistle to the Ephesians, where the various gifts
of Christ to men are enumerated, there is a seeming difference expressed between “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.” The apostles we have considered as elders divinely inspired, not only to preach the gospel; but to complete the book of divine revelation. ln these respects, they had no successors in office. The same is true, with respect to prophets. None have appeared in the church, vested with any authority, as prophets, since the canon of divine revelation was completed. With respect to evangelists, it appears, from the signification of the name, that they were considered, by the Apostles, as a class of elders and bishops in office, whose more particular business it was, to preach the gospel as itinerants, and missionaries; and to evangelize those who had been heathen, or heretics. Paul was the most distinguished evangelist, Philip was called the evangelist; and probably, he never had the charge of a particular church. Timothy, who appears to have been somewhat of an itinerant and missionating elder, was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist. As to pastors and teachers, we have sound them to be the same in office.