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says, “We may regard the historian Luke as presenting us, in Acts ii. 42, with a sketch of the manner in which the Christians at Jerusalem employed themselves, when they met together for the purpose of joining in the worship of God. In the first place, one or other of the apostles delivered a sermon or doctrinal discourse for the instruction and edification of the people present. Next followed the communion. The word Koivuvia, 'communion,' is used in Scripture, as is well known, in an especial sense for liberality towards the poor: see Rom. xv. 26 ; 2 Cor. viii. 4 and ix. 13; Heb. xiii. 16. The apostolic exhortation being finished, the brethren who were present came forward with gifts and offerings which they consecrated to God for the relief of the poor. The custom of bringing to the solemn assemblies gifts or offerings for the use of the community in general, but more especially of the poor, and publicly presenting them previously to the celebration of the Lord's Supper, is of the highest antiquity amongst the Christians, and one which uniformly prevailed in the churches; and this usage was founded on the practice of the original church at Jerusalem.—In these solemn assemblies of the Christians, the charitable contribution toward the relief of the necessitous was followed by the breaking of the bread, or celebration of the Lord's supper, in which bread was broken and distributed.” With these stated observances were also intermingled the duties of prayer and praise, as the historian informis us. The learned writer whom I have now quoted further remarks, that “it may be considered as not merely probable, but certain, that the day of the week on which our Saviour arose from the dead was expressly set apart for holding these solemn assemblies. In Acts xx. 7, we see the Christians of Troas assembling together on the first day after the Jewish sabbath, in order to celebrate the Lord's supper and the feast of charity, and the apostle Paul addressing them in a discourse of no inconsiderable length.”* So far Mosheim.
We have, therefore, in what is here recorded of the church at Jerusalem, the pattern, platform, or rule of the Lord's house, as instituted by his inspired apostles, according to the wisdom he had bestowed upon them; and it is important for us to remember that it does not owe its origin to human prudence or discretion, but is an emanation of the perfect wisdom of heaven, and, as
* Mosheim's Commentaries, translated by Vidal. Vol. I. Cent. I. p. 19.
such, commands our veneration and respect. Christ himself had instructed his apostles what should be the form or order of his house, before he left the world, Acts i. 3, and had given them his Holy Spirit to secure them from error in whatever regarded the affairs of his kingdom. His disciples, therefore, should not consider themselves at liberty to depart from the pattern thus given them, and remodel the worship of his churches according to their own fancies, or the wisdom of uninspired men; for that is to make erring mortals wiser than God. “ Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.' Wherever we find professed Christians departing from apostolic order and institution we may be very certain that they have some sinister ends to answer by it-something aside from the glory of God and the edification of the believers in faith and holiness. « Christ was faithful as a Son over his own house” in ordering all its affairs for the best, and allegiance to him demands that we submit implicitly to his wisdom in all things.*
The church at Jerusalem, though a numerous body, consisted of none but professed believers in Christ, who had been baptized on a confession of their faith ; and, as a consequence of this, they were brought into a state of separation from the world, by being “ added (or united) to the church.” They are described as “ a multitude that believed;" they “ were of one heart and one soul;" united together by love to the truth which they believed; for they constituted one body, having one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” These are the great Catholic Christian Unities, and they are all of them indispensable to a church
There cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that Christ has given only general rules and instructions for regulating the order or government of his churches, leaving it to his people to apply these, or depart from them at discretion, and to model his church according to circumstances, in different ages and different nations. Such a sentiment, however prevalent in the religious world, derogates from the wisdom which belongs to Him who knows all things from the beginning to the end, who is head over all things to the church. Can any circumstances arise which he , did not foresee? and, if he did foresee them, he must also have provided for them, for his care and love for his church are as great as bis wisdom and power. Who can produce a particle of authority to legislate for the church of Christ—to institute any observances which he has not instituted—to alter or set aside any which he has ordained—or to nominate any office-bearers whom he has not appointed ?” Essay on the Nature of the Kingdom of Christ, Printed at Edinburgh, for Longman and Co. London, 1830.
walking together in the fellowship of the Gospel; for how shall two walk together unless they be agreed on these first principles ? This is the unity of the Spirit which they must jointly and individually make it their study and constant endeavour to keep, in the bond of peace. The rule, government, and oversight of the church, was at first committed to the twelve apostles, who, besides giving forth divine revelation, discharged the various duties of the pastoral office, as well as looking after the poor of the flock. In process of time, however, the office of deacon was instituted, and “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom,” were appointed to attend to the ministration of the church's bounty, in supplying the wants of the poor, &c., Acts vi. 1–4. Afterwards, when the wisdom of God saw meet that some of the apostles should quit their station in Jerusalem, to forward the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom in other places, we find Elders appointed in that church to take the oversight in the Lord, and labour in the word and doctrine, ch, xi. 30, and xv. 4, 6, 23; and these two offices, 'namely, of Elders and Deacons, are the only standing, permanent offices in the Christian church under the Gospel dispensation. Accordingly we find the apostles pointing out the distinguishing qualifications of persons to be chosen to each of these offices, as well as the duties which are peculiar to them.*
To regulate the social intercourse of his disciples, in a church state, the Lord Jesus, during his public ministry, gave a law, which is of perpetual obligation, and obedience to which he makes essential to the Christian character; it runs thus :“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one toward another," John xiii. 34. Under the influence of this principle, they are led to bear one another's burdens -take a lively interest in each other's welfare-exercise mutual forbearance-study one another's happiness, and be fellow helpers of each other's faith, and charity, and joy. And when differences arise, which will inevitably be the case, through the remaining depravity that is in them, he has appointed the means for removing offences and restoring the exercise of brotherly love. We find this recorded in Matt. xviii. 15—18:4“Moreover, if thy brother trespass against thee, go
1 Tim. iii, 1–13; Titus i. 5—9; 1 Pet. v. 1-4.
and tell him his fault, between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But, if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one
or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established : And, if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but, if he shall neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”
This is the law of the Lord's house-the rule of discipline delivered to the churches, for the purpose of reclaiming offenders, recovering backsliders, and expelling incorrigible transgressors and manifested hypocrites. It is essential to the very existence of a Christian church; and wherever the faithful and impartial exercise of it is neglected they cannot long preserve their separation from the world, the purity of their communion, or the fervent exercise of mutual love for the truth's sake. As this discipline is intended by the king of Zion to preserve the pure and unfeigned exercise of brotherly love among the members, so the whole of it is to be conducted in love to the offender. All the admonitions and reproofs must be administered in love, and, when the offender proves irreclaimable, the only punishment which the church has the power of inflicting upon him is an exclusion from their fellowship—he must be cut off as a wicked person, and even this must be done with a view to the salvation of his soul, or “ that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” I shall only add that it is very obvious, from the nature of this discipline, that it was never intended for the nations of this world assuming the name of Christian churches; it is impossible to practise it in any district called a parish; it is only applicable to single congregations of professed believers in the Son of God, such as the primitive churches all were ; and hence we infer that no one nation, no one country, no one city, town, or parish, can, as such, be considered the kingdom of Christ, though the Lord may have his people in each of them.
Thus, then, to compress in few words the substance of what
has been said concerning the nature of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the doctrine on which it is established, I may say that it is an institution totally distinct from all the kingdoms of this world, and essentially different from them in its origin, nature, object, and design; its laws, immunities, and privileges
- that it does not admit of the power of the sword, or the interference of the civil magistrate, either in promoting, establishing, or defending it—that it is not possible to incorporate it with the civil government of any country without first corrupting and perverting it from its original design-that it owns no earthly head, obeys no sovereign but Christ—that all its laws are of divine origin and authority—that its real subjects are born again of the word and Spirit of God, consequently are of the Truth, by believing, loving, and obeying it, which they can only do through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“ Jesus Christ, while on earth, prayed that all his people might be one; that they might be united not only in oneness of heart and affection, but also of sentiment and practice; that they might appear as one united body, acting under one leader, influenced by one Spirit, acknowledging one Lord, presenting such an exhibition of union, combination, and strength, as should as sure their own minds, and make it evident to the world, that they were all the disciples of Him whom the Father had sent, and invested with power to order and establish his kingdom.Now, that his people might thus be one, Jesus must necessarily have given in his word (for that is their only guide) such laws and instructions as are necessary for their direction in every age and in every nation, suited to their circumstances everywhere, even till the end of time. If he hath not done so, how is the defect to be supplied ? Were it possible for circumstances to arise in which the wisdom of man was required to regulate the order or government of the church of Christ, then, it is manifest, from that moment, the church would be without an infallible standard from that moment there must be an end of unity, Experience has shown this to be the result of the mistaken notion, that Christ hath left us an imperfect standard; for it is to the attempts of men to interfere in such matters that the names, and sects, and parties which prevail, owe their origin.” Essay on the Nature of the Kingdom of Christ, 8c. Edinburgh, 1830.