« PreviousContinue »
CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH.
church was there instructed and nourished by him. Some of the imperial household, a concubine and cupbearer of Nero be. longed to it. He even stood before Nero himself, and testified the Gospel with the same boldness as he had done before Felix and Agrippa. It is probable that he once more had bis liberty and visited the eastern churches. If he did, he again returned to Rome, for there it is reported he suffered martyrdom in the year 65—just 30 years after his conversion.
Such were the labours of Paul-a man of a noble and capa. cious mind-of extensive learning-profound reasoning-consummate fortitude, and wonderful patience and benevolence. He viewed himself as the least of all saints, and was entirely devoted to his Lord and Master.
Through his exertions and those of the other Apostles and disciples, the civilized world was, in thirty years after the ascen. sion of Christ, filled with the knowledge of the Gospel. We have no means of ascertaining the number of churches which they planted; but it was great. Their Master had given them the power of speaking all the languages of the earth ; of work. ing miracles ; of foretelling future events; an unheard of zeal and heroism in his service; an elevation above the frowns and Aatteries of the world and death itself; and a wisdom which all their adversaries were not able to resist. The Apostles and teachers, were few in number; all felt themselves engaged in the most important of all causes. To these is to be attributed, under God, the vast extension of the Gospel at so early a period; an extension, which, when we consider the state of the world and the instruments employed, furnishes the highest evidence of its divine origin.
CONSTITUTION OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
A church consisted of an assembly of Christians in one place who had professed Christ; been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ; and who united in worship, and in the celebration of the Lord's supper. It was called the body of Christ, and those that composed it, members in particular,
To each church was attached a Pastor and Deacons.
When Christ ascended up on 'high he instituted various teachers in the Church, called apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry.
The Apostolic office was personal and temporary. To it be. longed extraordinary privileges and miraculous powers ; and it
was eminently useful in propagating Christianity and founding churches. It ceased with the men whom Christ himself ap. pointed to it.
The Prophets were designated to explain the Old Testament prophecies, and foretel things which should come to pass, through inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Their office also was confined to the first days of Christianity.
The Evangelists were appointed to labour wherever they could be useful in Christian and Heathen countries, without being attached to any particular charge. They were like Missionaries and Evangelists at the present period.
Pastors and Teachers were synonymous; though some have supposed that the appropriate business of the teacher was, to defend the doctrines of Christianity ; while the Pastor took a general care of the flock, and attended to the minor pastoral duties. These were attached to a particular church, and minis. tered to it, as Bishops or overseers, being set apart by prayer and fasting, and imposition of hands, and the right hand of fel. lowship originally by the Apostles, and successively by such as had, by them been introduced into the ministry.
Christ placed all his ministering servants, upon an equality of rank. He told them that they were brethren, and forbade their receiving any title of distinction which should give one a pre. eminence over another,—condemning the various grades of Christian ministers which have since been established, and the various titles which have since been conferred, elevating a few above their brethren around them.
In the primitive churches, reigned great simplicity of form, and worship. Equality existed among the members. They chose their own pastors. They spent much time in prayer and praise. Letters from the Apostles and other churches were publicly read, and the word of God was publicly expounded. Their assemblies were generally held in private houses, as they had no public edifices.
The Jewish Christians continued for a time strictly to regard the synagogue worship, but they and all Gentile converts con. vened, too, on the first day of the week, the day on which Christ rose, the day which, doubtless through the Lord's appointment
, now became the Christian Sabbath, and which was called the Lord's day. The Lord's supper was administered at the close of worship; and, as many of the disciples were poor, opulent brethren brought food of which all partook, in what were called agapae or feasts of love.
ITS MORAL AND RELIGIOUS STATE.
They received in great simplicity and purity, as the foundation on which they built, the doctrines which had been taught by Christ and the Apostles. They banished forever all idolatry, and worshipped the one living and true God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost : viewed man as totally depraved, dead in trespasses and sins, under the curse of the law; received in love, the great doctrines of atonement by the blood of Christ ; of election ; regeneration by the Holy Spirit; justification by faith ; adoption ; the resurrection of the dead to eternal happi. ness or eternal misery, according to moral character.
They practised a purer morality than the Gentile world had ever known. Their former companions looked on them with amazement, because they did not run with them to the same excess of riot. But they had come to the knowledge of God and his law; of the way of duty and safety ; their hearts had been filled with holy love; and they now lived like rational, im. mortal beings, whose great business was to honour God and do good to their fellow men.
Such was the ral state and character of the primitive churches. But they kept not their glory. The gold soon became dim. Some deceivers were among them, who corrupted
False teachers early introduced errors in doctrine. Believers
cold and luke-warm; and through the power of indwelling corruption and the temptations of the world, fell into very reprehensible sins. A vain and deceitful philosophy came near destroying the church at Corinth. That church also was thrown into dissentions about their leading ministers. One was for Paul and another for Apollos. They abused the Lord's supper; and even an incestuous person was among them. The Galatians were drawn almost away from Christ to a dependence for justification on a strict observance of the ceremonial law. Among the Philippians were those who walked as enemies of the cross of Christ, wbose god was their belly. Peter and Jude describe to us some horrible enormities of nominal Christians, who looked for justification by faith without works. Among the seven promising and excellent churches of Asia, there was scarce one that retained, at the end of forty years, her original purity of doctrine or practice. And yet it was the golden age
of the Church, Who would not have lived in that period and heard the Apostles preach and witnessed their miraculous operations, and beheld the astonishing outpourings of the Spirit and seen the heathen casting their gods to the moles and the bats, and mingled in joyful worship with those who had seen our Lord ?
The Apostles were fishermen, unlearned men, and for this reason have been despised by the world ; but no class of men so command our admiration and love. He who made them en. larged their native powers ; gave them astonishing wisdom and fortitude ; and shed abroad in their hearts a spirit of love and compassion for their fellow men, second only to that of him who died for us. They published to man the pure gospel. Christ had directly or indirectly declared all the great doctrines of the Gospel. What he taught, would have been lost to the world had they not committed it to writing, for future generations. This they did through inspiration of the Spirit. What Christ taught needed to be taught again and more fully and explicitly; for he spake in a region of darkness, and the darkness comprehended him not. Even his own disciples had but a very imperfect understanding of what is now plain to us. It was in vain for him therefore to labour much with them, until after he had finished his work. “I have many things,” said he “to say to you, but ye cannot bear them now, nevertheless when the Spirit of all truth is come, he will reveal them to you.” Christ's promise was fulfilled. They were taught more perfectly the great scheme of redemption; all the doctrines and precepts of Christianity; the officers, ordinances and affairs of the Church through every age of the Christian dispensation and its final glorification in heaven. Whatever they spoke or wrote, they spoke or wrote as taught of God, and is to be received as precisely of the same authority as the words of Christ himself. Of the places where nine of them laboured and died, scarce any thing is recorded. Probably they laboured and died near Jerusalem.
The biographers of our Lord were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Matthew was a publican or tax-gatherer, living at Capernaum. He wrote his Gospel soon after the ascension, A. D. 37 or 38, first, it is supposed in Hebrew and then in Greek.
Mark was the son of a pious woman in Jerusalem. He was not one of the twelve Apostles, but was a companion of Paul, Peter and Barnabas in their travels. He wrote his Gospel in Greek about the year 63, at Rome, at the request of the church there.
Luke was not an Apostle ; but a physician of Antioch, who early attached himself to the Apostles and was a close companion of Paul in his travels. He was a man of learning and wrote very pure
Greek. When he wrote his history of Christ is ud• certain.
WRITERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
John was the youngest of the twelve, was the beloved disciple, and one of the best men that ever lived. He was a witness of the transfiguration ; sat next to Jesus, on his couch, at the passover, and saw his agony in the garden. To him Christ committed his mother from the cross. He was at the council in Jerusalem about the year 50. Soon after that, he took, the pastoral care of the church at Ephesus, where he probably remained many years. He outlived all the Apostles.* He wrote his Gospel at Ephesus about A. D. 97, or 98, evidently to declare our Saviour's divinity, which many were disposed to deny. He inserted in it but a few things recorded by the other
Evangelists; probably considering it unnecessary. He wrote : what they had omitted; particularly, that last conversation
which Christ had with his disciples at the institution of the supper and his intercessory prayer.
The question has been asked why more and fuller accounts of Christ were not given ? More and fuller might have been, John says, if all were written which Jesus did, the world would not contain the books. More actually were written, as Luke informs Theophilus. But these alone have been transmitted to us by the Holy Ghost, doubtless because in the divine mind, they were sufficient. He that rejects these books, would re
* A few fragments have been collected of this beloved disciple, though their authenticity is doubted. Such it is said was his regard for the truth, that once, while in the public bath at Ephesus, he perceived there Cerinthus, an open heretic, and came out hastily, exclaiming, “ Let us flee, lest the bath should fall while Cerinthus, an enemy of the truth, is in it.” It was like him who charged a Christian lady not to receive him into her house, nor bid him God speed who preached another Gospel.
Hearing, in his old age, of a lovely youth who had apostatized from the Christian faith, and become the head of a band of robbers, he went to the mountains and demanded of the robbers the sight of their captain. Boholding the venerable Apostle, the youth fled. John followed and cried, My son, why fliest thou from thy father, unarmed and old. Christ hath sent me, The youth stopped, trembled and wept bitterly. John prayed, exhorted and brought him back a penitent to the company of the Christians.
When very old le constantly repeated in his exhortations, “ Childron, love one another."
In his old age he wrote his three Epistles. By Domitian he was, says Tertullian, cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, from which he came out un. hurt, and then was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he wrote his Rerelations. He again returned to Asia, where he lived three or four years, & pattern of charity and goodness. He died in the beginning of the second century, being about an hundred years of age.