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of the matter of the visible church, both in respect of quality and quantity.
1. The matter of a visible church are saints by calling. 1 Cor. i. 2. Eph. i. 1.
2. By saints, we understand, 1. Such as have not only attained the knowledge of the principles of religion, and are free from gross and open scandals, but also do together with the profession of their faith and repentance, walk in blameless obedience to the word, so as that in charitable discretion they may be accounted saints by calling, though perhaps some or more of them be unsound, and hypocrites inwardly, because the members of such particular churches are commonly by the Holy Ghost called saints and faithful brethren in Christ; and sundry churches have been reproved for receiving, and suffering such persons to continue in fellowship amongst them, as have been offensive and scandalous ; the name of God also by this means is blasphemed, and the holy things of God defiled and profaned, the hearts of the godly grieved, and the wicked themselves hardened, and helped forward to damnation. The example of such doth endanger the sanctity of others : a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. 2. The children of such, who are also holy.
Heb. vi. 1. 1 Cor. i. 5. Rom. xv. 14. Ps. 1. 16, 17. Acts, viii. 37. Mat iii. 6. Rom. vi. 17. 1 Cor. i. 2. Phil. i. 2. Col.i. 2. Eph. i. 1. 1 Cor.v. 12, 13. Rev. ii. 14, 15, 20. Ezek. xliv. 7, 9, and xxiii. 38, 39. Num. xix. 20. Hag. ii. 13, 14. 1 Cor. xi. 27, 29. Psal. xxxvii. 21. 1 Cor. v. 6. 2 Cor. vii. 14.
3. The members of churches, though orderly constituted, may in time degenerate, and grow corrupt and scandalous, which though they ought not to be tolerated in the church, yet their continuance therein, through the defect of the execution of discipline and just censures, doth not immediately dissolve the being of a church, as appears in the church of Israel, and the
churches of Galatia and Corinth, Pergamus and Thyatira.
Jer. ii. 21. 1 Cor. v. 12. Jer. ii. 4. Gal. v. 4. 2 Cor. xii. 21. Rev. ii. 14, 15, and xxi. 21.
4. The matter of the church in respect of its quantity, ought not to be of greater number than may ordinarily meet together conveniently in one place; nor ordinarily fewer than may conveniently carry on church work. Hence when the holy scripture makes mention of the saints combined into a church estate, in a town or city where was but one congregation, it usually calleth those saints The Church, in the singular number; as, the church of the Thessalonians, the church of Smyrna, Philadelphia, and the like; but when it speaketh of the saints in a nation or province, wherein there were sundry congregations, it frequently and usually calleth them by the name of Churches, in the plural number, as the churches of Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, and the like; which is further confirmed by what is written of sundry of those churches in particular, how they were assembled and met together, the whole church in one place, as the church at Jerusalem, the church at Antioch, the church at Corinth, and Cenchrea, though it were more near to Corinth, it being the port thereof, and answerable to a village, yet being a distinct congregation from Corinth, it had a church of its own, as well as Corinth had.
1 Cor. xiv. 21. Matt. xviii. 17. Rom. xvi. 1. 1 Thess. i. 1. Rev. ii. 8, and jïi. 7. 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 19. Gal. i. 2. 2 Cor. viii. 1. 1 Thess. ii. 14. Acts, ii. 46, and v. 12, and vi. 2, and xiv. 27, and xv. 38. 1 Cor. v. 4, and xiv. 23. Rom. xvi. 1.
5. Nor can it with reason be thought but that every church appointed and ordained by Christ, had a ministry ordained and appointed for the same ; and yet plain it is, that there were no ordinary officers appointed by Christ for any other than congregational churches; elders being appointed to feed, not all flocks, but the particular flock of God over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, and that flock they must attend, even the whole flock; and one congregation being as much as any ordinary elder can attend, therefore there is no greater church than a congregation, which may ordinarily meet in one place.
Acts xx. 28.
Of the form of a visible church, and of church covenant. 1. Saints by calling must have a visible political union among themselves, or else they are not yet a particular church, as those similitudes hold forth, which the scripture makes use of to show the nature of particular churches, as a body, a building, house, hands, eyes, feet, and other members must be united, or else (remaining separate) are not a body. Stones, timber, though squared, hewn and polished, are not a house, until they are compacted and united; so saints or believers in judgment of charity are not a church, unless orderly knit together.
1 Cor. xii. 27. 1 Tim. iii. 15. Eph. ii. 22. 1 Cor. xii. 15, 16, 17. Rev. i.
2. Particular churches cannot be distinguished one from another, but by their forms : Ephesus is not Smyrna, nor Pergamus, Thyatira, but each one a distinct society of itself, having officers of their own, which had not the charge of others; virtues of their own, for which others are not praised; corruptions of their own, for which others are not blamed.
3. This form is the visible covenant, agreement, or consent, whereby they give up themselves unto the Lord, to the observing of the ordinances of Christ together in the same society, which is usually called the church covenant : For we see not otherwise how members can have church power one over another mutually. The comparing of each particular church to a city, and unto a spouse, seemeth to conclude not only a form, but that that form is by way of covenant. The covenant, as it was that which made the family of Abraham, and children of Israel, to be a church and people unto God, so it is that which now makes the several societies of Gentile believers to be churches in these days.
Exod. xix. 5, 8. Deut. xxix. 12, 13. Zech. xi. 14, and ix. 11. Eph. ii. 19. 2 Cor. xi. 2. Gen. xvii. 7. Deut. xxix. 12, 13. Eph. ii. 12, 18.
4. This voluntary agreement, consent, or covenant, (for all these are here taken for the same,) although the more express and plain it is, the more fully it puts us in mind of our mutual duty, and stirreth us up to it, and leaveth less room for the questioning of the truth of the church estate of a company of professors, and the truth of membership of particular persons; yet we conceive the substance of it is kept, where there is a real agreement and consent of a company of faithful persons to meet constantly together in one congregation, for the public worship of God, and their mutual edification ; which real agreement and consent they do express by their constant practice in coming together for the public worship of God, and by their religious subjection to the ordinances of God there; the rather if we consider how scripture covenants have been entered into not only expressly by word of mouth, but by sacrifice, by hand writing and seal, and also sometimes by silent consent, without any writing or expression of words at all.
Exod. xix. 5, and xx. 8, and xxiv. 3, 17. Josh. xxiv. 18—24. Psalm, 1.5. Neh. ix. 38, and x. 1. Gen. xvii. Deut. xxix.
5. This form being by mutual covenant, it followeth, it is not faith in the heart, nor the profession of that faith, nor cohabitation, nor baptism. 1. Not faith in the heart, because that is invisible. 2. Not a bare profession, because that declareth them no more to be members of one church than another.
3. Not cohabitation : atheists or infidels may dwell together with believers. 4. Not baptism, because it presupposeth a church estate, as circumcision in the Old
Testament, which gave no being to the church, the church being before it, and in the wilderness without it. Seals presuppose a covenant already in being. One person is a complete subject of baptism, but one person is incapable of being a church.
6. All believers ought, as God giveth them opportunity thereunto, to endeavor to join themselves unto a particular church, and that in respect of the honor of Jesus Christ, in his example and institution, by the professed acknowledgment of, and subjection unto the order and ordinances of the gospel; as also in respect of their good of communion, founded upon their visible union, and contained in the promises of Christ's special presence in the church; whence they have fellowship with him, and in him one with another; also, for the keeping of them in the way of God's commandments, and recovering of them in case of wandering, which all Christ's sheep are subject to in this life, being unable to return of themselves; together with the benefit of their mutual edification, and of their posterity, that they may not be cut off from the privileges of the covenant. Otherwise, if a believer offends, he remains destitute of the remedy provided in that behalf. And should all believers neglect this duty of joining to all particular congregations, it might follow thereupon, that Christ should have no visible political churches
Acts, ii. 47, and ix. 26. Matt. jii, 13, 14, 15, and xxviii. 19, 20. Psalms, cxxxiii. 2, 3, and lxxxvii. 7. Matt. xviii. 20. 1 John, i. 3. Ps. cxix. 176. 1 Peter, ii. 25. Eph. iv. 16. John, xxii. 24, 25. Matt. xviii. 15, 16, 17.
of the first subject of church power ; or, to whom church power doth first
belong: 1. The first subject of church power, is either supreme, or subordinate and ministerial. The supreme, by