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church, consisting of a company of saints by calling, united into one body by an holy covenant, for the public worship of God, and the mutual edification one of another, in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus.
i Cor. xiv. 23, 36, and i. 2, and xii. 27. Exod. xix. 5, 6. Deut. xxix. 1, and 9, to 15. Acts, ii. 42. 1 Cor. xiv. 26.
Of the matter of the visible church, both in respect of quality
1. The matter of a visible church are saints by calling 1 Cor. i. 2. Eph. i.
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 counted saints by calling, though perhaps some or more of ihem 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. l. 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. Ezk. xliv. 7, 9, and xxiii. 38, 39. Nunn. 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
* Compare Heads of Agreement Chap. 1, Sec. 2, 3. B.
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 ini. 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, a 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. 16, 16, 17. Rev. ii.
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.
Éxod. 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 of 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 mu