Of the Divine Right of Congregational Elderships or Kirk Sessions, for the government of the Church.
Touching congregational elderships, consisting of the ministers and ruling elders of the several single congregations, which are called the lesser assemblies, or smaller presbyteries, and which are to manage and order all ecclesiastical matters within themselves, which are of more immediate, private, particular concernment to their own congregations respectively; and consequently, of more easy dispatch, and of more daily use and necessity. Concerning these congregational presbyteries, we shall not now take into consideration either, 1. What are the members constituting and making up these elderships; whether ruling elders by divine warrant may be superadded to the pastors and teachers, and so be associated for the government of the congregation. For the divine right of the ruling elders, distinct from the preaching elder for the government of the church, hath been evidenced at large, Chapter XI., Section 1, foregoing. And if any acts of government in the church belong to the ruling elder at all, sure those acts of common jurisdiction, to be dispatched in these least assemblies, cannot of all other be denied unto him. 2. Nor shall it here be discussed, what the power of congregational elderships is, whether it be universally extensive to all acts of government ecclesiastical whatsoever, without exception or limitation; and that independently, without subordination to the greater assemblies, and without all liberty of appeal thereunto in any cases whatsoever, though of greatest and most common concernment. Which things are well stated and handled by others;105 and will in some measure be considered afterwards in Chapter XV.
3. But the thing for the present to be insisted upon, against the Erastian and prelatical party, is, the divine right of authority and power for church government, which is in congregational presbyteries or elderships, in reference to their respective congregations. Take it thus:
Elderships of single congregations vested and furnished with ecclesiastical authority and power to exercise and dispense acts of government in and over those respective congregations whereunto they do belong, are by divine right warrantable.
For confirmation hereof the light of nature, the institution of Christ, the apostolical practice, and the law of necessity, seem to speak sufficiently unto us.
1. The common light of nature thus far directeth all sorts of smaller societies, whether political or ecclesiastical, to compose all particular and more private differences and offences within themselves; and to decide and determine small, common, easy causes and matters, by smaller courts and judicatories appointed for that end: a vain thing to trouble more and greater assemblies with those matters, that may as well be determined by the lesser. It was wise and grave counsel which Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gave to Moses, that he should set up over the people certain judges inferior to himself, who themselves might judge all smaller matters, but all great and hard matters to be brought to Moses, Exod. xviii. 22, 26. And our Saviour seems to insinuate, that the Jews had their inferior courts for inferior causes, superior judicatories for greater, in that gradation of his, Matt. v. 22. Likewise they had lesser and greater ecclesiastical assemblies, (as after will appear.) Now, to what use are greater and lesser judicatories, civil or ecclesiastical, but that the lesser and lighter causes may be judged in the inferior, harder and greater in the superior?
2. The institution of Christ recorded Matt. xviii. 15-21, seems to hold forth notably both single congregational elderships, and their power. And this, whether we consider the Jewish form, unto which our Saviour seems to refer; or whether we observe the matter of his discourse.
1. As for the Jewish form of church government (unto which our Saviour here seems to allude) we may observe it was managed by two, if not three sorts of ecclesiastical courts, viz: By the Sanhedrin, presbytery, and synagogue, (much like to the evangelical synod, presbytery, and congregational eldership since Christ.) 1. They had their ecclesiastical,106 as well as their civil Sanhedrin, for high and difficult affairs of the church; which seems first to be constituted, Exod. xxiv. 1, and after decay thereof, it was restored by King Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron. xix. 8; and from this court that national church’s reformation proceeded, Neh. vi. 13. 2. Again, it is very probable they had between their Sanhedrin and their synagogue a middle ecclesiastical court called The Presbytery, Luke xxii. 66, and Acts xxii. 5, and the whole presbytery. Let such as are expert in Jewish antiquities and their polity, consider and judge. 3. Finally, they had their lesser judicatories in their synagogues, or congregational meetings: for, their synagogues were not only for prayer, and the ministry of the word, in reading and expounding the Scriptures, but also for public censures, correcting of offences, &c., as that phrase seems to import, “And I punished them oft in every synagogue,” Acts xxvi. 11. His facts and proceedings, it is true, were cruel, unjust, impious. But why inflicted in every synagogue, rather than in other places, and that by virtue of the high priest’s letters, Acts ix. 1, 2; but there the Jews had judicatories, that inflicted public punishments upon persons ecclesiastically offending? Besides, we read often in the New Testament of the rulers of the synagogue, as Mark v. 35, 36, 38; Luke viii. 41, and xiii. 14; and of Crispus and Sosthenes the chief rulers of the synagogue, Acts xviii. 8, 17; whence is intimated to us, that these synagogues had their rule and government in themselves; and that this rule was not in one person, but in divers together; for if there were chief rulers, there were also inferiors subordinate unto them: but this is put out of doubt, in Acts xiii. 15, where after the lecture of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them—synagogue in the singular number, and rulers in the plural. Thus analogically there should be ecclesiastical rulers and governors in every single congregation, for the well guiding thereof. But if this satisfy not, add hereunto the material passages in our Saviour’s speech.
2. Now touching the matter of our Saviour’s discourse, it makes this very clear to us; for by a gradation he leadeth us from admonition private and personal, to admonition before two or three witnesses, and from admonition before two or three witnesses, to the representative body of one church, (as the phrase tell the church must here necessarily be interpreted,) if there the difference can be composed, the offence removed, or the cause ended; rather than unnecessarily render the offence, and so our brother’s shame, more public and notorious. And that the presbytery or eldership of a particular congregation, vested with power to hear and determine such cases as shall be brought before them, is partly, though not only here intended, seems evident in the words following, which are added for the strengthening and confirming of what went before in ver. 17: “Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Matt. xviii. 18-20. In which passages these things are to be noted: 1. That this church to which the complaint is to be made, is invested with power of binding and loosing, and that so authoritatively that what by this church shall be bound or loosed on earth shall also be bound or loosed in heaven, according to Christ’s promise. 2. That these acts ofbinding or loosing, may be the acts but of two or three, and therefore consequently of the eldership of a particular congregation; for where such a juridical act was dispatched by a classical presbytery, it is said to be done of many, 2 Cor. ii. 6, because that in such greater presbyteries there are always more than two or three. And though some do pretend, that the faults here spoken of by our Saviour in this place, were injuries, not scandals; and that the church here mentioned was not any ecclesiastical consistory, or court, but the civil Sanhedrin, a court of civil judicature; and yet most absurdly they interpret the binding and loosing here spoken of, to be doctrinal and declarative; not juridical and authoritative; as if the doctrinal binding and loosing were in the power of the civil Sanhedrin:107 yet all these are but vain, groundless pretences and subterfuges, without substance or solidity, as the learned and diligent reader may easily find demonstrated by consulting these judicious authors mentioned in the foot note,108 to whom for brevity’s sake he is referred for satisfaction in these and divers such like particulars.
3. The consideration of the apostolical practice, and state of the Church of God in those times, may serve further to clear this matter to us. For, 1. We sometimes read of single congregations; and as the Holy Ghost doth call the whole body of Christ the Church, Matt. xvi. 18, 1 Cor. xii. 28, and often elsewhere; and the larger particular members of that body of Christ (partaking the nature of the whole, as a drop of water is as true water as the whole ocean) churches; as, the church of Jerusalem, Acts viii. 1; the church of Antioch, Acts xiii. 1;the church of Ephesus, Rev. ii. 1; the church of Corinth, 2 Cor. i. 1; (these being the greater presbyterial churches, as after will appear, Chap. XIII.;) so the same holy Spirit of Christ is pleased to style single congregations, churches, “Let women keep silence in the churches,” 1 Cor. xiv. 34, i.e. in the single congregations of this one church of Corinth: and often mention is made of the church that is in such or such an house, as Rom. xvi. 5; 1 Cor. xvi. 19; Col. iv. 15; Philem. 2; whether this be interpreted of the church made up only of the members of that family, or of the church that ordinarily did meet in such houses, it implies a single congregation. Now shall single congregations have the name and nature of churches, and shall we imagine they had not in them the ordinary standing church officers, viz. pastors and teachers, governments, or elders ruling well, and helps or deacons? or is it probable they were furnished with these officers, and yet the officers furnished with no power for the government of these single congregations at all? 2. We find that the apostles being crowned with such success in their ministry, as to be instruments of converting such multitudes to the faith as were sufficient to make up many several churches from time to time, did diligently take care to ordain them presbyters, or elders in every church, Acts xiv. 23; Tit. i. 5. Now can it be clearly evidenced by any, that these were not ruling as well as preaching presbyters; especially when it appears by other places that the primitive churches had both? Rom. xii. 8; 1 Cor. xii. 28;
1 Tim. v. 17. Or can we think that the apostles were not as careful to erect elderships in several congregations, as to appoint elders? otherwise how could the apostles have answered it to their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in leaving them without that necessary provision of government, which Christ himself had allowed to them, at least, in some cases, as hath been evidenced?
4. Finally, necessity (which is a strong and cogent law) plainly and forcibly pleads for elderships in particular congregations endowed with authority and power from Christ for government within themselves. For, 1. How wearisome a thing would it be to all congregations, should every one of their members be bound to attend upon synods and greater presbyteries, (which in the country are at a great distance from them,) in all ecclesiastical matters of judicature, if they had no relief in their own congregations? How impossible would it be for the greater presbyteries, not only to hear and determine all hard and weighty, but also all small and easy causes that would be brought before them? And what should become of such a congregation as either voluntarily transplants itself, or is accidentally cast among heathens or pagans in far countries, where there are no Christians or churches to join and associate withal, if they be denied an authoritative presbytery within themselves, for preventing and healing of scandals, and preserving themselves from destruction and ruin, which anarchy would unavoidably bring upon them?
Of the Divine Right of Presbyteries, (for distinction’s sake called Classical Presbyteries,) for the government of the Church.
Having spoken of the lesser, viz. congregational elderships, we come now to the greater ruling assemblies, which are either presbyterial or synodal. And first, of the presbyterial assembly, or classical presbytery, viz. an assembly made up of the presbyters of divers neighboring single congregations, for governing of all those respective congregations in common, whereunto they belong, in all matters of common concernment and greater difficulty in the Church. The divine warrant and right of this presbytery, and of the power thereof for church government, may principally be evidenced, 1. By the light of nature. 2. By the light of Scripture, which light of Scripture was followed by the Church in the ages after the apostolical times.
I. The light of nature and right reason may discover to us (though more dimly) the divine warrant of the greater presbyteries, and of their power for the governing of the church. For,
1. There are many ecclesiastical matters which are of common concernment to many single congregations, as trial of church officers, ordination and deposition of ministers, dispensation of censures, judicial determination of controversies, resolution in difficult cases of conscience, ordering of things indifferent, &c.; here the rule holds well, that which concerns many congregations, is not to be considered and determined upon only by one, but those many concerned and interested therein.
2. Single congregational elderships stand in need of all mutual help and assistance one of another in the Lord, being, 1. Inwardly weak in themselves; too prone to be turned out of the way, Heb. xii. 13, Gal. v. 15, and too feeble for divers great tasks: as examination and ordination of ministers, &c., which weakness is healed by association with others assisting them. 2. Outwardly opposed by many dangerous and subtle adversaries: men as grievous wolves, &c., Acts xx. 28-30; 2 Pet. ii. 1; Phil. iii. 2; 1 Tim. iv. 1-7; Eph. iv. 14; devils, 1 Pet. v. 8. In such cases two are better than one: “Wo to them that are alone; if they fall, who shall take them up?”
3. Such intricate cases may fall out as cannot be determined and settled by the eldership of a single congregation. As for instance, some member in the congregation may conceive himself so wronged by the eldership thereof, that he cannot submit to their unjust sentence; shall he not in such case have liberty of appeal from them? If not, then he is left without a remedy, (which is the calamity of the Independent government.) If he may, whether shall he appeal regularly but to an associated presbytery? therefore there must be such a presbytery to appeal unto. Again, there may be a controversy betwixt the whole congregation, and their presbytery; yea, the presbytery itself may be equally divided against itself; yea, one single congregation may have a great and weighty contest with another sister congregation, (all single congregations being equal in power and authority, none superior, none inferior to others.) Now, in these and such like cases, suppose both parties be resolute and wilful, and will not yield to any bare moral suasion or advice without some superior authority, what healing is left in such cases, without the assistance of an authoritative presbytery, wherein the whole hath power to regulate all the parts?
4. Single congregations, joined in vicinity and neighborhood to one another, should avoid divisions, (which are destructive to all societies, as well ecclesiastical as civil,) and maintain peace and unity among themselves, (which is conservative to all societies;) neither of which, without associated presbyteries, can be firmly and durably effected. Both which ought with all diligence to be endeavored. For, 1. Peace and unity in the Church are in themselves amiable, and ought to be promoted, Psal. cxxxiii. 1, &c.; Eph. iv. 3, 13; 1 Cor. i. 10. 2. Schisms and divisions are simply evil, and all appearance, cause, and occasion thereof, ought carefully to be avoided, 1 Cor. xii. 25; Rom. xvi. 17; 1 Thes. iv. 22. 3. All congregations are but as so many branches, members, parts of that one church, one body, one family, one commonwealth, one kingdom, whereof Christ is Head, Lord, and King; and therefore they should communicate together, and harmoniously incorporate and associate with one another, (so far as may be,) for the common good, peace, unity, and edification of all. See 1 Cor. xii. 12-29; Eph. ii. 12-16, and iv. 12-14, and v. 23-25.
II. The light of Scripture will hold forth the divine warrant of greater presbyteries and their power for church government, far more clearly than the light of nature. Forasmuch as we find in the Scriptures a pattern of these greater presbyteries, and of their presbyterial government over divers single congregations in common in the primitive apostolical churches. For the greater evidence and perspicuity hereof, take this proposition:
Jesus Christ our Mediator hath laid down in his word a pattern of presbyterial government in common over divers single congregations in one Church, for a rule to his Church in all after ages. For confirmation hereof, there are chiefly these three positions to make good, which are comprised in this proposition, viz: 1. That there is in the word a pattern of divers single congregations in one church. 2. That there is in the word a pattern of one presbyterial government in common over divers single congregations in one church. 3. Finally, that the pattern of the said presbyterial government, is for a rule to the churches of Christ in all after ages.
That there is in the word a pattern of divers single congregations in one church, may be plentifully evinced by four instances of churches, (to mention no more,) viz. the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Corinth. Touching which four these two things are clear in the Scripture, viz: 1. That every of them was one church. 2. That in every one of these churches there were more congregations than one. Both which will fully evince a pattern of divers single congregations in one church held forth in the word.
1. The former of these, viz. That every one of these was one church, may be proved by induction of particulars. 1. All the believers in Jerusalem were one church; hence they are often comprised under the word church, of the singular number:—”Against the church which was at Jerusalem,” Acts viii. 1. “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem,” Acts ii. 22. “And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders,” Acts xv. 4. 2. All the believers in Antioch were one church. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch, certain prophets,” Acts xiii. 1. “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch,” Acts xi. 26. 3. All the believers in Ephesus were one church: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church,” Acts xx. 17. And after he gives them this charge, “Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God,” ver. 28; all were but one flock, one church. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus, write,” Rev. ii. 1. 4. All the believers in Corinth were one church, and comprised under that singular word, church: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth,” 1 Cor. i. 2. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth,” 2 Cor. i. 1. Thus in all these four instances it is clear beyond all contradiction, that they were every of them respectively one church.
The latter of these, viz. that these primitive apostolical churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Corinth, were not every of them severally and respectively only one single congregation, (as some imagine,) but consisted every of them of more congregations than one. This shall be manifested in these four churches severally, as followeth:
The church of Jerusalem in Judea contained in it more congregations than one. This may be convincingly evidenced divers ways, particularly from, 1. The multitude of believers in that church. 2. The multitude of church officers there. 3. The variety of languages there. 4. The manner of the Christians’ public meetings in those primitive times, both in the church of Jerusalem, and in other churches.
1. From the multitude of believers in the church of Jerusalem. For it is palpably evident to any impartial reader that will not wilfully shut his eyes, and subject his reason unto the groundless dictates of men, against the clear light of the Scripture, that there were more believers in the church of Jerusalem, than could ordinarily meet in one congregation, to partake of all the ordinances of Christ.
And this may fully appear by these many instances following. 1. Christ after his resurrection, and before his ascension, “was seen of above five hundred brethren at once,” 1 Cor. xv. 6. 2. “After that of James, then of all the apostles,” ver. 7. 3. At the election of Matthias, and before Christ’s ascension, there were disciples together, the “company of their names together was as it were one hundred and twenty,” Acts i. 15. 4. At Peter’s sermon, “they that gladly received his word, were baptized. And that day were added about three thousand souls,” Acts ii. 1, 4. 5. And “The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved,” ver. 27. 6. Afterwards at another of Peter’s sermons, “Many of them that heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand,” Acts iv. 4. 7. After that, “Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,” Acts v. 14. 8. Furthermore, the disciples multiplying, and the work of the ministry thereupon much increasing, the apostles were necessitated to appoint seven deacons for serving of tables, that they might wholly “give themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer,” Acts vi. 1 to 7; whence some have thought, that there were seven congregations in Jerusalem, a deacon for every one. Certainly there were rather more than fewer, (saith the author of the Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland,109) though we cannot determine how many. However this, the Holy Ghost clearly testifieth that “The word of God increased, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly.” 9. “And a great company of the priests became obedient to the faith,” Acts vi. 7; and probably the example of the priests drew on multitudes to the Gospel. All these forementioned were in a short time converted, and became members of this one church of Jerusalem, and that before the dispersion occasioned by the persecution of the Church, Acts viii. 1. Now should we put all these together, viz. both the number of believers expressed in particular, which is 8,620, and the multitudes so often expressed in the general, (which, for aught we know, might be many more than the former,) what a vast multitude of believers was there in Jerusalem! and how impossible was it for them to meet all together in one congregation, to partake of all the ordinances of Jesus Christ! 10. In like manner, after the dispersion forementioned, the word so prospered, and the disciples brought into the faith by it, so multiplied, that it was still far more impossible for all the believers in the church of Jerusalem to meet in one congregation to partake of all the ordinances of Christ, than before. For it is said, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea” (and the church of Jerusalem in Judea was doubtless one of those churches) “and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” 11. Again, “the word of the Lord increased and multiplied,” Acts xii. 24. 12. Furthermore, when Paul, with other disciples, his fellow-travellers, came to Jerusalem, and “declared to James and the elders, what things God had wrought by his ministry among the Gentiles—They glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many” myriads (or ten thousands) “of believing Jews there are, and they are all zealous of the law”—Acts xxi. 20. Our translation seems herein very defective, rendering it how many thousands; whereas it should be, according to the Greek, how many ten thousands: and these myriads seem to be in the church of Jerusalem, seeing it is said of them, ver. 22, “The multitude must needs come together, for they will hear that thou art come.” Now considering this emphatical expression, not only thousands, but ten thousand: not only ten thousand in the singular number, but ten thousands, myriads, in the plural number: nor only myriads, ten thousands, in the plural number, but how many ten thousands; we cannot in reason imagine but there were at least three ten thousands, viz: thirty thousand believers, and how all they should meet together in one congregation for all ordinances, let the reader judge. Thus far of the proof, from the multitude of believers in the church of Jerusalem.
Except. But the five thousand mentioned Acts iv. 4, are no new number added to the three thousand, but the three thousand included in the five thousand, as Calvin and Beza think.
Ans. 1. Then it is granted that five thousand one hundred and twenty, besides an innumerable addition of converts, were in Jerusalem; which if such a number, and multitudes besides, could for edification meet in one place, to partake of all the ordinances, let the reader judge.
2. Though Calvin and Beza think the three thousand formerly converted to be included in this number of five thousand, Acts iv. 4, yet divers both ancient and modern interpreters are of another mind, as Augustine. There came unto the body of the Lord in number three thousand faithful men; also by another miracle wrought, there came other five thousand.110 These five thousand are altogether diverse from the three thousand converted at the first sermon: so Lorinus, Aretius, and divers others.
3. Besides a great number of testimonies, there are reasons to induce us to believe, that the three thousand are not included in the five thousand, viz: 1. As the three thousand mentioned in Acts ii. 41, did not comprehend the one hundred and twenty mentioned Acts i. 15, so it holds in proportion that the three thousand mentioned there, are not comprehended here in Acts iv. 4. Besides, 2. This sermon was not by intention to the church, or numbers already converted, but by occasion of the multitude flocking together to behold the miracle Peter and John wrought on the “man that was lame from his mother’s womb;” as Acts iii. 10-12; so that ’tis more than probable that the five thousand mentioned Acts iv. 4, are a number superadded besides the three thousand already converted.
Except. But suppose such a number as three thousand, and afterwards five thousand were converted in Jerusalem, yet these remained not constant members of that Church, for the three thousand were not dwellers at Jerusalem, but strangers who came out of all countries to keep the feast of Pentecost: yea, Acts ii. 9, they are said expressly to be “dwellers of Mesopotamia, Cappadocia,” &c., and so might erect churches where they came.
Ans. 1. ‘Tis said, Acts ii. 14, “Peter standing” (when he began to preach this sermon wherein the three thousand were converted) “said, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, hearken to my voice;” intimating that these he preached to dwelt at Jerusalem.
But grant that some of these men that heard Peter’s sermon were formerly dwellers in Mesopotamia and Cappadocia, what hinders but that they might be now dwellers at Jerusalem?
3. The occasion of their coming up to Jerusalem at this time was not only the observation of the feast of Pentecost, (which lasted but a day,) but also the great expectation that the people of the Jews then had of the appearance of the Messiah in his kingdom, as we may collect from Luke xix. 11, where it is said, “They thought the kingdom of God should immediately appear;” so that now they might choose to take up their dwellings at Jerusalem, and not return, as they had been wont, at the end of their usual feasts.
4. The Holy Ghost makes mention that in the particular places mentioned, ver. 9, 10, that of all those nations there were some that dwelt at Jerusalem; read Acts ii. 5, “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven;” if out of every nation, then out of those nations there specified; and even there dwelling at Jerusalem. 5. Those who were scattered by reason of persecution into Judea and Samaria, and other parts of the world, did not erect new churches, but were still members of that one church in Jerusalem; so saith the Scripture expressly, that “they” (of the church of Jerusalem) “were all scattered abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria,” Acts viii. 1.
Except. Although it should be granted that before the dispersion mentioned Acts viii. 1, 2, the number was so great that they could not meet together in one place, yet the persecution so wasted and scattered them all, that there were no more left than might meet in one congregation?
Ans. After the dispersion there were more believers in Jerusalem than could meet together in one place for all acts of worship, as appears by Acts ix. 31, “The churches had rest throughout all Judea,” &c., “and were multiplied;” Acts xii. 24, “The word of God grew and multiplied;” and Acts xxi. 20, James saith of the believers of this church, “how many thousands of the Jews there are which believe, and are zealous of the law;” or, as it is in the Greek, thou seest how many ten thousands there are of the Jews which believe; this text will evince, that there were many thousands in the church of Jerusalem after the dispersion, as hath been observed: and if this number were not more after the dispersion than could meet together to partake of all ordinances, let the reader judge.
Except. But the text saith expressly, all were scattered except the apostles.
Ans. All must be understood either of all the believers, or all the teachers and church officers in the church of Jerusalem, except believers; but it cannot be understood of all the believers that they were scattered: and therefore it must be understood that all the teachers and church officers were scattered, except the apostles. That all the believers were not scattered will easily appear: For, 1. ‘Tis said that Paul broke into houses, “haling men and women, committed them to prison,” ver. 3, and this he did in Jerusalem, Acts xxvi. 10; therefore all could not be scattered. 2. “They that were scattered, preached the word,” ver. 4, which all the members, men and women, could not do; therefore by all that were scattered must of necessity be meant, not the body of believers in the church, but only the officers of the church. 3. If all the believers were scattered, to what end did the apostles tarry at Jerusalem—to preach to the walls? this we cannot imagine.
Except. But can any think the teachers were scattered, and the ordinary believers were not, except we suppose the people more courageous to stay by it than their teachers?
Ans. It is hard to say, that those that are scattered in a persecution, are less courageous than those that stay and suffer. In the time of the bishops’ tyranny, many of the Independent ministers did leave this kingdom, while others of their brethren did abide by it, endured the heat and burden of the day, “had trial of cruel mockings, bonds and imprisonments:” now the Independent ministers that left us, would think we did them wrong, should we say that they were less courageous than those that stayed behind, enduring the hot brunt of persecution.
II. From the multitude of church officers in Jerusalem, it may further appear, that there were more congregations than one in the church of Jerusalem. For there were many apostles, prophets, and elders in this church of Jerusalem, as is plain, if we consider these following passages in the Acts of the Apostles. After Christ’s ascension, “the eleven apostles returned to Jerusalem, and continued in prayer and supplication,” Acts i. 12-14. Matthias chosen by lot, was also “numbered with the eleven apostles,” Acts i. 26. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place,” Acts ii. 1. “Peter standing up with the eleven, lift up his voice and said,” Acts ii. 14. “They were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts ii. 37. “And the same day there were added about three thousand souls, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers,” Acts ii. 42. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” Acts iv. 33. “As many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet,” Acts iv. 34, 35, 37. “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them,” Acts vi. 2. “Now, when the apostles which were at Jerusalem,” Acts viii. 14. “They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders; and the apostles and elders came together,” Acts xv. 2, 4, 6, 22, 23; xi. 30. And “in those days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch,” Acts xi. 27. In all which places, the multitude of apostles, elders, and prophets in this church of Jerusalem is evident. And it is further observable, that the apostles devolved the serving of tables upon the seven deacons, that they might wholly “give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word,” Acts vi, 2; which needed not, nor would there have been full employment for the apostles, if there had not been divers congregations in that one church of Jerusalem.
Except. ‘Tis true, the apostles were for a time in Jerusalem, yet when in Judea or elsewhere any received the gospel, the apostles went abroad to erect other churches.
Ans. Touching the apostles going abroad, there can be given but one instance, Acts viii. 14, where the whole twelve went not forth, but only two were sent, viz. Peter and John: but suppose it were granted, that upon some special occasions the apostles went out from Jerusalem, can it be imagined that the apostles’ ordinary abode would be at Jerusalem, to attend only one single congregation, as if that would fill all their hands with work?
Except. The apostles were well employed when they met in an upper room, and had but one hundred and twenty for their flock, and this for forty days together; now if they stayed in Jerusalem when they had but one hundred and twenty, and yet had their hands filled with work, the presence of the apostles argues not more congregations in Jerusalem than could meet in one place for all acts of worship.
Ans. 1. From Christ’s ascension (immediately after which they went up to the upper chamber) to the feast of Pentecost, there were but ten days, not forty; so that there is one mistake.
2. During that time betwixt Christ’s ascension and the feast of Pentecost, (whether ten or forty days is not very material,) the apostles were especially taken up in prayer and supplication, waiting for the promise of the Spirit to qualify them for the work of the ministry: now, because the twelve apostles, before they had received the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, did continue for a short time in Jerusalem with a small number in prayer, will it therefore follow that after they had received these extraordinary gifts, that they were bound up within the limits of one single congregation?
Except. The argument that there were many teachers in Jerusalem, proves not that there were more congregations in Jerusalem than one, because there were then many gifted men, which were not officers, which yet occasionally instructed others, as Aquila did Apollos; therefore it seems they were only gifted persons, not officers.
Ans. 1. Grant that in those times there were many gifted men, not in office, which might occasionally instruct others, as Aquila did Apollos; yet it is further to be noted, that,
2. This instructing must be either private, or public; if private only, then the objection is of no force, (because these teachers instructed publicly;) if in public, then if this objection were of force, it would follow, that women might instruct publicly, because Priscilla, as well as Aquila, instructed Apollos.
3. The current of expositors say, that the seventy disciples were at Jerusalem among the one hundred and twenty, Acts i. 16, who were teachers by office.
III. From the variety of languages among the disciples at Jerusalem, it is evident there were more congregations than one in that one church: the diversity of languages among them is plainly mentioned in divers places, “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven. Now every man heard them speak in his own language,” &c., Acts ii. 5, 8-12. Now, of those that heard this variety of languages, and Peter’s sermon thereupon, “They that gladly received his word, were baptized, and the same day there were added about three thousand souls,” Acts ii. 41, which diversity of languages necessitated those members of the church of Jerusalem to enjoy the ordinances in divers distinct congregations in their own language. And that they might so do, the Spirit furnished the apostles, &c., with diversity of languages, which diversity of languages were as well for edification of them within the Church, as for a sign to them that were without.
Except. Though the Jews being dispersed were come in from other countries, yet they were all generally learned, and understood the Hebrew tongue, the language of their own nation, so that diversity of tongues proves not, that of necessity there must be distinct places to meet in.
Ans. 1. It is easier said than proved, that the Jews were so generally skilled in the Hebrew tongue, when, while they were scattered in Media and Parthia, and other places, they had no universities or schools of learning. Besides, it is not to be forgotten, that the proper language or dialect in those days in use among the Jews was Syriac; as appears by divers instances of Syriac words in the New Testament, as of the Jews’ own terms: Acts i. 19, which “in their proper tongue, is called Aceldama;” John xix. 13. 17, Gabbatha, Golgotha, &c.; Mark xv. 34, Eloi, Eloi, lama-sabachthani; with divers other pure Syriac terms. Grant they did; yet,
2. There were in Jerusalem proselytes also, Romans, Cappadocians, Cretians, and Arabians, Acts ii. 10, 11; how could they be edified in the faith, if only one congregation, where nothing but Hebrew was spoken, met in Jerusalem; if so be there were not other congregations for men of other languages, that understood not the Hebrew tongue?
IV. From the manner of Christians’ public meetings in those primitive times, both in the church of Jerusalem and in other churches. It is plain that the multitudes of Christians in Jerusalem, and other churches, could not possibly meet all together in one single congregation, inasmuch as they had no public temples, or capacious places for worship and partaking of all ordinances, (as we now have,) but private places, houses, chambers, or upper rooms, (as the unsettled state of the Church and troublesomeness of those times would permit,) which in all probability were of no great extent, nor any way able to contain in them so many thousand believers at once, as there were: “They met from house to house, to break bread,” Acts ii. 46. “In an upper room the apostles with the women and brethren continued in prayer and supplication,” Acts i. 12-14. We read of their meetings in the house of Mary, Acts xii. 12. In the school of one Tyrannus, Acts xix. 9. In an upper chamber at Troas, Acts xx. 8. In Paul’s own hired house at Rome, Acts xxviii. 30, 31. In the house of Aquila and Priscilla, where the church met, therefore called the church in his house, Rom. xvi. 5; 1 Cor. xvi. 19. In the house of Nimphas, Col. iv. 15, and in the house of Archippus, Philem. 2. This was their manner of public meetings in the apostles’ times: which also continued in the next ages, as saith Eusebius,111 till, by indulgence of succeeding emperors, they had large churches, houses of public meeting erected for them.
To sum up all: 1. There were in the church at Jerusalem greater numbers of believers than could possibly meet at once to partake of all Christ’s ordinances. 2. There were more church officers than one single congregation could need, or than could be fully employed therein, unless we will say, that they preached but seldom. 3. There was such diversity of languages among them, that they must needs rank themselves into several congregations, according to their languages, else he that spoke in one language to hearers of many several languages, would be a barbarian to them, and they to him. 4. Finally, their places of ordinary meeting were private, of small extent, incapable of containing so many thousands at once as there were believers; and by all these, how evident is it, that there must needs be granted that there were more congregations than one in this one church of Jerusalem!
II. The church of Antioch, in Syria, consisted also of more congregations than one. This appears,
1. From the multitude of believers at Antioch. For, 1. After the dispersion upon Saul’s persecution, the Lord Jesus was preached at Antioch, and a great number believed, &c., Acts xi. 21. 2. Upon Barnabas’s preaching there, much people was added to the Lord, Acts xi. 24. 3. Barnabas and Saul for a year together taught much people there, and disciples there so mightily multiplied, that there Christ’s disciples first received the eminent and famous denomination of CHRISTIANS, and so were and still are called throughout the whole world, Acts xi. 25, 26.
2. From the multitudes of prophets and preachers that ministered at Antioch. For, 1. Upon the dispersion of the Jews at Jerusalem, divers of them (being men of Cyprus and Cyrene) preached the Lord Jesus at Antioch, Acts xi. 20; here must be three or four preachers at least, otherwise they would not be men of Cyprus and Cyrene. 2. After this Barnabas was sent to preach at Antioch; there is a fifth, Acts xi. 22-24. 3. Barnabas finds so much work at Antioch, that he goes to Tarsus to bring Saul thither to help him; there is a sixth, ver. 25, 26. 4. Besides these, there came prophets from Jerusalem to Antioch in those days; there are at least two more, viz. eight in all, Acts xi. 27, 28. 4. Further, besides Barnabas and Saul, three more teachers are named, viz. Simon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, Acts xii. 1-3. 6. Yea, “Paul and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also,” Acts xv. 35. Now sum up all, what a multitude of believers, and what a college of preachers were here at Antioch! How is it possible that all these preachers should bustle themselves about one congregation (and doubtless they abhorred idleness) in dispensing the ordinances of Christ to them only? or how could so many members meet in one single congregation at once, ordinarily to partake of all ordinances?
III. The church of Ephesus (in Asia Minor, Acts xix. 22) had in it more congregations than one: For,
1. The number of prophets and preachers at Ephesus were many. Paul continued there two years and three months, Acts xix. 8, 10; and Paul settled there about twelve disciples who prophesied, Acts xix. 1, 6, 7. And how should these thirteen ministers be employed, if there were not many congregations? Compare also Acts xx. 17, 28, 36, 37, where it is said of the bishops of Ephesus, that “Paul kneeled down and prayed with them all, and they all wept sore.” Here is a good number implied.
2. The gift of tongues also was given unto all these twelve prophets, Acts xix. 6, 7. To what end, if they had not several congregations of several languages, to speak in these several tongues unto them?
3. The multitude of believers must needs be great at Ephesus: For, 1. Why should Paul, who had universal commission to plant churches in all the world, stay above two years together at Ephesus if no more had been converted there than to make up one single congregation? Acts xix. 8, 10. 2. During this space, “all that dwelt in Asia,” usually meeting at Ephesus for worship, “heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks,” Acts xix. 10. 3. At the knowledge of Paul’s miracles, “fear fell upon all the Jews and Greeks dwelling at Ephesus, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified,” Acts xix. 17. 4. Many of the believers came and confessed, and showed their deeds, ver. 18, whereby is intimated that more did believe than did thus. 5. “Many also of them that used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men, and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver,” (this they would never have done publicly if the major part, or at least a very great and considerable part of the city, had not embraced the faith, that city being so furiously zealous in their superstition and idolatry,) “so mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed,” Acts xix. 19, 20. 6. Paul testifies that at Ephesus a great door and effectual was open unto him, viz. a most advantageous opportunity of bringing in a mighty harvest of souls to Christ, 1 Cor. xvi. 8, 9. Put all together, 1. The number of prophets and preachers; 2. The gifts of tongues conferred upon those prophets; and, 3. The multitude of believers which so abounded at Ephesus: how is it possible to imagine, upon any solid ground, that there was no more but one single congregation in the church of Ephesus?
IV. The church of Corinth in Græcia comprised in it also more congregations than one, as may be justly concluded from, 1. The multitude of believers. 2. The plenty of ministers. 3. The diversity of tongues and languages. 4. And the plurality of churches at Corinth. Let all these be well compared together.
1. From the multitude of believers. There appears to be a greater number of believers at Corinth than could all at once meet together to partake of all the ordinances of Christ: For, 1. At Paul’s first coming to Corinth, and at his first sermon preached in the house of Justus, it is said, “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord, and all his house, and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized,” Acts xviii. 1, 7, 8. Here is Crispus and all his house, (which probably was very great, he being the chief ruler of the synagogue,) and many of the Corinthians, believing; an excellent first-fruits; for who can justly say but Paul at his first sermon converted so many as might be sufficient to make up one single congregation? 2. Immediately after this (Paul having shook his raiment against the Jews, who, contrary to his doctrine, opposed themselves and blasphemed; and having said unto them, “Your blood be upon your own heads, I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles,” Acts xviii. 6) the Lord comforts Paul against the obstinacy of the Jews by the success his ministry should have among the Gentiles in the city of Corinth: “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city,” Acts xviii. 9, 10. Much people belonging to God, according to his secret predestination, over and besides those that already were actually his by effectual vocation. And much people, in respect of the Jews that opposed and blasphemed, (who were exceeding many,) otherwise it would have been but small comfort to Paul if by much people should be meant no more than could meet at once in one small single congregation. 3. Paul himself continued at Corinth “a year and six months teaching the word of God among them,” Acts xviii. 11. To what end should Paul the apostle of the Gentiles stay so long in one place, if he had not seen the Lord’s blessing upon his ministry, to bring into the faith many more souls than would make up one congregation, having so much work to do far and near? 4. “They that believed at Corinth were baptized,” Acts xviii. 8. (Baptism admitted them into that one body of the Church, 1 Cor. xii. 13.) Some were baptized by Paul, (though but few in comparison of the number of believers among them: compare Acts xviii. 8, with 1 Cor. 14-17,) the generality consequently were baptized by other ministers there, and that in other congregations wherein Paul preached not, as well as in such wherein Paul preached; it being unreasonable to deny the being of divers congregations for the word and sacraments to be dispensed in, himself dispensing the sacrament of baptism to so few.
2. From the plenty of ministers and preachers in the church of Corinth, it is evident it was a presbyterial church, and not only a single congregation; for to what end should there be many laborers in a little harvest, many teachers over one single congregation? &c. That there were many preachers at Corinth is plain: For, 1. Paul himself was the master-builder there that laid the foundation of that church, 1 Cor. iii. 10, their spiritual father; “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” 1 Cor. iv. 15. And he stayed with them one year and a half, Acts xviii. II. 2. While the apostle sharply taxeth them as guilty of schism and division for their carnal crying up of their several teachers: some doting upon one, some upon another, some upon a third, &c. “Every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ,” 1 Cor. i. 12. Doth not this intimate that they had plenty of preachers, and these preachers had their several followers, so prizing some of them as to undervalue the rest? and was this likely to be without several congregations into which they were divided? 3. When the apostle saith, “Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers,” 1 Cor. v. 15; though his words be hyperbolical, yet they imply that they had great store of teachers and preachers. 4. We have mention of many prophets in the church of Corinth: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge—And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” 1 Cor. xiv. 20, 31. Here are prophets speaking two or three; and prophets judging of their doctrine, which sure were more than they that were judged; it being unreasonable for the minor part to pass judgement upon the major part. And though these prophets had extraordinary gifts, (as the church of Corinth excelled all other churches in gifts, 1 Cor. i. 7,) and were able to preach in an extraordinary singular way; yet were they the ordinary pastors and ministers of that church of Corinth, as the whole current of this fourteenth chapter evidenceth, wherein so many rules and directions, aptly agreeing to ordinary pastors, are imposed upon them for the well ordering of their ministerial exercises. Now, where there were so many pastors, were there not several congregations for them to feed? Or were they idle, neglecting the exercise and improvement of their talents?
3. From the diversity of tongues and languages, wherein the church did eminently excel. “In every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge—So that you come behind in no gift,” &c., i.e., ye excel in every gift, more being intended than is expressed, 1 Cor. i. 5, 7. Among other gifts some of them excelled in tongues which they spake, the right use of which gift of tongues the apostle doth at large lay down, 1 Cor. xiv. 2, 4-6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 23, 26, 27. “If any speak in an unknown tongue let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course, and let one interpret.” So that there were many endued with gifts of tongues in that church. To what end? Not only for a sign to unbelievers, ver. 22, but also for edification of divers congregations, of divers tongues and languages within that church of Corinth.
4. From the plurality of churches mentioned in reference to this church of Corinth. For the apostle regulating their public assemblies and their worship there, saith to the church of Corinth, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.” It is not said, in the church, in the singular number; but in the churches, in the plural; and this of the churches in Corinth, for it is said, Let your women, &c., not indefinitely, Let women, &c. So that according to the plain letter of the words, here are churches in the church of Corinth, viz. a plurality of single congregations in this one presbyterial church. And this plurality of churches in the church of Corinth is the more confirmed if we take the church of Cenchrea (which is a harbor or seaport to Corinth) to be comprised within the church of Corinth, as some learned authors do conceive it may.112
That there is in the word of Christ a pattern of one presbyterial government in common over divers single congregations in one church. This may be evidenced by these following considerations: For,
1. Divers single congregations are called one church, as hath at large been proved in the second position immediately foregoing; inasmuch as all the believers in Jerusalem are counted one church: yet those believers are more in number than could meet for all ordinances in any one single congregation. And why are divers congregations styled one church? 1. Not in regard of that oneness of heart and soul which was among them, “having all things common,” &c., Acts iv. 32. For these affections and actions of kindness belonged to them by the law of brotherhood and Christian charity to one another, (especially considering the then present condition of believers,) rather than by any special ecclesiastical obligation, because they were members of such a church. 2. Not in regard of any explicit church covenant, knitting them in one body. For we find neither name nor thing, print nor footstep of any such thing as a church covenant in the church of Jerusalem, nor in any other primitive apostolical church in all the New Testament; and to impose an explicit church covenant upon the saints as a necessary constituting form of a true visible Church of Christ, and without which it is no Church, is a mere human invention, without all solid warrant from the word of God. 3. Not in regard of the ministration of the word, sacraments, prayers, &c. For these ordinances were dispensed in their single congregations severally, it being impossible that such multitudes of believers should meet all in one congregation, to partake of them jointly, (as hath been evidenced.) 4. But in regard of one joint administration of church government among them, by one common presbytery, or college of elders, associated for that end. From this one way of church government, by one presbytery in common, all the believers in Jerusalem, and so in other cities respectively, were counted but one church. 2. In every such presbyterial church made up of divers single congregations, there were ecclesiastical ruling officers, which are counted or called the officers of that church, but never counted or called governors, elders, &c., of any one single congregation therein; as in the church of Jerusalem, Acts xi. 27, 30, and xv. 2: of Antioch, compare Acts xiii. 1-3, with xv. 35: of Ephesus, Acts xx. 17, 28: and of the church of Corinth, 1 Cor. i. 12, and iv. 15, and xiv. 29.
3. The officers of such presbyterial churches met together for acts of church government: as, to take charge of the church’s goods, and of the due distribution thereof, Acts iv. 35, 37, and xi. 30: to ordain, appoint, and send forth church officers, Acts vi. 2, 3, 6, and xiii. 1, 3: to excommunicate notorious offenders, 1 Cor. v. 4, 5, 7, 13, compared with 2 Cor. ii. 6: and to restore again penitent persons to church communion, 2 Cor. ii. 7-9.
Except. Receiving of alms is no act of government.
Ans. True, the bare receiving of alms is no act of government, but the ordering and appointing how it shall be best improved and disposed of, cannot be denied to be an act of government, and for this did the elders meet together, Acts xi. 30.
4. The apostles themselves, in their joint acts of government in such churches, acted as ordinary officers, viz. as presbyters or elders. This is much to be observed, and may be evidenced as followeth: for, 1. None of their acts of church government can at all be exemplary or obligatory upon us, if they were not presbyterial, but merely apostolical; if they acted therein not as ordinary presbyters, but as extraordinary apostles. For what acts they dispatched merely as apostles, none may meddle withal but only apostles. 2. As they were apostles, so they were presbyters, and so they style themselves, “The elder to the elect lady,” 2 John i. “The elders which are among you I exhort,” saith Peter, “who am also an elder,” (i.e. who am a fellow-elder, or co-presbyter,) 1 Pet. v. 1; wherein he ranks himself among ordinary presbyters, which had been improper, unless he had discharged the offices and acts of an ordinary presbyter. 3. Their acts were such, for substance, as ordinary presbyters do perform, as preaching and prayer, Acts vi. 4: ordaining of officers, Acts vi. 6, and xiv. 23: dispensing of the sacraments, 1 Cor. i. 14; Acts ii. 42, and xx. 7: and of church censures, 1 Cor. v. 4, 5, compared with 1 Tim. v. ver. 1, ult.: which acts of government, and such like, were committed by Christ to them, and to ordinary presbyters (their successors) to the end of the world; compare Matt. xvi. 19, and xviii. 17, 18, to the end, and John xx. 21, 23, with Matt. xxviii. 18-20. 4. They acted not only as ordinary elders, but also they acted jointly with other elders, being associated with them in the same assembly, as in that eminent synod at Jerusalem, Acts xv. 6, 22, 23, and xvi. 4, “And as they went through cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.” 5. And, finally, they took in the church’s consent with themselves, wherein it was needful, as in the election and appointment of deacons, Acts vi. 2, 3. 6. The deacons being specially to be trusted with the church’s goods, and the disposal thereof, according to the direction of the presbytery, for the good of the church, &c.
Let all these considerations be impartially balanced in the scales of indifferent unprejudiced judgments; and how plainly do they delineate in the word, a pattern of one presbyterial government in common over divers single congregations within one church!
Except. The apostles’ power over many congregations was founded upon their power over all churches; and so cannot be a pattern for the power of elders over many.
Ans. 1. The apostles’ power over many congregations as one church, to govern them all as one church jointly and in common, was not founded upon their power over all churches, but upon the union of those congregations into one church; which union lays a foundation for the power of elders governing many congregations.
2. Besides, the apostles, though extraordinary officers, are called elders, 1 Pet. v. 1, to intimate to us, that in ordinary acts of church government, they did act as elders for a pattern to us in like administrations.
Except. The apostles, it is true, were elders virtually, that is, their apostleship contained all offices in it, but they were not elders formally.
Ans. 1. If by formally be meant, that they were not elders really, then it is false; for the Scripture saith Peter was an elder, 1 Peter v. 1. If by formally be meant that they were not elders only, that is granted; they were so elders, as they were still apostles, and so apostles as they were yet elders: their eldership did not exclude their apostleship, nor their apostleship swallow up their eldership.
2. Besides, two distinct offices may be formally in one and the same person; as Melchisedec was formally a king and priest, and David formally a king and prophet; and why then might not Peter or John, or any of the twelve, be formally apostles and elders? And ministers are formally pastors and ruling elders.
Except. ‘Tis true, the apostles acted together with elders, because it so fell out they met together; but that they should meet jointly to give a pattern for an eldership, is not easy to prove; one apostle might have done that alone, which all here did.
Ans. 1. ‘Tis true, the apostles as apostles had power to act singly what they did jointly; yet, when they acted jointly, their acts might have more authority in the Church: upon which ground they of Antioch may be conceived to have sent to the whole college of apostles and elders at Jerusalem, (rather than to any one singly;) why was this, but to add more authority to their acts and determinations?
2. Why should not their meeting together be a pattern of a presbytery, as well as their meeting together when they took in the consent of the people, Acts vi., in the choice of the deacons, to be a pattern or warrant that the people have a power in the choice of their officers? (as those of contrary judgment argue:) if one be taken in as an inimitable practice, why not the other?
3. If the apostles joining with elders, acted nothing as elders, then we can bring nothing of theirs into imitation; and by this we should cut the sinews, and raze the foundation of church government, as if there were no footsteps thereof in the holy Scriptures.
Finally, That the pattern of the said presbytery and presbyterial government is for a rule to the churches of Christ in all after ages, may appear as followeth:
1. The first churches were immediately planted and governed by Christ’s own apostles and disciples; 1. Who immediately received the keys of the kingdom of heaven from Christ himself in person, Matt. xvi. 19, and xviii. 17,18; John xx. 21, 23. 2. Who immediately had the promise of Christ’s perpetual presence with them in their ministry, Matt, xxviii. 18-20; and of the plentiful donation of the Spirit of Christ to lead them into all truth, John xiv. 16, and xvi. 13-15; Acts i. 4, 5, 8 3. Who immediately received from Christ, after his resurrection and before his ascension, “commandments by the Holy Ghost,”—”Christ being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” Acts i. 2, 3; and, 4. Who were first and immediately baptized by the Holy Ghost, extraordinarily, Acts ii. 1-5. Now, who can imagine that the apostles and disciples were not actuated by the Spirit of Christ bestowed upon them? or did not discharge Christ’s commandments, touching his kingdom imposed upon them? or did not duly use those keys of Christ’s kingdom committed to them in the ordering and governing of the primitive churches? And if so, then the pattern of their practices must be a rule for all the succeeding churches, 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil, iv. 9.
2. To what end hath the Holy Ghost so carefully recorded a pattern of the state and government of the primitive churches in the first and purest times, but for the imitation of successive churches in after times? “For whatsoever things wore written aforetime, were written for our learning,” or instruction. But what do such records instruct us? Only in fact, that such things were done by the first churches? or of right also, that such things should be done by the after churches? Surely, this is more proper and profitable for us.
3. If such patterns of Christ’s apostles, disciples, and primitive churches in matters of the government will not amount to an obligatory rule for all following churches, how shall we justify sundry other acts of religion commonly received in the best reformed churches, and founded only or chiefly upon the foundation of the practice of Christ’s apostles and the apostolical churches? As the receiving of the Lord’s supper on the Lord’s days, Acts xx. 7, &c.; which notwithstanding are generally embraced without any considerable opposition or contradiction, and that most deservedly.