Page images
PDF
EPUB

advisory power.

Hooker lays this down in the following unqualified terms.

“The truth is, a particular congregation is the highest fribunal, unto which the party may appeal in the third place :. If private counsell, or the witness of two have seemed to proceed too much sharpely, and with too much rigor against bim, before the tribunal of the church the cause may easily be scanned, and sentence executed according to Christ. li difficulties arise in the proceeding, the counsell of other churches should be sought to clear the truth ; but the power of censure rests still in the congregation, where Christ has placed it. Survey, Part iv. p. 19."

That is, in cases of discipline, whatever aid may be sought from other churches, the power of censure still remaios in the particular church. And whatever the ecclesiastical council may determine, their acts have no force until adopted by the church. And-of course, the church may adopt them, or not, according to their own judgment. This is grounded on Matt. xvii. 17. " And if he shall neglect to hear th·m; tell it unto the church : but if he will not bear the church, let biin be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Congregationalists think this a divine warrant for making the voice of the church decisive in all cases. They regard all rehearings before councils, as only aids to the church to come to a proper determination. And all appeals, properly so called, carrying the final act away from the church to some other body, are but buman devices, to improve the institutions of Christ.

So far as the reason of the thing is concerned, they approve of the scripture plan. They think it more likely that cases will be decided right by a man's own neighbors, than by strangers ; that the advice of other churches is the best safeguard against error ; that if we carry a question ever so far by appeals, the farther we carry it, the less practicable it is to make the tribunal acquainted with the merits of the case ; that in the end it must be decided by imperfect men; that the supreme tribunal, whatever it be, is liable to error, and its errors cannot be corrected this side the judgment seat, while the evil consequences of the error to au individual or a church, are more easily remedied, if the decision of the church is final. They think that, so far as experience and observation go to prove any thing, the character and privileges of a church member, are as safe here as under any other government, and as likely to receive the protecting care of his Master, if he lives as he ought And moreover, they cannot close their eyes to the grievous wrong, of compelling a whole church to walk in fellowship with a man, whom they conscientiously believe to have been convicted, on sufficient evidence, of crimes wh ch render him unworthy of the communion of saints. But what setties the ques. tion in their view, is, that the power of the church its :lf, to choose its officers and exercise discipline, is a delegated power, derived from the authority of Christ, and consequently they have no right to delegate their powers, and transfer their responsibilities to oth

ers.

the

5. That separate churches stand in such a relation to each other, as obligati-s them to a certain mutual recognition and care, which is called communion of churches. The greatest difficulty which is found, in conveying to those who are accustomed to other modes of churcb government, a clear understanding of congregational principles, respects the relation or connection of separate churches. Most of the objections which we have heard against the institutions of our fatbi-ss, have gone upon the idea that they beld the churches to be independent of each other, as if each church were a world by itself. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The congregational churches never were independents. As proof, we give two extracts, one from Thomas Hooker, the father of congregationalism in Connecticut, the other from the Synod of Cambridge, which was held A. D. 1648, and composed of Elders and Messengers," or pastors and delegates, of all the New-England churches, including Mr. Cotton oŤ Boston, and the greater part of the ministers that first came to America.

“She, (the church) is so far subject to the consociation of churches, that she is bound, in case of doubt and difficulty, to crave their counsel, avd if it be according to God, to follow it : and if she sball err from the rule, and continue obstinate therein, they have authority to renounce the right hand of fellowship with her.

“ In the second sepse, the church may be said to be independent, namely, sufficient to attain her end ; and therefore, hath complete power, being rightly constituted, to exercise all the ordinances of God. Survey, part II. p. 80.

“Although churches be distinct, and therefore may not be confounded one with another, and equal, and therefore have no dominion one over another ; yet all churches ought to preserve church communion one with another, because they are all united unto Christ, nut only ay a mystical, but as a political head, whence is derived a communiou suitable thereto, Rev. i. 4; Cant. viii8; Rom. xvi. 16; 1 Cor. xvi. 19; Acts xv. 23; Rev. ii. 1."-Cambridge Platform, chap. xv. p. 54.

The obligation of churches to perform the various acts of fellowship, arises from their relation to each other and to their common Lord. It does not arise from any express agreement to be in fellowship ; nor does it depend on their more or less complete coincidence in doctrine and practice, but on the simple fact that they are churches of Christ. As such, they have a common interest, are pursuing a common object, possess a common character, serve a common Lord, and live in a cominon hope ; and their relations are such, that each is deeply interest'd in the welfare of the other. If une suffers by declension, error, iniquity, or persecution, all suffer, for the cause s'ff:rs. This communion of churches therefore, is not at all confined to churches that are congregational in form, or calvinistie in doctrine: It is due to all who afford evidence that Jesus Christ uwni them as his churches. It is actually ex

1. By way

ercised to all, whuse ministers we allow to preach, whose members we adipit to the Lord's table with us, or to whoin we extend any act or christian recogoition or intercourse.

The Camb.iilge Platform specifies the following, as the principal ways in which church communion is exercised. of mutual car?,' in taking thought for one another's welfare, praying for one another, etc. 2.7 By way of consultation ;' as the chirch at Antioch consulted with the apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem, when they were in difficulty about the ques. tion of circumcision. 3 By way of admonition,' when a church lies under any public scandal, 'for beresy or immorality, and does not tak: measures for its removal. 4. By way of participation.' This is when members of other churches are admitted to the Lord's table, or their children are baptized, or the mini ter of one church preaches and administers ordinances to another

5. By way of recommendation. If the member of one church las occaa sion to reside in another, he is furnished with letters recommending bin to fellowship, or is dismissed and recommanded to membership. 6. “By way of relief ;' as the churches of Galatia contributed for the relief of the church at Jerusalim.

It follows then, that all christian churches are bound to exercise mitual care and sym, athy, and aid, doing one another good to the extent of their power; and that'thy have a right to advise and ain nisi each other. When a church, by its conduct, ceases to exhibit credible evidence that it is a christian church, it is proper that other church's should ceas: to hold communion with it, as such. From this fellowship of churenes, there results as much mutual power, restraint, and iniluence, as is consistint with their frerden and distinctness and enough to answer all the purposes to be answerad by churcb organization and discipline. Churches have a relation and infuence and responsibility, like that which would be created, if a number of christianis should be thrown together in a heathen country, and should there be desirous of doing what they could to promote the gospel around them. We

may

take the case of christian missionaries, of diff'rent sects, at Nalta, as an in-, stance. Each would feel tenderly alive to the spiritual welfare and purity of all the rest, and would be under obligation to sacri: fice every thing but the law of God, and a good conscience, for the sake of mutual fellowship and brotherhood. They would also exert a powerful iniluence over each other. No one would feel warranted to take any important step, aff-cting their common object, without consulting his brethren; nor would any one feel at liberty to act contrary to their deliberate judgment and advice, unless lie

very weighty reasons for so doing In any case of enbarrassinent or doubt, or difficulty, even about the management of his owo private affairs, each would still feel that it was his privilege and duty to avail himself of their counsel and aid. Sometimes lie might apply to an individual, and sometimes, in inore weighty asa, fairs, to a select council of several. If thy found him pursuing a course which was likely to be injurious, they would kindly advise him. If he was doing wrong, so as to bring a reproach upon reli

had

gion, or weaken their hands, or embarrass their efforts in the good cause, they would admonish him of it ; and if occasion required, they might go in a body, in order to give greater weight to their remonstrances. If they found him perverse, or blinded with passion, so that they could not act with bim, por recognize him as a christian brotber, they would feel it becssary to withdraw from him, until he should come to himself again. All this while there could be no act of authority, no assumption of power by one over the rest, or by the community over the individuals, no means used, but those of advice and persuasion, no influence but light and love."

For the Hopkinsian Magazine.

THE WILL OF GOD. We can form no idea of God, but what we derive, originally, from reflection upon the powers, faculties, and operations of our own minds. God made the first human pair, in his own image, both natural and moral. The moral image of God, consisting in

righteousness and true holiness,' was lost by the fall : his natural image, consisting in the intellectual and active powers of the mind, we still retain. While, therefore, it would be most dislocorable to the Supreme Being, to think him altogether like orto selves, as to his mora! character ; still we may and must i bink him like ourselves, as to his natural attributes. God is a Spirit. And it is by a krowledge of our own spirits, that we form some just conception of the Divine Spirit. We are obliged to think, that thought in God, is like thought in man ; that knowledge in God, is like knowledge in man ; that reason in God, is like reason in man; and that volition in God, is like volition in man. The highest idea we can form of the natural attributes of God, is to suppose they are like the properties and powers of our ono spirits, divested of all imperfection, and entarged to infinity.

As the will of man is not a faculty, but the exercise of his faculties ; so the will of God consists in exercise : it is bis choice, his pleasure : it comprehends all that, in which he is active.

Though the will of God, strictly speaking, is but one, as it is unisormly the same, and always consistent with itself ; yet it extends to a vast variety of objects, and consists of a great variety of exercises, according to the various properties and relations of the objects upon which it acts. God views no being or thing in the universe, with indifference ; and he exercises proper and becoming affections and volitions, towards both himself and all the creatures and things which he has created and made. Hence the will of God is called by different appellations, according as it is conversant with ihing's good or evil, with creatures boly or sinful, and with events past, present, or to come.

Thus the will of God is called his pleasure, bis purpose, his love, hatred, anger,

etc. But the most general distinction, made respecting the will of God, is that of his decretive and preceptive will. The decretive will of God, is his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his own will, whereby for his own glory he hath foreordained whatever comes to pass.' From eternity, God kopw all things possible : And before he began the work of creation, like every wise agent, he had a plan, comprehending all his works and operations. He knew what was best, and determined what creatures and things to make, and how to govern and dispose of them, so as to giorify himself in the highest degree, and produce the greatest possible Sum of holiness and happiness. Hence we read in sacred scrip ture, Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world-His work is perfect ; nothing can be added to it, por any thing taken from it-Of hin, and through him, and to him, are all things-Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own wiil.' This is God's decretive will: It is his counsel, purpose, or eternal predetermination of all things and events

The preceptive will of God, is his command, or law. This includes whatever he requirns of his rational creatures. As he is the Sovereign Disposer of all things in the natural world ; so he is the Supreme Governor of all free agents in the n.oral world. It belongs to him to give law to the whole rational creation. And the law which he gives thim, whether it be written in their coria sciences, or on tables of stone, or on the ages of revelation, is bis preceptive will.

The decretive will of God, has been called his secrel will ; and his law, comprehending all his commands, has been called his rerealed will. But this is not pertectly correct : for, though’all the commands of God are revealed ; yet all his decrees are not secret. He has revealed many of his decrees or purposes, in his holy word ; and he is revealing them, every day, by the events of his providence. The proper distinction, between the secret aid revealed will of Goi, is this : His secret will, is so much of his will, whether decretive or preceptive, as he has not yet revealed to men; and his s:vealed will is so much of his will, whether decretive or preceptive, as be has revealed to men, weither in his word or providence. From whence it must be obvious, that there never can be any ground to allege, that there is the least inconsistency or opposition, between the secret and revealed will of Gud. His will, whether of command or decree, law or purpose, is uniformly and forever the same, whether revealed to his creatures by his word and works, or kept a secret in his own breast.

It is orly between the decretive and the precentive parts of the Divine will, that it can ever be said, with the least plausibility, that there is inconsistency or opposition : and here, the inconsistency is apparent only, and not real. It is true, that God has commanded many things, which he had decreed should not be done. Instances of this, are found throughout the sacred pages. It must suffice, at this time, to mention two striking instances of this kind, as specimens of the rest. By his servants, Moses and Aaron, God commanded Pharoab to let the children of Israel go, that

« PreviousContinue »