[The 'f's have been changed to 's's in this essay for easier reading.]
A gospel church must be built upon a gospel plan. If we candidly look into the scriptures, we shall easily perceive, that the church is a society of saints, of faithful men and women in Christ Jesus, that are joined together in holy fellowship, that are incorporated into a visible church state, and by agreement meet together to carry on the worship of God, to glorify him, and edify one another.
The church does not appear to be national, provincial, or parochial; but truly congregational. It is not built of dead materials, but of lively stones,* each of them fitted before they are laid in the building, "so that there is neither
hammer nor axe heard in all the house while it is in building:+ how wonderful! how
* I Peter ii. 5.
+ I Kings vi. 7.
The church is called by St. Paul, "The pillar and ground of the truth."*
The gospel rule gives none a right in the church of Christ, but true believers: and all that enter not in by Christ the door, are thieves and robbers.
The church is Christ's mystical body, which he hath loved and given himself for, "that He might sanctify and cleanse it, with the washing of water by the word."+
If we wish to underftand the apostolick form of a gospel church, we must expect to find it in the Acts of the apostles, or some of their writings. The first gospel church that was gathered after the ascension of the Messiah, was that at Jerusalem, which is described in the following order: "Then they that gladly received his WORD were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls: and they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship." x
When Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, came and lied to the Holy Ghost, and pretended they were friends to Christ, when they were not, and were both fallen dead; great fear fell upon the attending multitude. "And of the rest durst no man join himself unto them" (That is, such as they were, carnal, hypocritical professors.) "But believers were the more added unto the Lord, multitudes both of men and women."§ So early
* I Timothy iii. 15.
+ Ephesians v. 26.
x Acts ii. 41, 42.
§ Acts v. 11-14.
This church at Jerusalem being gathered under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, may be considered as a model for all succeeding ones; every circumstance related concerning it, discovers it to be a body of true believers in Christ.
The next church gathered by the apostles was that at Samaria, which exactly agrees with that at Jerusalem — "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."*
The church of Corinth also appears to be in the same method; "Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized."+ "The church at Ephesus was addressed by the apostle, as "saints and faithful in Christ Jesus;" and as those who had been raised from the dead, and quickened by sovereign grace, turned from the course of this world, delivered from the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience. The Corinthians "first gave their own selves unto the Lord, and unto one another by the will of God."x And none can, in a gospel sense, give themselves up in church covenant, till they previously give themselves to the Lord.
I think that no one that is indebted to the New Testament for his knowledge respecting a gospel church, will try to gainsay the foregoing description.
Therefore I would observe, that if the foregoing description be a scriptural representation of a goapel church; then consequently, that church which does not agree thereto, is not strictly upon
* Acts viii. 12.
+ Acts xviii. 8.
x 2 Corinthians viii. 5.
That there may be churches formed, that in many particulars may resemble a gospel church, I wish not to deny; — and that in those churches there may be many real Christians, is a matter I have no desire to scruple: for I reason to suppose that there are many Christians, not united to any church.
Again, the Christian church is built on Christ's authority, and is supported and defended by the same: He is the chief corner stone, on which their spiritual building is erected, "disallowed indeed of men; but chosen of GOD, and precious." Therefore, that church that is built on worldly establishments, and depends on civil aid for its support and defence, is not strictly conformed to the gospel plan.
Ezra, who led the people out of Babylon, refused to ask aid of the civil arm, to assist him against the enemies in the way, saying, "I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen, to help us against the enemies in the way: because we had spoken to the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him: but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him."*
Christ's " kingdom is not of this world:"+ and in a religious sense is not connected with, nor any ways dependent thereon for its, being or support.
It will doubtless be granted, that there are many churches in the land, that are not formed according to the foregoing method, as may be made evident, and will appear in the following
* Ezra viii. 22.
+ John xviii, 36.
Again, Many of the Padobaptijls hold the covenant made with Abraham, called by Stephen "the covenant of circumcision" to be the covenant of grace.x From hence they infer the right of infant memberfhip; and consider the natural seed of believers as the children of Abraham; and on this ground claim the special privileges of the gospel for them as such.
This rather differs from Paul's idea, who tells us, "the promise — was not to Abraham nor to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness
* Acts viii, 37.
+ Romans x. 10
xActs vii. 8.
Again, The apostle Peter calls the members of the Christian church, "an holy prieft-hood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ;"x which no carnal professor can do; neither can men in their natural state, for "spiritual things are foolishness to them;" but the children of God are "an holy nation, a peculiar people, to shew forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light." Can we by this description find the features of an infant in his natural state? or do they not rather resemble true believers in Christ. But it is further added, "which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God, which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy."
But how will this agree with the option of infants being born with an hereditary right to the special ordinances of the gospel? If it be true that they have a right, then there is no time when they are not a people after they are born into the world: and that they obtained mercy in the same way that Levi paid tithes, i. e. in the loins of his father. Upon this scale, that parents convey a right of church privileges to their infant seed, I cannot see why they do not hold
their church privileges by the same tenure as they hold their lands.
* Romans iv. 13-16.
+ Galatians iii. 29.
x I Peter ii. 5-9.
If what has been observed already from the last will and testament of our Lord be true, it must sufficiently appear, that evidences of grace are absolutely necessary to the admission of a member to church fellowship or special ordinances.
At a certain time our Lord inquired of his disciples, whom men said that he was. After a relation of the different opinions of others, Peter believingly affirms, "THOU ART THE CHRIST THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon-barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, thou art Peter; and upon this ROCK I will build my church, and the gates of hell fhall not prevail against it."*
Churches in general, of all denominations, improve this declaration as a promise in their favour. But to determine the propriety of the claim, it is necessary to consider two things, 1st. * Matthew xvi. 13-19.
Now, would we build upon another rock instead of that referred to by our Lord, it would naturally seclude us from the promise.
Again, Should we build and lay the true Rock as our foundation, but at the same time should not attend to the manner of building as described by Christ, we might ftill be left without any just right to the promise. Therefore I would here observe, that Christians in general (Papists excepted) acknowledge this rock to refer to Chrift. But should the reader think I take something for granted that is not proved, let him consult the following scriptures, Isaiah xxviii. 16. Behold, lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. 2 Samuel xxi. 2. The Lord is my rock. Again in the 32d verse, Who is a rock save our GOD. Also, see 1 Samuel ii. 2. Neither is there any rock like our GOD. Again, I Corinthians iii. 11. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is JESUS CHRIST. The apostle speaking of the household of God, says, They are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: Ephesians ii. 20.
By the above quotations it is made evident, that this Rock on which the church of Christ is built, is Christ himself, who is the "root, and off-spring of David, the bright and the morning star." This is the Rock implied in Peter's confession.
But let us observe in the next place the manner of the building to be erected on this Rock. A profession of faith, in adults, in order to their admission to special communion, is a point generally
For the present let us view the matter in a different light: if the divine rule will admit of
But it may be further objected, that a perfect church is not to be expected in this imperfect state. To which I answer, the divine rule requires that they be perfect: Matthew v. 48. 2 Corinthians xiii. 11. Hebrews xiii. 21. The question is not, whether, after all, we shall not have some hypocrites, or unregenerate persons in the church; but whether we may knowingly receive such, or otherwise receive them that give no evidence to the contrary.
Now it will be readily granted that the divine rule requires every Christian to be perfect. But what if some would say, We do not expect Christians to be perfect, and so should take liberty to indulge themselves in sin; could the divine rule be plead in their favour? Would it not rather stare them in the face? Equally so does the gospel rule every carnal and hypocritical professor.
But it may be further objected that it is the duty of every person to attend to all the externals of religion, as means which God has appointed for their conversion. To which I answer, it is the duty of every rational creature
If the gospel directs the sinner to a progressive use of means or ordinances, in order to his conversion, then it does not require him immediately to believe, or to exercise evangelical repentance: means always precede the end for which they were designed. But is it not plain that every duty which the law or gospel requires of any creature, it requires it to be done from a principle of supreme love to God; and without that, all his pretensions to duty are but hypocrisy. Prayer, or reading of God's word, attending to the word preached, and special ordinances (in an orderly way) are duties held up before every person: but they are required to attend them with penitent hearts. If the sinner attempts to pray with a heart of impenitency and unbelief, he does but deceive himself and mock God: for his motives cannot spring from a higher sourse than that which rules his heart, which is self-love. If he attends divine service, and imagines he has been worshipping God, he does but deceive himself: for they that worship God, worship him in spirit and in truth; whilst this inscription might be justly written upon his most refined acts of devotion, To THE UNKNOWN GOD. Should he be sprinkled from the baptismal laver, or immersed in Jordan's swelling flood, it would avail him nothing without a new heart. Should he come to the sacred table of our Lord, and receive the outward elements,
That the proclamation of the gospel is to be made in the ears of sinners, will be readily granted; and wherever it comes, it makes a demand for the sinner immediately to surrender his heart. His refusal is criminal, and lays him under condemnation: John iii. 18. But that the gospel invites impenitents, while such, to partake of its special ordinances, I choose rather to deny; for unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Psalm L. 16. But it may be possible that some may object, that I hereby excuse the sinner from attempting any duty, because he has not love to God: I am far from making excuses for impenitents, but would rather show them their inexcusableness. Should the question be asked me, Whether it be the duty of a sinner to pray, I should readily answer, Yes; and add, that he must pray in faith; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin: Romans xiv. 23. And without faith it is impossible to pleaae God: Hebrews xi. 6. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed: Romans x. 14. I can see no valuable end answered to the Redeemer's cause, or to the souls of men, either by urging or receivmg unregenerate sinners into the church. If they can be persuaded that they are doing something that is acceptable to God as the matter of their duty, this may afford their conferences a temporary relief, and may be the means of their delaying to embrace that which alone can prove the salvation of their souls.
Having taken this brief survey of the gospel doctrine relative to the character of God's professing people, and the churches of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find this to be the account: That those who had been so taught as to understand the doctrine of the cross, and so learned of the Father as to come to the Son, immediately
But we have no account of any one's believing before taught, "for how shall they hear without a preacher?" Nor of any one's being baptized before he believed, (or professed to believe.) Nor of any that came to the sacred sutpper before they were baptized. We then believe it to be the
apostolick order, to baptize none till they profess their faith in Christ; and that till then, they cannot be considered as qualified members for a gospel church, nor be received into their fellowship at the Lord's table. Therefore, before we are blamed too much, let a different line of conduct be proved from the writings of the
evangelifts or apostles, and it will be our happineas if we are wrong, to be convinced, that we may have opportunity to reform.
[From The Baptism of Believers only and the Particular Communion of the Baptist Churches, by Thomas Baldwin, Boston, 1789, revised 2 ed., 1806, pp. 14-27. The document is from Google Books. — jrd]