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THE subscribers feel it to be of great importance, that there should emanate from this city, a periodical like the CHRISTIAN OBSERVATORY, devoted to the interests of sound doctrine and practical piety. It will be seen, that, under the new arrangements for conducting it, several of our number, including the former Editor of the work, have assumed the direct responsibility of the editorial department. The others stand ready to afford them all the countenance and aid in their power. And we hereby invite the coöperation of our brethren in New England and elsewhere, in promoting the circulation of the OBSERVATORY, and rendering it all that can be desired as an organ of general communication with the public. We live in a day of great excitements, novel speculations, and surprising changes, fitted to awaken our fears as well as our hopes, and calling for the utmost vigilance and activity on the part of the friends of religion, to check every evil tendency, and to favor all the better developments of the times. It is our hope, that this publication, by the strenuous support of our brethren in the ministry and the Churches, may prove a strong defence of the truths we love, and a permanent depository of such historical facts and spirited reasoning as will afford a powerful support to orthodox Congregationalism, in its simple, spiritual and scriptural belief and order.
Boston, Dec. 4, 1848.
E. N. KIRK,
J. B. WATERBURY,
W. A. STEARNS,
THE Publishers of the CHRISTIAN OBSERVATORY take great pleasure in announcing to the subscribers for that work, and to the public at large, that they have made arrangements to carry it on with increased efficiency and strength. At a meeting of ministers such as could be conveniently assembled, the opinion was unanimously expressed, that the work must go on under such auspices as should ensure it a vigorous support, and render it, as far as may be, an accredited organ for that portion of the religious community which may be interested therein. The following gentlemen were appointed to take the editorial charge of the work: Rev. N. Adams, D. D., Rev. J. A. Albro, D. D., Rev. E. Beecher, D. D., Rev. E. N. Kirk, Rev. A. W. McClure, Rev. W. A. Stearns, and Rev. A. C. Thompson.
These gentlemen have accepted the duty, and have made such a distribution of the labor, as to divide it equally among them, and ensure from each his appropriate share of effort. This arrangement, therefore, being by no means nominal, will bring into the pages of the OBSERVATORY a rich variety of gifts and talents for the edification of its readers. Under these circumstances, the Publishers again offer it to the cordial patronage of the friends of a sound evangelical literature, and of the principles of the honored puritan fathers of New England..
J. V. BEANE & CO.,
21 Cornhill, Boston.
DIVINE RIGHT OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
Is there any one form of church government sanctioned by divine authority?
It is not the point to be discussed, whether churches organized under different forms are to be recognized as true churches of Jesus Christ. Why may there not be true churches having in a greater or less degree unscriptural external forms, as well as true churches holding to some extent unscriptural doctrines, or countenancing some unscriptural practices? Though a church has not yet come to be" without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing," it may nevertheless be recognized and held in fellowship as a true church of Christ. There is, then, nothing proscriptive, nothing arrogant, in the doctrine of a definite form of church government by divine right. It does indeed claim, that one form is better than other, has higher authority, and works out better results. But it utters no anathema upon such as have adopted other forms. It only offers to show unto them a more excellent way, still holding out to them the hand of charity, whether they adopt that way, or reject it.
Nor does this position demand an express precept or example from Scripture for every circumstance, and every individual measure, which may be adopted in the ordering of God's house. If specific directions were required for all the ever-varying exigencies which arise, the world could not contain the books, that should be written. The Bible supposes, that there will be intelligence and discretion in the church, and allows scope for their exercise. If it authorizes the appointment of specific officers in
the church, it does not prescribe their number, nor the exact time or manner in which they shall be elected. If it gives to any class of men the power of discipline, it nowhere enjoins the exact process, by which the trial of the accused shall be conducted, nor is this at all necessary. If all the great principles of church government are given us, there is implied of course all the authority requisite for their practical application. If God requires a church, or the officers of a church, to discipline an offending brother, that requirement comprehends in itself the right to summon him before them, and to order all the measures necessary for the discovery of his guilt, or his innocence. If you ask, who have the right to govern the church, to what matters their authority extends, and by what principles and for what purposes it is to be executed, the doctrine of church government by divine right sends you for an answer, not to the wisdom of men, not to the logic of an ever-changing expediency, but to the Word of God; promising, that you shall there learn all which is needful and profitable," that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished to every good work."
With this interpretation of the doctrine, which the current state of feeling on the subject requires to be made, we proceed to offer some arguments, in proof of the doctrine of the divine right of some one form of church government.
I. The very nature of a Christian church implies and demands it. The church is the kingdom of Christ. It is an external and visible kingdom. And although this external organization does not correspond entirely, in respect to its membership, with his invisible and spiritual kingdom, it is nevertheless true, that Christ's interest in this world is represented mainly in an external visible organization. And into this organization every servant of Christ on earth is summoned to enter; to confess Christ before men, to come out from the world and be separate. And they who do not obey this summons, are presumed to belong to the kingdom of Satan. There is this great value attached to the organized church of Christ. It is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. It is his kingdom. Now is there not an absurdity in the supposition of a kingdom, left by its sovereign without any prescribed system of administration, with no authorized principles of government, no subordinate rulers having any ascertained prerogatives or any definite measure of jurisdiction, a kingdom left to grow
into such a shape, and be ruled after such a fashion, as chance, or caprice, or the selfish artifice of cunning men may happen to . prescribe? What sort of a kingdom is that, the subjects of which receive from their monarch but this single command, to be meekly subject to any form of government to which the heavings of an universal chaos shall give birth? If the King in Zion has given no definite constitution to his church, then, having ascended to heaven, and speaking no more in a voice which men can hear, he has abandoned the church which he bought with his blood, and which he loves as the apple of his eye, to be alternately swept over by the floods of anarchy, and trodden down by the heel of despotism. He is a king who neither governs his kingdom himself, nor proclaims the principles upon which, nor the agents by whom, he will have it governed. We can escape the absurdity of this supposition only in the conclusion, that there is some system of church government constituted by divine right.
If you deny the old notion, that a Christian is bound to submit himself to the form of church government, whatever it is, which he finds established over him, then the nature of a church demands a government by divine right, if possible, more imperatively still. For if a Christian's conscience does not bind him, in this matter, to be in subjection to the powers that be, and if the Scriptures prescribe no definite system by which he shall be guided, then where will you find any lawful authority that can be applied to his case at all? If you attempt to apply to him any principles of church government whatever, why may he not reply, and reply with truth: "These principles are only the suggestions of your discretion. I deny their wisdom. I refuse their authority. Christ has established no form of church government. By what right are you to stretch the rod of your power over my conscience? In this attitude every Christian may stand, and everything having the semblance of church government may be annihilated in an hour. And it ought to be annihilated. There can be no lawful church. government, which has not its basis in the doctrine of divine right. The attempt to exercise any such government is a usurpation and a sacrilege. You have no right to apply a single principle to the government of Christ's servants, which cannot be exercised by Christ's express sanction. Thus the very nature of a church demands, that it shall be governed by divine right, or that it shall not be governed at all.