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II. A church government by divine right is indispensable to secure Christian men from ecclesiastical despotism. The quality which Milton calls "popeness," is the natural growth of the human heart. Under the eye of Christ himself, in the embryo church of twelve members, who in their poverty, like their master, had not where to lay their heads, there was, not only a secret ambition, but an open and eager strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. If the policy of the church had not been settled by divine right, Peter would willingly have accepted the popedom, and so would James, and even the gentlehearted John would not have refused it. And dim indeed must be his vision, whose unjaundiced eye ranges along among throned and surpliced hierarchies, or turns its glance upon the brotherly and apostolic strifes of an untitled eldership, or searches even in the bosom of obscure and fragmentary churches which can hardly furnish members sufficient to form the materials of opposing parties, and yet does not see the scowling form and hear the arrogant voice of an incipient popeness muttering its anathemas, and grasp ing after the preeminence. And this indigenous popeness manifests the more rapid growth, because, in profession, and oftentimes in sincerity, it seeks the glory of God. The man of an honest and eager soul believes, that the priceless interests of religion are actually enfolded in the ends he wishes to accomplish, and therefore conscientiously and sometimes even with a martyr's zeal he grasps the sceptre from the hand of Zion's king, and lords it over God's heritage. Popery itself grew up in no small measure by successive assumptions of power and prerogative, which in those times of general darkness and confusion, seemed to be favorable to the interests of humanity and religion. And the sincere persuasion, that the interests of religion could be no where so safe as in their own hands, has, perhaps, generally been the grand consideration acknowledged to their own consciences, by the men, who, in consistories, or churches, or benevolent associations, have laid their fingers on the triple crown, and desired to usurp a lordship over the freeborn brotherhood of Christ's kingdom.
He, who as a brother, only thought himself worthy to be first in the brotherhood, as a bishop, assumes to be the dispenser of all grace; and as pope, exalteth himself above all that is called God, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Where now shall the Christian church
find security against these conscientious, progressive, and finally conscience-crushing assumptions of ecclesiastical power? If the principles of church government are not in the Bible, if the ordering of God's house is left to be determined by the mere suggestions of expediency, and the honest, or as may chance to prove, the bribed discretion of mercenary men, by what weapons shall the flock of God be defended from the plausible encroachments of an unjust domination? What shall hinder but that policy and present seeming advantage, may furnish the means by which God's freeborn family shall be ruled into bondage to the elements of this present world? Where shall we have the least security for the rights of the individual or the rights of the church, against the domination of those, who, whether it be rightfully, or otherwise, happen at this moment to hold in their fingers, the keys of the kingdom? The Puritans of old were denounced as schismatics for refusing submission to the despotic discipline of an unrelenting hierarchy. They were required to be obedient to the discretionary regulations of those who carried the keys at their girdle, on pain of the pillory and the dungeon. It behooved them to bring irrefutable arguments against the assertions of their adversaries, as well as to "bethink themselves, how they might refute the Clink and the Gate-house." They then denied the authority of human discretion, to prescribe rules or methods for the government of God's house. They planted themselves at once on this great principle, that "church government is prescribed in the gospel." The divine right of church government was the only doctrine, by which Christian liberty could be vindicated then. It is the only doctrine, by which it can be vindicated now. If human discretion may shape the government of the church in any important feature, and has the divine sanction in so doing, it may go on shaping it more and more, according to its own invention, until it has again chained up Christ's living body, in the iron frame of a popedom. Just as far as human discretion, patristical tradition, or canon law, has ever been permitted to mould the form of church government, so far has it tended to the destruction of that liberty, wherewith Christ makes his people free. We venture then the assertion in naked terms, that the doctrine of church government by divine right is the only effectual protection of the churches, and of their individual members, from the encroachments of spiritual despotism.
III. It is essential also to the recovery of unity in the Christian church. The division of the Christian world into rival sects results, in a very great measure, from conflicting views of church government. If these conflicting views could be harmonized, what would there be left to hinder the merging of almost all the prominent denominations usually termed evangelical into one? The diversities of opinion in reference to didactic theology, are often as great in the bosom of one denomination, as between the members of different denominations. And there is nothing in the nature of the case to prevent these diversities from being gradually modified, and insensibly approximating to a perfect harmony. But questions of church organization set their face immediately against men's love of power and preeminence, threatening to wrest the keys of the kingdom from the hands which claim the right to hold them. There are, and always must be, considerations of direct personal interest involved in questions which respect external church organization. Shall the bishops rule? Shall the elders rule? Shall the brotherhood rule? When all selfishness is eradicated from the hearts of good men, and not till then, may these matters be investigated with an unbiassed desire on all sides to discover among them, and adopt with one consent, the more excellent way. If then expediency, human discretion, the reasonings of wise men, are to shape the pattern of the house of God, what result can be expected, but that every order of architecture shall be perpetually piled together in one unshapely and heterogeneous mass? If the house of God shall ever cease to be divided against itself, if the jealousies and bickerings, and mutual jostlings and depredations of rival sects are ever to come to an end, and Christ's universal church is ever to present to the world a visible and entire unity, such as the world can see and understand, if there is ever to be a unity which shall array the sacramental host of God's elect with one undivided front against the powers of darkness, that blessed result must be attained by bringing all these conflicting forms and organizations to the test of one authoritative standard. It is not the characteristic of men to reason themselves into an universal unity in the teeth of their cherished prepossessions and personal interests. They must hear the voice of God prescribing the pattern of his church; and come all to be one, by accepting altogether a form of church government by divine right.
IV. That church government is of divine right, all its essential principles being contained in the Scriptures, will be very evident, if we examine the Scriptures themselves, and learn their testimony on the subject. The main purpose of the epistles to Timothy is, to give instruction in reference to the organization and government of the Christian church. The writer explicitly unfolds the duties and rights of church officers, the proper treatment of offences, and the relative obligations of the members. Having these inspired directions in his hands, in addition to what he had previously learned from the Scriptures, was Timothy sufficiently instructed in reference to the principles and methods of church government and discipline? If not, then was Paul himself deficient, both in wisdom and in truth, who furnished these instructions for that express purpose, and declared to Timothy, in direct allusion to them, "Thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God which is the church of the living God." And if Timothy could find in the Scriptures all needful rules for the constitution and discipline of churches, then may we also do the same, if we will let alone the expedients of a fluctuating and bewildered policy, and dare to trust in the unerring wisdom of God. And for our encouragement in this behalf, as well as his, he has again assured us in the most decisive terms that all "Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." It is sufficient for the purposes alike of doctrine and of discipline, and that in no doubtful or stinted measure, but in such precision and abundance, " that the man of God, may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Nor has the apostle left it optional with us, nor even with Timothy, his own son in the faith, whether to abide implicitly by the pattern given us for the ordering of God's house, or to mar it by the arrogant intermeddling of a purblind discretion. Having instructed him how to behave himself in the house of God, he forbids all resort to methods of government, which are not of divine right. "I charge thee in the sight of God, and before the Lord Jesus Christ,—that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Not without reason may we listen to the warning voice of the stern old reprover: "Who is he so arrogant, so presumptuous, that durst dispose and guide the living ark of the Holy Ghost, though
he should find it wandering in the field of Bethshemesh, without the conscious warrant of some high calling? Let them make shews of reforming, while they will, so long as the church is mounted upon their cart, it will but shake and totter, and he that sets to his hand, though with a good intent, to hinder the shogging of it in this unlawful waggonry wherein it rides, let him beware it be not fatal to him as it was to Uzza."
This general assertion by the Bible of the sufficiency of its own instructions for the government of the church, is readily verified by an examination of those instructions themselves. Do we wish to learn, what officers are authorized in the church, and what are their respective functions? The sacred oracle is by no means dumb to our inquiries. We venture to say to the readers of the Bible, that there is no single topic, which occupies a greater space on the pages of the New Testament, than that of the ministerial office. They read of the election of ministers, of their commission, their ordination, their qualifications, their duties, their authority. There are incidental allusions, historical records, and formal instructions, touching the office of a bishop, and the office of a deacon. They are set before us in their private life, in their pastoral work, in the grand ecclesiastical council. If we cannot settle the question of church officers by divine authority, it must be because, either the Bible is a blind book, or we are blind readers of it. What though after all there have been discordant opinions and eager controversies among good men upon this subject? Have there not also been equally discordant opinions, and equally eager controversies, with reference to almost every doctrine of revelation? And do we, therefore, conclude, that there is no divine right to be urged in behalf of the doctrine of atonement, or that of regeneration, or that of a judgment to come? On no subject perhaps, are the passions and interests of men more concerned, biassing their minds to an unconscious misinterpretation of the Scriptures, than this of the ministerial office. But let not the glittering of mitres, nor the tumultuous hailstorm of angry controversy, make us blind to the sunlight of God's own radiant word.
Do we then desire instruction which shall prescribe the lawful method of discipline in the church of God? Its chief pastor has given us directions, not only divinely authorized, but remarkably definite and even circumstantial. These directions are not