Page images

the Son of God." Thus, and thus only, shall we be enabled to bear with acceptance the goodly fruits of righteousness, to glorify the name of our God, and to fulfil the particular purposes for which he has seen meet to raise us up from among the children of men, to be, during his own good pleasure, a distinct and separate religious people.






The supremacy of Jesus, over the little band of his followers, was never for a moment disputed. They were not permitted to call any man master, or to exalt each other with the title of Rabbi, Rabbi ;-One was their Master-even Christ. Nor was this view of the subject obscured or w bannd, after he had withdrawn his personal presence. Although he had “ascended up on high, far above all heavens,” he was still with them, by his Spirit; and they knew that he ruled supreme, not only over the church which he had purchased with his blood, but over the universe itself, for the church's sake. They confessed that he was their High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek—the king of righteousness—the king of peace; and they lived in filial reliance upon his love.

While they thus looked upon Christ as the Head of his whole church, the believers were soon planted in distinct communities; and in each of these it was their privilege to depend on the immediate government of their Lord. Wherever they were raised up and gathered together, whether few or many in number, there they found their ever present helper, friend, and teacher. They sat “under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to their taste."

But the dependance of the primitive Christians on their Holy High Priest and King, afforded them no pretext for a neglect of their duties as members of his body. The religion to which they had been introduced was found to be of a social character ; its main practical feature was love: “ By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." For the sake of that God and Saviour who was now the supreme object of their affections, they were willing to labor for the benefit of each other, and of the church ; and this they did, according to their respective callings, under the government and influence of the Holy Ghost.

1 Eph. i. 20—23.

One obvious duty which devolved upon them, was to provide for the poor. They were prepared, in this respect as well as in others, to “ do good unto all men, especially to them that were of the household of faith.” Thus we find that the deacons were appointed in the very infancy of the church, to provide both the Greek and Hebrew widows with their daily food—a service of benevolence, for which seven men were chosen, of “honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” Liberal collections were afterward made, in the churches of Greece and Macedonia, for the poor saints at Jerusalem.

But we cannot doubt that the spiritual welfare of their fellowbelievers was still nearer to their hearts; they were taught by the apostles to “ consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works."

“Brethren," said Paul to the Galatians, “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted-bear ye one another's burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." In order to effect the object here set forth by the apostle, the most important means must have been private, brotherly, expostulation and advice. When one Christian, in tender love, reproved another for his fault, and thus endeavoured to restore him to the fold of Christ, this was no improper interference with individual liberty—it was but one needful fruit of the law of love.

“ Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him."

By our Saviour himself they were left in possession of a rule, which lay at the very foundation of Christian discipline; “ Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother. But if he shall not hear thee, then take with

1 John xiii. 35. 3 Gal. vi. 1.

2 Heb. x. 24.
4 Lev. xix. 17.

[ocr errors]

thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church."

Although the duty of private admonition rested on all true believe ers, as occasion might require it, yet it especially devolved on the most experienced members of the church. While the communities of Christians, in that day, were taught in the first place to submit to the government of Christ, and in the second, to exercise a mutual care among themselves, they were not left without rulers.

Obey them that have the rule over you,” said the apostle to the Hebrews, “for they watch for your souls, as they that must give ac


These persons were called indifferently, elders or overseers, and although it sometimes happened that they possessed a gift for the ministry of the word, they were in their official capacity (as bas been already remarked)' distinct from the prophets, or preachers. It was their duty to guard and nourish the people of God,“ taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” In these labours of love they acted in behalf of the “ Chief Shepherd,” at whose hands alone they were to receive their crown of glory; and although they were often ordained by the apostles, and other inspired persons, it was the Holy Ghost who made them overseers—it was the Chief Shepherd himself who called them into their office.

It was, indeed, a primary principle in the early Christian church, that whatsoever office any man occupied for the spiritual edification of his brethren, nothing short of divine authority and power could truly bestow the commission, or qualify for the work. Sometimes the gifts of Christians are ascribed to God the Father—“God hath set some in the church, first, apostles, secondarily, prophets, thirdly, teachers, &c."6—Sometimes, to Christ—"He (Christ) gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” Sometimes to the Spirit—"All these worketh that

1 Matt. xviii. 15–17.

2 Heb. xiii. 17. 3 The word iníckotos, rendered in our version “bishop,” signifies only an "overseer.” 4 See chap. vi. p. 145–147.

5 1 Peter v.1-3. 6 1 Cor. xii. 28.

Eph. iv. 11.



one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."

But although the elders and overseers," or "pastors and teachers,” were the leading persons in the church, and had an important sway in the government of the body, they exercised no exclusive power in the regulation of the churches ; much less did any such power devolve on the prophets or preachers. On all subjects connected with the interests of religion, and with the welfare and good order of the body, the ultimate authority, under Christ, rested on the community of believers.

Many instances are on record of meetings of the churches, for the consideration of such matters; and on these occasions, even the apostles were accustomed to act in unison with their less gifted brethren, and as members of an undivided body. When a new apostle was to be appointed in the place of Judas, the whole company of believers united in the nomination of Joseph and Matthias, and in that giving forth of the lots, which resulted in the choice of the latter. When deacons were to be set apart, who should undertake the care of the poor, it was upon all the brethren that the duty of selection devolved.' And on the same principle of discipline, the persons who were to accompany Paul in conveying the contributions of the European Christians to the poor saints at Jerusalem, were elected by the churches.4

It was to the apostles and brethren at Jerusalem that Peter apologised, when he had been preaching the gospel to Cornelius and his family. It was to the church at Antioch that Paul and Barnabas, on returning from their mission, gave a report of their proceedings in the work of the gospel. And it was the same body of persons which brought them on their way, when they were again leaving that city, for their journey through Phenice and Samaria.“

That important discussion which resulted in the declaration of Gentile liberty from the yoke of the Jewish law, took place in a general assembly of the Christians at Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas then stated their case to the multitude” of believers; and the “ whole church” united with the apostles in sending messengers to declare their will on the subject. The letters respecting it, addres

[ocr errors]

11 Cor. xii. 11.
4 2 Cor. viii. 19.

2 Acts i. 15–26.
5 Acts xiv. 27.

3 Acts vi. 3.
6 Acts xv. 3.

« PreviousContinue »