« ZurückWeiter »
conference with some of his brethren, who encouraged him to undertake it, and after having waited, in vain, for more than two years, for the appearance of something which realized his idea, that he ventured to proceed to the execution of his project. Aware of the responsibility which this attempt involves, and conscious of the presence of many imperfections, he would solicit the exercise of that charity, which will mitigate the sharpness of censure where
cannot altogether be avoided : and he will consider himself amply recompensed, if the following pages promote, in the least degree, a stedfast adherence to the simplicity of apostolic worship, the purity of apostolic doctrine, and the activity of apostolic zeal. He now commends it to the Divine blessing, with the earnest hope that it
be made useful, especially to the youth of our churches, and the children of our church members; and may assist them to unite the light of knowledge with the warmth of evangelical love.
As all Protestant communions are exposed to the charge of error on account of their recent origin, they usually appeal to the Scriptures for the confirmation of their opinions, and the justification of their conduct. Independents cordially unite in the appeal, and assent to the truth of the celebrated aphorism of Chillingworth, that “the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants.” If they can cite these Scriptures as the sources of their belief, and bring positive commands, or fairly-deduced inferences, for their peculiar mode of worship and discipline, they then dismiss things which others prize, as the unbroken succession of the ministry, and the visible uniformity of worship, as matters of little import
The members of this Christian communion believe that a careful perusal of the New Testament would confirm the conclusions which they have reached respecting the principles and forms of church government. They recognize as a fundamental truth the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ, and avow that its affairs are to be managed by spiritual persons only. Its independence of all secular power and patronage is fully proved by the circumstances under which the early churches were planted, sustained, and multiplied.* They believe that these churches were associations of spiritual persons whom an identity of character drew together ; whose hearts were
* Vide Note (A) at the end of the volume.
united by common love to Christ, and a concern for his glory. The officers who superintended the primitive Christian churches, appear to have been bishops or presbyters, and dea
It was the province of the former to watch over the religious interests of the flock; to administer instruction, consolation, and reproof, that he might “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." He was to guide the activity of the church, and to furnish an example of that spiritual excellence which should give weight to his teaching, prove a stimulus to believers, and afford convincing evidence of the nature of Christianity to the world. The deacons were appointed to distribute the funds which Christian benevolence placed at their disposal among the poor and destitute members of the church;
and to concur with the pastor and their brethren in seeking the great objects of their spiritual association. The characters which these officers should possess, are described in the epistles to Timothy and Titus : and as there are no hints or directions for any other order of men, it is reasonable to suppose that these two only were known in any organized Christian society. The same Divine record informs us, that the peculiar duties enforced upon primitive churches
* The following opinions of the venerable Wycliffe upon this subject are given in Dr. Vaughan's Life of the Reformer. The origin of the distinctions which had obtained among the secular clergy is thus given :-“By ordinance of Christ, priests and bishops were all one. But afterwards the emperor divided them--and made bishops lords, and priests their servants; and this was the cause of envy, and quenched much charity. For the ordinances of Christ are founded in meekness, in unity and charity, and in contempt of riches and high estate.”—MS. on the Seven Deadly Sins.
In his Trialogus the same doctrine is more than once inculcated. He there observes :-“I boldly assert one thing, viz., that in the primitive church, or in the time of Paul, two orders of the clergy were sufficient, that is, a priest and deacon. In like manner I affirm, that in the time of Paul, presbyter and bishop were names of the same office. This appears from the third chapter of the first epistle to Timothy, and in the first chapter of the epistle to Titus.- And the same is testified by that profound theologian, Jerome.”