Short Treatise


a True and Orderly

Gospel Church






Before there can be any orderly discipline among a Christian assembly, they must be orderly constituted into a church state, according to the institution of Christ in the Gospel.

1. A visible Gospel church is made by gathering divers select persons into Jesus Christ, in a spiritual body, and relation to him as their political head, Ezekiel 34:11. 2 Thess. 2:1. himself being the great Shepherd that first seeks them, and prepares them by the work of renewing grace, for such spiritual building.

2. Christ as the Mediator of the new covenant, ordereth the everlasting
Gospel to be preached, and accompanying it with his holy Spirit, blesseth
it to the turning of men from darkness to light, working faith and love in
them, Ephesians 2:17. Acts 26:18.

3. When sinners are thus wrought upon effectually, to such a suitable
number, as may be an essential Church, i.e. so many as may act properly and
orderly as a church, Matt. 17:15-17. that then it will be proper for them by
their mutual consent, to propose to be constituted a Church or that others seeing
the expediency thereof may encourage the same, Acts 11.

4. For the accomplishment of so glorious a work, it is necessary that a
day of fasting and prayer be appointed by and among such believers, and
that such procure such neighboring helps as they can, especially of the ministry,
Act 8:14. 1 Thess. 3:2.

5. The persons being first orderly baptized, according to the command
of Christ in Matt. 28:19. and being all satisfied of the graces and qualifications
of each other, and being willing in the fear of God to take the laws of
Christ upon them, and do by one mutual consent give up themselves to the
Lord, and to one another in the Lord, 2 Cor. 8:5. solemnly submitting to the
government of Christ in his Church, and being united, they are to be
declared a Gospel Church of Jesus Christ, Phil. 2:2,3,4. Rom 15:7. and 12:1.
Acts 2:41,42.

6. A number of believers thus united under Christ their mystical head,
are become a church essential; and as such is the first and proper subject of
the keys, and have power and privilege to govern themselves, and to choose
out their own ministerial officers, Acts 14:23. and 6:3.


1. A church thus constituted, is not yet completed, while wanting such ministerial
helps, as Christ hath appointed for its growth and well-being; and
wanting elders and deacons to officiate among them. Men, they must be,
that are qualified for the work; their qualifications are plainly and fully set
down in holy Scripture, I Tim. 3:2-7. Titus 4:5-10. all which must be found
in them, in some good degree, and it is the duty of the church to try the persons,
by the rule of the word.

Objection. But what shall a church do, in case they can have none among
them fit to bear office according to the rule of the word?

Answer. (1.) That to expect to have officers perfect in the highest degrees
of those qualifications, were to expect apostolical and extraordinary ceased
gifts in ordinary time. (2.) If none among the members of a church be found
fit in some measure for the ministry, a neighboring church may and ought,
if possible, to supply them, Canticles 8:8. (3.) Let such as they have, if they
have any that seem hopeful, to be awhile upon trial; and the person that
the Lord shall choose, will flourish in some good measure with Aaron's rod
among the rods of the tribes.

2. A church being destitute of ministerial helps may, after mature and
often deliberate consultation, and serious prayers to God, pitch upon some
person or persons in particular, giving him or them a solemn invitation to
the work of the ministry upon trial; and if such accept of the church's call,
let such be upon trial, to see if such fear God, make godliness their business,
and be addicted to the work of the ministry, seeking to further the
interest of Christ and the edification of his people in sound and wholesome
doctrine; and to see if any vices or immorality appear in their advances,
I Cor. 16. Phil. 2:20, 21. Read the qualifications in I Tim. 3. And in case a
church should call a person to be their minister who is a member of some
sister church, and he accept their call to be their minister, he must in the
first place give himself a member with the church so calling him, that so
they may choose him among themselves, as Acts 6:3.

3. After having taken all due care to choose one for the work of the ministry,
they are, by and with the unanimous consent or suffrage of the church,
to proceed to his ordination; which is a solemn setting apart of such a person
for the sacred function, in this wise, by setting apart a day of fasting
and prayer, Acts 13:2,3. the whole church being present, he is to have the
hands of the presbytery of that church, or of neighboring elders called and
authorized by that church, whereof such a person is a member, solemnly
laid upon him, I Tim. 5:22. Titus 1:5. Acts 14:23. 1 Tim. 4:14. and thus such
a person is to be recommended into the work of the Lord, and to take particular
care of the flock of whom he is thus chosen, Acts 20:28.

4. The minister being thus put upon his work, proceeds (1.) to preach the
word of God unto them, thereby to feed the flock, and therein ought to be
faithful and laborious, studying to show himself a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth, 2 Tim. 2:15. as he is
a steward of God in the mysteries of the Gospel, I Cor. 4:1,2. and therefore
ought to be a man of good understanding and experience, being sound in
the faith, not a novice, or a double-minded, unstable man, nor such as is
light spirited or of a shallow understanding, but one that is learned in the
mysteries of the kingdom, because he is to feed the people with knowledge
and understanding, Jer. 3:15. He must be faithful in declaring the whole
counsel of God, Acts 20:20. He is to instruct them in all practical godliness,
laying before them their manifold duties, and to urge them upon their consciences,
Titus 2:1-15 . I Tim. 4:6. (2.) He must watch over them, as one that
must give an account to God, Heb. 13:17. Such must have an eye upon every
member to see how they behave in the house of God, where the presence of
the Lord is more eminently, and where also the angels do always attend; and
also their behavior in the families they belong to, and their conversation
abroad; according to their capacities, they are not to sleep under their charge.
(3.) He is to visit his flock to know their state, in order to minister suitable
doctrinal relief unto them, and that he may know what disorders there may
be among them, that the unruly may be reproved, Prov. 27:23, 1 Thess. 5:14,
15. (4.) He is to administer all the ordinances of Christ, amongst them: as
Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, and herein he must be careful to follow the
primitive pattern, thereby to hold forth the great end, wherefore they were
ordained. (5.) He must be instant with God, in his prayers for and with them,
as opportunity may serve. (6.) He must show them a good example in all
respects, in conversation, sobriety, charity, faith and purity, I Tim. 4:12.
behaving himself impartial unto all, not preferring the rich before the poor,
nor lording it over God's heritage, nor assume greater power than God hath
given him, James 2:4. 1 Timothy 5:21. 1 Peter 5:3-5.


Ruling Elders are such persons as are endued with gifts to assist the pastor
or teacher in the government of the church; it was as a statute in Israel,
Exo. 18. Deut. 1:9-13. The works of teaching and ruling belong both to the
pastor; but in case he be unable; or the work of ruling too great for him, God
hath provided such for his assistance, and they are called ruling elders, I Tim.
5:17. helps, I Cor. 12:28. governments, or he that ruleth, Rom. 12:8. They are
qualified for, and called unto, one part of the work: and experience teacheth
us the use and benefit of such rulers in the church, in easing the pastor or
teacher, and keeping up the honor of the ministry. Their qualifications are
such as are requisite to rule, as knowledge, judgment, prudence, &c.; and as
to the manner of their ordination, it is like ordination unto other offices in the
church, with fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands. Their office only
relateth to rule and order, in the church of God, and doth not include teaching;
yet if the church findeth they have gifts and abilities to be useful in teaching,
they may be put upon trial, and if approved, they may be called and
solemnly set apart by ordination, it being wholly a distinct office from the
former, which was only to rule well, and not to labor in word and doctrine.


Deacons are men called forth by the church, to serve in the outward concerns
thereof whose office is to serve tables, Acts 6:2-7. They are to be
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intrusted with the stock of the church, out of which stock they are to assist
the poor members of the church, and to provide bread and wine for the
Lord's table, and also to have regard to the minister's table; and moreover
they should see that all the members of the church do contribute towards
the proper uses of the church, that therefrom all necessary occasions may
be supplied, as God hath given them, they to the poor, so that none be
neglected, I Cor. 16:2.; by the faithful discharge of which office they shall
purchase to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith, I Tim.
3:13. The qualifications of these officers are laid down, I Timothy 3:8-13.
Acts 6:2-8.
The Lord Jesus Christ hath committed the use and power of the keys, in
matters of government, to every visible congregational church, to be used,
according to the rules and directions that he hath given in his word, in his
name, and to his glory. The keys are the power of Christ, which he hath
given to every particular congregation, to open and shut itself by; and to
do all things in order to the great things proposed, viz. his glory and his
people's spiritual benefit, in peace and purity, Isa. 9:7. and 22:22. Rev. 3:7.
Heb. 3:6. Ephe. 2:19-22. Matt. 16:19. John 20:23.
By virtue of the charter and the power aforesaid, which Christ hath given
to his church, his spiritual corporation, they are enabled to receive members
in, and to exclude unworthy members as occasion may require, as may
appear by divers examples, Rom. 14:1. Acts 2:41. 1 Cor. 5:4,5. Matt. 18:18.
2 Thess. 2:6,14.
In this case, a church hath to do, either with non-members, or those that
are members of other churches; as to non-members proposing for admission
into the church, the pastor, teacher, and elders of the church are to be
acquainted therewith, and the body of the church also, in order that they may
know the intent of such person or persons. A convenient meeting is necessary.
When the church is come together, and the person proposing being present,
after prayer to God for direction, the minister or pastor of the church
is to put several questions to the person proposing, (1.) Concerning the
ground and reason of his hope. 1 Pet. 3:15. wherein is to be inquired, what
experience he hath of the manifold graces of the holy Spirit, working in him
repentance from dead works, as Acts 2:38. Heb. 6:2. and faith towards our
Lord Jesus Christ, in whom alone is salvation hoped for, Acts 20:21. Philemon
5.; for without there be some good grounds, in the judgment of charity,
that such a one is a new creature, the door of admission is not to be
opened, for that would be abusing the privileges of the house of God. Therefore
all due and regular care is to be taken, Psalm 65:16. Acts 9:27.
Secondly. What competency of knowledge, in the principal doctrines of
faith and order, such hath acquired, 1 Tim. 2:4-6. or whether such person
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be well instructed in the knowledge of God, in his glorious attributes, in the
doctrine of the Trinity, or one God in three persons: the person, natures and
offices of Christ; the nature of the law; of original sin; of the pollution of
man, by reason of sin, and lost and undone estate thereby, and of his being
a child of wrath by nature; of the nature of the redemption wrought by
Christ, his sufficiency to satisfy divine justice; of the reconciliation of sinners
to God, by the death of his Son; of our sins being imputed to Christ,
and his righteousness imputed to us for justification, being received by faith
alone; of the resurrection of Christ's body, and his ascension into heaven,
and of his coming thence the second time, to judge the quick and the dead;
and of the resurrection of the dead bodies of men; and of the eternal judgment;
and of such proposing person's resolution to persevere in the profession
of these truths unto the end. Such things are needful to be inquired
into, by reason that too many in our day do build their conversion upon their
convictions, and some general notions of the Christian religion, when indeed
they are utter strangers unto, and very ignorant of the great mysteries of the
Gospel. Yet great care is to be taken that the weak be not discouraged, for
the smoking flax is not to be quenched, nor the bruised reed to be broken,
but such ignorant persons are to be taught by gentle instructions, and means
ought to be used for their furtherance in the knowledge of divine truths,
Matt. 28:19. and where there are the beginnings of true and saving grace in
the heart, such will, with a spiritual appetite, receive the sincere milk of the
word, that they may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:2. and a church ought to be
careful not to reject those, whom they judge to have the least degree of the
work of saving grace wrought in them, Romans 14:1.
Thirdly. Inquiry must be made whether such a person's life and conversation
is answerable to such a profession, that he be likely to adorn the
Gospel with a holy conversation, Titus 2:11-15. 3:8. This regular carefulness
is an indispensable duty of all regular churches, to use in the admission
of members; and though all due care be used, yet some unsound and
rotten professors will creep in unawares, and have crept into the purest
churches, Jude 4. 1 John 2:19. Acts 5. Acts 20:29,30. Gal. 2:4. and the
fallibility of churches in this matter, is not to be urged, as an argument or
ground to neglect the duty incumbent on the churches, according to the rule
of the word.
And after such examination, the question is to be put to the church,
whether they are all satisfied with the party's confession and conversation;
and if the answer be in the affirmative, then the pastor or minister is to proceed,
to ask the party proposing, if he be willingly resolved, as God shall
give ability, to walk in a professed subjection to the commands and institutions
of Christ revealed in the Gospel, and to give himself a member of
that church in particular, Rom. 12:1. 15:7,8,9. 2 Cor. 8:5. and to continue
in the communion, faith, and order thereof, according to the gospel rules
and directions; and after the person is baptized according to the institution
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and command of Christ, and come under the imposition of the hands of the
elders of the church, according to the practice of the apostles, Acts 8:14-17.
Heb. 6:2. the pastor, minister, or elders, as presiding in the acts of the
church's power, do receive such a one into the communion and fellowship
of that church in particular. But if the church is not satisfied with the person's
confession or conversation, it is proper, if the objections be of any
weight, to defer the party's admission until a more ample satisfaction can
be given, that all, if possible, may receive such with freedom in love, and
so to discharge all gospel duties towards him, as may promote his edification
in the faith, and his increase in grace, 2 Cor. 1:24. 10:8.
And concerning those that are members of sister churches, their admission
is either transient or occasional admission; when any person is dismissed
wholly from one church, and transmitted or recommended to
another church of the same faith, order and practice. (1.) Such as are and
continue members of other regular churches, may, where they are well
known, be admitted into transient communion, without a letter of recommendation
from the church they belong unto: but from those a church hath
no knowledge of, a testimonial letter is necessary, that a church may not be
imposed on by any loose or disorderly persons. (2.) Those whose residence
is removed, or place of abode is more convenient to be with another congregation
than that of which they are members, are, upon their request
made to the church whereof such are members, to be dismissed, and to have
a letter from that church they are members of, subscribed by the officers
and members, and directed to the church that the person is dismissed unto;
whereby the party is discharged from his or her original relation of particular
membership to that church, and is transferred to the constant communion,
watch and care of the other church: such persons are to be received
upon their proposal, according to the credentials they bring; except the
church they apply unto have a special reason to defer or refuse.
As it appears to have been the practice of believers, in the primitive times,
to give themselves members of particular churches, Acts 2:41. 5:13,14. it
appears also that, in the apostles' days, there were many distinct and distant
particular churches, as 1 Cor. 1:2. Gal. 1:2. 1 Cor. 16:1. Philip. 1:1.
which churches are several corporations of men professing repentance
from dead works, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and incorporated by
mutual consent, as before mentioned, whose end is to glorify God by obedience
to his revealed will, and to their own edification in the faith, and the
good of others; so it is the duty of believers to give themselves in particular
membership, in such a particular church as shall appear by the word of
God to be orthodox in the fundamental articles of the Christian religion,
and to practice according to the mind of Christ declared in the New Testament,
in all Gospel institutions and worship.
From which considerations, it appears the reasonable duty of every
believer to give himself a member to such an orderly church as is most
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conveniently situated, that is, meeting nighest the place of his or her residence,
for which there are these apparent reasons. (1.) For men to give
themselves members of a distant church, when another of the same faith
and gospel order is nigher, is for such a person to put himself under a necessity
of neglecting the ordinary appointed meetings of that church, whereof
he is a member, and whereof the particular charge is given, Heb. 10:25. that
he might attend and wait in the use of God's appointed means, for his edi-
fication by the ministry of that church. (2.) Such puts himself under a wilful
necessity to neglect his duty of care over, and constant communion with
his fellow members, and wilfully deprives himself of their care over him,
advice, christian conversing, and brotherly loving instructions and counsels,
that by the blessing of God might increase his knowledge, grace and
comfort. (3.) Such cannot be assistant to the church in discipline, contribution,
and the like duties, nor cannot be taken care of, and be assisted,
without much unnecessary trouble, by the church, in case of need. (4.) Such
a practice tends directly to the confusion of churches, and all church order,
and suits well with the humor of noisy, lifeless, loose, or covetous niggardly
persons. (5.) It is a way that the church cannot find what useful talents such
persons have, to the benefit of the body of the church. (6.) It is casting great
contempt upon the nearer church, in her ministry and order, and the like.
And here it is further to be considered, that as it is expedient for persons
to give themselves members of such regular churches, with which they may
keep the most intimate fellowship and communion in all the parts of religious
worship; so it is highly reasonable that they, that are members of such
regular churches, where the word is purely preached, the ordinances of the
Gospel duly administered, and gospel discipline is impartially practiced,
should continue their membership with such church; although there be
weakness, imperfection and frailty, in the particular practical acts thereof;
which, while the affairs of the church are managed by men, even their holy
things will have iniquity as of old, Exodus 28:38. It is therefore unreasonable
to dismiss any member, from a church that is near to any one's residence,
to a church more remote, upon disgust taken at the management of
some particular case, wherewith such is not well pleased, and for such
cause, demands dismission; and it is unreasonable also to grant a dismission
to such a member, who should demand a dismission in a peremptory
manner, without giving a reason for such a demand; in either of which
cases, such a dismission is not to be granted. (1.) Because by so doing the
greatest confusion would be introduced; for one member would thus be dismissed
to one distant church, and another distant church, and the other
churches doing the like, it can end in nothing less than the confusion of
every church. (2.) The same liberty that members have, pastors, ministers,
ruling elders, and deacons have also, whereby any church may dismiss her
members until she is unable to maintain worship and communion; for those
that reside near, are become members of a remote body, and so uncon-
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cerned; and those that are members live remote and so under an impossibility
to occupy their place. (3.) This, in the tendency of it, is to remove the
balance of churches, which is to consist of such members as can, with the
utmost conveniency, meet together in one place, for both worship and government,
1 Cor. 11:20. 14:33. (4.) This hath a tendency to alter the constitution
of particular churches, from being congregational corporations, into
the national or universal notion of the church; which universal church we
believe to be the mystical body of Jesus Christ, which as such is not the
seat of instituted worship and ordinances. Also, it is not reasonable to dismiss
to the world at large, nor to dismiss a member to a church, with which
the church dismissing cannot hold communion.
The members of churches owe all their duties in a way of obedience to the
will of God revealed in his word; and their duties are to be performed in love
to our Lord Jesus Christ, John 14:15. who is the great Prophet, Priest and
King of his Church, which he hath purchased with his own blood, Acts
20:28. Rev. 1: 5. 2 Cor. 5:15. unto whom all power in heaven and earth is
given, Matt. 28:18 and is therefore our Lord and Lawgiver, Isaiah 33:22.
who alone is head of his church, Ephe. 1:22. his person is to be honored and
all his commands are to be observed Heb. 1:2. John 5:23. all worship is to
be ascribed unto him, as God blessed forever, Romans 9:5. all church members,
therefore, are under the strictest obligations to do and observe whatsoever
Christ enjoineth on them, as mutual duties towards one another.
The officers of the church, whom Christ hath appointed, are to be
respected. (1.) the deacons of the church, though they officiate but in the outward
concerns of the church, as in the section about deacons is noted, if they
are faithful, do purchase unto themselves a good degree, 1 Tim. 3:13. are
therefore to be respected. (2.) Ruling elders also are to be respected, seeing
they are fitted of God, and called by the church to go before the church, or
to preside in acts of government and rule, 1 Tim. 5:17. (3.) Ministers, who
are the stewards of the mysteries of the Gospel, are in an eminent manner
to be regarded, as being the ambassadors of peace, 2 Cor. 5:20. though they
are not to hunt for it, as the pharisees of old, Matt. 23:5,6,7. The duties of
church members towards their elders, teachers, ministers and pastors, may
be included in their (1.) praying for them, that God would open a door of
utterance unto them, to unfold the mysteries, Ephe. 6:18,19,20. (2.) To obey
them in the Lord, in whatsoever they admonish them, according to the word
of God, Heb. 13:17.22. (3.) In following their example and footsteps, as far
as warranted by the word, 1 Cor. 4:16. 11: 1. Phil. 3:17. Heb. 13:7. (4.) In
standing by them, in all their trials and afflications, and in defending them
in all good causes, as far as in them lies; in 2 Tim. 1: 15. those of Asia are
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blamed, for turning away, or not standing by the apostle. (5.) In not exposing
their persons for their infirmities, as far as may be considering the prosperity
of the Gospel much depends on their good report, Acts 23:5. (6.) In
contributing towards their maintenance, that they may attend wholly on
teaching and give themselves to the ministry of the word, and to prayer,
Acts 6:4. the reason thereof is evident by a threefold law. (1.) The law of
nature, from whence the apostle argues, 1. Cor. 9:7-11. (2.) The Levitical
law, 1 Cor. 9:13. (3.) The Gospel enjoineth and requireth the same, Gal. 6:6
1 Cor. 9:14. Let these above cited places of Scripture be considered with
many others of like importance, and the nature and tendency of the work
of the ministry be well weighed, and it will be clear that it is a duty required
of God himself; and that not in a way of alms, as to the poor, which is
another standing ordinance of Christ, but it is to be performed in love to
Christ, and obedience to his laws, in order to support and carry the interest
of the Gospel. Yet this is not to be given to any one that may pretend to be
a minister, or thrust himself upon a church, or to such as run without a mission
for filthy lucre's sake; but churches ought to take a special care who
to call forth to the work of the ministry, according to the rule of instruction
given by inspiration of God, be they learned or unlearned as to human
learning, be they rich or poor as to worldly wealth.
The liberality of the people, if they be able, should surmount the necessity
of the minister, so as that he may exercise those acts of love and hospitality,
as is required of such, that therein he may be exemplary in good
works, &c. Moreover, it is a duty on all those that attend on their ministry,
to assist herein, Gal. 6:6. and as people do sow, so shall they reap, Gal. 6:7.
and 8. vide Confession of Faith, 27,?. When people neglect their duty
towards their ministers, such ministers must of necessity neglect their studies,
and betake to other secular employments to support themselves and
families, or be worse than infidels; then such people must be great spiritual
losers in their edification. Yet when and where a church is not able to raise
a comfortable maintenance for to support their minister, there it is not only
lawful, but the duty of such ministers to labor with their hands; for to leave
such a congregation destitute, to languish without the ministry, would be
very uncharitable, and smell very much of filthy lucre; and to expect from
a people, more than they are able, would be oppression or extortion.
Some of them are these. (1.) Love unfeigned and without dissimulation, for
all their things ought to be done in love, John 13:34,35. Rom. 12:9,10.
13:8,9,10. (2.) To labor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,
Ephe. 4:3. (3.) Endeavor for the edification and spiritual benefit of the
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whole body, that they all may grow up to be a holy temple in and for the
Lord, 1 Cor. 14: 12.26. Ephe. 4:12.29. 2:21,22. (4.) That they all watch over
one another for good, Philip. 2:3,4. (5.) That they do pray with and for one
another, James 5:16. (6.) That they neglect not the assembling of themselves
together, for the celebrating of divine worship, and so promote one
another's spiritual benefit, Heb. 10:25. Acts 2:42. (7.) That they use all
means to keep the house of God in due order and cleanness, walking inoffensive
towards one another, and all others, with consciencious diligence,
and so unanimously to contend for the faith and truth once delivered to
the saints, in the purity thereof, according to the holy scripture, Psalm 93:5.
Zech. 14:21. 1 Cor. 14:33,40. 11:2.
Having spoken of the gathering together of a particular gospel church, and
its officers, and the rules whereby we are able to be guided in choosing and
ordaining of them, and of the admission of members, &c. it is meet to give
a short view of a church's duties and authority, in respect of censures upon
First, of Admonition
(1.) Admonition is a holy, tender, and wise endeavor, to convince a brother,
that hath offended in matter of fact, or else is fallen into a way, wherein to
continue is like to be prejudicial to the party himself, or some others; where
the matter, whatever it be, and the sinfulness thereof, with the aggravating
circumstances attending it, is to be charged on his conscience, in the sight of
God, with due application of the word of God, which concerns his condition:
thereby leading him to his duty and true reformation. (2.) Admonition is
private by one or more of the brethren, or more public by the whole church.
(1.) When one brother trespasses against another, the offended brother is
not to divulge the offence, but to go in a gospel way to the offender, and to
use his endeavor to reclaim his brother; and if he repents, the offended
brother ought to forgive him, Matt. 18:15. Luke 17:3. But if the offending
brother will not hear, then the offended brother ought to take two or three
other brethren, and they such as may be the most likely to gain upon the
offender; but if this admonition also takes no effect, it is to be brought
before the church Matt. 18:16,17. (2.) The church, when matters come thus
before them, shall admonish and endeavor to reclaim the offender, in the
spirit of meekness; and if the brother that offended continues obstinate and
impenitent, the church is directed to exclude him, Matthew 18:17.
(1.) From whence it follows every church member has somewhat to do
in his place, Heb. 12:15. (2.) In case of private offences it is preposterous
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to publish them, or acquaint the church or the elders thereof therewith,
before the two lower degrees of admonition are duly accomplished, and
the offender has neglected to hear. (3.) That when matters are thus regularly
brought to the church, then private proceedings may cease. (4.) That
when private offences are brought to the church without such proper private
procedure, that the church may and ought to refuse it, as not coming
according to gospel rule aforesaid, in Matt. 18. (5.) But when those things
that begin in private are thus regularly brought into the church, they must
be received and adjudged according to the said rule, Matt. 18. So that it
may and doth oftentimes fall out, that those things that begin with private
admonition, do end in public excommunication.
Secondly, of Suspension.
(1.) A suspension may be, when the church is informed that a member hath
acted amiss, either in matters of faith or practice, and not having satisfactory
proof whether the information is true or false, and the case requiring
time to inquire therein, it is expedient to suspend such a person from communion
at the Lord's table, until the elders of the church can make suitable
inquiry; as might be signified by the law in the case of leprosy, Lev. 13th
and 14th chapters.
(2.) Suspension is rather to be looked upon to be, when a church doth
debar a member from communion for some irregularity that he may be
guilty of, which yet doth not amount so high as to be ripe for the great sentence
of excommunication; but that the person, for such irregularity, ought
to be debarred of the privilege of special communion and exercise of office,
in order to his humiliation, 2 Thess. 3:6,7.10,11.14,15. Such is not to be
accounted as an enemy, but to be exhorted as a brother in union, though not
in communion: but if such a one remain impenitent and incorrigible, the
church, after due waiting for his reformation, is to proceed to excommunication,
Matt. 18:17. for that would be a not hearing the church in the highest
Thirdly, of Excommunication
Excommunication is a judicial act or censure of the church, upon an
offender, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and by his direction, delivered to
his church by himself or his apostles, in the New Testament, which a gospel
church ought to put in practice, when matters of fact require, according to
Gospel rule; as first, when a member, after all due admonition, continues
obstinate, and will hear no reproof, Matt. 18:17. Secondly, when a member
hath committed a gross sin, which is directly against the moral law, and
being notorious and scandalous, and proved beyond dispute, 1 Cor. 5:4,5.
1 Tim. 5:24. 2 Cor. 10:6. then a church is immediately to proceed unto
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censure, notwithstanding any present signs of conviction or remorse, for
the necessary vindication of the glory of God, the vindication of the church
also, and their holy profession: and to manifest their just indignation and
abhorrence against such wickedness, 1 Cor. 5:1-13. Thirdly, when a member
is found to be erroneous, defective, or heretical in some fundamental
point, or to swerve from the right faith, in the principles of the Christian
religion, 1 Timothy 1: 19, 20.
The manner of proceeding unto this great and awful instituted ordinance,
is: the church being gathered together, the offender also having notice to
come to make his answer and defence (if he comes not, he aggravates his
offence by despising the authority of Christ in his church) the body of the
church is to have knowledge of the offender's crime fully, and the full proof
thereof as of plain matter of fact; and after mature deliberate consideration,
and consulting the rules of direction given in the word of God, whether the
offender be present or absent, the minister or elder puts the question to the
whole church, whether they judge the person guilty of such crime now
proved upon him is worthy of the censure of the church for the same? to
which the members in general give their judgment; which, if it be in the
affirmative, then the judgment of the members in general being had, or
the majority of them, the pastor, minister, or elder, sums up the sentence of
the church, opens the nature of the crime, with the suitableness of the censure,
according to Gospel rule; and having thus proceeded, a proper time is
fixed to put the sentence in execution, at which time the pastor, minister or
elder of the church, as his place and duty requires, is to lay open the heinousness
of such a sin, with all the aggravating circumstances thereof, and showing
what an abominable scandal such an offender is become to religion,
what dishonor it is to God, &c. applying the particular places of Scripture
that are proper to the case, in order to charge the offence home upon the conscience
of the offender if present, that others also may fear; showing also
the awful nature of this great censure, and the main end thereof, for the salvation
and not the destruction of the soul, and with much solemnity in the
whole society, calling upon God for his gracious presence, and his blessing
upon this his sacred ordinance; that the great end thereof may be
obtained; still expressing the deep sense the church hath of the fall of this
brother, with the great humiliation of the church, and great sorrow for, and
detestation of the sin committed. The said pastor, minister, or elder, in the
name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of the congregation, and by
and with the consent and according to the judicial sentence of the church,
cuts off, and secludes such an offender by name, from the union and communion
of the church, because of his offences: so that such a person is not
thenceforth to be looked on, deemed or accounted as a brother or member
of such a church, until God shall restore him again by repentance.
Which exclusion carries in it the full sense of our Lord's words, Matt.
18:17. Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican; or of the
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apostle, 1 Cor. 5:5. to deliver such a one to Satan; which is an authoritative
putting of such a person out of the communion of the church, the kingdom
of heaven, into the world, the kingdom of Satan, the prince of the
power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,
in order to his being humbled and broken under a sight and sense of
his sins, which is meant by the destruction of the flesh, and to the end that
the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Amongst the many disorders which church members may be guilty of,
and for the obstinate continuance therein, a church may and ought to use
the power that Christ hath given to exclude them from her communion, that
is one, which is when a member doth seclude himself, and that not in any
regular way, but contrary to all rule and order; for when a church member,
by reason of some offence he hath taken at the church, or some of the members
thereof, and hath not done his duty according to the rule of the word,
or else is a dying away in religion, by one means or another, as by the love
of the world, change of condition in marriage, or not having his expected
preferment in the church, or the like, doth, as it were excommunicate himself,
the church according to their duty, ought to use their endeavors to
reclaim such; which endeavors, if they prove fruitless, and the party obstinate,
the church ought not to acquiesce in his irregular departure from them,
as if all their bonds of relation and duty were over, and no more was to be
done, seeing the party has usurped the power of the keys to himself: the
church, therefore,must maintain the power that Christ hath committed unto
it, though it cannot hinder the inordinate and unruly passions of such a one,
if God leaves him to it. He will run away from the church, rending himself
schismatically off, breaking through all order and covenant obligations, in
opposition to brotherly endeavors to hinder him, and to stay him in his
place; the church is to proceed judicially to turn the key upon such a sinful,
disorderly departure; and publicly declare, that as such a one by name
hath been guilty of such a thing, naming his disorders, he is no longer in
their communion, nor under their watch and care, &c. and that such a person
is not to return to their communion until he hath given satisfaction to
the church, Rom. 16:17. Such a separation or departure is very sinful, for
these and the like reasons. (1.) Because the church is a corporation privileged
with laws and rules for admittance and dimittance, which ought to be
observed, Matt. 18. Rom. 12:4,5. (2.) Such a departure is rude and indecent,
therefore dishonorable, 1 Cor. 14:40. (3.) Because, if members may
take this liberty, all the officers of the church, ministers, ruling elders and
deacons may take the same liberty,which would soon unchurch any church,
or at least be destructive to its beauty, comfort and edification, John 6:67.
(4.) All members do covenant the contrary, Isa. 44:5. and therefore it is a
breach of covenant, which is a black character, 2 Tim. 3:3. (5.) It destroys
totally the relation between elders and people, which God hath ordained,
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Matt. 9:36. (6.) It is a usurping of the keys, or rather stealing of them,Amos
6:13. (7.) It is schism: if there is such a thing in the world, it is of particular
churches, 1 Cor. 11:18. 12:25. (8.) It is high contempt of Christ in the
government of his church, Jude 18,19. 2 Peter 2:10,11. (9.) It is to break
the staff of beauty [covenant] and of bands and brotherhood too, Zechariah
11: 10. 14. (10.) It argues either some great undiscovered guilt lying on the
party, or some by-ends in his first seeking admission into such a church.
All which put together, it declares the great unity of a congregational gospel
church, and the sinfulness of such disorderly persons in breaking off without
a just cause: but if any church becomes heretical in principles, or idolatrous
in worship, or immoral in life, it is lawful for persons, after they have
discharged their conscience and duty in reproving and bearing witness
against such gross defections, to depart, 2 Cor. 6:17,18.
Other disorders and causes of discords in churches are these, and many
of the like: (1.) When members of churches, by their ignorance of the rules
of discipline and right government of the church of Christ do not act
according to their duty; particularly when that rule, Matt. 18:15,16. is not
observed; and that is, either (1.) When offended members instead of going
to the offender to tell him his fault, will be divulging it disorderly to others,
whether members or non-members. (2.) When offended members
instead of acting according to the said rule, do conceal the matter from the
offender and everybody else, lest they should be looked upon as contentious
persons: and thereby they suffer sin upon their brother, and are
become guilty of other men's sins, and thereby they suffer the name of God,
their holy profession, and the church, to lie under a reproach by their
neglect; either of which ways is very sinful, as being contrary to the express
rule given by our Lord Jesus Christ; and such ought, as being thereby
become offenders themselves, to be in a gospel way dealt with.
(2.) When an elder or a church do know that some of the members are
immoral and scandalous in life, or heretical in matters of faith and judgment,
and yet bear with them, or connive at them.
(3.) When members of churches take liberty to go to hear at other places,
when the church is assembled to worship God, which is directly contrary
to Hebrews 10:25, and is no less than breaking covenant with the church
they belong unto, and may soon dissolve and unchurch any particular
church; for, by the same rule that one member takes such liberty, another
may, yea, all the members may, until their assembling entirely cease. And,
moreover, it is casting great contempt on the ministry of such a church, and
may cause others to be disaffected to the doctrine taught in such, though
sound and orthodox. Yet no restraint ought to be laid on members going to
hear at other places, where sound doctrine is taught, at other times.
(4.) When members take liberty to go to hear men that are corrupt in doctrine,
and so suck in some unsound notions of religion, and endeavor to
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corrupt others with what they have imbibed themselves. And, alas! how
many in our unhappy days are corrupted with Arminianism, Socinianism,
and what not? Such cause trouble and great disorders.
(5.) Another disorder that may cause discord, is, when members are
received without the general and unanimous consent of the church; or when
any are admitted, with whose confession, or life and conversation, the generality
of the members are not satisfied: or when elders and ministers, or
leaders of the church, are remiss and careless in reception of members.
(6.) When a church shall receive a charge against a member, it being an
offence given by one brother to another brother, before an orderly procedure
has been made by the offended brother, according to the rule, Matthew 18.
(7.) When judgment passes with partiality, or some are connived at out
of favor or affection, and others censured out of envy without due conviction.
Levi was not to know his father, mother or children in judgment,
Deuteronomy 33:9.
(8.) When the charges of a church are not equally borne by the members
according to their several abilities, but some are burthened when others do
little or nothing.
(9.) When accusations are received against an elder contrary to the rule,
1 Timothy 5:16, which requires two or three witnesses as to matter of fact.
(10.) When any member shall divulge to persons not of the congregation,
nor concerned in those matters, what is done in the church meetings:
the church in this respect, as well as in others, is to be a garden enclosed,
a spring shut up, a fountain sealed, Canticles 4:12. This often occasions
great grief and trouble, and therefore such disorderly persons should be
detected. Is it not a shame to any to divulge the secrets of a family? But far
greater shame do such persons expose themselves unto.
(11.) When days of prayer, fasting or thanksgiving, or days of discipline
appointed by the church, are not carefully observed and kept.
In all these, and many other things of like nature, the members of particular
churches ought to give all diligence to walk worthy of their vocation,
and according to the rule and direction of the word of God, that disorders
may be prevented, and that church communion may be maintained
in peace and purity, to the edifying of the body of the church of Christ in
Every particular congregational church incorporated by and according to
the institution of Christ in the Gospel, and duly organized according to the
pattern of the primitive churches, hath sufficient power from Christ to call
and ordain its own officers; so that no man, or set of men, have authority
to choose officers for them, or impose any officers on them, without their
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previous knowledge and voluntary consent, Acts 6:3. Deacons are to be
chosen by the multitude, Acts 14:23. Elders were ordained in every church
by election or suffrage of the church; and every particular church, as such,
assembled with her proper elders, hath sufficient power to receive members,
Acts 2:41. Romans 14:7. And in the exercise of any acts of discipline,
such a church being convened with her own officers or elders in the name
of Christ, may act according to gospel rule in any case, even to excommunicate
such members as are found to be obstinate in disorders, or heretical
in principles, after due admonition, or such as are guilty of gross and scandalous
immoralities in conversation, &c. independent on any other church
power superior to itself, or higher judicatory lodged in any man or any set
of men, by any institution of Christ: and therefore, the elders of a church,
meeting in the absence of the members, or convened with the elders of other
churches, are not intrusted with a power to act for a church in admission of
members, ordination, or censures, &c. and it is the duty of such a church
to admonish any of her members or officers, their teacher or pastor, Colossians
4:17. and exclude any too, when their crimes require, according to the
rule of the Gospel.
And such particular congregational churches, constituted and organized
according to the mind of Christ revealed in the New Testament, are all equal
in power and dignity, and we read of no disparity between them, or subordination
among them, that should make a difference between the acts of their
mutual communion, so as the acts of one church should be acts of authority,
and the acts of others should be acts of obedience or subjection, although
they may vastly differ in gifts, abilities and usefulness.
Such particular distinct churches, agreeing in gospel doctrine and practice,
may and ought to maintain communion together in many duties, which
may tend to the mutual benefit and edification of the whole: and thereby
one church that hath plenty of gifts, may and ought, if possible, to supply
another that lacketh, Canticles 8:8. They may have mutual giving and
receiving, Philippians 4:15. and mutual translation, recommendation or
dismission of members from one church to another, as occasion may
require. It is to be noted that persons called to office are not to be dismissed
as officers, but as members; though another church may call such to the
same office again.
By virtue also of such communion, the members of one such church
may, where they are known, occasionally partake at the Lord's table with
a sister church. Yet notwithstanding such communion of churches, by voluntary
consent and confederation, the officers of one particular church,
may not act as officers in another church, in any act of government, without
a particular call thereunto from the other church where they occasionally
It is expedient that particular churches constituted in the way and manner,
and for the ends declared in the former part of this narrative, when they
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are planted by the providence of God, so as they may have opportunity and
advantage so to do, should, by their mutual agreement, appoint proper
times and places, to meet by their respective messengers or delegates, to
consider of such things as may be for the common benefit of all such
churches, for their peace, prosperity, and mutual edification, and what may
be for the furtherance of the Gospel, and the interest of Christ in the world.
And forasmuch as it falls out many times that particular churches have
to do with doubtful and difficult matters, or differences in point of doctrine
or administration, like the church of Antioch of old, wherein either of the
churches in general are concerned, or any one church in their peace, union
or edification; or any member or members of a church are injured, in or by
any proceeding in censures not agreeable to gospel rule and order; it is
according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion
together, should meet by their messengers and delegates to consider of and
to give advice in or about such matters in difference; and their sentiments
to be reported to all the churches concerned; and such messengers and delegates
convened in the name of Christ, by the voluntary consent of the several
churches in such mutual communion, may declare and determine of
the mind of the Holy Ghost revealed in Scripture, concerning things in difference;
and may decree the observation of things that are true and necessary,
because revealed and appointed in the Scripture. And the churches
will do well to receive, own and observe such determinations, on the evidence
and authority of the mind of the Holy Ghost in them, as in Acts 15:29.
Yet such delegates thus assembled, are not intrusted or armed with any
coercive power, or any superior jurisdiction over the churches concerned,
so as to impose their determinations on them or their officers, under the
penalty of excommunication, or the like.-See the Confession, Chap. 26.
?14,15. See also Dr. Owen On the Nature of the Gospel Church, Chap. 11,
and Dr. Goodwin, Vol. IV. Chap. 8,9,10. &c. Of the Government of the
Churches of Christ.