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as applied to the sacraments; since if we call them confirming seals, we intend nothing else hereby, but that God has, to the promises that are given to us in his word, added these ordinances; not only to bring to mind this great doctrine, that Christ has redeemed his people by his blood; but to assure them, that they who believe in him, shall be made partakers of this blessing; so that these ordinances are a pledge thereof to them, in which respect God has set his seal, whereby, in an objective way, he gives believers to understand, that Christ, and his benefits, are theirs; and they are obliged, at the same time, by faith, as well as in an external and visible manner, to signify their compliance with his covenant, which we may call their setting to their seal that God is true; as we may allude to that expression of our Saviour, He that hath received his testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true, John iii. 33. The sacraments are God's seals, as they are ordinances given by him for the confirmation of our faith, that he would be our covenant-God; and they are our seals, or we set our seal thereunto, when we visibly profess, which ought to be done also by faith, that we give up ourselves to him, to be his people, and desire to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath purchased, in his own way. Thus concerning the sacraments, as being signs and seals of the covenant of grace.
There is another expression, used in this answer, that needs a little explication; namely, when the sacraments are said, not only to signify and seal, but to exhibit the benefits of Christ's mediation. To exhibit, sometimes signifies to shew, or present to our view; which word, if it be so understood in this place, imports the same as when it is said, that the sacraments are signs or seals thereof, or significant ordinances for the directing and exciting our faith, as conversant about what we are to understand thereby. Again, to exhibit, sometimes signifies to give, communicate, or convey; and because it is not only distinguished from signifying and sealing in the definition which we have of a sacrament in the Shorter Catechism; but is described as that by which Christ and his benefits are applied unto believers; therefore, I am inclined to think, that it is in this latter sense that the word is to be taken in the answer which we are explaining; and if so, we must distinguish between Christ's benefits being conveyed, made over, exhibited, or applied, by the gift of divine grace, through the effectual working of the Spirit; and this being done by an ordinance, as an external means of grace; accordingly I am bound to conclude, that as the Spirit of God gives these blessings to believers, who engage in a right manner therein; so this grace is represented, and God's people have ground to expect, as far
as an ordinance can be the means thereof, that they shall be made partakers of these benefits.
We may also observe, that, though the sacraments are appointed to signify to all that partake of them, that Christ has purchased salvation for his people; or, that the work of redemption is brought to perfection: Yet it is they alone that engage herein by faith, who can look upon them as signs or seals to confirm their faith, that they have a right to the benefits of Christ's redemption, as not only signified, but exhibited or applied to them: In this sense the sacraments are signs to them that believe, in such a way as they are to no others.
4. We are now to consider the persons to whom the sacraments are given; and these are described as those who are within the covenant of grace. To be within the covenant of grace, implies in it, either a being externally in covenant with God, or a being internally and spiritually so, as interested in the saving blessings thereof.
(1.) They who are externally in covenant, are such as are visibly so; who are called by his name, professedly devote themselves to him, and lay claim to him as their God: These, if they are no otherwise in covenant, are said to be in Christ, as the branch which beareth no fruit, is said to be in the vine, John xv. 2. like those whom the prophet speaks of, when he says, Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth nor in righteousness, Isa. xlviii. 1. they have, indeed, the ordinances which must be reckoned a very great privilege; they have the external overtures of divine grace, the convictions and strivings of the Spirit; and accordingly they are, in God's way, in which he is sometimes pleased to work special grace, which, when he does, they may conclude themselves to have more than the external blessings of the covenant, which is what we are next to consider: Therefore,
(2.) Others are internally or spiritually in covenant, children of God by faith: These are such as are true and real members of Jesus Christ, by a federal or conjugal union with him: They have the same mind as was in him, and receive vital influences from him, being made partakers of the Spirit. They have, not only professedly, but by faith, embraced him in all his offices, surrendered up themselves unto him, to be entirely his; their understandings to be guided and directed, their wills and affections to be governed by him, and are desirous to be disposed of by him, in the whole conduct of their lives. And, as to the privileges which they partake of, they have not merely a supposed, but a real interest in all the benefits which Christ hath
purchased, have a right to his special care and love, which will render them safe and happy, both here and hereafter.
Now, with respect to both these; they are, each of them, supposed to attend on the sacraments: The former, indeed, have not a right to the saving blessings signified thereby, and therefore, if they know themselves to be strangers to the covenant of promise, they profess, by engaging in this ordinance, to lay claim to that which they have no right to: However, if this be not discernible in their conversation, which is blameless in the eye of the world, men, who are not judges of their hearts, have no warrant to exclude them from the sacraments. But, on the other hand, they who are savingly, or internally in covenant, have not only a right to those ordinances in common with others; but Christ and his benefits, as was before observed, are exhibited and applied to them, as they have ground to conclude, by faith, that they have an interest in all the blessings which he has purchased.
5. We are now to consider, what those benefits are that Christ communicates to his people in the sacraments, which are signified thereby: These are either,
(1.) Such as are common to the whole church, which are relative and external, rather than internal, as hereby they are distinguished from those that are without. These are advantages, though not of a saving nature: Thus the apostle says, What advantage hath the Jew, or, what profit is there in circumcision, Rom. iii. 1, 2. To which he replies, much every way, or in many respects, q. d. it is an honour which God has put on the church, as taking them into a visible relation to himself, and giving them the means of grace, in which they are more favoured than the rest of the world: Or,
(2.) There are those benefits of Christ's mediation, which are more especially applicable to believers; and, in this respect, God makes every ordinance, and the sacraments in particular, subservient to the increase of their faith, and all other graces. As faith is wrought under the word, it is farther established and increased by the Lord's supper, as will be considered under a following answer; and as they have herein an occasion to exercise their mutual love to one another, so they have communion with Christ, which has a tendency to carry on the work of grace begun in the soul, and farther to enhance their love to Christ, who is eminently set forth and signified herein; and, from the view they have of their interest in him, arises a stronger motive and inducement to hate all sin, that tends to dishonour him, in the whole course of their lives. We are now to consider,
II. How the sacraments become effectual means of salvation;
or from whence their efficacy is derived, to answer that great end.
1. Negatively. They do not become effectual means of salvation by any power in themselves to answer this end; for we are not to suppose, that they are more than ordinances, by which God works those graces which we receive under them; which it is his prerogative alone to confer. Again, it is farther observed, that this privilege is not derived from the piety or intention of them by whom the sacraments are adminis tered; who, though they are styled stewards of the mysteries of God, 1 Cor. iv. 1. as persons to whom the administration thereof is committed; yet they have not the least power to confer that grace which is Christ's gift and work: Thus the apostle says, Who then is Paul, or who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave unto every man, chap. iii. 5. (a)
(a) It were to be wished, the inspired books had been more generally honoured, as the only sufficient rule of judgment, by those who have wrote in favor of EPISCOPACY, upon the plan of a DIVINE RIGHT; and the rather, as they speak of it, not merely as an institution of the gospel, but an essentially neces sary one insomuch, that gospel'ordinances will be invalid, unless administered by those, who have been episcopally vested with holy orders.
In a matter of such momentous concern, they would not have acted an unworthy part, if they had confined their pleas to the sacred writings; producing such passages from them as speak to the point, not implicitly and darkly; but in peremptory and express terms, so as to leave no reasonable room for hesitation or doubt. It would be dishonourary to the BIBLE, and a gross reflection on the penman of it, to call that an "appointment of Christ,” and an "essentially necessary" one, which is not contained in this sacred volume, and with such clearness and precision, that sober and impartial inquirers may readily perceive it to be there, without foreign help to assist their sight. And yet, such help is made necessary by episcopal writers. They scarce ever fail of turning us to the FATHERS in vindication of their cause; hereby virtually reflecting disgrace on the scriptures, as though they were insufficient, simply of themselves, to bring this controversy to an issue.
In order to reconcile the appeal that is so often made to the FATHERS with that honour which is due to the scriptures, the episcopalian plea is, that they consider these fathers, not as judges, but witnesses only in their cause. But what are they brought to witness? Is it, that episcopacy is an institution of Jesus Christ? If this is witnessed to in the sacred books, of which we, having these in our hands, are as good judges as they, it is sufficient. There is no need of any foreign testimony. If it is not, no other testimony can supply this defect. Are these fathers cited as witnesses to what was the PRACTICE in their lay? This is now generally the pretence. They may, say the episcopalians, be properly appealed to, in order to know the truth of FACT in the ages in which they lived. And if, from their unanimous testimony, even from the first days of christianity, it appears, that GOVERNING and ordaining AUTHORITY was exercised by BISHOPS ONLY, in distinction from Presbyters, and as an order in the church above them, it would argue great arrogance, if not obstinate perverseness, to dispute the divine original of episcopacy. But we must be excused, however perverse we may be accounted, if we cannot bring ourselves to think, that the practice of the church, since the apostles' days, however universal, will justify our receiving that as an institution of Christ, and an essentially important one, which he himself hath not clearly and evidently made so, either in his own person, or by those inspired writers, whom he commissioned and instructed. to declare his will: nor caù we believe the great Author of christianity would
This is contrary to what the Papists maintain, who suppose that the efficacy of the sacraments arises, partly from an inter
have put the professors of it to the difficult, I may say, as to most of them, the impossible task of collecting any thing essential to their salvation from the voluminous records of antiquity. We are rather persuaded, he has ordered every article that is necessary, either in point of faith or practice, to be so fairly and legibly wrote by the sacred penman, as that there should be no need of having recourse to the ancient Fathers as WITNESSES, any more than judges, to ascer tain his mind. To suppose the contrary, would, in reality of construction, substitute TRADITION the rule of essential truth, in the room of the scaIPTURES, which were "given by inspiration of God," or, at least make the former so much a part of this rule, as that the latter, without it, would not be sufficiently complete. Such dishonour ought not to be cast on the one only standard of the real mind of Christ.
The Bishop, in whose defence an appeal is made to antiquity, is not related, by his office, to a single congregation of christians only, with one or more Presbyters belonging to it; but his charge is a DIOCESS, consisting of a number of congregations, greater or less, with their respective Fresbyters. The inquiry therefore is, whether it be an UNIVERSALLY ATTESTED FACT, that episcopacy, in this sense, took place in, and through, the two first ages? A Bishop, at the head of a number of congregations, greater or less, is an officer in the church of Christ quite different from the pastor of a single congregation; though he should be called Bishop, as being the HEAD-PRESBYTER, or vested with the character of PRIMUS INTER PARES. It should be particularly noted, which of these kinds of episcopacy has the voice of the specified antiquity in its favour. It is willingly left with every man of common understanding, after he has gone over the following testimonies, to say, whether he thinks, that Bishops, after the DIOCESANMODE, were known in the first ages of the church?
The Bishop, for whom the fathers are called in as wITNESSES, is an officer in the church of an ORDER SUPERIOR to that of Presbyters, and as distinct from it as the order of Presbyters from that of Deacons; the pretence being this, that Presbyters were thought to have, in primitive times, no more right to med. dle with the peculiar work of Bishops, than Deacons have to concern themselves with the peculiar work of Presbyters. The question therefore is, Whether it will appear from the following evidence, to be at all a FACT, much less an UNIVERSALLY known, and certainly attested one, that there were Bishops, in this sense, in any church, in any part of the christian world, within the two first centuries?
The Bishop, in whose favour the ancient Fathers are said universally to speak, is one to whom the EXCLUSIVE RIGHT OF GOVERNMENT has been committed by the appointment of Jesus Christ, or his apostles as commissioned by him. Says the famous Bishop Hoadly, treating of the government of the church, as belonging to Bishops only, in the above appropriated sense," And here-I think I "may say, that we have as universal and as unanimous a testimony of all writers, and historians from the apostles' days, as could reasonably be ex"pected or desired: every one, who speaks of the government of the church, in
any place, witnessing, that episcopacy was the settled form; and every one, "who hath occasion to speak of the original of it, tracing it up to the apostles'
days, and fixing it upon their decree.-Were there only testimonies to be pro ❝duced, that this was the government of the church in all ages, it would be but "reasonable to conclude it of apostolical institution;-but when we find the
same persons witnessing, not only that it was episcopal, but that it was of "apostolical institution, and delivered down from the beginning as such, this "adds weight to the matter, and makes it more undoubted. So that here are "two points to which they bear witness, that this was the government of the "church in their days, and that it was of apostolical institution. And in these "there is such a constancy and unanimity, that even St. Jerom himself' traces up "episcopacy to the very apostles, and makes it of their institution."-He adds, "All churches and christians, as far as we know, seem to bave been agreed, in