Page images

commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

In short, as it was by its alliance with astronomy, that geography first became a real science ;* so it is only by its union with revelation that human reason can ever become truly rational. And on the other hand, as it was only by planting itself on data furnished by geography, that physical astronomy, the most complete, magnificent and beautiful of all the schemes of human knowledge, became possible as a science; so it is only by a deference to the laws and dictates of reason, that the sublime facts and doctrines of revelation can ever be made to assume a systematic and harmonious and glorious form, such as shall be worthy of its own divine original and essence. The very perfection and glory of each consists in the intimate union and consentaneous development of both. Let no man, then, presume to rend asunder what God has so inseparably joined together.



By Rev. LOVICK PIERCE, D. D., Savannah, Ga.


The subject of church government, in all its bearings on the ministry and the membership, is one of great interest. Human governments, of whatever grade, from the most licentious democracy up to the most absolute monarchy, are of human origin and structure, and may be obeyed or resisted at the option of the people, a majority of whom may change the government, either by changing its agent or agents and in

* Celestial Cycle, vol. i. Prolegomena, p. 15.

stalling others, or by changing their constitution and compelling their agents to administer the laws under new modifications. All this may be done very righteously and even necessarily, because if the broad averment of our declaration of independence is morally correct, then it is true that the people are the source of all political power. They may change the form of their government by force, if force be the rule, or by law if conventional remedy be admissible. They might, of course, resolve a democracy into a monarchy, or reduce a monarchy to a democracy. But our position is, that the laws of the kingdom of Heaven (which kingdom is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, as instituted by him and his apostles, with its officials, laws, sacraments, services and discipline,) is a moral and spiritual monarchy. Whatever may be done in reference to its simple, economical polity, the Lord Jesus Christ can hardly be supposed to have left the question of church authority and government entirely open. It is good ground for us that there was an Old Testament church; that its organization was essentially divine. The laws of its regulation were ordained of God. Its spiritual supervisors, guardians, officers and priests were all appointed according to a divine law, and ministered not according to facile legislation, but according to an absolute constitution, which could neither be enlarged nor contracted only by an act of the most sacrilegious rebellion. The declaration that these Old Testament Scriptures were written for our learning leaves no room to doubt that the mind of God is to be ascertained by us through a careful examination of the divine indications made to the Jews; for, although there was the literal and formal, there was nothing but what was connected directly with the moral and spiritual. But for this we would have been as far from the kingdom of: Heaven at the advent of the Saviour as if God had opened no medium of revelation through Moses to our fallen race. But this twilight dispensation of the church, which embodied in its shadowy state the mingled rays of the full orbed sun of righteousness, lead directly into the spiritual kingdom of Christ, and did not drop out one iota of

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

its moral intents. Therefore we contend, that either God had no moral intent in the structure of the Old Testament church, or, that if he had, that that moral intent is still in indestructible existence in the New Testament church at this day. And this is our opinion.

Now, if the mode of church organization and church government be inferrible at all from the economy of the Old Testament church, we affirm that the Scripture model of church government is decidedly monarchical ; or, to suit ourself better as to a term, the model is decidedly theocratic. This is our central idea, and shall be our point of departure and return in this essay. God must reign in Zion, and that without a rival. As to the question of specific government in the church of God, it was either left an open question, or a settled question. If left open, then was the church left, in all her organic and disciplinary interests, to the capriciousness of human legislation. If a settled one, then all this mouthing about curtailed rights and privileges is but the whimperings of a political and worldly lust of place and power. Although the Saviour and his Apostles may not have laid down in terms and in form a system of church police, yet if they have left the great fundamental principles of church law and action, they are sufficient for our purpose. Christ did, in form, lay down the proper process of a church trial, at least in one degree of church offences; and that, too, in a case of offence, which of all others, is the most exciting and dangerous to the peace of the church ; personal offences. A church member, may commit any kind of sin, simply as a moral offence against God and moral order, and there will be only common regret and concern. But if the offence be against the name, character and affections of a member, feeling is enlisted, confidence shaken, and union destroyed. Here discipline is ordered ; but its first object is cure. If successful, the difficulty is settled, and the offended must forgive. If the offence is persisted in, the offended must call in others to witness the tender of peace and reconciliation. But if the amende hon

Vol. VII.-2

orable is still refused, it must be told to the church, and the church may labor to bring the offender to a sense of right. But if all fail, and the offender pertinaciously pursues his course, his exclusion from the church is commanded. Where is the room, or what the necessity, for a vote on such a case ? Is it to ascertain whether the offender shall do justice to the offended? This is demanded by the Supreme law. Is it to determine whether the offender shall be expelled ? This is already determined by the law in the case. And woe be to the church that takes away from the word of the prophecy of this book. Does not the commission given by our Lord to his ministers carry on its face the evidence that they were intended to be the executive officers of the church. Executive officers are not looked upon as making laws, but as executing them according to the intendment of the government. And if the laws are absolute, and especially perfect, as the laws of God, they must necessarily be so far removed from the chances of a mere jury finding as to insure the legal penalty in all cases where the law tries the crime by the manifest moral dereliction of the offender. The church can never have the right to try the question, has the accused violated the law of God, when the law of God declares itself violated. The church may do much to reclaim the offender, but if the offender persists in his evil course, the church cannot avert his doom. The law is absolute. It is the law of an Almighty King. The execution of this law is deposited somewhere. And where is it most likely the executive power was lodged? If in the church, as a popular association, or as a corporation, there is no existing absolute law in the church. Because the rule is, that the paramount law in the polity of the church is whatever the last authorized session of the church agreed upon, and will be subject to new modifications at the next. All such notions are wide of that law which requires that we should live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.

That the Apostles exercised a very summary authority over the membership of their churches, one would naturally infer from the language of St. Paul in his own pastoral visitations, and in the duties belonging to this relation, as held and exercised by others. He nowhere alludes to the work as if himself and others were mere chairmen and presidents of church sessions, but always as to the executors of a great and settled law economy; as to men who were to execute a sentence passed by law itself, and not by the finding of a jury.

It cannot avail much for objectors to say, that this summary exercise of discipline, was by Apostles and ended with their days. For if their example did not descend to us, as a model of pastoral power, nothing descended, for no process of jury trial is even hinted at, as ministers are every where addressed as the protectors of church purity, by the exercise of executive power. It is true, the church may be considered as a divine corporation ; but as a republic or mere commonwealth, it cannot. The sacred rights of a spiritual communion were secured by the imperial law of God. The church has no relation to nor connection with any merely human or civil polity. It is an organization of Heaven's own design, based on the divine law, amenable only at the judgment seat of Christ, so far as church rights and obligations go; and no one can grant any favor not granted by the prescriptions of God's law. In this respect, the church ought to be regarded as a court of law. It is not the province of the church to bestow pardon, as much as it is, to dispense justice. The church has greatly erred in seeking her fame in the exercise of what amounts, practically, to a law of leniency. The world has bever seen, neither will it ever see, a church of high, commanding moral and spiritual lustre, where the policy is marked with leniency. Leniency in reference to church sins is but a hair breadth remove from a license to proceed farther. Churches where the law of God is executed with certainty, and where the pure doctrines of grace are properly enforced, are always illustrious examples of Christian character. But such discipline is never seen in any congregation, except those where the presiding minister is clothed with a good deal of executive power, and has the moral courage to do his duty,

« PreviousContinue »