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through the town that the king was at the point of death. Hereupon, the people in general, men, women, and children, adopted the customary mode of clothing themselves in sackcloth, and united in prayers to God for the recovery of the king. In the interim, Agrippa, who was in an apartment at the top of the palace, could not refrain from tears on seeing his mourning subjects prostrate on the pavement below. His extreme pain continued unabated from that time to the end of five days, when he died, in the seventh year of his reign, and the fifty-fourth of his
Having thus far traced the history of the primitive Christians, it is proper that we should here pause a little, to consider what were the doctrines in which they were instructed, and what was the discipline established among them. The former may be collected into a few simple articles, which we shall proceed to state, enumerating, after each of them, certain passages of scripture by which they are supported.
1. The whole race of men, as descended from fallen parents, are, by nature, in a state of utter depravity, of which (not to mention innumerable other transgressions) they have given the most awful proofs: the Jews, by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; and the Gentiles, by the substituting the worship of idols instead of that of the great Creator, who is blessed for ever. [Acts vii. xvii. 22..30, Romans i. ii. iii. 1..20, v. 12..21, Ephesians ii. 1..3.
2. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the long expected Messiah, was given up to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of his Father, that the scriptures might be fulfilled, and a sacrifice offered to take away sin. Being delivered from the power of death, he was raised on the third day, presented himself alive to many witnesses, and was finally received up into heaven, where he sitteth at the right hand of God, to plead the cause of his people, to dispense the gifts of his Holy Spirit on his servants, and communicate the blessings of pardon and peace to all that diligently seek him. He shall come a second time to judge the world in righteousness, and render to every man according to the transactions of his life. [Acts ii. 22..36, x. 34.. 43, 1 Cor. xv. 1 Thes. iv. 14..17, Heb. vii. 24..28, ix. x. Ï..29, 1 John ii. 1, 2.]
3. As all men, being sinners, stand in need of salvation, so there is no other way of salvation, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whosoever believes his gospel, is at peace with God, shall find all the troubles of this life tend ultimately to the augmentation of his happiness, has nothing to fear from death; but, being delivered from everlasting punishment, shall enjoy a blessed eternity in the presence of God and his holy angels. His body shall be, on the last day, raised from the grave, in a new and more glorious form, like that of the body of our Redeemer. [Acts iv. 10..12, xvi. 31, Rom. v. viii. 1 Cor. iii. 11, Gal. ii. 14..21, iii. 1 John iii. Ï, 2.]
4. They that are sincere believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are made partakers of a new nature, disposition, or life, in consequence of which, their affections become fixed upon God,, their lives are devoted to his service, and they, forsaking their former evil practices, diligently cultivate every duty. It is therefore incumbent upon husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, rulers and subjects, to conduct themselves, in every instance, as may the most effectually contribute to the benefit of each other. Yet no regard to earthly relations may tempt us to abandon the cause of Christ, though in circumstances of the greatest danger or distress, nor to violate even the least of his commands. [Rom. vi. xii. xiii. 2 Cor. vii. 1, Gal. v. 13.26, Ephes. v. vi. Col. iii. iv. 1..6, 1 Thes. v. 1 Tim. vi. James i. 19..27, 1 Pet. ii, iii. iv. Rev. v. 9, 10, vii. 14, xiv. 4, 5.]
Wherever the apostles went, as a respectable writer of the present day observes, they preached, and besought, and enjoined, men to repent and believe it. When their
preaching was successful, they directed their converts to associate, for the observance of public worship and ordinances, always on the first day of the week, and also at other times. These societies were called churches The word ecclesia, church, means an assembly of any kind. It is often applied to Israel, who formed one assembly in the wilderness, as their males did afterwards, three times a year, when they went up to Jerusalem. It is sometimes applied to an assembly called by a magistrate, aud sometimes to a tumultuous assembly. In Acts xix. 32, the mob is called the church ; and again, in verse 40, where we read, he dismissed the church. Verse 39, the same word is used for an assembly called by the magistrates. Dr. Campbell asserts, that it always denotes either an assembly actually meeting together, or a society united by some common tie, though not convened, perhaps not convenable, in one place. It is never used as a collected term in the singular number, for the body of Christians who reside in any province or kingdom.
Though the distinction of clergy and laity did not obtain in the primitive church, there were among them certain officers who were employed in building up the churches of God. Some of these offices appear to be extraordinary, and others to be permanent. Dr. Campbell argues, that the apostles could have no successors.
1. From the indispensable qualifications for the office. An apostle must be one who had seen Christ after his resurrection [1 Cor. ix. 1, xv. 8.]; for he was ordained to be a witness of Christ's resurrection Acts i. 22, x. 41, &c.] 2. The apostles were distinguished by special prerogatives, which descended to one after them; receiving their mission from Christ, the power of conferring the exiraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and the knowledge, by inspiration, of the whole doctrine of Christ. 3. They were universal bishops; the whole church was their charge; and the whole earth their sphere. 4. We have full proof, that no idea of succession to the office was entertained in their own age, or in the times immediately succeeding; for no one, on the death of an apostle, was ever substituted in his room; and, when the original college became extinct, the title became extinct with it. The apostles were umbassadors for Christ; and, having delivered their message, and declared the whole council of God, which is contained in their writings, it was unnecessary that any successors to them should be raised up. They are the twelve foundations of the church. [Ephes, ii, 20, Rev. xxi. 14.]
We read of prophets who foretold future events, as Agabus, [Acts xxi. 10.] although, certainly, the term prophecy is not confined to this in the New Testament, There were also prophets in the church at Antioch. [Acts xiii. 1.] Perhaps Mark and Luke, who have written a part of the New Testament, were prophets. At any rate, it was an extraordinary office, for which men were qualified, and to which they were called, by the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; and those who held it might say, as Paul does of his apostleship, "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ." [Gal. i. 1.] It is true, prophesying seems sometimes to be put for the mutual exhortations of the brethren. [1 Cor. xiv. 31.] "Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." And he who prophesieth, is said to speak to men, to edification, and exhortation, and comfort [1 Cor. xiv. 3.]; but it is also evident from the passages quoted above, as well as from others, that the term prophet is used in the New Testament to denote a person possessed of extraordinary gifts peculiar to that period; and they appear, by the manner in which they are classed, to have been next to the apostles,
Evangelists were assistants to the apostles. Their charge was not confined to any particular church. Philip and Timothy are expressly styled evangelists. Titus, although the name is no where given him, was evidently employed in the duties of the
same office. He was left in Crete, to set in order the things that were wanting, and to ordain elders in every city, according to the directions of Paul. [Tit. i. 5.] Timothy was left in Ephesus, not as an elder or bishop of the church, but to charge some to teach no other doctrine than that delivered by the apostles. [1 Tim. i. 3.] He sometimes accompanied Paul; and, at other times, was sent by him to visit and confirm the churches. Both Timothy and Titus were superintendants under the apostles, and acted by a special commission; they were employed in visiting and setting in order various churches; and, to both, directions are given respecting the characters of those who are to hold stated and ordinary offices.
The stated officers, in all the churches, were elders and deacons. It is unnecessary to spend much time in proving that bishop and elder were, in apostolic times, synonymous terms. We just mention one or two passages, which must prove this to every impartial person. Paul sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus, and exhorted them to take heed to themselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them bishops. [Acts xx. 17, 28.] Titus was left in Crete, to ordain elders in every city where he had appointed him. "If any man, says he, be blameless, the husband of one wife; for a bishop must be blameless, &c. [Tit. i. 5, 7.] Peter exhorts the elders to feed the flock of God, doing the office of a bishop not by constraint. [1 Pet. v. 2.]
The business of an elder was to labour in word and doctrine, and also to rule in the church of God. [1 Tim. v. 17, iii. 5.] To rule, means not merely to preside in the meetings of the church, and to take care that all things are done decently, and in order, according to the will of Christ, but also to watch over the members, to admonish or reprove them, as their circumstances require. To this rule, the members were bound to submit. Obey them," says the apostle, "that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.' [Heb. xiii. 17.] "We beseech you, brethren, to acknowledge them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and esteem them very highly in love for their works' sake." [1 Thes. v. 12.] Here the peace of the church is immediately connected with affectionate regard, deference, honour, and submission, to the elders.
It has been argued, with some degree of probability, that there was a plurality of elders in each church, who shared in the government of it, and formed a presbytery, or eldership.
We learn from the New Testament, Dr. Macknight remarks, and from the most antient Christian writers, that, even in the apostles' days, some women, remarkable for their knowledge, prudence, and piety, and of a fit age, were chosen to instruct the newly converted, and the young of their own sex; and to exhort the sick, and comfort the afflicted, who could not attend the public ministrations. These female teachers are mentioned under the appellation of widows, 1 Tim. v. 3; where, also, verse 9, their character and election are described. Farther as the first Christians were remarkable for their love to each other, they appointed, in every church, men, to whom they gave the appellation of deacons, whose office it was to make collections for the poor, and to apply these collections in relieving widows and orphans, who were destitute; the sick, also, and the imprisoned for their religion, whom they visited and comforted with the greatest tenderness. In like manner, they appointed women. whom they named deaconesses, to perform the same offices to the distressed of ther own sex, and whom, for that purpose, they supplied with money out of the church's funds, The character and office of these female deacons, the apostle has described, 1 Tim.
v. 9, and, verse 10, orders the widows, or female presbyters, to be chosen from among them
When the first Christians met together in their public assemblies, either on the first day of the week, or at other times, they appear to have engaged in a variety of exercises, which tended either to the conviction of sinners, or the edification of saints. The glad tidings of everlasting salvation were freely proclaimed to all that chose to hear; the different branches of Christian doctrine were taught; and the disciples were exhorted to shew their attachment to their Lord, by denying all ungodliness and worldly lust, and living soberly, righteously, and piously, in their day and generation. Public prayers were offered up, and hymus sung in praise of redeeming love. On these occasions, it appears evident, that not only the elders, but such other members as were possessed of suitable gifts, employed them for the public benefit, being subject to no other restraint, than that all things should be done with a suitable regard to decency and order.
The different officers in the churches appear to have been set apart for their respec tive work, after a due examination of their characters, by fasting and prayer, and the laying on the hands of the apostles, the evangelists, or the presbytery. Imposition of hands seems to have been a very antient practice both among the Jews and the Greeks, when they wished to commend any one to the peculiar blessing of God.
The two standing ordinances appointed by Christ, are baptism, and the Lord's supper. The latter appears to have been administered every Lord's day. How the former was administered, and whether the infant children of believers were its subjects, is much disputed among Christians. Whether the agape, or love feasts, obtained in the time of the apostles, is also a matter of controversy. We shall close this chapter with the sentiments of Dr. Haweis, a candid and respectable minister of the established church, upon some of those subjects of which we have now been treating, that the reader, being made acquainted with the opinious of different writers, may be the better able to decide between them.
To sum up, in a few words, a subject which has been so fearfully abused, in order to subserve the purposes of pride, bigotry, and worldly-mindedness, I conclude—
1. That, as soon as a little society was formed of Christian men, a room was opened for their assembling, and the most apt to teach appointed to minister to them in holy things.
2. He was a man of gravity, generally of the more aged, married, and having a family, approved by his fellows, and willing to devote himself to their service.
3. His appointment was signified by prayer, and imposition of hands, of the apostle Paul, or some of the itinerant evangelists, and the presbytery; and, without this, I meet with no ordination.
4. Every church exercised discipline over its own members, to admit, admonish, or expel.
5. Before these itinerant evangelists, all accusations against presbyters were brought. They, in conjunction with the congregation, regulated matters of order, and corrected
6. These seem not to have had any appropriate district, but went about every where, chiefly under the direction of the apostle Paul.
7. These great evangelists were usually supported by the churches; but often, like Paul, maintained themselves by their own labours. During the first ages, the ministry was not appropriated to gentlemen or scholars. No man was bred to it as a profession, or went into it for a maintenance; they were pastors of a different stamp.
8. The stationery presbyters, or bishops, during the lives of the apostle, and his associate evangelists, were under their superintendance. But it will appear, very early in the second century, when this first race of great itinerants departed, that oue among the ministers of every place began to have the name of bishop, by way of eminence, with presbyters, his coadjutors, acting with him as one body.
9. All ecclesiastical officers, from the beginning, and for the first three hundred years, were elected by the people. Even Matthias was thus chosen to fill up the tribular number of the apostles.
10. Deacons were instituted for the care of the poor, especially the widows; and deaconesses, afterwards, appear to have been set apart for the same purposes, though their institution is not expressly marked in the sacred canon. Originally, they were erdained, not for one congregation, but for the myriads at Jerusalem, whose widows were provided for out of a common stock.
Lastly. Every member of the primitive church seems to have made it a constant practice to lay aside weekly a certain portion of his income, or gains, for the poor, the persecuted, or the gospel, according to his ability; and hence, though, generally, the Christians were of the lowest and most indigent class of the people, the riches of their liberality abounded, and their means for this arose from their Christian character itself. Their industry was great, and they wasted nothing in extravagance of any kind, being, by principle, self-denied to all indulgences for themselves, that they might have to give to him that needed. And, if all real Christians conscientiously observed this rule still, it is amazing what a fund might be raised for the relief of the neces¬ sitous, and the furtherance of the gospel.