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Church Members then are not Church Rulers, those only excepted who are appointed to the oflice of Elders.”*
The Independents contend for the right of Church members in general to claim a share in its government, from the representation given in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, of the procedure of the Assembly at Jerusalem. We are told that “it pleased the Apostles and Elders with the whole Church, to send chosen men of their company to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas," and they wrote a letter by them in this manner, “ The Apostles, and Elders, and Brethren, send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles, in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia, &c.” Now, they say, the whole Church, as well as the Apostles and Elders, are represented as sending chosen men, or in other words, as taking an active and decisive part in the whole of this transaction ; and consequently as both claiming and exercising a right to judge and to act in the government of the Church. In the letter sent to the Churches, the decision is called that of the Brethren, as well as that of the Apostles and Elders.
To this argument Mr. Brown replies. - The Apostles and Elders might determine that two of the brethren should go up to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, to testify the acquiescence of the whole in the decision, and might call upon the multitude, as at the election of their Deacons, to look out from among themselves two men for this purpose. Upon their complying with the request; and choosing from among themselves Judas and Silas, it might directly be said, that it pleased them as well as the
• Mr. Ewing's Lecture upon Acts, p. 35.
Apostles and Elders to send their brethren to the Church at Antioch ; while yet, agreeably to the history, they neither publicly judged nor voted in the matter. It seems plain that it might be represented as pleasing the members, if they be referred to, only so far as acquiescing in the decision, which was made by the Apostles and Elders, and not as themselves joining judicially in the deliberation and determination ; and that it is in this view that their names are inserted in the letters. The reference
not made to them, and would they ever have, presumed to judge in a cause, in which they were not appealed to ? They are never named among those who came together to consider the matter, and can we suppose that, if they did not meet either for deliberation or decision, they determined in this cause, either virtually or ostensibly, as ecclesiastical judges ? Besides, when the sacred Historian speaks of the decision which was contained in these letters, and of the persons who passed it as ecclesiastical judges, he affirms, as has been said repeatedly, that it was pronounced only by Apostles and [El. ders.”–ch. xvi. 4.*
Independents consider the reproof given to the Church of Corinth (1 Cor. v. 2), for not pronouncing sentence against the incestuous person, as a sufficient evidence that the government of the Church was lodged, not in a Presbytery, but with the whole collective body. Mr. Cotton, in his book entitled “ The Keys of the Kingdom," p. p. 44, 45, 46, observes, in the first place, “ That the reproof for not proceeding to a sentence against the inces. tuous person, is directed to the whole, as well as to the
• Mr. Brown's Eighth Letter,
Presbytery. They are all blamed, not mourning, &c. Secondly. They are all commanded, when they are gathered together, to proceed against him.-1 Cor. v. 4,5. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, to deliver such an one unto Satan. And again in v. 13, Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. In the Third place, He declares this act of theirs in putting him away, to be a judicial act; for says he (v. 12), do not ye judge them that are within ?' And Fourthly, Upon his exhibiting evidence of his repentance, the Apostle enjoins the brethren at large, as well as the Elders, to forgive him.” 2 Cor. ii. 4-10.
Mr. Brown's reply to this argument, which he acknowledges to be much more plausible than any thing he had met in Goodwin, Owen, Glass, or many other of the Independents, is by much too long to admit of being inserted here ; we shall, however, select a few of his observations. He observes “ that they are not commanded to mourn, that they themselves had not taken him away, but simply that as the consequence of their sorrow, stirring up their Elders to a sense of their duty, he might be taken away from them, is it not plain that this passage, instead of favouring the principles of Independency, seems fairly to establish the very opposite, and that the power of discipline is vested in the Elders, and not in the members of the Church ? Nor will the command of Paul to the Corinthians, to deliver up the incestuous person to Satan, when they were gathered together, and to put away from themselves that wicked person, with his declaration, that they had a power to judge them that are within, suffice to prove that the members at large exercised a similar power with those who were their rulers, in administering the government of that Christian Church. That they are susceptible of this interpretation, if viewed in themselves, without attending to other passages of scripture, I readily grant. But nothing is more common than to represent a thing as done by a body at large, while it is done only by those, in that body, to whom it is competent. Thus we are informed in Scrip. ture that the great city, Rome, reigned over the kings of the Earth (Rev. xvii. 18), while yet we know, that the world was governed at the period referred to, not by the citizens of Rome, but by the Emperor and Senate ; and thus nothing is more frequent, both in speech and writing, than to say, that the people of Great Britain govern their American Colonies, while it is only the King and Parliament who thus govern them. Are not the Jews in general often reproved by the Prophets (see Jer. v. 28, and vi. 5) for most flagrant violations of equity, in the public administration of justice, as well as for other crimes, which could be committed only by their rulers ? But who would imagine from this, that every Israelite was a civil judge, or that it was not the Rulers alone who were responsible for these crimes : and that notwithstanding the general expressions which are employed, that the people were only accessary to the guilt, in as far as they approved of their conduct, and did not witness against it? Besides, is it not, notwithstanding, undeniable, that these passages as plainly and expressly enjoin every Israelite to administer public justice with fidelity and impartiality, as the Apostle tells the members of the Church in Corinth, that they might judge them who were within their communion, and might put away from among themselves wicked persons ?
“ Though it should be admitted that the sentence, as we are told (2 Cor. ii. 6), was inflicted by many, it will not follow that it was passed by many, or by all of them, for there is an essential distinction in every Government between the making and the infliction of a sentence. The former might be performed only by a few who were Rulers, while the latter might be executed by all the members of the Church, who were bound to concur with the Elders, by inflicting the sentence; and who were all, as we have said, under an obligation to refuse to have fellowship with him, that he might be ashamed and that others might fear.—All that can be deduced from their being commanded to forgive their offending brother (2 Cor. ii. 7, 10) is, that as they all had been offended by him in their various stations, they were all to forgive upon token of his repentance, and to express their forgiveness in a manner which was suited to their situations in the Church. Those who were Rulers, and were offended by him in that capacity, were commanded as such, to forgive him, and restore him again to the privileges of their society: and those who were members and had been offended by him, as such, on account of the dishonour which he had done to God, were called as such, to express their forgiveness and to restore him once more to the comforts and advantages of private fellowship. Thus it would appear that neither from this in particular, nor from any other expression contained in this passage, we are warranted to conclude, that the members at large, in common with the Rulers, are entitled to govern the Church of Christ."*
• Mr. Brown's Seventh Letter,