« AnteriorContinua »
ner, without acknowledging that he is obliged to live as becomes a christian. Joining habitually in public worship, implies very much the same thing.
Lastly, as, in this rite, we more especially commemorate the death of Christ, it serves to remind us, that we are the professed disciples of a crucified master; and, therefore, must not expect better treatment from this world than our Lord met with from it: that we must lay our account with meeting with hardships, reproach, and persecution, as he did, and that we should contentedly and patiently bear them, rather than quit the profession of our faith, or do any thing unworthy of it; in full assurance that, if we “ suffer for Christ, we 66 shall also reign with him, and be glorified to66 gether.”
This rite having such excellent moral uses, and the celebration of it being an express command of Christ, who said, “ Do this in remembrance of 66 me,” I do not see how any person, professing christianity, can satisfy himself with refusing to join in it. In the primitive times, the celebration of the Lord's supper made a part of the ordinary service every Lord's day, and every person who was thought worthy to be considered as a member of a body of christians partook of it. Whenever, indeed, any person professing christianity behaved in a manner unworthy of the christian name, lo as to be in danger of bringing a reproach upon it, he was excommunicated; in consequence of which, he was cut off from joining in any part of christian worship, and from this among the rest; but there was no distinction made between this and other parts of the service, especially the prayers of the church. An excommunicated person was one who was publicly declared not to belong to a christian society; and, therefore, the church would not consent to any thing that should imply their acknowledging him in the character of a brother, and declined associating with him. The reason of this conduct was most evident, because the good name of christians, and of christian societies, was a thing of the greatest consequence to the propagation of christianity in those early times; and it ought to be considered at all times as a matter of great consequence.
Considering that Christ absolutely requires of · all his disciples the most open and public profession
of his religion, notwithstanding all the hazards to which it may expose them, and has declared, that unless we « confess him before men,” he will not acknowledge us before his heapenly father; it certainly behoves all christians to take this, as well as every other method, of declaring, in a public manner, their profession of christianity. Moreover, as baptisın is generally administered in infancy, and is not the act of the person baptized, it seems necessary, that there should be some public act, by which those who are baptized in their infancy, should openly, and in their own persons, declare themselves christians; and the most proper manner of doing this, is certainly the receiving of the Lord's supper.
According to the custom of the primitive church, a custom so antient and uncontroverted, as, with me, to carry sufficient evidence of its having been an apostolical one, all persons who are baptized, children, as well as others, should receive the Lord's supper. It is nothing less than the revival of this custom that will secure a general attendance upon this ordinance; and no objection can be made to it, except what may, with equal strength, be made to bringing children to public worship at all, since they are as incapable of understanding the one as the other. Nor would this antient and useful cur. tom have been ever laid aside, if it had not been for the introduction of a train of superstitious notions, which made this plain and simple ordinance appear continually more mysterious and awful ; till, at length, the monstrous doctrine of transubstantiation was completely established.
Indeed, it is not a little remarkable, that the custom of giving the eucharist to children, was not finally abolished in any place till that doctrine had obtained the full fanction of the church of Rome; and that it maintains its ground to this very day, in all those christian churches which were never Vol. II,
subject subject to that antichristian power, whose spiritual usurpations and corruptions of the gospel have been immense, and have extended to almost every thing belonging to it.
Of the government of christian churches.
T Shall conclude these observations on the posia I tive inftitutions of christianity with a short account of the primitive regulations for the government of christian churches; which, though not of divine appointment, were such as the wisdom of the apostles thought to be the most conyenient for transacting the business of christian societies, and making them subfervient to the purpose of improvement in knowledge and goodness. · Christian churches were formed upon the plan of the Jewish synagogues, in which a number of the more elderly and respectable members presided, with the title of elders, or over seers, which in the Greek language is expressed by the word which in English is rendered bishop; and one of these perfons was generally, by way of pre-eminence in point of honour, but not of power, stiled the chief, pr master of the synagogue.
The principal business of elders in christian churches was to attend equally to the instruction and good conduct of the society, and to pass censures in case of improper conduct. In general, some of them gave more particular attention to reading and exhortation, and from these elders, the society usually expected an exposition of those portions of fcripture which were read in their assemblies every Lord's day; but any person who was present might, with the leave of the bishop, either expound the scriptures, or exhort the people,
These elders were chosen by the people, and, with their approbation, were ordained, or recommended to the divine blessing by prayer, in which the elders of other churches assisted. Along with prayer they used imposition of hands, which was nothing more than a ceremony which they constantly used when they prayed for any particular person, on any occasion whatever; and to this the extenfion of the hands of the person who prayed over, or towards any larger body of people, correfponded.
Besides elders, there were also, in all christian churches, persons who attended to the civil concerns of them, under the title of deacons. These were generally younger persons, of good character, who, if they behaved well in this office, were afterwards advanced to the rank of elders.