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Art. I.-REVIEW OF DR. OWEN ON THE CHURCH.
By Rev. LYMAN H. ATWATER, Fairfield, Conn.
PROTRAOTED as have been our extracts from, and comments upon, this chapter, the inherent importance of the subject warrants their length. And we cannot now leave it, without another extended extract upon a subject of great importance, and in the neglect of which our Churches are suffering severely. The author handles the question
"Whether a Church may not, ought not, to take under its conduct, inspection, and rule, such as are not yet meet to be received into full communion ; such as the children and servants of those who are complete members of the Church. Ans. No doubt the Church, in its officers, may and ought to do so: and it is a great evil when it is neglected. For, (1.) They are to take care of parents and masters as such, and as unto the discharge of their duty in their families : which without an inspection into the condition of their children and servants, they cannot do. (2.) Households were constantly reckoned unto the Church;
when the heads of the families were entered into covenant, Luke xix. 9; Acts xvi. 15; Rom. xvi. 10-11; 1 Cor. i. 16; 2 Tim. iv. 19. (3.) Children do belong unto, and have an interest in, the parents' covenant; not only in the promise of it which gives them right unto baptism; but in the profession of it in the Church covenant, which gives them a right unto all the privileges of the Church whereof they are capable, until they voluntarily relinquish their claim to them. (4.) Baptizing the children of Church members, giving them thereby an admission into the visible Catholic Church, puts an obligation on the officers of the Church, to take care, what in them lieth, that they may be kept and preserved meet members of it, by a due waich over them, and instruction of them. (5.) Though neither the Church nor its privileges be continued and preserved, as of old by carnal generation; yet, because of the nature of the dispensation of God's covenant, wherein he hath promised to be a God unto believers and their seed, the advantage of the means of a gracious education in such families, and of conversion and edification in the ministry of the Church, ordinarily the continuation of the Church, is to depend on the addition of members out of the families already incorporated in it."
“ The duty of the Church towards this sort of persons consists, (1.) in prayer for them; (2.) Catechetical instruction of them according to their capacities; (3.). Advice to their parents concerning them ; (4.) Visiting of them in the families whereunto they do belong ; (5.) Encouragement of them or admonition, according as there is occasion. (6.) Direction for a due preparation unto the joining themselves to the Church in full communion; (7.) Exclusion of them from a claim unto the participation of the especial privileges of the Church, where they render themselves visibly unmeet for thein, and unworthy of them.”
“The neglect of this duty brings unconceivable prejudice unto Churches, and, if continued in, will prove their ruin.
And it doth arise, (1.) From an ignorance of the duty in most that are concerned in it. (2.) From the paucity of officers in most Churches, both teaching and ruling who are to attend unto it. (3.) The want of a teacher or catechist, who should attend only to the instruction of this sort of persons. (4.) Want of a sense of their duty in parents and masters. (1.) In not valuing aright the great privilege
of having their children and servants under the inspection, care and blessing of the Church. (2.) In not instilling into them a sense of it, with the duties that are expected from them, on the account of their relation to the Church. (3.) In not bringing them duly unto the Church assemblies. (4.) In not preparing and disposing them unto an actual entrance into full communion with the Church. (5.) Or not advising with the elders of the Church about them. And, (6.) especially by an indulgence unto that loose and careless kind of education in conformity to the world which generally prevails. Hence it is, that most of them on various accounts and occasions, drop off here and there from the communion of the Church, and all relation thereunto, without the least respect unto them, or inquiry after them; Churches being supplied by such as are occasionally converted in them.”-pp. 367-9.
We submit this to our readers without comment.
Chapter II. treats “of the formal cause of a particular Church," which he defines to be,
"Au obediential act of believers, in such numbers as may be useful unto the ends of Church edification, jointly giving up themselves into the Lord Jesus Christ, to do and observe all his commands, resting on the promise of his especial presence thereon; giving and communicating by his law, all the rights, powers, and privileges of his Church untó them; and in a mutual agreement among themselves, jointly to perform all the duties required of them in that state, with an especial subjection unto the spiritual authority of rules and rulers appointed by Jesus Christ.”—p. 375. Again :
“The things ensuing are clear and evident.
“1. The Lord Christ by his authority hath appointed and instituted this Church state as that there should be such Churches, as we have proved before.
“2. That by his word and law he hath granted powers and privileges unto this Church, and prescribed duties unto all belonging to it, wherein they can have no concernment who are not incorporated into such a Church.
"3. That therefore he doth require and command all his disciples to join themselves in such Church relations as we have proved; warranting them to do so by his word and command; wherefore,
; “4. This joining themselves, whereon depends all their interest in Church powers and privileges, all their obliga
tion unto Church duties, is a voluntary act of the obedience of faith to the authority of Jesus Christ, nor can it be any thing else.
“5. Herein do they give themselves to the Lord and to one another, by their officers, in a peculiar manner; according to the will of God; 2 Cor. viii. 5."
We see not on what grounds any Christian can take exceptions to this view of the manner in which, the Church state is constituted—and we think it sheds light on some contested points.
I. Whether a Church is identical with its embodied members. The affirmative of this has been asserted and maintained. But we should suppose that not only doctors, but tyros in divinity would know better. That the voluntary association of believers together, is requisite to the visible church state, is clear. But does mere conjunction give them the form and being of a church? Human beings, faith, repentance, knowledge of the Bible, are supposed and required unto the church state ; but do either or all, of themselves, constitute it? They must not merely be associated voluntarily, (i. e. without compulsion, but associated according to the form and manner, which the Lord Jesus hath prescribed for the Church state. As Owen says, “they become a Church, or enter into a Church state by mutual confederation, or solemn agreement for the performance of all the duties which the Lord Christ hath prescribed unto his disciples in such Churches, and in order to the exercise of the power wherewith they are intrusted according to the rule of his word." Is any other fraternity or combination the Church, whether composed of church members, or not? Do church members by forming a manufacturing company, become a Church, or the Church in that connex
Do they by forming a charitable association, or moral society, or association for collecting moneys for dissemminating religion, especially when leagued with many of the confessedly unconverted, or by any other form of embodiment, except the Church state appointed in the Bible, become identical with the Church? We will not waste argument on so plain a question.
II. It has been contended that men have a natural right to associate together for religious purposes. That antecedently to the gift of revelation, men are bound by the light of nature to unite in the public worship of God we admit and insist. That in the kingdom and Church of Christ which are of special divine institution and revelation, which presuppose and reassert this duty dictated by natural conscience, and which reveal and specify the only way in which it can be done acceptably to God, natural rights have any place whatever, is an absurd supposition. On worldly and temporal affairs; men are born into certain social relations, associations, duties and privileges. And it is their unquestionable prerogative to associate for what ends they please, and as they please, provided they infringe upon no law, and usurp not the functions of the state. But even in this case, such associations are not allowed the rights and immunities of persons in holding and defending their property, and are treated in law as non-entities, unless expressly chartered ; and their privileges are limited to the grants of their charter. But as to any rights in the kingdom of God, we hold that men are by nature children of wrath, and have no natural right or title to any thing but eternal damnation, which alone can be averted by the provisions of sovereign, free, unmerited grace. If they have, then grace is no more grace. What right then of any sort or name have men to adopt methods of procedure in what is a pure gratuity to themselves, unless expressly permitted by the donor?Shall beggars be choosers ? Above all, shall condemned rebels, creatures, receiving the free gift of pardon and eternal life from their offended Maker, claim a right of adopting what methods they please for its conveyance to their fellow mortals ? Has he commanded men to associate Church wise, and in this state to do all things whatsoever which he hath commanded them, and especially to further the extension and continuance of his kingdom, and shall men claim that they have a right to associate otherwise at their liking, to fulfil such particular commandments as they choose? Is it not confederating according to the terms which he hath prescribed, and this alone which he hath promised to attend with his presence and blessing? With the same propriety it might be claimed that men have a right to covenant half-way to serve the Lord, or to observe any day as holy which they please, as well as the Sabbath. But the question, "whence is it, from heaven, or of men ?" demolishes all such claims. The Christian religion and all its doctrines and institutions, are heaven-descended. Man can