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That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled of the word of life-that which we have seen and heard, declared we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us.' St. John's referring in this manner to what he had heard and seen, to establish his authority as a preacher of the gospel, plainly shows that he thought himself bound to preach only what he had heard and seen, and that he had no authority to preach any other doctrine. It is observable that St. John, in the passage before us, says expressly that he wrote the things he had heard and seen from the beginning, that those to whom his epistle came might have fellowship with the Apostles' a plain proof that a right of fellowship with the Apostles, or, in other words, a right to church communion, depends on receiving and embracing the 'faith once delivered to the saints,' and not on any other doctrines of later date, by what authority soever published or declared.
St. Paul's case was a singular one: he was not called in our Saviour's life-time, and consequently had not the qualification required in the first of the Acts, when a new Apostle was to be chosen: he was not one of those who had 'companied with the Apostles during the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them:' but if we consider how this defect was supplied in his case, it will justify the observation we are on in the strongest manner imaginable.
As St. Paul conversed not with Christ in the flesh, so neither did he receive the gospel from any of the Apostles, who did; but had it by immediate revelation from Christ himself: so that his preaching had this apostolical character, that he taught the things which he had seen and heard of Christ. When he was miraculously called to be an Apostle, to qualify him for the office Christ promised to be his instructor: "I have appeared unto thee,' says our Lord, for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee:' Acts xxvi. 16. Accordingly St. Paul, speaking to the Galatians of his own authority as an Apostle, tells them that he " was an Apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead :'
Gal. i. 1. And again, in the 11th and 12th verses, 'I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man;
for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.?
This revelation to St. Paul extended not merely to points of doctrine, but conveyed to him likewise the knowlege of historical facts: as is plain from 1 Cor. xi. 23. where, speaking of the institution of the sacrament of the Lord's
says, I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it;' and so goes on to give an historical account of what was said and done at the last supper ; agreeing with the account given by those Apostles who were present at the transaction,
From these things laid together, it is evident that the Apostles were witnesses and teachers of the faith, and had no authority to add any thing to the doctrine of Christ, or to declare new articles of faith.
Now if the Apostles, commissioned directly by Christ himself, and supported by the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, had not this power, can any of their successors in the government of the church, without great impiety, pretend to it? Did the bishops and clergy of the ninth and tenth centuries know the articles of the faith better than the Apostles did ? or were they more powerfully assisted by the Holy Spirit? No Christian can think it or say it. Whence is it then that the church of Rome has received the power they pretend to, of making new articles of faith, and dooming all to eternal destruction who receive them not ? Can any sober serious Christian trust him. self to such guides, and not tremble when he reads the woe denounced by St. Paul; Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel - let him be accursed ?' 1. When the corruptions of the church of Rome were generally felt and complained of, and no applications whatever could prevail to obtain any alteration; the fear of owning an error, and thereby weakening the authority claimed, being more powerful to continue the old errors than the force of truth or even of conviction was to reform them; what had serious
Christians left to do, but to seek after, if happily they could find,' the faith once delivered to the saints;' to separate between the old doctrines of the gospel, and the new inventions of men; and to build up a church on the foundation of the Apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the head corner-stone ??
What has hitherto been said relates merely to the doctrines of the gospel ; to points of Christian faith : in these neither the Apostles of Christ nor the church after them had any authority, but to preach and publish to the world what they had received. If we extend this farther, and say that the Apostles and church after them had no more authority in any thing else than they had in articles of the faith, we run into an extreme that can produce nothing but disorder and confusion; which must be the destruction of all Christian societies, and end in making every man a church by himself. It
may be worth our while to consider the grounds of this distinction, as they are to be found in holy Scripture.
In the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew, in the fifteenth and following verses, we have this direction from our Saviour : • If thy brother shall trespass against thée, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone : if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses
neg. lect to hear them, tell it unto the church : but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen and a publican.'
In cases which fall under this direction (and some there are without doubt, or there would have been no direction about them) the church has a judicial authority, and a right to inflict the punishment mentioned. This power may be, and often has been, most flagrantly abused ; but to say the church has no authority in cases which come under this direction, is to deny not only the authority of the church, but the authority of Christ likewise, who gave the direction.
This authority of the church is taken notice of by St. Paul; and he rebukes the church of Corinth for not making use of it, to separate from them the incestuous person, who had given offence not to one, but to all Christians,
But there is another power which the Apostles had and exercised, and which they committed to those who succeeded them; I mean the authority of settling churches, and prescribing rules of order and decency to them.
If we consider St. Paul's conduct in the disputes which hap-, pened in the church of Corinth, we shall see how carefully he distinguishes between his duty to preach the gospel of Christ just as he had received it, and his authority in matters of order and decency. The Corinthians had been guilty of great misbehavior in eating the Lord's supper, as if they had forgot the end and the use of it. St. Paul, to set them right, gives them. an account of this institution; and here he expressly says, that: he delivered to them what he had received of the Lord :' but in directing some circumstances of their behavior at this
supper, he speaks in his own name : • When ye come together to eat,' says he, 'tarry one for another; and if any man hunger, let him eat at home :' and concludes, with reserving to himself the giving farther directions at a proper time : • The rest,' says. he, will I set in order when I come.'
As he exercised this authority himself, so he committed the like authority to those who succeeded him in the pastoral care. The Epistles to Timothy and Titus are full of rules or canons for the government of the respective churches under their care; which were to be supplied, as occasion required, by orders of their own :
· For this cause,' says St. Paul to Titus, "I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.' 1 Which particulars laid together manifestly show that there was a power or authority in particular churches to settle mato: ters of discipline, order, and decency for themselves; and that, there were no rules of this kind of universal obligation to all churches.
As the Apostles, considered singly as commissioned and inspired teachers, had no authority over the faith, neither had they when met together in council : for the doctrine and gospel of Christ could no more be altered by his twelve Apostles than it could be by one of them. We have but one instance of an apostolic council, which was held at Jerusalem; and the
proceedings of it are recorded in the fifteenth of the Acts of the Apostles.
The matter here controverted, and settled by decree of the council, was plainly a matter of government and discipline, and not of the substance of faith; and it was determined by prudential considerations, arising from the circumstances of the Christian church at that time. The case was this: St. Paul had converted many among the Gentiles, and settled several churches in Asia. The Jewish Christians insisted that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, and observe the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas, Apostles of the Gentiles, withstood this demand of the Jews, and had, as the words of the text are, 'no small dissension and disputation with them. They agreed to refer the question to the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem; and thither they went. The council being assembled,
n the case was opened with much disputing' on both sides : then St. Peter rose up and declared his opinion, and the reasons of it: he reminds them that he himself was the person chosen by God to be the first preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles, and that God had given a token of his accepting the Gentiles, by giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he had given it to the Jewish Christians, and put,' as his own words are, 'no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith ;' and then concludes against laying the burden or yoke of the law of Moses on the Gentile converts.
St. Peter's argument is drawn from the case of Cornelius, to whom he was sent by express revelation to preach the gospel. Cornelius was a Gentile, no observer of the law of Moses; nor was St. Peter, when sent to preach to him, instructed to require of him obedience to the law of Moses : and yet in this state God accepted Cornelius and his household, and the gift of the Holy Ghost was poured on them. And St. Peter's conclusion is, that since God accepted Cornelius and his family without calling them to the observance of the Mosaic law, the observance of the Mosaic law was not a condition to be imposed on the Gentile converts.
After St. Peter, Barnabas and Paul gave an account what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles