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of human life in all departments of action. This is what we mean when we say that Congregationalism is a part of the higher system known in the scriptures by the name of the kingdom of God.
To be in such a kingdom is always a reality, and never a form. No man, as our Saviour declares, enters it except by regeneration. Of this, the reason is plain: every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him; while he who loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love. The pure in heart see God, and the poor in spirit possess his kingdom. These are the elements which, fully developed and made universal, shall establish on earth the kingdom of God.
Means of attaining it introduced by Christ.
If the kingdom of God, as it has been set forth, was before the mind of Christ as a result to be attained, it follows of necessity, that he ordained a system of means for the attainment of this end. This invests with peculiar interest the inquiry what that system was, and what are its relations and adaptations.
We should, from the very nature of the case, be led to suppose that, if the kingdom of God, at which he was aiming, had any striking characteristic, he would adapt his means wisely to the attainment of that characteristic. Such a characteristic we have seen there was. The universal kingdom of God is a kingdom in which none but God, as an omnipresent, omniscient, all-illuminating, all-vitalizing Spirit can be, or act as king. No angel or man, and no organization of angels or of men, can take his place. As well might we attempt to organize the solar system around a lamp, instead of the sun. That this was the characteristic of the kingdom of God, none better knew than our Saviour. We should not, then, expect from him any system tending to supersede God in his kingdom as its only possible bond of unity and vital power. On the other hand,
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we should expect to find his whole system pervaded by the recognition of the great truth, God, and God only, is able to be the omnipresent and omni-agent king of the whole earth, and the all-pervading and sympathetic bond of union to all men, animating, perfecting, and controlling the social system in all its parts. We should expect from him a distinct statement of this great truth, with a design to exclude great human centralizations, whether monarchical or aristocratic, from his system, lest they should intrude themselves into the place of God, and turn men away from their only true life and uniting and controlling power.
As we should expect, so we find. This is the import of the words: "One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren. Call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt. xxiii. 8-11). Of a similar import is his reply to a request for the highest seats of power in his kingdom. After referring to the exercise of centralized power in the kingdoms of the Gentiles, he says: "it shall not be so among you; whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. xx. 20-28). So carefully did he guard the peculiar prerogatives of God in his kingdom, and rebuke all attempts of unholy human ambition to intrude into, and vainly to try to fill, his place.
Nor did he attempt to fill the place of God by extended hierarchal organizations of particular churches into one great body, with legislative and judicial power. If this mode of organization had been regarded by our Saviour as a desirable and legitimate means of introducing and estab lishing the kingdom of God, there was no reason why it should not have been so declared at the outset. The kingdoms of earth were extended organizations. Such an organization the Jews anticipated. All were ready to adopt it.
If it was not introduced by Christ, if something entirely unlike it was introduced in its stead, there must have been a real and a deep reason for such a decision, and that reason could have been nothing but this, that the system excluded was not adapted to introduce the kingdom of God, and that the system introduced was thus adapted.
The historical fact is plain and undeniable. A hierarchy was not introduced by Christ and his apostles. The system actually established by them was a system of free, independent, self-governed, local churches. This is conceded by eminent church historians of all denominations. The historical facts alleged by Congregationalists, and conceded by the most eminent historians, are:
1. The establishment of local churches, and not of an extended organized church, either for the world, or for nations or provinces.
2. These churches were composed of professed believers in Christ, or regenerated persons.
3. Their object was the cultivation of holiness, and its extension among men.
4. These churches were independent of each other, in the sense that each had full power to conduct its own worship, to admit its own members, to exercise its own discipline, to choose and ordain its own officers, to make its own regulations, and manage its own affairs, without subjection to any organization or head.
5. Each of these churches was accustomed to come together, for worship and for the transaction of business, into one place. Nor is any example given of a church of which this was not true.
6. The permanent officers of the churches were of two kinds, pastors and deacons. The pastors were also called elders, overseers, and teachers. The apostles had no successors. They are still in the church, and rule it by their inspired writings.
7. The exercise of discipline with final power is, by posi tive law, enjoined on the local church, and its exercise is illustrated by the action of particular churches.
8. The churches admitted the divine origin and relations of each other, and the fellowship growing out of it, and in cases of doubt consulted each other.
Moreover, this system grew out of the true and divine idea of the kingdom of God which it was designed to introduce and establish. It was a system adapted to develop and cultivate personal holiness, and thus to unite the individual elements of all social systems to God; and it left room for God to be the universal uniting, organizing, and ruling power of human society. Moreover, it created an obvious necessity for him to act as such, by introducing no great outward organization, or system of forms, which could be idolized or worshipped in his place. It thus created a felt necessity of a present God, and of universal personal holiness, with which he can enter into vital and sympa thetic communion, and through which he can act in all the relations of life, "above all, and through all, and in all" (Eph. iv. 6).
The Fundamental Warrant and Reason of Congregationalism.
If the great end of Christ, if that upon which the introduction and establishment of the kingdom of God depends, is the development and culture of personal holiness, and the extension of divine influence through it, in all the relations and offices of the social system, then the fundamental reason of his institution of the Congregational system as a means to that end, must have been its superior fitness to promote it. Of this we might, through faith, be sure, from the very nature of God. For the attainment of so great an end as his kingdom, he would not introduce any but the wisest and best adapted means.
But we are not confined to faith. We can see and state the reasons of this superiority of adaptation. It is best adapted to keep Christians in direct and vital contact with the Bible, and thus with God, through it.
The nature of holiness is such that all that belongs to its development and culture, is more fully and more perfectly
revealed in the words of God, than anywhere else. This is, and ever must be, the great fountain-head of holiness. We cannot abide in Christ, except as his words abide in us. There is a fulness, a many-sidedness, a vitality, a perfection, a power, in the word of God, which cannot be found, and never will be found, in any human compositions. The Bible does not tend to one-sided development; it nourishes the whole man. It does not produce dry, intense, heartless speculation, but it suffuses the whole intellect with love.
Now it is evident that the Bible, as the word of God, designed to produce holiness, can be fully and perfectly developed in a local church. There is no need of an extended organic system in order to effect this. The laws of love, the nature of sin, human depravity, the atonement, regeneration, repentance, and faith, and the fruits of a holy life, viewed in a practical light, are plain. And in the culture of holiness, a covenant with God and one another, to lead a holy life, Christian fellowship, mutual watchfulness, the study of the Bible, and Christian activity, are all provided for, in the fullest manner, in the local church. For the culture of holiness, no system can be more simple, perfect, and powerful than this.
But there are, from the nature of the case, necessary limits to a practical power to act in covenant relations, to exercise watchfulness, and to meet for worship; and it is worse than useless to try to transcend them. Hundreds of thousands, or millions, cannot meet together in worship, or act together in covenant care and fellowship.
Hence the real and practical work of cultivating holiness must be effected by limited local organizations, for the social study of the Bible, for preaching and worship, for covenant co-operation and watchfulness. For these ends, free local churches are perfectly competent, and they tend to concentrate all the energies of the mind on these ends. The result is a practical conviction, which the Bible ever tends to produce, that God only is great, God only is to be adored. He is the King of all worlds, he fills all things with his glory;