Chapter 3: Of the Matter of the Visible Church both in Respect of Quality and Quantity


Of the matter of the visible church, both in respect of quality and quantity.

1. The matter of a visible church are saints by calling. ICor. i. 2. Eph. i. 1.

2. By saints, we understand,

1. Such as have not only attained the knowledge of the principles of religion, and are free from gross and open scandals, but also do together with the profession of their faith and repentance, walk in blameless obedience to the word, so as that in charitable discretion they may be accounted saints by calling, though perhaps some or more of them be unsound, and hypocrites inwardly, because the members of such particular churches are commonly by the Holy Ghost called saints and faithful brethren in Christ ; and sundry churches have been reproved for receiving, and suffering such persons to continue in fellowship amongst them, as have been offensive and scandalous; the name of God also by this means is blasphemed, and the holy things of God defiled and profaned, the hearts of the godly grieved, and the wicked themselves hardened, and helped forward to damnation. The example of such doth endanger the sanctity of others: a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

2. The children of such, who are also holy. Heb. vi. 1. 1 Cor. i. 5. Rom. xv. 14. Ps. 1. 16, 17. Acts. viii. 37. Matt,iii. 6. Koin vi 17. 1 Cor. i i>. Phil. i. 2. Col. i 2. Eph i. 1. 1 Cor. v. 12,13. Rev. ii. U, 15, 20. Ezek. xliv. 7, D, and xxiii. 38. 39. Num. xix 20. Hagg. ii. 13, 14. 1 Cor. xi. 27,29. Psal. xxxvii. 21. 1 Cor. v. 6. 1 Cor.vii. 14.

3. The members of churches, though orderly constituted, may in time degenerate, and grow corrupt and scandalous, which though they ought not to be tolerated in the church, yet their continuance therein, through the defect of the execution of discipline and just censures, doth not immediately dissolve the being of the church, as appears in the church of Israel, and the churches of Galatia and Corinth, Pergamus and Thyatira. Jer. ii. 21 I Cor. v. 12. Jer. ii. 4. Gal. v. 4. 2 Cor. xii. 21. Rev. ii. 14, 15, and xxi. 21. 53

4. The matter of the church in respect of its quantity, ought not to be of greater number than may ordinarily meet together conveniently in one place; nor ordinarily fewer, than may conveniently carry on church-work. Hence when the holy Scripture makes mention of the saints combined into a church-estate, in a town or city where was but one congregation, it usually calleth those saints The Church, in the singular number; as, The church of the Thessalonians, The church of Smyrna, Philadelphia, and the like; but when it speaketh of the saints in a nation or province, wherein there were sundry congregations, it frequently and usually calleth them byte name of Churches, in the plural number, as the churches of Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, and the like; which is further confirmed by what is written of sundry of those churches in particular, how they were assembled and met together, the whole church in one place, as the church at Jerusalem, the church at Antioch, the church at Corinth, and Cenchrea, though it were more near to Corinth, it being the port thereof, and answerable to a village, yet being a distinct congregation from Corinth, it had a church of its own, as well as Corinth had. 1 Cor. xiv. 21. Matt. xviii. 17. Rom. xvi 1. 1 Thess. i. 1. Rev. ii 8, and iii. 7. 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 19. Gal. i. 2. 2 Cor. viii. 1, 1 Thess. ii. 14 Acts, ii.46, and v. 12, and vi. 2, and xiv. 27, and xv. 38. 1 Cor. v. 4, and xiv. 23. Rom. xvi. 1.

5. Nor can it with reason be thought but that every church appointed and ordained by Christ, had a ministry ordained and appointed for the same ; and yet plain it is, that there were no ordinary officers appointed by Christ for any other than congregational churches; elders being appointed to feed, not all flocks, but that particular flock of God over which the Holy Ghost had made them over-seers, and that flock they must attend, even the whole flock; and one congregation being as much as any ordinary elders can attend, therefore there is no greater church than a congregation, which may ordinarily meet in one place. Acts, XX. 28.