Chapter 4: Of the Form of a Visible Church and of Church Covenant


Of the form of a visible church, and of church covenant.

1. Saints by calling must have a visible political union amongst themselves, or else they are not yet a particular church, as those similitudes hold forth, which the Scripture makes use of to show the nature of particular churches, as a body, a building, or house, hands, eyes, feet, and other members must be united, or else (remaining separate) are not a body. Stones, timber, though squared, hewn and polished, are not a house, until they are compacted and united ; so saints or believers, in judgment of charity, are not a church, unless orderly knit together. 1 Cor. xii. 27. 1 Tim. iii. 15. Eph. ii. 22. 1 Cor. xii. 15, 16, 17.

2.Particular churches cannot be distinguished one from another, but by their forms: Ephesus is not Smyrna, nor Pergamus, Thyatira, but each one a distinct society of itself, having officers of their own, which had not the charge of others ; virtues of their own, for which others are not praised; corruptions of their own, for which others are not blamed. Rev. i.

3.This form is the visible covenant, agreement, or consent, whereby they give up themselves unto the Lord, to the observing of the ordinances of Christ together in the same society, which is usually called the church covenant: For we see not otherwise how members can have church-power one over another mutually. The comparing of each particular church unto a city, and unto a spouse, seemeth to conclude not only a form, but that that form is by way of covenant. The covenant, as it was that which made the family of Abraham, and children of Israel, to be a church and people unto God, so it is that which now makes the several societies of Gentile-believers to be churches in these days. Exod xix. 5, 8. Deut.xxix. 12, 13. Zech. xi. 14, and ix. 11. Eph. ii. 19.2 Cor. xi. 2. Gen. xvii. 7. Deut. xxix. 12, 13. Eph. ii. 12, 13.

4.This voluntary agreement, consent, or covenant,(for all these are here taken for the same,) although the more express and plain it is, the more fully it puts us in mind of our mutual duty, and stirreth us up to it, and leaveth less room for the questioning of the truth of the church-estate of a company of professors, and the truth of membership of particular persons; yet we conceive the substance of it is kept, where there is a real agreement and consent of a company of faithful persons to meet constantly together in one congregation, for the public worship of God, and their mutual edification ; which real agreement and consent they do express by their constant practice in coming together for the public worship of God, and by their religious subjection unto the ordinances of God there ; the rather if we do consider how Scripture-covenants have been entered into not only expressly by word of mouth, but by sacrifice, by hand writing and seal, and also sometimes by silent consent, without any writing or expression of words at all. Exod. xix 5, and xx. 8, and xxiv 3, 17. Josh. xxiv. 18-24. Psalm 1. 5. Neh. ix. 38, and x. I. Gen. xvii. Deut. xxix.

5.This form being by mutual covenant, it followeth, itis not faith in the heart, nor the profession of that faith, nor cohabitation, nor baptism. 1. Not faith in the heart, because that is invisible. 2. Not a bare profession, be-cause that declareth them no more to be members of one church than of another. 3. Not cohabitation : atheists or infidels may dwell together with believers, 4. Not baptism, because it presupposeth a church-estate, as circumcision in the Old Testament, which gave no being unto the church, the church being before it, and in the wilderness without it. Seals presuppose a covenant already in being. One person is a complete subject of baptism, but one person is incapable of being a church.

6.All believers ought, as God giveth them opportunity thereunto, to endeavour to join themselves unto a particular church, and that in respect of the honour of Jesus Christ, in his example and institution, by the professed acknowledgment of, and subjection unto the order and ordinances of the gospel; as also in respect of their good of communion, founded upon their visible union, and contained in the promises of Christ’s special presence in the church ;whence they have fellowship with him, and in him one with another; also, for the keeping of them in the way of God’s commandments, and recovering of them in case of wandering, (which all Christ’s sheep are subject to in this life,) being unable to return of themselves; together with the benefit of their mutual edification, and of their posterity, that they may not be cut off from the privileges of the covenant. Otherwise, if a believer offends, he remains destitute of the remedy provided in that behalf And should all believers neglect this duty of joining to all particular congregations, it might follow thereupon, that Christ should have no visible political churches upon earth. Acts, ii. 47, and ix. 26. Matt. iii. 13. 14, 15, and xxviii. 19, 20. Psalm cxxxiii. 2, 3, and Ixxxvii. 7. Matt. xviii. 20 1 John, i. 3. Ps. cxix. 176.1 Peter, ii. 25. Eph. iv. 16. John, xxii. 24, 25. Matt, xviii. 15, IG, 17.