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The Church then, being a spiritual society, taken out of the world, yet existing in it; intimately connected with the temporal governments of the nations in which it is planted, yet in its spiritual character independent of them all; it was necessary for its preservation, that it should possess a form of government of its own, binding all its members together by a common rule of obedience, and training them in the duties of their new profession. Government is indeed essential to the very being of a society; without it men may congregate, but they cannot associate; the constitution to which they submit is the bond which unites them; and when this is dissolved, they are reduced again to the state of unconnected individuals.
This constitution was also necessary for the defence of the Church against external enemies, as well as for the maintenance of its internal peace and security. It is to be remembered, that this spiritual kingdom
1 See Note XV. Appendix.
existed for three hundred years after the resurrection of its divine Founder, not only unsupported and unprotected by any temporal authority, but in defiance of all human power, which was exerted in vain to resist its influence, and effect its destruction. In those days of trial and persecution, Christians, wherever dispersed throughout the world, formed but none body, under one head; professing the same faith; bound by the same laws; obeying rulers similar in office, authority, and appointment: and this it was which enabled the Church to flourish and increase, notwithstanding all the fury and malice of its enemies. Had the kingdom been "" divided against itself," it must have been "brought to desola"tion;" its union was its strength; and the principal bond of this union, was obedience to a common form of government, administered by officers appointed by, and responsible to, the same sovereign Lord.
The necessity of this constitution, as the safeguard of the Church, will still further
n See Note XVII. Appendix.
o Matt. xii. 25.
appear, when we consider, that it was not composed of a few individuals only; holding their meetings in a small confined district, and possessing a power of immediate communication with each other upon every emergency but that, even at this early period, it had extended itself throughout the then known world; that its congregations were to be found in every province, and in every city; that its members were confined to no one rank or order of men, but abounded in all; that they pleaded in the courts of justice, and fought in the armies of the nations, who were leagued for their destruction; that they were conspicuous among the high and the low; that they partook in the deliberations of the senator, and the gains of the merchant; that they inhabited the palaces of the rich, as well as the cottages of the poor; so that an eloquent apologist scrupled not to affirm, that, if the Christians were to withdraw themselves into deserts from the dominion of their persecutors,
P See Note XVIII. Appendix.
the Romans would want subjects to govern, and the empire would reckon more enemies than citizens.
What then could have preserved this body, so widely dispersed, and composed of materials so various; what could have connected the noble, with his slave; the learned and elegant Greek, with the unlettered barbarian; the conqueror and the vanquished, by ties which no human force could dissolve; but the powerful operation of conscientious adherence to one common system of spiritual discipline and subordination?
As the Church could not have maintained its ground against external attacks, had not a common form of government, universally acknowledged, reverenced, and obeyed by its members, given it that compactness and solidity, that community of interest and affection, requisite to sustain it under the discouraging circumstances of its first establishment; so neither could it have escaped the evils of internal 'discord;
I See Note XX. Appendix.
evils at any time to be deplored, as weakening its influence, and undermining its authority; but, in its then infant state, necessarily fatal to its very existence.
The abilities and inclinations, the views and interests of men are so different, that mutual independence must, almost of necessity, produce mutual dissension: and had not the Apostles been enabled to delegate to successors the power they themselves possessed; and to frame a system of government, of perpetual duration and authority; the Church could not, humanly speaking, have survived its original rulers. For as when there was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes; so no sooner would the power of enforcing submission to some legal government have ceased, than the Christian society must have been dissolved; and the Christian faith, without some extraordinary interposition of Providence, must have perished with it; for every one being left free to think, as well as to act for
$ Judges xvii. 6.