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and we may conceive it to have been not unintentional, on the part of the inspired historian, that the very first mention, which occurs in his narrative, of Christians as a connected body, should be accompanied by a clear indication of the principles of their union. Thus did the original Church become a model for all which succeeded it; and the steady continuance of its members in the doctrine and discipline of the Apostles, in the sacraments which their divine Master had ordained, and in a common form of devotion, stands upon record in the sacred volume, as if designed to teach us, that the disciples of Jesus Christ were to be separated from the world of the unbelievers; and that by these characteristic practices, each a pledge of mutual good offices, they were ever after to be united, as by an inviolable bond of affection.
In prosecution of the plan originally laid down, I have already considered Christian unity, as it should be exemplified in submission to the form of Church government established by the Apostles; and in the
maintenance of the one true faith, which they were commissioned to teach. I am now to examine, how far agreement in modes of worship is essential to its preser
It was to be expected, that he, who prayed so earnestly that his disciples might be one, would ordain some external rites or ceremonies, significant of their profession, their expectations, their high calling, and their solemn obligations; constituting a bond of union to themselves, as well as an outward sign of that union to others. For what can operate more strongly to preserve a religious association, than a common participation in some simple and affecting offices of devotion; which, unalterable in their signification, may remind the individuals of whom this association is composed, that they are all sharers in the same hopes and privileges, bound to the performance of the same duties, and thus distinguished from those around them? These, as ordinances of universal obligation, in every age and every country, were • See Note LVII. Appendix.
necessarily few and simple; but they were sufficient to instruct the household of faith, that all its members, however dispersed throughout the world, were travelling in the same road, and equipped in the same manner for their journey; that they must meet hereafter before one tribunal, and might live together in the eternal enjoyment of bliss and glory. These great objects thus secured, the daily wants and duties of each, the mode of keeping up in the minds of all a due sense of their holy profession, and of rendering the continual sacrifice of associated praise to him, who had d❝called them in one body," were left to be provided for by particular churches, as the circumstances of their members might seem to require. Thus, to the ordinances immediately of divine institution, by partaking in which every Christian was awakened to a sense of his fellowship with the whole society of believers, were added also others of human appointment; and these, as well as the former, were binding upon the conscience, because
d Col. iii. 15.
enjoined by that authority, to establish laws for its own preservation, and rules for the orderly conduct of its proceedings, which is essential to the existence of every society, civil or religious.
Of both these kinds of institutions the chapter before us gives an instance. It tells us, that those who joined themselves to the Apostles were baptized; and that being thus admitted unto "their fellowship," they continued stedfastly in breaking of "bread, and in prayers;" not only in a conformity to that mode of worship, appointed for their own particular Church; but also in partaking of that most holy mystery, here called "the breaking of bread," by which all Christians were to be especially distinguished. In considering, then, that particular branch of Christian unity, which the latter part of the text so clearly marks out, our inquiry will necessarily divide itself into two heads. We may first examine the duty of conforming to the particular ritual of that Church, to which we may happen to belong and, secondly, that agreement in the great dis
tinguishing features of Christian worship, which forms a visible bond of union, connecting all Churches throughout the world.
I. It has been already shewn, that the Church is a society constituted by God himself, that the true faith may be preserved, and the edification of its members duly provided for: and hence it follows, that, a power must be vested in the rulers of this society, to decree rites and ceremonies for the decent regulation of its public proceedings; since, otherwise, these important objects could not be attained.
The authority, thus inherent in the Church, has however its limits; it extends not to the enactment of f 66 any thing "trary to God's word written;" for that word is the depository of his will, and must be the rule of their conduct, who govern in his name. When this limit is not exceeded; when the Church cannot be justly charged with enjoining superstitious, profane, or antichristian rites or ceremonies; her members are g bound to conform to the f Article XX.
e See Note LVIII. Appendix. See Note LIX. Appendix.