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The Christian Church

Miscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

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Edwards talks about various facets of the Christian church.

The Christian Church

8. Conscience. The dispute whether or no men may make laws to oblige the conscience. What nonsense it is for the world to be rent to pieces with a dispute whether men are obliged to do that which, at the same time, they are obliged in the same sense not to do! It is the same thing precisely, for the dispute is this: whether men are obliged in conscience to go contrary to their consciences when men command them so to do, which implies that men’s consciences may sometimes tell them that some things are right and ought to be done, which at the same time, their consciences tell them, it is wrong and ought not to be done.

10. Pastors. This is certain and evident concerning its belonging to the people to choose their own pastor: that it is the people’s part to choose with what food they will be fed, let what will be offered them. It is their business to judge whether it be best for them to receive it in as their food. That they, in some cases, are to receive that as their food which they at the same time judge to be their poison, that is, they are to believe those things which, at the same time, they believe to be false, and even to think it best to do those things which they, at the same time, think it is best for them not to do, are contradictions. It’s every man’s business to choose that food which he thinks to be best for his eternal welfare, as certain as it is his business to get as much happiness as he can for himself in the other world, as all are fools that will not, and it is certainly the essence of folly to suffer men to hinder us from it, if we can help it. Wherefore it be the people’s part to choose with what food they will be fed, and is also their business to choose with what feeders they will be fed. If I may choose my food, I may choose that feeder that will give the food that I choose, if I can obtain him, and I am a fool if I will be hindered by men, when I can help it, from being fed by such a feeder as I judge will be the means of my greatest eternal welfare.

11. Discipline. This is most certain, that if men have no authority to make ecclesiastical laws, then I am not obliged to obey them because of their power and authority. I am not so obliged to obey them because of any power or authority they have, that is, I am not obliged to obey them any more than I should be obliged to obey the meanest, most obscure private person in the kingdom, if he should take on him to make laws. So that it is proved that I am not obliged to obey them because of their authority. But then, if it shall be said that we are obliged to obey for the sake of peace, I answer, it is most certain that if those persons have no authority to make such laws, I am no more obliged to obey them merely for the sake of peace than the people of England would be obliged to obey the Grand Turk, who has no authority, if he should make laws for them. Supposing that a breach of his command would enrage all the people of Turkey, and that there should ensue every way as bad a breach of peace as the disobeying those who have no authority in England, now indeed I say, the people of England would be obliged, if so, to obey the Grand Turk if no worse thing would follow [from obeying] than the breach of peace [from disobeying]. But it belongs to the people in England and not to the Grand Turk to judge whether there would or no, so it belongs to me to judge whether it will be best for me to obey those who have no authority — to me, and not to the legislators.

14. Civil Authority. The civil authorities having nothing to do with matters ecclesiastical, with those things which relate to conscience and eternal salvation or with any matter religious as religious, is reconcilable still with their having to do with some matters that, in some sense, concern religion. For although they have to do with nothing but civil affairs, and although their business extends no further than the civil interests of the people, yet by reason of the profession of religion and the difference that matters religious make in the state and circumstances of a people, many things become civil which otherwise would not. Now by the civil interests or advantages of a people (distinguished from those things which relate to conscience, the favor of God, and happiness in the other world) I think is commonly meant their general interest or their interest as they are a people in this world, whether it be their general profit or pleasure or peace or honor. I say general interests or interests of a people, because the pleasure, profit, peace, or honor of a people in general or taken one with another may be advanced and thereby the interest or pleasure of a particular person may be depressed. And so also the interest of the whole, for a particular time, may be depressed, when yet taken one time with another it may be advanced. Now I say this interest of a people may be all that civil authority has to do with, and yet it may have to do with things in some sense religious for the before-mentioned reason — because many things, by reason of religion, become their civil advantage, that is, their advantage in this world which otherwise would not be so. Also many things become their civil disadvantage. Thus it is for the civil interest of a people not to be disturbed in their public assembling for divine worship, that is, it is for the general peace, profit, and pleasure of them in this world.

17. Confession of Faith. With respect to declaring one’s faith in Scripture expressions, this is certain, if there ought to be liberty of conscience: that every minister, every Christian, and every man upon earth is at liberty to declare or not to declare his consent to any man’s being a minister, according as he does, internally in his mind, consent or not consent. It is evident he has liberty of conscience to think about it, and if he has liberty of conscience [i.e., to think about it], he has liberty of declaring according to his thoughts. This liberty every minister has, that is required to give his consent to a man’s being a minister. If so, it is also certain that if a minister believes that no man can be fit but what believes such and such things to be true, he has liberty of conscience to declare his consent or dissent, according as he thinks this person believes or disbelieves those things. And if so, it is absolutely certain that he has power to insist upon those things which he shall think sufficient reasons — to make him state he does believe those things which he deems necessary before he gives his consent to his being a minister. And if he thinks that speaking in the words of the Scripture be not sufficient to make him think so, he has power to insist on more. So likewise every particular man and every congregation of men in the world have the same liberty to judge what man is fit to feed their souls. Not but that words and confessions of faith have been some of the chief engines that Satan has made use of to tear the church of God in pieces, not but that if those were removed, the principal walls of separation would at the same time be removed, not that it is right for men to insist upon subscription to any creeds or confessions of faith, or any other particular ways of making known their faith. All that we plead for is that there be sufficient reasons to satisfy those, whose business it is to declare their consent to their being ministers, that the candidate does believe what is thought necessary by them to be believed, in order to their [his] fitness — not that they can demand any more than such satisfaction which way soever they come by it.

ce and power should so tear the world to pieces and raise such a fog and dust about apostolic office, power, and succession, pope’s, bishop’s, and presbyter’s power. It is not such a desperately difficult thing to know what power belongs to each of these, if we will let drop those words that are without fixed meaning. The light of nature will lead us right along in a plain path. Without doubt, ministers are to administer the sacraments to Christians, and they are to administer them only to such as they think Christ would have them administer them. Without doubt, ministers are to teach men what Christ would have them to do, and to teach them who doth those things and who doth them not, who it is are Christians and who are not, and the people are to hear them as much in this as in other things. And that so far forth as the people are obliged to hear what I teach them, so great is my pastoral or ministerial or teaching power. And this is all the difference of power there is amongst ministers, whether apostles or whatever. Thus, if I in a right manner am chosen the teacher of a people, so far as they ought to hear what I teach them, so much power I have. Thus they are obliged to hear me only because they themselves have chosen me to guide them and therein declared that they thought me sufficiently instructed in the mind of Christ to teach them, and because I have the other requisites of being their teacher. Then I have power as other ministers have in these days. But if it were plain to them that I was under the infallible guidance of Christ, then I should have more power. And if it was plain to all the world of Christians that I was under the infallible guidance of Christ, and I was sent forth to teach the world the will of Christ, then I should have power in all the world. I should have power to teach them what they ought to do, and they would be obliged to hear me. I should have power to teach them who are Christians and who not: and, in this likewise, they would be obliged to hear me.

69. National Church. This is evident by naked and natural reason, that those that live together do, if they have not overbalancing reasons on the other side, worship God together. By the word ‘together’ I do not mean as to place, for those that live within 100 rods may be further distant from me than he that lives five hundred. But I mean those who are joined together in the same interest, have dependence one on another, and whose welfare more especially depends on a communication with each other, and whom the providence of God have cast into such circumstances as that they subsist by communication, whatever those circumstances are, whether because they are under the same government, or live in the same place, or speak the same language, or whatever their families, positions, provinces, governments, kingdoms, nations, Christendom, world — and their obligation to worship together is in proportion to their nearness together .It is evidently the duty of such to worship together because they are united in one common interest which they depend upon the object of their worship for, and because it is abundantly most convenient so to do.

70. Conscience. Vid. M 80. To say that a man ought not to be guided wholly and entirely by his own private judgment in what he ought to believe is not only against the Gospel and the plainest reason, and most absurd, but the thing itself, the supposition that a man is not entirely guided by his own private judgment in what he believes, whether it ought to be or no, is a direct, flat, and immediate contradiction. And if it were never so much required, it is an utter impossibility, and is the same thing as to say that a man believes and yet believes not at the same time. For if he, in his own private judgment, sees no apparent reason, nor does not think that he sees any reason for the truth of such a thing, it is a contradiction to say that he believes, because not thinking in his own private judgment that he sees any reason for the truth is the same as not to believe it in his own private judgment. The papists really think that their church cannot teach anything but what is true, and so believe everything that the clergy teach them, guided entirely by their own private judgment, however dark and blind their judgment is. It is because they think in their own private judgment that they see some reason why whatever their clergy teaches should be true, so believe that their clergy are infallible, let the reason of their believing so be their education or whatever it is, because that education, or the opinion of their fathers, appears to their dark minds as a reason. Or if their judgments are swayed by their interest, they depend nevertheless upon their private judgment. It is because their interest has this influence on them as to make them think in their own private judgments that they see reason in things when, in reality, there is none. And if a man of a weak capacity, and sensible of it, had never so great a mind to depend entirely upon the judgment of his superiors and truly to believe as they believed, he could not possibly do it except his own private judgment told him in the first place that there was reason why what those, his superiors, believed should be true. Yea, it is an absolute contradiction to suppose that be should believe what God declared to him for any other reason, viz., that his own private judgment told him that God was omniscient and could not lie, etc.

349. Church Government. Deu. 17:8-9, “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment” i.e. they were to go to the Sanhedrin. It is unreasonable to suppose that there is no cause that can arise in the church too hard for a particular minister or particular congregation, and that there should be no need in no case of any resort, or appeal, or referring of the cause to a higher judgment. Also Exo. 18:21-22; Deu. 1:17.

434. Christ Shall Deliver up the Kingdom to the Father. And as Christ when he first entered upon the Work of Redemption, after the fall of man, had the kingdom committed to him of the Father and took on himself the administration of the affairs of the universe, to manage all so as to subserve to the purposes of this affair, so now that work being finished, he will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, 1 Cor. 15:24. Not that Christ shall cease to reign or have a kingdom after this, for it is said, Luke 1:33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” So in the seventh chapter of Daniel (Dan. 7). But the meaning is that Christ shall deliver up that kingdom or dominion that he has over the world as the Fathers delegate or vicegerent which the Father committed to him to be managed in subservience to this great design of redemption. The end of this commission, or delegation, he had from the Father was to subserve to this particular design of redemption, and therefore when that design is fully accomplished the commission will cease, and Christ will deliver it up to the Father from whom he received it.

485. Excommunication. They that are regularly and justly excommunicated are bound in heaven, the wrath of God abides upon them. While they justly stand excommunicated, they ordinarily stand bound to damnation. I say ordinarily, because it is possible that the case may be so that they may desire to do what is proper to be restored and may not have opportunity. For we may take that Mat. 16:19, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” etc. — as an implicit declaration of Christ, that he never will suffer a truly godly man by his obstinacy justly to bring such a censure upon him, and that he will never will give an excommunicate person repentance except it be in that way of his using proper means to be restored. So that excommunication does as much mark out men as being in a damnable condition as if it made them so.

874. The Christian Church. The prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the glorious times of the gospel show plainly that the way of acceptance with God and the CONDITIONS OF SALVATION are the same under the gospel as they were under the Old Testament.

By the book of Psalms, which is applied and made use of in the New Testament as the language of Christ and the Christian church, and was made use of in the public worship in Christian assemblies from the beginning of the Christian church, it is evident that the qualifications of the godly, and the way of their acceptance with God and admission to his favor and the fruits of it, are the same now under the Christian dispensation, as of old in David’s time: otherwise but little of the language of that book can [xo c?] now be made our language to God, or is applicable to our state.

The way of acceptance with God and salvation was also the same before the giving of the law by Moses; as appears by what the apostle [c] Paul says of Abraham, Rom 4, Gal. 3, and James (Jam. 2). And not only those who had Abraham’s covenant entailed to them, as appears by the beginning of Heb. 11, Jam. 2:25, Job 22:21, 23, etc. — and Job 5:27, and Job 11:13-15 etc., chap. 33:23, and Job 19:25, etc. and chap. 4:6.

28. Presbyterian Discipline. The law of nature and the law of divine revelation teach us to be united with those that we dwell with in the same country to have a special affection for them and makes us in many respects one body with them. Even the Jews that were carried captive into Babylon were directed to seek the peace of the city, whether they were carried, though it was a city of the enemies that had injuriously ruined them and were told as an argument to induce them to it, that in the peace of that city they should have peace as they were no inhabitants as their interest was united. So the same law taught Abraham to show great kindness and respect even to the people of Sodom and the other cities of the plain, though he was not one of the people was not subject to their government, nor of their common wealth nor related to them, nor had ever anything to do with them as we know of. But only he dwelt in the same country, though he was a stranger there, was lately come from far and had no settled habitation in the land, but moved two [sic] and fro with tents. And though they were a very wicked people, yet how much does he interest himself in their quarrel, and what great kindness does he show them in restoring all their goods that he had obtained from their enemies by jeopardizing his life. And though he showed this kindness partly for Lot’s sake, yet that also shows how those that dwell with a people though very wicked and undeserving, yet do, as it were of course, become one body with them. Abraham looked upon them as of the same body and in the same interest with his brother, and therefore dealt with them for his sake as he dealt with him. So how does Christ seem to approve of the centurions kindness to the Jews among whom he dwelt Luke 7:5.

948. Presbyterian Discipline. [Edwards saw Scripture also clearly teaching the principle of higher courts. In fact] elders of Christian churches answered much to the elders of the particular cities of Israel. As the whole Jewish nation represented the whole church of God and were a type of the Christian church, so the particular cities and towns seem to represent particular churches in some respects. The elders of the cities seem to have been like the select men of our towns here in New England. They were the principal men of the city for age and discretion that were chosen by the inhabitants to manage the affairs of the city. The priests were superior to them in judgment.

Consider the following two works by Edwards that have been updated and republished for easy reading:

Ripe for Damnation: Sermons on the Book of Revelation – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Are you hungry for more of Edwards’ sermons? On the book of Revelation? These new works are not found anywhere on A Puritan’s Mind, and there are new ones not found in his large 2 volume works. 4 deal with the plight of the wicked, and 2 deal with the bliss of saints in heaven. These sermons are powerful, practical, and biblical, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and contain 2 never before published sermons.

Justification by Faith Alone – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). In this classic work, Edwards covers the intricacies of how believers are made righteous only through Christ’s merits, and that this justifying righteousness is equally imputed to all elect believers. This is accomplished by the condition of faith as an instrument.

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