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The Church Instituted

William Ames (1576-1633) - One of the Greatest Theological Puritans and Writers

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“The first act of religion, therefore, concerns those things which are communicated to us from God. The other concerns those things which we yield to God.”

The foundation of the church and its institution.

1. The church living upon earth, though it is not wholly visible, is visible in its parts both individually in its single members and collectively in its companies or congregations.

2. The first visibility is in the personal profession of men. This does not make a visible church, except as it exists in these particular members, i.e., it makes the church’s members visible; the church itself, in its integral state, does not become visible in the same place. Acts 19:1, Paul . . . came to Ephesus where he found certain disciples.

3. That visibility which is in companies or distinct congregations not only makes a visible church, but, so far as outward form is concerned, also makes as many visible churches as there are distinct congregations. Rev. 1:4, The seven churches; 2 Cor. 8:1, 19, The churches of Macedonia. All the churches.

4. These congregations are, so to speak, similar parts of the catholic church and partake both of its name and nature.

5. Therefore a particular church, in respect of the nature it has in common with all particular churches, is a species of the church as a genus; but in respect of the catholic church, which has the nature [ratio] of a whole, it is a member made up of various individual members gathered together; and in respect of these members it is also a whole.

6. Such a congregation or particular church is a society of believers joined together in a special bond for the continual exercise of the communion of saints among themselves.

7. It is a society of believers because the same thing makes a church visible in profession which in its inward and real nature makes it a mystical church, namely, faith.

8. Because true faith has holiness joined with it, which it keeps effectual, Acts 15:9, and the profession of true faith cannot be separated from the profession of holiness, the church is variously but with the same meaning called a society of believers and a society of saints. Eph. 1:1, To the saints which are at Ephesus and faithful in Jesus Christ; 1 Cor. 1:2 compared with 2 Cor. 1:1; Rom. 1:7; and Col. 1:2.

9. Hence visible and particular churches are rightly said to be in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ because of the faith which they profess, 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1.

10. Doubtless there is no particular church of this sort in which profession of the true faith is made but there are also to be found in it some true believers.

11. Those who are only believers by profession, while they remain in that society, are members of that church, as they are of the catholic church so far as outward status is concerned. In inward or essential status, they do not belong. 1 John 2:19, They went out from us, but they were not of us.

12. The children of those believers who are in the church are to be counted with the believers as members of the church, 1 Cor. 7:14, Your children are holy. For they are partakers with their parents of the same covenant and profession.

13. Yet children are not such perfect members of the church that they can exercise acts of communion or be admitted to all its privileges unless there is first a growth of faith. But they are not to be excluded from the privileges which pertain to the beginning of faith and entrance into the church.

14. Believers do not make a particular church, even though by chance many may meet and live together in the same place, unless they are joined together by a special bond among themselves. Otherwise, any one church would often be dissolved into many, and many also merged into one.

15. This bond is a covenant, expressed or implicit, by which believers bind themselves individually to perform all those duties toward God and toward one another which relate to the purpose [ratio] of the church and its edification.

16. Hence it is that in the Old Testament we very often read of the renewing of the covenant whenever any true reformation of the church is present.

17. Therefore, no one is rightly admitted into the church except on confession of faith and promise of obedience.

18. This joining together by covenant makes a church only as it looks toward the exercising of the communion of saints. For the same believing men may join, themselves in covenant to make a city or some civil society when their immediate concern is for the common civil good. But they cannot make a church except as in its constitution they intend holy communion with God among themselves.

19. The same men may make a city or political society and not a church; or a church and not a city; or both a church and a city.

20. Therefore, those meetings that are formally ecclesiastical are said to be held in the name of the Lord, Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4.

21. No sudden coming together and exercise of holy communion suffices to make a church unless there is also that continuity, at least in intention, which gives the body and its members a certain spiritual polity.

22. The church is instituted by God and by Christ. Heb. 3:3, 4, He that built the house . . . For every house is built by someone. In this sense it differs from the mystical church where the gathering is not prescribed to men but effected directly by divine operation. The gathering of an instituted church, however, is so effected by God that his command and man’s duty and labor come first. Heb. 10:25, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.

23. It is instituted by God and Christ alone because men have no power in themselves to institute or frame a church for Christ; neither is any such power committed to them by the revealed will of God. Their greatest honor is that they are servants in the house of God, Heb. 3:5.

24. Man, therefore, does not have power either to take away any of those things which Christ has given his church or to add things of like kind. Yet in every way he can and ought to make certain that the things which Christ has ordained are furthered and strengthened.

25. Christ has so instituted the church that it always depends upon him as the head — considered without Christ it is not a complete body.

26. Therefore, the church may not properly make new laws for itself for instituting new things. It ought to take care only to find out the will of Christ clearly and observe his ordinances decently and with order, with greatest edification resulting.

27. Since the ordinances of Christ always have God’s blessing joined with them, various promises of God are made to the church about the presence of Christ, Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4. So in a special way he is said to live and walk in the churches, Rev. 2:1; Isa. 31:9. And promises are made about the presence of the Holy Spirit, Isa. 59:21. Thus an ampler and surer blessing of God may be expected in the instituted church of God than is found in any solitary life.

28. Therefore, those who have opportunity to join the church and neglect it most grievously sin against God because of his ordinance, and also against their own souls because of the blessing joined to it. And if they obstinately persist in their carelessness, whatever they otherwise profess, they can scarcely be counted believers truly seeking the kingdom of God.

29. The profession of the true faith is the most essential mark of the church.

30. This profession may in some congregations precede the solemn preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments.

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