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The Administration of the Covenant from the Coming of Christ to the End of the World

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.”

How should we think about the New Covenant in Christ?

1. The manner of administration of the covenant, now Christ has appeared, is twofold: the one lasting until the end of the world and the other at the end itself.

2. From the time of Christ to the end of the world there is an administration of one kind which is altogether new and is rightly called the New Testament.

5. It is of one kind without end or alteration because it is perfect, no other is to be expected to which it would give place as to the more perfect.

4. The testament is new in relation to what existed from the time of Moses and in relation to the promise made to the fathers. But it is new not in essence but in form. In the former circumstances the form of administration gave some evidence of the covenant of works, from which this testament is essentially different. Since the complete difference between the new covenant and the old appeared only in the ad-ministration which came after Christ, this administration is properly termed the covenant and testament which is new.

5. This differs also from the former administration in quality and quantity.

6. Its difference in quality is in clarity and freedom.

7. Clarity occurs, first in the more distinct expression than heretofore of the doctrine of grace and salvation through Christ and through faith in him (together with other kindred points of the doctrine). Second, it is expressed not in types and shadows, but in a most manifest fashion.

8. In both of these respects, Christ is said to have been set forth earlier under a veil but now to be offered with an open and unveiled face. 2 Cor. 3:12, We use great evidence in speaking, being not like Moses who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not see the end of that which was now taken away as unprofitable.

9. Freedom comes, first, in doing away with government by law, or the intermixture of the covenant of works, which held the ancient people in a certain bondage. The spirit of adoption, though never wholly denied to believers, is also most properly said to be communicated under the New Testament, in which the perfect state for believers most clearly shines forth. Gal. 4:4, 5, After the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons. Second, the yoke of ceremonial law is taken away in that it was a mortgage bond held against sinners, forbade the use of some things in their nature indifferent, commanded many burdensome observances of other things of the some nature, and veiled the truth itself with many carnal ceremonies. Col. 2:17, Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.

10. Those who force upon the Christian churches Jewish ceremonies or other similar religious and mystical ceremonies offend against the liberty which Christ has obtained for us. Divine ceremonies were not suppressed in order that human ones might supplant them.

Nor is it likely that Christ would leave such mysteries to the will of men after his coming, when he permitted no such thing to his people before that. He might so easily have provided us religious and mystical ceremonies had he judged them necessary or profitable — that is, aside from the very few which he prescribed by name — or at least indicated in a last will to whom he granted such authority — but this he never did. Gal. 5:1, Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage.

11. In measure this administration differs from the former intensively and extensively.

12. It differs intensively, first, in that the application of the Spirit is more effectual and the gifts of the Spirit more perfect than they were ordinarily in the Old Testament. The old administration and the new are compared to each other as the letter and the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:6. Second, the new administration produces a more spiritual life, 2 Cor. 2:18.

13. This administration differs extensively, first, in respect of place, because it is not confined to any one people as before, but is diffused through the whole world. It differs, second, in respect of time, since the duration of time before the consummation of the whole mystical church is not set. 2 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 4:13, That which remains . . . until we all attain to … mature manhood, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

14. Since this new administration is so perfect, it follows that the communion of saints in the church instituted according to the New Testament should be most perfect.

15. Therefore, in every church of the New Testament the whole solemn and ordered worship of God and all his holy ordinances can and ought to be observed in such wise that all the members of that church may find their communion in them at the same time.

16. It was once ordained of God, in the church of the Jews, that certain more solemn parts of divine worship should be celebrated in one place and others in other places. This is no longer true, for one particular church is ordained in which all holy offices are to be per-formed.

17. Therefore, all Christian churches together have one and the same right. One no more depends upon another than another upon it.

18. It is, therefore, String that a particular church should not consist of more members than may meet together in one place to hear the word of God, celebrate the sacraments, offer prayers, exercise discipline, and perform other duties of divine polity as one body.

19. In some larger cities there arc more believers than can hold communion together. It is a gross error leading to all sorts of confusion not to distribute them into several churches, but let them overrun one to such an extent that the edification of individuals cannot be rightly taken care of and furthered.

20. The instituted church since Christ has appeared is not one catholic church in the sense that all believers throughout the world are joined with each other in one and the same outward bond, depending upon one and the same visible pastor or company of pas-tots. Rather there are as many churches as there are companies or particular congregations of people professing the faith who arc joined together in a special bond for the continual exercise of the communion of saints.

21. The mystical church, as it exists in its members, has its divisions and subdivisions, as we might speak of the church of Belgium, of Britain, or of France, much as we name the sea from the shores it washes, i.e., the Belgian, the British, and the French, though it is one and the same sea. Yet the instituted churches are several different species or individuals participating in the same common nature, like several fountains, schools, or families. Many or all might perhaps be called one church because of the quality they have in common, just as many families of a certain noble stock are often designated by the name of one family, such as the family of the House of Nassau.

22. The church instituted by God is not rightly national, provincial, or diocesan. These forms were introduced by man horn the pattern of civil government, especially Roman. Rather, it is a parochial church or a church of one congregation; the members are united with each other and ordinarily meet in one place for the public exercise of religion.

23. Such a company and no larger one is properly signified by the word church; nor does the word have a broader meaning in the New Testament when it refers to a visible designated company. And so it is among more ancient profane authors.

24. Established congregations in the same country and province are, therefore, always called churches in the plural, never one church, even in Judea, which was once one national church, 1 Thess. 2:14; Acts 14:23; 15:41; Rom. 16:4, 5, 16; 1 Cor. 16:1, 19; 2 Cor. 8:1, 18, 19; Gal. 1:2,22.

25. The particular churches mentioned in the New Testament were each accustomed to come together, irl T& a(nb. Acts 2:46; 5:12; 14:27; 15:25; 21:22; 1 Cor. 5:4; 14:23, 26; 11:17, 35-

26. Nothing is read in all the New Testament about the establishment of any larger church upon which lesser congregations depend.

Nor is any worship or holy ordinance prescribed which is not observed in each congregation. Neither is any ordinary minister ordained who is not committed to some one such company.

27. Yet particular churches, as their communion requires, and the light of nature and the rules of orderliness and examples from Scripture teach, may and often should enter into covenant relationship and mutual association in classes and synods in order to enjoy common agreement and mutual help as much as fitly may be, especially in matters of greater moment. But this combination does not constitute a new form of church nor ought it to take away or in any way diminish the freedom and authority which Christ has left to his churches. It should serve only to direct and promote that freedom and authority.

Z8. Ordinary ministers conform to the instituted church and are not ecumenical, national, provincial, or diocesan bishops, but rather elders of one congregation. In the same sense they are also called bishops in the Scriptures.

29. Those superior members of a hierarchy are merely human creations brought into the church without divine precept or example. They cannot fill the office of pastor in so many various congregations. They rob the churches of their liberty, while exercising a kind of regal or, rather, tyrannical dominion over them and their pastors. They have brought in with them the Roman Antichrist himself as the head, and as the tail of this wild beast the chancellors, suffragans, archdeacons, officials, and similar props of the hierarchy (whose very names are apocryphal and altogether unknown among the first churches) to the utter oppression of the churches of God.

30. The right of calling an ordinary minister is in the church itself which he must serve, Acts 14:23.

31. Yet the direction and help of the elders of the same church and usually of neighboring churches are needed.

32. The essence of the calling is in election by the church and acceptance by the one elected.

33. Preliminary to it comes an examination or test.

34. Consequent to it and consummating it comes ordination, which is nothing else than a solemn introduction of the minister already elected into the free execution of his responsibility. So it is that the raising of hands to vote, and the laying on of hands, often mean the same thing among the ancients.

35. Episcopal ordination of a minister without title, i.e. without a church to which and in which he may be ordained is as ridiculous as trying to imagine a husband without a wife.

36. A minister called to one church cannot leave it of his choice nor be cast out without just cause. Neither can he undertake the like care of another church to neglect that which he has undertaken by voluntary nonresidence without a sacrilegious breaking of his covenant.

37. Ordinary ministers arc either pastors and teachers or ruling elders with whom are associated those who take care of the poor, namely, deacons, deaconesses, or widows.

38. By these offices Christ has sufficiently provided for all the necessities of the members of the church, so that they may be instructed in the knowledge of the truth especially by the teachers, stirred up to the practice of piety chiefly by the pastors, preserved in the course of life and called back to repentance for sins by them and the ruling elders, and helped in their poverty by the deacons.

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