NO less strongly, Sir, pleads the light of nature for the classical presbytery. The trial, the ordination, and deposition of pastors; the dispensing of more solemn censure; the judicial decision of controversies, which deeply concerns the welfare of different congregations, it shews too hard, except in case of extreme necessity, to be managed by the rulers of one. Experience teacheth us, that congregational elderships are generally too weak to examine pastors for ordination; too weak, to refute or judge a subtle heretic; too weak, to determine some intricate cases. Controversies may happen, which a session cannot compose. A particular member may judge their determination so wrong, that he cannot submit. The session may be equally divided against itself. The session and congregation may fall by the ears. Offenders in one particular act, may be partly in one, partly in another congregation. An important dispute between two or more congregations may happen. How shall these points be comfortably settled, except pastors and ruling elders from different congregation concur in judging thereof?
The unity of all particular Christian congregations, as one mystical body of Christ, natively infer, that unity and fellowship among them should be carried to the highest (Rom. 12:6; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). By the express mention of a presbytery employed in the ordination of Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14); by exhibiting various patterns of one presbytery governing a multiplicity of congregations, the scripture plainly determines the divine right of this classical court. Waving others, let the instances of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Corinth, be considered.
A number of Christian congregations, or worshipping assemblies at Jerusalem, there certainly was. To the hundred and twenty present at the election of Matthias, Peter’s pentecostal sermon to the dwellers at Jerusalem, added three thousand more; just after, believers were added daily to the church. At another sermon by Peter many believed, and the number was about four thousand. Soon after, multitudes were added to the Lord. Quickly after, the disciples multiplied greatly; and a great number of the priests were obedient to the Christian faith (Acts 1:15 and 2:41, 47 and 4:4 and 5:14 and 6:7). By this time, Sir, you cannot suppose the Christians fewer than twenty or forty thousand. A persecution instigate by Saul, made havoc of these, and scattered many abroad; yet about twenty years after, there were many thousands, Greek, TEN THOUSANDS, who did believe, and were zealous of the law (Acts 8:1-3 and 21:20). It is impossible, these MANY TEN THOUSANDS could be fewer than 40,000; perhaps more than the double. Now whatever may be said of their preaching in Solomon’s porch, or courts of the temple; they had no place but private houses to receive the sacred supper (Acts 2:46 and 12:12 and 19:9 and 20:8 and 28:30, 31; Rom. 16:5). What private house was sufficient to contain these forty or eighty thousand, while they met to eat it, on every first day of the week! None certainly. They beloved then to divide into a great many particular assemblies. That they did so, is further evident from the number of their teachers. Besides a number of prophets and presbyters, the twelve apostles, for sundry years, continued mostly at Jerusalem; preaching and dispensing the sacraments (Acts 1:26 and 2:14, 42 and 4:31-37 and 6:2 and 8:14 and 16:2). Can one, in his wits, imagine, these laborious teachers, who had the world for their province, idled away their time, so long, with a single congregation? The Christians too, at Jerusalem, were very distinguished in language; Roman, Cretian, Cappadocian, Arabian, Persian, Median, &c. (Acts 2:5, 12) Infers not this, their being ordinarily taught in different assemblies?
At Antioch, a GREAT NUMBER believed. While Barnabas afterward preached there, much people was added to the Lord. So mightily the believers multiplied, that they were there first called Christians (Acts 11:21, 24, 25). Here too was a great number of teachers: first divers of Cyprus and Cyrene: then came Barnabas: finding still too much work, he brought Paul thither also. There came after, prophets from Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas continued there teaching, with many others also (Acts 11:20, 23, 26 and 13:1-3 and 15:35). Which were so many believers to assemble to ordinances, without any pretence to a Solomon’s porch for preaching in; where were so many laborious teachers; who can doubt of a variety of worshipping assemblies?
At Ephesus, the word of God grew mightily, and prevailed; multitudes heard it, and the name of Jesus was magnified. To preach the Christian faith, a great door and effectual was opened. Many confessed their sinful deeds. Many others burnt their magical books, to the value of fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:8, 10, 17-20; 1 Cor. 16:8, 9). Here, encouraged with his great success, Paul continued above two years. Here he conferred the gift of tongues upon twelve disciples that prophesied. When he passed this way some time after, here was a considerable number of presbyters or bishops; which he convened at Miletus. He prayed with them ALL: and they ALL wept sore (Acts 19:1-10 and 20:17, 28, 36, 37). How could these numerous Christians be disposed of; these teachers employed; and these tongues used; without a variety of congregations?
At Corinth, Paul preached a year and a half: many believed, and were baptized. Besides these, perhaps the Lord had much people in the city (Acts 18:8-10). Here was a variety of teachers, two or three, to speak, and others to judge. Here was a variety of tongues, and of CHURCHES to use them; and in which their women was enjoined to keep silence (1 Cor. 14:20, 26, 29, 36). Who now can doubt of a variety of worshipping congregations?
That a variety of Christian congregations was at Jerusalem, at Antioch, at Ephesus, and Corinth, has been demonstrated. Yet, these at Jerusalem are divinely marked, to have been ONE CHURCH: so these at Antioch; so these at Ephesus; and in sine these Corinth (Acts 1 and 13:1; Rev. 2:1; 1 Cor. 1:2). How were these distinct churches or worshipping assemblies one church? Not merely in union to Christ, and mutual affection one to another; for so, all saints are one, whether in heaven or in earth. Not in respect of joint fellowship in one place, at the supper of the Lord, as has been just now evinced. And therefore ONE CHURCH, in virtue of conjunct government under ONE presbytery. The ecclesiastic officers of these cities are marked to have been the common governors of the ONE CHURCH, constituted of these different congregations. So at Jerusalem (Acts 11:27, 30 and 15:2), at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3 and 15:35), at Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 28), at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12 and 4:15 and 14:29). For acts of ecclesiastic government, to take care of the churches temporal, but sacred store, and distribution thereof; to ordain and send forth other officers; to excommunicate obstinate offenders; to restore penitents; the rulers of these associate churches assembled together (Acts 4:35, 37 and 11:30 and 6:1-6 and 13:1-3; 1 Cor. 5:4, 13; 2 Cor. 2:6-9). To shew their meetings designed for a pattern to after ages, the infallibly inspired apostles, sometimes called elders, presbyters, here sat on a level with other rulers; reasoned, voted, and meddled with nothing, beyond the reach and power of ordinary PRESBYTERS (1 Pet. 5:1; 3 John 1; Acts 6:1-6 and 15).