By: Elder Philander Hartwell
Subject: The Order of The Church of God.
The Elders and Messengers composing the Delaware River O. S. Baptist Association, in session with the first Hopewell O.S. Baptist Church, May 30, 31 and June 1, 1860, to the Churches whose Messengers we are, send Christian salutations:
Beloved in the Lord-God, who is rich in mercy, has graciously spared us another year, and has permitted us once more to meet in an association; and as it has been the custom of this association in former years to address a Circular to the several churches represented in the same, we send you this our Annual Letter. And as all subjects presented in the Scriptures are important and suitable for contemplation at all times, we have selected as a subject on which briefly to dwell in this letter, “The Order of the Church of God.”
All that can be known by mortals of this church and its order is what God has been pleased to reveal in the Scriptures; the same also is revealed in the hearts of His children, by His Spirit which dwelleth in them. God is in one mind – none can turn Him. The same things which were revealed to the holy men of God, who wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, are now revealed by the same Spirit unto the heirs of promise. None of these things can be known by man in his natural state, but as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear hath heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he known them, because they are spiritually discerned; but God hath revealed them unto us (His children) by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” The Christian faith is revealed from heaven, but all other religions may be received by men in the state of nature, may be taught by man to man, taught by the precepts of men. The church of God and its order were prefigured by the tabernacle in the wilderness, by the temple in Jerusalem, and by the various rites pertaining to the Patriarchal and Mosaic or law dispensations. God commanded Moses to make all things in the tabernacle according to the pattern showed him in the Mount. The things showed to Moses in the Mount were heavenly things, consequently the tabernacle, temple and temple worship, together with all the lawful Jewish rites composing the yoke which they were not able to bear, were but a shadow of the good things to come - the heavenly things above to Moses the servant of God and to the prophets, even before Christ’s kingdom or church of God was set up in Gospel order in the world.
It is concerning the order of this kingdom or church that we would now write, even of the heavenly things which have been shadowed forth by the things going before. They were a shadow of good things to come, but the body is of Christ. Christ is King in Zion; to Him we look for order in His kingdom; He is the Fountain and Source of all law and order in His kingdom. He has said, “Upon this Rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The church of God rests upon a firm foundation, against which all the powers of darkness may rage in vain; it cannot be moved, and all the members composing this church are safe. Saith Jesus, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Jesus “is Head over all things to His church, which is HIS Body, the fullness of Him who filleth all in all.” They are built up a spiritual house, a holy temple in the Lord, and are declared to be the temple of God. God dwelleth in them. The members of this church are all “born of God;” Christ dwelleth in them, and He is their life, they are one with Him, even as He is one with the Father. Christ, as Head of the church and King in Zion, has definitely established the order of the church, which is His body; to Him we look for all things connected with church building and order.
To the law and to the testimony, if any man speak not according to this rule, it is because there is no light in him. We are not at liberty either to add to or take from the law of Christ, but are to be wholly governed by it, but all things whatsoever He has commanded we are to observe and do. The primitive disciples were born of God, and could see the kingdom of God; to them was given a commission to teach all nations – to teach them to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them; and that this might be fully executed, He promised that the Holy Ghost, or Comforter, whom the Father would send in His name, “should teach them all things, and bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever He had said unto them.” There were many things said by Christ, when here on earth, that were not fully understood, even by the apostles, until after the resurrection of Christ; but when the Holy Ghost came upon them, they were made to understand the Scriptures; and the sayings of Christ were brought fresh to their minds, and they were given to understand the spirit of His words, and to teach the same as commanded by Christ, and we are not at liberty to suppose that there was any thing commanded by Christ omitted by them, but that they taught all things that He had commanded, and made a faithful record of the same. The apostles were bidden to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on High, and when that power came upon them, they were fully qualified to teach, and were prepared to sit upon the thrones that they were appointed to sit upon, to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This power came upon them on the Day of Pentecost. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues or languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. - Acts 2: 1-4. Thus were the apostles endued with power from on high, and immediately entered upon the great work whereunto God had called them. That the apostles now understood the prophecies concerning Christ and His kingdom more fully than they did before they were endued with power from on High, appears evident from the sermon preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost. It was at the close of this memorable discourse that Peter by the Holy Ghost laid down the order of the church of God. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” - Acts 2:41-42.
In the 47th verse of the same chapter, this body of baptized believers is called the church. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” May we not safely conclude that the church set forth in the above quotation is the Church of God; and that the order here presented is the order of His church as set up, and that order established is to be observed by the church throughout all time? Had there been any other ordinances taught by Christ and brought to the remembrance of the apostles by the Holy Ghost, we might expect to find them in connection with this precious cluster. But as none others are recorded, we feel sure that the church observing this order is to be recognized as the church of God in the world.
Let us examine the order here set forth: “They gladly received his word.” This clearly shows that they we not natural believers, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit.” They were such as had been “pricked in the heart,” and made to feel their need of a Savior; so that when Peter preached Jesus the Savior, they could gladly receive his word; and as baptism was the first step for repenting believers to take, “they were baptized.” This shows that they had become dead to the law by the body of Christ, and that they were married to Him – that is, risen from the dead in and with Him. Being born of God, they loved the lowly way marked out by Jesus, and were willing to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow Him. Second, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” This was essential to Gospel order. “He that abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” The doctrine is taught to the children of God in their experience, and if kept humble they will continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine. Without this continuing in the doctrine there could be no Gospel fellowship, but they continued unwaveringly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. Fellowship is companionship, society; mutual of persons on equal and friendly terms; familiar intercourse. It also bring to view partnership, joint interest, &c. These brethren continued in fellowship. Disorder in any shape would be a breach of fellowship. It is possible that the fellowship amongst brethren may be weakened, and even so far broken that they cannot consistently unite in worship, when this breach exists it would be inconsistent for them to come to the table of the Lord together, for at the table we declare that we are one body and one bread, that we have the same interests, the same hopes, and the same fears, and that we have no other support or sustenance than Christ.
To continue in fellowship, it is necessary that the discipline of the church should be strictly attended to in obedience to Christ. No church will long remain in fellowship, or in a healthy condition, if Gospel discipline is neglected or disregarded. Discipline is necessary in all organized bodies; armies and navies would not be formidable without discipline. But in the church of God we see cause for maintaining discipline, not only that we may present an unbroken front to our enemies, which is very essential, but that we may be at peace among ourselves, and that we may show our love one to the other by our watch-care.
Love and faithfulness are both essential to Gospel fellowship. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, yet she has many subtle enemies in the world, who are seeking to distract the church, to sow discord among brethren, and to destroy the fellowship of the saints.
But may we, like the church at Jerusalem, continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. “And in the breaking of bread.” The ordinance of the Supper is designed to bring fresh to our minds the sufferings of Christ, His broken body and His shed blood, and as often as we eat this bread, and drink of this cup, we shew forth the Lord’s death till He come.
“And in prayers.” Prayer is the act of asking for a favor, or for favors, and thanksgiving for such received. But, in worship, something more than mere form of words is implied. Prayer is the desire of the heart, and that desire is indited by the Spirit of God. “We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Without the intercession of the Spirit, all our prayers would be but vain repetition; no better than the prayers of the heathen. But the church at Jerusalem continued in prayers, and no body of people can be identified as the church of God that do not continue in prayers as well as in fellowship. There is fellowship in prayers. Jesus prayed, and all His disciples prayed. The pure desire of the heart is prayer, whatever position the body may be in. Whether we open the mouth or not, the desire put in our heart by the Spirit will come up before God. He heareth the cries of His children who cry day and night unto Him, and will answer in due time; so if the vision tarry, we are to wait for it, for He will come, and will not tarry. Perhaps, public or social prayer was more particularly intended, in the order set forth. That the saints assembled for prayer is evident, from the record given by inspiration, and as long as the Church of God remains on earth, they have need to pray. May God grant that we may continue in prayers! In this order, set forth by the judges or apostles, everything relative to the order of the church is expressed or implied. May we be enabled to continue steadfastly in them. When Christ was with His disciples, He gave to them a new commandment that they should love one another. This is implied in the order; for without love there can be no Gospel fellowship. Love is of God: “He that loveth is born of God.” Love is one of the characteristics that distinguish the church of Christ from anti-Christ. “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” - John 15:35. Love is also evidence to us. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” - 1 John 3:14. Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “Let brotherly love continue.” Love is a heavenly grace – one that shall never cease; while faith and hope shall cease, yet will love remain; and, instead of diminishing, it shall expand when death shall end the other graces with us. May we receive the exhortation or injunction of an inspired apostle: “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another.” - Romans 12:9,10. “Beloved, these things have been written for our learning and for our instruction and consolation.”
God has left on record many great and precious promises. He has promised to be with His church always, even unto the end of the world. Having loved with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness doth He draw them. Jesus, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end. The church of God, standing in Gospel order, can never be overcome by her enemies, for one shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight.
The royal Psalmist has beautifully set forth the blessedness of the unity of the church of God standing in Gospel order. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forever more.” Truly, we may say, in the language of the same writer, “Happy is that people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” May we be made to realize that we are the brethren that dwell together in unity, and may the precious oil flow forth, that we may be strengthened and encouraged to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not be again entangled with the yoke of bondage.
Beloved brethren, may God bless and guide us into all truth, and keep us from all evil, and His name shall have all the glory.
Elder Philander Hartwell, Moderator.
Samuel H. Stout, Clerk.
Transcribed by Elder Stanley Phillips – January 2009