ESHCOL; - A CLUSTER OF THE FRUIT OF CANAAN
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BROUGHT TO THE BORDERS FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT 0F THE SAINTS TRAVELLING THITHERWARD, WITH THEIR FACES TOWARDS ZION: OR, RULES OF DIRECTION FOR THE WALKING OF THE SAINTS IN FELLOWSHIP, ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF THE GOSPEL.
THIS little book was published in 1647, soon after Owen had formed a church on the principles of Independency at Coggeshall, in Essex. It is designed to exhibit scriptural rules on the subject of ecclesiastical fellowship and discipline; the first part containing seven rules, on the duties of members of a church to their pastor; and the second fifteen, on their duties to one another. It was prepared by our author after he had adopted Congregational views, but is of such a nature as to be applicable and useful under any form of ecclesiastical polity. Each rule is established by a body of evidence from Scripture, and is followed by a general explanation. Several editions of this treatise have appeared; and we cannot wonder at its favorable reception with the religious public, for it is as remarkable as any work of our author, for deep piety, sound judgment, lucid arrangement, and a comprehensive knowledge of Scripture, and forms a manual on church-fellowship which is to this day unsurpassed. One feature of it can hazily escape the reader’s attention, — Owen is here, for once, a master in the art of condensation. ED.
TO THE READER THERE are, Christian reader, certain principles in church affairs generally consented unto by all men aiming at reformation and the furtherance of the power of godliness therein, however diversified among themselves by singular persuasions, or distinguished by imposed and assumed names and titles. Some of these, though not here mentioned, are the bottom and foundation of this following collection of rules for our walking in the fellowship of the gospel; amongst which these four are the principal: — First, That particular congregations, or assemblies of believers, gathered into one body for a participation of the ordinances of Jesus Christ, under officers of their own, are of divine institution.
Secondly, That every faithful believer is bound, by virtue of positive precepts, to join himself to some such single congregation, having the notes and marks whereby a true church may be known and discerned.
Thirdly, That every man’s own voluntary consent and submission to the ordinances of Christ, in that church whereunto he is joined, is required for his union therewith and fellowship therein.
Fourthly, That it is convenient that all believers of one place should join themselves in one congregation, unless, through their being too numerous, they are by common consent distinguished into more; which order cannot be disturbed without danger, strife, emulation, and breach of love.
These principles, evident in the word, clear in themselves, and owned in the main by all pretending to regular church reformation, not liable to any colorable exception from the Scripture or pure antiquity, were supposed and taken for granted at the collection of these ensuing rules.
The apostolical direction and precept in such cases is, that “whereunto we have attained, we should walk according to the same rule;” unto whose performance the promise annexed is, that “if any one be otherwise minded, God will also reveal that unto him.” The remaining differences about church order and discipline are for continuance so ancient, and by the disputes of men made so involved and intricate, the parties at variance so prejudiced and engaged, that although all things of concernment appear to me, as to others both consenting with me and dissenting from me, clear in the Scriptures, yet I have little hopes of the accomplishment of the promise in revelation, of the truth as yet contested about, in men differently minded, until the obedience of walking suitably and answerably to the same rules agreed on be more sincerely accomplished.
This persuasion is the more firmly fixed on me every day, because I see men, for the most part, to spend their strength and time more in the opposing of those things wherein others differ from them than in the practice of those which by themselves and others are owned as of the most necessary concernment. To recall the minds of men, — at least of those who, having not much light to judge of things under debate (especially considering their way of handling in this disputing age), may have yet much heat and love towards the ways of gospel obedience, — from the entanglements of controversies about church affairs, and to engage them into a serious, humble performance of those duties which are, by the express command of Jesus Christ, incumbent on them in what way of order they walk, are these leaves designed. I shall only add, that though the ensuing rules or directions may be observed, and the duties prescribed performed with much beauty and many advantages by those who are engaged in some reformed church society; yet they are, if not all of them, yet for the most part, such as are to be the constant practice of all Christians in their daily conversation, though they are not persuaded of the necessity of any such reformation as is pleaded for. And herein I am fully resolved that the practice of any one duty here mentioned, by any one soul before neglected, shall be an abundant recompense for the publishing my name with these papers, savoring so little of those ornaments of art or learning which in things that come to public view men desire to hold out.