Communion of churches, or, The divine management of gospel-churches by the ordinance of councils constituted in order according to the Scriptures as also the way of bringing all Christian parishes to be particular Reforming Congregationall Churches, humbly proposed as ... a means of uniting those two holy and eminent parties the Presbyterians and the Congregationals ...
Eliot, John, 1604-1690.
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CHAP. II. Of the Gospel-Measuring-Reed by the Number Twelve.

I. SEeing particular Congregations in Gospel-Order, are Churches; and these Churches, for their well-being, need to hold and exercise Communion by Councils: and one Church (as Antioch) may need the greatest and highest Counsel.

Hence in such places where, through the riches of the Grace of Christ, Churches are numerous, it will be neces∣sary, that the management of these Councils should be in Order, according to the Pattern of Compleat Councils, Acts 15. For multitude unordered, by •…ow much the greater they are, the greater is their cumber, and unapt∣ness to operate in Order unto their end. Lesser Bodies are more readily ordered, and have a greater aptitude to be active in their Order unto their end. Ordo anima rerum.

II. Order is one of the Beauties of Heaven, and so it is of the Churches. Let all things be done in Order, 1 Cor▪ 14. 40. Ierusalem is a City compacted, Psal. 122. 3. and the more orderly Bodies are, the better are they compacted. Bodies that are compacted, are so ordered by Number and Measure: The New Ierusalem is the most glorious City that ever shall be on Earth; and we see that it shall be compacted by Number and Measure, Rev. 21. 12, to 18. and the Founda∣tion Number is Twelve, as appeareth ver. 14. The wall of the City had twelve Foundations. And this Number Twelve is multiplied by Twelve, as appeareth ver. 16, 17. it is square, Twelve every way, which amounteth to One hundred forty and four.

III. The Twelve Tribes in the Old Testament, and the Twelve Apostles in the New, do make that Number famous in the Churches, and fundamental in ordering and com∣pacting of Churches into Ecclesiasticall Combinations of Councils.

The Twelve Tribes compacted in order, was the most beautiful, and heart-ravishing Camp, that ever the worlds Eye did look upon, Numb. 24. 2, 5, 6. The Twelve Loaves of Shew-bread, did represent the whole Visible Church Page  7 before God in the Temple. The Twelve Precious Sta•…s in the Breast-plate of the High Priest, shew, That i•… such a Number Christ is pleased to order and represent the whole Militant Church before his Father in Heaven. And ac∣cording to this Type, Rev. 7. 4. the whole Visible Church is ordered, multiplied, and •…ealed in this Number. And Rev. 21. 12, 14. the Twelve Tribes are the Twelve Gates, and the Twelve Apostles are the Twelve Foundations of the New Ierusalem.•…hat glorious visible Gospel-Church, Ezek•…8. which is called Iehovah-Shamniah, is ordered by the Num∣ber Twelve, according to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, as the Typicall and of Canaan was.

IV. In the perfect Pattern (f•…r the Word is a perfect Rule) which the holy Ghost▪ hath left us, Acts 15. as there is a ground▪ work for the least of Councils, in the Two Churches; so of compleat Councils, in the Twelve Apo∣stles.

For, though Herod had killed Iames with the sword, Acts•…. •…. his Martyrdome did not remove him out of the Foundation, but rather six him in it: And the Apostles were most of them killed for the Testimony of Iesus, before Iohn had his Revelation, and yet we finde them all written in the Foundation of the New Ierusalem.

And therefore what should hinder, but that in the or∣dering of Compleat Councils, we should lay our foundation in the Number Twelve? and all the Orders of Councils should be raised and compacted by that Number, even from the bottom to the top.

V. And unto this Order and Number we may the •…ather be induced, because here will be the Twenty four Elder•…, who do wait upon, and worship the holy Majesty of God in all the Churches upon earth, as he hath pleased to reveal himself, Rev. 4. where the presence of God among the Churches is reve•…led: First, with his glorious Angels next him, represented by the four living Creatures, according to Ezek. 1. & 10. And secondly, with the Communion of Churches about him, represented by the Twenty four El∣ders, who do represent all the Churches on earth, in Com∣munion: as will anon appear.

VI. For when Twelve Churches are combined to hold Communion together, the least Number that one Church must (by Institution) send forth to that first Council, must be one Teaching Elder, and one Ruling Elder; and then, this Society of Churches is represented by twenty four Elders strictly.

Page  8And when Twelve of these first Councils shall, with con∣sent of the particular Churches, elect and send forth▪ one Teaching, and one Ruling Elder, the ablest and fittest among them, to constitute a Provincial Council; that Council will be strictly the Twenty four Elders, representing all the Churches in that Province, concurring in the Election.

And when Twelve Provincial Councils shall, with like con∣sent, send forth from each of them one Teaching, and one Ruling Elder, the most holy and able among them, to con∣stitute a National Council, they will still be strictly the Twenty four Elders, representing the whole Nation, in their Ecclesiastical state, before the Lord.

And when Twelve National Councils shall send forth, in like manner, from each of them, one Teaching, and one Ruling Elder, the most holy and fit among them, to consti∣tute a•…Oecumenic•…l Council (or by what other less term it may be thought meet to call it) they will still be strictly the Twenty four Elders, representing before the Lord all the Churches in all those Nations, concurring in the Election.

And why may not this ascent, and representation of all before the Lord, be part of the meaning of that Text, Rev. 5. 8, 9, 11, 12, 14?

VII. And this point is the more to be •…eeded, because Gods visible respect unto, and acceptation of any people, is according to the good aspect and condition of their Repre∣sentatives▪ There may be much▪ drose in a Parish, a Pro∣vince, a Nation, and in the world; yet if they have good Re∣presentatives before the Lord, and if they carry the Lords matters well, in his sight, that doth obtain, through Christ, a favourable acceptation of, and dispensation towards all that are so represented. And he hath instituted Represen∣tatives of the Church on earth: Aaron represented all Is∣rael on his breast before the Lord, Exod. 28. 29. And a Coun∣cil consisting of Messengers of Churches, the glory of Christ, do represent the Churches who send and constitute that Council, Acts 15. Oh! how happy were it for any people, to be in such visible instituted Order on earth, as that they may be (through Christ) acceptably represented before the Lord!

For God is so well pleased to see his people in Order, as that he will dwell in that place, and call it by his own Name. Iehovah-Shamniah; especially when they are Civilly, as well as Ecclesiastically in good order represented before Him.

Page  9VIII. Furthermore, this is to be considered, that though the Twenty four Elders are so called, by the least Number that they can be, by this Constitution; yet, according as the riches of Gods grace is more abundantly poured out, they may be more in Number, though under this constituting denomination. For, one Church may send forth •…∣ing Elders, as Antioch sent forth Paul and Barnabas, and Ruling Elders, or Brethren proportionably. So likewise upon the same ground, when there be more Eminent Lights in any of the Councils (as through grace it is like often to be) they may send more then one to the Provincial, or Na∣tional, or Oecumenical Councils▪ but still they are the Twenty four Elders, because that is the Foundation Num∣ber.

IX. What if I should illustrate this Point by that of the Apostles? who are often in Scripture called the Twelve Apostles, and yet there were more Apostles then Twelve: for who doubteth but that Paul, who was none of the Twelve yet he was an Apostle, and a chief Apostle, a great Foundation; and Barnabas was an Apostle also, Acts 14▪ 14. and 1 Cor.•…. 9. But Twelve is the Foundation Number, and therefore they are so denominated.

X. Again, though Twelve Churches be the lowest Num∣ber of the first Combination, yet they may be more then Twelve, when the pourings out of Gods grace shall be in∣larged; yea, they may be any Number under Twenty four Churches.

If then Twenty three Churches should be in a Combina∣tion, their Messengers sent to the first Council will be a great Number; but still they are the Twenty four Elders before the Lord, by their fundamental Constitution.

So a like Number of Provincial Councils, and a like Num∣ber of National Councils, though their Messengers are many, yet they are still the Twenty four Elders, growing up, through grace, and increasing unto more Orders of Councils, for the greater glory of Christ.

And when (through grace) there shall be Twenty four Churches, or first Councils, or Provincial, or National Coun∣cils▪ then they must be compacted into two Orders of those Councils, because Twelve is the Foundation Number, by which they are multiplied, and compacted. And when this is done, they are reduced to be Twenty four Elders strictly; the Foundation Number.

As in the Order of that Civill Government set up by Mo∣ses;Page  10 the Orders of Ten, and of fifty, &c. are denominated b•… the least and constituting Number: though those Orders may consist (when they are full of people and blessing) of many more, even any number under Twenty and an hun∣dred, &c. But when Ten are become Twenty, and when Fifty are become an hundred, then they must be multiplied into more Orders, because these Numbers are Foundation Numbers, by which the Orders of the Government are mul∣tiplied and compacted; and when that is transacted, they are reduced unto their Foundation Numbers.

So it is here in the Ecclesiastical Orders of Government, the least Number of a compleat stated first Council, is Twelve Churches, whose least Number of Messengers are Twenty four; and by these Numbers they are denominated, though they may be more Churches in a Combination, and more Messengers from some of the Churches: and so it is in all the other Orders of Councils.

For a little further illustration of this point, I shall propose and answer Six Questions, which may let in a little further light into this Frame, and remove some Obje∣ctions.

Quest. 1. May a Church perform any Ecclesiastical Acts by Messengers, or Representatives in their Name?

Answ. Yea. doubtless they may; they may Consult, and Agree to give Counsel, in such cases as may be presented for that end, touching either Faith or Order, as it appeareth Acts 15.

Quest 2. May a Church elect by Messengers or Representa∣tives, when themselves cannot be present where such Election is performed?

Answ. A•… act of Election may be transacted by some of a Society; yea by a few in behalf of the rest, when they have their consent, and a calling so to act. For instance,

If a lesser Number of a Church be necessarily absent from an act of Election performed in a lawful Assembly, they are all involved in the act of the major part: This is without Controversie fo•… Here some onely Elect, and all are en∣gaged.

Again, if the major part be necessarily absent, and fond a lesser part, or a •…ew, with their express consent to do an act o•… Election, it hath the like force and validity. The royal Ar•… which chose David to be their King, •…Chron. 12. were farre the lesser part of the People, but they were 〈◊〉, and elected for them, and did perform it as affectually Page  11 as if the whole People had been present; and David was King, not onely over the Representatives, who did actually chuse him, but over all the People, who did Elect him by their Representatives.

If the parties s•…nt to transact an Election, do act accord∣ing to their heart who sent them, they will not object, for had they been there present, they would have done the same: but if the parties sent to Elect, do not Elect accord∣ing to their heart, they may justly question their act, and consider of their Apologie; but that doth not nullifie the act in point of Order.

When Political Bodies, whether Civil or Ecclesiastical, are multitudinous, and remote from the place of action, either all cannot act, or if they do, it must be by Represen∣tatives.

Quest. 3. May a Church Elect Elders or Messengers out of another Church, unto a publick and common service of Christ and of the Churches?

Answ. Yea, they may: For the great Collection of the Gentile Churches, which Paul carried up to Ierusalem at his last going thither, was an act of many Churches: And Paul, with those that went with him to present it, were chosen by the Churches unto that service, 2 Cor. 8. 19. And there were many more Churches Contributors, then there were Messengers sent to carry it. Acts 20. 4. there were but seven or eight in Pauls company, but all the Churches of Galatia, Corinth, Asia, and Macedonia, were Contributors. There∣fore many Churches chose Messengers who were none of their own particular Churches, unto that publick and common ser∣vice of Christ, and of the Churches.

Again, the ready subjection of all the Churches about Antioch, and other places, Acts 16. 4. unto the Decrees of the Council at Ierusalem, doth probably speak, That, as the trouble by those Questions, was a common case in all the Churches; so they had some fore-knowledge, concurrence, and consent (after consent sure enough they h•…d) in the Mis∣sion of Paul and Barnabas (Teaching Elders of Antioch, Acts 13. 2.) unto Ierusalem, to the Apostles and Elders about that matter.

Again, seeing the Rule of Communion of Churches doth impose upon Elders a degree of care of all the Churches, espe∣cially of those within their Ordered Communion; it doth al∣so give unto all the Churches, a mutual interest in each others Elders,

Page  12Hence, when they chuse any of the Elders within the compass of their Order, they chuse those, who, in some re∣spect, are their own, in whom they have an Ecclesiastical in∣terest, especially unto this publick service of Counsel.

Quest. 4. May many Churches Elect a •…ew of their Elders unto some publick and common service▪ wherein all the Chur∣ches so Electing are interessed?

Answ. Yea, they may: For all the Churches of Asia, Ga∣latia, Macedonia, &c. did Elect a few to accompany Paul in carrying their Contributions unto Ierusalem: and it is expresly said, that from the Churches of Asia there were but two sent▪ Acts 20. 4. and we know there were at least seven Churches in Asia, Rev. 1 •…4.

Quest. 5. When two, or a few Elders are chosen by many Churches unto some publick and common service of the Chur∣ches, do they represent all the Churches who did Elect them unto that service?

Answ. Yea, they do so: For when many Churches (by Paul's ordering) sent a few Messengers to Corinth, 2 Cor. 8. 23. to fetch their Contribution, to be carried (among the Contribution of many other Churches) unto Ierusalem, by the hands of Paul, and a few others, chosen by the Churches unto that service, •…Cor. 8. 19. these few Messengers did re∣present all the Churches who sent them: So as that what the Church of Corinth should transact afore them, is expresly said to be afore all the Churches, viz. who sent them, 2 Cor. 8. 24.

Quest. 6. These Orders of Councils, First, Second, Third, representing fewer or more Churches, Are they a Divine In∣stitution?

Answ. Touching the first Councils, consisting of imme∣diate Messengers of Churches sent for that end, it is out of question that these are a Divine Institution, Acts 15.

The great difficulty is▪ touching the second and third Orders of Councils, and so higher, unto the highest Oecume∣nical Council, whose Members are chosen immediately by Councils, yet with the express consent of every particular Church: not immediately by the Churches, but by their Re∣presentatives.

Touching these, in way of humble Proposal I affirm,

That they are a Divine Institution.

1. Because their Foundation, Formation, and Constitution, is deducible from the Word of God, as appeareth by laying together the foregoing Questions, and Answers thereunto, with what hath been said before.

Page  132. Because this multiplying of Order upon Order, seemeth to be typified in the Ascents and Degrees in Ezekiels Tem∣ple; and by the multiplication of the Number Twelve in the New Ierusalem, Rev. 21, &c.

3. Because if there be not this multiplying of Council above Council (above, I say, not in any •…•…cal Power, but in Order and Extent) then it doth not yet appear that there is any way or expedient, whereby there should be a General and Equal Communion of all the Churches in a Nation, wherein every Church shall be, by their own act and con∣sent, interessed and concerned.

Much less can there be a•…Equal Communion of Churches, of several Nations.

For, if several Nations should need and desire to hold Communion of Councils, who shall chuse the Persons or In∣struments, by whom this Communion shall be held and acted?

If Princes chuse them, it is not a regular Ecclesiastical Council. If Churches chuse▪ and send them▪ shall some Churches onely chuse them, or all the Churches? •…f some onely; who? and why they, and not others▪ and how can their act interest and oblige all?

If all the Churches must chuse, then Immediately, or •…Delegates: Immediately, it is unfeizible, especially to act in knowledge and prudence; but mediately by their Confi∣dents and Representatives they may.

The same may be said of the Communion of all the Chur∣ches in a Nation or Province, where Elections must •…e per∣formed by Representatives. In which way, a General and Equal Election is attainable; and without it, it doth not yet appear that it is attainable.

Now that several Nations ought to hold Communion, and also all the Churches in a Nation, it doth appear in these Scriptures: Isa. 19. 23, 24, 25. Zeph. 3. 9. 1 Cor. 11. 1•…. & 14. 32, 36. Of which see more in Synod at Boston.

This being commanded by God, and as yet no Way or Expedient appearing, whereby it may be duely acted, we are at a great loss. Therefore the Lord opening this way, which is so attainable▪ and not without Scripture Light, What i•… the Churches should set upon the Tryall of it, and see how the Lord may appear unto his Servants therein? As for the Episcopal Way of Government, Alas! that is most remote from this Ordinance of Communion of Chur∣ches.