Thus we have taken a brief survey of church government, both in the rule, root, kind, branches, and end thereof, all which are comprised in the former description, and being less controverted, have been more briefly handled. Now, the last thing in the description which comes under our consideration, is the proper receptacle of all this power from Christ, or the peculiar subject intrusted by Christ with this power and the execution thereof, viz. only Christ’s own officers. For church government is a spiritual power or authority, derived from Jesus Christ our Mediator, only to his own officers, and by them exercised in dispensing of the word, &c. Now about this subject of the power will be the great knot of the controversy, forasmuch as there are many different claims thereof made, and urged with vehement importunity: (to omit the Romish claim for the pope, and the prelatical claim for the bishop,) the politic Erastian pretends that the only proper subject of all church government is the political or civil magistrate; the gross Brownists or rigid Separatists, that it is the body of the people, or community of the faithful in an equal even level; they that are more refined, (who style themselves for distinction’s sake Independents,) that it is the single congregation, or the company of the faithful with their presbytery, or church officers; the Presbyterians hold that the proper subject wherein Christ hath seated and intrusted all church power, and the exercise thereof, is only his own church officers, (as is in the description expressed.) Here, therefore, the way will be deeper, and the travelling slower; the opposition is much, and therefore the disquisition of this matter will unavoidably be the more.
For perspicuity herein, seeing it is said that this power is derived from Christ only to his own officers; and by this word (only) all other subjects are excluded; the subject of church power may be considered, 1. Negatively, what it is not. 2. Affirmatively, what it is.
Negatively, the proper subject unto whom Christ hath committed the power of church government, and the exercise thereof, is not, 1. The political magistrate, as the Erastians imagine. 2. Nor the body of the people, either with their presbytery or without it, as the Separatists and Independents pretend. Let these negatives first be evinced, and then the affirmative will be more clearly evidenced.
Touching the first of these—that the political magistrate is not the proper subject unto whom Jesus Christ our Mediator hath committed the power of church government, and the exercise of that power; it will be cleared by declaring these two things distinctly and severally, viz: 1. What power about ecclesiasticals is granted to the civil magistrate. 2. What power therein is denied unto him, and why.
Such power is granted by the reformed churches and orthodox writers to the political magistrate, in reference to church affairs. Take it in these particulars.