OF THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD, ITS ORIGIN, PROGRESS, AND IMMOVABLE STABILITY, THROUGH ALL. TIMES
[As in the following work a survey is given, to some degree, of the succession and establishment of the church, we find it expedient in order that the same may not be misinterpreted, and because some of our good friends have requested and besought us (though we have intended to leave it as it was), to precede, by way of introduction, that which follows, by our exposition of the true and the false church, and of their respective good and evil succession and progress; also, to state the views we hold in regard to the right of succession. We will, therefore, begin here, and, so as not to be tedious, endeavor to be as brief as possible.]
As there are two different peoples, two different congregations and churches, the one of God and from heaven, the other of Satan and from the earth; so there is also a different succession and progress belonging to each of them.*
We shall first speak of the divine and heavenly church, and then of the last mentioned one.
The divine and heavenly church, which is the separated holy flock and people of God, originated upon earth at the beginning of the world; has existed through all the ages up to the present time; and will continue to the end of the world.
OF THE DIVINE SERVICE OF THE CHURCH
The state and divine service of this church have varied from the beginning according to the different periods in which it existed and flourished.
From Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, from Christ to the end of the world, God ordained, for each of these periods, different customs, as regards the external divine service of this church; also different signs, seals, and appurtenances; though it is, was and shall be, the same church, the same people, and also the same God whom they served, still serve, and shall serve unto the end.
Before Adam fell, divine service had no respect to Christ; He had not yet been presented to men as a means of salvation, much less as their only Prophet, Priest, and King, or the only true way, entrance and door to heaven, through whom alone men can be saved; but their happiness depended on their obedience to the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen. 2:16, 17. **
* Not only the word of God, but also experience, confirms the truth of our statement with reference to the two different churches; since daily and universally we may observe people who lead a very modest, devout and godfearing life; and, on the other hand, such whose rife is extremely profligate, impious and godless: thus it is also with the root of lite, that is, with the matter of faith or of unbelief. How can these be called or recognized by a different name than that of members of the two above mentioned churches?
* The religion before the fall of Adam, with which we begin, was of short duration; hence little is said of it in the word of God. After the fall, divine service had respect altogether, to Christ, Acts 4:12. Truly God promised His Son to men, represented Him by types, and finally gave Him to them. In the meantime, the fathers who were before the advent of Christ, hoped in Him, longed for His coming, and ordered and founded all their divine services, whatever these, according to the time and the command of God, might be, on His only and eternal reconciliation. Compare Gen. 3:15; 22:18; 49:10,18 with John 5:46; 8:56; I Peter 1:10, 11.
Touching the external mode of divine service, this was not uniform at all periods, but varied very much; for it seems that in the time from Adam to Noah, men followed the implanted light of nature, or, to speak properly, the engraven law of the conscience or the mind; observing no essential and express ceremonial commandments, excepting Abel's offering, and the commandment that the sons of God, that is, the members of His church, should not marry the daughters of men, that is, those who were not members of the church of God; which was enjoined under a severe penalty. Compare Gen. 4:4 with Gen. 6:3.*
In the time from Noah to Abraham, there was added God's command, not to eat blood, nor to shed human blood. At that time God made a covenant with Noah and every living creature; that He would destroy them no more by a flood; and He set the bow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant. Compare Gen. 9:4, 5 with verses 11, 12, 13.
In the time from Abraham to Moses God instituted the circumcision among His people; which served for the purpose of distinguishing the descendants of Abraham, of whom the church of God consisted, from all other nations, and as a seal of the covenant which God had made with Abraham and his seed, in particular. See Gen. 17:10, 11, 12; compare with Rom. 4:11.
From the time of Moses to Christ God gave, in addition to circumcision, many laws and commandments, too numerous to mention, which were to be observed by His people. These consisted in manifold sacrifices, oblations, purifications, etc., for the performances of which holy times were set apart, as the passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, new moons, and fast days; together with sacred places, as the Tabernacle of Moses, the Temple of Solomon; Shiloh, Mizpah, Moriah, etc.; also holy persons, as prophets, priests, Levites, singers, and doorkeepers. See Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
From the time of Christ to the end of the world, God, through Christ, has taken away the ceremonies of the Mosaic law as well as the signs by which it is scaled; and, to the acknowledgment of the grace of Christ, commended the observance of other ceremonies and signs, as baptism, supper, etc. These external commandments, together with
* Abel's offering was by faith. Compare Gen. 4:4 with Heb. 11:4-The sons of God were commanded to render obedience to the Spirit of God; which injunction they did not heed in the days of Noah.
faith, and true penitence of life, which is the spiritual and moral virtue, the Lord has very strictly enjoined upon all members of the church of Christ. See Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16, compared with I Cor. 11:2-28; also the entire epistles of the apostles, which treat of the fulfillment of the Mosaic ceremonial law, as Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:10, 11 and 5:1-4; .Col. 2:16.
Having now briefly shown the diversity of the external divine service of the church of God, through all the times, it behooves us to state, on the other hand, in what points this church has always continued the same.
IN WHAT POINTS THE CHURCH OF GOD HAS ALWAYS CONTINUED THE SAME
God has always ordained teachers in His church, and, therefore, always caused His will to be proclaimed to the people; which commenced principally in the days of Enos, the grandson of Adam; for then began men to call upon the name of the Lord. 4:26.
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, preached of the judgment and the great day of vengeance of the Lord. Jude vv. 14, 15.
Abraham, the father of the faithful, preached of the name of the everlasting God. Gen. 21:33.
Moses preached of the faithfulness, goodness, and righteousness of God; so that his doctrine dropped as the rain, and his speech distilled as the dew. Deut. 32:2-5.
David preached of the righteousness of God in the great (God's) congregation, and would not let his mouth be stopped, that is, he would not be overcome by his adversaries. Ps. 40:10.
Afterwards, all the holy prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, preached of the laws, punishments and promises of God, and prophesied of the blessed and felicitous coming of the Messiah whom God had promised. Read the books containing their prophecies, throughout.
After the time of the Prophets, Christ Himself preached of the fulfillment of the time, the coming of the kingdom of heaven, repentance, and faith in the Gospel. Mark 1:15.
The apostles followed the example and the command of their Lord, in proclaiming the will of God; and not that alone, but when their departure was nigh at hand, they appointed others in their stead, as Timothy, Titus, the seven teachers in the seven churches in Asia, who also, especially Timothy, were charged to appoint faithful men, who would be able to teach others also. II Tim. 2:2.
In order, moreover, that the church of Jesus Christ might always know, according to what rule persons were to be chosen for the ministry, the Holy Spirit, through the hand of Paul, has written concerning this matter, and transmitted it to posterity. I Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9.
Besides the office of preaching, which has always belonged to the church, various other articles, in faith* and life as well as in outward worship, which have always obtained, and must still obtain, could be mentioned; however, since we think we have pointed out the chief article, by virtue of which, principally, a church is a church, and through what the same is sustained, we will, so as not to bring too much of the same thing, dismiss the subject here, and proceed to the stability, durability, and visible discernibility of this church, as we have promised in the beginning.
OF THE STABILITY, DURABILITY, AND VISIBLE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD
That this church,.from the beginning to the time of David, was always visible, discernible, and distinguished from other nations, is clear and manifest, and, as far as we know, not doubted by anybody. There remains, then, only to be proved, that the same after the time of David, has- always been discernible, according to the preceding manner, and will continue to be so to the end.**
To show this, the song of David of the city or church of God, Ps. 46:3, 4, serves an excellent purpose."Though the sea rage and roll, so that through its tempest the mountains fall in, Selah I the city of God shall nevertheless remain glad with her fountains, where the holy tabernacles of the Almighty are." This passage, beginning with the preceding verse reads as follows according to the original text, "Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early."***
Who is there so ill versed in the Word of God, as to suppose that he is to understand by the words city of God and the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High, etc., the city of Jerusalem in the
* In the matter of faith all the pious, from the beginning, looked to the Messiah; to whom also we, in these last days, must look; for He is the foundation not only of the apostles, but also of the prophets. Eph. 2:20.-Divine worship, humility, righteousness, faithfulness, and many other virtues, have been common in the ancient church as well as now in the last church.
* The discernibility of the church of God before the time of David, will, we think, not be disputed; and we shall begin, therefore, from that period, leaving the time previous to that untouched.
** The swelling sea and the tempests of which David speaks here, must not be understood as having reference to elemental water, or a disturbance of the natural, created things; but to the onset of the evil practices and doctrines of evil-minded and ungodly men, through the wiles of Satan, the hellish adversary. The removing of the earth and the displacing or falling in of the mountains through the aforesaid tempests may be understood to refer to the ruin and destruction of the earthly-minded and great of this world, who perish through the noxious waters and commotions of evil doctrines. The streams which make glad the city of God, can very properly be applied as having reference to the saving doctrines through which the city or church of God is refreshed, gladdened, and through the divine promises contained in His word made to rejoice in the Spirit.
land of Palestine, and the Temple which was built in that city? for this city and the Temple which was in it, were laid waste and totally demolished and destroyed, first by the Chaldeans, in the time of Jeremiah, and subsequently by the Romans, who conquered the land of Canaan and Jerusalem; so that, according to the prophecy, of Christ, not one stone was left upon another. We must, therefore, understand this as relating to the church of God, which is called, in holy Scriptures, the city of.God. Heb. 12:22; for of the same it is said that God is in the midst of her, and that, therefore, she shall not be moved, etc., as shall appear more fully from the following testimonies, Isaiah 2:2, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountains* of the Lord's house shall be established . . . and all nations shall flow unto it." It is beyond dispute that here, by the words the Lord's house, we are to understand the church of the Lord, unless there be one who holds, with the Jews, that it must be understood as having reference to the house of stone, which, in former time, Solomon built, to the honor of God, on Mount Moriah; which house is now in ruins; but was to be rebuilt. But this cannot be expected, for the prophet Daniel, with respect to this desolation, says clearly that it shall be poured upon the desolate, even until the consummation (that is, the end of the world): Dan. 9:27 compared with Matt. 24:15:
No small proof of this is furnished by the fact that about forty years after the ascension of Christ, this very house was , destroyed, demolished and burned by Titus Vespasian, and has not yet been rebuilt, though about sixteen hundred years have elapsed since; and, on account of the continual quarrels of the Palestinean and other eastern rulers, it is, viewing it from a human standpoint, not likely that it will ever be done.
Since it is true, then, that by the words"the house of the Lord," we must understand- the church of the Lord, there follows also what is said in connection with it namely: that the same shall be firmly, i. e., invincibly, established on the mountain, that is, Christ, the immovable foundation.
Besides the adduced prophecy, Isaiah 2:2, showing the firmness and immovability of the house (or the church) of God, which is founded upon the mountain of the Lord-Christ Jesus-the same prophet treating of the durability, glory and divine dignity of this church, under the type of the New Jerusalem, produces various commendatory testimonies for .this purpose, saying among other things, chap. 60, verse 11, "Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day not night.", " The mountain of which Isaiah says that the house of the Lord is built upon, must necessarily be understood as referring to Christ who in the language of the prophets is called a mountain in holy Scripture. Dan. 2:35. On the other hand, the house which Solomon built upon Mount Moriah has been destroyed, and lain waste now for about 1600 years, without being rebuilt. But Christ is such a foundation, that whatever is truly built on it, cannot fall: for"Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor 3:11). his is a simile drawn from a peaceful city which has neither fear nor care that enemies will attack her, and, therefore, leaves her gates open by night as well as by day, for the accommodation of the citizens, and the messengers and strangers who are traveling in the night. Thus, he would say, will it also be with the future church of Jesus Christ.
Then, in verse 14, speaking of the enemies of the church of God, and of those who had slandered her, lie says: They"shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel."
When a city has become so great that even her deadly enemies who had purposed to lay waste and destroy her, come bending their knees, and, as begging for favor, bow down before her, as is shown here of the enemies of the city and church of God; there is no probability that such city will easily be conquered, laid waste, or subjugated. So it is, in a spiritual sense, with the city and church of Jesus Christ; for it is this to which this prophecy has reference.
Immediately after, in the fifteenth verse, the prophet declares that God will make this city or church an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.
And, as though by this the durability and excellency of this city, well-beloved of God, were not yet sufficiently expressed, he adds these words, verse 19, "But the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."
And, lastly, verse 21, "Thy people, O God, also shall be all righteousness: they shall inherit the land forever." Here no further explanation is required, since the text plainly and clearly expresses our meaning; and we will, therefore let it suffice.
We then proceed to what Christ, the Son of God, Himself testifies concerning this matter. Matt. 16:18, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Christ, in another place, speaking by parable of a man who built his house upon the sand, adds the explanation: that the same was a foolish man; because such a foundation, and, therefore, also the building which is founded upon it, cannot stand before the floods, rains, and storms, which beat against it.
On, the ,other hand, He commends him as wise and prudent, who built his house upon a rock; since the same, being well-founded, is able to withstand all dangers.
But the foundation of which the Lord speaks here, that He will build His church upon it, is much firmer than any material rock, for these must all pass away with time; but the foundation which is Christ Himself, remains, shall remain, and shall never decay: for"the foundation of God standeth sure" (II Tim. 2:19).
Yet not only the foundation, but also the building of the church shall not decay, though in nature
it is otherwise; for a house, church, or tower, resting on an immovable foundation, but being not sufficiently firm or strong in itself, finally decays, yea falls to the ground; but here it stands so that no opposing agencies, not even the devil himself, can prevail against it, which is evident from these words, "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
In or under the gates councils were wont to be held; and the gates were the strength and power of the cities. Compare Zech. 8:16 with Ps. 147:13. Hence, by the words,"The gates of hell," etc., we are to understand the council and power of the hellish fiend. Yet, according to the last mentioned place of Scripture these shall not prevail against the church of Christ;* and, consequently, no other opposing agencies; for these are the most powerful and worst enemies.
We pass on to other Scripture testimony written for the same purpose. Matt. 28:20, "And, lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consummation of the ages." Nearly all translators, in order to follow therein the Dutch way of speaking, render the last words of this sentence, "unto the end of the world." But we have, for good reasons, preserved the Greek mode of expression, inasmuch as it serves better and more clearly to the end we have in view. For we have found that, after the common translation, the words,"unto the end of the world," have been misinterpreted, and stretched beyond their meaning, by some inexperienced persons, so that these expound that which has been spoken of the consummation of time, as referring to the end of locality; even as though Christ had not here promised His apostles, to remain with them till all time should have come to an end; but only until, for the promulgation of the Gospel, they should have traveled unto the uttermost parts of the earth. which, because it is not possible to travel farther by land, are called the end of the world.
This is a great error, for; according to his explanation, this promise would have belonged to the apostles alone, and been limited by their lifetime, since they traveled everywhere to preach, so that their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.** Compare Mark 16:20 with Rom. 10:18.
* If Christ is so firm a foundation that not even the gates of hell can prevail against that which is built upon it, how very foolish careless and imprudent are they who forsake this foundation, and build upon, and trust in, the vain things of this world! Certainly everything under the sun, yea, all which our eyes behold, is vain and transitory."Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity" (Eccl. 1:2), understand: earthly things. But how much more vain are the sinful and evil things which God has forbidden, and concerning which He has warned us in His word, that we should have nothing to do with them! How great will be the fall of those who build upon these forbidden vanities! If we suffer damage, and complain, when a material house or building falls, because its foundation is not firm, how much greater loss will they sustain, and what greater reason will they have to lament, who will fall both in soul and body, without ever being able to rise again!
* The words of David, Psa. 19:6, which he spoke of the circuit of the sun around the whole earth every twenty-four hours, the apostle Paul applies to the traveling and preaching of the apostles through the whole world saying, Rom . 10:18, "Verily their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Since the apostles, in their time, traveled through the whole world, to preach the Gospel, and consequently, have been at the ends or uttermost limits of the earth, it would follow, according to our opponents' own words, that the promise of Christ,"Lo, I am with you" (or by you), etc., was completely fulfilled in the apostles, excluding their descendants from assuming any part of it whatever. This would certainly be a comfortless matter for us, their descendants; but the case is quite a different one as is shown in this column. But, in order that all true followers of Christ and His apostles, to the end of time, might comfort themselves with this promise, the Lord has expressly spoken of the consummation of the ages, and declared that so long (understand: spiritually) He will be with them.
We arrive now at the point we had in view from the beginning, and which we shall now present more plainly and fully. It is certain that the Lord has spoken here of the preaching of the holy Gospel, of faith, of baptism, and of the manner of establishing and building up His church, as it was His will that the same should be built up and maintained through all ages. After saying this, He gave the before mentioned promise.
It is settled, therefore, that the visible church of Jesus Christ (for this is the one in whom the preaching of the holy Gospel, faith, baptism, and whatever there is more besides, have place) shall exist through all time, even unto the consummation of the ages; for, otherwise, the promise."Lo, I am with you all the days," etc., can not be fulfilled in her.
Even as, besides preaching and faith, baptism shall continue in the church to the end of time, so also the holy supper. This appears from the words of Paul, I Cor. 11:2'6, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew forth the Lord's death till he come."
Thus, if mention is made here of the eating of the bread, the drinking of the cup, and the showing forth of the Lord's death, with the additional clause that this shall be observed, and continue, till the Lord come (that is, the end of time, to judge the world), it follows that there will be, throughout all ages to the end of the world, a church which will observe the external ordinances of Christ not only in respect to holy baptism, but also to the holy supper, and the shewing forth of the Lord's death; unless it can be shown that the words,"till he come," have another signification, such as we have never yet met with in any commentator, since the text is not only too clear, but also too conclusive.* Compare this with Matt. 25:31; John 14:3; Acts 1:11; I Thess. 4:16; Jude 14; Rev. 1:7; 22:12, 20.
THE CHURCH OF GOD OBSCURED AND RENDERED ALMOST INVISIBLE IN SOME PLACES; AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE CAUSE OF IT FROM ANCIENT TIMES
As the moon, notwithstanding her substance and body never perish, is not always seen in her full
* Whenever, in the New Testament, the coming of Christ is spoken of, there is generally, yea, universally, meant by it His last coming to judgment."Then . . . they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). 'Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him. ' Rev. 1:7; also I Cor. 11:26.
light by the human eye, either, because she sinks beneath the horizon, or, being too close to the sun, is obscured by him, or, being far from the sun, is darkened by the shadow of the earth, which is called an eclipse; even so it is with the substance and appearance of the church of God on earth. The latter, though never perishing entirely, does not always show herself in her full form, yea, at times she seems to have vanished altogether, yet not in all, but only in some places, either through the slothfulness of some people, who, from want of regard, or for some other reason, neglect the external, manifest commandments of God, or on account of some misconceptions or errors that have arisen, and whereby sometimes many of the true believers have been perverted, and seduced from the true worship of God; or in consequence of persecution, violence and tyranny, exercised against the faith and the practice of it, on account of which the pious are compelled to hide and, as outcasts from mankind, seclude themselves in forests, wildernesses, and solitary places; so that its characteristics, light and virtue could not be seen, much less known, by the common world.
When the church of God of the Old Testament was in Egypt, it could not observe its divine worship, but had to request permission"to go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the Lord." Ex. 8:26, 27, compared with Ex. 10:26.
During the forty years that this same people was in the wilderness, such remarkable events happened that all their children remained uncircumcised, not receiving circumcision until they had become old, and arrived in the land of Canaan, at mount Aralot. Josh. 5:2-8.
In the time of Elijah this church was so greatly obscured on account of persecution, that he thought that he alone was left, though God had reserved to Himself seven thousand persons who served Him, and had not bowed their knees to Baal. I Kings 19:14, 18; Rom. 11:3, 4.
When this people had been carried away into Babylon, the house of God, at Jerusalem, where divine worship was wont to be made, lay waste, and the stones of the sanctuary were scattered in all the streets; yea, among the people in Babylon, matters were in so bad a condition, in regard to religion and the songs of praise with which they were wont to worship God, that they had hung their harps on the willows that were planted there by the rivers, Ps. 137:1-4; for which reason they were numbered among the dead and among those that go down to the grave. Bar. 3:10-14.
After the Babylonian captivity, in the time of the Maccabees, many of the church of Israel, because of the existing danger, hid themselves in caves, in order that they might keep the Sabbath. II Macc. 6:11.
All these obscurations, like sad eclipses in the divine worship, have happened in the church of God of the Old Testament, before the birth and advent of Christ into this world; and much more might be said in regard to this, if it were necessary, but we consider it sufficient to have made simple mention of it from time to time.
The same took place also after the advent of Christ in the church under the Gospel, which was composed of Jews and Gentiles; she too, could not always raise her head with safety, but was ofttimes, like the sun behind clouds, concealed from the common sight of men.
Even in the time when Christ dwelt bodily among men, and had risen from the dead, His disciples, the chief members of His church, sat concealed, with closed doors, for fear of the Jews. John 20:19.
After the ascension of Christ, the very numerous church which was at Jerusalem, dispersed, on account of persecution, through the land of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles; so that this distinguished church, which, it appears, was the chief one on the face of the earth, had to sojourn secretly in a strange land. Acts 8:1.
Afterwards, when the emperor Domitian had banished John, the holy apostle and evangelist, for the Gospel's sake, to the island of Patmos, the Holy Ghost revealed unto him the future state of the church of Christ, namely, that she would have to flee into the wilderness, on account of the persecution of Antichrist, and there be fed by God, a thousand two hundred and threescore days, which, reckoned according to prophetic language, means as many years. Rev. 12:6-11.
Whether we begin to reckon these years from the death of the apostles; or with the year 300, when the so-called patriarchs had their origin; or with the year 600; or a little later, when Mohammed rose in the east among the Greeks, and the pope in the west among the Latins, and raised no small persecution against the defenseless and innocent little flock of the church of Christ, so that all who did not wish to be devoured, either in soul or in body, had to hide themselves in deserts and wildernesses; let it be reckoned as it may, say we, a very long period is to be understood by it, which has extended to this, or about this time.
Here the rose has blossomed very gloriously among the thorns. Song of Sol. 2:2. Here the dove that was in the clefts of the rock and in the secret places of the stairs, let her sweet voice be beard.* Verse 14. Here the Lord said, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed" (Song of Sol. 4:12). Here the Son of God has fed, sustained and preserved His church against the sentence of worldly and carnalminded men, who, because they are carnal, cannot comprehend the things of the Spirit of God.
But lest any should misconstrue our preceding proposition, let it be understood, that when we speak of the obscuration, concealment, or the be-
* In the clefts of the rock and in the secret places of the stairs, that is, In persecutions and in solitary and strange regions; just as"among the thorns" signifies, in the power of evil-minded and bloodthirsty tyrants.
coming invisible, of the church of God, we do not mean the church in general, or in all places, for the church in general has never been obscured and hidden in all places at the same time; but we mean thereby some parts of the church in general, namely, some particular societies, belonging to the body of the general church which is spread over the whole earth.
It must be stated, also, that by the term, general church, we do not understand all the churches which bear the Christian name; but only those who express the Christian name by their upright faith and pure observance of the Christian and Evangelical commandments.
Now the question arises, whether our church of the present day, called the Anabaptists, has truly descended, and derived her succession, from the aforementioned church of God which has existed from the beginning, and kept the commandments of God in purity.
But, in order to do this briefly and in the best manner, we shall leave untouched the time and conditions of the church from Adam to Christ, as being an undisputed point; and only examine the time and condition of the church after the advent of Christ; for the point of difference relates solely to those who and which, by virtue of true succession, have a right to the same.
THE SUCCESSION OF THE CHURCH OF GOD, PER SONAL SUCCESSION, AND SUCCESSION OF DOCTRINE
From the Latin word succedo,. that is, to go under, or to take the place of one, is derived the word, succession, which we, though improperly, have mixed into our Dutch language. The various branches proceeding from this root, that is, the numerous words taking their origin from it, together with their significations, we leave untouched; in general we understand by it, to follow any one in his place, right, or reign.
There is a twofold succession, natural and spiritual, political and ecclesiastical, or civil and ecclesiastical; but we have to speak here only of the spiritual and ecclesiastical, and not of the natural, political, or civil, succession; for only the former, and, by no means, the latter, belongs here.*
Now, as succession is of twofold nature and kind, so also is each kind of the same twofold and distinct in itself. This will be shown plainly in the spiritual and ecclesiastical succession.
In order to present this in a clear light, we say that the ecclesiastical succession may be considered in two ways: firstly, with respect to the, succession of persons; secondly, with respect to the succession of doctrine.
* There is not only a natural and spiritual succession, which could be considered as indifferent only; but both, the natural and the spiritual, can be good or bad, form both we find either the one or the other. But we purpose to speak here only of a spiritual succession, and moreover, of such an one that is good. This we shall consider with regard o good persons as well as to good doctrine. he latter is a sign and evidence of the former, so that the former cannot subsist without the latter. Where the latter is, the former need not be looked for so carefully. But where both are found in truth and verity, it is not to be doubted that there is also the true and genuine church of God, in which God will dwell and walk; which has the promise of an eternal and blissful life; and about which the holy Scriptures glory and teach so much.
As a great building, house, or castle, can be considered, firstly, with regard to it as a whole, and, secondly, with respect to its different parts, so also the whole church of Christ can properly be considered: firstly, in the whole or in general, as comprising all the congregations in the whole world, which have in common the most holy faith, and the practice, which, according to God's holy Word, must follow therefrom; secondly, in any particular part of the same, as, this or that church which is in accord with it, as for instance, the church at Amsterdam, Harlem, Dort, etc.
Likewise there is also (or, certainly can be) a twofold personal succession: (1) a general, (2) a particular one. By the general is understood that succession, which has been, in general, throughout the whole world, through a succession of true teachers, whether few or many, according to the opportunity of the times; who have rightly taught the truth, and propagated it according to their ability; concerning which (touching their doctrine, especially in regard to holy baptism, etc.) we have shown, which the true succession is, which, together with the observance of all the other commandments of Jesus Christ, is recognized by us, according to the promise of the Lord given to the true teachers, Matt. 28:20.
By the particular succession is understood the succession of teachers, from person to person; in a particular church, at a separate place, and sitting on a throne prepared for this purpose, as for instance, at Constantinople, of which the Greeks boast; but principally at Rome, about which the Latins, that is, the papists, make a great ado. But concerning this there is no promise, law, or commandment to be found in the whole Gospel, and we, therefore, pass on.*
SUCCESSION OF DOCTRINE
Here the words of Tertullian are applicable. He says, "The Christian church is called apostolic not just because of the succession of persons, but on
* The twelve tribes of Israel, considered as a whole, were but one church; but with respect to certain parts who had remained on the other side of the Jordan namely, Reuben Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh (Jos . 22:1-5); the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who dwelt in Jerusalem, and formed also a part; and the residue of the multitude of Israel, who dwelt by the cities of Samaria, it could very properly be said, that Israel consisted of three churches: (1) on the other side of Jordan; (2) at Jerusalem; (3) in Samaria, etc. Even so there is but one church, which, keeping the true faith, is scattered over many places; but with respect to the multiplicity of places where they dwell, they may be called many churches."
account of the kinship of doctrine, since she holds the doctrine of the apostles." Lib. de praescript, etc.
This doctrine everyone who boasts* of the true succession, must prove from the true apostolic writings, as the means by which the church was originally instituted, subsequently established, and maintained through all times (we speak of the Christian and evangelical church). Therefore, this doctrine must necessarily, also in these last times be the mark of the true succession.
Now, if this is united with the common succession of teachers, we have everything that is necessary for the demonstration of the true church. This stands so fast that it cannot reasonably be disputed, much less, refuted.
The question now will be, in what church the true apostolic doctrine has been held from the beginning, and is still held; which is a privilege boasted of by many. We leave it to them, and content ourselves with the testimony of our conscience, compared with the holy Gospel of Christ and the faith of the holy church, of which mention is made, throughout, in the ancient church histories.
To give evidence, then, of the faith professed by us, we declare, that we believe in our heart, and confess with our mouth:
THE APOSTLES' CREED
1. I believe in one God, the Father, the almighty Creator of heaven and earth.
2. And in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord.
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin Mary.
4. Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. Rose from the dead on the third day.
6. Ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the almighty Father.
7. From whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost.
9. I believe in a holy general Christian church, the communion of saints.
10. Forgiveness of sins.
11. Resurrection of the flesh.
12. And an eternal life.
This is the most ancient and simple creed, which, it appears, was confessed already in or about the time of the apostles; and for which many, yea the greater part of the first Christian believers, have sacrificed their lives. But as, in the course of time, the true and simple meaning of the confession set
*"Let no man glory in men," says Paul, I Cor. 3:21. We may not glory, therefore, in the succession of eminent persons, if they do not derive their eminence from the eminence and truth of the word of God. The prophet Jeremiah, going further yet in this point, has cursed that man who trusts in man, and maketh flesh his arm. Jer. 17:5. forth was assailed and disputed by the contradiction and perverse interpretation of contentious and, not less, erring persons going under the name of good Christians; the true believers of the church of God were compelled, as often as this happened, and necessity required, to declare how they understood and interpreted this or that article.
Hence it has come that at this day there are found among those who are called Anabaptists, various confessions, which differ in style, but not in faith, (we speak of the foundation of the same), in which confessions the creed set forth above is more fully interpreted and explained.
Of these we shall present here principally three, which were acknowledged and adopted without contradiction as a unanimous confession, by a great number of teachers, assembled from various distrkts, in the year 1649, in the city of Harlem. Two of these had been drawn up at Amsterdam, in 1627 and 1630, and the third at Dort, the 21st of April 1632; all on account of certain church unions which took place subsequently in these years.