Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the doctrine of the Church a fundamental truth of the gospel

Rev. Stuart Robinson (1814-1881), professor of church government and pastoral theology at Danville Seminary and pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Kentucky wrote a very helpful book on the Church called The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel, and the Idea, Structure, and Functions Thereof. The book has been reprinted by the OPC

Robinson shows that the church is an essential element of the gospel, and is intended by God for accomplishing the purpose of redemption. It is a full-orbed defence of the visible church and its government. He had an evident interest in tracing out the progress and development of redemption history in a way which is slightly similar to the biblical theological approach favoured today. The book expands upon a note in another book Discourses of redemption. Robinson there speaks of the need "to perceive clearly and grasp firmly the great doctrine of the Church as a fundamental truth of the gospel revelation". This is an interesting assertion given the fact that the Great Commission of Matt. 28 is given in terms of an assertion of the kingship of Christ and observing His commandments in the Church. He maintains that "the fact that the doctrine of the Church is a fundamental truth of the gospel, and is entitled to the same sort of consideration as other articles of theology" is generally overlooked. He observes that it is essential to the wellbeing of the Church given "the fact that a Calvinistic theology cannot long retain its integrity and purity save in connection with a Calvinistic ecclesiology, and for the more general fact, already referred to, of the intimate connection between a wrong theology and wrong views of the Church".

"The visible Church is an important, if not a necessary, means of revealing to men the whole counsel of God ; and, for aught we know, such is the constitution of the human mind that by no other method could have been communicated to human intelligence that peculiar feature of the purpose of God which contemplates the redeemed not as individuals merely, but as the mediatorial body of the Redeemer. In another view, the Church is an indispensable means of accomplishing the great purpose of his love to his chosen people, as an institute for the calling, training, and edifying the elect".

“It is Jehovah’s vineyard, well fenced, indeed, but oftentimes having vines therein that bring forth wild grapes. It is Jehovah’s garden, well cared-for and well tilled, but in which many of the fig-trees may be barren. It is the wheat-field, which the
husbandman has carefully sown, yet in which tares grow up with the wheat. It is the great net, as an instrument in the hand of Jehovah for gathering his chosen ones out of the great deeps of a world of sin; but the very operation by which he gathers the good must, in the nature of the case, gather the bad with them also. It is a heap of choice wheat in his threshing-floor, from which the chaff is yet to be winnowed. It is a rich vineyard, leased out for a time to husbandmen who may be wicked enough to beat away the owner’s servants,—yea, even to slay his son and heir. It is, in short, a body called out of the world, yet in which are many called more than are chosen”.

He writes that the government of the church has always been representative and through elders following the family rule of the patriarchs. "So soon as, under the covenant with Abraham chartering a distinct community of the chosen, such a community actually existed, as the shortening of human life no longer permitted a patriarchal rule, the elders, as the successors of the patriarchs, are found intrusted with the government of the Church visible. Before the national organization under Moses there were elders in charge of the covenant-people; and to them must Moses exhibit the seals of his commission as the authorized agent of the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, come to execute the stipulations of the ancient covenant. Through the elders was given to the Church the ordinance of the passover. Before them, as representatives of the Church, was the typical rock smitten. To the Church, through her elders, after solemn preparation, were the revelations of Sinai made, and these in form of a solemn covenant between Jehovah and his people. The elders partook with Moses of the solemn sacrificial feast in the Mount, as preparatory to the reception of the ecclesiastical and ritual constitution from Jehovah. The elders, with the priests, constituted the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal to which all appeals should come. Even in Israel under tho apostasy the form of government was not lost sight of, but the elders sat with Elisha. So, too, even after the fall of the nation as such, the elders met with God's prophet on the river Chebar. And in the wasted and corrupt Jerusalem the form of Jehovah's appointed court of the Church survived all regard and fear of Jehovah, and a corrupt court of the priests and elders condemned to death his prophet Jeremiah for speaking the warnings of Jehovah. When Messiah came to his own and his own received him not, the regard for the divinely-appointed form of ecclesiastical government is found still surviving, though men made void the divine law through their traditions. Priests and elders formed the council that condemned the Son of God. The elders, under the dispensation of the Spirit, still occupy their position towards the Church, appointed by the Holy Ghost to take oversight, as in the Church of old."

He further notes that "every revelation ever communicated, every ordinance appointed, every promise and covenant made of God, has been, not to and with men as men, or as constituting nations, but to and with the Church, as such,—a body organized or contemplated as the elements of an organization. In the widest sense, to the ancient Church were committed the Oracles of God. The successive revelations come not from God as Creator to men as creatures, but from Messiah as Prophet and Bang over his Church ,to his own peculiar people. The revelations of Sinai are expressly declared to have been made to the covenant-people; and when Moses wrote the words of the Lord in the book, they were formally ratified as the covenant between God and the Church. After Moses, all additional records of inspiration are given to the Church as the depository of the Oracles of God".