The Reformed Presbytery on the necessity of pubic and private meetings


The Special Ends and Designs
of Social Meetings.

Because some may make it a question of what the valuable purposes are which social fellowship among Christians does serve and answer, we shall therefore touch a little in this section at some of these. A right impression and proper view of these, is of great importance both as an engaging incentive to a Christian and conscientious attendance to the exercise, and for the profitable management of the duty. The special ends and purposes of this kind of society, and the advantages which arise from a dutiful attendance to it, are many and great, we can only give a very general account of them.

This social fellowship of the saints on earth, is intended for, and contributes in a singular manner to the increase of the knowledge of God and Christ, as he reveals himself in his word, ordinance and works of creation, providence and redemption. In all these God discovers and manifests his glory; and the people of God having eyes given them to see, and ears to hear, do in their attendance on the dispensation of his public ordinance of word and sacraments, or in the private reading of the Word, see his glory as the God of grace and salvation, and obtain some comforting and enlightening knowledge of him. The like may be said of his works, all which are wonderful, and sought out of all them that leave pleasure in them—Psal. 111:2. It is the Christian’s work and duty to observe the work of the Lord, whether respecting himself particularly or in general, and to consider the operation of his hands. But while attending to these instances of personal, internal duty, in an observant waiting upon God in his ordinance and doings, he has not access to the performance of those duties and exercises that are the special design of this intimate social communion of saints. Christians while attending public gospel ordinances, have not access to instruct, admonish, counsel and comfort one another; and by a communication of their knowledge, observations and experiences, mutually to establish and build up themselves in their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost—Jude ver. 20—as is their business in social fellowship meetings; so that here we may see the difference of the ends of the other ordinances and works of God, and this particular institution. These are all designed for conveying the knowledge of God, and giving experience of his goodness; Isa. 2:5—”And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways.” This for the diffusing and communication of such a knowledge of God, and taste of his goodness unto others, as has been found in ordinances and providence. In the public sanctuary ordinances, believers by faith see the power and glory of God—Psal. 63:2. But in these little sanctuaries, in these temples of God, every one speaks of his glory—Psal. 29:9—talks of his power and righteousness, and all his wondrous works—Psal. 71. and 119:97. Thus these social meetings of Christians contribute, as they are intended, for the propagation and increase of an experimental knowledge of God and taste of his goodness among his people, in the holy exercises of praise, prayer and spiritual conference. And this is just what the apostle enjoins and recommends. Col. 2:16—”Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.”

Again, Another valuable purpose for which the religious social meetings of God’s people serve, and for which they are intended, is a mutual and reciprocal helpfulness and encouragement in the ways of God and godliness. Society among mankind in general is designed for the comfort and help of individuals against the common wants, weaknesses and difficulties they are exposed to. The royal preacher Solomon gives us an excellent encomium on utility of even common natural society and friendship, for these purposes. Eccl. 4:9; 10, 11, 12—”Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not easily broken.” These various advantages of the social life, as they hold true in things natural and civil, so in things spiritual and religious. So manifold and various are the weaknesses and dangers of the Christian; his temptations inward and outward, and enemies, such as Satan, persecutors, false teachers. &c. that it is absolutely needful for the children of Zion to travel in companies, and, like soldiers that go on a warlike expedition, to keep close together in Christian communion. And thus they also become helpful and encouraging to each other in the time of need and discouragement, by their counsels and comforts, and mutual aids. And by their mutual instructions, advices, reproofs and prayers, they sharpen each other’s countenances, quicken and comfort each other’s souls. In this way they find the truth of the divine sentence.—Prov. 27:17—”As iron sharpeneth iron so doth a man’s countenance his friend.” They establish one another in divine truth, and strengthen each other’s hands and hearts. Yes, often hath this Christian fellowship been found a happy means of reviving the drooping Christian, ready to sink under discouragement; and of quickening and restoring to vigour that grace which was ready to die in them, when grown backward and indifferent to spiritual exercises. But woe to him that is alone; for when he falleth, he hath not another to help him up: No Christian friend to visit, comfort, relieve or counsel him under his necessities; or recover him from error, or immoralities, when fallen into them. But when saints stand fast in one spirit, and in an united way strive together for the faith of the gospel, they then stand their ground, withstand the enemy, maintain the truth, and establish each other therein. This leads us to observe farther on this article, that there is not any social Christian exercise a better or more effectual means for preventing, opposing or overcoming errors, or delusions of any kind than this.

Christians thus joined together, are far better able to withstand and vanquish the enemy, appearing in this form, being fortified by their united forces, mutual instructions, cautions and counsels than singly by themselves, the church standing thus united, is said to be terrible as an army with banners—Cant. 6:4. But stragglers, such as go alone, are often snared and taken. They fall an easy prey to seduction and error who neglect or despise the benefit of the advice, counsel and prayers of their Christian friends and brethren. Again, These Christian meetings are specially designed for the performance of all the social duties and relative offices of Christian friendship, brotherly love, and sympathy among the members of the church of Christ. Such are all those duties formerly mentioned, and which are required and recommended in the following texts of Scripture. Heb. 10:24, 25—”Let us consider one another to provoke unto love, and to good works. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another.” 1 Thess. 5:14—”Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them which are unruly, comfort the feeble minded, support the weak.” Heb. 3:13—”Exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any be burdened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Rom. 12:10—”Be kindly affectioned one to another; with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another.” Col. 3:16—”Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” Gal. 5:13—”By love serve one another.” Gal. 6:2—”Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Eph. 5:21—”Submit yourselves one to another.” 1 Pet. 5:5—”Yea. all of you be subject one to another,” James 5:16—”Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another.” These two last quoted texts signify, that these Christian societies are, in a loving and friendly way, to oversee and observe the conduct and behavior of their fellow-members, both as men and Christians; and every one is to watch over another, and be his brother’s keeper. This is what the apostle Jude enjoins, recommends with much earnestness; ver. 21—”Keep ye one another (marg.) in the love of God.” And who that know their own weakness and infirmity, and consider their dangerous situation in this present evil world, and the liableness to be led astray with the errors of it, will think that it is good for them to be alone? Nay, every such person will esteem it a peculiar privilege to be connected in Christian society with such prudent and faithful companions and brethren, as will correct his errors, reprove his faults, and by wise counsel point out the line of duty, and way of comfort to him. Psal. 112:5—”Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil.”

We shall only mention another text of Scripture here, where a very peculiar design of social Christian fellowship is pointed out. The text is that of 1 Pet. 4:10—”As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Some may think the gift here spoken of is to be understood of gifts and talents for public office and work in the church; but it does not at all appear, that these are the gifts only, or even principally intended in the text. It is true, all these are the gifts of an exalted Saviour, and are to be improved and employed faithfully by such as receive them, for his honour and glory; nevertheless, it is certain that to all the members of the mystical body of Christ—to every one (of them) is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ—Eph. 4:7. “To one is given by the spirit, the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same spirit; to another faith by the same spirit; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits”—1 Cor. 12:8, 9. One Christian is endued with quickness of apprehension, or understanding in the fear of the Lord, a retentive memory, and prompt expression, which the apostle calls the gift of utterance; another with a solid and sound judgment, wisdom and prudence. One Christian is strong in gifts and grace, another weak. There are also various tempers among Christians—one is zealous and forward, another circumspect and cautious—one liable to discouragement and dejection, another is cheerful, &c. Now the divine wisdom is specially manifested in this distribution; for why hath God dispensed such a diversity of gifts, but for mutual benefit and usefulness; so that those who are intelligent and judicious, prudent and cautious, may impart of their knowledge, wisdom, and caution to such as are, it may be, lively, active and zealous, but not to intelligent, or properly wise and cautious; and on the contrary, those who are warm and zealous, may thus communicate something of their vivacity and warmth to such as are knowing, but perhaps slow and inactive. Thus the strong may bear with and help the infirmities of the weak, each member being dependent on another; and hence it comes to pass, that as the apostle says. 1 Cor. 12:21—”The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor the head to the feet. I have no need of you.” By this society, the church of Christ becomes like a city compactly built together; as if of Jerusalem—Psal. 122.—the several buildings of which depend upon and support one another, and therefore has greatly the advantage against winds and storms of such houses as stand single in the open fields.

There are some of the great and valuable ends which Christian social meetings are intended to serve. The advancement and increase of the practical knowledge of God—instruction of the ignorant—supporting the weak—comforting the feeble minded—preventing and withstanding error and seduction—and the discharge of all the other duties of Christian brotherly love and good works—and that all the members may have fellowship one with another in the divine virtues, gifts and graces, whether common or saving, with which they are blessed. And hence this kind of religious society may be considered as indeed the strictest, closest and most intimate of any on earth. Believers in their attendance upon the dispensation of word and sacrament, have communion with Christ and one another in the common relations, blessings, and privileges which belong to them all. But they have not (neither can they have) communion one with another in their several personal gifts and graces, as here.

– A Short Directory for Religious Societies: Drawn Up by Appointment of the Reformed Presbytery, for the Particular Use of the Several Societies of Christian People Under Their Inspection, at the Desire of the Said Societies, and Addressed to Them, Edinburgh, Scotland, p. 15-22.

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