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Customs of Primitive Churches, of the constitution of a church
By Morgan Edwards
[Earliest American Baptist Historian]
[The grammar is unchanged. The letter 'f' is used for 's' in two places; these are changed for easier reading.]

IV. The manner in which persons may be constituted a particular church is...
Here follows a narrative of proceeding at the constitution of one baptist church in the year {1732}. The set day being come, and the parties concerned met, fasting; one of the two ministers present stood up and spoke to this effect.

26. “Good people! the occasion of our meeting is a desire, which some of you have, to be constituted into a christian church. It is well that it is in your hearts to be put together and compacted, so as to {rise} into a temple of Jesus, wherein his honour may dwell. Happy for you and for us if the precious stones of the sanctuary be found in this place, and happy for the neighbourhood if a house of God be erected here. But is [if] God build not the house they labour in vain that build it. Because of this, and also because of the danger of building wood, hay, and stubble on the precious foundation let us ask help of God to be wise builders; and intreat, that he will be a worker together with us on this occasion.”

27. “The builder of all things is God! and to that God do we now pray for help in the time of need! Jesus master see what building is to be here, and what stones are these! It is in our heart to form them into a temple to thy name; but without thy mind would we not do either little or much. If these persons be living and precious stones help them to show it and us to discern it; if not reveal that unto us; left [lest] on the one hand, any of the precious sons of Zion should become a stone disallowed and rejected of the builders; and left [lest] on the other, we should plant a root of bitterness in the Lords garden, or fasten a withered arm to the Lords body. Let the head of the church be present on this occasion; for two or three are come together in thy name to build thee a house; be thou head in the building; lay the first stone; lay the last, lay the midst. Act now the laying that is written, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. As far as thou permittest us to be workers together with thee, help us to be faithful that our work may stand, the reward sure, and thou have glory for ever. Amen.”

Then the minister desired them who purposed to become a church to draw near, and to give in their names to him; that done, and a list of them written, he began to ask them the following questions.

28. “Is it your desire to be constituted a church in this place?”

As many as answered in the affirmative were further asked the following questions.

29. “Are your habitations so near to each other than you can meet together in one place every Lords day, or oftener if needs be?”

This enquiry caused a demur in the case of one man who lived a great way off; but because there was no church nearer to which he could have joined himself he was admitted, The minister proceeded,

30. “Are ye so far acquainted with each others characters, graces, and principles, that ye can freely coalesce into one body, and comfortably walk together in fellowship?”

The answer was in the affirmative without any exception. Then the minister proceeded,

31. “There is a work of Gods Spirit that convinceth of sin and misery, that enlightens the mind in the knowledge of Christ; that reneweth the will; and that persuadeth and enableth the sinner to embrace that same Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel, which work is styled effectual calling. And this work is so essential a qualification to church membership that the society is, from it, termed ekklesia or the called of the Lord. Can you make it appear to us that this good work hath been wrought in you; for before Barnabas exhorted the disciples to be married to the Lord, it is said that he saw the grace of God?

Each declared his experience in such manner as induced the ministers to judge favourably of them. The acting minister went on.

32. “A church is called the household of faith, and all the members are called faithful: let us therefore have a confession of your faith; for as true faith gives you a right to become members of a church (John i. 12), so to a profession of that is the promise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven made, (Matthew xvi. 16-19).”

Each referred to the baptist confession of faith as fully expressing the articles of his belief. The minister examined them on some of the chief points of the confession, in order to see whether they understood it. The {jist} of what they said amounted to, what I would call, the essentials, viz. “A profession of repentance towards God; of sincere obedience to his laws; of faith in Christ as the only Saviour; of the hope of pardon and eternal life through his mediation and sacrifice; of submission to his word as the sovereign and infallible rule of religious faith and practice; of the public worship of one God, through one mediator, by one Spirit; in the reverent use of the word, prayer and praise, and other ordinances.” The minister proceeded,

33. “Is it the full purpose of your hearts henceforth to do all things whatsoever Christ hath commanded, and be obedient?”

They all solemnly declared that to be their fixed resolution. The minister went on,

34. “It appears by the gospel that baptism is prerequisite to a church state. And because some take that to be baptism which in reality is not, we require whether you have been duly baptized?”

Some produced certificates; other witnesses to their baptism. The minister went on.

35. “The believing Samaritans had hands laid on them before their incorporation into a church; we would know therefore whether you have submitted to that rite?”

They answered in the affirmative except two; and produced witnesses or certificates. Here follows a copy of one of the certificates. “This certifies that our brother _______, after making a credible profession of repentance, faith, and vows of holiness, was dipped in water in the name of the father, son and holy ghost at _______, on the ____ day of _______, in the year _____, at which time he had also hands laid on him by me _______ minister of the Baptist church at _______.” Those who had not submitted to this rite were reasoned with so that they desired it might be administered to them; which accordingly was done. See the manner under the proposition which speaks of this ordinance. Then the minister interrogated them all in such a {sort} as produced the following instrument of confederation.

36. “In the name of the Lord Jesus, we do voluntarily and jointly separate ourselves from the world; and voluntarily and jointly give ourselves to the Lord, who hath promised to receive such, and be to them a God; holding ourselves henceforth as his, and no longer our own. We do all voluntarily and mutually give ourselves one to another, and voluntarily and mutually receive one another in the Lord; meaning hereby to coalesce into one body, jointly to exist and jointly to act by the bands and rules of the gospel; each esteeming himself henceforth as a member of a spiritual body; accountable to it, subject to its control, and no otherwise separable therefrom than by consent first had, or unreasonably refused. We do further voluntarily and jointly vow to do all things whatsoever the Lord hath commanded, and be obedient, that he may be with us always: particularly, to deny ourselves; take up the cross; follow Christ; keep the faith; assemble together every Lord’s-day to worship; love as brethren; submit one to another in the Lord; and observe all rules prescribed to church members. Finally, we do voluntarily and jointly engage to know, honour, maintain, and obey them that shall have the rule over us in the Lord. This is the covenant we now solemnly enter into in the fear of God. In testimony and ratification whereof each of us signs his name hereunto. So help us God. Amen.”

When signing was over, the minister proceeded to declare them a church, in words to this effect; to which were joined prayer and praise.

37. “In the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the authority of our office we pronounce you [mentioning their names] a true gospel Church; endowed with all necessary power towards becoming a complete organized body, and the due government of yourselves; and therefore stand bound to make a proper use of that power as ye shall answer it to the head of the church. On whose name let us further call.”

38. “One family more, O Lord, is now added to the families of faith! One temple more raised to Jesus! One church more prepared as a bride for the Lamb of God! Devoted to thee be this family of faith! Sacred to thy name this living temple! And betrothed to the bridegroom, this chaste virgin! Take the family under thy special care, thou God of the families of all the earth; and come and be Lord over thine own house! Meet the dedication of this little sanctuary with acceptance, and preserve it pure; and if ought defiling should at any time stand in the holy place drive the abomination thereout, and cause that it profane thy temple no more! Accept this knot of virgin souls which we present to thee! Be this the day that they become the bride the lambs wife! Remember the kindness of their youth and the love of their espousals; and henceforth let them find that their maker is their husband! Give them a pastor after thine own heart, that this zion may be the birth place of souls, and a gate of heaven! Help them to be like minded; to love as brethren; to speak the same thing; and walk by the same rule! Righteous Lord! as thou and the father art one so let them be one in thee; one in thy service; one among themselves in the bonds of peace and charity; and with one mouth and one heart glorify God! Thou, Lord, hast laid the foundation of this house, and we cry grace! grace to it! Thou has also fixed the top stone, and the shout in the church is, the Lord hath built the temple, and the Lord shall have the glory. Amen.”

39 Then they sung, as followeth; the words by Dr. Watts, Ps. cxxxii. The music by Mr. Stanley.

Here, mighty God, accept our vows,
Here, let thy praise be spread;
Bless the provisions of thy house,
And fill thy poor with bread.
Here, let the son of David reign,
Let God’s anointed shine;
Justice and truth his court maintain,
With love and power divine.

Here let him hold a lasting throne
And as his kingdom grows,
Fresh honours shall adorn his crown,
And shame confound his foes.
Arise, O king of saints, arise,
And enter to thy rest,
Lo! thy church waits with longing eyes
Thus to be owned and blest.

Then the minister uttered the benediction in these words.

40. “The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace through Jesus Christ; the grace of whom be with you; the love of God the father; and the communion of the holy Ghost, both now and henceforth. Amen.”

Then each took the other by the right hand, and putting his right cheek to his, said,

41. “I plight communion and love to you my dear brother; in token whereof I give you the right hand of fellowship and kiss of charity.”

This being over, and the Lords supper administered, one of the brothers invited the rest to his home, where he had the love feast prepared, and at which he washed the disciples feet. See the manner under the proposition which relates to the subject.


[Morgan Edwards, Customs of Primitive Churches, pages 7-11. Document from R. L. Vaughn website. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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