Concerning the constituting of true churches by reformation out of such as have been corrupt.
By James Durham

Copyright 1998 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

[From James Durham, A Complete Commentary upon the Book of Revelation, Chapter Eleven, Lecture five. Durham is drawing conclusions (of which this is the third) from the song in Revelation 11:15-19, after having demonstrated that by the similitude of opening the temple, the idea is set forth:

By this similitude of opening the temple, this is set forth, that as, in the Jewish times, during their greatest defections, there was still some temple and church; and, at the time of reformation, there was no new temple built, nor new circumcision instituted, nor priests appointed, but corruptions were removed, and the temple and priests put again to their own proper use and duty; so, during the defection of Antichrist, there should still be a church, temple, ordinances, and ministers, and that the bringing of the gospel again to public in the world after that, should not be by erecting a new church, and new ordinances, or appointing new officers, but should be by the purging away of the former corruptions, and applying of the ordinances and officers to their own former use. For, it is the same temple after reformation which was before, but now it is opened; the woman (chap. 12), is the same under persecution, while she is in the wilderness during the 1260 days, that she was before her fleeing, and continues to be the same after her return from the wilderness; only that which by Antichrist's additions was veiled and corrupted, now, by the removal, becomes more visible and pure.

Upon this very ground it is, that the reviving again of religion is commonly called reformation, not as bringing in any thing new, but as purging what formerly was corrupted. Upon this ground, baptism continues to be baptism, though transmitted through them, and a ministry continues to be a ministry, except we say there were no ordinances and ministers before the time of reformation, and so no church, which is expressly contrary to the scope and letter of this and the following chapters. From this also it appears, there needs no new constitution of a church that is brought from Popery, such as might be called for from heathens who are not Christians, but the purging away the dross of Antichristianism, and the practical adhering to the purity and power of the gospel, even as there was great odds amongst the Jews, in the recovering of them from their grossest defection, and the admission of Pagans into the church.

Durham then clears two objections raised, that Rome is a true church, and if not, then those who have their ministry and ordination from her, have it from a false church, and then he says "Besides this, we may draw some conclusions from this song…" The first conclusion is an argument for national churches, and the second for baptizing of children. The third follows.]


Thirdly, from this it follows, that a people, or persons, renouncing the abomination of Antichrist, and accepting of, and submitting to the truth and ordinances of the gospel, ipso facto constitutes them churches of Christ, or members thereof, and is sufficient, as to essentials, to make them to be accounted so. This is clear here; for, that these nations do become the Lord's, says that they are churches to him. Yet is there no other way conceivable how they become his, but that the witnesses are taken up to heaven, and public preaching is again restored, the temple is opened, and the ark of the testimony is made visible; all which, suppones [presupposes] a people's quitting of Antichrist's way, and betaking them to Christ's, upon which they are so accounted, as is said. It is a great question to men, how they can be true churches that have arisen, as it were, out of Antichrist's dominion, without any accurate constituting of them, as to the members thereof? Also some are ready to think all the reformed churches to be as no churches, because to them, they and the ordinances which they possess, have been derived from Antichrist. Whereupon they are brought to look upon the world as having no church in it, and to be put to wait and seek for some new manifestation, as we may gather from Saltmarsh’s description of the seekers smoke of the temple. And indeed if we begin to dispute this principle, whether the reformed churches be true churches, there can be no guard against this. For, if they are not churches, there are none indeed in the world. And if there are none in the world, we cannot expect that a new church shall be begotten, except it be by some extraordinary means, whereof yet there is no warrant in the least from the word; beside, that the church of Christ is to endure here on earth to the end of the world, and the gates of hell is not to prevail against her. Now, this is the very place where that event is foretold of constituting new churches out of Antichrist's dominions; and therefore it cannot be unfit to inquire how this same is accomplished.

Concerning this, we premit, First, That there is a threefold way of entering, or being admitted to the church. 1. By conversion, that is, when one simply without [outside] the church, is, by the power of God accompanying ordinances, made to submit to the gospel. Of such we have many examples in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. A second, is by birth-right. This is the privilege which church members' children have. Thirdly, There is an admission of members for constituting of a church, not simply of these that are without, but of corrupt members, who pretend to be within. Such was the re-establishing of the church of Israel often after their defections, when indeed the people had fallen to heathenish idolatry, and, it may be, for sundry years continued in it. Yet was their re-admission to the use of ordinances and privileges of visible members, far otherwise gone about, than the admission of heathens, supposing them to have renounced their idolatry. The second of these we have nothing to do with, therefore we lay it aside.

Secondly, We premit, that there is great odds between the manner of constituting (to say so) a church, or a church member, out of a corrupt declined church, and the constituting of a church or member of such as are simply without. Neither is there such exactness to be required in the search of these particular members, nor so many things to be performed for the accomplishing of their membership in the former case, as in the latter. This is clear, by considering, First, The example of the Jews formerly mentioned. That was a very different thing to them, to admit declined members in respect of others that were without. Secondly, The one was under the initiating sacrament; for their circumcision was never questioned, which the other cannot plead. Thirdly, There is this reason also, because God having still a visible church as a mother, though not conspicuous, that in every time, or in every place, there can no Christian be conceived to be pure in essentials, but must be supposed to be of her seed.

Thirdly, In sum, we say, that for constituting a church or persons to be true churches, or to be true members of churches out of Antichrist's kingdom, there needs no more but a public disowning of his abominations, and erecting of the ordinances of Christ, with a professed subjection thereto, according to the gospel, and that as to the essentials of a church, this is sufficient, though it may be there may be still some defects which yet do not mar the truth of the being of such a church. For making out of which we offer these considerations.

The first is, what might constitute a true church, or a member thereof, after defection and corruption in the church of Israel, or after Antiochus’s abominations, that may be sufficient to constitute a true church after the defections and corruptions of Antichrist. But renouncing of former errors, erecting again of the ordinances, and professed subjection to them, was enough then. Therefore it ought to be so now. There can be no question of the minor, but that this was sufficient amongst the Jews, any who reads the reformation that followed the defections under Ahaz, Manasseh, and others, will be abundantly convinced of this. For Hezekiah opened the temple which his father had shut, [and] erected again the public ordinances to which the people submitted. If it is doubted if that will follow in our case, these things will confirm the consequence:

First, The unity of the church-catholic visible -- they and we being one church, it may well therefore be argued from the example of the one to the other, as what made them no church, will make us no church; and so what makes them a church, must also have that same weight with us. Secondly, The allusion to the manner of the Old Testament is so plain in this place, that it both confirms and illustrates the same. It confirms it, that it expresses how the kingdoms of the earth become the Lord's in the last verse, and it says, The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament, etc. Which words allude to that defection of Ahaz (2 Chron. 30), where the temple was shut, the ark of the testimony was not seen until the days of Hezekiah, who opened the temple, and made the ark in due manner to be visible, and the word to be brought to public, whereby the face of the visible church was recovered. And so this remarkable event is illustrated by this, that so the ordinances shall be obscured amongst many nations during Antichrist's height, as the temple was shut in Ahaz time, yet shall these clouds be blown away, and light be brought forth to nations by a public profession of the gospel, whereby they shall become visible churches to the Lord. This argument is from the very scope of the place.

Secondly, Consider, if renouncing of Antichrist's gross abominations, and a separate adhering to the truth of the gospel, with a subjection thereto, was enough to constitute a true member of the visible church, while Antichristian darkness was at its full height, then after reformation that is sufficient to constitute a true church, or a true member thereof. But the former is undoubtedly true, viz. there was not more to constitute a true member of the visible church, during Antichrist's height. Therefore, etc, the first cannot be denied. For, what must be sufficient then, must be sufficient now, seeing it is still this same church, this same woman, and the same door of entering. And, to deny this, would say that Christ's visible church, during that time, was not constituted rightly as to her essentials, and so, upon the matter, was none at all. Neither can the second proposition be denied; for, the woman, the church, but flees from his abomination, and, de facto, what more can be alleged during that time? Besides, this is certain, that any born and bred in Popery, who did afterward receive the gospel, and renounce these former errors, such were to be accounted members of the visible church of Christ, and not of Antichrist.

Thirdly, Consider such nations and churches as having renounced Antichrist in profession, and having submitted to the gospel, must either be churches of Christ, or they must belong to Antichrist, or to be accounted without as heathens; but neither of these last two can be said. Ergo, etc. To say that they are fit matter or materials for building of a church, will not satisfy. For 1, The scripture does not speak of fit materials among baptized person, so as to contra-distinguish them from the visible church. 2. This prophesy says that such as in this manner separate from Antichrist, shall not only be fit materials to make a church to the Lord, but they shall be his churches de facto. 3. If they have had ordinances and officers for many years, and have begotten children to the Lord by them, then there must be more than matter of a church. For these are the privileges and blessings wherewith his true church is privileged; and none can bring forth seed to him but she. And 4, If these churches be but matter, and that as contra-distinct from churches, then it will, at once, strike at all the churches of Christ these many years, and put us to join with the Seekers, in their hopeless expectation of a new church.

Fourthly, Consider, that all nations and persons so reforming after that defection, do actually become members of the visible church, which formerly was more latent. For, they become one in hating the whore, one in acknowledging the truth, one submitting to the same ordinances. And therefore what reason can there be to account them no churches, seeing she, by these characters, has been justly accounted the church of Christ?

Fifthly, The consideration of this prophesy to be fulfilled in the reformation that has been these hundred years past, will strongly conclude that these reformed churches must be true churches, though it may be, that several of them be in many things defective. For, if by this prophesy, it be clear, that the event that follows Antichrist's height must constitute true churches, and a kingdom to Christ after a more conspicuous and visible manner than formerly; and, if it be true, that this reformation, which has come unto all the world in the generation last past, is the very fulfilling of this prophesy, and the very event foretold here; then it cannot but follow, that this reformation must be acknowledged to have brought the true visible churches unto the world. Otherwise the truth of this prophesy will be put in question. Now, we suppose, that by what has been said of this in the former lectures, that both the former will be seen to be true. Therefore this must necessarily follow. For, this reformation is either what is prophesied of here, or it is some other thing; but it can be applicable to no other thing. And, if it can be applicable to no other thing, then these great events must be understood to carry alongst with them the visible kingdom of Christ; and the event must be answerable to what is foretold. And, if it were not so, there were no such ground of a song, as is here insisted upon. This argument, from the event of a prophesy, being fulfilled, even as the Jews that lived under the second temple, were to account that dispensation to be the fulfilling of the many prophecies that went before, although many were not fully satisfied in their expectations; and, no question, several things were defective, though the essentials were there.