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Complaints of want of love and unity among Christians, how to be managed, and whence fruitless — Charge of guilt on some, why now removed, and for whose sakes — Personal miscarriages of any not excused — Those who manage the charge mentioned not agreed.
The great differences that are in the world amongst professors of the gospel, about things relating to the worship of God, do exercise more or less the minds of the generality of men of all sorts; for, either in themselves or their consequences, they are looked on to be of great importance. Some herein regard principally that disadvantageous influence which they are supposed to have into men’s spiritual and eternal concernments; others, that aspect which they fancy them to have upon the public peace and tranquility of this world. Hence, in all ages, such divisions have caused “great thoughts of heart,” Judges v. 15, especially because it is very difficult to make a right judgment either of their nature or their tendency. But generally by all they are looked on as evil; — by some, for what they are in themselves; by others, from the disadvantage which they bring (as they suppose) unto their secular interests. Hence there are amongst many great complaints of them, and of that want of love which is looked on as their cause. And, indeed, it seems not only to be in the liberty, but to be the duty of every man soberly to complain of the evils which he would but cannot remedy; for such complaints, testifying a sense of their evil and a desire of their cure, can be no more than what love unto the public good requireth of us. And if in any case this may be allowed, it must be so in that of divisions about sacred things or the worship of God, with their causes and manner 60of management amongst men: for it will be granted that the glory of God, the honour of Christ, the progress of the gospel, with the edification and peace of the church, are deeply concerned in them, and highly prejudiced by them; and in these things all men have, if not an equal, yet such a special interest as none can forbid them the due consideration of. No man, therefore, ought to be judged as though he did transgress his rule, or go beyond his line, who soberly expresseth his sense of their evil and of the calamities wherewith they are attended. Yet must it not be denied but that much prudence and moderation are required unto the due management of such complaints; for those which either consist in, or are accompanied with, invectives against the persons or ways of others, instead of a rational discourse of the causes of such divisions and their remedies, do not only open, inflame, and irritate former wounds, but prove matters of new contention and strife, to their great increase. Besides, in the manifold divisions and differences of this nature amongst us, all men are supposed to be under an adherence unto some one party or other. Herein every man stands at the same distance from others as they do from him. Now, all complaints of this kind carry along with them a tacit justification of those by whom they are made; for no man can be so profligate as to judge himself, and the way of religious worship wherein he is engaged, to be the cause of blamable divisions amongst Christians, and yet continue therein: reflections, therefore, of guilt upon others they are usually replenished withal. But if those are not attended with evident light and unavoidable conviction, because they proceed from persons supposed not indifferent, yea, culpable in this very matter more or less themselves, by them whom they reflect upon, they are generally turned into occasions of new exasperations and contests. And hence it is come to pass, that although all good men do on all occasions bewail the want of love, forbearance, and condescension that is found among professors of the gospel, and the divisions which follow thereon, yet no comfortable nor advantageous effects do thence ensue. Yea, not only is all expectation of that blessed fruit, which a general serious consent unto such complaints might produce, as yet utterly frustrated, but the small remainders of love and peace amongst us are hazarded and impaired, by mutual charges of the want and loss of them on the principles and practices of each other. We have, therefore, need of no small watchfulness and care, lest in this matter it fall out with us as it did with the Israelites of old on another occasion, 2 Sam. xix. 41–43. For when they had, by a sinful sedition, cast out David from amongst them, and from reigning over them, after a little while, seeing their folly and iniquity, they assembled together with one consent to bring him home again; but in the very beginning of their endeavours to this purpose, 61falling into a dispute about which of the tribes had the greatest interest in him, they not only desisted from their first design, but fell into another distemper of no less dangerous importance than what they were newly delivered from. It must be acknowledged that there hath been a sinful decay of love among professors of the gospel in this nation, if not a violent casting of it out, by such prejudices and corrupt affections as wherewith it is wholly inconsistent. And it would be a matter of no small lamentation if, upon the blooming of a design for its recovery and reduction, with all its train of forbearance, condescension, gentleness, and peace, if any such design there be, by contests about the occasions and causes of its absence, with too much fierceness in our own vindication, and pleas of a special interest in it above others, new distempers should be raised, hazarding its everlasting exclusion.
In this state of things we have hitherto contented ourselves with the testimony of our own hearts unto the sincerity of our desires, as to walk in love and peace with all men, so to exercise the fruits of them on all occasions administered unto us. And as this alone we have thus far opposed unto all those censures and reproaches which we have undergone to the contrary, so therewithal have we supported ourselves under other things which we have also suffered. Farther to declare our thoughts and principles, in and about the worship of God, than they are evidenced and testified unto by our practice, we have hitherto forborne, lest the most moderate claims of an especial interest in the common faith and love of Christians should occasion new contests and troubles unto ourselves and others. And we have observed, that sometimes an over-hasty endeavour to extinguish flames of this nature hath but increased and diffused them, when, perhaps, if left alone, their fuel would have failed, and themselves expired. Besides, a peaceable practice, especially if accompanied with a quiet bearing of injuries, gives a greater conviction to unprejudiced minds of peaceable principles and inclinations than any verbal declaration, whose sincerity is continually obnoxious to the blast of evil surmises. In a resolution, therefore, to the same purpose we had still continued, had we not so openly and frequently been called on either to vindicate our innocency or to confess and acknowledge our evil. One of these, we hope, is the aim and tendency of all those charges or accusations, for want of love, peaceableness, and due compliance with others, of being the authors and fomenters of schisms and divisions, that have been published against us, on the account of our dissent from some constitutions of the church of England: for we do not think that any good men can please themselves in merely accusing their brethren, whereby they add to the weight of their present troubles, and evidently expose them unto more; for every charge of guilt on 62those who are already under sufferings gives new encouragement and fierceness to the minds of them from whom they suffer. And as no greater encouragement can be given unto men to proceed in any way wherein they are engaged than by their justification in what they have already done; so the only justification of those who have stirred up persecution against others consists in charging guilt on them that are persecuted. As, therefore, we shall readily acknowledge any evil in our persons, principles, or ways, which we are or may be convinced of; so the sober vindication of truth and innocency, that none of the ways of God be evil spoken of by reason of us, is a duty in the care whereof we are no less concerned. Yea, did we design and directly endeavour our own justification, we should do no more than the prime dictates of the law of nature, and the example of some of the best of men, will give us a sufficient warrant for. Besides, the clearing of private persons, especially if they are many, from undue charges and false accusations, belongs unto public good, that those who have the administration of it committed unto them may not be misled to make a wrong judgment concerning what they have to do, as David was in the case of Mephibosheth, upon the false suggestions of Ziba, 2 Sam. xvi. 4. Neither could we be justly blamed should we be more than ordinarily urgent herein, considering how prone the ears of men are to receive calumnious accusations concerning such as from whom they expect neither profit nor advantage, and how slow in giving admittance to an address of the most modest defensative. But this is the least part of our present design. Our only aim is, to declare those principles concerning mutual love and unity among Christians, and practices in the worship of God, wherein our own consciences do find rest and peace, and others have so much misjudged us about. This, therefore, we shall briefly do, and that without such reflections or recriminations as may any way exasperate the spirits of others, or in the least impede that re-introduction of love and concord which it is the duty of us all to labour in. Wherefore we shall herein have no regard unto the revilings, reproaches, and threatenings of them who seem to have had no regard to truth, or modesty, or sobriety, indeed to God or man, in the management of them. With such it is our duty not to strive, but to commit our cause to Him that judgeth righteously, especially with respect unto those impure outrages which go before unto judgment. Furious persons, animated by their secular interests or desire of revenge, unacquainted with the spirit of the gospel and the true nature of the religion revealed by Jesus Christ, incompassionate towards the infirmities of the minds of men, whereof yet none in the world give greater instances than themselves, who have no thoughts but to trample under foot and destroy all that differ from them, we 63shall rather pity and pray for, than either contend withal or hope to convince. Such they are, as, if outward prevalency were added to their principles and desires, they would render all Christians like the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, who came out to fight against Judah, 2 Chron. xx. 23. The two greater parties, upon some difference or distaste, conspire at first to destroy the inhabitants of Seir, not doubting but that, when they had despatched them out of the way, they should accord well enough among themselves; but the event deceived their expectation, — their rage ceased not until issued in the mutual destruction of them all. No otherwise would it be with those who want nothing but force or opportunity to exterminate their next dissenters in matters of religion; for when they had accomplished that design, the same principle and rage would arm them to the wasting of the residue of Christians, or their own, for a conceit of the lawfulness hereof is raised from a desire of enlarging power and dominion, which is boundless. Especially is it so where an empire over the reason, faith, and consciences of men is affected; which first produced the fatal engine of papal infallibility, that nothing else could have strained the wit of men to invent, and nothing less can support. Unto such as these we shall not so much as tender satisfaction, until they are capable of receiving the advice of the apostle, Eph. iv. 31, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice;” for until this be done, men are to be esteemed but as “raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame,” whom it is to no purpose to seek to pacify, much less to contend withal.
It is for the sake of them alone who really value and esteem love, peace, and unity among Christians for themselves, that we here tender an account of our thoughts and principles concerning them; for even of them there are some who unduly charge us with owning of principles destructive unto Christian love and condescension, and suited to perpetuate the schisms and divisions that are amongst us. Whether this hath been occasioned by an over-valuation of their own apprehensions, conceiting that their judgments ought to give rule and measure to other men’s; or whether they have been, it may be insensibly unto themselves, biased by provocations, as they suppose, unjustly given them; we are not out of hopes but that they may be convinced of their mistakes. Upon their indications we have searched our consciences, principles, and practices, to find whether there be any such way of perverseness in them as we are charged withal; and may with confidence say that we have a discharge from thence, where we are principally concerned. Having, therefore, satisfied that duty which on this occasion was in the first place incumbent on us, we shall now, for their satisfaction and our 64own vindication with all impartial men, declare what are our thoughts and judgments, what are our principles, ways, and practices, in and about the great concerns of Christian love, unity, and peace, referring the final decision of all differences unto Him who “hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained.”
This being our present design, none may expect that we should attempt to justify or excuse any of those miscarriages or failings that are charged on some or all of those professors of the gospel who at this day come not up unto full communion with the church of England; for we know that “no man liveth and sinneth not,” yea, that “in many things we all offend.” We all know but in part, and are liable to manifold temptations, even all such as are common unto men. Those only we have no esteem of who through the fever of pride have lost the understanding of their own weak, frail, and sinful condition. And we do acknowledge that there are amongst us “sins against the Lord our God,” for which he might not only give us up unto the reproaches and wrath of men in this world, but himself also cast us off utterly and forever. We shall not, therefore, in the least complain of those who have most industriously represented unto the public view of the world the weakness and miscarriages that have fallen out amongst some or more of them whose cause we plead, and discovered those corrupt affections from whence, helped on with variety of temptations, they might probably proceed; nor shall we use any reflections on them who have severely, and we fear maliciously, laid to their charge things which they knew not; as hoping that by the former the guilty may learn what to amend, now they are taught with such thorns and briers as are the scorns and reproaches of the world, and by the latter the innocent may know what to avoid. Such charges and accusations, therefore, we shall wholly pass over, with our hearty prayers that the same or worse evils may never be found amongst them by whom they are accused. Much less shall we concern ourselves in those reflections on them which are raised from the words, expressions, or actions of particular persons, as they have been reported and tossed up and down in the lips of talkers. The debate of such things tends only to mutual exasperations and endless strife. It may be, also, that for the most part they are false, or misreported invidiously, or misapplied; and, true or false, have been sufficiently avenged by severe retortions. And in such altercations few men understand the sharpness of their own words. Their edge is towards them whom they oppose; but when a return of the like expressions is made unto themselves, they are sensible how they pierce. So are provocations heightened, and the first intendment of reducing love ends in mutual defamatory 65contentions. All things, therefore, of this nature we shall pass over, and help to bury by our silence.
The principal charge against us, and that whereinto all others are resolved, is our nonconformity unto the present constitutions of the church of England; for hence we are accused to be guilty of the want of Christian love and peaceableness, of schism, and an inclination to all sorts of divisions, contrary to the rules and precepts of the gospel. Now, we think it not unreasonable to desire that those who pass such censures on us would attend unto the common known rule, whereby alone a right judgment in these cases may be made; for it is not equal that we should be concluded by other men’s particular measures, as though by them we were to be regulated in the exercise of love and observance of peace. And as we doubt not but that they fix those measures unto themselves in sincerity, according unto their own light and apprehension of things, so we are sure it will be no impeachment of their wisdom or holiness to judge that others who differ from them do with an equal integrity endeavour the direction and determination of their consciences in what they believe and practice; yea, if they have not pregnant evidence to the contrary, it is their duty so to judge. A defect hereof is the spring of all that want of love whereof so great a complaint is made. And rationally they are to be thought most sincere and scrupulous herein who take up with determinations that are greatly to their outward disadvantage; for unless it be from a conviction of present duty with respect unto God and their own eternal good, men are not easily induced to close with a judgment about sacred things and religious worship, which will not only certainly prejudice them, but endanger their ruin in things temporal. It is ordinarily outward secular advantages, wherewith the minds of men are generally too much affected, that give an easy admission unto persuasions and practices in religion. By these are men turned and changed every day from what before they professed, when we hear of no turnings unto a suffering profession but what arise from strong and unavoidable convictions. Moreover, should we endeavour to accommodate ourselves to the lines of other men, it may make some change of the persons with whom we have to do, but would not in the least relieve us against the charges of guilt, of schism, and want of love, which we suffer under. Some would prescribe this measure unto us: That we should occasionally join with parish assemblies, as now stated, in all their worship and sacred administrations, but will not require of us that we should absolutely forbear all other ways and means of our own edification. Will this measure satisfy all amongst us? will it free us from the imputation we suffer under? shall we not be said any more to want Christian love, to be factious or guilty of schism? 66It is known unto all how little it will conduce unto these ends, and how little the most will grant that church peace is preserved thereby. Yea, the difficulty will be increased upon us beyond what an ordinary ability can solve, though we doubt not but that it may be done, for if we can do so much, we may expect justly to be pressed severely to answer why we do no more; for others say immediately that our attendance on the public worship must be constant, with a forbearance of all other ways of religious worship beyond that of a family: yet this they would have us so to do, as in the meantime studiously to endeavour the reformation of what is judged amiss in the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church. This is the measure which is prescribed unto us by some, and we know not how many censures are passed upon us for a nonconformity thereunto. Will, therefore, a compliance unto this length better our condition? will it deliver us from the severest reflections of being persons unpeaceable and intolerable? Shall we live in a perpetual dissimulation of our judgments as to what needeth reformation? will that answer our duty, or give us peace in our latter end? Shall we profess the persuasions of our minds in these things, and endeavour by all lawful means to accomplish what we desire? shall we then escape the severest censures, as of persons inclined to schisms and divisions? Yea, many great and wise men of the church of England do look on this as the most pernicious principle and practice that any can betake themselves unto; and in reporting the memorials of former times,11 Heyl. Hist. of Presb. some of them have charged all the calamities and miseries that have befallen their church to have proceeded from men of this principle endeavouring reformation according unto models of their own without separation. And could we conscientiously betake ourselves to the pursuit of the same design, we should not, especially under present jealousies and exasperations, escape the same condemnation that others before us have undergone. And so it is fallen out with some; which might teach them that their measures are not authentic; and they might learn moderation towards them who cannot come up unto them, by the severity they meet withal from those that do outgo them. Shall we, therefore, — which alone seems to remain, — proceed yet farther, and, making a renunciation of all those principles conceiving the constitution, rule, and discipline of the church, with the ways and manner of the worship of God to be observed in the assemblies of it, which we have hitherto professed, come over unto a full conformity unto the present constitution of the church of England, and all the proceedings of its rulers thereon? “Yea, this is that,” say some, “which is required of you, and that which would put an end unto all our 67differences and divisions.” We know, indeed, that an agreement in any thing or way, right or wrong, true or false, will promise so to do, and appear so to do for a season; but it is truth alone that will make such agreements durable or useful. And we are not engaged in an inquiry merely after peace, but after peace with truth. Yea, to lay aside the consideration of truth, in a disquisition after peace and agreement in and about spiritual things, is to exclude a regard unto God and his authority, and to provide only for ourselves. And what it is which at present lays a prohibition on our consciences against the compliance proposed shall be afterward declared. Neither will we here insist upon the discouragements that are given us from the present state of the church itself; which yet are not a few. Only, we must say, that there doth not appear unto us in many that steadiness in the profession of the truth owned amongst us upon and since the Reformation, nor that consent upon the grounds and reasons of the government and discipline in it that we are required to submit unto, which were necessary to invite any dissenters to a thorough conformity unto it. That there are daily inroads made upon the ancient doctrine of this church, and that without the least control from them who pretend to be the sole conservators of it, until, if not the whole, yet the principal parts of it are laid waste, is sufficiently evident, and may be easily proved. And we fear not to own that we cannot conform to Arminianism [and] Socinianism, on the one hand, or Popery on the other, with what new or specious pretences soever they may be blended. And for the ecclesiastical government, as in the hands of our mere ecclesiastical persons, when it is agreed among themselves whether it be from heaven or of men, we shall know the better how to judge of it. But suppose we should waive all such considerations, and come up to a full conformity unto all that is, or shall, or may be required of us, will this give us a universally pleadable acquitment from the charges of the guilt of want of love, schism, and divisions? We should, indeed, possibly be delivered from the noise and clamour of a few crying-out sectaries, fanatics, schismatics, church-dividers; but withal should continue under the censures of the great, and at present thriving church of Rome, for the same supposed crimes. And sure enough we are, that a compliance with them who have been the real causes and occasions of all the schisms and divisions that are amongst Christians almost in the whole world, would yield us no solid relief in the change of our condition; yet without this no men can free themselves from the loudest outcries against them on the account of schism. And this sufficiently manifests how little indeed they are to be valued, seeing, for the most part, they are nothing but the steam of interest and party. It is therefore apparent, that the accommodations of our judgments and 68practices to the measures of other men will afford us no real advantage as to the imputations we suffer under, nor will give satisfaction unto all professors of Christianity that we pursue love and peace in a due manner: for what one sort requireth of us, another will instantly disallow and condemn; and it is well if the judgment of the major part of all sorts be not influenced by custom, prejudices, and secular advantages. We have, therefore, no way left but that which, indeed, ought to be the only way of Christians in these things, — namely, to seek in sincerity the satisfaction of our own consciences, and the approving of our hearts unto the Searcher of them, in a diligent attendance unto our own especial duty, according to that rule which will neither deceive us nor fail us; and an account of what we do herein we shall now tender unto them that follow truth with peace.
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