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No other church-state of divine institution.
It may be it will be generally granted, I am sure it cannot be modestly denied, that particular churches or congregations are of a divine original institution; as also, that the primitive churches continued long in that form or order. But it will be farther pleaded, that granting or supposing this divine institution of particular churches, yet there may be churches of another form and order also, as diocesan or national, that we are obliged to submit unto: for although the apostles appointed that there should be bishops or elders ordained κατὰ πόλιν, — that is, in every city and town where Christian religion was received; and Clemens affirmeth that they did themselves constitute bishops and deacons κατὰ χώρας καὶ πόλεις, — in the regions, or villages and cities; yet there was another form afterward introduced. Theodoret, bishop of Cyprus, affirms that there were eight hundred churches committed to his care, Epist. ciii., whereof many were in towns and cities having no bishop of their own. The whole country of Scythia, though there were in it many cities, villages, and fortresses, yet had but one bishop, whose residence was at Tomis, all other churches being under him; as Sozomen declares, lib. vi. cap. 20. So it is at this day in divers provinces belonging of old unto the Greek church; as in Moldavia and Wallachia, where they have one whom they call the ἡγούμενος, — the leader or ruler, that presides over all the churches in the nation. And this order of things, that there should not be a bishop in smaller churches, was first confirmed in the sixth canon of the council of Sardis, in the year 347.
In answer hereunto I shall do these two things:— First, I shall show that there is no church order, state, or church form of divine institution, that doth any way impede, take away, or overthrow the liberty, power, and order of particular congregations, such as we have described. Secondly, I shall inquire into the causes of churches of another state or order, as the power of magistrates and rulers, or their own choice and consent:—
1. There is no form, order, or church-state, divinely instituted, that should annul the institution of particular congregations, or abridge them of their liberties, or deprive them of the power committed unto them.
It is such a church-state alone that we are now concerned to quire after. Whatever of that kind either is or may be imagined that intrenches not on the state, liberty, and power of particular congregations, is not of our present consideration. Men may frame and 314order what they please; and what advantage they make thereby shall not be envied unto them, whilst they injure not any of the institutions, of Christ. But, —
(1.) These churches, as they are churches, are meet and able to attain the ends of churches To say they are churches, and yet have not in themselves power to attain the ends of churches, is to speak contradictions, or to grant and deny the same thing in the same breath; for a church is nothing but such a society as hath power, ability, and fitness to attain those ends for which Christ hath ordained churches: that which hath so is a church, and that which hath not so is none. Men may, if they please, deny them to be churches, but then I know not where they will find any that are so. For instance, suppose men should deny all the parochial churches in England to be such churches as are intrusted with church-power and administrations, what church, in the first instance, could they require our communion withal? Will they say, it is with the national or diocesan churches? Neither of these do or can, as such, administer sacred ordinances A man cannot preach nor hear the word but in a particular assembly; the Lord’s supper cannot be administered but in a particular congregation; nor any presential, local communion of believers among themselves, like that described by the apostle, 1 Cor. xii. and xiv. be otherwise attained. No communion is firstly and immediately required, or can be required, with diocesan churches, as such. Wherefore, it is parochial, particular churches that we are required to hold communion with. We say, therefore, these parochial churches are either really and truly so endued with church power and liberty, or they are not. If they are, or are acknowledged so to be, we have herein obtained what we plead for; — if they are not, then are we required to join in church-communion with those societies that are not churches; and if we refrain so doing, we are charged with schism, which is to turn religion into ridicule: for, —
(2.) It is utterly foreign to the Scripture, and a monster unto antiquity (I mean that which is pure and regardable in this cause), that there should be churches with a part, half, more or less, of church-power and not the whole, neither in right nor exercise; or that there should be church-officers, elders, presbyters, or bishops, that should have a partiary power, half or a third part, or less, of that which entirely belongeth unto the office they hold. Let one testimony be given out of the Scripture, or that antiquity which we appeal unto, unto his purpose, and we shall cease our plea But this is that which our understandings are set on rack withal every day; — there is a national church, that is intrusted with supreme church-power in the nation whereof it is. Here, at the entrance, we fall into a double disquietment.
315For, — [1.] We know not as yet what this national church is, here (or in France), nor of what persons it doth consist. [2.] We know not whether this national church have all the power that Christ hath given unto the church, or that there is a reserve for some addition from beyond sea, if things were well accommodated. Then, that there are diocesan churches, whose original, with the causes and occasions of their bounds, limits, power, and manner of administration, I think God alone knows perfectly, we do but guess; for there is not one word mentioned of any of their concernments in the Scripture. And we know that these churches cannot be said to have all the power that Christ hath intrusted his church withal, because there is another church unto which they are in subjection, and on which they do depend; but it seems they have the next degree of power unto that which is uppermost. But whatever their power be, it is so administered by chancellors, commissaries, officials, in such ways and for such ends, that I shall believe a dissent from them and it to be schism when I believe it is midnight whilst the sun shines in his full strength and glory. And then we are told of parochial churches, who have this power only, that if we do not in them whatever is required of us, not by them but those that are put over them, they can inform against us, that we may be mulcted and punished.
(3.) It will be said that these churches, as such, were indeed originally intrusted and invested with all church rights, power, and authority, but for many weighty reasons are abridged in sundry things of the exercise of them; for who can think it meet that every single parish should be intrusted with the exercise of all church rule and power among themselves?
Ans. 1. Whose fault is it that these churches are not meet for the exercise of that power which Christ hath granted unto such churches? If it be from themselves, their negligence, or ignorance, or wickedness, it is high time they were reformed, and brought into that state and condition wherein they may be fit and able to answer the ends of their institution. 2. They are indeed sorry churches that are not as meet to exercise all church-power, according to the mind of Christ, as the chancellor’s court. 3. There is no power pleaded for in congregational churches but what is granted unto them by the word and constitution of Christ. And who is he that shall take this from them, or deprive them of its exercise or right thereunto? (1.) It is not done, nor, ever was by Jesus Christ himself. He doth not pull down what himself hath built; nor doth any one institution of his in the least interfere with any other. It is true, the Lord Christ by his law deprives all churches of their power, yea, of their state, who walk, act, and exercise a power not derived from him, but set up against him, and used unto such ends as are opposite unto and destructive 316of the ends of church-order by him appointed; but to imagine that whilst a Church claims no power but what it receives from him, useth it only for him and in obedience unto his commands, he hath, by any act, order, or constitution, taken away that power or any part of it from such a church, is a vain supposition. (2.) Such churches cannot by any act of their own deprive themselves of this right and power; for, — [1.] It is committed unto them in a way of trust, which they falsify if by their own consent they part with it; [2.] Without it they cannot discharge many duties required of them. To part with this power is to renounce their duty; which is the only way whereby they may lose it. And if it be neither taken from them by any law, rule, or constitution of Christ, nor can be renounced or foregone by themselves, what other power under heaven can justly deprive them of it or hinder them in its execution? The truth is, the principal means which hath rendered the generality of parochial churches unmeet for the exercise of any church-power is, that their interest in it and right unto it hath been so long unjustly detained from them, as that they know not at all what belongs thereunto, being hidden from them by those who should instruct them in it. And might they be admitted, under the conduct of pious and prudent officers, unto any part of the practice of this duty in their assemblies, their understanding in it would quickly be increased.
That right, power, or authority which we thus assign unto all particular churches gathered according unto the mind of Christ, is that, and that only, which is necessary to their own preservation in their state and purity, and unto the discharge of all those duties which Christ requireth of the church.
2. Now, although they may not justly by any be deprived hereof, yet it may be inquired whether there may not an addition of ecclesiastical power be made unto that which is of original institution, for the good of the whole number of churches that are of the same communion. And this may be done, either by the power and authority of the supreme magistrate, with respect unto all the churches in his dominion; or it may be so by the churches themselves erecting a new power, in a combination of some, many, or all of them, which they had not in them singly and distinctly before.
For the power of the magistrate in and about religion, it: hath been much debated and disputed in some latter ages. For three hundred years there was no mention of it in the church, because no supreme powers did then own the Christian religion. For the next three hundred years there were great ascriptions unto supreme magistrates, to the exaltation of their power; and much use was made thereof among the churches by such as had the best interest in them. The next three hundred years was, as unto this case, much taken up 317with disputes about this power between the emperors and the popes of Rome; sometimes one side gaining the advantage in some especial instances, sometimes the other. But from that period of time, or thereabouts, the contest came to blows, and the blood of some hundred thousands was shed in the controversy, — namely, about the power of emperors and kings on the one side, and the popes of Rome on the other. In the issue, the popes abode masters of the field, and continued in actual possession of all ecclesiastical power, though sometimes mixed with the rebellion of one stubborn prince or other, as here frequently in England, who controlled them in some of their new acquisitions. Upon the public reformation of religion, many princes threw off the yoke of the papal rule, and, according to the doctrine of the reformers, assumed unto themselves the power which, as they judged, the godly kings of Judah of old and the first Christian emperors did exercise about ecclesiastical affairs. From that time there have been great and vehement disputes about the ecclesiastical power of sovereign princes and states. I shall not here undertake to treat concerning it, although it is a matter of no great difficulty to demonstrate the extremes that many have run into, some by granting too much, and some too little unto them. And I shall grant, for my part, that too much cannot well be assigned unto them whilst these two principles are preserved:— 1. That no supreme magistrate hath power to deprive or abridge the churches of Christ of any right, authority, or liberty granted unto them by Jesus Christ; 2. Nor hath any to coerce, punish, or kill any persons (being civilly peaceable and morally honest) because they are otherwise minded in things concerning gospel faith and worship than he is.
It hath not yet been disputed whether the supreme magistrate hath power to ordain, institute, and appoint any new form or state of churches, supposedly suited unto the civil interest, which were never ordained or appointed by Christ. It hath not, I say, been disputed under these terms expressly, though really the substance of the controversy lies therein. To assert this expressly would be to exalt him above Jesus Christ, at least to give him power equal unto his; though really unto the institution of the gospel church-state, and the communication of graces, offices, and gifts to make it useful unto its end, no less than all power in heaven and earth be required.
Some plead that there is no certain form of church-government appointed in the Scripture, — that there was none ordained by Christ, nor exemplified by the apostles; and therefore it is in the power of the magistrate to appoint any such form thereof as is suited unto the public interest. It would seem to follow more evidently that no form at all should by any be appointed; for what shall he do that 318cometh after the King? — what shall any one ordain in the church which, the Lord Christ thought not meet to ordain? And this is the proper inference from this consideration: Such a church-government as men imagine, Christ hath not appointed; therefore, neither may men to so. But suppose that the Lord Christ hath appointed a church-state, or that there should be churches of his disciples on the earth; let them therein but yield obedience unto all that he hath commanded, and in their so doing make use of the light of nature and rules of common prudence, so as to do it unto their own edification (which to deny to be their duty is to destroy their nature as created of God), trusting in all things unto the conduct of the promised divine assistance of the Holy Spirit; — if any instance can be given of what is wanting unto the complete state and rule of the church, we shall willingly allow that it be added by the civil magistrate, or whomsoever men can agree upon, as was before declared. If it be said there is yet something wanting to accommodate these churches and their rule unto the state of the public interest and political government under which they are placed, whereon they may be framed into churches diocesan and metropolitical, with such a rule as they are capable of, I say, — 1. That in their original constitution they are more accommodated unto the interest of all righteous secular government than any arbitrary moulding them unto a pretended meetness to comply therewithal can attain unto. This we have proved before, and shall farther enlarge upon it if it be required. And we find it by experience, that those additions, changes, and alterations in the state, order, and rule of the churches, pretended for the end mentioned, have proved the cause of endless contentions; which have no good aspect on the public peace, and will assuredly continue for ever so to be. 2. It is granted that the magistrate may dispose of many outward concerns of these churches; may impart of his favour to them, or any of them, as he sees cause; may take care that nothing falls out among them that may occasion any public disturbance in and by itself; may prohibit the public exercise of worship idolatrous or superstitious; may remove and take away all instruments and monuments of idolatry; may coerce, restrain, and punish, as there is occasion, persons who, under pretence of religion, do advance principles of sedition, or promote any foreign interest opposite and destructive to his government, the welfare of the nation, and the truth of religion; with sundry things of the like nature. And herein lies an ample field, wherein the magistrate may exercise his power and discharge his duty.
It cannot well be denied but that the present pretences and pleas of some to reduce all things in the practice of religion into the power and disposal of the civil magistrate are full of offence and scandal. 319It seems to be only a design and contrivance to secure men’s secular interests under every way of the profession of Christian religion, true or false, which may have the advantage of the magistrate’s approbation. By this device conscience is set at liberty from concerning itself in an humble, diligent inquiry into the mind of God as unto what is its duty in his worship; and when it is so with the conscience of any, it will not be much concerned in what it doth attend unto or observe. What is, in divine things, done or practised solely on the authority of the magistrate is immediately and directly obedience unto him, and not unto God.
Whatever, therefore, the supreme power in any place may do, or will be pleased to do, for the accommodation of the outward state of the church and the exercise of its rule unto the political government of a people or nation, yet these two things are certain:—
1. That he can form, erect, or institute no new church-state which is not ordained and appointed by Christ, and his apostles by virtue of his authority; and what he doth of that nature appoint is called a church only equivocally, or by reason of some resemblance unto that which is properly so called.
2. To dissent from what is so appointed by the supreme power, in and about the state, form, rule, and worship of churches, whatever other evil it may be charged with or supposed liable unto, can have nothing in it of that which the Scripture condemns under the name of schism, which hath respect only unto what is stated by Christ himself.
That which in this place we should next inquire into is, what these particular churches themselves may do, by their own voluntary consent and act, in a way of association or otherwise, for the accumulation and exercise of a power not formally inherent in them as particular churches; but I shall refer it unto the head of the communion of churches, which must be afterward spoken unto.
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