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Of conformity and communion in parochial assemblies.
From what we have insisted on we may borrow some light into the determination of that case wherein multitudes are at this day concerned. And the case itself may be briefly stated in this inquiry, — namely, Whether all Protestants, ministers and people, are bound to join a themselves unto the church of England, as now by law established in its parochial assemblies, as unto complete, constant communion, without the use of any other church means for their own edification, so as if they do not so do they are guilty of schism? This is that which is called “conformity unto the church of England;” which, as unto private persons, can be expressed only in constant, complete communion in parochial assemblies, according to their present constitution, without the use or exercise of any other church worship or discipline but what is by law established in them. Refraining from an absolute compliance herein is called schism. But whereas ecclesiastical schism, whatever it be in particular, in its general nature hath respect only unto divine institutions, this, which respecteth only the laws, rules, and determinations of men, can have no alliance thereunto. Yet it is not only charged as such, without the least countenance from Scripture or antiquity, so far as it may be allowed of authority with us, but the supposition of it is accumulated with another evil, — namely, that those who are so guilty (of it), in the judgment of them who are intrusted with secular power, though peaceable and orthodox, ought to be punished with various penalties, gradually coming unto the loss of goods, liberty, and in some cases of life itself; — an opinion ignominious unto Christian religion, however vapoured withal by young men, whose wit flies above all serious consideration of things and their circumstances, and countenanced by others, from an influence of interest, who otherwise would, not be imposed on by such an anti-evangelical presumption. I shall, therefore, at the utmost distance from interest or passion, briefly consider the case proposed, and give an account of my thoughts concerning it.
1. One or two things are usually premised unto the consideration of this case; as, namely, —
345(1.) That those who refrain from that communion with the church of England which we insist upon do yet agree therewith in all important doctrines of faith; which is the foundation, the life and soul of church union and communion. This I freely grant, but with this limitation, that this agreement respects the doctrine as declared at the first reformation, and explained in the age next ensuing thereon. If there be a change made in or of these doctrines, or any of them, by any in or of the church of England, we profess our disagreement from them, and do declare that thereby the foundation of our communion with them is weakened, and the principal bond of it loosened.
(2.) That not only as Christians, but as reformed Protestants, we do agree in the renunciation of the doctrines and worship of the church of Rome; which are opposed by the common consent of all those who are usually so called. Yet this must be added thereunto, that if any in or of the church of England should make an accession unto any parts of the doctrine and worship of the Roman church, not avowed or warranted by the consent of the church in its first reformation, we are not, we cannot be, obliged unto communion with them therein; and by their so doing, the original bond of our communion is weakened if not dissolved.
2. These things being premised, we shall inquire, in the first place, what is the rule of that communion with the church of England in its parochial assemblies which is required of us. If this be pleaded to be a rule of divine prescription, we acknowledge that great diligence and humility are required unto the consideration of it, that we be not mistaken. And if it prove to be according to the mind of Christ, — that is, of his institution, — if we fail of a compliance with it, we are guilty of schism. But if the rule prescribing, limiting, and exacting this communion, be not so much as pleaded to be of divine institution, whatever fault there may be in our dissent from it, schism it is not: for ecclesiastical schism neither hath nor can have respect unto any thing but divine institutions; for if it hath, it is in the power of an sort of men to make schismatics of whom they please, as, practically and in pretence, it is come to pass at this day in the world. Now, the rule of the communion required is, the law of the land, the Book of Canons, with the rubric of the Common Prayer. If, according to the prescriptions, directions, and commands given in them, we do join ourselves in communion with parochial assemblies, then are we judged conformable to the church of England, and not else. By and according unto these are all inquiries made concerning communion with the church; and if they are observed, the return is, “omnia bene.” Now, this rule hath no divine warrant for its institution, no example in the primitive churches, especially considering 346what are the things which it obliges us unto, nor can be made consistent with the liberty wherewith Christ hath made his disciples free. A dissent from this rule is as far from schism as any man need desire it; for nothing is so but what respects some command or institution of Christ, which immediately affects the conscience. It is true, the Lord Christ hath commanded that love, union, peace, and order, whereof schism is a disturbance, and whereunto it is opposite; but they are that love, union, and order which he hath appointed. To suppose that he hath left it unto men to invent and appoint a new kind of union and order, — which is done in the rule we treat of, — which he never required, and then to oblige his disciples unto the observation of it, be it what it will, so as that their dissent from it should be criminal, and that for this reason, that it is so appointed of men, is no small mistake. And if all that love, union, peace, and order, which the Lord Jesus hath enjoined his disciples, may be punctually observed without any respect unto this rule as a rule of church-communion, to dissent from it, whatever fault of another kind it may be, is no more schism than it is adultery. And if, on some men’s arbitrary constitution of this rule, and the dissent of others from it, such differences and divisions ensue as seem to have the general nature of schism, the evil of them belongs unto those alone by whom the rule is framed. If, indeed, some should frame such a rule of church-communion because they suppose they see cause for it, and would then leave it unto others to observe as they see cause, if it be not o use, it would not be liable unto much abuse. But whereas our Lord Jesus Christ hath given one and the same rule equally unto all his disciples in these things, — namely, that they should observe and do all that he hath commanded them, — for some of them, on any pretence or plea whatever, as of their being the church, or the like, arbitrarily to frame a rule of their own, as an addition unto his, obliging all others unto a strict observance of it because they have so framed it, is that which neither the Scripture nor primitive antiquity knows any thing of.
I will not inquire what is that power and authority whereby this rule constituted and confirmed, nor in whom it doth reside. The name of the church is usually pretended and pleaded. But before any can be concerned herein, all that hath been pleaded for the true state and nature of evangelical churches must be overthrown; which will not be done speedily. Railings, revilings, and reproaches will not do it. But until this is done, it will be believed that every particular congregation is indispensably obliged in itself to observe and do all the commands of Christ, and is left at liberty so to regulate the outward circumstances of its worship and order as is best for its own edification, whereof itself is the most competent judge. But as 347for a church of another sort, invested with authority to make a rule, not only as rote the outward circumstances of those actions wherein church order and worship do consist, but as unto sundry religious rites and observances, which thereby are added unto it, and impose the observance of it on a great multitude of other congregations, without their consent, whether they judge the things enjoined to be for their edification or otherwise, it is apparently not from heaven, but of men. Wherefore, leave Christians and churches at that liberty which Christ hath purchased for them, wherewith he hath made them free, and then let those who first break union and order bear the charge of schism; which they cannot avoid.
3. The church-communion required by virtue of this rule is constant and complete, exclusive unto any other church-order or means of public edification. It doth not command or appoint that men should communicate in parochial assemblies when there is occasion, when it is for their edification, when scandal would arise if they should refuse it; but absolutely and completely. And whereas there are many things relating unto church-order and divine worship enjoined in that rule, there is no distinction made between them, — some things that are always necessary (that is, in the seasons of them), and some things wherein men may forbear a compliance, — but they are all equally required in their places and seasons, though perhaps on different penalties. And whoever fails in the observation of any ceremony, time, or place, appointed therein, is in the power of them who are intrusted with the administration of church power or jurisdiction; for the discipline of the church it cannot be called. Suppose a man would comply with all other things, only he esteems the use of one rite or ceremony, as the cross in baptism, or the like, to be unlawful; if he forbear the use of it, or to tender his child unto baptism where it is used, he is to be cut off as a schismatic from the communion of the church, no less than if he had absolutely refused a compliance with the whole rule. And, therefore, whatever condescension and forbearance a some things is pretended, he that doth not in all things observe the whole rule is in “misericordia cancellarii;” which oft proves an uneasy posture. If any men think that the Lord Christ hath given them such a power and authority over the souls and consciences of his disciples, as that they can bind them unto the religious observance of every rite and ceremony that they are pleased to appoint, on the penalty of excision from all church-communion and the guilt of schism, I shall only say that I am not of their mind, nor ever shall be so.
4. This communion contains a virtual approbation of all that is contained in the rule of it, as good for the edification of the church. It is certain that nothing is to be appointed in the church but what 348is so; even order itself, which these things it is said are framed for, is good only with respect thereunto. Now, it is to be judged that whatever a man practiseth in religion, that he approveth of; for if he do not, he is a vile hypocrite. Nor is he worthy the name of a Christian who will practice any thing in religion but what he approveth. The disputes that have been amongst us about doing things with a doubting conscience, upon the command of superiors, and consenting unto the use of things which we approve not of in themselves, tend all to atheism and the eternal dishonour of Christian religion begetting a frame of mind which an honest heathen would scorn. Wherefore, unless men be allowed to declare what it is they approve and what they do not, their practice is their profession of what they approve, which is the whole rule of communion prescribed unto them.
These things being premised, I shall propose some of those reasons on the account whereof many cannot conform unto the church of England, by joining in constant, complete communion with parochial assemblies, so as by their practice to approve the rule of that communion obliging themselves to use no other public means for their own edification:—
I. The church of England in its parochial assemblies stands in need of reformation; for it is apparent that either they fail in their original institution or else have degenerated from it. What hath already been discoursed concerning the original institution of churches, with men’s voluntary coalescency into such sacred societies, with what shall be afterward treated concerning their essential parts in matter and form, will sufficiently evidence their present deviation from the rule of their first institution. Neither, so far as I know, is it pleaded that they are distinct churches of divine institution, but secular appointments, as for other ends, so for an accommodation of men in the performance of some parts of divine worship. And if they are found no more, they can have no concernment into the inquiry about schism; for withholding church-communion from such societies as are not churches is a new kind of schism, unknown to all antiquity. And for that which takes itself to be a church by a divine warranty, suppose it be so, to command constant, complete communion, exclusive unto all other church-communion, with that or them which are no churches, determining a refusal thereof to be schism, is to undertake a cause which needs not only great parts but great power also to defend it.
But let these parochial assemblies be esteemed churches (without a supposition whereof I know not what ecclesiastical concernment we can have in them), three things will be said thereon:— 1. That the church of England, as in other things so in these parochial 349assemblies, stands in need of reformation. 2. That they neither do, nor will, nor can reform themselves. 3. On this supposition, it is lawful for any of the disciples of Christ to yield obedience unto him by joining in such societies for their edification as he hath appointed; which is the whole of the cause in hand. Nor doth any necessity from hence ensue of a departure from communion with the church of England in faith and love, or the profession of the same faith, and the due exercise of all the acts and duties of Christian love.
1. Unto the proof of the first assertion some things are to be premised; as, —
(1.) Churches instituted, planted, ruled according to the mind of Christ in all things, may degenerate into a corrupt state, such as shall stand in need of reformation; in a neglect whereof they must perish as unto their church-state and privileges. This needs no confirmation; for besides that it is possible, from all the causes of such an apostasy and defection, that so it should be, and it is frequently foretold in the Scripture that so it would be, the event in and among all churches that had originally a divine institution doth make uncontrollably evident. The seven churches of Asia, most of them within few years of their first plantation, were so degenerated that our Lord Jesus Christ threatened them with casting off unless they reformed themselves. What a woful apostasy all other churches, both of the east and west, were involved in, is known unto and confessed by all Protestants. But yet the case of none of them was deplorable or desperate, until, through pride and carnal interest, they fell some of them into a persuasion that they needed no reformation, nor could be reformed; which is become a principal article of faith in the Roman church. There was a reformation attempted, and attained in some measure, by some nations or churches in the last ages, from the corruption and impositions of the church of Rome. However, none of them ever pretended that it was complete or perfect, according to the pattern of the Scripture, as unto the institution and discipline of the churches; no, nor yet to the example of the primitive church c f after ages, as is acknowledged by the church of England in the beginning of the “commination against sinners.” But suppose it to be complete, to conclude that because an outward rule of it was established, so long as that outward rule is observed there can be no need of reformation, is a way to lead churches into a presumptuous security unto their ruin; for whereas men, being secured in their interest by that rule, are prejudiced against any progress in reformation beyond what they have attained, — which that it should be a duty is contrary unto the whole nature of Christian religion, which is the conduct of a spiritual life, in the growth and increase of light 350and a suitable obedience, — so they are apt to think that whilst they adhere unto that rule they can stand in no need of reformation, which, is but a new name for trouble and sedition, though it be the foundation on which they stand. But generally churches think that others stand in need of reformation, but they need none themselves. If they would but give them leave to reform themselves who judge that it is needful for them, without the least prejudice unto their church profession or secular interest, it is all that is desired of them.
(2.) Where churches do so stand in need of reformation, and will not reform themselves, being warned of their duty, the Lord Christ threatens to leave them, and assuredly will do so in the time that he hath limited unto his patience. This is the subject of five of his epistles or messages unto the churches of Asia, Rev. ii., iii. And where the Lord Christ doth, on any cause or provocation, withdraw his presence, in any kind or degree, from any church, it is the duty of any of the members of that church to remove from themselves the guilt of that provocation, though it cannot be done without a separation from that church. It is safer leaving of any church whatever than of Jesus Christ. I suppose most men think that if they had a warning from Christ charging their defection and calling for reformation, as those churches of Asia had, they would repent and reform themselves. But whereas it doth not appear that some of them did so, — whereon they were, not long after, deserted and destroyed, — it is like that there are others who would follow their steps though one should rise from the dead to warn them of their danger. But this instruction, that churches who lose their first faith, love, and works, who are negligent in discipline, and tolerate offensive evils in doctrines and manners among them, who are lukewarm as unto zeal, and dead, for the greatest part of their members, as unto the life of holiness, are disapproved by Christ, and in danger of being utterly deserted by him, is given unto all churches, no less divinely than if they had an immediate message from heaven about these things. Those, therefore, who, being under the guilt of them, do not reform themselves, cannot claim the necessity of a continuance in their communion from any disciples of Christ, as we shall see afterward.
(3.) Reformation respects either doctrine and worship, or obedience becoming the gospel. The debates about such a reformation as concerns the retaining or removing of certain ceremonies, we concern not ourselves in at present; nor shall we in this place insist on what concerns doctrine and worship, which may afterward be spoken unto. But we shall confine ourselves here unto the consideration of gospel obedience only. And we say, —
351That the church of England, in the generality of its parochial assemblies, and in itself, stands in need of reformation, by reason of the woful degeneracy of the generality of its members, — that is, the inhabitants of the land, — from the rule of the gospel and commands of Christ, as unto spiritual light, faith, love, holiness, charity, and abounding n the fruits of righteousness unto the praise of God by Jesus Christ. These things are the immediate ends of church societies, the principal means whereby God is glorified in the world. Where they are neglected, where they are not attained, where they are not duly improved by the generality of the members of any church, that church, I think, stands in need of reformation.
This assertion may seem somewhat importune and severe; but when the sins of a church or nation are come to that height, in all ranks, sorts, and degrees of men, that all persons of sobriety do fear daily that desolating judgments from God will break in upon us, it cannot be unseasonable to make mention of them, when it is done with no other design but only to show the necessity of reformation, or how necessary it is for some, if all will not comply therewith; for if a city be on fire, it is surely lawful for any of the citizens to save and preserve, if they can, their own houses, though the mayor and aldermen should neglect the preservation of the whole city in general.
It might be easily demonstrated what great numbers [there are] amongst us, — [1.] Who have imbibed atheistical opinions, and either vent them or speak presumptuously, according unto their influence and tendency every day; [2.] Who are profane scoffers at all true Christian pigsty and the due expressions of the power of godliness, — an evil not confined unto the laity, — such things being uttered and published b them as should be astonishable unto all that know the fear of the Lord and his terror; [3.] Who are profoundly ignorant of the mysteries of the gospel, or those doctrines of Christian religion whose knowledge is of the highest importance and necessity; [4.] Who are openly flagitious in their lives, whence all sorts of gross immoralities do fill the land from one end unto the other; [5.] Who live in a constant neglect of all more private holy duties, whether in their families or in personal retirement; [6.] Who are evidently under the power of pride, vanity, covetousness, profaneness of speech in cursed oaths and swearing; [7.] Who instruct the worst of men unto an approbation of themselves in such ways as these, by petulant scoffing at the very name of the Spirit and grace of Christ, at all expectation of his spiritual aids and assistances, at all fervency in religious duties, or other acts of a holy converse. These, and such like things as these, do sufficiently evidence the necessity of reformation; for where they are continued, the use and end of church-societies is impaired or lost. And it 352is in vain to pretend that this is the old plea of them who caused schisms in the church, — namely, that bad men were mixed with the good, for which cause they rejected those churches wherein that was allowed as no true churches of Christ; for no such thing is included in what we assert, nor doth follow thereon. We do own that wicked hypocrites may be joined in true churches, and be made partakers of all the privileges of them. Neither is this a cause of withdrawing communion from any church, much less of condemning it as no true church of Christ. But this we say, that if such hypocrites discover themselves in open scandalous sins, — which upon examination will prove to be of a larger extent than some suppose, with respect unto sins of omission as well as of commission, — if they are not dealt withal according as the discipline of Christ doth require in such cases, the church wherein they are allowed, especially if the number of such persons be many, or the most, the generality of the people, and their sins notorious, doth stand in need of reformation; as the church of England doth acknowledge in the “commination against sinners.”
The substance of what is proposed under this consideration may be expressed in the ensuing observations:— (1.) The generality of the inhabitants of this nation are joined and do belong unto the church of England, in its parochial assemblies. (2.) That many walk and live without any visible compliance unto the rule of Christ in gospel obedience: yea, — (3.) Great, notorious, provoking sins do abound among them, for which it ought to be feared continually that the judgments of God will speedily follow; as is acknowledged in the “commination.” (4.) That hereon they all stand in need of reformation, without which the principal ends of church-communion cannot be obtained among them. (5.) That this reformation is the duty of these churches themselves; which if it be neglected, they live in a contempt of the commands of Christ; for, — (6.) Unto them, in the preaching of the word and exercise of discipline, are the means of this reformation committed: for we treat not at present of the power or duty of the supreme magistrate in these things. (7.) That this state of churches cannot hinder, nor ought so to do, if continued in, the true disciples of Christ from reforming themselves, by endeavouring the due observance of all his commands.
2. In this state the church of England doth not, and it is to be feared will not, nor can reform itself. But although the weight of the whole argument in hand depends very much on this assertion, yet I shall not insist on its particular confirmation, for sundry reasons not now to be mentioned. It is enough that no such work hath been a yet attempted, nor is at this day publicly proposed, notwithstanding all the mercies that some have received, the losses which 353the church for want of it hath sustained, the judgments for sins that are feared; which ought to be motives thereunto. Yea, the generality of ecclesiastical persons seem to judge that all things among them are as they ought to be, that there is no crime or disorder but only in complaining of their good estate, and calling upon them for reformation.
3. This being the state of the parochial churches in England, the inquiry is, Whether every believer in England be indispensably obliged, by virtue of any law, rule, or direction of a divine original, to continue in constant, complete communion with them, so as not to make use of any other ways and means of Christ’s appointment for their own edification, on the penalty of the guilt of schism? Now, although we do not (as we shall see immediately) lay the weight of refraining from their communion on this consideration, yet is there enough in it to warrant any man in his so doing; for a man in his conforming thereunto makes it a part of his religious profession, not only that the church wherein he is joined is a true church, but that there is in its state and actings a due representation of the mind of Christ, as unto what he requireth of his churches, and what he would have them to be. The Lord Christ is the “apostle and high priest of our profession:” and in all things that belong thereunto we declare that we do it in compliance with his will; and we do so, or we are hypocrites. This no man can do in such a church-state who is convinced of its defects, without reflecting the greatest dishonour on Christ and the gospel.
More weight will be added unto this consideration when we shall treat of the matter of gospel churches, or of what sort of persons they ought to consist. In the meantime, those who pretend a reverence unto antiquity in those things wherein they suppose countenance to be given unto their interest, may do well sometimes to consider what was the discipline of the primitive churches, and what were the manners, the lives, the heavenly conversations of their members. Because in the third and fourth centuries there is mention made of bishops distinct from presbyters, with some ecclesiastical practices and ceremonies in worship not mentioned in the Scripture nor known unto the apostolical churches, shall we judge ourselves obliged to conform thereunto as our rule and pattern, so as that in the judgment of some they are to be esteemed no churches who conform not their outward state and practice unto the same rule? and shall we judge ourselves at liberty to reject all that they did in the exercise of discipline, and in the preservation of purity of life and holiness in the churches, and that according to the command of Christ and rule of the Scripture? Who knows not upon what diligent trial, and experience first obtained of their knowledge, faith, and godliness, 354they admitted members into their churches? Yea, such was their care and severity herein that they would not admit a Roman emperor unto communion with them, unless he first confessed his sins, and joined amongst other penitents before his admission, Euseb., lib. vi. cap. 33. Who knows not with what diligence they watched over the walkings and conversations of all that were admitted among them, and with what severity they animadverted on all that fell into scandalous sins? What was hereon their conversation, in all holiness, righteousness, temperance, usefulness unto the world, in works of charity and benevolence, as in all other Christian virtues, we have sufficient testimony. The heathen who were morally sober and virtuous, desired no more than that they might find out among them an indulgence unto any sort of sin, crime, or wickedness; which because they could not charge any of them withal, they invented those brutish and foolish lies about their nightly meetings. But when a sober inquiry was made concerning them, their enemies were forced to confess that they were guilty of no open sin, no adulteries, no swearings or perjuries; as is evident in the epistles of Pliny and Trajan the emperor. In particular, they utterly rejected from their communion all that resorted unto public stage-plays or other spectacles; a solemn renunciation whereof was required of them who were admitted unto baptism when they were adult. See Clem. Pedag., lib. iii. cap. 12. If the reader would have an account of the lives and manners of the first churches in their members, he may find it in Clem. Epist. ad Cor. pp. 2–4; Justin Mart. Apol. ii.; Tertullian in his Apol. and lib. ii. ad Uxor. et de cultu fœminarum; Cyprian, Epist. ii. et xii.; Euseb. Hist. lib. ix., cap. 8; Athanas. Epist. ad Solit., et Epiphan. lib. iii. t. 2, sect. 24; and the multiplied complaints of Chrysostom concerning the beginning of degeneracy in this matter, with others. If the example of the primitive churches had been esteemed of any value or authority in these things, much of our present differences had been prevented.
II. The constitution of these parochial assemblies is not from heaven, but of men. There is almost nothing which is required unto the constitution of evangelical churches found in them; nor are they looked on by any as complete churches, but only as conveniencies for the observance of some parts of the worship of God. What some have in their wisdom found out for conveniency, others are engaged unto a compliance therewithal by necessity; for being born within the precincts of the parish makes them to belong unto the assemblies of it, whether they will or no. To refrain from the communion of such churches, whose bond of relation consists only in cohabitation within the precincts of a political constitution, is a new kind of schism, which may be cured by a removal out of those precincts. 355If it be said that these parochial assemblies have their foundation in the light of nature, and are directed unto in the institution of particular churches in the Scripture, — that they are not men’s inventions for convenience, but have somewhat divine in them, — I say, let them be left unto the warranty which they have from these causes and principles, let nothing be mixed in their constitution which is contrary unto them, nor let them be abridged of what they direct unto, and there will be no more contending about them, as unto their constitution. For instance, whatever there is of warranty in the light of nature, or direction in evangelical institutions for such assemblies, they absolutely suppose these three things:—
1. That a conjunction in them is a voluntary act of free choice in them that so join together in them. Other kind of assemblies for the worship of God neither the one nor the other doth give the least countenance unto.
2. That they have in themselves sufficient right, power, and authority unto the attaining all the ends of such assemblies in holy worship and rule. Other kind of churches they know nothing of.
3. That they are enabled to preserve their own purity and continue their own being.
But all these things are denied unto our parochial assemblies by law; and therefore they can claim no warranty from either of those principles. Wherefore, there can be no obligation upon any believer to join himself with such churches in constant communion as are judged none by them that appoint them, or only partially and improperly so, or are of such a constitution as hath in its essentially constituent, parts no warranty either from the light of nature or Scripture direction, so as that his dissent from them should be esteemed schism. How far communion with them for some duties of worship, — which is, indeed, all that they can pretend unto, — may be admitted, we do not now inquire.
III. There is not in them (and therefore not in the church of England, as unto its present profession) a fixed standard of truth, or rule of faith to be professed, which every believer may own, and have his part or interest therein. This I grant is not from the original constitution of the church, nor from what is established by any law therein, but from persons who at present have the declaration of its profession, committed unto them. But from what cause soever it be, it is sufficient to warrant any man who takes care of his own edification and salvation to use his own liberty in the choice of the most effectual means unto those ends. Wherefore some things may be added in farther explanation of this consideration; as, —
1. It is the duty of every church to be the pillar and ground of truth, to hold fast the form of wholesome words, or to keep the truth 356pure and uncorrupted from all mixture of false doctrines, errors, heresies, or the speaking of perverse things in it, unto the hurt of the disciples of Christ, 1 Tim. iii. 15; 2 Tim. ii. 2; Acts xx. 28–30, etc. When any church ceaseth so to be, the obligation unto communion with it is dissolved.
2. This is the principal end of the ministry of the church in particular, Eph. iv. 11–13; 1 Tim. vi. 20. And where those who possess and exercise it do eminently fail herein, it is the duty of others to withdraw from them; for, —
3. Every private man’s confession is included in the public profession of the church or assembly whereunto he belongs. And, —
4. Oneness or agreement in the truth, whereby we come to have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” is the foundation of all church-communion; which if it be taken away, the whole fabric of it falls to the ground. If the trumpet in any church, as unto these things, gives an uncertain sound, no man knows how to prepare himself for the battle, or to “fight the good fight of faith.”
It will be said that this cannot be justly charged on the church of England, yea, not without open wrong and injustice; for she hath a fixed, invariable standard of truth in the Thirty-nine Articles, which contain its public profession of faith and the rule of its communion. Wherefore I say, that it is not the primitive constitution of the church nor its legal establishment that are reflected on, but only the present practice of so many as makes it necessary for men to take the care of their own edification on themselves. But here also some things are to be observed:—
1. These articles at present are exceeding defective, in their being a fixed standard of the profession of truth, with respect unto those errors and heresies which have invaded and pestered the churches since their framing and establishment. We know it was the constant, invariable custom of the primitive churches, upon the emergency of any new errors or heresies, to add unto the rule and symbol of their confession a testimony against them, so as to preserve themselves from all communion in them or participation of them. And a usage it was both necessary and laudable, as countenanced by Scripture example, however afterward it was abused; for no writing, such as all church-confessions are, can obviate unforeseen heresies, or errors not broached at the time of its writing, but only that which is · of divine institution, wherein infinite wisdom hath stored up provision of truth, for the destruction of all errors that the subtlety or folly of man can invent. When these articles of the church of England were composed, neither Socinianism nor Arminianism, which have now made such an inroad on some protestant churches, were n the world, either name or things. Wherefore, in their 357confession no testimony could be expressly given against them, though I acknowledge it is evident, from what is contained in the articles of it, and the approved exposition they received for a long time in the writings of the most eminent persons of the church, that there is a virtual condemnation of all these errors included therein. But in that state whereunto things are come amongst us, some more express testimony against them is necessary to render any church the pillar and ground of truth.
2. Besides, a distinction is found out, and passeth current among us, that the articles of this confession are not articles of faith, but of outward agreement for peace’ sake among ourselves: which is an invention to help on the ruin of religion; for articles of peace in religion, concerning matters of faith, which he that subscribes doth it not because they are true or articles of faith, are an engine to accommodate hypocrisy, and nothing else. But according unto this supposition they are used at men’s pleasure, and turned which way they have mind to. Wherefore, —
3. Notwithstanding this standard of truth, differences in important doctrines, wherein the edification of the souls of men is highly concerned, do abound among them who manage the public profession of the church. I shall not urge this any farther by instances; in general it cannot modestly be denied. Neither is this spoken to abridge ministers of churches of their due liberty in their management o the truths of the gospel; for such a liberty is to be granted as:—
(1.) Ariseth from the distinct gifts that men have received; for “unto every one is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” Eph. iv. 7. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” 1 Pet. iv. 10.
(2.) As followeth on that spiritual wisdom which ministers receive in great variety, for the application of the truths of the gospel unto the souls and consciences of men. Hereon great variety in public church-administrations will ensue, but all unto edification.
(3.) Such as consists in a different exposition of particular places of Scripture, whilst the analogy of faith is kept and preserved, Rom. xii. 6.
(4.) Such as admits of different stated apprehensions in and about such doctrines as wherein the practice and comfort of Christians are not immediately nor greatly concerned.
Such a liberty, I say, as the dispensation of spiritual gifts, and the different manner of their exercise, as the unsearchable depths that are in the Scripture, not to be fathomed at once by any church or any sort of persons whatever, and our knowing the best of us but in part, with the difference of men’s capacities and understandings in and 358about things not absolutely necessary unto edification, must be allowed in churches and their ministry. But I speak of that variety of doctrines, which is of greater importance. Such it is as will set men at liberty to make their own choice in the use of means for their edification. And if such novel opinions about the person, grace, satisfaction, and righteousness of Christ, about the work of the Holy Spirit of God in regeneration, or the renovation of our nature into the image of God, as abound in some churches, should at any time, by the suffrage of the major part of them who by law are intrusted with its conduct, be declared as the sense of the church, it is and would be sufficient to absolve any man from an obligation unto its communion by virtue of its first institution and establishment.
IV. Evangelical discipline is neither observed nor attainable in these parochial assemblies, nor is there any relief provided by any other means for that defect. This hath in general been spoken unto before; but because it belongs in an especial manner unto the argument now in hand, I shall yet farther speak unto it. For, to declare my mind freely, I do not judge that any man can incur the guilt of schism who refrains from the communion of the church wherein the discipline of the gospel is either wholly wanting or is perverted into rule and domination, which hath no countenance given unto it in the word of truth. And we may observe, —
1. The discipline of the church is that alone for which any rule or authority is given unto it or exercised in it. Authority is given unto the ministers of the church to dispense the word and administer the sacraments; which, I know not why, some call the “key of order.” But the only end why the Lord Christ hath given authority, or rule, or power for it unto the church, or any in it, is for the exercise of discipline, and no other. Whatever power, rule, dignity, or pre-eminence is assumed in the churches, not merely for this end, is usurpation and tyranny.
2. The outward means appointed by Jesus Christ, for the preservation of his churches in order, peace, and purity, consists in this discipline. He doth by his word give directions and commands for this end; and it is by discipline alone that they are executed. Wherefore, without it the church cannot live in its health, purity, and vigour. The word and sacraments are its spiritual food, whereon its life doth depend; but without that exercise, and medicinal applications unto its distempers which are made by discipline, it cannot live a healthy, vigorous, faithful life in the things of God.
3. This discipline is either private or public:—
(1.) That which is private consists in the mutual watch that all the members of the church have over one another, with admonitions, exhortations, and reproofs, as their edification doth require. The loss 359of this part of the discipline of Christ in most churches hath lost us much of the glory of Christian profession.
(2.) That which is public, in the rulers of the church, with and by its own consent. The nature and acts of it will be afterward considered.
4. There are three things considerable in this discipline:— (1.) The power and authority whereby it is exercised; (2.) The manner of its administration; (3.) The especial object of it, both as it is susceptive of members and corrective; whereunto we may add its general end:—
(1.) The authority of it is only a power and liberty to act and ministerially exercise the authority of Christ himself. As unto those by whom it is exercised, it is in them an act of obedience unto the command of Christ; but with respect unto its object, the authority of Christ is exerted in it. That which is exercised on any other warranty or authority (as none can exert the authority of Christ but by virtue of his own institutions), whose acts are not acts of obedience unto Christ, whatever else it be, belongs not unto the discipline of evangelical churches.
(2.) As unto the manner of its administration, it is that which the Lord Christ hath appointed to express his love, care, and tenderness towards the church. Hence the acts of it which are corrective are called “lamenting” or “bewailing” of them towards whom they are exercised, 2 Cor. xii. 20. Whatever, therefore, is done in it that is not expressive of the love, care, patience, and holiness of Christ, is dishonourable unto him.
(3.) The object of it, as it is susceptive of members, is professed believers; and as it is corrective, it is those who stubbornly deviate from the rule of Christ, or live in disobedience of his commands. Wherefore, the general end of its institution is, to be a representation of the authority, wisdom, love, care, and patience of Christ towards his church, with a testimony unto the certainty, truth, and holiness of his future judgment. The especial nature of it shall be afterward considered.
Unto this discipline, either as unto its right or exercise, there is no pretence in parochial assemblies, yea, it is expressly forbidden unto them. Whereas, therefore, it is a matter of so great importance in itself, so subservient unto the glory of Christ, so useful and necessary into the edification of his disciples, so weighty a part of our professed subjection unto him, without which no church can be continued in gospel purity, order, and peace, the total want or neglect of it is a sufficient cause for any man who takes care of his own salvation, or is concerned in the glory and honour of Christ, to refrain the communion of those churches wherein it is so wanting or neglected, or at least not to confine himself thereunto.
360It will be said that this defect is supplied, in that the administration of church-discipline is committed unto others, — namely, the bishops and their officers, that are more meet and able for it than the ministers and people of parochial assemblies; what, therefore, is wafting in them is supplied fully another way, so that no pretence can be taken from hence for refraining communion in them. But it will be said, —
1. That this discipline is not to be placed where and in what hands men please, but to be left where Christ hath disposed it.
2. That one reason of the unmeetness of parochial churches for the exercise of this discipline is because they have been unjustly deprived of it for so many ages.
3. It is to be inquired, whether the pretended discipline doth in any thing answer that which Christ hath plainly and expressly ordained. For if a discipline should be erected whose right of exercise is derived from secular power, whose administration is committed unto persons who pretend not in the least unto any office of divine institution, as chancellors, commissaries, officials, etc., every way unknown unto antiquity, foreign unto the churches over which they rule, exercising their pretended power of discipline in a way of civil jurisdiction, without the least regard unto the rules or ends of evangelical discipline, managing its administration in brawlings, contentions, revilings, fees, pecuniary mulcts, etc., in open defiance of the spirit, example, rule, and commands of our Lord Jesus Christ, — it would be so far from supplying this defect, that it would exceedingly aggravate the evil of it. God forbid that any Christian should look on such a power of discipline, and such an administration of it, to be that which is appointed by Jesus Christ, or any way participant of the nature of it! Of what expediency it may be unto other ends I know not, but unto ecclesiastical discipline it hath no alliance; and therefore in its exercise, so far as it is corrective, it is usually applied unto the best and most sober Christians.
Wherefore, to deal plainly in this case, whereas there is neither the power nor exercise of discipline in parochial assemblies or their ministry, not so much by their own neglect as because their right thereunto is denied and its exercise wholly forbidden by them in whose power they are; and whereas, in the supply that is made of this defect, a secular power is erected, coercive by pecuniary and corporal penalties, administered by persons no way relating unto the churches over which they exercise this power, by rules of human laws and constitutions, in litigious and oppressive courts, in the room of that institution of Christ, whose power and exercise is spiritual, by spiritual means, according to the Scripture rules, — it is lawful for any in m who takes care of his own salvation and of the means of it 361to withdraw from the communion of such churches, so far as it hinders or forbids him the use of the means appointed by Christ for his edification. Men may talk what they please of schism, but he that forsakes the conduct of his own soul, in things of so plain an evidence, must answer for it at his own peril.
V. This defect in parochial churches, that they are intrusted by law with no part of the rule of themselves, but are wholly governed and disposed of by others at their pleasure, in the ways before mentioned, — which shakes their very being as churches, though there be in them assemblies for divine worship, founded in common right and the light of nature, wherein men may be accepted with God, — is accompanied with such other wants and defects also as will weaken any obligation unto complete and constant communion with them. I shall give one only instance hereof: The people’s free choice of all their officers, bishops, elders, pastors, etc., is, in our judgment, of divine institution, by virtue of apostolical example and directions. It is also so suitable unto the light of nature, — namely, that in a society absolutely founded in the voluntary consent of them who enter into it, and [which] doth actually exist thereby, without any necessity imposed on them from prescription, former usage, or the state of being born in and under such rules and laws, as it is with men in their political societies, the people should have the election of them who are to rule among them and over them, there being no provision of a right unto a successive imposition of any such rulers on them without their own consent, — that nothing can rationally be pleaded against it. And, therefore, whereas in all ordinarily settled governments in the world, setting aside the confusion of their originals, by war and conquests, the succession of rulers is either by natural generations, the rule being confined unto such a line, or by a popular election, or by a temperature of both; there hath been a new way invented for the communication of power and rule in churches, never exemplified in any political society, — namely, that it shall neither be successive, as it was under the Old Testament, nor elective, nor by any temperature of these two ways in one, but by a strange kind of flux of it through the hands of men who pretend to have so received it themselves from others. But whether hereon the people of the church can have that respect and devotion unto them as they would have unto hereditary rulers (long succession in rulers being the great cause of veneration in the people), especially such as had a succession one unto another by a natural descent through divine appointment, as the priests had under the law, or as unto those whom, on the account of their worth, ability, and fitness for the work of the ministry among them, they do choose themselves, they may do well to consider who are concerned. The necessity there is of maintaining a 362reputation and interest by secular grandeur, pomp, and power, of ruling the people of the church in church-matters by external force, with many other inconveniencies, do all proceed from this order of things, or rather disorder, in the call of men unto the ministry. And hence it is that the city of God and the people of Christ therein, — which is, indeed, the only true, free society in the world, — have rulers in and over them, neither by a natural right of their own, as in paternal government, nor by hereditary succession, nor by election, nor by any way or means wherein their own consent is included, but are under a yoke of an imposition of rulers on them above any society on the earth whatever. Besides, there is that relation between the church and its guides that no law, order, or constitution, can create without their mutual voluntary consent; and therefore, this right and liberty of the people, in every church, to choose their own spiritual officers, was for many ages preserved sacredly in the primitive times. But hereof there is no shadow remaining in our parochial churches; sundry persons, as patrons and ordinaries, have a concurring interest into the imposing of a minister, or such whom they esteem so, upon any such church, without the knowledge, consent, or approbation of the body of the church, — either desired or accepted. If there be any who cannot comply with this constitution of things relating unto the ministry, because it is a part of their profession of the gospel which they are to make in the world, which yet really consists only in an avowed subjection unto the commands of Christ, they can be no way obnoxious unto any charge of schism upon their refusal so to do; for a schism that consists in giving a testimony unto the institutions of Christ, and standing fast in the liberty where with he hath made his disciples free, is that whose guilt no man need to fear.
VI. What remaineth of those reasons whereon those who cannot comply with the conformity under consideration are cleared, in point of conscience, from any obligation thereunto, and so from all guilt of schism whatever, belongs unto the head of impositions on their consciences and practice, which they must submit unto. These being such as many whole books have been written about, the chief whereof have r o way been answered, — unless railings and scoffings, with contempt and fierce reproaches, with false accusations, may pass for answers, — I shall not here again insist upon them. Some few things of that nature I shall only mention, and put an end unto this dispute:—
1. The conformity required of ministers consists in a public assent and consent unto the Book of Common Prayer, with the rubric, in it, which contains all the whole practice of the church of England, in its commands and prohibitions. Now, these being things that concern the worship of God in Christ, the whole entire state, order, 363rule, and government of the gospel church, whoever gives solemnly this assent and consent, unless he be allowed to enter his protestation against those things which he dislikes, and of the sense wherein he doth so assent and consent, — which by law is allowed unto none, — the said assent and consent is his public profession that all these things, and all contained in them, are according to the mind of Christ, and that the ordering of them, as such, is part of their professed subjection unto his gospel. Blessed be God, most ministers are too wise and honest to delude their consciences with distinctions, equivocations, and reservations; and do thereon rather choose to suffer penury and penalty than to make the least intrenchment upon their own consciences, or the honour of the gospel in their profession! What they do and declare of this nature they must do it in sincerity, as in the sight of God, as approving what they do; not only as pardonable effects of necessity, but as that which is the best they have or can do a the worship of God, with a solemn renunciation of whatever is contrary unto what they do so approve. And whether this be a meet imposition on the consciences of ministers, with reference unto a great book or volume of a various composition, unto things almost without number, wherein exceptions have been given of old and lately, not answered nor answerable, with rules, laws, orders, not pretending to be scriptural prescriptions, is left unto the judgment of all who have due thoughts of their approaching account before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ.
2. The conformity that is required of others being precise, and without power of dispensation in them by whom it is required, to answer the rule or law of it before declared, every man by his so conforming doth thereby take it on his conscience, and make it part of his Christian profession, that all which he so conforms unto is not only what he may do, but what he ought to do, both in matter and manner, so far as the law, or any part of it, doth determine or enjoin them. No man is allowed to make either distinction or protestation with respect unto any thing contained in the rules; and, therefore, whatever he doth in compliance therewith is interpretable, in the sight of God and man, as an approbation of the whole. Sincerity and openness in profession is indispensably required of us in order unto our salvation. And, therefore, to instruct men, as unto the worship of God, to do what they do not judge to be their duty to do, but only hope they may do without sin, or to join themselves in and unto that performance of it which either they approve not of as the best in the whole, or not lawful or approvable in some parts of it, is to instruct them unto the debauching of their consciences and ruin of their own souls. “Let every man be persuaded in his own mind;” for “what is not of faith is sin.”
3643. There is in this conformity required a renunciation of all other ways of public worship or means of edification that may be made use of for they are all expressly forbidden in the rule of that conformity. No men, therefore, can comply with that rule, but that a renunciation of all other public ways of edification as unlawful is part of the visible profession which they make. “Video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor,” is no good plea in religion. It is uprightness and integrity that will preserve men, and nothing else. He that shall endeavour to cheat his conscience by distinctions and mental reservations, in any concernment of religious worship, I fear he hath little of it, if any at all, that is good for aught.
On these suppositions, I say, the imposition of the things so often contended about on the consciences and profession of Christians, — as, namely, the constant, sole use of the liturgy in all church administrations, in the matter and manner prescribed; the use and practice of all canonical ceremonies; the religious observation of stated holidays, with other things of the like nature, — is sufficient to warrant any sober, peaceable disciple of Christ, who takes care of his own edification and salvation, to refrain the communion required in this rule of conformity, unless he be fully satisfied in his own mind that all that it requires is according to the mind of Christ, and all that it forbids is disapproved by him. And whereas the whole entire matter of all these impositions are things whereof the Scripture and the primitive churches know nothing at all, nor is there any rumour of them to be imposed in or on any church of Christ for some centuries of years, I can but pity poor men who must bear the charge and penalties of schism for dissenting from them, as well as admire the fertility of their inventions who can find out arguments to manage such a charge on their account.
But whereas the dissent declared from that communion with parochial assemblies is that whereon we are so fiercely charged with the guilt of schism, and so frequently called schismatics, I shall divert a little to inquire into the nature and true notion of schism itself; and so much the rather, because I find the author of the “Unreasonableness of Separation” omit any inquiry thereinto, that he might not lose the advantage of any pretended description or aggravation of it.
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