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The preceding discourse was written, for the most part, before the publishing of the treatise of the Rev. Dr Stillingfleet, entitled “The Unreasonableness of Separation;” yet was it not so without a prospect, at least a probable conjecture, that something of the same kind and tendency with the Doctor’s book would be published in defence of the cause which he had undertaken. And I was not without hopes that the whole of it might have been both finished end communicated unto public view before any thing farther were attempted against our cause, whereby many mistakes might have been prevented; for as I was willing, yea, very desirous, if it were the will of God, that I might see, before my departure out of this world, the cause of conformity, as things are now stated between us and the church of England, pleaded with judgment, moderation, and learning, with the best of those arguments whereby our principles or practices are opposed, so, considering on what hand that work was now like to fall, I thought, “si Pergama dextra,” etc.; and am of the same mind still. But my expectation being frustrate, of representing our whole cause truly stated for the prevention of mistakes, by the coming out of this book against all sorts of Nonconformists, I thought it convenient to publish this first part of what I had designed, and to annex unto it the ensuing “Defence of the Vindication of Nonconformists from the Charge of Schism:” for although I do know that there is nothing material in the whole book of the “Unreasonableness of Separation” but what is obviated or answered beforehand in the preceding discourse, so as that the principles and demonstrations of them contained therein may easily be applied unto all the reasonings, exceptions, and pleas in and of that book, to render them useless unto the end designed, which is to reinforce a charge of schism 376against us; yet I think it necessary to show how unsuccessful, from the disadvantage of his cause, the Doctor hath been in his laborious endeavour to stigmatize all protestant dissenters from the church of England with the odious name of schismatics. I have, therefore, altered nothing of what I had projected, either as to matter or method, in this first part of the discourse designed on the whole subject of church affairs; for as I have not found either cause or reason from any thing in the Doctor’s book to make the least change in what I had written, so my principal design being the instruction and confirmation of them who have no other interest in these things but only to know and perform their own duty, I was not willing to give them the trouble of perpetual diversions from the matter in hand, which all controversial writings are subject unto. Wherefore, having premised some general considerations of things insisted on by the Doctor, of no great influence into the cause in hand, and vindicated one principle, a supposition whereof we rely upon, — namely, the declension of the churches in the ages after the apostles, especially after the end of the second century, from the primitive institution of their state, rule, and order, — in the preface, I shall now proceed to consider and examine distinctly what is opposed unto the defence of our innocency as unto the guilt of schism. But some things must be premised hereunto; as, —
1. I shall not depart from the state of the question as laid down by ourselves on our part, as unto our judgment of parochial churches, and our refraining from communion with them. Great pains are taken to prove the several sorts of dissenters to be departed farther from the church of England than they will themselves allow, and on such principles as are disavowed by them; but no disputations can force our assent unto what we know to be contrary unto our principles and persuasions.
2. We do allow those parochial assemblies which have a settled, unblamable ministry among them to be true churches, so far as they can pretend themselves so to be; — churches whose original form is from occasional cohabitation within precincts limited by the law of the land; — churches without church-power to choose or ordain their officers, to provide for their own continuation, to admit or exclude members, or to reform at any time what is amiss among them; — churches which are in all things under the rule of those who are set over them by virtue of civil constitutions foreign unto them, not submitted willingly unto by them, and such, for the most part, as whose offices and power have not the least countenance given unto them from the Scripture or the practice of the primitive churches; such as are chancellors, commissaries, officials, and the like; — churches in which, for the most part, through a total neglect in evangelical discipline, 377there is a great degeneracy from the exercise of brotherly love and the holiness of Christian profession. Whatever can be ascribed unto such churches we willingly allow unto them.
3. We do and shall abide by this principle, that communion in faith and love, with the administration of the same sacraments, is sufficient to preserve all Christians from the guilt of schism, although they cannot communicate together in some rites and rules of worship and order. As we will not admit of any presumed notions of schism, and inferences from them, nor allow that any thing belongs thereunto which is not contrary to gospel love, rules, and precepts, in the observance of Christ’s institutions; so we affirm, and shall maintain, that men abiding in the principles of communion mentioned, walking peaceably among themselves; refraining communion with others, peaceably, wherein they dissent from them; ready to join with other churches in the same confession of faith and in the defence of it, and to concur with them in promoting all the real ends of Christian religion; not judging the church-state of others so as to renounce all communion with them, as condemning them to be no churches, continuing in the occasional exercise of all duties of love towards them and their members, — are unduly charged with the guilt of schism, to the disadvantage of the common interest of the protestant religion amongst us.
4. Whereas there are two parts of the charge against us, — the one for refraining from total 378communion with parochial assemblies, which what it is, and wherein it doth consist, hath been before declared; the other for gathering ourselves into another church-order in particular congregations, — as the reasons and grounds of the things themselves are distinct, so must they have a distinct consideration, and be examined distinctly and apart.
These things being premised, I shall proceed to examine what the reverend Doctor hath farther offered against our former vindication of the Nonconformists from the charge of schism. And I desire the reader to take notice that we delight not in these contentions, that we desire nothing but mutual love and forbearance; but we are compelled, by all rules of Scripture and natural equity, to abide in this defence of ourselves. For whereas we are charged with a crime, and that aggravated as one of the most heinous that men can incur the guilt of in this world, and to justify men in severities against us; being not in the least convinced in our consciences of any accessions thereunto, or of any guilt on the account of it, I suppose the Doctor himself will not think it reasonable that we should altogether neglect the protection of our own innocency.
In the method whereinto he hath cast his discourse, he begins with the reinforcement of his charge against our refraining from total communion with parochial assemblies. If the reader will be pleased to take a review of what is said in the preceding discourse unto this head of our charge, in several chapters, he will easily perceive that either the reasonings of the Doctor reach not the cause in hand, or are insufficient to justify his intention; which I must say, though I am unwilling to repeat it, is by all ways and means to load us with the guilt and disreputation of schism.
That which I first meet withal directly unto this purpose is part ii. p. 157. The forbearance of communion with the church of England in its parochial assemblies (that is, in the way and manner before described) he opposeth with two arguments. The first respects those who allow occasional communion with parochial churches, but will not comply with them in that which is constant and absolute for he says, “If the first he lawful, the latter is necessary, from the commands we have to preserve the peace and unity of the church. And the not doing it,” he says, “is one of the provoking sins of the Nonconformists.” But whether it be a sin or no is “sub judice;” that it is provoking unto some is sufficiently evident. I shall not make this any part of my contest. Those who have so expressed their charity as to give countenance unto this pretended advantage will easily free themselves from the force of this inference; for it must be remembered that this constant, total communion doth not only include a conscientious observance of all things appointed to be done by the rules or canons in those assemblies, but a renunciation also of all other ways and means of edification by joint communion as unlawful and evil. And it will be hard to prove that, on a concession of the lawfulness of communion in some acts of divine worship, it will be necessary for men to oblige themselves unto total, constant communion, with a renunciation and condemnation of all other ways and means of joint edification. It may also be lawful to do a thing, with some respects and limitations, at some times, which it may not be lawful to do absolutely and always. It may be necessary, from outward circumstances, to do that sometimes which is lawful in itself, though not necessary from itself; it can never be necessary to do that which is unlawful. Of the first sort they esteem occasional communion, and the other of the latter.
Some time is spent in taking off an exception unto this inference from the practice of our Saviour, who had occasional communion with the Jews in the temple and synagogues; which he proves to have been constant and perpetual, and not occasional only, and that he prescribed the same practice unto his disciples. But I think this labour might have been spared: for there is nothing more clear and certain than that our Lord Jesus Christ did join with the Jews in the observance of God’s institutions among them on the one hand; and, 379on the other, that he never joined with them in the observance of their own traditions and pharisaical impositions, but warned all his disciples to avoid them and refuse them; whose example we desire to follow: for concerning all such observances in the church he pronounced theft sentence, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”
But the Doctor proceeds unto a second argument, p. 163, to the same purpose, from, as he calls it, “the particular force of that text,” Phil. iii. 16 “Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” This is the text which gave the first occasion unto this whole dispute. The Doctor’s intention is so indefensible from this place, that I thought, however he might persist in the defence of the cause he had undertaken, he would have forborne from seeking countenance unto it from these words of the apostle. But it is fallen out otherwise; and I am here, in the first place, called unto an account for the exceptions I put in unto his application of these words of the apostle in my “Vindication of the Nonconformists.”
I will spare the reader as much as is possible in the repetition of things formerly spoken, and the transcription of his words or my own, without prejudice unto the cause itself.
After a reflection of some obscurity and intricacy in my discourse, he repeats my sense of the words according unto his apprehension, under four heads, about which I shall not contend, seeing whether he hath apprehended my mind aright or no, or expressed the whole of what I declared, belongs not unto the merit of the cause in hand. Nor, indeed, do I yet know directly what he judgeth this text doth prove, or what it is that he infers from it; though I know well enough what it is designed to give countenance unto, and what is the application that is made of it. And, therefore, he issues his whole dispute about it in this inquiry, how far the apostle’s rule hath an influence on this case. But whosoever shall come unto a sedate consideration of this text and context, without prejudice, without preconceived opinions, without interest in parties or causes, will judge it to be a matter of art to apply them unto the present controversy, as unto the imposition of an arbitrary rule of walking in churches on all that are presumed to belong unto them.
But to clear these things, the Doctor proposeth three things to be debated:— “1. Whether the apostle speaks of different opinions or different practices. 2. Whether the rule he gives be mutual forbearance. 3. How far the apostle’s rule hath an influence into this cause.”
The first two of these belong not at all unto the present argument, 380and the last is but faintly proposed and pursued, though it be the foundation of his whole fabric. The reader, if he will put himself to so much trouble as to compare my former discourse with what is here offered in answer or opposition unto it, will easily see that nothing is pleaded that may abate the force of what was insisted on; for indeed the discourse of these things consists for the most part in diversions from the argument in hand, whereby an appearance is made of various arguings, and the proof of sundry things which belong not unto the case in hand.
Without any long deductions, artificial insinuations, or diverting reasonings, without wresting the text or context, these things are plain and evident in them:—
1. A supposition of differences among believers in and about opinions and practices relating unto religion and the worship of God. So is [it] at present between us and those of the church of England by whom we are opposed.
2. In this state, whilst these differences do continue, there is one common rule, according unto which those who so dissent among themselves are to walk in the things wherein they are agreed. Such is the rule of faith and love; which we all assent unto and are agreed in.
3. This rule cannot consist in a precise determination of the things in difference, with an authoritative prescription of uniformity in opinions and practice, because it is directed unto upon a supposition of the continuation of those differences between believers.
4. That during the continuation of these differences, or different apprehensions and practices, whilst on all hands they use the means of coming unto the knowledge of the truth in all things, they should walk in love, mutually forbearing one another in those things wherein they differed.
Until it be manifested that these things are not the design of the context, and to contain [not] the sense of the words, they are not only useless unto the Doctor’s design, but opposite unto it, and destructive of it. But nothing is here attempted unto that purpose.
To draw any argument from these words applicable unto his design, t must be proved, —
1. That besides the rule of faith, love, and worship given by divine institution, and obligatory unto all the disciples of Christ or all churches, in all times and ages, the apostles gave a rule concerning outward rites, ceremonies, modes of worship, feasts, and fastings, ecclesiastical government, liturgies, and the like, unto which all believers ought to conform, on the penalty of being esteemed schismatics, and dealt withal accordingly; for this only is that wherein we are concerned.
3812. That because the apostles made such a rule (which we know not what it is, or what is become of it), the guides of the church (and that in such a church-state as the apostles knew nothing of) have power to frame such a rule as that described, and to impose the observation of it on all believers, on the penalties before mentioned.
It is manifest that no advantage unto the cause of imposition and uniformity, as it is stated at present, can be taken from these words of the apostle unless these two things be contained in them; but that either of them is so our author doth not say, nor go about, to prove, in his large discourse on this place. I might therefore forbear any farther examination of it without the least disadvantage unto our cause; but, that I may not seem to waive the consideration of any thing that is pretended material, I shall inquire into the particulars of it.
He proceeds, therefore, to answer his own queries; which he judged conducing unto his purpose. The first of them is, “Whether the apostle speaks of different principles or of different practices.” And I find nothing in the discourse ensuing that hath the least respect unto this inquiry, until towards the close of it, where he grants that different apprehensions are intended, such as were accompanied with different practices; but, in order hereunto, he gives us a large account of the scope of the place and the design of the apostle in it. The substance of it is: That the apostle treats concerning Judaical seducers; that the things in difference were the different apprehensions of men about the law, its ceremonies and worship, with the continuation of them, and the different practices that ensued thereon.
Be it so; what is our or his concernment herein? For it is most certain the apostle designed not the imposition of these things on the churches of the Gentiles, nor did urge them unto a uniformity in them, but declared their liberty from any obligation unto them, and advised them to “stand fast in that liberty,” whatever others did practice themselves or endeavour to impose on them. What this conduceth unto his purpose I cannot understand.
But on the occasion of that expression, being “otherwise minded,” he demands, “What sense can Dr Owen here put upon the being ‘otherwise minded?’ otherwise than what? — ‘As many as be perfect be thus minded,’ to pursue your main end; but if any be ‘otherwise minded. Did any think they ought not to mind chiefly their great end? — that is incredible. Therefore the apostle must be understood of somewhat about which there were then very different apprehensions; and that, it is certain, there were about the law among Christian churches.”
Neither do I well understand these things, or what is intended in them; for, —
3821. I never gave occasion to him or any else to think that I would affix such a sense unto the apostle’s words, as if they gave an allowance to men to be otherwise minded as unto the pursuit of their main end, of living to God in faith and love, with mutual peace among themselves.
2. What, then, do I intend by being otherwise minded? Even the same that he doth, and nothing else, — namely, different apprehensions about some things in religion, and particularly those concerning the law and its ceremonies; for, —
3. Let it be supposed that the apostle in particular intends dissensions about the law and the observance of its institutions, yet he doth not determine the case from the especial circumstances of that difference, so adjudging the truth unto one of the parties at variance, but from a general rule how the disciples of Christ ought to deport themselves towards one another during the continuation of such differences But, —
4. The truth is, the apostle hath dismissed the case proposed in the beginning of the chapter, verses 1–3, etc.; and upon the occasion of his expression of his own voluntary relinquishment and renunciation of all the privileges which the Jews boasted in, and of his attainments thereon in the mysteries of the gospel, verses 12–14, he gives a general direction for the walking of all Christians, in the several degrees and measures of their attainments in the same kind. And herein he supposeth two things: (1.) That there were things, — all the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, concerning the person, offices, and grace of Christ, — which they had all in common attained unto: “Whereto we have already attained,” — we, all of us in general. (2.) That in some things there were different apprehensions and practices amongst them, which hindered not their agreement in what they had attained: “If any one be ‘otherwise minded,’ ” — one than another. “We that are perfect and those which are weak, ‘let us walk by the same rule.’ ”
Wherefore, although I cannot discern how any thing in this discourse hath the least influence into the case in hand, yet to give a little more light unto the context, and to evidence its unserviceableness unto the Doctor’s intention, I shall give a brief account of the Judaical teachers of those days.
The Jews were by this time distributed into three sorts:—
1. Such as, being obdurate in their unbelief and rejection of the person of Christ, opposed, persecuted, and blasphemed the gospel in all places. Thus was it with the generality of the nation. And the teachers of this sort advanced the excellency, necessity, and usefulness of the law in contradiction unto Christ and the gospel. These the apostle describes, 1 Thess. ii. 14, 15: “The Jews, who both 383killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
2. Such as professing faith in Christ Jesus and obedience unto the gospel, yet were of the mind that the whole law of Moses was not only to be continued and observed among the Jews, but also that it was to be imposed on the Gentiles who were converted unto the faith. They thought the gospel did not erect a new church-state, with a new kind of worship, but only was a peculiar way of proselyting men into Judaism; against which the apostle disputes in his Epistle into the Hebrews, especially in the seventh and eighth chapters. The teachers of this sort greatly troubled the churches, even after the declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost in these things by the apostles, Acts xv. Those who continued obstinate in this persuasion became afterward to be Ebionites and Nazarenes, as they were called, wholly forsaking the Christian church of the Gentiles. These were generally of the sect of the Pharisees, and seem to be the least sort of the three; for, —
3. There were others who, acquiescing in the liberty of the Gentiles declared by the apostles, Acts xv., yet judged themselves and all other circumcised Jews obliged unto the observation of the law and its institutions. These legal observances were of two sorts:—
(1.) Such as were confined and limited unto the temple, and unto the land of Canaan; and, —
(2.) Such as might be observed anywhere among the nations. They acted accordingly. Those who lived at Jerusalem adhered unto the temple worship; the whole church there did so. Their judgment in these things is declared, Acts xxi. 20, 21, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” They were not at all offended with Paul that he did not impose the law on the Gentiles, verse 25, but only that, as they had been informed, he taught the Jews to forsake the law, and to reject all the institutions of it. This they thought unlawful for them. And this they spoke principally with respect unto the temple-service, as appears by the advice given unto Paul on this occasion, verses 23, 24. Those who lived amongst the Gentiles knew that there was no obligation on them unto the sacrifices and especial duties of the temple, but continued only in the observance of such rites and institutions about meats, washings, days, 384new-moons, sabbaths, and the like, which the Gentiles were freed from.
Hence there were two sorts of churches in those days (if not three) in separation, more or less, from the apostate church of the unbelieving Jews, which yet was not finally taken away:—
1. The church of Jerusalem and those churches of Judea which were of the same mind and communion with them. These continued in the observance of all the law and of the services of the temple, being allowed them by the apostles.
2. Those of the Jews who lived in the nations, and observed all the rites of the law which were not confined unto the land of Canaan. And, —
3. The churches of the Gentiles, which observed none of these things, forbearing only their liberty in one or two instances, not to give the others offence. Some differences and disputes happened sometimes about these things and the practice of them; whereon Peter himself fell into a mistake, Gal. ii. 14. And there seems to have been great disputes about them at Rome, Rom. xiv. Yea, it is judged that, according unto their different apprehensions of these things, there were two churches at Rome, one of the Circumcision, the other of the Gentiles, walking in distinct communion each by themselves However, the different rule of this kind that was between the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch is sufficiently declared, Acts xv.; the one church continued “zealous of the law,” chap. xxi. 20, and the other “rejoiced for the consolation” of being delivered from it, chap. xv. 31. Yet was there no schism between these churches, but a constant communion in faith and love. Such differences in opinions and practices were not yet formed into an interest, obliging men to condemn them as schismatics who differ from them; for, not to speak of what orders and rules for decency particular churches may make by common consent among themselves, to make the observation of arbitrary institutions, not prescribed in the Scripture, upon many churches, to be the rule of communion in them and between them, which whosoever observe not are to be esteemed guilty of schism (which Victor, bishop of Rome, first attempted), is contrary to the rules of the Scripture, the principles of Christian faith, love, and liberty, to the example of the apostles, hath no countenance given unto it in the primitive churches, and will certainly make our differences endless.
I judge that in the beginning of the chapter the apostle intends those of the first sort; and that as well because he calls them “dogs” and the “concision,” — which answers unto the account he gives of them, 1 Thess. ii. 14, 15, — as also because he speaks of them as those who advanced the pretended privileges of Judaism absolutely against Christ the gospel, and the righteousness of God revealed therein. 385Hereon, in opposition unto them, he declares that they had nothing to boast of but what he himself had a right unto as well as they, and which he had voluntarily relinquished and renounced for Christ and the gospel; whereon he testifies what he had attained. If any one do judge that he intends those of the second sort, I will not contend about it, because of the severity of expression which he useth concerning them, Gal. v. 12. But discharging the consideration of them, the direction in this place concerns those of the third sort only, answering unto that which was prescribed and followed by the apostles in all places, — namely, that there should be mutual forbearance, in some difference of practice, between them and the Gentile believers.
His second inquiry, p. 168, is, “Whether the rule which the apostle lays down be only a rule of mutual forbearance.” I do not find that I said anywhere that it was only a rule of mutual forbearance, but that the words of the apostle do enjoin a mutual forbearance among those who are differently minded, p. 26. And I must here say (which I desire to do without offence), that there is no need of any farther answer unto that part of the Doctor’s discourse, but a transcription of that which he pretends to oppose; for what is spoken unto that end consists in a perpetual diversion from the argument in hand.
I did not before precisely determine what was the rule which the apostle doth intend; I only proved sufficiently that it was not such a rule as is pleaded for by the Doctor. But the meaning of the phrase and expression is plain enough, Τῷ αὐτῷ στοιχεῖν κανόνι. It is directly used once more by the apostle, Gal. vi. 16, Ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν· — “As many as walk according to this rule.” And what rule is that? — namely, what, as unto the substance of it, he lays down in the words foregoing: Verses 14–16, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule;” that is, the rule of faith in Christ alone for justification and sanctification, without trusting unto or resting on any of those things which were in difference among them. The places, in scope, design, and manner of expression, are parallel; for this is plainly that which he pleads for in this context, — namely, that justification and sanctification are to be obtained alone through Christ, and faith in him, by the gospel, without the least aid and assistance from the things that were in difference among them. Wherefore, not farther to contend in so plain a matter, the rule here intended by the apostle is no Book of Canons, but the analogy of faith, or the rule of faith in Christ as declared in the gospel, in opposition unto all other ways and means of justification, sanctification, and salvation; which we ought to walk in a compliance 386withal, and that with love and forbearance towards them that in things not corruptive or destructive of this rule do differ from us.
But saith our author, “The sense, according to Dr Owen, is this, that those who are agreed in the substantials of religion should go on and do their duty, without regarding lesser differences.” Abate that expression of, “Without regarding lesser differences,” which is not mine, and supply in the room of it, “Mutually forbearing each other in lesser differences.” And be it so that it is my sense; at first view it looks as like the sense of the apostle as any man need desire. But saith the Doctor, “This sense is uncertain; because it sets no bounds to differences, and supposeth the continuance of such differences among them, which he designed to prevent by persuading them so often in this epistle to be of ‘one mind.’ Besides, the differences then on foot were none of the smaller differences of opinions, but that which they differed about was urged on the one hand as necessary to salvation, and opposed on the other as pernicious and destructive unto it.” And again, p. 169, “Let Dr Owen name any other smaller differences of opinions which might be an occasion of the apostle’s giving such a rule of mutual forbearance.”
I answer briefly, — 1. The sense is very certain; because it gives the due bounds unto the differences supposed, — namely, such as concern not the substantials of religion.
2. It doth suppose the continuance of these differences, because the apostle doth suppose the same: “If in any thing ye be otherwise minded;” which hinders no kind of endeavours to compose or remove them.
3. The differences intended were not those between them who imposed the observation of the law on the Gentiles as necessary unto salvation, and those by whom they were opposed; for the apostle gives no such rule as this in that case.
4. I do expressly assign those lesser differences, which the direction here is applicable unto, — namely, those between the blind sort of Jews mentioned before and the Gentile believers; which the apostle states and applies the same rule unto, Rom. xiv. What remains in answer unto this second inquiry doth proceed on mistaken suppositions, and concerns not the case under consideration.
Page 170, he proceeds unto his last inquiry, which, indeed, is alone pertinent unto his purpose, — namely, “How this rule hath an influence on our case.”
What this rule is, concerning which this inquiry is made, he doth not declare. Either the precise signification of the rule in this place, or the direction given with respect unto that rule, may be intended; that is, the general rule of our walking in our profession of the gospel, or the especial rule given by the apostle with respect thereunto 387in the case under consideration, may be so intended. If by the rule in the first sense, he understands a rule, canon, or command, establishing a church-state, with rites and modes of worship, with ceremonies, orders, and government, nowhere appointed in the Scripture or of divine revelation, it is openly evident that there was no such rule then, that no such is here intended but that only whereunto the grace of the gospel in mercy and peace is annexed, as Gal. vi. 16; which is not such a rule. If he intend by it a direction, that where there are different apprehensions in matters of less importance, not breaking in on the analogy of faith, accompanied with different practices, so far as they are necessary from those different apprehensions, the major part of those among whom the differences are should compel the minor to forbear their practice according unto their apprehension and comply with them in all things, on all sorts of penalties if they refuse so to do, — it will be hard to find such a direction in these words. Yet this must be the rule and this the direction that can give any countenance unto the Doctor’s cause. But if by this rule, the analogy of faith as before described be intended, and the direction be to walk according to it, with mutual forbearance and love as unto things of lesser moment, then this rule hath little advantageous influence into it
1. But then saith the Doctor, “So far as men agree they are bound to join together, as to opinion or communion.” I grant it (though it be not proved from this place), where such a communion is required of them regularly and in a way of duty. And, —
2. Saith he, “That the best Christians are bound to unite with others, though of lower attainments, and to keep within the same rule.” No doubt; howbeit the apostle speaks of no such things in this place, but only that we should all “walk by the same rule,” in what we have “already attained.” Yea, but, —
3. “This rule takes in all such orders which are lawful and judged necessary to hold the members of a Christian society together.” What rule doth this? Who shall appoint the orders intended? Who shall judge of their necessity? Are they of the institution of Christ or his apostles? Are they determined to be necessary in the Scripture, the rule of faith? If so, we are agreed. But if by these “orders” he intends such as men do or may at any time, under pretence of church authority, invent and impose as necessary, making alterations in the original state and rule of the church, as also in its worship and discipline, it will be strange to me if he can find them out either in the rule h re mentioned or the direction given with reference unto it, seeing such a practice seems to be plainly condemned in the words themselves. And it is known that this pretended power of rule or canon making for the unity of the church was that which 388at length ruined all churches in their state, order, and worship, if such a ruin be acknowledged to have befallen them in the Roman apostasy.
He therefore objects out of my discourse, p. 171, “Let the apostle’s rule be produced, with any probability of proof to be his, and we are all ready to subscribe and conform unto it.” To which he replies, This is the apostle’s rule, to go as far as they can, and if they can go no farther, to sit down quietly and wait for farther instruction, and not to break the peace of the church upon present dissatisfaction, nor to gather new churches out of others, upon supposition of higher attainments.”
Ans. 1. Upon a supposition that those who make and impose these new, unscriptural orders are the church, and that as the church they have authority so to make and impose them, if this be not the rule of the apostle, I believe some men judge it ought so to have been. But, —
2. The apostle’s rule is not that we should go as far as we can, as though there were any thing of dispute and difficulty in the matter; but that “whereto we have already attained,” we should “walk by the same rule.”
3. He doth not intimate any thing about breaking the peace of the church, but only what would do so, by an imposition on one another in differences of lesser moment, whilst the general rule of faith and love is attended unto.
4. “To be quiet, and wait for farther instruction,” is the direction given unto both parties, whilst the differences did continue between them, and that in opposition unto mutual impositions.
5. A church that is really so, or so esteemed, may break the peace with its own members and others as well as they with it; and where the fault is must be determined by the causes of what is done.
6. For what is added about “gathering of churches,” it shall be considered in its proper place. But as unto the application of these things unto the present case, there lies in the bottom of them such an unproved presumption of their being the church, — that is, according unto divine institution, for in their being so in any other sense we are not concerned, — of their church power and authority by whom such orders and rules are made, as we can by no means admit of.
I can more warrantably give this as the apostle’s rule than that of our author: “What you have attained unto in the knowledge of the doctrine and mysteries of the gospel, walk together in holy communion of faith and love; but take heed that you multiply not new causes of divisions and differences, by inventing and imposing new orders in divine worship or the rule of the church, casting them out who agree with you in all things of divine revelation and institution.”
389He adds from my words, “If the rule reach our case, it must be such as requires such things to be observed as were never divinely appointed, as national churches, ceremonies, and modes of worship.” To which he replies, “And so this rule doth, in order unto peace, require the observation of such things; which, although they be not particularly commanded of God, yet are enjoined by lawful authority, provided that they be not unlawful in themselves, nor repugnant unto the word of God.”
Ans. 1. Let the reader, if he please, consult the place whence these words are taken in my discourse, and he will find this evasion obviated.
2. What is intended by “This rule?” Is it the rule given by the apostle? Who that reads the words can possibly pretend unto any such conception of their meaning? If he understand a rule of his own, I know not what it may or may not include.
3. I deny, and shall for ever deny, that the rule here intended by the apostle doth give the least countenance unto the invention and imposition of things not divinely instituted, not prescribed, not commanded in the word, on the pretence that those who so invent and impose them judge them lawful, and that they have authority so to do.
He objects again unto himself out of my discourse, that “The apostles never gave any such rules themselves about outward modes of worship, with ceremonies, feasts, fasts, liturgies,” etc. Whereunto he replies, “What then?” I say then, —
1. It had been happy for Christians and Christian religion if those who pretended to be their successors had followed their example, and made no such rules at all; that they would not have thought themselves wiser than they, or more careful for the good of the church, or better acquainted with the mind of Christ in these things than they were; for that multiplication of rules, laws, canons, about the things mentioned, and others of an alike nature, which the apostles, never gave any example of or encouragement unto, which afterward ensued, hath been a principal means of altering the state of the church from its original institution, of corrupting its worship, and administering occasion unto scandal and endless strifes.
2. If the apostles gave no such rules themselves, it may be concluded safely that it was because in their judgment no such rule was to be given. Other reason hereof cannot be assigned; for if it might have been done according to the mind of Christ, and by virtue of the commission which they had from him, innumerable evils might have been prevented by the doing it. They foresaw what differences would arise in the church, what divisions the darkness and corrupt 390lusts of men would cast them into, about such things as these, and probably knew much whereunto the mystery of iniquity tended; yet would they not appoint any arbitrary rules about things not ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ, which might have given some bounds unto the inclinations of men in making and multiplying rules of their own unto the ruin of the church.
3. Then, I say, we beg the pardon of all who concern themselves herein, that we scruple the complying with such rules in religion and the worship of God as the apostles thought not meet to appoint or ordain.
But he adds, “It is sufficient that they gave this general rule, that all lawful things are to be done for the church’s peace.”
Ans. What is to be done for the church’s peace we shall afterward consider. “To be done,” is intended of acts of religion in the worship of God. I say, then, the apostles never gave any such rule as that pretended. The rule they gave was, that all things which Christ hath commanded were to be done and observed; and for the doing of any thing else they gave no rule. Especially, they gave not such a large rule as this, that might serve the turn and interest of the worst of men in imposing on the church whatever they esteemed lawful, as (not by virtue of any rule of the apostles, but in an open rejection of all they gave) it afterward fell out in the church. This is a rule which would do the work to the purpose of all that have the reputation of governors in the church, be it the pope or who it will: for they are themselves the sole judges of what is lawful; the people, as it is pretended, understand nothing of these things. Whatever, therefore, they have a mind to introduce into the worship of God, and to impose on the practice of men therein, is to be done by virtue of this apostolical rule for the “church’s peace,” provided they judge it “lawful;” and surely no pope was ever yet so stark mad as to impose things in religion which he himself judged unlawful. Besides, things may be lawful in themselves, that is, morally, which yet it is not lawful to introduce into the worship of God, because not expedient nor for edification; yea, things may be lawful to be done sometimes, on some occasions, in the worship of God, which yet it would be unlawful to impose by virtue of a general binding rule for all times and seasons. Instances may be multiplied in each kind. Therefore, I say, the apostles never gave this rule; they opened no such door unto arbitrary imposition; they laid no such yoke on the necks of the disciples, which might prove heavier, and did so, than that of the Jewish ceremonies which they had taken away, — namely, that they were to do and observe all that should by their rulers be imposed on them as lawful in their judgment. This sovereignty over their consciences was reserved by the apostles unto the authority of 391Christ alone, and their obedience was required by them only unto his commands. This is that which, I see, some would be at:— To presume themselves to be the church, at least the only rulers and governors of it; to assume to themselves alone the judgment of what is lawful and what is unlawful to be observed in the worship of God; to avow a power to impose what they please on all churches, pretended to be under their command, so that they judge it lawful, be it never so useless or trifling, if it hath no other end but to be an instance of their authority; and then assert that all Christian people must, without farther examination, submit quietly unto this state of things and comply with it, unless they will be esteemed damned schismatics. But it is too late to advance such principles a second time.
He adds from my paper, or as my sense, “The apostles gave rules inconsistent with any determining rule, — namely, of mutual forbearance,” Rom. xiv. “But then,” saith he, “the meaning must be, that whatever differences happen among Christians, there must be no determination either way. But this is directly contrary to the decree of the apostles at Jerusalem, upon the difference that happened in the Christian churches.” But they are not my words which he reports. I said not that “the apostles gave rules inconsistent with any determining rule,” but with such a rule, and the imposition of the things contained in it on the practice of men, in things not determined (that is, whilst differences about them do continue), as he contends for. And, —
1. Notwithstanding this rule of forbearance given by the apostle expressly, Rom. xiv., yet as unto the right and truth in the things wherein men are at difference, every private believer is to determine of them, so far as he is able, in his own mind; “every man is to be fully persuaded in his own mind” in such things, so far as his own practice is concerned.
2. The church wherein such differences do fall out may doctrinally determine of the truth in them, as it is the pillar and ground of truth, supposing them to be of such weight as that the edification of the church is concerned in them; for otherwise there is no need of any such determination, but every one may be left unto his own liberty. There are differences at this day in the church of England in doctrine and practice, some of them, in my judgment, of more importance than those between the same church and us; yet it doth not think it necessary to make any determination of them, no, not doctrinally.
3. If the church wherein such differences fall out be not able in and of itself to make a doctrinal determination of such differences, they may and ought to crave the counsel and advice of other churches 392with whom they walk in communion in faith and love. And so it was in the ease whereof an account is given us, Acts xv. The determination or decree there made, concerning the necessary observance of the Jewish rites by the Gentiles converted unto the faith, by the apostles, elders, and brethren, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, as his mind was revealed in the Scripture, gives not the least countenance unto the making and imposing such a rule on all churches and their members as is contended for.
For, — (1.) It was only a doctrinal determination, without imposition on the practice of any. (2.) It was a determination against impositions directly. And whereas it is said that it was a determination contrary to the judgment of the imposers, which shows that the rule of forbearance, where conscience is alleged both ways, is no standing rule, — I grant that it was contrary to the judgment of the imposers, but imposed nothing on them, nor was their practice concerned in that erroneous judgment. They were not required to do any thing contrary to their own judgment, and the not doing whereof did reflect on their own consciences. Wherefore, the whole rule given by the apostles, and the whole determination made, is, that no impositions be made in the consciences or practice of the disciples of Christ, in things relating to his worship, but what were necessary by virtue of divine institution. They added hereunto, that the Gentiles enjoying this liberty ought to use it without offence, and were at liberty, by virtue of it, to forbear such things as wherein they had, or thought they had, a natural liberty, in case they gave offence by the use of them. And the apostles, who knew the state of things in the minds of the Jews, and all other circumstances, give an instance in the things which at that season were to be so forborne. And whereas this determination was not absolute and obligatory on the whole case unto all churches, — namely, whether the Mosaical law were to be observed among Christians, — but some churches were left unto their own judgment and practice, who esteemed it to be still in force, as the churches of the Jews; and others left unto their own liberty and practice also, who judged it not to oblige them; both sides or parties being bound to continue communion among them in faith and love; there is herein a perpetual establishment of the rule of mutual forbearance in such cases, nothing being condemned but impositions on one another, nothing commended but an abstinence from the use of liberty in the case of scandal or offence. I had therefore reason to say that the false apostles were the only imposers, — that is, of things not necessary by virtue of any divine institution And if the author insinuate that the true apostles were such imposers also, because of the determination they made of this difference, he will fail in his proof of it. It is true, they imposed on or charged the consciences 393of men with the observance of all the institutions and commands of Christ, but of other things none at all.
The last thing which he endeavours an answer unto on this occasion lies in these words: “The Jewish Christians were left unto their own liberty, provided they did not impose on others; and the dissenters at this day desire no more than the Gentile church did, — namely, not to be imposed on to observe those things which they are not satisfied it is the mind of Christ should be imposed on them.” So is my sense, in the places referred unto, reported. Nor shall I contend about it, so as that the last clause be changed; for my words are not, “They are not satisfied it is the mind of Christ that they should be reposed on them,” but, “They were not satisfied it is the mind of Christ they should observe.” This respects the things themselves, the other only their imposition. And one reason against the imposition opposed is, that the things themselves imposed are such as the Lord Christ would not have us observe, because not appointed by himself.
But hereunto he answers two things:—
1. “That it was agreed by all the governors of the Christian church that the Jewish Christians should be left unto their own liberty, out of respect unto the law of Moses, and out of regard unto the peace of the Christian church, which otherwise might have been extremely hazarded.” But, —
(1.) The governors of the Christian church which made the determination insisted on were the apostles themselves.
(2.) There was no such determination made, that the Jews should be left unto their own liberty in this matter, but there was only a connivance at their inclination to bear their old yoke for a season; the determination was only on the other hand, that no imposition of it should be made on the Gentiles.
(3.) The determination itself was no act of church government or power, but a doctrinal declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost.
(4.) It is well that church-governors once judged that impositions in things not necessary were to be forborne, for the sake of the peace of the church; others, I hope, may in due time be of the same mind.
2. He says, “The false apostles imposing on the Gentile Christians had two circumstances in it, which extremely alter their case from that of our dissenters;” for, —
(1.) “They were none of their lawful governors, but went about as seducers, drawing away the disciples of the apostles from them.” It seems, then, —
[1.] That those who are lawful governors, or pretend themselves so to be, may impose what they please without control, as they did in the Papacy and the councils of it. But, —
394[2.] Their imposition was merely doctrinal, wherein there was no pretence of any act of government or governing power; which made it less grievous than that which the dissenters have suffered under. Were things no otherwise imposed on us, we should bear them more easily.
(2.) Saith he, “They imposed the Jewish rites as necessary to salvation, and not merely as indifferent things.” And the truth is, so long as they judged them so to be, they are more to be excused in their doctrinal impositions of them than others are who by an act of government, fortified with I know not how many penalties, do impose things which themselves esteem indifferent, and those on whom they are imposed do judge to be unlawful.
Whereas he adds, “That he hath considered all things that are material in my discourse, which seem to take off the force of the argument drawn from this text,” I am not of his mind; nor I believe will any indifferent person be so, who shall compare what I wrote therein with his exceptions against it; though I acknowledge it is no easy thing to discover wherein the force of the pretended argument doth lie That we must walk according unto the same rule in what we have attained; that wherein we differ we must wait on God for teaching and instruction; that the apostles, elders, and brethren at Jerusalem determined from the Scriptures, or the mind of the Holy Ghost therein, that the Jewish ceremonies should not be imposed on the Gentile churches and believers; and that thereon those churches continued in communion with each other who did and did not observe those ceremonies, — are the only principles which, in truth, the Doctor hath to proceed upon. To infer from these principles and propositions that there is a national church of divine institution (for what is not so hath no church-power properly so called, the nature of its power being determined by the authority of its institution or erection); that this church hath power in its governors and rulers to invent new orders, ceremonies, and rites of worship, new canons for the observation of sundry things in the rule of the church and worship of God, which have no spring nor cause but their own invention and prescription, and is authorized to impose the observation of them on all particular churches and believers who never gave their consent unto their invention or prescription; and hereon to declare them all to be wicked schismatics who yield not full obedience unto them in these things, — it requires a great deal of art and skill in the managers of the argument.
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