|« Prev||Section II.||Next »|
Part ii., sect. xxi., p. 176, our author proceeds to renew his charge of schism, or sinful separation, against those “who though they agree with us,” saith he, “in the substantials of religion, yet deny any communion with our church to be lawful.” But apprehending that the state of the question here insinuated will not be admitted, and that it would be difficult to find them out who deny any communion with the church of England to be lawful, he adds, that he doth not speak of “any improper acts of communion, which Dr Owen calls communion in faith and love, which they allow to the church of England.” But why the acts hereof are called “Improper acts of communion.” I know not. Add unto faith and love the administration of the same sacraments, with common advice in things of common concernment, and it is all the communion that the true churches of Christ have among themselves in the whole world; yea, this church-communion is such as that, —
1. Where it is not, there is no evangelical communion at all. Whatever acts of worship or church-order men may agree in the practice of, if the foundation of that agreement be not laid in a joint communion in faith and love, they are neither accepted with God nor profitable unto the souls of men; for, —
2. These are the things, — namely, faith and love, — which enliven all joint duties of church order and worship, are the life and soul of it; and how they should be only improperly that which they alone make other things to he properly, I cannot understand.
3. Where there is no defect in these things, — namely, in faith and love, — the charge of schism on dissenting in things of lesser moment is altogether unreasonable. It is to he desired that an overweening of our differences make us not overlook the things wherein we are agreed. This is one of the greatest evils that attend this controversy. Men are forced by their interest to lay more weight on a few outward rites and ceremonies, which the world and the church might well have spared, had they not come into the minds of some men none know how, than upon the most important graces and duties of the gospel. Hence, communion in faith and love is scarce esteemed worth taking up in the streets, in comparison of uniformity in rites and ceremonies! Let men be as void of, and remote from, true gospel faith and love as is imaginable, yet if they comply quietly with, and have a little zeal for, those outward things, they are to be approved of as very orderly members of the church! And whatever evidences, on the other hand, any can or do give of their communion in faith and love with all that are of that communion, yet if they cannot in 396conscience comply in the observance of those outward things mentioned, they are to be judged schismatics and breakers of the church’s unity, whereas no part of the church’s unity doth, or ever did, consist in them.
In his procedure hereon, our author seems to embrace occasions of contending, seeking for advantages therein in things not belonging unto the merit of the cause; which I thought was beneath him. From my concession, that some at least of our parochial churches are true churches, he asks, “In what sense? Are they churches rightly constituted, with whom they may join in communion as members?” I think it is somewhat too late now, after all this dispute about the reasons of refraining from their communion, and his severe charge of schism upon us for our so doing, to make this inquiry Wherefore he answers himself. “No; but his meaning is, saith he, ‘that they are not guilty of any such heinous errors in doctrine, or idolatrous practice in worship, as should utterly deprive them of the being and nature of churches;’ ” — which I suppose are my words But then comes in the advantage. “Doth,” saith he, “this kindness belong only unto some of our parochial churches? I had thought that every parochial church was true or false according unto its frame or constitution; which, among us, supposeth the owning the doctrine and worship established in the church of England.” I answer briefly, It is true, every church is true or false according unto its original frame and constitution. This frame and constitution of churches, if it proceed from, and depend upon, the institution of Christ, is true and approvable; if it depend only on a national establishment of doctrine and worship, I know not well what to say unto it. But let any of these parochial churches be so constituted as to answer the legal establishment in the land, yet if the generality of their members are openly wicked in their lives, and they have no lawful or sufficient ministry, we cannot acknowledge them for true churches. Some other things of the like nature do ensue, but I shall not insist on them.
He gathers up, in the next place, the titles of the causes alleged for our refraining communion with those parochial assemblies; which he calls our separation from them. And hereon he inquires, “Whether these reasons be a ground for a separation from a church wherein it is confessed there are no heinous errors in doctrine, or idolatrous practice in worship;” that is, as he before cited my words, “as should utterly deprive them of the being and nature of churches.” And if they be not, then saith he, “Such a separation may be a formal schism, because they set up other churches of their own.”
The rule before laid down, “That all things lawful are to be done for the church’s peace,” taking in the supposition on which it proceeds, 397is as sufficient to establish church tyranny as any principle made use of by the church of Rome, notwithstanding its plausible appearance. And that here insinuated of the unlawfulness of separation from any church in the world (for that which hath pernicious errors in doctrine and idolatry in worship, destroying its being, is no church at all), is as good security unto churches in an obstinate refusal of reformation, when the souls of the people are ruined amongst them for the want of it, as they need desire. And I confess I suspect such principles as are evidently suited unto the security of the corrupt interests of any sort of men.
I say, therefore, — 1. That though a church, or that which pretends itself on any grounds so to be, do not profess any heinous error in doctrine, nor be guilty of idolatrous practice in worship, destroying its nature and being, yet there may be sufficient reasons to refrain from its communion in church order and worship, and to join in or with other churches for edification; that is, that where such a church is not capable of reformation, or is obstinate in a resolution not to reform itself, under the utmost necessity thereof, it is lawful for all or any of its, members to reform themselves, according to the mind of Christ and commands of the gospel.
2. That where men are no otherwise members of any church but by an inevitable necessity and outward penal laws, preventing their own choice and any act of obedience unto Christ in their joining with such churches, the case is different from theirs whose relation unto any church is founded in their own voluntary choice, as submitting themselves unto the laws, institution, and rule of Christ in that church which we shall make use of afterward.
3. The Doctor might have done well to have stated the true nature of schism, and the formal reason of it, before he had charged a formal schism on supposition of some outward acts only.
4. What is our judgment concerning parochial assemblies, how far we separate from them or refrain communion with them, what are the reasons whereon we do so, hath been now fully declared, and thereunto we must appeal on all occasions; for we cannot acquiesce in what is unduly imposed on us, either as unto principles or practice.
“To show,” as he saith, “the insufficiency of our cause of separation, he will take this way, — namely, to show the great absurdities that follow on the allowance of them;” and adds, “These five especially I shall insist upon:— 1. That it weakens the cause of Reformation; 2. That it hinders all union between the protestant churches; 3. That it justifies the ancient schisms, which have been always condemned by the Christian church; 4. That it makes separation endless; 5. That it is contrary to the obligation that lies on all Christians to preserve the peace and unity of the church.”
398Now, as I shall consider what he offers on these several heads, and his application of it unto the case in hand, so I shall confirm the reasons already given of our separation (if it must be so called) from parochial assemblies, with these five considerations:— 1. That they strengthen the cause of Reformation; 2. That they open a way to union between all protestant churches; 3. That they give the just grounds of condemning the ancient schisms that ever any Christian church did justly condemn; 4. That they give due bounds unto separation; 5. That they absolutely comply with all the commands of the Scripture for the preservation of the peace and unity of the church.
I shall begin with the consideration of the absurdities charged by him on our principles and practice.
The first of them is, “That it weakens the cause of the Reformation.” This he proves by long quotations out of some French divines. We are not to expect that they should speak unto our cause, or make any determination in it, seeing to the principal of them it was unknown. “But they say that which is contrary unto our principles.” So they may do, and yet this not weaken the cause of the Reformation; for it is known that they say somewhat also that is contrary to the principles of our episcopal brethren, for which one of them is sufficiently reviled, but yet the cause of Reformation is not weakened thereby.
The first testimony produced is that of Calvin. A large discourse he hath, Institut., lib. iv. cap. 1, against causeless separations from a true church; — and by whom are they not condemned? No determination of the case in hand can be thence derived; nor are the grounds of our refraining communion with parochial assemblies the same with those which he condemns as insufficient for a total separation; nor is the separation he opposed in those days, which was absolute and total, with a condemnation of the churches from which it was made, of the same nature with that wherewith we are charged, at least not with what we own and allow. He gives the notes of a true church to be, — the pure preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments according unto Christ’s institution. Where these are he allows a true church to be, not only without diocesan episcopacy, but in a form and under a rule opposite unto it and inconsistent with it. And if he did at all speak to our case, as he doth not, nor unto any of the grounds of it, why should we be pressed with his authority on the one hand more than others from whom he differed also on the other? Besides, there is a great deal more belongs unto the pure preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments according unto Christ’s institution than some seem to apprehend. They may, they ought to be so explained, as that, from 399the consideration of them, we may justify our whole cause. Both these may be wanting in a church which is not guilty of such heinous errors in doctrine or idolatry in worship as should overthrow its being; and their want may be a just cause of refraining communion from church which yet we are not obliged to condemn as none at all.
Calvin expresseth his judgment, N. 12: “I would not give countenance unto errors, no, not to the least, so as to cherish them by flattery or connivance. But though I say that, the church is not to be forsaken for trifling differences, wherein the doctrine (of the gospel) is retained safe and sound, wherein the integrity of godliness doth abide, and the use of the sacraments appointed of the Lord is preserved;” — and we say the same.
And this very Calvin, who doth so severely condemn separation from a true church as by him stated, did himself quietly and peaceably withdraw and depart from the church of Geneva, when they refused to admit that discipline which he esteemed to be according to the mind of Christ. It is certain, therefore, that, by the separation which he condemns, he doth not intend the peaceable relinquishment of the communion of any church, as unto a constant participation of all ordinances in it, for want of due means of edification, much less that which hath so many other causes concurring therewith.
For the other learned men whom he quotes unto the same purpose, I see not any thing that gives the least countenance unto his assertion that our principles weaken the cause of the Reformation. It is true, they plead other causes of separation from the church of Rome than those insisted on by us with respect unto the church of England; and, indeed, they had been otherwise much to blame, having so many things as they had to plead of greater importance. Did we say that the reasons which we plead are all that can be pleaded to justify the separation of the Reformed churches from the church of Rome, it would weaken the cause of Reformation; for we should then deny that idolatry and fundamental errors in faith were any cause or ground of that separation. However, we know that the imposition of them on the faith and practice of all Christians is more pleaded in justification of a separation from them than the things themselves. But allowing those greater reasons to be pleaded against the Roman communion, as we do, it doth not in the least follow that our reasons for refraining communion with parochial assemblies do weaken the cause of the Reformation.
However, let me not be misinterpreted as unto that expression of “destroying our faith,” — which the communion required with the church of England, as unto all the important articles of it, doth not 400do, — and I can subscribe unto the words of Daillè, as quoted by our author out of his Apology: “If,” saith he, “the church of Rome hath not required any thing of us which destroys our faith, offends our consciences, and overthrows the service which we believe due to God, — if the differences have been small, and such as we might safely have yielded unto, — then he will grant their separation was rash and unjust, and they guilty of the schism.”
He closeth his transcription of the words of sundry learned men who have justified the separation of the Reformed churches from the church of Rome, wherein we are not in the least concerned, with an inquiry, “What triumph would the church of Rome make over us, had we no other reasons to justify our separation from them but only those which (as is pretended) we plead in our cause?” I say, whereas we do plead, confirm, and justify all the reasons and causes pleaded for the separation of the Reformed churches from them, not opposing, not weakening any of them by any principle or practice of ours, but farther press the force of the same reasonings and causes in all instances whereunto they will extend, I see neither what cause the Papists have of triumph nor any thing that weakens the cause of the Reformation. He adds farther, “How should we be hissed and laughed at, all over the Christian world, if we had nothing to allege for our separation from the Roman church but such things as these!” I answer, that as the case stands, if we did allege no other reasons but those which we insist on for our refraining communion with our own parochial assemblies, we should deserve to be derided for relinquishing the plea of those other important reasons which the heresies, and idolatries, and tyranny of that church do render just and equal: but if we had no other causes of separation from the church of Rome but what we have for our separation from our parochial assemblies at home, as weak as our allegations are pretended to be, we should not be afraid to defend them against all the Papists in the world; and let the world act like itself in hissing.
Whereas, therefore, the cause of Reformation is not in any thing weakened by our principles, no argument, no reason solidly pleaded to justify the separation from the church of Rome being deserted by us, neither testimony, proof, nor evidence being produced to evince that it is weakened by us, I shall, in the second place, as was before proposed, prove that the whole cause of the Protestants’ separation from the church of Rome is strengthened and confirmed by us:—
There were some general principles on which the Protestants proceeded in their separation from the church of Rome, and which they constantly pleaded in justification thereof.
1. The first was, that the Scripture, the word of God, is a perfect rule of faith and religious worship; so as that nothing ought to be 401admitted which is repugnant unto it in its general rule or especial prohibitions, nothing imposed that is not prescribed therein, but that every one is at liberty to refuse and reject any thing of that kind. This they all contended for, and confirmed their assertion by the express testimonies of the writers of the primitive churches. To prove this to have been their principle in their separation from the church of Rome were to light, as they say, a candle in the sun. It were easy to fill up a volume with testimonies of it. After a while this principle began to be weakened, when the interest of men made them except from this rule things of outward order, with some rites and ceremonies, the ordaining whereof they pleaded to be left unto churches as they saw good. Hereby this principle, I say, was greatly weakened; for no certain bounds could ever be assigned unto those things that are exempted from the regulation of the Scripture. And the same plea might be managed for many of the popish orders and ceremonies that were rejected, as forcibly as for them that were retained. And whereas all the Reformed churches agreed to abide by this principle in matters of faith, there fell out an admirable harmony in their confessions thereof. But leaving the necessity of attending unto this rule in the matter of order, ceremonies, rites, and modes of worship, with the state of churches in their rule and polity, those differences and divisions ensued amongst them which continue unto this day. But this persuasion in some places made a farther progress, — namely, that it was lawful to impose on the consciences and practices of men such things in religious worship, provided that they concerned outward order, rites, rule, and ceremonies, as are nowhere prescribed in the Scripture, and that on severe penalties, ecclesiastical and civil. This almost utterly destroyed the great fundamental principle of the Reformation, whereon the first reformers justified their separation Yore the church of Rome; for whereas it is supposed the right of them who are to be the imposers to determine what doth belong unto the heads mentioned, they might under that pretence impose what they pleased, and refuse those whom they imposed them on the protection of the aforesaid principle, — namely, that nothing ought to be so imposed that is not prescribed in the Scripture. This hath proved the rise of all endless differences and schisms amongst us; nor will they be healed until all Christians are restored unto their liberty of being obliged, in the things of God, only unto the authority of the Scripture.
The words of Mr Chillingworth unto this purpose are emphatical; which I shall therefore transcribe, though that be a thing which I am very averse from:—
“Require,” saith he, “of Christians only to believe Christ, and to call no man master but him only; let those leave claiming of infallibility 402who have no right unto it, and let them that in their words disclaim it, disclaim it likewise in their actions; in a word, take away tyranny, which is the devil’s instrument to support errors, and superstitions, and impieties in the several parts of the world, which could not otherwise long withstand the power of truth, — I say, take away tyranny, and restore Christians to their just and full liberty of captivating their understandings to the Scripture only, that universal liberty, thus moderated, may quickly reduce Christendom to truth and unity,” part i., chap. 4, sect. 16.
This fundamental principle of the first Reformation we do not only firmly adhere unto, rejecting all those opinions and practices whereby its force is weakened and impaired, but also do willingly suffer the things that do befall us in giving our testimony thereunto. Neither will there ever be peace among the churches of Christ in this world until it be admitted in its whole latitude, especially in that part thereof wherein it excludes all impositions of things not prescribed in the Scripture; for there are but few persons who are capable of the subtlety of those reasonings, which are applied to weaken this principle in its whole extent. All men can easily see this, that the sufficiency of the Scripture in general, as unto all the ends of religion, is the only foundation they have to rest and build upon. They do see, actually, that where men go about to prescribe things to be observed in divine worship not appointed in the Scripture, no two churches have agreed therein, but endless contentions have ensued; that no man can give an instance in particular of any thing that is necessary unto the rule of the church, or the observance of the commands of Christ in the worship of God, that is not contained in the Scripture; and hereon are ready to resolve to call no man master but Christ, and to admit of nothing in religion but what is warranted by his word.
2. The second principle of the Reformation, whereon the reformers justified their separation from the church of Rome, was this: “That Christian people were not tied up unto blind obedience unto church-guides, but were not only at liberty, but also obliged to judge for themselves as unto all things that they were to believe and practice in religion and the worship of God.” They knew that the whole fabric of the Papacy did stand on this basis or dunghill, that the mystery of iniquity was cemented by this device, — namely, that the people were ignorant, and to be kept in ignorance, being obliged in all things unto an implicit obedience unto their pretended guides. And that they might not be capable of nor fit for any other condition, they took from them the only means of their instruction unto their duty, and the knowledge of it; that is, the use of the holy Scripture. But the first reformers did not only vindicate their 403right unto the use of the Scripture itself, but insisted on it as a principle of the Reformation (and without which they could never have carried on their work), that they were in all concernments of religion to judge for themselves. And multitudes of them quickly manifested how meet and worthy they were to have this right restored unto them, in laying down their lives for the truth, — suffering as martyrs under the power of their bishops.
This principle of the Reformation, in like manner, is in no small degree weakened by many, and so the cause of it. Dr Stillingfleet himself, pp. 127, 128, denies unto the people all liberty or ability to choose their own pastors, to judge what is meet for their own edification, what is heresy or a pernicious error, and what is not, or any thing of the like nature. This is almost the same with that of the Pharisees concerning them who admired and followed the doctrine of our Saviour, Ὁ ὄχλος οὗτος ὁ μὴ γινὼσκων τὸν νόμον, John vii. 49; — “This rabble which knoweth not the law.” Yet was it this people whom the apostles directed to choose out from among themselves persons meet for an ecclesiastical office, Acts vi.; the same people who joined with the apostles and elders in the consideration of the grand ease concerning the continuation of the legal ceremonies, and were associated with them in the determination of it, Acts xv.; the same to whom all the apostolical epistles, excepting some to particular persons, were written, and unto whom such directions were given, and duties enjoined on them, as suppose not only a liberty and ability to judge for themselves in all matters of faith and obedience, but also an especial interest in the order and discipline of the church; those who were to say unto Archippus, their bishop, “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it,” Col. iv. 17; unto whom of all sorts it is commanded that they should examine and try antichrists, spirits, and false teachers, — that is, all sorts of heretics, and heresies, and errors, 1 John ii., iii., etc.; that people who, even in following ages, adhered unto the faith and the orthodox profession of it when almost all their bishops were become Arian heretics, and kept their private conventicles in opposition unto them, at Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and other places, and who were so many of them burnt here in England by their own bishops, on the judgment they made of errors and heresies. And if the present people with whom the Doctor is acquainted be altogether unmeet for the discharge of any of these duties, it is the fault of somebody else besides their own.
This principle of the Reformation, in vindication of the rights, liberties, and privileges of the Christian people, to judge and choose for themselves in matters of religion, to join freely in those church-duties which are required of them, without which the work of it had never 404been carried on, we do abide by and maintain. Yea, we meet with no opposition more fierce than upon the account of our asserting the liberties and rights of the people in reference unto church order and worship. But I shall not be afraid to say, that as the Reformation was begun and carried on on this principle, so when this people shall through an apprehension of their ignorance, weakness, and unmeetness to discern and judge in matters of religion for themselves and heir own duty, be kept and debarred from it; or when, through their own sloth, negligence, and viciousness, they shall be really incapable to manage their own interest in church-affairs, as being fit only to be governed, if not as brute creatures, yet as mute persons, and that these things are improved by the ambition of the clergy, engrossing all things in the church unto themselves, as they did in former ages, — if the old popedom do not return, a new one will be erected as bad as the other.
3. Another principle of the Reformation is, “That there was not any catholic, visible, organical, governing church, traduced by succession into that of Rome, whence all church power and order was to be derived.” I will not say that this principle was absolutely received by all the first reformers here in England, yet it was by the generality of them in the other parts of the world; for as they constantly denied that there was any catholic church but that invisible of elect believers, allowing the external denomination of “the church” unto he diffused community of the baptized world, so believing and professing that the pope is antichrist, that Rome is mystical Babylon, the seat of the apostatized church of the Gentiles, devoted to destruction, they could acknowledge no such church-state in the Roman church, nor the derivation of any power and order from it. So far as there is a declension from this principle, so far the cause of the Reformation is weakened, and the principal reason of separation from the Roman church is rejected; as shall be farther manifested if occasion require it.
This principle we do firmly adhere unto; and not only so, but it is known that our fixed judgment concerning the divine institution, nature and order of evangelical churches, is such as is utterly exclusive of the Roman church, as a body organized in and under the pope and his hierarchy, from any pretence unto church state, order, or power. And it may be hence judged who do most weaken the cause of Reformation, we or some of them at least by whom we are opposed.
A second absurdity that he chargeth on our way is, “That it would make union among the protestant churches impossible, supposing them to remain as they are,” sect. xxiv., p. 186. To make good this charge he insists on two things:—
405“1. That the Lutheran churches have the same and more ceremonies and unscriptural impositions than our church hath.
“2. That notwithstanding these things, yet many learned protestant divines have pleaded for union and communion with them; which upon our principles and suppositions they could not have done.” But whether they plead for union and communion with them, by admitting into their churches, and submitting unto those ceremonies and unscriptural impositions, — which is alone unto the Doctor’s purpose, — or whether they judge their members obliged to communicate in local communion with them under those impositions, he doth not declare. But whereas neither we nor our cause are in the least concerned in what the Doctor here insists upon, yet because the charge is no less than that our principles give disturbance unto the peace and union of all protestant churches, I shall briefly manifest that they are not only conducive thereunto, but such as without which that peace and union will never be attained:—
1. It is known unto all, that from the first beginning of the Reformation there were differences among the churches which departed from the communion of the church of Rome. And as this was looked on as the greatest impediment unto the progress of the Reformation, so it was not morally possible that in a work of that nature, begun and carried on by persons of all sorts, in many nations, of divers tongues and languages, none of them being divinely inspired, it should otherwise fall out. God, also, in his holy, wise providence, suffered it so to be, for causes known then to himself; but since, sundry of them have been made manifest in the event. For whereas there was an agreement in all fundamental articles of faith among them and all necessary means of salvation, a farther agreement, considering our sloth, negligence, and proneness of men to abuse security and power, might have produced as evil effects as the differences have done; for those which have been on the one hand, and those which have been on the other, have been, and would have been, from the corrupt affections of the minds of men and their secular interests.
2. These differences were principally in or about some doctrines of faith, whereon some fiery spirits among them took occasion, mutually and unjustly enough, to charge each other with heresy; especially was this done among the Lutherans, whose writings are stuffed with that charge, and miserable attempts to make it good. There were also other differences among them, with respect unto church order, rites, ceremonies, and modes of worship. The church of England, as unto the government of the church and sundry other things, took a way by itself; which at present we do not consider.
3. Considering the agreement in all fundamental articles of faith 406between these churches thus at difference, and of what great use their union might be unto the protestant religion, both as unto its spiritual and political interest in this world, the effecting of such a union among them hath been attempted by many. Private persons, princes, colloquies or synods of some of the parties at variance, have sedulously engaged herein. I wish they had never missed it, in stating the nature of that union, which in this case is alone desirable and alone attainable, nor in the causes of that disadvantageous difference that was between them; for hence it is come to pass, that although some verbal compositions have sometimes by some been consented unto, yet all things continue practically amongst them as they were from the beginning. And there are yet persons who are managing proposals for such a union, with great projection in point of method for the compassing of it and stating of the principles of agreement; some whereof I have by me. But the present state of things in Europe, with the minds of potentates not concerned in these things, leave little encouragement for any such attempt, or expectation of any success.
4. After the trial and experience of a hundred and fifty years, it is altogether in vain to be expected that any farther reconciliation or union should be effected between these protestant churches by either party’s relinquishment of the doctrines they have so long taught, professed, and contended for, or of their practice in divine worship, which they have so long been accustomed unto. We may as well expect that a river should run backwards as expect any such things.
In this state of things, I say, the principles we proceed upon are the most useful unto the procuring of peace and union among these churches, in the state wherein they are, and without which it will never be effected. I shall, therefore, give an account of those of them which are of this nature and tendency:—
1. And the first is, the absolute necessity of a general reformation in life and manners of all sorts of persons belonging unto these churches. It is sufficiently known what a woful condition the profession even of the protestant religion is fallen unto. How little evidence is there left of the power of evangelical grace working in the hearts of men! What little diligence in the duties of holiness and righteousness! What a deluge of all sorts of vices hath overwhelmed the nations! And what indications there are of the displeasure of God against us on the account of these things! Who doth not almost tremble at them? Calvin, unto whom I was newly sent by our reverend author, in answer to them who pleaded for a separation from a true church because of the wickedness of many of its members, or any of them, adds unto it: “It is a most just offence, and unto which there is too much occasion given in this miserable 407age. Nor is it lawful to excuse our cursed sloth, which the Lord will not let go unpunished, as he begins already to chastise us with grievous stripes. Woe, therefore, unto us, who by our dissolute licentiousness in flagitious sins do cause that the weak consciences of men should be sounded for us!” And if it were so then, the matter is not much mended in the age wherein we live. The truth is, sin and impiety are come to that height and impudence, sensuality and oppression are so diffused among all sorts of persons, conformity unto the fashion of the world become so universal, and the evidences of God’s displeasure, with the beginnings and entrances of his judgments, are so displayed, as that if the reformation pleaded for be not speedily endeavoured and vigorously pursued, it will be too late to talk of differences and union; destruction will swallow up all. Until this be agreed on, until it be attempted and effected in some good measure, all endeavours for farther union, whatever their appearing success should be (as probably it will be very small), will be of no use unto the honour of religion, the glory of Christ, nor good of the souls of men. In the meantime, individual persons will do well to take care of themselves.
2. That all these differing churches, and whilst these differences do continue, be taught to prefer their general interest, in opposition unto the kingdom of Satan and Antichrist in the world, before the lesser things wherein they differ, and those occasional animosities that will ensue upon them. It hath been observed in many places that the nearer some men or churches come together in their profession, the more distant they are in their affections; as the Lutherans in many places do more hate the Calvinists than the Papists. I hope it is not so among us. This makes it evident that the want of necessary peace and union among churches cloth not proceed from the things themselves wherein they differ, but from the corrupt lusts and interests of the persons that differ. This evil can no otherwise be cured but by such a reformation as shall, in some measure, reduce primitive simplicity, integrity, and love, such as were among the churches of the converted Jews and Gentiles, when they walked according unto the same rule in what they had attained, forbearing one another in love as unto the things wherein they differed. Until this also be effected, all endeavours for farther union, whilst these differences continue (as they are like to do, unless the whole frame of things in Europe should be changed by some great revolution), will be fruitless and useless.
Were this conscientiously insisted on, out of a pure love unto Jesus Christ, with zeal for his glory, it would not only be of more use than innumerable wrangling disputes about the points in difference, but more than he exactest methods in contriving formularies of consent, 408or colloquies, or synodical conferences of the parties at variance, with all their solemnities, orders, limitations, precautions, concessions, and orations. Let men say what they will, it must be the revival, flourishing, and exercise of evangelical light, faith, and love that shall heal the differences and breaches that are among the churches of Christ; nor shall any thing else be honoured with any great influence into that work.
3. That all communion of churches, as such, consists in the communion of faith and love, in the administration of the same sacraments, and common advice in things of common concernment. All these may be observed when, for sundry reasons, the members of them cannot have local, presential communion in some ordinances with each church distinctly. If this truth were well established and consented unto, men might be easily convinced that there is nothing wanting unto that evangelical union among churches which the gospel requires, but only their own humble, holy, peaceable, Christian walking in their several places and stations. But where men put their own interests and possession of present advantages, clothed under the pretence of things necessary thereunto, into conditions of communion, or divest it of that latitude wherein Christ hath left it, by new limitations of their own, it will never be attained on the true evangelical principles that it must proceed upon; for however any may be displeased with it, I must assert and maintain that there is nothing required by our Lord Jesus Christ unto this end of the communion of churches, nor to any other end of church order or worship whatever, but that only in whose observance and performance there is an actual exercise of evangelical grace in obedience unto him.
4. That all private members of these several churches which agree in the communion before mentioned be left unto their own liberty and consciences to communicate in any of these churches, either occasionally or in a fixed way and manner. Neither orders nor compulsory decrees will be useful in this matter, in comparison of their own declared liberty. And so it was among the primitive churches.
5. Where men are invincibly hindered from total communion with any church, by impositions which they cannot comply withal without sin; or, by continuing in it, are deprived of the due means of their edification, the churches whereunto they did belong refusing all reformation; it is lawful for them, in obedience unto the law of Christ, to reform themselves, and to make use of the means appointed by him for their edification, abiding constantly in the communion of all true churches before described. I confess this is that which we cannot digest, — namely, an imagination that the Lord Jesus Christ hath 409obliged his disciples, those that believe in him, to abide always in such societies as wherein not only things are imposed on their obedience and observance which he hath not commanded, but they are also forced to live in the neglect of expressed duties which he requireth of them, and the want of that means of their own edification which, without the restraint at present upon them, they might enjoy according into his mind and will. Believers were not made for churches, nor for the advantage of them that rule in them; but churches were made for believers and their edification, nor are of any use farther than they tend thereunto.
These are the premises whereon we proceed in all that we do; and they are so far from being obstructive of the peace and union of the protestant churches, as that without them they will never be promoted nor attained. And I do beg of this worthy person that he would not despise these things, but know assuredly that nothing would be so effectual to procure the union he desireth as a universal reformation of all sorts of persons, according unto the rule and law of Christ; which, it may be, no man hath greater ability and opportunity in conjunction for than himself: for woe be unto us, if, whilst we contend about outward peace in smaller things, we neglect to make peace with God, and so expose ourselves and the whole nation unto his desolating judgments, which seem already to be impendent over us!
The third absurdity which he chargeth on our practice is, “That it will justify the ancient schisms, which have been always condemned in the Christian church;” and in the management of this charge he proceedeth, if I mistake not, with more than ordinary vehemency and severity, though it be a matter wherein we are least of all concerned.
To make effectual this charge, he first affirms in general, “That, setting aside a few things, they pleaded the same reasons for their separation as I do for ours;” which how great a mistake it is shall be manifested immediately. Secondly, He gives instances in several schisms that were so condemned by the Christian church, and whose practice is justified by us.
In answer hereunto, I shall first premise some things in general, showing the insufficiency of this argument to prove against us the charge of schism, and then consider the instances produced by him. I say, —
1. In times of decay, the declining times of churches or states, it cannot be but that some will be uneasy in their minds, although they know not how to remedy what is amiss, nor, it may be, fix on the particulars which are the right and true causes of the state which they find troublesome unto them; and whilst it is so with them, it is not 410to be admired at that some persons do fall into irregular attempts for the redressing of what is amiss. The church, where the instances insisted on happened, was falling into a mysterious decay from its original institution, order, and rule; which afterward increased more and more continually. But all being equally involved in the same declension, the remedies which they proposed who were uneasy, either in themselves or in the manner of their application, were worse than the disease; which yet lying uncured and continually increasing, proved in the issue the ruin of them all. But here lay the original of the differences and schisms which fell out in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, that having all in some measure departed from the original institution, rule, and order of evangelical churches in sundry things, and cast themselves into new forms and orders, their differences and quarrels related all unto them, and could have had no such occasion had they kept themselves unto their primitive constitution. Wherefore, those schisms which were said to be made by them that continued sound in the faith, as those of the Audians and Meletians, as by some is pretended, and Johannites1717 An account of these schisms is given by Dr Owen afterwards. See page 413. — Ed. at Constantinople, with sundry others, seeing they deserted not any order of divine institution, but another which the churches were insensibly fallen into, no judgment can be made, upon a mere separation, whether of the parties at difference were to blame. I am sure enough that sometimes neither of them could be excused. Whether the causes, reasons, ends, designs, and ways of the management of those differences that were between them, on which schisms in their present order did ensue, were just, regular, according to the mind of Christ, proceeding from faith and love, is that whose determination must fix aright the guilt of the divisions that were among them. And whereas we judge most of those who so separated from the church of old, as is here alleged, to have failed in these things, and therein to have contracted guilt unto themselves, as occasioning unwarrantable divisions and missing wholly the only way of cure for what was really blameworthy in others; yet, whereas we allow nothing to be schism properly but what is contrary to Christian love, and destructive of some institution of Christ, we are not much concerned who was in the right or wrong in those contests which fell out among the orthodox themselves, but only as they were carried on unto a total renunciation of all communion whatever but only that which was enclosed unto their own party.
2. To evidence that we give the least countenance unto the ancient schisms, or do contract the guilt with the authors of them, the thing aimed at, there are three things incumbent on him to prove:—
(1.) That our parochial churches, from whom we do refrain actual 411presential communion in all ordinances where it is required by law, which cannot be many and but one at one time, do succeed into the room of that church in a separation from which those schisms did consist; for we pass no judgment on any other church but what concerns ourselves as unto present duty, though that in a nation may be extended unto many or all of the same sort. But these schisms consisted in a professed separation from the whole catholic church, — that is, all Christians in the world who joined not with them in their opinions and practices, — and from the whole church-state then passant and allowed. But our author knows full well that there are others, who, long before our parochial churches, do lay claim unto the absolute enclosure of this church-state unto themselves, and thereon condemn both him and us, and all the Protestants in the world, of the same schism that those of old were guilty of; especially they make a continual clamour about the Novatians and Donatists. I know that he is able to dispossess the church of Rome from that usurpation of the state and rights of the ancient catholic church from whence those separations were made; and it hath been sufficiently done by others. But so soon as we have cast that out of possession, to bring in our parochial assemblies into the room of it, and to press the guilt of separation from them with the same reasons and arguments as we were all of us but newly pressed withal by the Romanists, — namely, that hereby we give countenance unto them, yea, do the same things with them who made schisms in separating from the catholic church of old, — is somewhat severe and unequal.
Wherefore, unless the church from which they separated, which was the whole catholic church in the world not agreeing and acting with them, and those parochial assemblies from whose communion we refrain, are the same and of the same consideration, nothing can be argued from those ancient schisms against us, nor is any countenance given by us unto them; for if it be asked of us, whether it be free or lawful for believers to join in society and full communion with other churches besides those that are of our way and especial communion, we freely answer that we no way doubt of it, nor do judge them for their so doing.
(2.) It must be proved, unto the end proposed, that the occasions and reasons of their separation of old were the same, or of the same nature only, with those which we plead for our refraining communion from parochial assemblies. Now, though the Doctor here makes a flourish with some expressions about zeal, discipline, purity of the church, edification (which he will not find in any of their pretences), yet in truth there is not one thing alleged wherein there is a coincidence between the occasions and reasons pleaded by them and ours.
412It is known that the principal thing in general which we insist upon is, the unwarrantable imposition of unscriptural terms and conditions of communion upon us. Was there any such thing pleaded by them that made the schisms of old? Indeed, they were all of them imposers, and separated from the church because they would not submit unto their impositions. Some bishops, or some that would have been bishops but could not, entertaining some new conceit of their own, which they would have imposed on all others, being not submitted unto therein, were the causes of all those schisms which were justly esteemed criminal. So was it with the Novatians and Donatists in an especial manner. Even the great Tertullian (though no bishop) left the communion of the church on this ground; for because they would not admit of the strict observance of some austere severities, in fasting, abstinence from sundry meats, and watching, with the like, which he esteemed necessary, though no way warranted by Scripture rule or example, he utterly renounced their communion, and countenanced himself by adhering unto the dotages of Montanus. It is true, some of them contended for a severity of discipline in the church; but they did it not upon any pretence of the neglect of it in them unto whom the administration of it was committed, but for the want of establishing a false principle, rule, or erroneous doctrine which they advanced, — namely, that the most sincere penitents were never more to be admitted into ecclesiastical communion: whereby they did not establish but overthrow one of the principal ends of church discipline. They did not, therefore, press for the power or the use of the keys, as is pretended, but advanced a false doctrine, in prejudice both unto the power and use of them. They pretended, indeed, unto the purity of the church; not that there were none impure, wicked, and hypocritical among them, but that none might be admitted who had once fallen, though really made pure by sincere repentance. This was their zeal for purity: If a man were overtaken, if they could catch him in such a fault as, by the rules of the passant discipline, he was to be cast out of the church, there they had him safe for ever. No evidence of the most sincere repentance could prevail for a re-admission into the church. And because other churches would admit them, they renounced all communion with them, as no churches of Christ. Are these our principles? are these our practices? do we give any countenance unto them by any thing we say or do? I somewhat wonder that the Doctor, from some general expressions, and casting their pretences under new appearances, should seem to think that there is the least coincidence between what they insisted on and what we plead in our own defence He may see now more fully what are the reasons of our practice, and I hope thereon will be of another mind; 413not as unto our cause in general, which I am far enough from the expectation of, but as unto this invidious charge of giving countenance unto the schisms condemned of old in the church. And we shall see immediately what were the occasions of those schisms; which we are as remote from giving countenance unto as unto the principles and reasons which they pleaded in their own justification.
(3.) It ought, also, to be proved that the separation which is charged on us is of the same nature with that charged on them of old; for otherwise we cannot be said to give any countenance unto what they did: for it is known they so separated from all other churches in the world as to confine the church of Christ unto their own party, to condemn all others, and to deny salvation unto all that abode in their communion; which the Donatists did with the greatest fierceness. This was that which, if any thing, did truly and properly constitute them schismatics; as it doth those also who deny at this day church-state and salvation unto such churches as have not diocesan bishops. Now, there is no principle in the world that we do more abhor. We grant a church-state unto all, however it may be defective or corrupted, and a possibility of salvation unto all their members, which are not gathered in pernicious errors, overthrowing the foundation, nor idolatrous in their worship, and who have a lawful ministry, with sufficient means for their edification, though low in its measure and degrees. We judge none but with respect unto our own duty, as unto the impositions attempted to be laid on us, and the acts of communion required of us, which we cannot avoid; nor can any man else, let him pretend what he will to the contrary, avoid the making of a judgment for himself in these things, unless he be brutishly. These things are sufficient to evidence that there is not the least countenance given unto the ancient schisms by any principles of ours; yet I shall add some farther considerations, on the instances he gives unto the same purpose.
The first is that of the Novatians, whose pretences were the discipline and purity of the churches; wherein he says, “There was a concurrence of Dr Owen’s pleas; zeal for reformation of discipline, the greater edification of the people, and the asserting of their right in choosing such a pastor as was likely to promote their edification.” I am sorry that interest and party should sway with learned men to seek advantages unto their cause so unduly. The story, in short, is this:— Novatus, or Novatianus rather, being disappointed in his ambitious design to have been chosen bishop of the church of Rome, Cornelius being chosen by much the major part of the church, betook himself to indirect means to weaken and invalidate the election of Cornelius; and this he did by raising a new principle of false 414doctrine, whereunto he as falsely accommodated the matter of fact. The error he broached and promoted was, that “there was no place for repentance” (such as whereon they should be admitted into the church) “unto them who had fallen into sin after baptism;” nor, as some add, “any salvation to be obtained by them who had fallen in the time of persecution.” This the ancient church looked on as a pestilent heresy; and as such was it condemned in a considerable council at Rome with Cornelius, Euseb., lib. vi. cap. 43; where also is reported the decree which they made in the case, wherein they call his opinion “cruel” or inhuman, and “contrary to brotherly love.” As such it is strenuously confuted by Cyprian, Epist. li., ad Antonianum. But because the church would not submit unto this novel, false opinion of his, contrary to the Scripture and the discipline of the church, he and all his followers separated from all the churches in the world, and rebaptized all that were baptized in the orthodox churches, they denying unto them the means of salvation, Cyprian ad Jubaianum, Epist. lxxi, Euseb., lib. vii. cap. 8. That which was most probably false also in matter of fact when this foolish opinion, — which Dionysius of Alexandria, in his epistle to Dionysius of Rome, calls “a most profane doctrine, reflecting unmerciful cruelty on our most gracious Lord Jesus Christ,” Euseb. lib. vii. cap. 8, — was invented, to be subservient unto it, was, that many of those by whom Cornelius was chosen bishop were such as had denied the faith under the persecution of Decius the emperor. This also was false in matter of fact; for although that church continued in the ancient faith and practice of receiving penitents after their fall, yet there were no such number of them as to influence the election of Cornelius. So Cyprian testifieth: “Factus est Cornelius episcopus, de Dei et Christi ejus judicio, de clericorum pœne omnium testimonio, de plebis suffragio,” etc., Epist. li. On that false opinion and this frivolous pretence they continued their schism. Hence, afterward, when Constantine the emperor spake with Acesius the bishop of the Novatians at Constantinople, finding him sound in the faith of the Trinity, which was impugned by Arius, he asked him why then he did not communicate with the church; whereon he began to tell him a story of what had happened in the time of Decius the emperor, pleading nothing else for himself; the emperor replying only, “O Acesius, set up a ladder, and climb alone by thyself into heaven,” left him, Socrat., lib. i. cap. 7.
This error endeavoured to be imposed on all churches, this false pretence in matter of fact, with the following pride in the condemnation of all other churches, denying unto them the lawful use of the sacraments, and rebaptizing them who were baptized in them, do, if we nay believe the Doctor herein, contain all my pleas for the forbearance 415of communion with parochial assemblies, and have countenance given unto them by our principles and practices!
Of the Meletians, whom he reckons up in the next place, no certain account can be given. Epiphanius reports Meletius himself to have been a good, honest, orthodox bishop, and in the difference between him and Peter, bishop of Alexandria, to have been more for truth, as the other was more for love and charity; and according unto him, it was Peter, and not Meletius, that began the schism, Hæres 68, N. 2, 3. But others give quite another account of him. Socrates affirms that in time of persecution he had sacrificed to idols; and was for that reason deposed from his episcopacy by Peter of Alexandria, lib. iii. cap. 6. Hence he was enraged against him, and filled all Thebais and Egypt with tumults against him, and the church of Alexandria, with intolerable arrogance, because he was convicted of sundry wickednesses by Peter, Theod. Hist., lib. i. cap. 8; and his followers quickly complied with the Arians for their advantage. The error he proceeded on, according to Epiphanius, was the same with that of Novatus; which how it could be if he himself had fallen in persecution and sacrificed, as Socrates relates, I cannot understand. This schism of bishop Meletius also it is thought meet to be judged that we should give countenance unto!
All things are in like manner uncertain concerning Audius and his followers, whom he mentions in the next place. The man is represented by Epiphanius to have been a good man, of a holy life, sound in the faith, full of zeal and love to the truth; but finding many things amiss in the church, among the clergy and people, he freely reproved them for covetousness, luxury, and disorders in ecclesiastical affairs. Hereon he stirred up the hatred of many against himself, as Chrysostom did for the same cause afterward at Constantinople. Hereupon he was vexed, persecuted, and greatly abused; all which he bare patiently, and continued in the discharge of his duty; as it fell out also with Chrysostom. Nevertheless, he abode firmly and tenaciously in the communion of the church, but was at length cast out, as far as it appears by him, for the honest discharge of his duty whereon he gathered a great party unto himself. But Theodoret and others affirm him to have been the author of the impious heresy of the Anthropomorphitæ, his principal followers being those monks of Egypt who afterward made such tumults in defence of that foolish imagination; and that this was the cause why he was cast out of the church, and set up a party of the same opinion with him, lib. iv. cap. 10. Yea, he also ascribes unto him some foolish opinions of the Manichees. What is our concernment in these things I cannot imagine.
Eustathius, the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and his followers, 416are also instanced in as orthodox schismatics; and as such were condemned in a council at Gangræ in Paphlagonia. But, indeed, before that council, Eustathius had been condemned by his own father, Eulanius, and other bishops, at Cæsarea in Cappadocia; and he was so for sundry foolish opinions and evil practices, whereby he deserved to be so dealt withal. It doth not unto me appear certainly whether he fell into those opinions before his rejection at Cæsarea, where he was principally if not only charged with his indecent and fantastical habit and garments. Wherefore, at the council of Gangræ he was not admitted to make any apology for himself, nor could be heard, because he had innovated many things after his deposition at Cæsarea; such as forbidding of marriage, shaving of women, denying the lawfulness of priests keeping their wives who were married before their ordination, getting away servants from their masters, and the like, Socrat. Hist., lib. ii. cap. 3. These were his pretences of sanctity and purity, as the Doctor acknowledgeth; and I appeal unto his ingenuity and candour whether any countenance be given unto such opinions and practices thereon by any thing we say or do.
This instance, and some others of an alike nature, the Doctor affirms that he produced in his sermon, but that “they were gently passed over by myself and Mr B.” I confess I took no notice of them, because I was satisfied that the cause under consideration was no way concerned in them. And the Doctor might to as good purpose have instanced in forty other schisms, made for the most part by the ambition of bishops, in the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Rome, and sundry other places; yea, in that made by Epiphanius himself at Constantinople, upon as weighty a cause as that of those who contended about and strove for and against the driving of sheep over the bridge, when there were none present.
The story of the Luciferians is not worth repeating. In short, Lucifer, the bishop of Caralli in Sardinia, being angry that Paulinus, whom he had ordained bishop at Antioch, was not received, fell into great dissension with Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli in Italy, who had been his companion in banishment, because he approved not what he had done at Antioch. And continuing to contend for his own bishop, it occasioned a great division among the people, whereon he went home to his own place, leaving behind him a few followers, who wrangled for a time about the ordination of bishops by Arians, by whose means Lucifer had been banished, and so after a while disappeared.
I had almost missed the instance of the Donatists, but the story of them is so well known that it will not bear the repetition; for although there be no mention of them in Socrates or Sozomen, or the History of Theodoret, yet all things that concerned them are 417so fully declared in the writings of Austin and Optatus against them, as there needs no other account of them. And this instance of an heretical schism is that which the Papists vehemently urge against the church of England itself and all other Protestants. Here their weapon is borrowed for a little while to give a wound unto our cause, but in vain; yet I know full well that it is easier for some men, on their principles, to flourish with this weapon against us than to defend themselves against it in the hands of the Papists. In brief, these Donatists were upon the matter of the same opinion with the Novatians; and as these grounded their dissension on the receiving those into the church who had fallen and sacrificed under Decius, so did those on a pretence of severity against those who had been traditors under Maximinus. Upon this pretence, improved by many false allegations, Donatus, and those that followed him, rejected Cæcilianus, who was lawfully chosen and ordained bishop of Carthage, setting up one Majorinus in opposition unto him. Not succeeding herein on this foolish unproved pretence, that Cæcilianus had been ordained by a traditor, they rejected the communion of all the churches n the world, confined the whole church of Christ unto their own party, denied salvation unto any other, rebaptized all that came unto them from other churches, and, together with a great number of bishops that joined with them, fell into most extravagant exorbitances.
Upon the consideration of these schisms the Doctor concludes, “That, on these grounds, there hath scarce been any considerable schism in the Christian church but may be justified upon Dr Owen’s reasons for separation from our church.” Concerning which I must take the liberty to say, that I do not remember that ever I read, in any learned author, an inference made or conclusion asserted that had so little countenance given unto it by the premises whence it is inferred, as there is unto this by the instances before insisted on, whence it pretended to be educed.
All that is of argument in this story is this: That there were of old some bishops, with one or two who would have been bishops and could not, who, to exalt and countenance themselves against those who were preferred to bishoprics before them and above them, invented and maintained false doctrinal principles, the confession whereof they would have imposed on other churches; and because they were not admitted, they separated at once from all other churches in the world but their own, condemning them as no churches, as not having the sacraments or means of salvation; for which they were condemned as schismatics: therefore, those who own not subjection to diocesan bishops by virtue of any institution or command of Christ, who refrain communion from parochial assemblies, because they cannot, 418without sin to themselves, comply with all things imposed on them in the worship of God and ecclesiastical rule, without judging their state, or the salvation of their members, are, in like manner as they, guilty of schism.
But we have fixed grounds whereon to try, examine, judge, and condemn all schisms that are justly so called, — all such as those before mentioned. If separations arise and proceed from principles of false doctrine and errors, like those of the Novatians and Donatists; if they are occasioned by ambition and desire of pre-eminence, like those that fell out among the bishops of those days, when their parishes and claims were not regulated by the civil power as now they are; if they do so from a desire to impose principles and practices not warranted in the Scripture on others, as it was with Tertullian; if for slight reasons they rend and destroy that church state and order which themselves approve of, as it was with all the ancient schismatics who were bishops, or would fain have been; if those that lake them or follow in them deny salvation unto all that join not with them, and condemn all other churches as being without God’s covenant and the sacraments, as did the Donatists and those do who deny these things unto all churches who have not diocesan bishops; if there be not a sufficient justifiable cause pleaded for it, that those who make such a separation cannot abide in the communion which they forsake without wounding their own consciences, and do give evidences of their abiding in the exercise of love towards all the true disciples of Christ, — we are satisfied that we have a rule infallibly directing us to make a judgment concerning it.
Our author adds, [in the fourth place,] sect. xxvi. p. 197, “Another argument against this course of separation is, that these grounds will make separation endless; which is to suppose all the exhortations of the Scripture to peace and unity among Christians useless.” But why so? Is there nothing in the authority of Christ and the sense of the account which is to be given unto him, nothing in the rule of the word, nothing in the work of the ministry and exercise of gospel discipline, to keel professed disciples of Christ unto their duty, and within the bounds of order divinely prescribed unto them, unless they are fettered and staked down with human laws and constitutions? Herein I confess I differ, and shall do so whilst I am in this world, from our reverend author and others. To say, as he doth (upon a supposition of the taking away of human impositions, laws, and canons), that “there are no bounds set unto separation but what the fancies of men will dictate unto them,” is dishonourable unto the gospel, and somewhat more. To suppose that the authority of Christ, the rule of the word, and the work of the ministry, are not sufficient to prescribe bounds unto separation, efficaciously affecting the consciences of believers, 419or that any other bounds can be assigned as obligatory unto their consciences, is what cannot be admitted. The Lord Christ hath commanded love and union among his disciples; he hath ordained order and communion in his churches; he hath given unto them and limited their power; he hath prescribed rules whereby they and all their members ought to walk; he hath forbidden all schisms and divisions; he hath appointed and limited all necessary separations, and hath truly given all the bounds unto it that the consciences of men are or can be affected withal. But then it is said, “If this be all, separation will be endless.” If such a separation be intended as is an unlawful schism, I say, it may be it will; even as persecution and other evils, sins and wickednesses, will be, notwithstanding his severe prohibition of them. What he hath done is the only means to preserve, his own disciples from all sinful separation, and is sufficient thereunto. Herein lieth the original mistake in this matter, — we have lost the apprehension that the authority of Christ, in the rule of his word and works of his Spirit, is every way sufficient for the guiding, governing, and preserving of his disciples, in the church-order by him prescribed, and the observance of the duties by him commanded. It hath been greatly lost in the world for many ages; and, therefore, instead of faithful ministerial endeavours to enforce a sense of it on the consciences of all Christians, they have been let loose from it, through a confidence in other devices to keep them unto their duty and order. And if these devices, be they ecclesiastical canons or civil penalties, be not enforced on them all, the world is made to believe that they are left unto the dictates of their own fancies and imaginations; as if they had no concern in Christ or his authority in this matter. But, for my part, I shall never desire nor endeavour to keep any from schism or separation, but by the ways and means of Christ’s appointment, and by a sense of his authority on their own consciences.
The remainder of his discourse on this head consists in a lepid dramatical oration, framed and feigned for one of his opposers, wherein he makes him undertake the patronage of schism before Cyprian and Austin. The learned person intended is very well able to defend and vindicate himself; which I suppose also he will do. In the meantime, I cannot but say two things:—
1. That the imposition on him of extenuating the guilt of any real schism is hat which none of his words do give the least countenance unto.
2. That he Doctor’s attempt, in his feigned oration, to accommodate his principles or ours unto the case of the Donatists, for their justification (the weakness whereof is evident to every one who knows any thing of the case of the Donatists), is such an instance 420of the power of interest, a design to maintain a cause causelessly undertaken, by all manner of artifices and pretences, prevailing in the minds of men otherwise wise and sober, as is to be lamented.
We come at length, in the fifth place, sect. xxviii., p. 209, unto that which is indeed of more importance duly to be considered than all that went before; for, as our author observes, it is that “wherein the consciences of men are concerned.” This argument, therefore, he takes from the obligation which lies upon all Christians to preserve the peace and unity of the church. For the confirmation of this argument, and the application of it unto the case of them who refrain from total communion with our parochial assemblies, — which alone is the case in hand, — he lays down sundry suppositions, which I shall consider in their order, although they may be all granted without any disadvantage unto our cause. But they will be so the better when they are rightly stated:— His first supposition is, “That Christians are under the strictest obligations to preserve the peace and unity of the church.” This being the foundation of all that follows, it must be rightly stated; and to that end three things may be inquired into:— 1. What is that church whose peace and unity we are obliged to preserve; for there are those who lay the firmest claim unto the name, power, and privileges of the church, with whom we are obliged to have neither peace nor unity in the worship of God. 2. What is that peace and unity which we are so obliged to preserve. 3. By what means they are to be preserved.
1. (1.) We are obliged to “follow peace with all men,” to “seek peace and pursue it,” and “if it be possible, to live peaceably with all men.”
(2.) There is a peculiar obligation upon us to seek the peace and prosperity of the whole visible church of Christ on earth, and therein, as we have opportunity, to do good unto the whole household of faith. And, considering what differences, what divisions, what exasperations there are among professors of the name of Christ all the world over, to abide steadfast in seeking the good of them all, and doing good unto them as we have opportunity, is as evident an indication of gospel love as any thing else whatever can be.
(3.) As unto particular churches, there is an especial obligation upon us to preserve their peace and unity, from our own voluntary consent to walk in them, in obedience unto the commands of Christ. Where this is not, we are left unto the general obligation of seeking the peace of all men, and of the whole professing church in an especial manner, but have no other peculiar obligation thereunto: for being cast into churches of this or that form, merely by human constitution and laws, or by inveterate traditions, lays no new obligation 421upon any to seek their peace and unity; but whilst they abide in them, they are left unto the influence of other general commands, which are to be applied unto their present circumstances. For into what state or condition soever Christians are cast, they are obliged to live peaceably whilst they abide in it.
2. It may be inquired, what is that peace and unity of the church that we are bound to preserve. There may be an agreement, with some kind of peace and unity, in evil. They are highly pretended unto in the church of Rome; but they are so in idolatry, superstition, and heresy. There may be peace and unity in any false and heretical church, — the unity of Simeon and Levi, brethren in evil. But the peace and unity which we are obliged to observe in particular churches is the consent and agreement of the church in general, and all the members of it, walking under the conduct of this guide in a due observation of all the institutions and commands of Christ, performing towards the whole and each other the mutual duties required by him, from a principle of faith and love. This, and this alone, is that unity and peace which we are peculiarly obliged to preserve in particular churches; what is more than this relates unto the general commands of love, unity, and peace, before mentioned.
3. Wherefore this states the means whereby we are to preserve this peace and unity: for we are not to endeavour it, — (1.) By a neglect or omission of the observance of any of the commands of Christ; nor, (2.) By doing or practising any thing in divine worship which he hath not appointed; nor, (3.) By partaking in other men’s sins, through a neglect of our own duty; nor, (4.) By foregoing the means of our own edification, which he commands us to make use of; — for these things have no tendency to the preservation of that peace. And his third supposition is, “That nothing can discharge a Christian from the obligation to communion with his fellow-members, but what is allowed by Christ or his apostles as a sufficient reason of it.” It is fully agreed unto, where a man is a member of any church of divine institution by his own consent and virtual consideration, nothing can discharge him from communion with that church but what is allowed by Christ as a sufficient reason for it.
But a little farther inquiry may be made into these things. It was before asserted that all things lawful were to be done for the preservation of the peace of the church. Here it is pleaded that there are many obligations on us to preserve its peace and unity. I desire to know unto whom these rules are obligatory, — who they are that ought to yield obedience unto them. If it be said that these rules are not prescribed unto the rulers and guides of the church, but unto them only who are under their conduct, I desire a proof of it, for at the first view it is very absurd; for as the preservation of the 422peace and unity of the church is properly incumbent on them who are the rulers of it, and it is continually pleaded by them that so it doth, so all the rules given for that end do or should, principally and in the first place, affect them and their consciences. And these are the rules of their duty herein which are laid down by the Doctor. I desire therefore to know, that since there are such obligations on us to preserve the peace and unity of the church, that for that end we must do what we lawfully may, whether the same rule doth not oblige us to forbear the doing of what we may lawfully forbear, with respect unto the same end. Nay, this obligation of forbearing what we may do, and yet may forbear to do without sin, for the peace and unity of the church, — especially when any would be offended with our doing that which we may lawfully forbear to do, — is exemplified in the Scripture, confirmed by commands and instances, is more highly rational, and less exposed unto danger in practice, than the other of doing what we can.
Now, things that are not necessary in themselves, nor necessary to be observed by a just scandal and offence in case of their omission, are things that may be lawfully forborne. Suppose, now, the rules insisted on to be given principally and in the first place unto the rulers of the church, I desire to know whether they are not obliged by them, for the preservation of the peace and unity of the church, to forbear the imposition of such things on the practice of the whole church in the worship of God as, being no way necessary in themselves, nor such whose omission or the omission of whose imposition, can give scandal or offence unto any. If they are obliged by them so to do, it will be evident where the blame of the division amongst us must lie. To say they are not obliged hereunto by virtue of these rules, is to say that although the preservation of the peace and unity of the church be incumbent on them in a particular manner, — and the chief of them can assign no other end of the office they lay claim unto but only its expediency, or, as is pretended, its necessity unto the preservation of the peace and unity of the church, — yet they are not, by virtue of any divine rules, obliged thereunto. But it seems to me somewhat unequal, that in this contest about the preservation of the peace of the church, we should be bound by rules to do all that we can, whatever it be, and those who differ from us be left absolutely at their liberty, so as not to be obliged to forbear what they may lawfully so do. But to proceed.
Upon these suppositions, and in the confirmation of them, the Doctor produceth a passage out of Irenæus, whose impartial consideration he chargeth on us with great solemnity, “As we love our own souls.” Now, although that passage in that great and holy person be not new unto me, having not only read it many a time in his book, 423but frequently met with it urged by Papists against all Protestants, yet, upon the Doctor’s intimation, I have given it again the consideration required. The words as they lie in the author are to this purpose:—
“We shall also judge them who make schisms, being vain, ‘qui sunt immanes,’ or ‘inanes,’ not having the love of God, rather considering their own profit than the unity of the church, — who, for small or any causes, rend and divide the glorious body of Christ, and as much as in them lies destroy it, speaking peace but designing war, straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel; for there can be no rebuke of things by them, to equal the mischief of schism,” lib. iv. cap. 62.
I know not why he should give us such a severe charge for the impartial consideration of these words, — that as we love our souls, we should impartially and without prejudice consider them. We hope that, out of love to the truth, the glory of Christ, and care of our own souls, we do so consider, and have long since so considered, whatever belongs unto the cause wherein we engaged, and the oppositions that are made unto it; nor will we be offended with any that shall yet call on us to persist and proceed in the same way: but why such a charge should be laid on us with respect unto these words of Irenæus, I know not; for although we greatly value the words and judgment of that holy person, that great defender of the mystery and truth of the gospel and of the liberty of the churches from unwarrantable impositions yet it is the word of Christ and his apostles alone whereby we must be regulated and determined in these things, if we love our own souls.
Besides, what are we concerned in them? Is every separation from a church a schism? Our author shows the contrary immediately. Is refraining communion in a church-state not of divine institution, and in things not prescribed by the Lord Christ in the worship of God, [yet] holding communion in faith and love with all the true churches of Christ in the world, a damnable schism, or any schism at all? Hath the reverend author in his whole book once attempted to prove it to be so, though this be the whole of the matter in difference between us? Is our forbearance of communion in parochial assemblies, upon the reasons before pleaded, especially that of human impositions, of the same nature with the schism from the whole catholic church, without pretence of any such impositions? Doth he judge us to be such as have no love unto God, such as prefer our own profit before the unity of the church? I heartily wish and pray that he may never have a share in that profit and advantage which we have made unto ourselves by our principles and practice. Poverty, distress, ruin to our families, dangers, imprisonments, revilings, with 424contemptuous reproaches, comprise the profit we have made unto ourselves. Is our refraining communion in some outward order, modes, and rites, of men’s institution, — our want of conscientious submission unto the courts of chancellors, commissaries, officials, etc., — a rending and destroying of the glorious body of Christ? Is it cemented, united, and compacted or “fitly framed together” by these things? They formerly pretended to be his coat; and must they now be esteemed to be his glorious body, when they no way belong unto the one or the other? Is the application of these things unto us an effect of that love, charity, and forbearance which are the only preventive means of schism, and whereof if men are void it is all one upon the matter whether they are schismatics or no, for they will be so when it is for their advantage? Wherefore, we are not concerned in these things. Let whosoever will declare and vehemently assert us to be guilty of schism, which they cannot prove, we can cheerfully subscribe unto these words of Irenæus.
It may not be impertinent on this occasion to desire of some others that, as they love their own souls, and have compassion for the souls of other men, they would seriously consider what state and condition things are come unto in the church of England; — how much ignorance, profaneness, sensuality, do spread themselves over the nation; what neglect of the most important duties of the gospel, yea, what scoffing at the power of religion, doth abound amongst us; what an utter decay and loss there is of all the primitive discipline of the church what multitudes are in the way of eternal ruin, for want of due instruction and example from them who should lead them; how great necessity there is of a universal reformation, and how securely negligent of it all sorts of persons are; what have been the pernicious effects of imposing things unnecessary and unscriptural on the consciences and practices of men in the worship of God, whereby the church hath been deprived of the labour of so many faithful ministers, who might have at least assisted in preventing that decay of religion, which every day increaseth among us; how easy a thing it were for them to restore evangelical peace and unity amongst all Protestants, without the loss of their ministry, without the diminution of their dignity, without deprivation of any part of their revenues, without the neglect of any duty, without doing any thing against their light and consciences, with respect unto any divine obligation; — and thereon set themselves seriously to endeavour the remedy of these and other evils of the like nature, under a sense of that great account which they must shortly give before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ.
He proceeds to consider the cases wherein the Scripture allows of separation; which he affirms to be three:—
425The first is, in case of idolatrous worship. This, none can question, they do not see, from whom yet we all separate as from idolaters.
The second is, in case of false doctrine being imposed instead of true; which he confirms with sundry instances. But there is a little difficulty in this case; for, —
1. It is uncertain when a doctrine may be said to be imposed. Is it when it is taught and preached by the guides and governors of the church, or any of them, without control? If so, then is such preaching a sufficient cause of separation, and will justify them who do at present separate from any church whose ministers preach false doctrine. How false doctrine can be otherwise imposed I know not, unless it be by exacting an express confession of it as truth.
2. What false doctrine it is, which is of this importance as to justify separation, is not easily determinable.
3. If the guides and governors of the church do teach this false doctrine, who shall judge of it, and determine it so to be, and that ultimately, so as to separate from a church thereon? Shall the people do it themselves? are they meet, are they competent for it? are they to make such a judgment on the doctrine of their guides? do they know what is heresy? have they read Epiphanius or Binius? How comes this allowance to be made unto them, which elsewhere is denied?
The third is, in case men make things indifferent necessary to salvation, and divide the church on that account. But, —
1. I know not which is to precede or go before, their division of the church or the just separation, nor how they are to be distinguished; but it was necessary to be so expressed.
2. There are two things in such an imposition, — first, The practice of things imposed; secondly, The judgment of them that impose them. The former alone belongs unto them who are imposed on; and they may submit unto it without a compliance with the doctrine, as many did in the apostles’ days. For the judgment of the imposers, it was their own error and concernment only.
3. Why is not the imposing of things indifferent, so as to make the observation of them necessary unto men’s temporal salvation in this world, so as that the refusal of it shall really affect the refusers with trouble and ruin, as just a cause of separation as the imposing of them as necessary unto eternal salvation, which shall never affect them?
4. This making things indifferent necessary unto salvation, and as such imposing of them on others, is a thing impossible, that never was nor ever can be; for it is the judgment of the imposers that is spoken of, and to judge things indifferent in themselves to be in 426themselves necessary to salvation is a contradiction. If only the judgment of the imposers, that such things are not indifferent, but necessary to salvation, be intended, and otherwise the things themselves may lawfully be imposed, I know not how this differs from the imposition of indifferent things under any other pretence.
In his following discourse concerning miscarriages in churches, where no separation is enjoined, we are not at all concerned, and therefore shall not observe the mistakes in it, which are not a few.
But may there not be other causes of peaceable withdrawing from the communion of a church besides those here enumerated?
1. Suppose a church should impose the observation of Judaical ceremonies, and make their observation necessary, though not to salvation, yet unto the order and decency of divine worship, it may declare them to be in themselves indifferent, but yet make them necessary to be observed.
2. Suppose a church should be so degenerated in the life and conversation of all its members, that, being immersed in various sins, they should have only a form of godliness, but deny the power of it; the rule of the apostle being to avoid and turn away from them.
3. Suppose a church be fallen into such decays in faith, love, and fruits of charity, as that the Lord Jesus Christ by his word declares his disapprobation of it; and in that state refuses to reform itself, and persecutes them who would reform themselves. Or, —
4. Suppose the ministry of any church be such as is insufficient and unable to dispense the word and sacraments unto edification, so as theft the whole church may perish as unto any relief by or from the administration of the ordinances of the gospel. I say, in these and such other cases, a peaceable withdrawing from the communion of such churches is warrantable by the rule of the Scripture.
|« Prev||Section II.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version