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The third part of the Doctor’s discourse he designs to examine the pleas, as he speaks, for separation; and these he refers to four heads whereof the first respects the constitution of the church. And those which relate hereunto are four also:— 1. That parochial churches are not of Christ’s institution; 2. That diocesan churches are unlawful; 3. That our national church hath no foundation; 4. That the people are deprived of their right in the choice of their pastors.
The first of these, — namely, that our parochial churches are not of Christ’s institution, — he begins withal, and therein I am alone called 427to an account. I wonder the Doctor should thus state the question between us. The meaning of this assertion, that our parochial churches are not of Christ’s institution, must be either they are not so because they are parochial, or at least in that they are parochial. But is this my judgment? have I said any thing to this purpose? Yea, he knows full well that in my judgment there are no churches directly of divine institution but those that are parochial or particular churches. We are not, therefore, to expect much in the ensuing disputation, when the state of the question is so mistaken at the entrance.
If he say or intend that there are many things in their parochial churches observed, practised, and imposed on all their members, in and about the worship of God, which are not of divine institution, we grant it to be our judgment, and part of our plea in this case. But this is not at all spoken unto.
Wherefore, the greatest part of the ensuing discourse on this head is spent in perpetual diversions from the state of the case under consideration, with an attempt to take advantage for some reflections, or an appearance of success, from some passages and expressions belonging nothing at all unto the merit of the cause; — a course which I thought so learned a person would not have taken in a case wherein conscience is so nearly concerned.
Some mistakes occurring in it have been already rectified, as that wherein he supposeth that my judgment is for the democratical government of the church; as also what he allegeth in the denial of the gradual declension of the primitive churches from their first original institution, hath been examined.
I shall, therefore, plainly and directly propose the things which I assert and maintain in this part of the controversy, and then consider what occurs in opposition unto them, or otherwise seems to be of any force towards the end in general of charging us with schism; and they are these that follow:—
1. Particular churches or congregations, with their order and rule, are of divine institution, and are sufficient unto all the ends of evangelical churches. I take churches and congregations in the same sense and notion as the church of England doth, defining the church by a congregation of believers; otherwise there may be occasional congregations that are not stated churches.
2. Unto these churches there is committed by Christ himself all the ordinary power and privileges that belong unto any church under the gospel; and of them is required the observance of all church duties, which it is their sin to omit.
3. There is no church of any other form, kind, nature, or constitution that is of divine institution. Things may be variously ordered 428in and amongst Christians, or their societies may be cast or disposed of into such respective relations to and dependence on one another, in compliance with the political state, and other circumstances of time and places, as may be thought to tend unto their advantage. That which we affirm is, that no alteration of their state from the nature and kind of particular churches is of divine institution.
4. Such churches whose frame, constitution, and power are destructive of the order, liberty, power, privileges, and duties of particular churches, are so far contrary unto divine institution, and not to be complied withal.
Hereon we affirm, that whereas we are excluded from total communion in our parochial assemblies, by the imposition of things unto us unlawful and sinful as indispensable conditions of their communion, and cannot comply with them in their rule and worship on the reasons before alleged, it is part of the duty we owe to Jesus Christ to gather ourselves into particular churches or congregations for the celebration of divine worship, and the observation, doing, or performance of all his commands. These are the things which in this case we adhere unto, and which must all of them be overthrown before any colour can be given unto any charge of schism against us; and what is spoken unto this purpose in the Doctor’s discourse we shall now consider. Only, I desire the reader to remember that all these principles or assertions are fully confirmed in the preceding discourse.
That which first occurs in the treatise under consideration unto the point in hand is the exception put in unto a passage in my former discourse, which is as follows:—
“We do not say that because communion in ordinances should be only in such churches as Christ hath instituted, that therefore it is lawful and necessary to separate from parochial churches; but if it be on other grounds necessary so to separate or withhold communion from them, it is the duty of them that do so to join themselves in or unto some other particular congregation.”
I have not observed any occasion wherein the Doctor is more vehement in his rhetoric than he is on that of this passage, which yet appears to me to be good sense and innocent.
1. Hereunto he says, p. 221, —
“That this is either not to the business, or it is a plain giving up of the cause of Independency.” If he judge that it is “not to the business,” I cannot help it, and he might, as I suppose, have done well to have taken no notice of it, as I have dealt with many passages in his discourse; but if it be “a giving up of the cause of Independency,” I say, whatever that be, let whoso will take it, and dispose of it as it seems good unto them. But in proof hereof he says, —
“Wherefore did the dissenting brethren so much insist upon their 429separate congregations, when not one of the things now particularly alleged against our church was required of them?”
I answer, —
(1.) If any did in those times plead for separate congregations, let them answer for themselves; I was none of them. They did, indeed, plead for distinct congregations, exempt in some few things from a penal rule then endeavoured by some to be imposed on all. But there was no such difference nor restraint of communion between any of them as is at present between us and parochial churches.
(2.) It is very possible that there may be other reasons of forbearing a conjunction in some acts of church-rule, which was all that was pleaded for by the dissenting brethren, than those which are alleged against total communion with parochial churches, in worship, order, and discipline.
2. He adds, secondly, “But if he insists on those things common to our church with other reformed churches, then they are such things as he supposes contrary to the first institution of churches,” etc.
I fear I do not well understand what this means, nor what it tends unto; but according as I apprehend the sense of it, I say, —
(1.) I insist principally on such things as are not common unto them with other reformed churches, but such as are peculiar unto the church of England. These vary the terms and practices of our communion between them and it.
(2.) The things we except against in parochial churches are not contrary to their first institution as parochial, — which, as hath been proved, is the only kind of churches that is of divine institution, — but are contrary unto what is instituted to be done and observed in such churches: which one observation makes void all that he would infer from the present suppositions; as, —
3. He inquireth hereon, “What difference there is between separating from our churches because communion in ordinances is only to be enjoyed in such churches as Christ hath instituted, and separating from them because they have things repugnant unto the first institution of churches.”
The Doctor, I fear, would call this sophistry in another, or at least complain theft it is somewhat oddly and faintly expressed. But we shall consider it as it is:—
(1.) Separation from parochial churches, because communion in ordinances is only to be enjoyed in such churches as Christ hath instituted, is denied by us; it is so in the assertion opposed by him, and I do not know whether it be laid down by him as that which we affirm or which we deny.
(2.) There is great ambiguity in the latter clause, of “Separating 430from them because they have things repugnant unto the first institution of churches:” for it is one thing to separate from a church because it is not of divine institution, — that is, not of that kind of churches which are divinely instituted, — and another to do so because of things practised and imposed in it contrary to divine institution; which is the case in hand.
4. But he after saith, “Is not this the primary reason of separation, Because Christ hath appointed unalterable rules for the government of his church, which are not to be observed in parochial churches?”
I answer, No, it is not so; for there may be an omission, at least for a season, in some churches, of some rules that Christ hath appointed in the government of his church (and we judge his rules as unto right unalterable), which may not be a just cause of separation. So the church of the Jews continued a long time in the omission of the observance of the feast of tabernacles. But the principal reason of the separation we defend is the practising and imposing of sundry things in the worship of the church not of divine institution, yea, in our judgment contrary thereunto, and the framing of a rule of government of men’s devising, to be laid on all the members of them; this is the primary cause pleaded herein.
But because the Doctor proposeth a case on those suppositions, whereon he seems to lay great weight, — though, indeed, however it be determined, it conduceth nothing unto his end, but argues only some keenness of spirit against them whom he opposeth, — I shall at large transcribe the whole of it:—
“Let us, then,” saith he, “(1.) suppose that Christ hath, by unalterable rules, appointed that a church shall consist only of such a number of men as may meet in one congregation so qualified; and that those, by entering into covenant with each other” (whereof we shall treat hereafter), “become a church and choose their officers, who are to teach, and admonish, and administer sacraments, and to exercise discipline, by the consent of the congregation. And let us (2.) suppose such a church not yet gathered, but there lies fit matter for it dispersed up and down in several parishes. (3.) Let us suppose Dr Owen about to gather such a church. (4.) Let us suppose not one thing peculiar to our church required of these members, neither the aërial sign of the cross, nor kneeling at the communion, etc. I desire to know whether Dr Owen be not bound by this unalterable rule to draw these members from communion with parochial churches, on purpose that they might form a congregational church according to Christ’s institution? Either, then, he must quit these unalterable rules and institutions of Christ” (which he will never do whilst he lives), “or he must acknowledge, that setting up a congregational 431church is the primary ground of this separation from our parochial churches,” etc.
The whole design hereof is to prove that we do not withhold communion from their parochial assemblies because of the things that are practised and imposed in them in the worship of God and church-rule, but because of a necessity apprehended of setting up congregational churches. I answer, —
1. We know it is otherwise, and that we plead the true reason, and that which our consciences are regulated by, in refraining from their communion; and it is in vain for him or any man else to endeavour so to bird-lime our understandings by a multiplicity of questions, as to make us think we do not judge what we do judge, or do not do what we know ourselves well enough to do. If we cannot answer sophisms against motion, we can yet rise up and walk.
2. These things are consistent, and are not capable of being opposed one to the other, — namely, that we refrain communion on the reasons alleged, and thereon judge it necessary to erect congregational churches; which we should have no occasion to do were not we excluded from communion in parochial assemblies, as we are.
3. The case being put unto me, I answer plainly unto the Doctor’s last supposition, whereon the whole depends, that if those things which we except against as being unduly practised and imposed in parochial assemblies were removed and taken away, I would hold communion with them, all the communion that any one is obliged to hold with any church, and would in nothing separate from them. This spoils the whole case. But then he will say, I am no Independent. I cannot help that; he may judge as he sees cause, for I am “nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri,” designing to be the disciple of Christ alone.
4. But ye suppose that in such churches, all the things excepted against being removed, there is yet a defect in some unalterable rule that concern the government of the churches, that they answer not in all things the strictness laid down in the Doctor’s first supposition (although it is certain that if not all of them absolutely, yet the most of them, and of the most importance, would be found virtually in parochial assemblies upon the removal of the things excepted against), the inquiry is, what I would do then, or whether I would not set up a congregational church gathered out of other churches. I answer, I tell you plainly what I would do.
(1.) If I were joined unto any such church as wherein there were a defect in any of the rules appointed by Christ for its order and government, I would endeavour peaceably, according as the duties of my state and calling did require, to introduce the practice and observance of them.
432(2.) In case I could not prevail therein, I would consider whether the want of the things supposed were such as to put me on the practice of any thing unlawful, or cut me short of the necessary means of edification; and if I found they do not so do, I would never for such defects separate or withdraw communion from such a church. But, —
5. Suppose that from these defects should arise not only a real obstruction unto edification, but also a necessity of practising some things unlawful to be observed, wherein no forbearance could be allowed, I would not condemn such a church, I would not separate from it, would not withdraw from acts of communion with it which were lawful, but I would peaceably join in fixed personal communion with such a church as is free from such defects; and if this cannot be done without the gathering of a new church, I see neither schism nor separation in so doing.
Wherefore, notwithstanding all the Doctor’s questions, and his case founded on as many suppositions as he was pleased to make, it abides firm and unshaken, that the ground and reason of our refraining communion from parochial assemblies is the practice and imposition of things not lawful for us to observe in them. And it is unduly affirmed, p. 223, that upon my grounds, “Separation is necessary, not from the particular conditions of communion with them, but because parochial churches are not formed after the congregational way;” for what form of churches they have, be it what it will, it is after the congregational way. And it is more unduly affirmed, and contrary unto the rules of Christian charity, that this plea of ours is “a necessary piece of art to keep fair with the presbyterian party;” for as we design to “keep fair,” as it is called, with no parties, but only so far as truth and Christian love require, — and so we design it with all parties whatsoever, — so the plea hath been always insisted on by us, and was the cause of nonconformity in multitudes of our persuasion, before they had any opportunity to gather any congregational churches according to the rule of the gospel. Such things will never help nor adorn any cause in the issue.
But he presseth the due consideration of this art (that, as I suppose, they may avoid the snare of it) on the Presbyterians, by minding them what was done in former times, “in the debate of the dissenting brethren, and the setting up of congregational churches in those days.” For saith he, “Have those of the congregational way since altered their judgment? Hath Dr Owen yielded, that in case some terms of communion in our church were not insisted on, they would give over separation? Were not their churches first gathered out of presbyterian congregations; and if Presbytery had been settled upon the king’s restoration, would they not have continued in their separation?”
433Ans. 1. There is no difference, that I know of, between Presbyterians and those whom he calls Independents, about particular churches; far the Presbyterians allow them to be of divine institution, grant them the exercise of discipline by their own eldership, in all ordinary cases, and none to be exercised in them without them or their own consent, as also their right unto the choice of their own officers: so that there could be no separation between them on that account.
2. When they begin in good earnest to reform themselves, and to take away the unsufferable conditions of communion excepted against, they may k now more of my judgment, if I am alive (which I do not believe I shall be), as unto separation; though I have spoken unto it plainly enough already.
3. It can not be said that the churches of the Independents were gathered out of presbyterian churches, for the presbyterian government was never here established; and each party took liberty to reform themselves acceding to their principles, wherein there was some difference.
4. Had he presbyterian government been settled at the king’s restoration by the encouragement and protection of the practice of it, without a rigorous imposition of every thing supposed by any to belong thereunto, or a mixture of human constitutions, if there had any appearance of a schism or separation continued between the parties, I do judge they would have been both to blame: for as it cannot be expected that all churches, and all persons in them, should agree in all principles and practices belonging unto church-order, — nor was it so in the days of the apostles, nor ever since among any true churches of Christ, — so all the fundamental principles of church-communion would have been so fixed and agreed upon between them, and all offences in worship so removed, as that it would have been a matter of no great art absolutely to unite them, or to maintain a firm communion among them; no more than in the days of the apostles and the primitive times, in reference to the differences that were among churches in those days, for they allowed distinct communion upon distinct apprehensions of things belonging unto church order or worship, all keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If it shall be asked, then, Why did they not formerly agree in the assembly? I answer, (1.) I was none of them, and cannot tell; (2.) They did agree, in my judgment, well enough, if they could have thought so; and farther I am not concerned in the difference.
It is therefore notorious, that occasion is given unto our refraining free communion with parochial churches by the unwarrantable imposition of things not lawful for us to observe, both in church order 434and worship; nor is it candid in any to deny it, though they are otherwise minded as unto the things themselves.
His second exception is unto a saying which I quoted out of Justice Hobart’s Reports, who saith, “We know well that the primitive church in its greatest purity was but voluntary congregations of believers, submitting themselves to the apostles and other pastors; to whom they did minister of their temporals as God did move them.” Hereunto, with a reflection on a dead man, I know not why, he replies, that this is “not to the purpose, or rather, quite overthrows my hypothesis.” But why so? He will prove it with two arguments:—
The first is this: “Those voluntary congregations over which the apostles were set were no limited congregations of any one particular church; but those congregations over which the apostles were set are those of which Justice Hobart speaks: and therefore it is plain he spake of all the churches which were under the care of the apostles, which he calls ‘voluntary congregations.’ ”
Ans. 1. Whereas this argument seems to be cast into the form of a syllogism, I could easily manifest how asyllogistical it is, did I delight to contend with him or any else. But, —
2. The conclusion which he infers is directly what I plead for, — namely, that all the churches under the care of the apostles were voluntary congregations.
3. There is a fallacy in that expression, “No limited congregations of any one particular church.” No such thing is pretended; but particular churches are congregations. Such were all the churches over which the apostles were set; and therefore Justice Hobart speaks of them all. This, then, is that which he seems to oppose, — namely, that all the churches under the care of the apostles were particular voluntary congregations, as Justice Hobart alarms; and this is that which in the close, he seems to grant!
His second argument, which is no less ambiguous, no less a rope of sand, than the former, is this: “Those voluntary congregations over whom the apostles appointed pastors, after their decease were no particular congregations in one city. But those of whom Justice Hobart speaks were such, for he saith they first submitted unto the apostles and afterward to other pastors.” What then? Why, “Justice Hobart could not be such a stranger to antiquity as to believe that the Christians in the age after the apostles amounted but to one congregation in a city.”
Ans. 1. What this is designed to prove or disprove, or how it doth either of them, I do not understand; but I deny the proposition. The voluntary congregations over whom the apostles appointed pastors were all of them particular congregations, either 435in one city or more cities, for that is nothing unto our purpose.
2. Not to engage Justice Hobart or his honour, I do confess myself such a stranger unto antiquity (if that may be esteemed the reason of it) as not to believe that the Christians in the age afar the apostles amounted to any more than one church or congregation in a city, and shall acknowledge myself beholden to this reverend author if he will give me one undoubted instance where they so did. Only, let the reader observe that I intend not occasional meetings of any of the church with or without their elders, which were frequent. They met in those days in fields, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, in burying-places, in houses hired or borrowed, in upper rooms or cellars; whereof a large story might easily be given if it were to our present purpose. Dionysius of Alexandria sums them up briefly: Χωρίον, ἀγρὸς, ἐρημία, ναῦς, πανδοχεῖον, δεσμωτήριον· — “A field, a desert, a ship, an inn, a prison, were places of our meetings,” Euseb., lib. 7 cap. 22. But I speak of stated churches, with their worship, power, order, and rule. But whether there were more such churches in any one city is a matter of fact that shall be immediately inquired into. All that I here assert and confirm from the words of Justice Hobart is, that the churches in the days of the apostles were particular voluntary congregations; and the Doctor will find it a difficult task to prove that this overthrows my hypothesis.
Our author in the next place opposeth what I affirmed of the gradual deviation of the churches after the apostles from the rule of their first institution, which hath been already accounted for.
Sect. iv. p. 224. Upon an occasional expression of mine about the church of Carthage in Cyprian’s time, he gives us a large account of the state of the church of Carthage at that time, wherein we are not much concerned. My words are, Vindic.1818 See his “Brief Vindication of the Nonconformists,” etc. vol. xii. of his works. p. 41, “Though many alterations were before that time introduced into the order and rule of the churches, yet it appears that when Cyprian was bishop of the church of Carthage, the whole community of the members of that church did meet together to determine of things that were of their common interest, according unto what was judged to be their right and liberty n those days.”
I thought no man who is so conversant in the writings of Cyprian as our author apparently is could have denied the truth hereof, nor do I say it is so done by him; only, he takes occasion from hence to discourse at large concerning the state of the church at Carthage in those days, in opposition to Mr Cotton, who affirms that there was found in that church the “express and lively lineaments of the very body of congregational discipline.” Herein I am not concerned, who 436do grant that at that time there were many alterations introduced into the order and rule of the church. But that the people did meet together unto the determination of things of their common interest, such as were the choice of their officers, and the readmission of them into the fellowship of the church who had fallen through infirmity in time of persecution, or public offences and divisions, is so evident in the writings of Cyprian, — wherein he ascribes unto them the right of choosing worthy and of rejecting unworthy officers, and tells them that n such cases he will do nothing without their consent, — that it cannot be gainsaid. But hereon he asketh, where I had any reason to appeal to St Cyprian for the democratical government of the church; which, indeed, I did not do, nor any thing which looked like unto it. And he adds, that they have this advantage from the appeal, that we do not suppose any deviation then from the primitive institution; whereas my words are positive, that before that time there were many alterations introduced into the rule and order of the church. Such things will partiality in a cause, and aiming at success in disputation, produce.
Mr Cotton affirms that the lineaments of the congregational discipline are found in that church, that there is [not?] therein a just representation of an episcopal church; that is, I presume, diocesan, because that alone is unto his purpose. It is not lawful to make any church after the time of the apostles the rule of all church state and order, nor yet to be absolutely determined in these things by the authority of any man not divinely inspired; and yet I cannot but wish that all the three parties dissenting about church order, rule, and worship would attempt an agreement between themselves upon the representation made of the state of the church of Carthage in the days of Cyprian (which all of them lay some claim unto), although it will be an abridgment of some of their pretensions. It might bring them all nearer together, and, it may be, all of them in some things nearer to the truth; for it is certain, —
1. That the church of Carthage was at that time a particular church. There was no more church but one in that city. Many occasional meetings and assemblies in several places for divine exercises and worship there were; but stated churches, with officers of their own, members peculiarly belonging unto them, discipline among them, such as our reverend author doth afterward affirm and describe our parochial churches to be, there were none, nor is it pretended that there were.
2. That in this one church there were many presbyters or elders, who ruled the whole body or community of it by common advice and counsel. Whether they were all of them such as laboured in the word and doctrine, with the administration of the sacraments, or attended 437unto rule only, it doth not appear; but that they were many, and such as did not stand in any peculiar relation unto any part of the people, but concurred in common to promote the edification of the whole body, as occasion and opportunity did require, is evident in the account given of them by Cyprian himself.
3. That among those elders, in that one church, there was one peculiarly called the bishop, who did constantly preside amongst them in all church-affairs, and without whom ordinarily nothing was done; as neither did he any thing without the advice of the elders and consent of the people. How far this may be allowed for order’s sake is worth consideration; of divine institution it is not. But where there are many elders, who have equal interest in and right unto the rule of the whole church, and the administration of all ordinances, it is necessary unto order that one do preside in their meetings and consultations, whom custom gave some pre-eminence unto.
4. That the people were ruled by their own consent; and that in things of greatest importance, as the choice of their officers, the casting out and the receiving in of lapsed members, [they] had their suffrage in the determination of them.
5. That there was no imposition of liturgies, or ceremonies, or any human invention, in the worship of God, on the church or any members of it, the Scripture being the sole acknowledged rule in discipline and worship.
This was the state and order of the church of Carthage in those days; and although there were some alterations in it from the first divine institution of churches, yet I heartily wish that there were no more difference amongst us than what would remain upon a supposition of this state.
For what remains of the opposition made unto what I had asserted concerning congregational or particular churches, I may refer the Doctor and the reader unto what hath been farther pleaded concerning them in the preceding discourse; nor am I satisfied that he hath given any sufficient answer unto what was before alleged in the vindication, but hath passed by what was most pregnant with evidence unto he truth, and by a mistake of my mind or words diverts very much from the state of the question, which is no other but what I laid down before; yet I will consider what is material in the whole of his discourse on this subject.
Sect. v. p. 234. He says, I affirm that as to the “matter of fact concerning the institution of congregational churches, it seems evidently exemplified in the Scripture;” for which I refer the reader unto what is now again declared in the confirmation of it. And he adds, “The matter of fact is, that when churches grew too big for one 438single congregation in a city, then a new congregational church was set up under new officers, with a separate power of government;” — that is, in that city. But this is not at all the matter of fact. I do not say that there were originally more particular churches than one in one city; I do grant, in the words next quoted by him, that there is not express mention made that any such church did divide itself into more congregations, with new officers. But this is the matter of fact, that the apostles appointed only particular congregations; and that therefore they did not oblige the Christians about, in a province or diocese, to be of that church which was first erected in any town or city, but they founded new churches, with new officers of their own, in all places where there were a sufficient number of believers to make up such a church. And this I prove from the instance of the church of Jerusalem, which was first planted; but quickly after there were churches gathered and settled in Judea, Galilee, and Samaris. They planted churches κατὰ πόλεις καὶ χώρας, in the cities and villages, as Clemens speaks. “But what,” saith he, “is this to the proof of the congregational way?” This it is, — namely, that the churches instituted by the apostles were all of them congregational, not diocesan, provincial, or national.- But saith he, “The thing I desired was, that when the Christians in one city multiplied into more congregations, they would prove that they did make new and distinct churches.” He may desire it of them who grant that the Christians did multiply in one city into more congregations than one (which I deny) until the end of the second century, although they might and did occasionally meet, especially in times of persecution, in distinct assemblies. Neither will their multiplication into more congregations, without distinct officers, at all help the cause he pleadeth for; for his diocesan church consisteth of many distinct churches, with their distinct officers, order, and power, as he afterward describes our parishes to do under one bishop. Yet such is his apprehension of the justice of his cause, that what hath been pleaded twenty times against it, — namely, that speaking of one city, the Scripture still calls it the church of that place, but speaking of a province, as Judea, Galilee, Samaria, Galatia, Macedonia, it speaks of the churches of them; which evidently proves that it knows nothing of a diocesan, provincial, or national church, — he produceth in the justification of it, because he saith, that “it is evident, then, that there was but one church in one city,” which was never denied, There were, indeed, then many bishops in one church, Phil. i. 1; Acts xx. 28. And afterward, when one church had one bishop only, yet there were two bishops in one city, which requires two churches, as Epiphanius affirms: Οὐ γὰρ πότε ἡ Ἀλεξάνδρεια δύο ἐπισκόπους ἔσχεν ὡς αἱ ἀλλαι πόλεις, Hæres. lxviii. s. 6; — “For Alexandria never had two bishops, as other cities had.” 439Whether he intend two bishops in one church, or two churches in one city, all is one to our purpose.
But the Doctor, I presume, makes this observation rather artificially, to prevent an objection against his main hypothesis, than with any design o strengthen it thereby; for he cannot but know how frequently it is pleaded in opposition unto any national church-state, as unto its mention in the Scripture; for he that shall speak of the churches in Essex, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, and so of other counties, without the least intimation of any general church unto which they should belong, would be judged to speak rather the independent than the episcopal dialect.
But, saith he, p. 236, “I cannot but wonder what Dr Owen means, when, after he hath produced the evidence of distinct churches in the same province, he calls this plain Scripture evidence and practice for the erecting particular, distinct congregations; — who denies that,” (I say, then, it is incumbent on him to prove, if he do any thing in this cause, that they erected churches of another sort, kind, and order also.) “But, saith he, “I see nothing like a proof of distinct churches in the same city; which was the thing to be proved, but because it could not be proved was prudently let alone.”
But this was not the thing to be proved, nor did I propose it to confirmation nor assert it, but have proved the contrary unto the end of the second century. This only I assert, that every church in one city was only one church; and nothing is offered by the Doctor to the contrary, yea, he affirms the same.
But, saith he, sect. vi. p. 237, “Dr Owen saith, that the Christians of one city might not exceed the bounds of a particular church or congregation, no, although they had a multiplication of bishops or elders in them, and occasional distinct assemblies for some acts of divine worship. But then,” saith he, “the notion of a church is not limited in the Scripture to a single congregation? Why so? “For,” saith he, “if occasional assemblies be allowed for some acts of worship, why not for others,” I say, Because they belong unto the whole church, or are acts of communion in the whole church assembled, and so cannot be observed in occasional meetings: “Do this,” saith the apostle, “when you come together into one place.” “And if,” saith he, “the number of elders be unlimited, then every one of those may attend the occasional, distinct assemblies for worship, and yet altogether make up the body of one church.” And so, say I, they may, and yet be one church still, joining together in all acts of communion that are proper and peculiar unto the church; for as the meetings intended were occasional, so also was the attendance of the elders unto them, as they found occasion, for the education of the whole church.
440It may be the Doctor is not so well acquainted with the principles and practice of the congregational way, and therefore thinks that these things are contrary unto them. But those of that way do maintain that there ought to be in every particular congregation, unto the completeness of it, many elders or overseers; that the number of them ought to be increased as the increase of the church makes it necessary for their edification; that the members of such a church may and ought to meet occasionally in distinct assemblies, especially in ‘the time of persecution, for prayer, preaching of the word, and mutual exhortation: so when Peter was in prison after the death of James, many met together in the house of Mary to pray, Acts xii. 12; which was not a meeting of the whole church. And that there were such private meetings of the members of the same church in times of persecution among the primitive churches may be proved by a multiplication of instances; but still they continued one church, and joined together in all acts of church-communion properly so called, especially if it were possible every Lord’s day, as Justin Martyr declares that the church did in his time; “for all the Christians,” saith he, then, “in the city and villages about,” gathered together “in one place,” for the ends mentioned. But still these distinct occasional assemblies did not constitute any distinct societies or corporations, as the distinct, companies do in a city. “But,” saith he, “grant one single bishop over all these elders, and they make up’ that representation of a church which we have from the best and purest antiquity.” I say we would quickly grant it could, we see any warrant for it, or if he could prove that so it was from the beginning. However, this is no part of our present contest, — namely, whether, somewhile after the days of the apostles, in churches that were greatly increased and many elders in them, there was not one chosen (as at Alexandria) by those elders themselves to preside among them, who, in a peculiar manner, was called a bishop. But, if I mistake not, that alone which would advantage his cause is to prove that there were in one city, or anywhere else, many, not occasional assemblies of Christians or church-members, but many stated, fixed churches, with officers of their own, peculiarly related unto them, intrusted with church power and privileges, at least as much as he afterward pleads to be in our parochial churches, all under the government of one single bishop, making up a new church-state beyond that of particular congregations, by their relation unto him as their common pastor. This, I take it, is that which should have been proved.
All the difficulty wherewith our assertion is accompanied ariseth from the multiplication of believers and the increase of churches, in the apostles’ time or presently after; for this seems to be so great 441as that those in one city could not continue in one church, notwithstanding the advantages of occasional assemblies. The church of Jerusalem had five thousand in it at the same time. The word grew and prevailed at Ephesus and other places. Whereto I shall briefly answer, as hastening unto a close of this unpleasing labour. I say, therefore, —
1. Whatever difficulty may seem to be in this matter, yet in point of fact so it was; there was no church before the end of the second century of any other species, nature, or kind, but a particular congregational church only, as hath been proved before. Let any one instance be produced of a church of one denomination, national, provincial, or diocesan, or of any other kind than that which is congregational, and I will give over this contest. But when a matter of fact is certain, it is too late to inquire how it might be. And on this occasion I shall add, that if in that space of time, — namely, before the end of the second century, — any proof or undoubted testimony can be produced of the imposition of the necessary use of liturgies, or of stated ceremonies of [or?] the practice of church-discipline, consistent with that now in use in the church of England, it will go a great way in the determination of the whole controversy between us.
2. The admirable prevalency of the gospel in those days consisted principally in its spreading itself all the world over, and planting seminaries for farther conversions in all nations. It did, indeed, prevail more some cities and towns than in others, — in some places many were converted, in others the tender of it was utterly rejected; howbeit it prevailed not unto the gathering of such great numbers into any church solely as might destroy or be inconsistent with its congregational institution. For not all, not, it may be, half, not sometimes a third part of them who made some profession of the truth, and attended unto the preaching of the word, and many of whom underwent martyrdom, were admitted as complete members of the church, unto all the parts of its communion. Hence there were many who upon a general account were esteemed Christians, and that justly, where the churches were but small.
3. It doth not appear that in the next age after the apostles the churches were anywhere so increased in number as to bear the least proportion with the inhabitants of the cities and towns wherein they were. The church of Smyrna, in the days of Polycarpus, may justly be esteemed one of the greatest in those days, both from the eminency of the place and person, who was justly accounted the great instructor of all Asia, as they called him when he was carried unto the stake. But this church giveth such an account of itself, in its epistle unto the churches of Pontus about the martyrdom of Polycarpus, as manifests the church there to have been a very small number 442in comparison of the multitude of the other inhabitants, so as that it was scarcely known who or what they were, Euseb. lib. iv. cap. 15. So in the excellent epistle of the churches of Vienne and Lyons unto the churches of Asia and Phrygia, concerning the persecutions that befell them, as they declare themselves to have been particular churches only, so they make it evident that they bore in number no proportion unto the inhabitants of the places where they were, who could scarce discover them by the most diligent search, Euseb. lib. v. cap. 1.
4. As for the church of Jerusalem in particular, notwithstanding the great number of its original converts, — who probably were many of them strangers occasionally present at the feast of Pentecost, and there instructed in the knowledge of the truth, that they might, in the several countries whither they immediately returned, be instruments of the propagation of the gospel, — it is certain that many years after it consisted of no greater multitude than could come together in one place to the management of church-affairs, Acts xv. 4, 22. Nor is it likely that Pella, an obscure place, whose name probably had never been known but on this occasion, was like to receive any great multitudes; nor doth Epiphanius say, as our author pretends, that they spread themselves from thence to Cœlo-syria, and Decapolis, and Basanitis, for he affirms expressly that all the disciples which went from Jerusalem dwelt at Pella. Only he says, that from thence the sect of the Nazarenes took its original, which spread itself (afterward) in Cœlo-syria, Decapolis, and Basanitis: Ἐκεῖθεν γὰρ, ἡ ἀρχὴ γέγονε (speaking of that sect) μετὰ τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν Ἱεροσολύμων μετάστασιν, πάντων τῶν μαθητῶν ἐν Πέλλῃ οἰκηκότων, — “they dwelled all at Pella.”
Sect. vii. p. 239. He quotes another saying of mine, — namely, that I “cannot discern the least necessity of any positive rule or direction in this matter, seeing the nature of the thing and the duty of man do indispensably require it.” And hereon he attempts to make advantage, in opposition unto another saying, as he supposeth, of mine, — namely, “that the institution of churches, and the rules for their disposal and government throughout the world are the same, stated and unalterable;” from whence he makes many inferences to countenance him in his charge of schism. But why should we contend fruitlessly about these things? Had he been pleased to read a little farther on the same page, he would have seen that I affirm the institution itself to be a plain command, which, considering the nature of the duties required of men in church-relation, is sufficient to oblige them thereunto, without any new revelation unto that purpose which renders all his queries, exceptions, and inferences of no use. For I do not speak in that place of the original institution of churches, whose laws and rules are universal and unalterable, but 443our actual gathering into particular churches; for which I say the necessity of duty is our warrant, and the institution itself a command. No great advantage will be made any way of such attempts.
The like I must say of his following discourse, p. 241, concerning churches in private families, wherewith I am dismissed. I do grant that a church may be in a family; there was so in the family of Abraham before the law. And if a family do consist of such numbers as may constitute a church meet for the duties required of it, and the privileges intrusted with it, — if it hath persons in it furnished with gifts and graces fit for the ministerial office, and they be lawfully called and set apart thereunto, — I see no reason why they should not be a church although they should be all in the same family. But what is this to the imprisoning of all religious worship in private families, that never were churches, nor can so be, with the admission of some others which our author would justify from this concession, I know not. But it is easy to see what our condition should always be if some men’s power did answer their desires.
But the will of God be done!
I shall not farther concern myself to consider things charged but not proved, repeated but not confirmed, depending on a misunderstanding or misapprehension of words wherein the merit of the cause is not concerned.
That which I first undertook, was a vindication of the nonconformists from the charge of the guilt of schism. And this I engaged in for no other reason but to remove, as far as in me lay, the obstruction that seemed to be cast by the Doctor’s sermon unto the uniting of all Protestants in the same common interest against Popery; for although the design might be good, as I hope it was, and he might judge well of the seasonableness of what he proposed unto its end, yet we found it (it may be from the circumstances of it, as unto time and place) to be of a contrary tendency, to the raising of new disputes, creating of new jealousies, and weakening the hands of multitudes who were ready and willing to join entirely in opposition unto Popery, and [in] the defence of the protestant religion. For if a party of soldiers (as the Doctor more than once alludes unto that sort of men) should be drawing up in a field with others, to oppose a common enemy, [and if] some persons of great authority and command in the army should go unto them, and declare that they were not to be trusted, that they themselves were traitors and enemies, fit to be destroyed when the common enemy was despatched or reconciled; it would certainly abate of their courage and resolution, in what they were undertaking with no less hazard, than any others in the army.
I have here again unto the same end vindicated the principles of the former vindication, with what brevity I could; for the truth is, I meet 444with nothing material in the Doctor’s large discourse, as unto what he chargeth on those of the congregational persuasion, but what is obviated in the foregoing treatise. And if any thing of the same nature be farther offered in opposition unto the same principles, it shall (if God give life and strength) be considered in and with the second part of it, concerning the matter, form, rule, polity, offices, officers, and order of evangelical churches, which is designed; and it is designed not for strife and contention with any, — which, if it be possible, and as far as in me lieth, I shall always avoid, — but for the edification of them by whom it is desired.
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