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Chapter VIII.

Of the authority needful for the constituting and ordering of any thing that is to have relation to God and his worship — Of the power and authority of civil magistrates — The power imposing the liturgy — The formal reason of religious obedience — Use of the liturgy an act of civil, not religious obedience, Matt. xxviii. 20 — No rule to judge of what is meet in the worship of God, but his word.

Besides the regulation of all our proceedings and actions in the worship of God by the command and prohibitions insisted on in the 43foregoing chapter, there are two things indispensably necessary to render the prescription of any thing in religious worship allowable or lawful to be observed, both pointed unto by the testimonies produced; and these are, — first, An authority to enjoin; and, secondly, A certain rule to try the injunction by.

The worship of God is of that nature that whatsoever is performed in it is an act of religious obedience. That any thing may be esteemed such, it is necessary that the conscience be in it subject to the immediate authority of God. His authority alone renders any act of obedience religious. All authority is originally in God, and there are two ways whereby he is pleased to exert it:— First, By a delegation of authority unto some persons for some ends and purposes; which they being invested withal, may command in their own names an observance of the things about which, by God’s appointment, their authority is to be exercised. Thus is it with kings and rulers of the earth. They are powers ordained of God, having authority given them by him. And being invested with power, they give out their commands for the doing or performing of such or such things whereunto their authority doth extend. That they ought to be obeyed in things good and lawful, doth not arise from the authority vested in themselves, but from the immediate command of God that in such things they ought to be obeyed. Hence obedience in general unto magistrates is a part of our moral and religious obedience unto God, as it respects his command, whatever the nature and object of it be. But the performance of particular actions, wherein by their determination our obedience exerts itself, being resolved into that authority which is vested in them, is not religious but civil obedience, any otherwise than as in respect of its general nature it relates to the command of God in general. No act, I say, that we perform, whereof this is the formal reason, that it is appointed and commanded by man, though that man be intrusted with power from God to appoint and require acts of that nature, is an act of religious obedience unto God in itself, because it relates not immediately to his divine authority requiring that act.

Secondly, God doth exert his authority immediately, and that either directly from heaven, as in the giving of the law, or by the inspiration of others to declare his will; unto both which his word written answereth. Now, whatever is done in obedience to the authority of God thus exerting itself is a part of that religious duty which we owe to God, whether it be in his first institution and appointment, or any duty in its primitive revelation, or whether it be in the commands he gives for the observation of what he hath formerly appointed; for when God hath commanded any things to be observed in his worship, though he design and appoint men to see 44them observed accordingly, and furnish them with the authority of commanding to that purpose, yet the interposition of that authority of men, though by God’s institution, doth not at all hinder but that the duty performed is religious obedience, relating directly to the will and command of God. The power commanding in the case we have in hand is man’s, not that of the Lord; for though it be acknowledged that those who do command have their authority from God, yet unless the thing commanded be also in particular appointed by God, the obedience that is yielded is purely civil, and not religious. This is the state of the matter under consideration: The commanding and imposing power is variously apprehended. Some say it is the church that doth it, and so assert the authority to be ecclesiastical. “Every church,” say they, “hath power to order things of this nature for order and decency’s sake.” When it is inquired what the church is that they intend, then some are at a loss, and would fain insinuate somewhat into our thoughts that they dare not openly assert and maintain. The truth is, the church in this sense is the king, or the king and parliament, by whose advice he exerts his legislative power. By their authority was the liturgy composed, or it was composed without authority; by their authority it must be imposed, if it be imposed. What is or was done in the preparation of it by others, unto their judgment, hath no more influence into the authoritative imposition of it than the act of a person learned in the law, drawing up a bill for the consideration of parliament, hath into its binding law-power when confirmed. In this sense we acknowledge the power ordaining and imposing this liturgy to be of God, to be good and lawful, to be obeyed unto the utmost extent of that obedience which to man can be due, and that upon the account of the institution and command of God himself; but yet, supposing the liturgy to fall within the precincts and limits of that obedience, the observance and use of it, being not commanded of God, is purely an act of civil obedience, and not religious, wherein the conscience lies in no immediate subjection to Jesus Christ. It is of the same general nature with the honest discharge of the office of a constable; and this seems inconsistent with the nature of the worship of God.

But whatever be the immediate imposing power, we have direction as to our duty in the last injunction of our blessed Saviour to his apostles, Matt. xxviii. 20, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded.” In things which concern the worship of God, the commanding power is Christ, and his command the adequate rule and measure of our obedience. The teaching, commanding, and enjoining of others to do and observe those commands, is the duty of those intrusted with Christ’s authority under him. 45Their commission to teach and enjoin, and our duty to do and observe, have the same rules, the same measure, bounds, and limits. What they teach and enjoin beyond what Christ hath commanded, they do it not by virtue of any commission from him; what we do beyond what he hath commanded, we do it not in obedience to him; — what they so teach, they do it in their own name, not his; what we so do, we do in our own strength, not his, nor to his glory. The answer of Bellarmine to that argument of the protestant divines from this place, against the impositions of his church, is the most weak and frivolous that I think ever any learned man was forced to make use of; and yet where to find better will not easily occur. Our Lord Jesus Christ saith, “Go and teach men to observe whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway;” to which he subjoins, “It is true, but yet we are bound also to obey them that are set over us, — that is, our church guides;” and so leaves the argument as sufficiently discharged! Now, the whole question is concerning what those church guides may teach and enjoin, whereunto we are to give obedience, which is here expressly restrained to the things commanded by Christ; to which the cardinal offers not one word. The things our Saviour treats about are principally the “agenda” of the gospel, — things to be done and observed in the worship of God. Of these, as was said, he makes his own command the adequate rule and measure: “Teach men to observe” πάντα ὅσα “all whatsoever I command.” In their so doing alone doth he promise his presence with them; that is, to enable them unto the discharge of their duty. He commands, I say, all that shall to the end of the world be called to serve him in the work of the gospel, to “teach.” In that expression he compriseth their whole duty, as their whole authority is given them in this commission. In their teaching, indeed, they are to command with all authority; and upon the non-obedience of men unto their teaching, either by not receiving their word, or by walking unworthy of it when it is received in the profession of it, he hath allotted them the course of their whole proceedings; but still requiring that all be regulated by what they are originally commissionated and enabled to teach and command. Let, then, the imposition of a liturgy be tried by this rule. It was never by Christ commanded to his apostles, cannot by any be taught as his command; and therefore men, in the teaching or imposing of it, have no promise of his presence, nor do they that observe it yield any obedience unto him therein. This, I am sure, will be the rule of Christ’s inquiry at his great visitation at the last day, — the things which himself hath commanded will be inquired after, as to some men’s teachings, and all men’s observation, and those only. And I cannot but admire with what peace and satisfaction to their own 46souls men can pretend to act as by commission from Christ, as the chief administrators of his gospel and worship on the earth, and make it their whole business almost to teach men to do and observe what he never commanded, and rigorously to inquire after and into the observation of their own commands, whilst those of the Lord Jesus are openly neglected.

But let the authority of men for imposition be supposed to equal the fancy of any who through ignorance or interest are most devoted unto it, when they come to put their authority into execution, commanding things in and about the worship of God, I desire to know by what rule they are to proceed in their so doing. All the actions of men are or ought to be regular: good or evil they are, as they answer to or dissent from their proper rule. The rule in this matter must be the word of God, or their own prudence. Allow the former to be the rule, — that is, revealing what they ought to command, — and there is a total end of this difference. What a rule the latter is like to prove is easy to conjecture; but there is no need of conjectures where experience interposeth. The great philosopher is blamed by some for inserting the determination of men wise and prudent into his definition of the rule of moral virtue; for they say, “That cannot be certainly known whose rule and measure is fluctuating and uncertain.” If there be ground for this assertion in reference to moral virtues, whose seed and principles are inlaid in the nature of man, how much more is that rule to be questioned when applied to things whose spring and foundation lies merely in supernatural revelation? How various, uncertain, and tumultuating, how roving this pretended rule is like to prove, how short it comes to any one single property of a sufficient rule, much more of all things that are necessary to complete a rule of prorocecome22    So the word is given in the first, and in Russell’s edition. It seems a misprint for “procedure.” — Ed. in such cases, were easy to demonstrate. What good and useful place that is like to obtain in the worship of God, which, having its rise in the authority of man, is framed by the rule of the wisdom of man, and so wholly resolved into his will, I may say will be one day judged and determined, but that it is so already sufficiently in the word of truth.


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