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A short defensative about church government, toleration, and petitions about these things.
This, be it what it will, thou hast no cause to thank or blame111111 “Laudatur ab his, culpatur ab illis.” [Hor. Sat., lib. i. 2, 11.] me for. Had I been mine own, it had not been thine; my submission unto others’ judgments being the only cause of submitting this unto thy censure. The substance of it is concerning things now doing, in some whereof I heretofore thought it my wisdom modestly hæsitare (or at least not with the most, peremptorily to dictate to others my apprehensions), as wiser112112 See August., Ep. 7, 28, 157, De Orig. Anim. men have done in weightier things; and yet this not so much for want of persuasion in my own mind, as out of opinion that we have already had too many needless and fruitless discourses about these matters. Would we count agree to spare perishing paper!113113 “Deferar in vicum vendentem thus et odores, Et piper, et quicquid chartis amicitur ineptis.” [Hor. Epist., lib. ii. 1.] “Occidit miseros crambe repetita magistros.” [Juv.] “Semper ego auditor tantum?” [Juv. Sat. i.] and for my own part, had not the opportunity of a few lines in the close of this sermon, and the importunity of not a few friends, urged, I could have slighted all occasions and accusations provoking to publish those thoughts which I shall now impart. The truth is, in things concerning the church (I mean things purely external, of form, order, and the like), so many ways have I been spoken, that I often resolved to speak myself, desiring rather to appear (though conscious to myself of innumerable failings) what indeed I am, than what others incuriously suppose. But yet the many I ever thought unworthy of an apology, and some of satisfaction, — especially those who would make their own judgments a rule for themselves and others, impatient that any should know what they do not, or conceive otherwise than they of what they do, in the meantime, placing almost all religion in that which may be perhaps a hindrance of it, — and being so valued, or rather overvalued, — is certainly the greatest, Nay, would they would make their judgments only so far as they are convinced, and are able to make out their conceptions to others, and not also their impotent desires, to be the rule; that so they might condemn only that which complies not with their minds, and not all that also which they find to thwart their aims and designs! But so it must be. Once more conformity is grown the touchstone (and that not in practice, but opinion) amongst the greatest part of men, however otherwise of different persuasions. Dissent is the only crime;114114 “Immortale odium et nunquam sanabile vulnus, Ardet adhuc, Ombos et Tentyra. Summus utrinque Inde furor vulgo, quad numina vicinorum Odit uterque locus.” Juven., [xv. 35.] “Græcè scire, aut politè loqui, apud illos hæresis est.” — Eras. de Scholiast. and where that is all that is culpable, it shall be made all that is so. From such as these, who almost hath not suffered? but towards such the best defence is silence. Besides, my judgment commands me to make no known quarrel my own; but rather if it be possible, and as much as in me lieth, live peaceably with all men. Ἱερὸν πόλεμον, I proclaim to none 44but men whose bowels are full of gall. In this spring of humours, lenitives for our own spirits may perhaps be as necessary as purges for others’ brains. Farther, I desire to provoke115115 “Noli irritare crabrones. Si lapides teras nonne ignis erumpit?” — Ambros., lib. i. cap. 21; Prov. xxx. 33; Job xiii. 13; Prov. xxv. 18. Vid. Remed. contra Gravam. Nationis Germanicæ. Luth. præfat, ad Lib. de Concil. Protest. 34 ministrorum. 4. Conclus. And generally all writers at the beginning of the Reformation. none; more stings than combs are got at a nest of wasps; even cold stones, smitten together, sparkle out fire: “The wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood.” Neither do I conceive it wisdom, in these quarrelsome days, to intrust more of a man’s self with others than is very necessary. The heart of man is deceitful; some that have smooth tongues have sharp teeth: such can give titles on the one side and wounds on the other. Any of these considerations would easily have prevailed with me “stultitiâ hac caruisse,” had not mine ears been filled, presently after the preaching of the precedent sermon, with sad complaints of some, and false reports of others, neither of the lowest rank of men, as though I had helped to open a gate for that which is now called a Trojan horse; though heretofore counted an engine likelier to batter the walls of Babylon than to betray the towers of Zion. This urged some to be urgent with me for a word or two about church government, according to the former suggestions, undermined, and a toleration of different persuasions, as they said, asserted. Now, truly, to put the accusers to prove the crimination — for so it was, and held forth a grievous crime in their apprehensions (what is really so God will judge) — had been sufficient.116116 Si accusasse sufficiet, quis erit innocens? But I could not so evade; and therefore, after my sermon was printed to the last sheet, I was forced to set apart a few hours,117117 “Nec nos obniti contrà, nec tendere tantùm Sufficimus.” [Virg. Æ. v. 21.] to give an account of what hath passed from me in both these things, which have been so variously reported; hoping that the reading may not be unuseful to some, as the writing was very necessary to me. And here, at the entrance, I shall desire at the hands of men that shall cast an eye on this heap of good meaning, these few, as I suppose, equitable demands:—
First, Not to prosecute men into odious appellations, and then themselves, who feigned the crime, pronounce the sentence, — like him who said of one brought before him, If he be not guilty, it is fit he should be; — involving themselves in a double guilt, of falsehood and malice; and the aspersed parties in a double misery, of being belied in what they are, and hated for what they are not. If a man be not what such men would have him, it is odds but they will make him what he is not; — if what he really is do not please, and that be not enough to render him odious, he shall sure enough be more. Ithacius will make all Priscillianists who are any thing more devout than himself.118118 Sulp. Sever. Epist. Hist. Eccles. If men do but desire to see with their own eyes, presently they are enrolled of this or that sect; every mispersuasion being beforehand, in petitions, sermons, etc., rendered odious and intolerable; — in such a course, innocency itself cannot go long free. Christians deal with one another in earnest, as children in their plays clap another’s coat upon their fellow’s shoulders, and pretending to beat that, cudgel him they have clothed with it. “What shall be given unto thee, thou false tongue?” If we cannot be more charitable, let us be more ingenuous. Many a man hath been brought to a more favourable opinion of such as are called by dreadful names than formerly, by the experience of false impositions on himself.
Secondly, Not to clothe our differences with expressions fitting them no better than Saul’s armour did David; nor make them like a little man in a bombast coat upon stilts, walking about like a giant. Our little differences may be met at every stall, and in too many pulpits, swelled by unbefitting expressions into such a formidable bulk as poor creatures are even startled at their horrid looks and appearance; whilst our own persuasions are set out ῥημασι βυσσίνοις,119119 Plut. Apophth. with silken words 45and gorgeous apparel, as if we sent them into the world a-wooing. Hence, whatever it is, it must be temple building, — God’s government, — Christ’s scepter, throne, kingdom, — the only way, that for want of which, errors, heresies, sins, spring among us, plagues, judgments, punishments come upon us. To such things as these all pretend, who are very confident they have found out the only way. Such big words as these have made us believe that we are mortal adversaries (I speak of the parties at variance about government), — that one kingdom, communion, heaven cannot hold us. Now, truly, if this course be followed, — so to heighten our differences, by adorning the truth we own with such titles as it doth not merit, and branding the errors we oppose with such marks as in cold blood we cannot think they themselves, but only in their (by us supposed) tendence, do deserve, — I doubt not but that it will be bitterness unto us all in the end. And, query, whether by this means many have not been brought to conceive the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which himself affirms to be within us, to consist in forms, outward order, positive rules, and external government. I design none, but earnestly desire that the two great parties at this day litigant in this kingdom, would seriously consider what is like to be the issue of such proceedings; and whether the mystery of godliness, in the power thereof, be like to be propagated by it. Let not truth be weighed in the balance of our interest. Will not a dram of that turn the scale with some against many arguments? Power is powerful to persuade.
Thirdly, Not to measure men’s judgments by their subscribing or refusing to subscribe petitions in these days about church government. For subscribers, would that every one could not see, with what a zealous nescience and implicit judgment many are led! And for refusers, though perhaps they could close with the general words wherewith usually they are expressed, yet there are so many known circumstances restraining those words to particular significations, directing them to by and secondary tendencies, as must needs make some abstain. For mine own part, from subscribing late petitions about church government, I have been withheld by such reasons as these:—
1. I dare not absolutely assert, maintain, and abide by it (as rational men ought to do every clause in any thing owned by their subscription), that the cause of all the evils usually enumerated in such petitions is the want of church government, taking it for any government that ever yet was established amongst men, or in notion otherwise made known unto me; yea, I am confident that more probable causes in this juncture of time might be assigned of them. Neither can any be ignorant how plentifully such evils abounded when church discipline was most severely executed.120120 Vid. catal. hæret, apud Tertul. de præscript. Epiphan. Aug. Vincent. And, lastly, I am confident that whoever lives to see them suppressed by any outward means (when spiritual weapons shall be judged insufficient), will find it to be, not any thing either included in, or necessarily annexed unto, church discipline that must do it; but some other thing, not unlike that which, in days of yore, when all the world wondered after the beast, suppressed all truth and error, but only what the arch enemy of Jesus Christ was pleased to hold out to be believed. But of this afterward.
2. I dare not affirm that the Parliament hath not established a government already, for the essentials of it; themselves affirming that they have,121121 “Ego ancillæ tuæ fidem habui: nonne tu impudens, qui nec mihi ipsi credis?” — Philos. apud Plut. Apophth. and their ordinances about rulers, rules, and persons to be ruled (the “requisita” and materials of government), being long since extant. Now, to require a thing to be done by them who affirm that they have already done it, argues either much weakness or supine negligence in ourselves, not to understand what is effected; or a strong imputation on those that have done it, either fraudulently to pretend that which is false, or foolishly to aver what they do not understand. Yet, though I have 46learned to obey, as far as lawfully I may, my judgment is exceedingly far from being enslaved; and according to that, by God’s assistance, shall be my practice; which, if it run cross to the prescriptions of authority, it shall cheerfully submit to the censure thereof. In the meantime, all petitioning of any party about this business seems to thwart some declarations of the House of Commons, whereunto I doubt not but they intend for the main inviolably and unalterably to adhere. Add hereunto, that petitioning in this kind was not long since voted breach of privilege, in them who might justly expect as much favour and liberty in petitioning as any of their brethren in the kingdom; and I have more than one reason to suppose that the purpose and design of theirs and others was one and the same.
3. There are no small grounds of supposal that some petitions have not their rise from amongst them by whom they are subscribed, but that the spring and master-wheels giving the first motion to them are distant and unseen; myself having been lately urged to subscription upon this ground, that directions were had for it from above (as we used to speak in the country); — yea, in this I could say more than I intend, aiming at nothing but the quieting of men’s spirits, needlessly exasperated; only I cannot but say, that honest men ought to be very cautious how they put themselves upon any engagement that might make any party or faction in the kingdom suppose that their interest, in the least measure, doth run cross to that of the great Council thereof; thereby to strengthen the hands or designs of any, by occasioning an opinion that, upon fresh or new divisions, (which God of his mercy prevent!) we would not adhere constantly to our old principles, walking according to which we have hitherto found protection and safety. And I cannot but be jealous for the honour of our noble Parliament, whose authority is every day undermined, and their regard in the affections of the people shaken, by such dangerous insinuations; as though they could in an hour put an end to all our disturbances, but refuse it. This season, also, for such petitions seems to be very unseasonable, the greatest appearing danger impendent to this kingdom being from the contest about church government; which, by such means as this, is exceedingly heightened, and animosity added to the parties at variance.
4. A particular form of church discipline is usually, in such petitions, either directly expressed or evidently pointed at and directed unto, as that alone which our covenant engageth us to embrace; yea, as though it had long since designed that particular way, and distinguished it from all others, the embracing of it is pressed, under the pain of breach of covenant, — a crime abhorred of God and man. Now, truly, to suppose that our covenant did tie us up absolutely to any one formerly known way of church discipline, — the words formally engaging us into a disquisition out of the word of that which is agreeable to the mind and will of God, — is to me such a childish, ridiculous, selfish conceit, as I believe no knowing men will once entertain, unless prejudice, begotten by their peculiar interest, hath disturbed their intellectuals. For my part, I know no church government in the world already established amongst any sort of men, of the truth and necessity whereof I am convinced in all particulars; especially if I may take their practice to be the best intepreter of their maxims.
Fourthly, Another “postulatum” is, that men would not use an overzealous speed, upon every small difference, to characterize men (otherwise godly and peaceable) as sectaries; knowing the odiousness of the name,122122 “Nunc vero si nominis odium est, quis nominum reatus? quæ accusatio vocabulorum? nisi aut Barbarum sonat aliqua vox nominis, aut maledicum, aut impudicum?” — Tertul. Apol. among the vulgar, deservedly or otherwise imposed, and the evil of the thing itself, rightly apprehended, whereunto lighter differences do not amount. Such names as this I know are arbitrary, and generally serve the wills of the greater number. They are commonly sectaries who, “jure aut injuriâ,” are oppressed. Nothing was ever 47persecuted under an esteemed name. Names are in the power of many; things and their causes are known to few. There is none in the world can give an ill title to others, which from some he doth not receive. The same right which in this kind I have towards another, he hath towards me; unless I affirm myself to be infallible, not so him. Those names which men are known by when they are oppressed, they commonly use against others whom they seek to oppress. I would, therefore, that all horrid appellations, as increasers of strife, kindlers of wrath, enemies of charity, food for animosity, were for ever banished from amongst us. Let a spade be called a spade, so we take heed Christ be not called Beelzebub. I know my profession to the greatest part of the world is sectarism, as Christianity; amongst those who profess the name of Christ, to the greatest number I am a sectary, because a Protestant;123123 Acts xxiv. 14, xxviii. 22. — “Hæresis Christianorum.” Tertul., — “Secta Christ.” Id., — “Hæresis catholica, et hæresis sanctissima,” Constant. Epist. Chr. Syriac. Tileni Syntagma, — quo probate conatur Calvinianos esse hæreticos, Hun. Calv. Tur. Andrews. Epist. ad Molin. amongst Protestants, at least the one half account all men of my persuasion Calvinistical, sacramentarian sectaries; amongst these, again, to some I have been a puritanical sectary, an Arian heretic, because anti-prelatical; yea, and amongst these last, not a few account me a sectary because I plead for presbyterial government in churches: and to all these am I thus esteemed, as I am fully convinced, causelessly and erroneously. What they call sectarism, I am persuaded is “ipsissima veritas,” the “very truth itself,” to which they also ought to submit; that others also, though upon false grounds, are convinced of the truth of their own persuasion, I cannot but believe: and therefore, as I find by experience that the horrid names of heretic, schismatic, sectary, and the like, have never had any influence or force upon my judgment, nor otherwise moved me, unless it were unto retaliation, so I am persuaded it is also with others; for “homines sumus:” forcing them abroad in such liveries doth not at all convince them that they are servants to the master of sects indeed, but only makes them wait an opportunity to cast the like mantle on their traducers. And this usually is the beginning of arming the more against the few with violence, impatient of bearing the burdens which they impose on others’ shoulders; by means whereof Christendom hath been made a theatre of blood, and one amongst all, after that by cruelty and villany he had prevailed above the rest, took upon him to be the only dictator in Christian religion. But of this afterward.
Now, by the concession of these, as I hope, not unequitable demands, thus much at least I conceive will be attained, viz., that a peaceable dissent in some smaller things, disputable questions, not absolutely necessary assertions, deserves not any rigid censure, distance of affections, or breach of Christian communion and amity. In such things as these, “veniam petimusque damusque vicissim:” if otherwise, I profess I can hardly bring my mind to comply and close in with them amongst whom almost any thing is lawful but to dissent.
These things being premised, I shall now set down and make public that proposal which heretofore I have tendered, as a means to give some light into a way for the profitable and comfortable practice of church government; drawing out of general notions what is practically applicable, so circumstantiated as of necessity it must be. And herein I shall not alter any thing, or in the least expression go off from that which long since I drew up at the request of a worthy friend, after a discourse about it; and this, not only because it hath already been in the hands of many, but also because my intent is not, either to assert, dispute, or make out any thing farther of my judgment in these things than I have already done (hoping for more leisure so to do than the few hours assigned to the product of this short appendix will permit), but only, by way of a defensative, to evince that the rumours which have been spread by some, and entertained by others too greedily, about this matter, have been exceeding causeless and groundless; so that 48though my second thoughts have, if I mistake not, much improved some particulars in this essay, yet I cannot be induced, because of the reason before recounted (the only cause of the publication thereof), to make any alteration in it; only I shall present the reader with some few things which gave occasion and rise to this proposal. As, —
(1.) A fervent desire to prevent all farther division and separation, — disunion of minds amongst godly men, — suspicions and jealousies in the people towards their ministers, as aiming at power and unjust domination over them, — fruitless disputes, languishings about unprofitable questions, breaches of charity for trifles, exasperating the minds of men one against another; — all which growing evils, tending to the subversion of Christian love and the power of godliness, with the disturbance of the state, are too much fomented by that sad breach and division which is here attempted to be made up.
(2.) A desire to work and draw the minds of all my brethren (the most, I hope, need it not) to set in for a thorough reformation, and for the obtaining of holy communion, — to keep off indifferently the unworthy from church privileges and profaning of holy things. Whereunto I presumed the discovery of a way whereby this might be effected, without their disturbance in their former station, would be a considerable motive.
(3.) A consideration of the paucity of positive rules in the Scripture for church government, with the great difficulty of reducing them to practice in these present times (both sufficiently evidenced by the endless disputes and irreconcilable differences of godly, precious, and learned men about them), made me conceive that the practice of the apostolical churches, doubtless for a time observed in those immediately succeeding, would be the best external help for the right interpretation of those rules we have, and pattern to draw out a church way by. Now, truly, after my best search and inquiry into the first churches and their constitution, framing an idea and exemplar of them, this poor heap following seems to me as like one of them as any thing that yet I have seen; nothing at all doubting but that if a more skilful hand had the limning of it,124124 Ἁμέραι δ’ ἐπίλοιποι μάρτυρες σοφώτατοι. — Pind., Od. i. Olym., 54, 55. the proportions, features, and lines would be very exact, equal and parallel; yea, did not extreme haste now call it from me, so that I have no leisure so much as to transcribe the first draught, I doubt not but by God’s assistance it might be so set forth as not to be thought altogether undesirable, if men would but a little lay aside beloved pre-conceptions. But the printer stays for every line; only I must entreat every one that shall cast a candid eye on this unwillingly-exposed embryo and rude abortion, that he would assume in his mind any particular church mentioned in the Scripture, as of Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, or the like; consider the way and state they were then and some ages after, in respect of outward immunities and enjoyments, and tell me whether any rational man can suppose that either there were in those places sundry particular churches, with their distinct, peculiar officers, acting in most pastoral duties severally in them, as distinguished and divided into entire societies, but ruling them in respect of some particulars loyally in combination, considered as distinct bodies; or else that they were such single congregations as that all that power and authority which was in them may seem fitly and conveniently to be intrusted with a small handful of men, combined under one single pastor, with one, two, or perhaps no associated elders. More than this I shall only ask, whether all ordinary power may not, without danger, be asserted to reside in such a church as is here described, reserving all due right and authority to councils and magistrates? Now, for the fountain, seat, and rise of this power, for the just distribution of it between pastors and people, this is no place to dispute; these following lines were intended merely to sedate and bury such contests, and to be what they are entitled, —
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