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Thirdly, Such, who being departed from their first love and ancient zeal for the truth, become cold and lukewarm ; and yet are ashamed to make open apostacy, and to turn back again, so as to deny all the principles of truth, they having had already such evidence of clearness upon their understanding ; yet not keeping low in their own habitations, but being puffed up, and giving way to the restless imaginations of their exalted and wandering minds, fall out with their brethren ; cause divisions; begin to find fault with every thing, and to look at others more than at them. selves; with swelling words to talk of, and preach up, a higher dispensation, while they are far from living up to the life and perfection of this present ; like unto such who said, We will not have this man to rule over us : cry out of formality and apostacy, because they are not followed in all things; and if they be reproved for their unruliness, according to the good order of the Church of Christ, then they cry out, Breach of liberty, oppression, persecution ! we will have none of your order and government; we are taught to follow the light in our consciences, and not the orders of men. Well, of this hereafter; but this gave the rise of this controversy : which leads me to that which I proposed in the second place.
SECTION II. IV hether there be now to be any order or go.
vernment in the Church of Christ. In answer to this proposition, I meddle not at this time with those that deny any such thing as
a Church of Christ; I have reserved their plea to another place. Neither need 1 to be at much pains to prove the affirmative, to wit, that there ought to be government and order in the Church of Christ unto the generality of our opposers, both papists and protestants; who readily confess and acknowledge it, and have heretofore blamed us for want of it. Though now some of them, and that of the highest pretenders, are become so unreasonable, as to accuse us for the use of it; improving it, so far as they can, to our disadvantage: for such is the blindness of partial envy, that whereas the supposed want of it was once reckoned heretical, now the present performance of it is counted criminal.
These, then, to whom I come to prove this thing, are such, who having cast off the yoke of the cross of Christ in themselves, refuse all subjection or government: denying that any such thing ought to be, as disagreeing with the testimony of truth; or those, who not being so wilful and obstinate in their minds, yet are fearful or scrupulous in the matter in respect of the dangerous consequences, they may apprehend, such a thing may draw after it.
For the clearing then as well the mistakes of the one, as answering the cavils of the other, I judge the truth of these following assertions will sufficiently prove the matter; which I shall make no great difficulty to evidence.
First, That Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church, did appoint and ordain, that there should be order and government in it. Secondly, That the apostles and primitive
Christians, when they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and immediately led by the Spirit of God, did practise and commend it.
Thirdly, That the same occasion and necessity now occurring, which gave them opportunity to exercise that authority, the Church of Christ hath the same power now as ever, and is led by the same spirit into the same practices.
As to the first, I know there are some, that the very name of a church, and the very words, order and government they are afraid of. Now this I suppose hath proceeded, because of the great hypocrisy, deceit and oppression, that hath been cloaked with the pretence of these things; but why should the Truth be neglected, because hy. pocrites have pretended to it? The right institution of these things, which have been appointed and ordained of God, must not, nor ought not to be despised, because corrupt men have abused and perverted them. I know not any thing that hath been more abused and perverted in the whole world, than the name of a Christian; shall we then renounce that honourable title, because so many thousands of wicked men, yea, Antichrists, have falsely assumed it to themselves? The man of sin hath taken upon him to sit in the temple of God, as God; yet we must not therefore deny, that God is in this temple. If the synagogue of Satan assumed the name of the Church of Christ, and hath termed her oppression and violence, the power and authority thereof; therefore must not the Church of Christ, and its authority, be exercised, where it truly is according to his mind? This I prefix to warn all to beware of stumbling at things which are innocent in themselves; and that we may labour to hold the steady, even path of truth, without running into either of the extremes. For that Jesus Christ did appoint order and government to be in the Church, is very clear from his plain words, Matt. 18. 15. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. Ver. 16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. Ver. 17. . And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Ver. 18. Verily, I say unto you, whatso. ever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. From which Scripture it doth manifestly and evidently follow; first, That Jesus Christ intended there should be certain order and method in his church, in the procedure towards such as transgress. Secondly, That he that refuseth to hear two, is become more guilty (as hardened) than in refusing to hear him that first reproved alone. Thirdly, That refusing to hear the judgment of the church, or whole assembly, he doth thereby exclude himself, and shutout himself from being a member; and is justly judged by his brethren as an heathen and a publican.
And lastly, that the church, gathering, or assembly of God's people, has power to examine and call to account such, as appearing to be among them, or owning the same faith with them, do transgress; and in case of their refusing to hear, or repent, to exclude them from their fellowship: and that God hath a special regard to the judgment and sense of his people thus orderly proceeding, so as to hold such bound in heaven, whom they bind on earth, and such loosed in heaven, whom they loose on earth. I am partly confident, that no rational man will deny, but that these uaturally follow from the above mentioned Scripture; and if there should be any found so unreasonable as to deny it, I could prove it by necessary and unevitable consequences; which at present, as taken it for granted, I forbear to do. If it be reckoned so great a crime to offend one of the little ones, that it were better for him, that so doth, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea; without question, to offend and gainsay the whole flock, must be more criminal, and must draw after it a far deeper judgment.
Now if there were no order nor government in the church, what should become of those that transgress? how should they be again restored ? would not this make all reproving, all instructing, all caring for, and watching over one another, void and null? why should Christ have desired them to proceed after this method? why doth he place so wuch weight upon the judgment of the church, as to make the refusing of hearing it, to draw so deep a censure after it; which he will not have to follow the refusing to hear one or two apart, though the matter be one and the same? and so, as to the substantial and intrinsic truth of the thing, there lies the same obligation upon the transgressor to hear