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of the church, and for the removing all that is hurtful; even as the holy apostles, who walked with Jesus, did before us? If there be such that walk disorderly now, must not they be admonished, rebuked and withdrawn from, as well as of old ? Or is such to be the condition of the church in these latter times, that all iniquity must go unreproved ? Must it be heresy, or oppression, to watch over one another, in love? To take care for the poor? To see that there be no corrupt, no defiled members of the body, and earefully and christianly deal with them, for restoring them, if possible; and for withdrawing from them, if incurable ? I am persuaded, that there are none that look upon the commands of Christ, and his apostles, the practice and experience of the primitive church and saints, as a sufficient precedent to authorise a practice now, that will deny the lawfulness or usefulness hereof, but must needs acknowledge the necessity of it. But if it be objected, (as some have done) do not you deny, that the scripture is the adequate rule of faith and manners; and that the commands or practices of the scripture are not a sufficient warrant for you now to do any thing, without you be again authorized, and led into it by the same spirit? And upon that score, do you not forbear some things both practised and commanded by the primitive church and saints ?
Well, I hope I have not any thing weakened this objection, but presented it in its full vigour and strength : To which I shall clearly and di. stinctly answer thus :
First, Seasons and times do not alter the na.
ture and substance of things in themselves ; though it may cause things to alter, as to the usefulness, or not usefulness of them.
Secondly, Things commanded and practised at certain times and seasons fall of themselves, when as the cause and ground, for which they were commanded, is removed ; as their is no need now for the decision about circumcision, seeing there are none contend for it: neither as to the orders concerning things offered to idols, seeing there is now no such occasion : Yet who will say, that the command enjoined in the same place, Acts 15. 20. To abstain from fornication, is now made void ; seeing there is daily need for its standing in force, because it yet remains as a temptation man is incident to? 'we confess, indeed, we are against such as from the bare letter of the scripture (though if it were seasonable now to debate it, we find but few to deal with, whose practices are so exactly squared) seek to uphold customs, forms or shadows, when the use, for which they were appointed, is removed, or the substance itself known and witnessed; as we have sufficiently elsewhere answered our opposers in the case of water-baptism, and bread and wine, &c. So that the objection, as to that, doth not hold ; and the difference is very wide, in respect of such things : the very nature and substance of which can never be dispensed with by the people of God, so long as they are in this world ; yea, without which they could not be his people. For the doctrines, and fundamental principles of the christian faith, we own and believe originally and principally, because they are
the truths of God; whereunto the Spirit of God in our hearts hath constrained our understandings to obey and submit. In the second place, we are greatly confirmed, strengthened and comforted in the joint testimony of our brethren, the apostles and disciples of Christ, who by the revelation of the same Spirit in the days of old believed, and have left upon record the same truths; so we having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken ; we also believe, and therefore we speak. And we deny not but some, that from the letter have had the notion of these things, have thereby in the mercy of God received occasion to have them revealed in the life: for we freely acknowledge (though often calumniated to the contrary) that whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures may have hope. So then I hope, if the Spirit of God lead me now unto that which is good, profitable, yea, and absolutely needful, in order to the keeping my conscience clear and void of offence towards God and man, none will be so unreasonable as to say, I ought not to do it, because it is according to the scriptures. Nor do I think it will savour ill among any serious, solid Christians, for me to be the more confirmed and persuaded that I am led to this thing by the Spirit, that I find it in myself good and useful; and that upon the like occasions Christ commanded it, and the apostles and primitive Christians practised and recommended it,
Now, seeing it is so that we can boldly say, ayith a good conscience in the sight of God, that the same Spirit, which leads us to believe the doctrines and principles of the truth, and to hold and maintain them again, after the apostacy, in their primitive and ancient purity, as they were delivered by the apostles of Christ in the Holy Scriptures; I say, that the same Spirit doth now lead us into the like holy order and government to be exercised among us, as it was among them, being now the like occasion and opportunity ministered to us; therefore, what can any
christianly or rationally object against it? For - that there is a real cause for it, the thing itself
speaketh; and that it was the practice of the saints and church of old, is undeniable: what kind of ground then can any such opposers have, (being such, as scrupling at this, do, notwithstanding, acknowledge our principle) that this were done by imposition or imitation, more than the belief of the doctrines and principles ? Seeing as it is needful to use all diligence to convince and persuade people of the truth, and bring them to the belief of it, (which yet we cannot do, but as truth moves and draws in their hearts,) it is also no less needful, when a people is gathered, to keep and preserve them in unity and love, as becomes the Church of Christ; and to be careful, as saith the apostle, That all things be done decently, and in order; and that all that is wrong be removed according to the method of the gospel; and the good cherished and encouraged. So that we conclude, and that upon very good grounds, That there ought now, as well as here tofore, to be order and government in the Church of Christ.
That which now cometh to be examined in the third place is,
First, What is the order and government we plead for?
Secondly, In what cases, and how far it may extend? And in whom the power decisive is ?
Thirdly, How it differeth, and is wholly another than the oppressive and persecuting principality of the church of Rome, and other antichristian assemblies ?
Of the order and government which we plead for.
It will be needful then, before I proceed to describe the order and government of the church, to consider what is or may be properly understood by the church: for some (as I touched before) seem to be offended, or at least afraid of the very word; because the power of the church, the order of the church, the judgment of the church, and such like pretences, have been the great weapons wherewith antichrist and the apostate christians have been these many generations persecuting the woman, and warring against the man-child. And, indeed, great disputes have been among the learned Rabbies, in the apostacy concerning this church, what it is, or what may be so accounted; which I find not my place at present to dive much in, but shall only give the true sense of it, according to truth, and the scriptures plain testimony.