« PreviousContinue »
not so cover over, or smooth over any wick- . edness, as not to deal roundly with the persons guilty, and causing them to take away the scandal in their acknowledgment before all, to whose knowledge it hath come : yet judge we not our. selves obliged to tell that in Gath, or publish that in the streets of Askelon, which make the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice; or strengthen Atheists and Ranters in their obdu. rateness, who feed more upon the failings of the saints, than to imitate their true repentance. And therefore where we find an unfeigning returning to the Lord, we desire not to remember that which the Lord hath forgotten, nor yet to throw offences in the way of the weak, that they may stumble upon them.
And therefore I conclude, that our care as to these things also is most needful, and a part of that order and government, which the church of Christ never was, nor can be without; as doth abundantly appear by divers scriptures heretofore mentioned,
How far this government doth extend in matters
spiritual and purely conscientious.
Thus far I have considered the order and go. vernment of the church, as it respects outward things; and its authority in condemning or removing such things, which in themselves are evil, as being those, which none will readily jus
tify: the necessity of which things is such, that few but will acknowledge the care and order in these cases to be commendable and expedient.
Now I come to consider the things of another kind, which either verily are, or are supposed to be matters of coNSCIENCE, or at least, wherein people may lay claim to conscience, in the acting or forbearing of them. In which the great ques. tion is, How far in such cases the church may give positive orders or rules? How far her authority reacheth, or may be supposed to be bind. ing, and ought te be submitted to ? For the better clearing and examination of which, it will be fit to consider,
First, Whether the Church of Christ hath power in any cases that are matters of conscience, to give a positive sentence, and decision, which may be obligatory upon believers?
Secondly, If so, in what cases and respects she may so do?
Thirdly, Wherein consists the freedom and liberty of conscience, which may be exercised by the members of the true church diversely, without judging one another?
And lastly, In whom the power decisive is, in case of controversy, or contention in such matters ?-Which will also lead us to observe the vast difference betwixt us and the papists, and others in this particular.
As to the first, whether the Church of Christ hath power in any cases, that are matters of conscience, to give a positive sentence and decision, which may be obligatory upon believers. I answer affirmatively, she hath ; and shall
prove it from divers instances, both from scripture and reason. For first, all principles and articles of faith, which are held doctrinally, are, in respect to those that believe them, matters of conscience. We know the Papists do, out of conscience (such as are zealous among them) adore, worship and pray to Angels, Saints and Images, yea, and to the Eucharist, as judging it to be really Christ Jesus; and so do others place conscience in things that are absolutely wrong: now I say, we being gathered together into the belief of certain principles and doctrines, without any constraint or worldly respect, but by the mere force of truth upon our understanding, and its power and influence upon our hearts; these principles and doctrines, and the practices necessarily depending upon them are, as it were, the terms that have drawn us together, and the* bond, by which we became centred into one body and fellowship, and distinguished from others. Now if any one, or more, so engaged with us, should arise to teach any other doctrine or doctrines, contrary to these which were the ground of our being one; who can deny, but the body hath power in such a case to declare, This is not according to the truth we profess; and therefore we pronounce such and such doctrines to be wrong, with which we cannot have unity, nor
* Yet this is not so the bond, but that we have also a more inward and invisible, to wit, the life of righteousness, whereby we also have unity with the upright seed in all, even in those, whose understandings are not yet so enlightened. But to those who are once enlightened, this is as an outward bond; and if they suffer themselves to be darkened through disobedience, which as it does in the outward bond, so it doth in the inward,
yet any more spiritual fellowship with those that hold them ? And so cut themselves off from be. ing members, by dissolving the very bond by which they were linked to the body. Now this cannot be accounted tyranny and oppression, no more than in a civil society, if one of the society shall contradict one or more of the fundamental articles, upon which the society was contracted, it cannot be reckoned a breach or iniquity in the whole society to declare, that such contradictors have done wrong, and forfeited their right in that society ; in case, by the original constitution, the nature of the contradiction implies such a forfeiture, as usually it is; and will no doubt hold in religious matters. As if a body be gathered into one fellowship, by the belief of certain principles, he that comes to believe otherwise, naturally scattereth himself; for that the cause, that gathered him, is taken away: and so those that abide constant in declaring the thing to be so as it is, and in looking upon him, and witnessing of him to others (if need be) to be such, as he has made himself, do him no injury. I shall make the supposition in the general, and let every people make the application to themselves, abstracting from us; and then let conscience and reason in every impar. tial reader declare, whether or not it doth not hold ? Suppose a people really gathered unto the belief of the true and certain principles of the gospel, if any of these people shall arise and contradict any of those fundamental truths, whether has not such as stand, good right to cast such an one out from among them, and to pronounce, positively, This is contrary to the truth we pro
fess and own ; and therefore ought to be rejected, and not received, nor yet he that asserts it as one of us? And is not this obligatory upon all the members, seeing all are concerned in the like care as to themselves, to hold the right and shut out the wrong? I cannot tell, if any man of reason can well deny this : however, I shall prove it next from the testimony of the scripture.
Gal. 1. 8. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be aecursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you
, than that ye have received, let him be accursed. 1 Tim. 1. 19, 20. Holding faith and a good conscience, which some having put away, concerning faith, have made shipwreck. Of whom is Hymenæus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unito Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
2 John 10. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him rejoice. (For so the Greek hath it.)
These Scriptures are so clear and plain in themselves, as to this purpose, that they need no great exposition to the unbiassed and unprejudicate reader. For seeing it is so, that in the true church there may men arise, and speak perverse things, contrary to the doctrine and gospel already received; what is to be the place of those that hold the pure and ancient truth? must they look upon these perverse men still as their brethren? must they cherish them as fellow members, or must they judge, condemn and deny them? We