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must not think the apostle wanted charity, who will have them accursed; and that gave Hymenæus and Alexander over to Satan, after that they had departed from the true faith, that they might learn not to blaspheme. In short, if we must (as our opposers herein acknowledge) preserve and keep those that are come to own the truth, by the same means they were gathered and brought into it, we must not cease to be plain with them, and tell them, when they are wrong; and by sound doctrine both exhort and convince gainsayers. If the apostles of Christ of old, and the
. preachers of the everlasting gospel in this day, had told all people, however wrong they found them in their faith and principles, Our charity and love is such, we dare not judge you, nor separate from you; but let us all live in love together, and every one enjoy his own opinion, and all will be well : how should the nations have been; or what way can they be brought to truth and righteousness? would not the devil love this doctrine well, by which, darkness and ignorance, error and confusion might still continue in the earth unreproved and uncondemned; if it was needful then for the apostles of Christ in the days of old to reprove, without sparing to tell the highpriests and great professors among the Jews, that they were stubborn and stiff-necked, and always resisted the Holy Ghost, without being guilty of imposition and oppression, or want of true love and charity; and also for those messengers the Lord raised up in this day, to reprove and cry out against the hireling priests, and to tell the world openly, both professors and profane, that they were in darkness and ignorance, out of the truth, strangers and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel ; if God has gathered a people, by this means, into the belief of one and the same truth, must not they, if they turn and depart from it, be admonished, reproved and condemned (yea, rather than those that are not yet come to the truth,) because they crucify afresh unto themselves the Lord of glory, and put him to open shame? It seems the apostle judged it very needful they should be so dealt with, Tit. 1. 10. when he says, There are many unruly and vain talk. ers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, &c. Were such a principle to be received or believed, that in the Church of Christ no man should be separated from, no man condemned or excluded the fellowship and communion of the body, for his judgment or opinion in matters of faith, then what blasphemies so horrid, what heresies so damnable, what doctrines of devils, but might harbour itself in the Church of Christ? What need then of sound doctrine, if no doctrine make unsound? What need of convincing and exhorting gainsayers, if to gainsay be no crime? Where should the unity of the faith be? Were not this an inlet to all manner of abomination; and to make void the whole tendency of Christ, and his apostles' doctrine ; and render the gospel of none effect; and give a liberty to the unconstant and giddy will of man to innovate, alter and overturn it at his pleasure ? So that from all that is above mentioned, we do safely conclude, that where a peo. ple are gathered together into the belief of the principles and doctrines of the gospel of Christ, if any of that people shall go from their principles, and assert things false and contrary to what they have already received ; such as stand and abide firm in the faith, have power, by the Spirit of God, after they have used Christian endeavours to convince and reclaim them, upon their obsti. nacy, to separate from such, and to exclude them from their spiritual fellowship and communion : For otherwise, if this be denied, farewell to all Christianity, or to the maintaining of any sound doctrine in the Church of Christ.
But, secondly, taking it for granted, that the Church of Christ, or assembly of believers, may, in some cases, that are matter of conscience, pronounce a positive sentence and judgment with out hazard of imposition upon the members, it comes to be enquired; In what cases, and how far this power reacheth?
I answer, First, As that which is most clear and undeniable, in the fundamental principles and doctrines of faith, in case any should offer to teach otherwise, as is above declared and proved. But some may perhaps acknowledge, that indeed if any should contradict the known and owned principles of truth, and teach otherwise, it were fịt to cast out and exclude such; but what judgest thou as to lesser matters, as in principles of less consequence, or in outward ceremonies or gestures, whether it be fit to press uniformity in these things ? For answer to this, it is fit to consider,
First, The nature of the things themselves.
Secondly, The spirit and ground they proceed from,
And thirdly, The consequence and tendency of them.
But before I proceed upon these, I affirm, and that according to truth, that as the church and assembly of God's people may, and hath power to decide by the Spirit of God in matters fundamental and weighty (without which no decision nor decree in whatever matters is available) so the same church and assembly also, in other matters of less moment, as to themselves (yet being needful and expedient with a respect to the circumstance of time, place and other things that may fall in) may and hath power by the same spirit, and not otherwise, being acted, moved and assisted, and led by it thereto, to pronounce a positive judgment: which, no doubt, will be found obligatory upon all such who have a sense and feeling of the mind of the Spirit, though rejected by such as are not watchful, and so are out of the feeling and unity of the life. And this is that which none that own immediate revelation, or a being inwardly led by the Spirit, to be now a thing expected or dispensed to the saints, can, without contradicting their own principle, deny: far less such with whom I have to do in this mat. ter, who claiming this privilege to particulars; saying, That they being moved to do such and such things, though contrary to the mind and sense of their brethren, are not to be judged for it; adding, Why may it not be so, that God hath moved them to it? Now if this be a sufficient reason for them to suppose as to one or two, I may without absurdity suppose it as well to the whole body. And therefore as to the first, to wit, The nature of the things themselves. If it be such a thing, the doing or not doing whereof, that is, either any act, or the forbearance of any, may bring a real reproach or ground of accusation against the truth professed and owned, and in and through which there may a visible schism and dissention arise in the church, by which truth's enemies may be gratified, and itself brought into disesteem; then it is fit for such, whose care is to keep all right, to take inspection in the matter, to meet together in the fear of God, to wait for his counsel and to speak forth his mind, according as he shall manifest himself in and among them. And this was the practice of the primitive church in the matter of circumcision. For here lay the debate: some thought it not needful to circumcise the Gentiles; others thought it a thing not to be dispensed with: and no doubt of these (for we must remember they were not the rebellious Jews, but such as had already believed in Christ) there were that did it out of conscience, as judging circumcision to be still obligatory. For they said thus, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. Now what course took the church of Antioch in these cases? Acts 15. 2. They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them should go unto Jerusalem, unto the apostles and elders, about this question. We must not suppose they wanted the Spirit of God at Antioch to have de. cided the matter, neither that these apostles nieglected or went from their inward guide in un. dertaking this journey; yet we see, they judged it meet in this matter to have the advice and con