« PreviousContinue »
relation to the circumstance of times and places, which will not hold universally; whereof we have the example of the primitive church, testified by the scriptures in two or three partieulars. The first was, In suffering circumcision to the Jews for a time, and not only so, but also divers others of the legal and ceremonial purifications and customs, as may appear, Acts 21. ver. 21. 22. 23. 24, &c. The second was, In the observation of certain days, Rom. 14. 5. And the third, In the abstaining from meats, 1 Cor. 8. throughout: here the apostle persuades to, and recommends a forbearance, because of the weakness of some; for he says not any where, nor can it be found in all the scriptures of the gospel, that these things such weak ones were exercised in, were things indispensably necessary, or that it had been better for them, they had not been under such scruples, providing it had been from a principle of true clearness and so of faith.
Next again, these acts of forbearance were done in a condescension to the weakness of such, upon whom the ancient (and truly deserved in its season) veneration of the law had such a deep impression, that they could not yet dispense with all its ceremonies and custo:ns: and to such the apostle holds forth a two-fold forbearance.
First, A certain compliance by such believers, as were gathered out from the Jews; though they saw over these things, yet it was fit they should condescend somewhat to their countrymen and brethren, who were weak.
Secondly, The like forbearance in the Gen.
tiles, not to judge them in these things; but we see, that it was not allowed for such weak ones to propagate these scruples, or draw others into them; and that when as any of the Churches of the Gentiles, who wanted this occasion, would have been exercising this liberty, or pleading for it, the apostle doth down-rightly condemn it, as I shall make appear in all the three instances above-mentioned.
First, In that of circumcision, Gal. 5. 2. 4. Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing; Christ is become of none effect unto you: whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.
Can there be any thing more positive? Might not some here have pretended tenderness of conscience, and have said; Though the decree of the apostles do dispense with circumcision in me; yet if I find a scruple in myself, and a desire to it out of tenderness, why should it be an evil in me to do it, more than in the Jews that believe? We see, there is no room left here for such rea'soning.
Secondly, As to observations, Gal. 4. 9, 10, 11. Might not they have answered, What if we regard a day to the Lord, must we not then? are not these thy own words? We see that did not hold here, because in them it was a returning to the beggarly elements.
Thirdly, As to meats, 1 Tim. 4. 3. Here we see that is accounted a doctrine of devils; which in another respect was Christian forbearance. And therefore now, and that in the general res
pect, he gives this reason, verse 4. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving of them that believe and know the truth. So we see, that in these particular things there is great need of warinesss in the Church of Christ; for that sometimes forbearance under a pretence of liberty may be more hurtful than down-right judging. I sup pose, if any should arise and pretend conscience, and claim a liberty for circumcision and the purifications of the law, whether all Christians would not with one voice condemn it? and so as to days and meats, how do the generality of Protestants judge it? Though I deny not but there may, and ought to be a mutual forbearance in the Church of Christ in certain such cases, which may fall in; and a liberty there is in the Lord, which breaks not the peace of the true church; but in such matters (as I observed at large before) both the nature of the things, the spirit they come from, and the occasion from whence, and their consequence and tendency is to be carefully observed.
Concerning the Power of decision.
SEEING then it may fall out in the Church of Christ, that both some may assume another place in the body than they ought, and others may lay claim to a liberty and pretend conscience in things they ought not, and that without question the wrong is not to be tolerated, but to be testi
fied against, however specious its appearance may be; and that it must and ought to be judged: the question will arise, Who is the proper judge or judges, in whom resideth the power of deciding this controversy? And this is that which I undertook in the next place to treat of, as being the specific difference and distinguishing property of the Church of Christ from all other antichristian assemblies and churches of man's building and framing.
To give a short, and yet clear and plain answer to this proposition: The only proper judge of controversies in the church, is the Spirit of God, and the power of deciding solely lies in it; as having the only unerring, infallible and certain judgment belonging to it; which infallibility is not necessarily annexed to any persons, person or places whatsoever, by virtue of any office, place or station any one may have or have had in the body of Christ. That is to say, that any have ground to reason thus: Because I am or have been such an eminent member, therefore my judgment is infallible; or, because we are the greatest number; or, that we live in such a noted or famous place, or the like: though some of these reasons may, and ought to have their true weight in cases of contradictory assertions (as shall hereafter be observed) yet not so, as upon which either mainly, or only the infallible judgment is to be placed; but upon the Spirit, as that which is the firm and unmoveable foundation.
And now, if I should go on no further, I have said enough to vindicate us from imposition, and. from the tyranny, whether of Popery, l'relacy of
Presbytery, or any such like we have been, or may be branded with, as shall after appear.
But to proceed: herein lies the difference betwixt the dispensation of the law and the gospel or new-covenant; for that of old all answers were to be received from the priests in the tabernacle. For he that appeared betwixt the cherubims there, spake forth his mind to the people; and there were also families of the prophets, to whom they resorted for the answer of the Lord (though sometimes, as a signification of the further glory that was to be revealed, it pleased God to reveal his mind to some, even to them who were neither prophets nor prophets' sons) but under the gospel, we are all to be taught of God, that is, none are excluded from this privilege by not being of the tribe of Levi, or of the children of the prophets though this privilege is as truly exercised in some, by assenting and obeying to what God commands and reveals through others (they feeling unity with it in the life) as by such, who by the revelation and command of God's Spirit hold forth his will to his People in certain particulars, which the same Spirit leads and commands them to obey. So that we say, and that with a very good ground, that it is no way inconsistent with this sound and unerring principle to affirm, that the judgment of a certain person or persons in certain cases is infallible, or for a certain person or persons to give a positive judgment, and pronounce it as obligatory upon others, because the foundation and ground thereof is, not because they are infallible, but because in these things, and at that time they were led by the in