« PreviousContinue »
fallible Spirit. And therefore it will not shelter any in this respect to pretend, I am not bound to obey the dictates of fallible man; is not this Popery, I not being persuaded in myself? Because it is not to be disobedient to them, but to the judgment of truth through them at such a time; and one or more their not being persuaded, may as probably proceed from their being hardened, and being out of their place, and in an incapacity to hear the requirings, as that the thing is not required of them, which none can deny; but it may as well be supposed, as the contrary. But for the further clearing of this matter, before I conclude, I shall not doubt both to affirm and prove these following propositions.
First, That there never will, nor can be wanting, in case of controversy, the Spirit of God, to give judgment through some or other in the Church of Christ, so long as any assembly can properly, or in any tolerable supposition be so termed.
Secondly, That God hath ordinarily, in the communicating of his will under his gospel, employed such whom he had made use of in gath. ering of his Church, and in feeding and watching over them; though not excluding others.
Thirdly, That their de facto, or effectual meet. ing together, and giving a positive judgment in such cases, will not import tyranny and usurpation, or an inconsistency with the universal pri. vilege that all Christians have to be led by the Spirit; neither will the pretences of any contradicting them, or refusing to submit upon the ac. count they see it not, or so, excuse them from being really guilty of disobeying Gods
For the first, to those that believe the scripture, there will need no other probation than that of Matt. 28. 20. And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. And verse 18. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Now if the Church of Christ were so destitute of the Spirit of God, that in case of difference there were not any found that, by the infallible Spirit, could give a certain judgment; would not then the gates of hell prevail against it ? For where strife and division is, and no effectual way to put an end to it, there not only the gates, but the courts and inner chambers of darkness prevail; for where envy and strife is, there is confusion, and every evil work.
But that there may be here no ground of mistake or supposition, that we were annexing infallibility to certain persons, or limiting the church to such; I understand not by the church, every particular gathering or assembly,circumscribed to any particular country or city: for I will not refuse but divers of them, both apart and together, if not established in God's power, may err.
Nor yet do I lay the absolute stress upon a general assembly of persons, as such, picked and chosen out of every one of those particular churches; as if what the generality or plurality of those conclude upon, were necessarily to be supposed to be the infallible judgment of truth : though to such an assembly of persons truly stated (as they ought) in God's power, he hath heretofore re. vealed his will in such cases; and yet may as the most probable way (which shall be spoken of hereafter :) yet such, as a mere assembly, is not
conclusive, nor yet do I understand by the Church, every gathering or assembly of people, who may hold sound and true principles, or have a form of truth ; for some may lose the life and power of Godliness, who, notwithstanding, may retain the forin or notions of things, but yet are to be turned away from, because in so far (as I observed before) as sanctification, to wit, those that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, make the Church, and give the right definition to it: where that is wholly wanting, the Church of Christ ceaseth to be ; and there remains nothing but a shadow without substance. Such assemblies then are like the dead body, when the soul is departed, which is no more fit to be conversed with; because it corrupts, and proves noisome to the living. But by the Church of Christ, I understand all those that truly and really have received and hold the truth, as it is in Jesus, and are in measure sanctified, or sanctifying in and by the power and virtue thereof working in their inward parts; and this may be made up of divers distinct gatherings or churches in several countries or nations : I say, so long as these, or any of them retain that, which justly entitles them the Church or Churches of Christ (which they may be truly called) though there may fall out some differences, divisions or schisms among them; as we may see there was no small dissention in the Church of Antioch, and yet it ceased not to be a church, Acts 15. 2. and Cor. 1. 11.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you ; and yet, verse 2. he entitles them the Church of
God, them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus : so long, I say, as they truly retain this title of the Church of Christ, as being really such, there will never be wanting the certain judgment of truth. For which, besides the positive promise of Christ before-mentioned (which is not without blasphemy to be called in question, or doubted of) I shall add these reasons. That seeing the Church of Christ is his body, of which he is the head, it were to make Christ negligent of his body, who stiles himself the good Shepherd, and hath said, He will never leave nor forsake his own; or else (which is worse) it will infer a possibility of error, or mistake in Christ, in whom as the head, are the eyes of the body, by which it is to be ruled in all things. Next, we never find in all the scripture since the gospel, that ever this was wanting; but that God still gave infallible judgment by his Spirit in some of the respects above-mentioned. If the transactions and controversies of the after centuries be alledged, I will boldly affirm and prove, That there was never a true judgment wanting, so long as the nature and essence of the true Church was retained : if any will needs affirm otherwise, let them shew me where, and I shall answer it. Though I deny not (that after the mystery of iniquity did begin to work, or had so wrought, first by intermixing, and afterwards by altogether forsaking the nature of truth, retaining only the bare name of the church) but that there might be some scattered ones, here and there one in a nation, and now and then one in an age, who by the power and virtue of the Spirit of life working in them, might be truly sanctified ; yet these were but as witnesses in sackcloth, no way sufficient to give these assemblies, in which they were engrossed, the appellation of the Church of Christ, coming no more under observation by the generality, nor having, as to them, any more influence than some little or scarcely discernible sparks of fire in many great heaps and mountains of ashes. And thus much to prove, that where there is any gathering or as. sembly, which truly and properly may be called the Church of Christ, the infallible judgment will never be wanting in matters of controversy.
Secondly, That ordinarily God hath, in the communicating of his will under his gospel, employed such whom he had made use of in gathering of his Church, and in feeding and watching over them, though not excluding others. For, as in a natural body (to which the Church of Christ is compared) the more substantial and powerful members do work most effectually ; and their help is most necessary to supply any defect or trouble in the body: so also, if there be diversities of gifts in the Church (as is above proved) and some have a greater measure, and some a lesser, those that have the greater are more capable to do good, and to help the body in its need, than others that are weaker and less powerful. Since there are strong and weak, babes and young men, who have overcome the evil
one, and in whom the word of God abideth, such are more able, when the enemy besets, to resist (haying already overcome) than others who are but yet wrestling, and not conquerors. Now, every controversy and dissention in the Church comes