« PreviousContinue »
from the besetments of the enemy; yet if any of these strong or young men, or powerful members, go from their station, it is not denied but that they are as weak as any; and it is pre-supposing their faithfulness in their place that I thus affirm, and no otherwise. Nor yet do I limit the Lord to this method: For in him are all the treasures both of our wisdom and strength; and the weakest in his hand are as strong as the strongest, who may now, as well as heretofore, kill a Goliah by the hand of little David; yet we sce the Lord doth ordinarily make use of the strong to support the weak and indeed, when such as may be termed weak are so made use of, it alters the nature of their place, and constitutes them in a higher and more eminent degree. For though it was little David; it was also he that was to be king of Israel. Though the apostles were mean men among the Jews, yet they were such as were to be the apostles of the Lord of Glory; instruments to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to proclaim the acceptable day of the Lord. And though Paul was once accounted the least of all the saints, a child born out of due time; yet was he him who was to be the greatest apostle of the Gentiles.
Now then, let us consider whom the Lord made use of in the affairs of the primitive church, and through whom he gave forth his infallible judgment. Did he not begin first by Peter? He was the first that spake in the first meeting they had, Acts 1. and who first stood up after the pouring forth of the Spirit; and who first appeared before the council of the Jews, and spake H
in behalf of the gospel of Christ: though I am far from calling him (as some do) the prince of the apostles; yet I may safely say, he was one of the most ancient and eminent, and to whom Christ, in a manner somewhat more than ordinary, had recommended the feeding of his flock. We see also he was first made use of in preaching to the Gentiles, and what weight his and James's words had in the contest about circumcision towards the bringing the matter to a conclusion, Acts 15. Yet that we may see infallibility was not inseparably annexed to him, he was found blameable in a certain matter, Gal. 2. 11. notwithstanding his sentence was positively received in many particulars.
So also the apostle Paul argues from his gathering of the churches of Corinth and Galatia, that they ought to be followers of him, and positively concludes in divers things: and upon this supposition, exhorts the churches (both he and Peter) in many passages heretofore mentioned (which I will not, to avoid repetition, again rehearse) to obey the elders that watch for them; to hold such in reputation and to submit themselves to them that have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, 1 Cor. 16. 15, 16.
Also, we see how the Lord makes use of John his beloved disciple, to inform and reprove the seven churches of Asia; and no doubt John (the rest, by the usual computation, being at that time all removed) was then the most noted and famous elder alive and indeed I mind not where, under the gospel, Christ hath used any other method; but that he always, in revealing his will, hath
made use of such as he himself had before appointed elders and officers in his church; though it be far from us to limit the Lord, so as to exelude any from this privilege; nor yet, on the other hand, will the possibility hereof be a sufficient warrant to allow every obscure member to stand up and offer to rule, judge and condemn the whole body; nor yet is it without cause that such an one's message is jealousied and called in question, unless it have very great evidence and be bottomed upon some very weighty and solid cause and foundation. And God doth so furnish those whom he raises up, in a singular manner, of which (as I said) I mind no instance in the New Testament: and in the Old we see, though it was strange that little David should oppose himself to the great Goliah, yet he had, before that, killed both the lion and the bear, which was no less improbable; and which of all is most observ. able, was, before that time, by the appointment of God and the hand of the prophet, anointed king of Israel. Compare the 16th and 17th chapters of the first of Samuel.
Now as to the third, That any particular persons, de facto, or effectually giving out a positive judgment, is no encroaching nor imposing upon their brethren's conscience, is necessarily included in what is said before; upon which, for further probation, there will only need this short reflection: that for any member or members, in obedience to the Lord, to give forth a positive judgment in the Church of Christ, is their proper place and office, they being called to it; and so for them to exercise that place in the body,
which the Head moves them to, is not to usurp authority over their fellow members. As, on the other hand, to submit and obey (it being the place of some so to do) is not a renouncing a being led by the Spirit, seeing the Spirit leads them so to do: and not to obey, in case the judgment be according to truth, and the Spirit lead to it, is, no doubt, both offensive and sinful. And that all this may be supposed in a Church of Christ without absurdity, and so establish the above-mentioned propositions, will appear by a short review of the former passages.
If that Peter and James, their giving a posi tive judgment in the case of difference in divers particulars, did not infer them to be imposers, so neither will any so doing now, being led to it by the same authority: every one may easily make the application. And, on the contrary, if for any to have stood up and resisted their judgment, pretending an unclearness, or so, and thereby held up the difference after their sentence, breaking the peace and unity of the Church (things being concluded with an It seem ed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us) I say, if such would have given just cause of offence, and have been cut off, as despisers of dignities of old, will not the like case, now occurring, hold the same conclusion? Now, whether those propositions do not hold, upon the principles before laid down and proved, I leave to every judicious and impartial reader to judge.
Moreover, we see how positive the apostle Paul is in many particulars throughout all his epistles, insomuch as he saith, 2. Thess. ult. v.
14. If any man obey not our word by this epis. tle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. And in many more places, before mentioned, where he commands them both to obey him, and several others, who were appointed, (no doubt by the Spirit of God) to be rulers among them; and yet, who will say, that either the apostle did more than he ought in commanding; or they less than they were obliged to, in submitting? And yet neither were to do any thing contrary, or more than the Spirit of God in themselves led them to, or allowed them in. And if the Church of God bear any parity or proportion now in these days with what it did of old (as I know no reason why it should not) the same things may now be supposed to take effect that did then, and also be lawfully done upon the like occasion, proceeding from the same Spirit, and established upon the same basis and foundation. And thus much, as to that part, to shew in whom the power of decision is which being seriously and impartially considered, is sufficient to clear us from the tyranny, either of popery or any other of that nature, with those that are not either wilfully blind, or very ignorant of popish principles, as the ju- . dicious reader may observe. But seeing to manifest that difference was one of those things proposed to be considered of, I shall now come to say something of it in its proper place.