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sist of a convocation of the clergy, chosen and sent from the particular congregations, with some few laick elders, called together by the civil magistrate, in case he be one in judgment with them.
They decide by plurality of votes. And though they assume not an absolute infallibility, in that they reckon it possible for them to err, yet do they reckon their decisions obligatory upon their supposed consonancy to the scripture; and however do affirm that the civil magistrate hath pow. er to constrain all to submit and obey; or else to punish them either by death, banishment, imprisonment, confiscation of goods, or some other corporeal pain; even though such be persuaded, and offer to make appear, that the decisions they refuse, are contrary to the scriptures.
And lastly, (among the papists.) None, though otherwise confessed to be a member of the church, both knowing and sober, except commissionate in some of the respects above declared, can be admitted to sit, vote, and give his judgment.
Any that will be at the pains to apply this to the foundation I before laid of the infallibility of judgment, in that we may account only to be truly called the Church of Christ, will easily sce the great difference betwixt us, which I shall sum up in these particulars :
First, Do we exclude any member of the Church of Christ, that may be truly accounted so, from telling his judgment?
Secondly, Do we say a man ought to be persecuted in his outwards for his dissent in spirituals?
Thirdly, Do we plead that decision is to pass conclusive, because of the plurality of votes ?
And much more, which the reader may observe from what is already mentioned; which, that it may be all more obvious at one view, will appear somewhat clearly by this following figure; which will give the reader an opportunity to recollect what lay heretofore more scattered.
I. The Romanists say,
1. That there is an infallibility in the Church; which infallibility is, when the pope calls a general council of bishops, &c. that whatsoever they conclude and agree upon must needs be the infallible judgment of the Spirit of God, because of the promise of Christ, That he would not suffer the gates of hell to prevail against his Church.
2. And that the pope and council, made up of certain of the clergy, having one outward succession, and being lawfully ordained, according to the canons, are that church, to which that promise is made, however wicked or depraved they be; yet this infallible judgment follows them, as being necessarily annexed to their office, in which the authority still
II. The generality of protestants say,
1. That though all synods and councils may err; yet such assemblies are needful for the edification of the Church. That such do consist of a convocation of the clergy, with some few laicks particularly chosen. That all others, except those so elected, have not any right to vote or give judgment.
2. That such an assembly so constitute, may ministerially determine controversies of faith, cases of conscience, matters of worship, and authoritatively determine the same. The decision is to be by plurality of votes, without any necessary respect to the inward holiness or regene ration of the persons; if so be they be outwardly called, ordained and invested in such a place
stands in its full strength and capacity, as gives them an authority to be members of such an assembly.
3. What they thus decide (as they judge according to the scripture) ought to be received with reverence, and submitted to: and those that do not, to be punished by the civil magistrate by death, banishment, or imprisonment, though they declare, and be ready to evidence, that it is because they are not agreeable to the scripture they refuse such decrees.
S. So that there lies an obligation upon the whole body of the church to obey their decrees: and such as do not, are not only certainly damned for their disobedience, but that it is the duty of the civil magistrate to punish such by death, banishment or imprisonment, &c. in case they refuse.
III. The Quakers say,
1. That whereas none truly ought, nor can be accounted the Church of Christ, but such as are in a measure sanctified, or sanctifying, by the Grace of God, and led by his Spirit; nor yet any made officers in the Church but by the Grace of God, and inward revelation of his Spirit (not by outward ordination or succession) from which none is to be excluded, if so called, whether married or a tradesman, or a servant.
2. If so be in such a Church there should arise any difference, there will be an infallible judg ment from the Spirit of God, which may be in a general assembly; yet not limited to it, as excluding others and may prove the judgment of the plurality, yet not to be decided thereby, as if the infallibility were placed there, excluding
the fewer. In which meeting or assembly upon such an account, there is no limitation to be of persons particularly chosen; but that all that in a true sense may be reckoned of the Church, as being sober and weighty, may be present, and give their judgment.
3. And that the infallible judgment of truth, (which cannot be wanting in such a church} whether it be given through one or more, ought to be submitted to, not because such persons give it, but because the Spirit leads so to do; which every one coming to in themselves, will willingly and naturally assent to. And if any, through disobedience or unclearness, do not all that the Church ought to do, she is to deny them her spiritual fellowship, in case the nature of their disobedience be of that consequence as may deserve such a censure; but by no means, for matter of conscience, to molest, trouble, or persecute any in their outwards.
Who will be at the pains to compare these three seriously together, I am hopeful will need no further argument to prove the difference. But if any will further object, what if it fall out, de facto, that the teachers, elders, or plurality, do decide (and from thence will say) this is like the Church of Rome, and other false Churches? It will be hard to prove that to be an infallible mark of a wrong judgment, as we have not said it is of a right. And indeed to conclude it were so, would necessarily condemn the Church in the apostles days, where we see the teachers and elders, and so far as we can observe, the greater number did agree to the decision, Acts 1. 15,
For if the thing be right, and according to truth, it is so much the better that the elders and greater number do agree to it; and if wrong, their affirming it will not make it right: and truly a gathering, where the elders and greater number are always, or most frequently wrong, and the younger and lesser number right, is such, as we eannot suppose the true Church of Christ to be. And if any will plead, that there is now no infallible judgment to be expected from the Spirit of God in the Church, it, no doubt, will leave the dissenters as much in the mist, and at as great a loss, as those they dissent from; both being no better than blind men, hitting at random, which will turn Christianity into scepticism. And though we may acknowledge, that this uncertainty prevails in the generality of those called Churches; yet we do firmly believe (for the reasons above declared, and many more that might be given) that the true Church of Christ has a more solid, stable foundation; and being never separated from Christ, her head, walks in a more certain, steady, and unerring path.