certain observations upon the epistle dedicatory:
and preface to the reader.
First, I desire it may be observed by the reader how Mr. Bernard styleth the worshipful personages, under the wing of whose protection he shroudeth his papers, Christian professors. A title peculiar to some few in the land, which favour the forward preachers, frequent their sermons and advance the cause of reformation. Such persons are commonly called amongst themselves, professors, virtuous and religious, and, thereby, distinguished from the body of the land, which make no such profession, and are therefore accounted, and justly, profane, and without religion, and that as roundly by Mr. B. as by any other in the land. But it seemeth he had forgot both his Epistle and whom, both he in it, and others everywhere, call professors for distinction's sake, when he wrote his book; for in it* he makes all the kingdom professors at a venture, and Christian professors I hope he meaneth.
Thus those whom he severeth in the Epistle, he con founds in the book. And let him well consider how he can quit himself either from flattery in the one, or from untruth in the other.
And where, Mr. B., in the body of the Epistle, you seat yourself in the midst between “the schismatical Brownist,” as you charitably term him, and “the Antichristian Papist, the one snatching on the right hand, and the other on the left,” it is something which you say, and more belike than you are aware of.
Fitly may you be seated in the midst betwixt both, being indeed a minglement and compound of both, and well may both snatch at you, and yet neither do you wrong, if neither require more than their own. Justly may the Papists challenge from you that stinted service book, devised Ministry, Antichristian Hierarchy, and Babylonish Confusion which you have stolen away from them, as Rachel did her father's idols, though she covered them never so close. Gen. xxxi. 19, 34. And justly also may we challenge from you such godly people as you fraudulently detain, and such truths of doctrine as you teach, as being the peculiars of the true church: as the holy vessels were of the temple, though violently, with the people, carried to Babylon and there kept. Jer. lii. 17, 18.
But if you will still halt betwixt both, as Israel did betwixt God and Baal, and carry in your right hand many evangelical truths with us, and in your left many antichristian devices with the Papists, no marvel though both parties remain unsatisfied; neither must you be offended, though the Papists, for the truths you hold with us, account you heretics, nor though we, for the devices you retain with them, call you antichristian. 1 Kings xviii. 21. And so you see your middle standing betwixt them and us more ways than one.
And thus much of the Epistle dedicatory. In the next place I come to the Preface; where amongst other just complaints of the iniquities of the times, you reckon, and that worthily, as the most dangerous, “Atheistical security and carnal living under a general profession,” to which purpose you allege 2 Tim. iii. 1—5; and so instance in your English people. This place of Timothy alone, had you well weighed, and thoroughly improved, especially the fifth verse, where separation from such persons, as having a show of godliness do deny the power thereof, as you confess the English people do, is expressly commanded, it would either have stopped your mouth from reproaching us, as you do, for separation, or else have opened the mouth of the most simple reader to reprove your vanity, as God did the mouth of the ass to reprove Balaam.
The next thing I observe is how vauntingly you bring as challengers into the lists, Mr. Gyshop, Mr. Bradshaw, Dr. Alison, and other unnamed ministers, all which you say are unanswered by us. And no marvel, for sundry of their writings never came to our hands, and besides it were a more equal and compendious way for these men to take up the defence of their church's cause, where their fellows have forsaken it, and left it desolate, than thus to make new challenges, though in truth with the same weapons (it may be new furbished over) wherewith the other have lost the field. Yet are their books, and, by the grace of God assisting, shall be answered in particular as they come to our hands, and are thought worthy answering: though in truth it were no hard thing for our adversaries to oppress us with the multitude of books, considering both how few and how feeble we are in comparison, besides other outward difficulties, if the truth we hold, which is stronger than all, did not support itself.
The difference you lay down, in the next place, touching the proper subject of the power of Christ, is true in itself, being rightly understood, and only yours, wherein it is corruptly related, and specially in the particular concerning us, as, that where “the Papists plant the ruling power of Christ in the Pope; the Protestants in the Bishops; the Puritans,” as you term the reformed churches and those of their mind “in the Presbytery;” we whom you name “Brownists,” put it in the “body of the congregation, the multitude called the church:” odiously insinuating against us that we do exclude the elders in the case of government, where, on the contrary, we profess the bishops or elders, to be the only ordinary governors in the church, as in all other actions of the church's communion, so also in the censures. Only we may not acknowledge them for lords over God's heritage, 1 Pet. v. 3, as you would make them, controlling all, but to be controlled by none; much less essential unto the church, as though it could not be without them; least of all the church itself, as you and others expound Matt, xviii. But we hold the eldership, as other ordinances given unto the church for her service, and so the elders or officers “the servants and ministers” of the church, the wife, under Christ her husband, as the Scriptures expressly affirm. 2 Cor. iv. 5; Col. i. 25. Of which more hereafter.
And where, further, you advise the reader to “take from the jay other birds' feathers,” that is, as you expound yourself, “to set us before him as we differ from all other churches,” therein you make a most inconsiderate and unreasonable motion.
If a man should set the Church of England before his eyes, as it differeth but from the reformed churches, it would be no very beautiful bird. Yea what could it in that colour afford, but Egyptian bondage, Babylonish confusion, carnal pomp, and a company of Jewish, heathenish, and popish ceremonies? Whatsoever truth is in the world, it is from God, and from him we have it, by what hand soever it be reached unto us. “Came the word of God unto you only?” 1 Cor. xiv. 36; and unto it we have good right as the Israel of God, unto whom he hath committed his oracles. Rom. iii. 2.
Towards the end of the Preface you do render two reasons upon which you do adventure to deal against us as you do, the one “confidence in your cause,” the other “the spiritual injury which some of late have done you,” “in taking away part of the seal of the ministry.” Touching the first: as it is to us, that know you well, no new thing to see you confident in all enterprises; so doth it much behove you to consider, how long and by what means you have been possessed of this your confident persuasion. I could name the person of good credit and note, to whom upon occasion you confessed, and that since you spake the same things, which here you write as confidently as now you write them, that you had much ado to keep a good conscience in dealing against this cause, as you did.
But a speech of your own uttered to myself (ever to be remembered with fear and trembling) cannot I forget, when after the conference passing betwixt Mr H. and me, you uttered these words, “Well, I will return home, and preach as I have done, and I must say as Naaman did, ' The Lord be merciful unto me in this thing:'” and thereupon you further promised without any provocation by me or any other, that “you would never deal against this cause, nor withhold any from it:” though the very next Lord's-day, or next but one, you taught publicly against it, and so broke your vow, the Lord grant, not your conscience.
And for the seal of your ministry, deceive not yourself and others; if you had not a more authentic seal in your black box to show for your ministry at your bishop's visitation, than the converting of men to God, which is the seal you mean, this seal would stand you in as little stead, as it doth many others, which can show as fair this way as you, and yet are put from their ministry notwithstanding. And will you charge your bishops and church representative to deal so treacherously with the Lord, as to put down his ministers and officers which have his broad seal to show for their office and ministry? What greater contumely do these vipers, these “schismatical Brownists” lay upon your church than you do herein?
The Church of England acknowledgeth no such seal as this is. The bishops' ordination and licence, conformity unto their ceremonies, subscription to their articles, devout singing and saying their service-book, is that which will bear a man out, though he be far enough either from converting, or from preaching conversion unto any.
And here I desire the reader to observe this one thing with me. When the ministers are called in question by the bishops, they allege unto them their former subscription, conformity in some measure, at least their peaceable carriage in their places; but when they would justify their ministry against us, then their usual plea is, they have converted men to God, herein acknowledging, to let pass their unsound dealing, that we respect the work of God's grace in any, at which they know the bishops and their substitutes, if they should plead the same with them, would make a mock for the most part.
I do most freely acknowledge the singular blessing of God upon many truths taught by many in the land, and do and always shall, so far, honour those persons as the Lord hath honoured them herein. But that the simple conversion of sinners, yea though the most perfect that ever was wrought, should argue a true office of ministry, the Scriptures no where teach; neither shall I ever believe without them.
This scripture, 1 Cor. ix. 1, 2, is most frequently alleged for this purpose. But as unsoundly as commonly. For if simple conversion should argue an apostleship, then should a common effect argue a proper cause, an ordinary work an extraordinary office: for the conversion of men is a work common to extraordinary and to ordinary officers, yea to true and false officers, yea to such as are in no office at all, as hereafter shall appear.
And what could be more weakly alleged by Paul to prove himself no ordinary but an extraordinary officer, an apostle, which was the thing he intended, than that which is common to ordinary officers with him? Might not the Corinthians easily have replied, Nay, Paul! it follows not, that you are an apostle immediately called and sent by Christ, because you have begotten us to the Lord, and have been the instrument of our conversion, for ordinary ministers, pastors, and teachers called by men, do beget to the Lord, as well as you.
The bare conversion of the Corinthians, then, is not the seal Paul speaks of, but, together with it, their establishment into a true visible church, and that, with such power and authority apostolical, as, wherewith, Paul was furnished by the Lord. Of which more hereafter.
But “the father of these children,” you say, “you are, which thus unnaturally fly from you, and whereof we so injuriously have deprived you,” in which respect also you make this your hue and cry after us and them, for through the gospel you have begotten them.
And have you begotten them unto the faith, as Paul did the Corinthians? and are you their father, as Paul was the father of the Corinthians? Then it must needs follow that before you preached the gospel unto them, and thereby begot them to the Lord, they were in the same estate wherein the Corinthians were before Paul preached unto them, that is unbelievers, and without faith, and so were to be reputed. And how then true matter of the church, for which you so much contend?
Besides, these your begotten children were baptized long before you saw their faces, some twenty, some thirty, some forty years. Now this their baptism was true baptism, and so the true seal of their forgiveness of sins, and new birth, as you affirm and prove, p. 119, and this, their seal of the new birth hath stood good upon them all this while, visibly and externally, and yet after all this you preach unto them and beget them anew visibly and externally, for only God knoweth that which is true within. You have begot them through the gospel.
Behold a monstrous generation, a man begetting children twenty, or thirty, or forty years after they be born. If Nicodemus had heard of this, he might well have said, “How can these things be?”
Lastly, if you be by your office the father of these children, as Paul was of the Corinthians by his, where is, then, that your rod of correction which Paul shakes at his children? 1 Cor. iv. 21. Doth any law, either Divine or human, deny a father liberty to correct his own children? Or, are you one of these simple fathers of whom yourself speak, “that can beget children but not bring them up”? This rod it seems appertains to both their and your reverend fathers the bishops, who only know how to use it.
To conclude the Preface. In acknowledging, as you do in the end of it, “that some things in the book may seem to the Christian reader to be written in the gall of bitterness,” and yet suffering them so to pass, with an excuse of your intent, as herein you manifest no good conscience, choosing rather to excuse so great an evil than to reform it: so neither take you any likely course for the good of them with whom you deal, whose recovery, if they be fallen, you should rather have attempted in the bowels of mercy than in the gall of bitterness.
And so, I come to the parts of your book as they lie in. order.