mr. bernard's counsels debated.
Of the Author's Advertisements, called by him Christian, and Counsels of Peace.
The subject whereof Mr. Bernard treats in this place, being peace, is very plausible, the name amiable, the thing both pleasant and profitable. And as God is the God of peace, 2 Cor. xiii. 11; 1 Thess. v. 23, so are not they God's children, nor born of him, which desire it not; yea even in the midst of their contention.
But as all vices use to clothe themselves with the habits of virtues, that, under those liveries, they may get countenance and find the more free passage in the world, so especially, in the church all tyranny and confusion do present themselves under this colour, taking up the politic pretence of peace, as a weapon of more advantage wherewith the stronger and greater party useth to beat the weaker. The papists press the protestants with the peace of the church; and for the rent which they have made in it, condemn them beyond the heathenish soldiers, which forbore to divide Christ's garment; as deeply do the bishops charge the ministers refusing conformity and subscription, and both of them, us. But the godly-wise must not be affrighted either from seeking or embracing the truth, with such buggs as these are, but seeing “the wisdom which is from above, is first pure, then peaceable,” James iii. 17, he must make it a great part of his Christian wisdom to discern betwixt godly and gracious peace, and that which is either pretended for advantage, or mistaken by error, and so to labour to hold peace in purity. Let it then be manifested unto us, that the communion which the Church of England hath with all the wicked in the land, without separation, is a pure communion; that their service book devised and prescribed in so many words and letters to be read over and over, with all the appurtenances, is a pure worship; that their government by national, provincial, and diocesan bishops according to their canons, is a pure government, and then let us be blamed, if we hold not peace with them in word and deed; otherwise, though they spake unto us, never so oft, both by messengers and mouth of peace, and again of peace as Jehoram did to Jehu, 2 Kings ix. 22, yet must we answer them in effect, as Jehu did Jehoram, What peace whilst the whoredoms of the mother of fornicators, the Jezebel of Rome, do remain in so great number amongst them?
And I doubt not but Mr. Bernard, and a thousand more ministers in the land, were they secure of the magistrate's sword, and might they go on with his good licence, would wholly shake off their canonical obedience to their ordinaries, and neglect their citations and censures, and refuse to sue in their courts, for all the peace of the church which they commend to us for so sacred a thing. Could they but obtain licence from the magistrates to use the liberty which they are persuaded Christ hath given them, they would soon shake off the prelates' yoke, and draw no longer under the same in spiritual communion with all the profane in the land, but would break those bonds of iniquity, as easily as Samson did the cords wherewith Delilah tied him, and give good reasons also from the Word of God for their so doing. And yet the approbation of men and angels, makes the ways of God and works of religion never a whit the more lawful, but only the more free from bodily danger. Whereupon we, the weakest of all others, have been persuaded to embrace this truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, though in great and manifold afflictions, and to hold out his testimony, as we do, though without approbation of our sovereign, knowing that, as his approbation in such points of God's worship as his Word warranteth not, cannot make them lawful; so neither can his disallowance make unlawful such duties of religion, as the Word of God approveth, nor can he give dispensation to any person to forbear the same. Dan. iii. 18; Acts v. 29.
These things I thought good to commend to the reader that he may be the more cautious of this and the like colourable pretences, wishing him also well to remember, that peace, in disobedience, is that old theme of the false prophets, whereby they flattered the mighty, and deceived the simple. Jer. vi. 14, and viii. 11.
sect. I.—first class of counsels.
Let us now come to the consideration of the counsels themselves so friendly given, and so sagely set down. And therein to approve what is good and wholesome, to interpret in the best sense, what is doubtful, and to pass by unrequited such contumelies as wherewith Mr. B. reproacheth us, as in all places, so here in his rhyming rhetoric, wherein he labours to roll even as may be, betwixt the atheistical securitant and anabaptistical puritant, the careless conformitant and the preposterous reformitant, and so forth, as the rhyme runneth, I will come to those ten rules or canons prescribed by him, pp. 8—5, for the preservation of peace in the church or state ecclesiastical; for that alone we oppose, humbling ourselves under the hand of the magistrate as much, and more truly than himself.
1. “Uphold the manifest good therein.”
A man upholds that which is good most naturally, by his personal practice of it, and actual communion in it: and thus we ought to maintain every good thing in our places, if sin lie not in the way betwixt us and it. But since by the confusion which is upon the face of the earth, good and evil are ofttimes so intermingled, as that men cannot touch that which is good, but some evil will cleave unto their fingers, when this so falls out, then have we a dispensation from the Lord to forbear even that good, which without sin cannot be practised. Rom. iii. 8. And yet then also we must acknowledge that good thing to be as it is, in what person or estate soever, and so uphold it.
And, lastly, so far as possibly we can, we must sever and select the good from the evil, and so even in our practice also uphold and maintain that good, being so severed, whereof whilst it was commingled with the evil, we could have no lawful use.
And all these ways we uphold whatsoever manifest good we know in the Church, of England: whether doctrine, ordinance, or personal grace, to our utmost.
We do acknowledge in it many excellent truths of doctrine, which we also teach without commixture of error, many Christian ordinances which we also practise being purged from the pollution of antichrist, and for the godly persons in it, could we possibly separate them from the profane, we would gladly embrace them with both arms.
But being taught by the apostle speaking but of one wicked person, and of one Jewish ordinance, that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” 1 Cor. v. 6; Gal. v. 9, we cannot be ignorant how sour the English assemblies must needs be: neither may we justly be blamed though we dare not dip in their meal, lest we be soured by their leaven.
The second and third rules follow, which for order sake I will invert, setting the latter in the former place.
2. “Bear with lighter faults for a time, till fit occasion be offered to have them amended.”
No sin is light in itself, but being continued in, and countenanced, destroyeth the sinner. Matt. v. 19.
It is the property of a profane and hardened heart evermore to extenuate and lessen sins.
Though the bearing and forbearing not only of small, but even of great sins also, must be for a time, yet it must be but for a time, and that is, whilst reformation be orderly sought, and procured, Lev. xix. 17. But what time hath wrought in the Church of England, all men see, growing daily by the just judgment of God, from evil to worse, and being never aforetime so impatient either of reformation, or other good, as at this day.
A man must so bear an evil, as he be no way accessory unto it, by forbearing any means appointed by Christ for the amending it.
3. “The manifest evils labour in thy place, by the best means, to have them amended peaceably.”
This is not sufficient nor enough, except our places be such and we in such churches, as, wherein, we may use the ordinary means Christ hath left for the amendment of things; otherwise our places and standing themselves are unwarrantable, and must be forsaken. And this I desire may be well considered by all such, whether ministers or people, as know and acknowledge that Christ requireth of them further duties, for the amendment of evils, than their very places will give them liberty to perform.
The fourth and fifth and sixth canons, may be received without danger, the seventh not so.
7. “Let the corruption of the person, and his lawful place, be distinguished: and where person and places are not so lawful, and in the proposed end not against thee, wisely labour to make them for thee: and make that good of them thou canst, and wholly condemn not that ministry which a godly man may make for good.”
We may not communicate at all in that ministry, which is exercised by an unlawful person or in an unlawful place, though God may bring good out of it, lest we do evil that good may come thereof, which is damnable. Rom. iii. 8.
And if that be true, which the most forward profess and do hold, that the approbation and acceptation of the people give being to the ministry, it concerns the people carefully to see unto it, that they accept not of, nor communicate with any unlawful person in an unlawful place, lest thereby they set up, or give being unto his ministry, and so be deep in his transgression.
The eighth and nine rules, I pass over as being without exception. Only I see not upon what occasion the author should thus disorderly shuffle into this controversy, which is merely ecclesiastical, such considerations, as in the former of these two rules and in many other places, he doth concerning the frame and alteration of civil states, except he would either insinuate against us that we went about to alter the civil state of the kingdom; or at least, that the alteration of the state ecclesiastical, must needs draw with it, the alteration of the civil state; with which mote the prelates have a long time bleared the eyes of the magistrates. But how deceitfully, hath been sufficiently manifested, and offer made further to manifest the same by solemn disputation.
And the truth is, that all states and policies which are of God, whether monarchical, aristocratical or democratical, or how mixed soever, are capable of Christ's government. Neither doth the nature of the state, but the corruption of the persons, hinder the same in one or other.
10. “Refuse not to obey authority in anything wherein there is not to thee manifestly known a sin to be committed against God: let fantasies pass: be more loth to offend a lawful magistrate, than many private persons. Where thou canst not yield, there humbly crave pardon; where thou canst not be tolerated, be content with correction for safety of conscience,”
Authority indeed is to be obeyed in all things, if they be good, actively, and by doing them; if evil and unlawful, passively and by suffering with meekness for righteousness' sake, if pardon cannot be obtained, as is well advised. But where counsel is given to obey in anything, wherein a manifest known sin is not committed against God, this morsel must not be swallowed down till it be well chewed.
For a man may commit a sin against God, in doing a thing wherein there is no sin. The sin may be in the person doing, and not in the thing done: as when a man doth a good thing against his conscience or doubtingly, and without faith. 1 John iii. 20; Rom. xiv. 23.
And where Mr. B. further adviseth, rather to offend many private persons than one lawful magistrate, I doubtnot he gives no worse counsel than he himself follows, who, except I be much deceived in him, had rather offend half the private persons in the diocese, than one archbishop, though he be an unlawful magistrate.
But of the case of offence hereafter. In the meanwhile, let us remember our care be not to offend the Lord, and if with the offence of a private person, though never so base, be joined the offence of the Lord, better offend all the both lawful and unlawful magistrates in the world, than such a little one. Matt, xviii. 6.
Lastly, where Mr. B. concludes this decade of counsels with that which is written, Rom. xiv. 17, 18, he misinterprets the apostle's words, if he put them down, as it seems he doth, for a reason of that which goes before. For the apostle in that place hath no reference at all to the authority of the magistrate, whose kingdom indeed doth stand in meat and drink, and the like bodily things, wherein he may command civilly, and is to be obeyed in the Lord: but the apostle's purpose is to admonish the strong in faith to take heed of abusing their Christian liberty in the unseasonable use of meats and drinks and the like, to the offence of the weak brethren, as though the kingdom of God stood in the peremptory use of those things, and that they were therein to show the liberty of the gospel.
Furthermore, howsoever the kingdom of God be not meat and drink, yet is the kingdom of God much. advanced or hindered both in a man's self and in others, in the seasonable or unseasonable use of them. A man in using them, or rather abusing them, with offence to a weak brother, may destroy both him, and himself also, in breaking the law of charity. Rom. xiv. 15, 20.
sect. II.—second class of counsels.
It remains now we come to the second rank of counsels, as they are divided by the author, for what cause I know not, neither will I curiously inquire; but will take them as I find them.
1. “Omit no evident and certain commandment imposed of God. If there be nothing but probability of sinning in obeying the precepts of men, set not opinion before judgment.”
Woeful counsel, God knoweth, and in deed such as directs a course to harden the heart of him that follows it in all impiety. For he, that will at the first do that by man's precept, which is like or which he thinks to be sin, will, in time, do that upon the like regard which he knows to be sin, and so fall into all presumption against God. Men are rather to be admonished, especially in the case of religion about which we deal, that if the Lord shall touch their tender hearts with fear and jealousy of the things they do, they rather suspend, in doubtful things, except they can, in some measure, overcome their doubting by faith, till in the use of all good means, the God of wisdom and Father of lights give to discern more plainly of things that differ; lest being head-strong and hard-mouthed against the check of conscience, which the Lord, like a bit, puts into their mouths, they provoke the Highest to withdraw his hand, and to lay the rein on their necks, and so they even run headlong upon those evils without fear, upon which, at the first, they have adventured with fearful and troubled consciences, which is ofttimes the just recompense of such errors from the Lord. Rom. i. 27, 28.
2. “Let ancient probability of truth be preferred before new conjectures of error against it.”
As this rule shows by what tenure Mr. B. holds his religion, namely, by probabilities and likelihoods of truth; so if he mean that this way, wherein we by God's mercy walk, is any new way, or our rules, conjectures, I do hope by the good hand of God herein assisting me, to make it manifest, that this way is that old and good way, after which all men ought to ask and to walk therein, that so they may find rest unto their souls. Jer. vi. 16. And that we are not guided in it by conjectures, neither go by guesses, but by the infallible rule of Christ's Testament.
3. “Mark and hold a difference between these tilings; the equity of law and execution: between established truths generally, and personal errors of some: between soundness of doctrine, and erroneous application: between substance, and circumstance: the manner and the matter: between the very being of a thing, and the well-being thereof: between necessity and conveniency: between a commandment, and a commandment to thee: between lawfulness, and expediency: and between that which is given absolutely, or in some respect.”
The sixth and seventh rules in the former rank, being the same in substance, might well have been bound up in the same bundle with this, had not the author laboured to supply that in the number of his counsels, which is wanting in their weight.
But to the point. There is a difference indeed to be held betwixt the laws of the Church of England, with the ordinances and doctrines by law established, and the personal executions, exercises, and applications of them; and the difference is betwixt evil and worse: and the worse of the twain by far I deem the laws and ordinances with sundry of the doctrines. For though the whole carriage of the courts, miscalled spiritual, be most corrupt and abominable, and though the pulpits be made by very many, especially in the greatest places, the stages of vanity, falsehood, and slander, so that as the prophet said, “What is the wickedness of Jacob? is not Samaria? And what are the high places of Judah? are they not Jerusalem?” Micah i. 5; so may we say, What is the sink of all bribery and extortion? Is not the consistory? What is the theatre of carnal vanity? Is not the pulpit? Yet in truth the laws are worse than those which execute them, and the ordinances by them established than those which minister them.
Let but the last canons, which are as well the laws and doctrine of the Church of England, as the eanons of the council of Trent are the laws and doctrine of the Church of Rome, be severely and sincerely executed as becomes the laws of the kingdom of Christ, the church, all in the land having any fear of God, would find and complain that their bondage were increased, as was the bondage of the Israelites under the Egyptians. Exod. v.
But what, though there were neither statute or canon law enacted, for the confusion of the assemblies collected, and consisting of all the parish inhabitants, be they atheists, adulterers, blasphemers and how evil not? what, though no law ecclesiastical or civil, did confirm the transcendent power of the bishops and archbishops for the placing and displacing of ministers, for the thrusting out and receiving in, both of ministers and people, and so for innumerable other corruptions? Yet these things being universally practised in the land, the church were nothing at all the more pure, only it had the more liberty of reformation, which now by the laws and canons, as by iron bars, is shut out.
What statute or canon was there, that the Corinthians should suffer amongst them the incestuous person unreformed? And yet for so doing, this “little leaven leavens the whole lump.” 1 Cor. v. 6.
What parliament or convocation-house amongst the Galatians had decreed the mingling of circumcision with the gospel? And yet for so doing they are charged by the apostle to be removed or turned away to another gospel. Gal. i. 6.
By what law was the mystery of iniquity confirmed? Or antichrist's coming into the world agreed upon in the apostles' time? And yet “the mystery of iniquity” then wrought, 2 Thess. ii. 7; “and many antichrists were then come into the world,” 1 John ii. 18. And yet these mischiefs being found in the churches in the apostles' times, were as well imputed unto them, as if a thousand parliaments and convocations had ratified them.
To proceed. It is also true which, is further counselled, that a difference must be held betwixt substance and circumstance; betwixt the manner and the matter; betwixt the being and well-being of a thing; and so of the rest: but withal it must be observed that the Lord hath in his Word, as well appointed the manner how he will have things done, as the things themselves, and that even circumstances prescribed and determined by the Lord, are of that force, not only to deface the well-being, but to overturn the true being of God's worship.
The Lord commanded the Israelites by Moses to bring their sacrifices and oblations to the place which for that purpose he would choose, and there to offer them. Deut. xii. 5, 6.
And did not all offerings brought to any other place, without special dispensation, stink in his nostrils? And yet this was but a circumstance of place.
And wherein stands the breach of the fourth commandment but in a circumstance of time? Lastly, what was the transgression of Uzziah the king, for which God struck him with leprosy, but a personal aberration, a sin in the circumstance of person? for that he being no priest, would adventure to offer incense at the altar. 2 Chron. xxvi. 16—19.
Of the same nature was the sin of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, merely circumstantial: Dathan and Abiram being of a wrong tribe, and Korah of a wrong family, and yet for that their rebellion, the earth by God's judgment opened her mouth, and swallowed up both them and theirs. Numb. xvi. 1, 2, 32.
And for the well-being and right ordering of good things, the Lord as well requireth it, as the things themselves. He hath not left in the hands of the church a rude matter to frame after her own fashion, but with the matter he hath also appointed the manner and form wherein all things must be done.
When Moses, under the law, was to make the tabernacle, the Lord did not set him out the matter and stuff whereon to make it, and so left the manner and form to his pleasure and discretion, but appointed the one as the other; and if he had framed it, or anything about it after any other fashion than according to the pattern showed him in the mount, he had done abominably in the sight of the Lord. Exod. xxv. 3—40, &c., and xxvi. 2—6, &c.; Heb. viii. 5. When the ark of God was to be removed upon occasion, the priests were to cover it, that no hand might touch it, and so to carry it upon their shoulders to the place of rest. Numb. iv. 11, 15; Deut. xxxi. 9.
Now this order of the Lord was violated, in the bringing of it out of the house of Abinadab uncovered and upon a cart, after the fashion of the Egyptians, 1 Sam. vi. 7, 8. And the breach of this order the Lord punished very severely, making a breach upon Uzzah the priest for touching the ark, which was his personal sin, and for carrying it upon the cart, which sin was common to the rest of the priests with him; he was stricken dead by the hand of God in the same place. 2 Sam. vi.
Now both this and the former examples are left to warn us to take heed, that we presume not against the Lord in the least ceremony or circumstance, neither make any transgression small in our eyes, or the eyes of others, as the manner of too many is. But let us rather learn to fear before the Highest, whose eyes are pure, and can endure none iniquity; and let us labour to keep our hearts tender against all sin, even against that which seemeth the least; knowing that if the Lord should let Satan loose upon us, to press our consciences, and should withdraw his comforts from us in our temptations, the least sin would prove a burden intolerable.
4 “Use the present good which thou mayest enjoy to the utmost, and an experienced good before thou dost trouble thyself to seek for a supposed better good untried, which thou enjoyest not.”
We must so enjoy experienced good things, as we stock not ourselves in respect of other things, as yet untried. We may not stint or circumscribe either our knowledge, or faith, or obedience, within straiter bounds than 'the whole revealed will of God, in the knowledge and obedience whereof we must daily increase and edify ourselves; much less must we suffer ourselves to be stripped of any liberty which Christ our Lord hath purchased for us, and given us to use for our good. Gal. v. 1.
And here, as I take it, comes in the case of many hundreds in the church of England, who what good they may enjoy, that is safely enjoy or without any great bodily danger, that they use very fully. Where the ways of Christ lie open for them, by the authority of men, and where they may walk safely with good leave, there they walk very uprightly, and that a round pace; but when the commandments of Christ are as it were hedged up with thorns, by men's prohibitions, there they foully “step aside, and pitch their tents by the flocks of his fellows.” Cant. i. 7.
There are many in the land very zealous and severe in all the duties of the second table, and in the private and personal duties of the first table, and in such public duties also as the times will bear, and in those respects may say as Jehu did to Jehonadab, “See the zeal which I have for the house of the Lord,” 2 Kings x. 16; but consider the same persons in their communion, liturgy, ministry and government, and there seemeth a most monstrous composition. These things, in the same men, do agree as ill as the ark of God and Dagon, in the same house. We ought in no case to share our service betwixt Christ and antichrist, nor to stock ourselves in any the least parts of the revealed will of God, but must grow and increase in the whole body of obedience, and all the parts thereof; otherwise, as in the natural body, if one part grow and not another, the effect will be monstrous. Ezek. xviii. 11, 12; James ii. 10; Deut. viii. 1.
The 5th, 6th, and 7th precepts I pretermit: the 8th followeth.
8. “Never presume to reform others, before thou hast well ordered thyself,” &c.
True zeal, it is certain, ever begins at home, and gives more liberty unto other men than it dares assume unto itself. And there is nothing more true or necessary to be considered, than that every man ought to order himself and his own steps first. That is good and the best, but not all. For if by God's commandment we ought to “bring back our enemy's ox or ass that strayeth,” Exod. xxiii. 4, how much more to bring into order our brother's soul and body wandering in by-paths?
And here Mr. Bernard brings to mind a practice usual with many of the preachers in their sermons. They will advance prayer, viz., their service book, that they may extenuate preaching; commend peace, that they may smother truth; plead much for Cæsar's due to be given him, that they may detain from God his due; and everywhere send men back into themselves, that they may keep them from looking upon others, and so make them careless of such duties towards their brethren, as God's Word binds them unto. Levit. xix. 17. 1 Thess. v. 14. As though the commandments of God were opposite one to another, and could not stand together, whereas they are all most holy and good, and all helpful one to another, and all to be practised in their places; whether they concern ourselves or our brethren. They of the one sort ought to be done, and they of the other not to be left undone.
The 9th, 10th, and 11th rules I acknowledge without exception.
12. “Whomsoever thou dost see to do amiss, judge it not to be of wilfulness, but either of ignorance, and so offer to inform them; or of infirmity, and so pity them, and pray for them. Be charitable,” &c.
This rule as it is not universally true, for we may oft-times discern in men's both words and actions, wilful and wayward obstinacy, and so may judge of them, 1 Tim. vi. 5; Tit. iii. 10, 11: so is it ill practised by him that gives it. For amongst other sins wherewith he loadeth the separatists in his book, “wilful obstinacy in their schism,” is one.
Here full charitably he advertiseth to judge no man wilful in his sin, and yet there he himself so judgeth us: either excluding us from the common liberties of mankind, as worms and no men; or himself following the steps of his forefathers, in laying heavy burdens upon other men's shoulders, which himself will not touch with the least finger. Matt, xxiii. 4.
Against the 13th direction, I have not to oppose, and therefore pass to the 14th and last, touching things indifferent; by which this author makes way into many an impertinent and indigested consideration. The rule followeth:—
14. “In things indifferent make no question for conscience sake, so it be that neither holiness, merit nor necessity be put therein: nor used for any part of God's worship, but for decency, order and edification.”
For answer of this, sundry things are to be considered.
And first, that which the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. x. 25, 27, of the common conversation of Christians in the world, and of their liberty that way, Mr. B. misapplieth to the case of religion, and matters of God's worship, as though men might use as great liberty in the matters of religion or about the same, as in their worldly affairs.
Secondly, where the apostle, ver. 25, 27, directs the faithful to make no conscience of eating, he further addeth, ver. 28, 29, that for the offence of a weak brother scandalizing at the eating of Idolothites, they ought to make conscience and to forbear. This latter part which is the very drift of the scripture, Mr. B. concealeth, and so maimeth the sense, and frustrateth the reader; and whether, to this end he leaves not the words unquoted, his own heart knows best.
3. Howsoever you labour to cover your popish ceremonies, for these you mean though you name them not, under the title of things indifferent, of toys, trifles and the like, champing them small, that they may the easier be swallowed, denying that either holiness or necessity is put in them, or that they are made parts of God's worship, yet hath the contrary been sufficiently manifested by your own men, to whose large treatises to this purpose, I refer the reader. Notwithstanding since Mr. B. casts this consideration, as a stone in the way to other matters of importance, I may not altogether overstride it, but will turn it over as I go, that the reader as he passeth by, may see what worms and other vermin lie under it.
First, then, to let pass the holiness which thousands in the land put in the cross, surplice, kneeling at the communion, without which they think no service or sacrament so acceptable to God, for which cause alone they ought not only to be forborne, but to be abolished much rather than the brazen serpent, 2 Kings xviii., it is evident that the same special uses and ends are ascribed unto them, and to the principal parts of God's worship: and so agreeing in their ends they agree in their natures.
One main end and use of the word of God, is to teach and signify unto us the good will of God, and our duty mutually towards him and towards our brethren, and to stir up our minds to the remembrance and performance of the same. 2 Tim. iii. 16. And what less is attributed to the ceremonies, when “they are neither dark nor dumb, but apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God.”
The proper ends and uses of baptism are to initiate the parties baptized into the Church of Christ, and to consecrate them to his service, and so to serve for badges of Christianity, by which it is distinguished from all other professions, Matt, xxviii. 19; 1 Cor. xii. 13. And for what meaner use serves the sign of the cross in baptism, by or with which, the child is received into the congregation of Christ's flock, and by it as by an honourable badge of Christian profession dedicated to the service of Christ?
And so those ceremonies supposed indifferent, agreeing with the main parts of God's worship in their ends, must agree also in their natures with them, since fines rerum sunt e formis, and so consequently must have holiness in them, or else your worship, Mr. B., is very unholy.
And what necessity is put in them, all men see when the purest preaching in the land without them is thought not only unnecessary, but even intolerable. And if necessity be laid upon the ministers to preach the gospel, 1 Cor. ix. 16, then, that to which the preaching of the gospel must give place, is more necessary, and so made.
Moreover, to make a thing indifferent, and yet to serve for decency, order and edification, includes a contradiction. For it is not an indifferent thing to minister the ordinances of Christ decently, orderly and to edification; but a matter of simple necessity. 1 Cor. xiv. 26, 40.
Yea I add, if the ceremonies make the worship of God the more comely, orderly, and edificative, they ought continually and diligently to be used, yea though they were forbidden by the highest power upon earth: as on the contrary, if they advantage not the worship of God for those purposes, they are vain and frivolous, and to be forborne in or about the worship of God, which abhors all such vanity.
Lastly, as we live in a very indifferent age for religion, wherein the most are indifferent of what religion they are; yea whether they be of any or none; so no marvel though men stand stiffly for indifferency of things. And when they have amongst them such devices, as they neither can approve for good, nor will condemn as evil, they baptize them into the name of indifferent things. But the truth is, there is nothing simply indifferent in the use: but be it never so base or mean a ceremony, circumstance or appurtenance to any solemn action, it is either good or evil according to the furtherance or hinderance which it affordeth to the main. If it give furtherance to a natural action, it is naturally good; if to a civil action, civilly good; if to a religious action, religiously good; and so to be reputed: otherwise it is vain at the least: and vanity as it is everywhere evil, so is it in matters of religion the taking of God's name in vain.
sect. III.—on scrupulosity of conscience.
The next thing which Mr. B. undertakes, is to set down how scrupulosity of conscience ariseth in men: for which disease (if it arise) surely he showeth himself a physician of no value for the healing of it: but either smothereth the same under the authority of the magistrate, or dispenseth with it upon good meanings, or forceth it on without assurance, or entangleth it with new doubts.
In the first inquiry which he wills men to make into themselves, touching scrupulosity of conscience, amongst other things he speaks thus:—
“If the ground, viz. of doubting, be not a judgment enlightened, and convinced, it is not trouble of conscience, but a dislike working discontentment upon some” other “grounds,” “which thou mayest easily remove, by settling thy judgment upon the word and sound reason.”
And this, in the margin, he wills the reader to note well, as indeed he may note it and brand it, too, for ill and unadvised counsel.
For howsoever no man's conscience ought to scandalize or be troubled at the use of lawful things, for the larger conscience the better in that which is lawful, and that such doubts in the heart do arise from weakness of faith; and weakness of faith from want of knowledge: yet since we all know but in part, 1 Cor. xiii. 12, and that our faith is according to our knowledge, and our conscience according to our faith, when a doubt or scruple ariseth in our hearts touching the lawfulness of things, yea, though it be of very ignorance, we must not pass it over lightly without trouble, lest it prove as a thorn in the heel and rankle inwardly. Neither are such scruples always so easily removed, as Mr. B. makes account. Weak and tender consciences do ofttimes stick at a very straw, and there must they stand, till the Lord give strength to step over.
The thing intended and promised by Mr. B. in the next place, is satisfaction to the perplexed conscience, and direction in that case: which he is so far from performing by sound and resolved counsel, as were meet, as instead thereof, he propounds sundry doubts and queries of his own, which he leaves unsatisfied, to the further entangling of his perplexed patient: abusing also his reader too much in performing questions, where he promiseth answers.
Well, howsoever it be an easier thing to tie knots than to loose them, and that a simple man may cast a stone into a ditch, which a wise man cannot get out again: yet are not those questions which Mr. B. propounds and so leaves unanswered, so dark and doubtful, that a man needs take so long a journey as the Queen of Sheba did, for resolution.
The first query of weight being the fourth in order, I will set down word for word, though it be large, because it is of special consideration. The question then is:—
“Why a man should be more scrupulous to seek to have warrant plainly for everything he doth in ecclesiastical causes, even about things indifferent, more than about matters politic in civil affairs. Men in these things know not the ground nor end of many things, which they do yield unto upon a general command to obey authority, and knowing them not to be directly against God's will: and yet every particular obedience in civil matters must be 1. of conscience, 2. as serving the Lord (so must every servant his master), which cannot be without knowledge and persuasion that we do well even in that particular which we obey in. Which men usually for conscience sake inquire not into, but do rest themselves with a general commandment of obeying lawful authority, so it be not against a plain commandment of God. What therefore doth let but that a man may so satisfy himself in matters ecclesiastical?”
Though as plain a warrant must be had from God's Word, for the things we do in matters politic, as in causes ecclesiastical; and that, obedience in the one as well as in the other, must be of conscience: yet notwithstanding, the same Word of God warranteth unto us clean and another and different course of obedience in things civil, and in things ecclesiastical.
And the gross ignorance or ungodly concealment of this difference, is the cause of great confusion. It must therefore be considered that this difference stands in two points: 1. The nature of the things and their proper ends. 2. The power immediate by which they are imposed; from which two ariseth necessarily a third difference to be made in the conscience of obedience unto them.
First then, it cannot be denied, but matters civil and politic do come under the general administration and government of the world, and do respect the outward man for his present life. On the other side, matters ecclesiastical come under the special administration of the church, and serve for the edification and building up of the inward man to life eternal.
Secondly, magistrates and men in authority, do enact and impose their civil decrees and ordinances upon their subjects, by a kingly and lordly power, as being kings and lords civilly over the outward man, and his outward estate, Matt. xx. 25; and may by their kingly and lordly power command in their own names, and that upon occasion to the civil hurt and hinderance of many of their people, and are therein to be obeyed notwithstanding. Rom. xiii. 1—3, &c.; Matt. xxii. 21.
But in causes ecclesiastical not so. There is no king of the church but Christ, who is the King of saints and Saviour of Zion, Rev. xv. 3; Isa. lxii. 11; no lord but Jesus, who is the only Lord and Lawgiver of his church. Eph. iv. 5; James iv. 12, And all his laws and statutes tend to the furtherance and advancement of every one of his subjects in their spiritual estate, and neither king nor Cæsar may or ought to impose any law to the least prejudice of the same, neither are they therein (if they should) to be obeyed. Our civil liberty we may lose without sin and without sin. undergo bodily damages, Matt. xxii. 21, but we are bidden, “Stand for the liberty wherewith Christ has freed us,” Gal. v. 1, and that is, the whole liberty of the church; and to “let no man judge us,” Col. ii. 16, that is, ecclesiastically, no, not in meats and drinks, though civilly men may command and judge us in them. And upon these grounds truly laid by the Word of God, an answer may be framed on this manner.
In civil affairs we may and ought to obey for the authority of the commander, yea though we know not any good, but on the contrary much harm to our bodily estate, coming unto us by the same: but in matters ecclesiastical which are subordinate to the soul's good, we must obey only for the ends of the things commanded, and as they tend to the edification of ourselves and others. 1 Cor. xiv. 26.
To conclude this point, since the apostles expressly command that all things in the church be done to the edification of the same, I would demand of Mr. B. with what faith or good conscience he or any other man, can do or enterprise any one thing in the church, which he or they are not persuaded by the Word of God, which is the rule of faith, tends to edification?
These things being thus, there is no cause why Mr. B. should account it curiosity to search particularly into everything for satisfaction, the differences formerly laid down being observed; neither doth this holy care of God's servants, as he further addeth, work upon men's wits to bring distinctions, but, on the contrary, men of corrupt minds and unfaithful lest they should be reformed by the Word of God, do get distinctions, like excuses after their own hearts. Much less is it either truly or christianly affirmed which followeth, that the more men seek in doubts for resolution, the further they are from it. For howsoever it may be thus with Mr. B. and many others, which seek the truth as cowards do their enemies, with a fear to find it, lest it trouble their carnal peace; yet have other men better issue of their labours, and by seeking have found that hidden treasure for the purchase whereof they are content to sell all they have, and to buy it. Matt. vii. 7, and xiii. 44. In the next place come in six rules of directions how to settle the conscience to prevent scrupulosity, and perplexity.
“1. Keep all main truths in the Word which are most plainly set down, and are by the law of nature engraven in every man.”
First, you are much mistaken, Master Bernard, if you imagine that all main truths in the Word are engraven, in every man, by the law of nature. For the gospel is the more principal part of the Word, which, notwithstanding, is wholly supernatural and above the created knowledge of man or angel. Matt. xi. 27; Eph. iii. 10.
Secondly, if in commending main truths and such as are plainly set down, you do insinuate that there are any truths so mean which we may either neglect to search, or having found them, to obey, therein you should deceive by promising liberty, and make yourself wiser than God, and cross his ordinance and appointment. 2 Tim. iii. 16; Deut. iv. 1, 2.
And for things left more dark in the Scriptures, they must be unto us matter of humiliation in our natural blindness, and of more earnest meditation and prayer with all good conscience.
“2. Believe every collection, truly and necessarily, gathered by an immediate consequence from the text.”
This is good but not sufficient. For collections truly made (though by mediate consequences one after another) are to be received, though the fewer the better, and the less subject to danger. And we must not curtail the discourse of reason, soberly used and sanctified by the Word, so short as Mr. B. would have us. When the Lord Jesus was to deal with the Sadducees, about the resurrection, he took his proof from that which is written, Exod. iii. 6: “I am the God of Abraham,” &c., which words do no way conclude the resurrection of the body (which was the question) by any immediate consequence, and yet the collection was good and necessary. Matt. xxii. 23—32.
The third and fourth directions I omit as questionless, and come to the fifth in order.
“5. Entertain true antiquity, and follow the general practice of the church of God in all ages, where they have not erred from, the evident truth of God.”
It cannot be denied but that is best, which is most ancient, and that truth and righteousness were in the world before sin and error; but neither the one nor the other did continue long, either amongst men or angels. And he that but considers what monstrous errors and corruptions sprang up in the church of the New Testament, whilst the apostles lived which planted them, will not think it strange though almost all were overgrown with such briars and thorns, in a few ages following.
And what, not only unsoundness in doctrine, but uncertainty in story, is to be found in the most ancient writers, no man, though but even meanly exercised in them, can be ignorant. And yet if we would take up these weapons, it were easy to make good our part against the Church of England in the main differences. But we have the Word of God, which is to us a sure testimony: and if he be only to be heard of whom God from heaven hath testified, Matt. iii. 17, and xxiii. 10; Acts iii. 22; as the only prophet and doctor of his church, we are not then so much to regard what any man hath practised before us, as what Christ hath commanded which is before all. And we must, in the first, labour to have our hearts seasoned with the Word of God and according to that taste must all men's, both persuasions and practices, be favoured by us: taking heed of those preposterous courses commonly held; some, at the first, corrupting their hearts with the thorny subtilties of the schoolmen, and more witty than sound sayings of the fathers, and others prejudicing and forestalling themselves by the present and sensible state of things before their eyes, or by the general and partial practice of times past; and so coming, in the last place, to the Word of God, hauling that in, to back and support their exalted forestalled imaginations.
“6. If thou suffer, let it be for known truth, and against known wickedness, for which thou hast examples in the Word, or examples of holy martyrs in story, suffering for the same or the like. But beware of far-fetched consequences,” &c.
We are to forbear evils not only known but suspected and doubted of. Rom. xiv. 22, 23. And he, that knows what a heart meaneth truly softened and made tender with the blood of Christ, had rather suffer all extremities than approve that as good, either by word, writing, or practice, which he but doubteth to be evil, and to displease God, except by faith he can overcome that doubt in some measure.
And for us, though we had no example either in the Word of God, or other story of any martyrs suffering in the same or the like particulars with us, yet since the things we suffer for, are parts of the general truth of the gospel, which others before us have witnessed, we must expose and give our bodies to the smiters, and our cheeks unto the nippers, and must not hide our faces from reproaches and spitting rather than we deny the least part of it. Isa. 1. 6. How much more, then, considering how many witnesses the Lord hath raised up, which, having finished their testimony against the apostacy and usurpation of the man of sin, some in one degree and some in another, have been killed by the beast, some of old and others of late times. Rev. xi. 3—7.
Lastly, where mention is made of things only “seeming unto men just and holy:” it must be considered, that it is all one to the conscience of the doer, whether the thing done be so in truth, or but in appearance. And he, that either doth that which seemeth unto him unjust and unholy, or passeth by that which seemeth just and holy, sinneth against his own heart, “and if his own heart condemn him, God, who is greater than his heart, will much more condemn him.” 1 John iii. 20.
“7. If yet thou doest judge a thing commanded a sin, and not to be obeyed; for thy help herein, inquire whether that which is wrongfully or sinfully commanded, may not yet, nevertheless, be without sin obeyed, as Joab obeyed David in numbering the people.”
This is as much as if, in plain terms, you should counsel a man, to consider whether he may not sin without sin: for what else is it, to obey that commandment, which a man judgeth not to be obeyed? A cold comforter are you to a perplexed conscience and an ill counsellor, thus to advise men to be bold against the Lord, and to try whether they can blind their consciences, and harden their hearts, that they may sin without feeling, or fear.
The example of Joab in obeying David, is impertinent. The case was civil, and in civil affairs many things may lawfully be undergone, which are unlawfully imposed. For example: if the king, merely for his pleasure, should enjoin Mr. B. upon some great penalty to come into the field soldier like, to draw a sword, shoot, march, or the like, the magistrate might do evil in thus commanding, and yet not Mr. B. in obeying: but thus to do in the church or pulpit in the time of God's worship, were as sinful obedience as were the commandment sinful. All actions ecclesiastical, in or about God's worship, are subordinate to the edification of the church and to good order; if they tend thereto they are lawful in the commander, if not, they are unlawful in him that obeyeth.
Besides, David's commandment for numbering the people, was no way unlawful, in itself but upon occasion, both lawful and necessary. Numb. i. 2 and xxvi. 4. It was only the curiosity or pride or infidelity of David's heart made the sin, which might hurt himself, but not Joab. But had Joab judged the thing commanded sin, and not to have been obeyed, he had sinned in obeying, as well as David in commanding.
That which Mr. B. calls next into question, is, whether the recusant ministers may not for the free preaching of the gospel, yield so far to the evil disposition of the prelates as to subscribe, and conform unto their ceremonies, though they cannot approve of them, nor judge them lawful. For this is the thing Mr. B. aims at, though he carry the matter something covertly, because he would offend neither party. And, to persuade unto this, he brings in Paul, checking himself for reviling the high priest, and observing the legal ceremonies after abolishment, to procure free liberty to preach the gospel; and after, Moses granting a bill of divorcement contrary to the law of marriage, for the very hardness of the people's hearts.
To this I answer sundry things, as, first to preach the gospel, upon condition of obedience, in that, wherein a man either judgeth or suspecteth himself to sin, is nothing less than to preach the gospel freely: though this be, in truth, that free preaching of the gospel in the Church of England whereof we hear so many loud boasts. And to persuade a man unto this, is, to persuade him to do evil that good may come thereof, as though the Lord stood in need of man's sin, for the publishing of his truth, or saving of his elect.
The preaching of the gospel is a most excellent thing, and the fruits of it far better than those of Eden, and oh! how happy were we, if with exchange of half the days of our lives we might freely publish it to our own nation, for the converting of sinners; yet must no man be so far possessed with the excellency of the object, as were our first parents with the goodness, beauty, and supposed benefit of the forbidden fruit, as to press unto it by unlawful ways:. and for a man to go about to persuade to the practice of a thing, by the casual fruits and effects of it, and not, in the meanwhile, to clear the way of fear and scruple of sin, in the means of attaining the proposed good, is to go about to deceive him whom he persuadeth, and by a bait, as it were, to till his conscience, as a bird into a snare, into most fearful entanglements.
And for Paul, as it is a very ungodly suspicion cast upon him, that he should do anything which he doubted to be sin, or which, he did not most assuredly know was pleasing unto God, so is it very untruly affirmed, that he did what he did, either, as yielding to the evil disposition of men, or to procure free liberty to preach the gospel. He did all things most freely and without any respect to human authority, fulfilling the royal law of love in tendering the weakness of the brethren, newly converted from Judaism, observing with them the legal rites, and those also made a part of God's worship by them, and that without all probability of sinning, whereof you impeach him.
Now for Moses, he did not grant, that is, approve of the bill of divorcement, but only permitted it for the avoiding of a greater evil, which civil magistrates may do in some cases, which, notwithstanding, no man used without sin. And what doth this better your popish ceremonies?
The last thing in question, is the case of offence, touching which you make many doubts, where the Holy Ghost makes none; forgetting your own good admonition, that men should “take heed of getting distinctions, and other evasion through policy or fear of trouble to lose sincerity, where the Word is plain.”
There is not a case in the whole Bible more clear, than that the things called indifferent, may and ought to be forborne, for the weak conscience of a brother. Rom. xiv. 15, 20, 21; 1 Cor. ix. 19—22: and x. 23, 24, 28, 29. And yet this clear truth you labour to darken, by the mist of man's authority, pretence of good effects, surmises of partiality, humour, and folly in the parties offended, raised out of your own heart. But let us hear your advice.
“Quære, whether it be an offence justly given by thee, or taken without just reason of others: thou, not offending and they displeased, the fault is their own and thou not chargeable therewith.”
But you must understand, Mr. B. that in the unseasonable use of things in themselves indifferent, there is an offence both given and taken, and so a double sin committed: he that gives the offence, sins, through want of charity; and he that takes it, through want or weakness of faith. And so where actions simply good, do only hurt him that takes offence; and actions simply evil, him that gives it; the use of things indifferent against expediency, hurts and harms and destroys both. Rom. xiv. 15.
Now the parts of your second inquiry, viz. “whether men be offended in respect of what themselves know, or but led by affection, disliking of other men's dislike,” are insufficient. For men do ofttimes take offence at the things done, and yet neither in respect of their own knowledge nor of other men's dislike, but merely through want of knowledge and upon ignorance of their Christian liberty. And such were the weak brethren spoken of, Rom. xiv., 1 Cor. viii. and ix., which how they were to be tendered in their weakness, let the places judge.
And for persons, partially affectionate, or foolishly froward, which is the main point in the third quære, they are no way to be regarded as weak, but, on the contrary, to be reproved as wayward and contentious, that, folly and sin may not rest upon them. Only let men take heed they judge not uncharitably of their brethren, because they would practise uncharitably towards them, as Nabal reviled David and his men as renegades, because he would deal churlishly with them, and would show, them no mercy. 1 Sam. xxv. 10.
In the fourth place it is demanded,
“What authority may do, in things external for outward rule, in the circumstances of things?”
How colourably you carry all the abominations in your church under the shadow of circumstances, and of how great moment even circumstances are, in the case of religion, I have formerly spoken: let me only add thus much.
If a subject should usurp the crown, and exercise regal authority, the difference were but in the circumstance of person, which notwithstanding made the action high treason. Or if a priest coming to say his evening song should fall asleep on his desk, it were but a matter of circumstance in respect of time and place, it might lawfully be done in another place, and at another time, yet there and then it were a great profaning of the service-book. What sway authority hath in the Church of England, appeareth in the laws of the land, which make the government of the church alterable at the magistrates' pleasure: and so the clergy in their submission to King Henry VIII. do derive, as they pretend, their ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from him, and so exercise it. Indeed, many of the late bishops and their proctors, seeing how monstrous the ministration is of Divine things, by a human authority and calling; and growing bold upon the present disposition of the magistrate, have disclaimed that former title, and do professedly hold their eeclesiastical power and jurisdiction de jure divino, and so, consequently, by God's Word unalterable. Of whom I would demand this one question:
What if the king should discharge and expel the present ecclesiastical government, and plant instead of it the presbytery or eldership, would they submit unto the government of the elders, yea or no? if yea, then were they traitors to the Lord Jesus submitting to a government, overthrowing his government, as doth the Presbyterian government, that which is Episcopal; if no, then how could they free themselves from such imputations of disloyalty to princes, and disturbance of states, as wherewith they load us and others opposing them? But to the question itself.
As the “kingdom of Christ is not of this world,” John xviii. 36, but spiritual, and he a spiritual King; so must the government of this spiritual kingdom, under this spiritual King, needs be spiritual, and all the laws of it. And as Christ Jesus hath by the merits of his priesthood redeemed as well the body as the soul, 1 Cor. vi. 20; so is he also by the sceptre of his kingdom to rule and reign over both, unto which Christian magistrates as well as meaner persons, ought to submit themselves, and the more Christian they are, the more meekly to take the yoke of Christ upon them, and the greater authority they have, the more effectually to advance his sceptre over themselves and their people by all good means. Neither can there be any reason given, why the merits of saints, may not as well be mingled with the merits of Christ for the saving of his church, as the laws of men with his laws, for the ruling and guiding of it. He is as absolute and as entire a King as he is a Priest, and his people must be as careful to preserve the dignity of the one, as to enjoy the benefit of the other.
The next quære is, “Whether authority commanding doth not take away the offence which might otherwise be given in a voluntary act.”
This question is answered affirmatively, by the bishops and their adherents, and so with one voice they affirm in their books, pulpits, and other public determinations: but herein as palpably flattering the magistrate, as ever canonist did the pope. What more was ever given to the pope, than that he might dispense with the moral law? And what less is given to the king when by his authority I use things indifferent with offence to my weak brother? Is not love “the fulfilling of the law?” Rom. xiii. 8, and is it not against the law of love to use things indifferent with offence? Rom. xiv. 13, which must the more carefully be avoided, considering the effects it draws with it, which are not only the grief, which were too much, but even the destruction of him for whom Christ died, Rom. xiv. 15, 20; 1 Cor. viii. 11.
Only he which can strengthen the weak faith which is the cause of the offence, can take away the offence, and establish him that is weak. Rom. xiv. 4. Men may and must use means for that purpose, and not nourish the weak in their weakness, but bear them they must in love, and much love will have much patience.
Lastly, for I pass over the fifth quære as comprehended in those which go before, where you advise men to study, and, again, to study to be quiet, and to follow those things which concern peace, Rom. xiv. 19; Heb. xii. 14: it is needful counsel, and again needful, considering what unquiet spirits are to be found in all places. Only let men in their counsels, which you leave out, join with peace, edification, and holiness as the Scriptures teach, and so, separating the precious from the vile, they shall be to us as God's mouth, Jer. xv. 19; Prov. xii. 20; Matt. v. 9: and let their peace be in the word of righteousness, and the joy of the counsellors of peace shall be upon them, and the blessing of peace-makers upon their heads.