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CHAPTER I.: of private communion. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 3 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
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of private communion.
The apostle writing to the church at Colosse with much joy for their stableness in the grace of God received, reduceth the whole matter of that his “rejoicing” to two general heads: “faith,” and “order.” Col. ii. 5. Of which two, faith, though set after in place, is before, both in nature, time, and dignity: as making men in their persons severally fit for, and capable of that order, wherein they are jointly to be united.
Now from these two spring-heads, as it were, thus distinguished, do issue and arise two sorts of external religious actions, or exercises: which we may not unfitly, for distinction's sake, call, personal and church actions. By personal actions I do understand such as arise from, and are performed immediately by the personal faith, and other graces of God, in the hearts of holy men. Of which sort are, private prayer, thanksgiving, and singing of psalms, profession of faith, and confession of sins, reading or opening the Scriptures, and hearing them so read, or opened, either in the family, or elsewhere, without any church power, or ministry coming between. Of the second sort, are the receiving in, and casting out of members, the electing and deposing of officers, the use of a public ministry, and all communion therewith. For which works, howsoever “faith” and other personal graces be required that men in them may “please God,” Heb. xi. 6: yet are not these graces sufficient for the doing of them, except withal there concur, and come between, a Church state, and order: in, and by which, they are to be exercised, as by their most immediate and proper cause: from which, by the rule of reason, they are to have their denomination, and so to be called church actions.
And that the actions of the first kind, and more particularly, private prayer, of which I am specially to speak, may, and ought to be performed by godly persons, though out of the order of a true visible church, both the Scriptures and common reason teach: and that not only by them severally, and one by one, but jointly, and together also, as there is occasion: they being joint members of the mystical body of Christ by faith, and jointly partakers of the same Spirit of adoption, and prayer; from which common faith, and union of the Spirit dwelling in them, this communion ariseth, they thereby being privileged jointly to say, “Our Father:” as was also practised by Cornelius, and his holy family, though out of a true visible church. Matt. vi. 8–10, xv. 22, 23; Acts x. 1–3, 34, 35; Rom. viii. 26, x. 10; 1 Cor. xii. 7. Neither is it a matter worthy the proving lawful for a godly husband and wife jointly to sanctify their meat and drink by prayer, and thanksgiving, and so to beg together at God's hands, or to give thanks for other good things upon themselves, and theirs, though they be out of the order of a true church. Neither, indeed, do the members of the visible church perform private prayer, or the like exercises, whether severally, and by one and one, or jointly, by virtue of that their church state, or with any reference unto it, but merely as a duty of the Christian person, or family: (which must be before the Christian church, as the parts before the whole:) and which they were also as well, and as much bound unto, though they were of no visible church at all: no more than was Cornelius, and his family, and friends, which, notwithstanding, was his, and their fault.
These things thus premised, I come to the thing I aim at in this whole discourse, which is, that we, who profess a separation from the English national, provincial, diocesan, and parochial church, and churches, in the whole formal state and order thereof, may notwithstanding lawfully communicate in private prayer, and other the like holy exercises (not performed in their church communion, nor by their church power and ministry,) with the godly amongst them, though remaining, of infirmity, members of the same church, or churches, except some other extraordinary bar come in the way, between them and us.
And since the subject and ground of this communion, is holy persons, and the same so discerned mutually, and on both sides, I think it needful, for the clearer passage of things, and better information of divers both adversaries and friends, having greatly misinterpreted our writings and testimony, here briefly to note down what our judgment hath always been of the sincere faith and holiness of many particular persons in the assemblies, notwithstanding our testimony against the body of the same assemblies, in their communion, order, and ordinances.
And first, our witnessing against the Church of England, so called, as Babylon, in her degree, both in respect of the confusion, as of persons good and bad, of all sorts, so of things Christian, and antichristian, covering all: as also of that spiritual bondage, wherein the Lord's people are kept under the spiritual lordship of the prelacy, there reigning, doth witness for us against all men, that we acknowledge the Lord's people, and godly persons there: out of which they are therefore called by the voice of the Lord from heaven, to build up themselves “as lively stones into a spiritual temple” for the Lord to dwell in, Rev. xviii. 4; 1 Pet. ii. 5: as were the Lord's people of old called out of Babylon civil, to build the material temple in Jerusalem, although as then was, so now is too slack obedience yielded to the Lord's call herein. Ezra i. and vii.; Nehemiah ii.
More particularly. Mr. H. Barrowe in that his letter written a little before his death, and so the more advisedly, especially in that point, in which a snare was laid for his life, to an honourable lady yet living,* as he acknowledgeth her in her person, to have been educated and exercised in the faith and fear of God, so professeth ho further, that he gladly embraceth, and believeth the common faith received, and professed in the land as good, and sound: that he had reverend estimation of sundry, and good hope of many hundred thousands in the land, though he utterly disliked the present constitution of the church, &c.
Unto which his testimony as the authors of the “Apology”* do assent, so do they further profess their persuasion that of many the Lord's people in the realm, belonging to the Lord's election of grace, and partakers of his mercy to salvation in Christ, some are further called, and some still remain in defection: further instancing in sundry priests and friars, that have been martyrs of Jesus, witnessing the truth they saw against the Romish antichrist and yet retaining their popish functions, and communion with that church, which stands subject to the wrath of God: both Mr. Barrowe, and they accordingly in another place, commending the faith of the English martyrs, and deeming them saved, notwithstanding the false offices and great corruptions in the worship they exercised: and so professing the same judgment of others in the realm, where the same precious faith in sincerity and simplicity is found, they neither neglecting to search out the truth, nor despising it, when they see it, the mercy of God through their sincere faith to Jesus Christ, extending, and superabounding above all their sins seen and unseen.
Lastly, Mr. Penry. a little before his execution, acknowledgeth in his “Confession”† that both of the teachers and professors of the assemblies have so embraced the truth of doctrine in the land established, and professed, that the Lord in his infinite goodness hath granted them favor, to show out wherein, in regard of God's election, he judgeth them members of the body, whereof the Son of God Jesus Christ is the head: only herein praying the Lord to be merciful unto them, as unto himself in regard of his sins, that they are not ordered in that outward order which Christ Jesus left in his church, but instead thereof, &c.
All these, we see, as they rightly distinguish between faith and order, though even order also be a matter of faith, if it be not a matter of sin, and without warrant from God's Word, Rom. xiv. 23: so do they plainly acknowledge the personal faith, and grace unto salvation in many though remaining (of ignorance, and infirmity) members of that church against whose constitution, order, and ordinances, they witnessed, divers of them, unto death: and not only, that such people were there in the general, but also that they did so esteem and judge of many of them, in particular. And surely if the Lord's people be there, it is no difficult thing for the spiritual man, conversing with them, to discern and judge ordinarily, which they be. The Spirit of God in one of his people will own itself in another of them though disfigured with many failings, especially in outward orders, and ordinances: and faith, if it be not dead, may be seen by works, of him that hath a spiritual eye, through many infirmities. James ii. 17, 18. “The tree,” saith Christ, “is known by the fruits,” Luke vi. 44: so may the good trees truly planted by faith into Christ, and having in them the heavenly sap and juice of his Spirit, though growing for the present, out of the Lord's walled orchard, the true visible church, and in the wild wilderness of the profane assemblies, ordinarily be known by the good fruits of faith and of the Spirit evidently appearing in their persons, whom, whilst the world can in all places so far discern, as to hate, despise, and persecute them, as none of theirs, it were marvel if we should not discern them to be children of the same common Father with us, and so know and acknowledge one another, though the world, which knows not him, know neither of both. 1 John iii. 1. And passing this judgment one upon another mutually, though not by the rule of certainty, which a man can have only of himself ordinarily, as only knowing his own heart, yet more than in hope, which extends itself to the apparently profane, for we are to hope that they who are not to-day, may be to-morrow, and even by that golden rule of love or charity, which “thinketh not evil,” nor is suspicious, but “be-lieveth all things,” and taketh them in the best part: 1 Cor. xiii. 5,7: “covering,” especially under the graces of God's Spirit, where they appear, though in never so small a measure, “a multitude of sins;” 1 Pet. iv. 8; we shall walk in love, after Christ's example, and fulfil the law of Christ by bearing one another's burden: thereby also procuring the like merciful measure to be meted out to us again both by God, and men, in respect of our infirmities. Eph. v. 2; Gal. vi. 2; Mark iv. 24.
Lastly, if men were to judge us, even whilst we abode in the assemblies of ignorance, or infirmity, men fearing God, and sanctified in our persons, by the profession and appearance which we made: then are we also in equity to make the same estimate of the persons of others, though abiding in the assemblies, as we did, making the same manifestation, and appearance, (and it may be greater than) the most of us have done. And, as we ourselves then having received of God the grace of sanctification, in our measure; and making manifestation thereof, according to that, we had received; and being to be judged by others according to the manifestation we made; did, and might justly look, that they should deem us truly faithful, and sanctified, though never so weakly: so are we to have again the like estimation of others, according to their measure received, and manifested: remembering always that most equal rule of Christ our Lord, that “whatsoever we would men should do unto us, even so to do to them, which is the law, and the prophets.” Matt. vii. 12.
I will, therefore, conclude this point with a double exhortation: the former, respecting us ourselves, who have, by the mercy of God, with the faith of Christ, received his order, and ordinances; which is, that we please not ourselves therein too much, as if in them, piety and religion did chiefly consist: which was not the least calamity of the Lord's people of old, for which he also sharply reproved, and severely punished them; of which evil, and over valuation of these things, howsoever great in themselves, we are in the more danger, considering our persecutions, and sufferings for them: but that, as we believe these things are necessarily to be done, so we consider, that other things are not only not to be left undone, but to be done much more. The grace of faith in Christ, and the fear of God, the continual renewing of our repentance, with love, mercy, humility, and modesty, together with fervent prayer, and hearty thanksgiving unto God, for his unspeakable goodness, are the things wherein especially we must serve God: nourishing them in our own hearts, and so honouring them in others, wheresoever they appear to dwell. Psa. xl. 6–8; Heb. x 3; Psa. xxxi. 16, 17; Jer. vii. 4, 21–23; Hos. vi. 6; Mic. vi. 6–8. And if God will be known, and honoured in all his creatures, yea, even, in the silliest worm that crawleth upon the earth, how much more in the holy graces of his Spirit vouchsafed to his elect, notwithstanding their failings of infirmity, especially in outward ordinances! Which personal graces whilst too many have undervalued in other men, and neglected in themselves, in comparison, God hath been provoked to suffer so many amongst us to fall, some, into such personal sins and evils, notwithstanding their advantage in the Lord's ordinances, as from which, without these helps many thousands of them have been preserved: and others, both from the conscience of God's ordinances, and of the personal duties of holiness, and honesty; as is generally to be seen in such as have made apostacy from their former profession with us.
The other exhortation, I direct unto them about whom I deal: which is, that they content not themselves with that faith and grace in their persons, which they have received, rejecting, or neglecting, under any pretext or excuse whatsoever, the order, ordinances, and institutions of the Lord Jesus; by the use whereof, their faith should be nourished in itself, and manifested unto others: much more, that they continue not their submission to the contrary, which is of antichrist; lest God, besides greater evils, punish them with yet greater confusion, and bondage therein: that, under which they are, being such already, as, I suppose, I may truly affirm, that never church in the world, in which so many excellent truths were taught, stood in such confusion both of persons and things, and under such a bondage spiritual, as that of England doth at this day.
Now before I come to prove the thing I aim at, I think it fit to satisfy the principal objections, which I have taken knowledge of against the thing I intend.
And it will first be demanded of me, considering my judgment of the parish assemblies, as antichristian, and of sundry the practices there as idolatrous, and withal, what judgments the Scriptures denounce against such estates, and practices, how I can deem any the members of such assemblies, and so practising, as truly Christian? or how I can, without pollution, communicate with them, who are by the touching of so many unclean, both persons and things, themselves made unclean?
For answer. First, it is true, that upon the true church, the Scriptures do pronounce most excellent blessings; as they do also denounce fearful curses upon the false: as it is also true, that whatsoever is spoken of the whole body, the one or other, jointly, belongs to each member of either, severally: provided, that in both, things be in their right state and order: which is, that there be none but faithful and holy persons in the true church, and none but unholy and profane persons in the false: for none other should be, in the one or other. But, if now it come to pass otherwise, and that through the church's want of vigilance or zeal, and the party's hypocrisy, which hath been always, and is, too, too common, there be in the true church unfaithful and profane persons, shall we say, that those precious promises made to the true church in which they wrongfully are, do appertain unto them, and unto their persons? and that they are elect of God, saints by calling, and sanctified in Christ, to the hope of life, &c,? So if, on the contrary, it come to pass, through her craft and cruelty, and their own weakness, which is, too, too common also, that godly and faithful persons be in the false church, where they should not be, shall we now lay upon their persons all the curses, and condemnation, which the Scriptures denounce against the estate of the false church, and the superstitions thereof? Were not this to justify the wicked, because he is in the true church, where he should not be? and to condemn the righteous because he is in the false church, where he should not be neither? Or, are not all godly-wise men in these, and the like disordered state of things, to have use of Christian discretion for the putting of difference between person and person, notwithstanding their common church-state, and order, the wicked with the godly in the true church, and under Christ's ordinances, and the godly with the wicked in the false church under the forgeries of antichrist? Otherwise, our judgment will be as confused as is their estate. Neither is it a more difficult thing, for a spiritual and unpartial eye to discern a godly man in a false church where the falseness ariseth not from the falsity of faith, but of order and ordinances, than to discern a wicked man in a true church.
And this consideration had, may serve for answer to the chief part of the objection: which is also no more in effect, than hath been answered by the authors of the “Apology,” before me, (page 113) in their defence against that unjust accusation laid upon them by their adversaries, that they affirmed the whole realm to be drowned in confusion without assurance of salvation.
Their answer is, that “There is difference to be put between persons themselves, and between their actions or estate otherwise. The person sometimes is blessed, when the action or standing in another behalf, may be such as is subject to curse, &c. As on the contrary also, sometimes the person is subject to curse, when as yet the action or standing may be blessed in another respect.” And both those parts of their distinction they prove by sundry instances from the Scriptures. Some whereof I will here note down, adding also some others thereunto, for the confirmation of the first head of the distinction, which more directly concerns the present question, which is about godly persons performing of, or standing in some corrupt and cursed actions or estate otherwise. Thus were Simeon, and Levi, both blessed in their persons, and cursed in their outrageous act against the Shechemites, Gen. xlix. 5, 7, 28: thus were the Canaanitish woman and her daughter, both dogs, or whelps, in respect of their nation and people, and children of Abraham in their persons, Matt. xv. 26–28: thus was Peter both a faithful and beloved disciple, in his person, and yet in his counsel to Christ, Satan, Matt. xvi. 16, 17, 23: thus were the Corinthians both unleavened and holy in their persons, and leavened or impure in the lump of their communion with the incestuous man uncensured amongst them, 1 Cor. v. 6, 7: as also the same Corinthians, both spiritual (though hut babes in Christ), and yet in respect of their strife and divisions, not spiritual but carnal. 1 Cor. iii. 1, 3. Where the apostle also noteth out the original cause of these contrarieties in and about the same persons: and how it comes to pass, that one and the same man doth works so contrary one to another, and so subject, in respect thereof, to two so contrary estimates and censures. The reason then is, because every regenerate man, in this life, hath in him two men: the old man, not yet fully cast off; and the new man, though prevailing, yet not perfectly put on and renewed, Eph. iv. 22–24: and these two, elsewhere called the flesh, and the Spirit; contrary the one to the other, and lusting the one against the other. Gal. v. 17. And so forcible is this lusting sin and flesh in the best, as that, it not only keeps them from knowing much truth which they should know, and from doing much good which they would do, and from doing that good they do, as they both should and would; but also misleadeth them into sundry aberrations, and evils, besides their falls into greater mischiefs, at times, out of which they are restored by particular repentance, and therein continueth them to their dying day. The apostle professeth of himself that he knoweth but in part, 1 Cor. xiii. 12, and how small a part of his knowledge is ours! The prophet David teacheth, that no man can understand his errors, and so prays God to cleanse him from his secret sins. Psa. xix. 12. And amongst, and above, those of all other kinds, the servants of God are still endangered by the errors and evils of the times: whose corrupt customs do often either dim their eyes, as a mist, or carry them along, as a strong stream: or otherwise oppress them with a thousand tyrannies. Examples of this mischief we have too many in the Scriptures. In Abraham's, Jacob's, David's, and many more holy patriarchs, and prophets, taking at once more wives than one, contrary to the institution of marriage, which was, that “two” (and not more) “should be one flesh.” Gen. ii. 24; Matt. xix. 4. Likewise in Asa, Amaziah, and Azariah their failings, in not taking away the high places, though the Holy Ghost give testimony of the uprightness of their hearts, and works otherwise, in the sight of the Lord. 1 Kings xv. 14; 3 Kings xiv. 3, 4, xv. 3, 4. Also, in many of the church of Corinth; continuing their accustomed fellowship, with their friends, and kindred, in their superstitious feastings in the idol temples, in honour of the idols, to which they offered.* 1 Cor. viii. 10; x. 13, 14, 20, 31; 2 Cor. vi. 14–16. Lastly, we have a plain proof of this evil in the apostles themselves, whom the common error of the times, that the Messiah should be a great, worldly prince, and exercise a temporal kingdom, did so possess, as that it could not be rooted out of them, by all that they had heard of Christ, and seen touching him; hut that it still abode with them, till the death of Christ, yea, some while after his resurrection. Matt. xvi. 22, xx. 21; Mark ix. 34; Luke xxiv. 21; Acts i. 6. Which consideration, as it must work in all the servants of the Lord, a godly jealousy of the customs of the times, that they be not captived in their evils; so must it also teach them, who by the mercy of God have escaped them, much moderation towards such, being otherwise godly, as are still too much abused by their craft or violence.
To apply this, then, to the present purpose. Considering the many excellent truths taught in divers of the assemblies, and that with so great fruit in the knowledge, zeal, and other personal graces of many; the constant sufferings of divers martyrs for the truths there professed against that antichrist of Rome; the knowledge we had, of ourselves, in that estate; together with the judgment of other churches abroad, touching the Church of England, as it is called, though indeed ignorant of her estate, save in such general heads of faith, wherein we also assent unto her; as also the manifold afflictions upon, and great offences, and those, many too just, at such as have made separation from that church; it is no marvel, that so many (though otherwise learned and godly) by reason of the ignorance and infirmity yet cleaving to the best overmuch, are abused, by the times, for the succouring of antichrist in his declining age; for whose furtherance, in his rising, through the corruptions of times then so many, howsoever otherwise learned and godly, have, though unwittingly, put to their hands, as all men, soundly minded, if but a little exercised in their writings, and the stories of the times, will confess.
Now for the second part of the objection, touching the idolatrous practices of the assemblies, I do answer, that every idolatry makes not an idolater, any more than every ignorance, or other sin of ignorance, an ignorant or wicked person. To make an idolater, there is required an idolatrous disposition, which we may not lay to their charge, of whom we speak. Besides, by this ground, we should challenge the reformed churches generally to he idolaters; for the most of them use a stint form of prayer, less or more, though they be not bound unto it: and so, consequently, should exclude them from God's kingdom; for no idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. Eph. iv. 3. And if any further object, that the Scriptures teach expressly, that they who partake of the sins of Babylon, shall receive of her plagues: and that every man worshipping that beast, and his image, and receiving his mark in his forehead or in his hand, shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, &c., Rev. xviii. 4; xiv. 9, 10. I answer, as before, that that estate, and those practices are, indeed, under that curse in themselves; and further also, that every person so walking, as I am persuaded every member of the Church of England doth, is under that condemnation without repentance: which repentance, as it must be particular for sins known, so doth the Lord, in mercy, accept of the general repentance of his servants, for their sins unknown and secret, and which they discern not to be such: otherwise no flesh could be saved. Psa. xix. 12. Lastly, as I cannot excuse them, nor they themselves, from great sin in joining themselves with the profane parish assemblies, with which God hath not joined them; and that in the practice of their superstitions, especially, in such a bondage spiritual under the prelacy, as makes them cease to be the Lord's free people, and deprives them of all power for the reformation of public evils, either of persons, or things; so that being, as I hope, but their sins of infirmity, and by them unseen, though we discern them, as it may be, they also discern some evils in us, which we see not in ourselves, they no more dissolve the bond of the Spirit between their and our persons, than they destroy the work of the same Spirit in themselves: neither can these their sins pollute me, if by the default of my place or person I leave no means lawful unused, for their reformation: who, if they either purposely neglect to search out the truth, or unfaithfully withhold it in unrighteousness, for any fleshly fear, or other corrupt regard, shall not, for our more respective judgment of them, or practice towards them, receive the more easy judgment at the hands of the Lord, in the day of the revelation of the secrets of all hearts,
As he that hath hold of one member of the body, is not separated from the body, nor any part thereof, but hath hold of the whole body by the natural coherence of the parts: so he that communicates with one member of the church, communicates and joins with the whole, and every member thereof, by answerable coherence of the parts of that mystical body.
In communicating with the godly, there, in private prayer, and the like exercises, we do not communicate with them, as members of the church, hut merely as Christians, private prayer being, as hath been showed, no church action at all, nor performed either by them, or us, by virtue of any church-state, or membership, or with any respect thereunto: but merely as by persons, made partakers, by the grace of God, of the Spirit of adoption, and prayer, mutually. Rom. viii. 13, 26, 27.
If we may thus communicate with them in private, and they with us, why not also in public?
It followeth not, that, because I may partake with godly men in things lawful, and lawfully done, therefore, in things, unlawful in themselves, as are many things, or unlawfully done, as are all things in their public communion. More particularly. In communicating with the godly in public, even in things good in themselves, I partake with all the profane parish also: the minister being the minister of the whole parish, and to speak as the truth is, the parish priest; and so in his public administration, offering up the souls and bodies, and the prayers withal of the parish church, in the name of Christ, and therein, with a few clean, many unclean beasts, upon the Lord's altar: whereas the private communion I intend, is restrained to the godly only, though wicked persons be in the place. Secondly, whereas, in private, I communicate only with the persons and personal graces of holy men; in public, I communicate with their church-state and order, as also with the public ministry, and in, and with it. with the prelacy, whence it is: of which more hereafter. Neither yet may we admit them into communion of the public ordinances with us, till they be actually members of a true and lawful public body ecclesiastical, or visible church. As they are private Christian persons, so we may partake with them in private Christian duties; but may not admit them to public church communion, though never so holy persons, till they have a true and lawful church-state, and calling thereunto. And here that general rule hath place, that whatsoever is done by any person, though both he and it, in themselves, never so holy, without a just calling, is sin unto him.
But with men uncircumcised, and which might not enter into the temple, the Jews were forbidden all communion by the law of God. Acts xi. 2, 3; xxi. 28.
But they, of whom we speak, are not unbaptized, but such as, with the outward baptism, (the same with our own) though both unlawfully administered, have, also, received the inward baptism of the Spirit: though they cannot have, in that their estate, all the right ends and uses of baptism. Secondly, I find not, where the law of God so said: but rather think it may be proved, that the circumcised Israelites, coming out of Egypt, had communion in the wilderness, though not in all things, with the uncircumcised, both Israelites and others. Exod. xii. 38; Numb, xi. 4. But admit the law so forbade. It must be considered that the matter of Peter's trouble was, “his going in to men uncircumcised, and eating with them,” and it will then appear that there was a legal and ceremonial restraint and bondage, under which the Jewish church was, as a child in his nonage, from which the church now, as a man of fuller age, is free. Gal. iv. 1–4. And by the Jews not communicating privately, or not eating with any uncircumcised (if so, by the law, they were forbidden, and that it were not rather a tradition, as Calvin thinketh), and by their not admitting any such into the temple, which is evident, we are taught not to communicate with, nor to receive into the church, any uncircumcised in heart, so by us discerned; but are not forbidden all private religious communion with unbaptized persons, if appearing holy, much less to go in and eat with them; no, nor yet to receive such, neither into the now temple, the church of God, 1 Cor. x. 27, into which indeed they must be received before they can be baptized. And, for the instance, Acts xi. considering that Christ, at his death, had “broken down the partition wall, and in his flesh abolished the enmity of the law of commandments, standing in ordinances,” Eph. ii. 14, 15, and that Peter, by his apostolical commission, was to “teach all nations,” Matt. xxviii. 19; and how his opposites had “heard that the Gentiles had received the word,” and therewith the Spirit of God, it could be none but they of the circumcision, that is, such as being themselves circumcised, did think there could be no grace without it, (with which mischief Satan laboureth, always, to possess the hearts of such as enjoy God's ordinances, as theirs, on the other side, who enjoy them not, to undervalue them,) who would thus contend, or quarrel with the apostle of Christ, and the same, to speak as the truth is, manifesting himself to be too Jewishly affected, for that his practice, Acts x. 14; Gal. ii. 1, 12,]4. And, methinks, by the Lord's charge unto Peter, “not to call that profane which God had purified,” Acts x. 15, and with it, by Peter's testimony afterwards, v. 34, 35, that “they that fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of God,” whether circumcised or not circumcised, baptized or not baptized, so there be no contempt of God's ordinances, but only human frailty hindering, as it was with Cornelius, in his not being circumcised formerly; and so ought to be accepted of his people, so far as God accepteth of them; and that, by Christ's example in receiving the prayers of, and therein communicating with, the faithful centurion, though out of the visible church and uncircumcised, Matt. viii. 5–13, personally and privately, with whom he would not have communicated in the temple, into which, for order's sake, he might not have been admitted; we, also, have warrant for communicating with godly persons, privately; with whom, for their disordered estate that way, we can have no lawful public communion.
But thus to acknowledge any in the assemblies, for our brethren, and partakers of the same common grace and faith with us, unto life, is to confirm them in their evil ways, and as if we should tell them, that to do more, or otherwise, than they do, were in vain.
This exception is unworthy of any godly-wise man, who hath learnt aright, either to worship God, or to converse with men. Exception might, as justly, have been made against the apostle's doctrine, and practice, for receiving and applying unto the weak in things lawful for their edification and gaining, and the discharge of his own duty, Rom. xiv. 1; 1 Cor. ix. 22; and, as justly, might men have told him, that he had taken a course to continue and harden them in their sin; for that, their weakness, was their sin. The equity of the apostle's doctrine and practice is general, and directs all God's people, at all times, towards all that are weak in the faith, any manner of way; as are those that fear God in the assemblies, (how strong soever otherwise,) in respect of their church-state, and ordinances.
The same apostle, writing to the Corinthians, whom he was, in the body of his epistle, to reprove for many evils amongst them, doth in the first place give them their due, with the most, acknowledging them “sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, enriched with the grace of God by Christ Jesus, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.” 1 Cor. i. 2, 4, 5. The same manner of proceeding, also, the apostle Johnuseth, being directed by the same good Spirit, towards the churches in Asia, upon the like occasion. Rev. ii. 1–3, 12–14, 18–20. And, as their practices are (in their common equity) our instructions, so doth both the law of love and rule of reason direct us the same course. When men see us ready to take knowledge, and in acknowledging of the good things in them, they will much more willingly listen to our just reproofs of their evils, as deeming us equally and lovingly affected towards them: which good things if, on the contrary, we neglect or undervalue in any manner of way, they will, and that justly, he prejudiced against us, as unequal and looking at them only with the left eye. Besides, there are no arguments so forcible, either for admonition or exhortation, to them that have any spark of grace in them, as those which are taken from the mercies of God, whereof they are made partakers. Rom. xii. 1. Neither will any of God's children, indeed, make that use, either of the knowledge which themselves have, or acknowledgement which others make, of the grace of God in them, to be emboldened thereby to go on in evil; for this were to “turn the grace of God into wantonness,” which only the reprobates do, Jude 4, no more than will a good child, when he knows by himself, or hears by others, that his father hath made sure his inheritance unto him, take, thereby, liberty to despise his commandments, and no further to regard him: this were a hastardly practice, and from which a child naturally disposed would abhor.
To conclude then, this our judgment, and answerable practice, touching the better sort in the assemblies, as faithful persons, and under the assurance of salvation, is no hindrance to the further manifestation of their faith, in withdrawing their feet from every evil way, and the planting them in the Lord's house; but on the contrary, a real exhortation, and provocation of them to keep safe that their precious faith in a good conscience in all things, as the passenger in the ship, 1 Tim. i. 19: and in the obedience of all Christ's commandments, to make their election more sure to themselves, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20; 2 Pet. i. 10, and so to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. ii. 12; always providing for themselves the prophet's assurance, which was, that he should not be ashamed, when he had respect to all God's commandments. And this may serve, not only, for an answer to the objection, but also, for an argument for the thing intended.
But Christ hath left an order for the reformation of every brother falling into sin, which cannot be observed towards any of them whom we cannot therefore thus acknowledge, and communicate with accordingly. Matt. xviii. 15–17.
This, indeed, showeth, that they are without the order of Christ in his church, in which they ought to be; but doth not therefore, conclude them not to be our brethren, or God's children, or that there is no bond of faith and the Spirit between their and our persons. And, by this ground, we should not repute a godly person though actually separated, our brother, nor keep private communion with him: nor any at all with the reformed church, or with any their members; who are too much wanting in this order. But, as we may communicate with thousands in England, as with holy persons, in private exhortations, and admonitions, so may we also, in private prayer, though in neither the one, nor other, publicly, as hath formerly been showed. And this I, also, conceive to have the force of another argument for the practice.
The Lord Jesus hath promised so far to hear men's prayers, as they agree together in the things they ask: which cannot be between them and us, seeing they are to pray for the prosperous estate of their church, communion, government, and ministry, against which we both pray and witness. Matt. xviii. 19.
There are thousands in the assemblies, who, whatsoever through human frailty, their practice be, pray for little more, in effect, in the Church of England, than we do. And, secondly, though there be between them and us some differences, yet may the same be so carried by Christian discretion, and moderation mutual, as that our prayers be not interrupted. And though we must agree in the particulars, which we expressly pray for, yet if we may not join in prayer with them, with whom we have particular differences, how shall we pray with almost any the members of the reformed churches? yea, what two churches, or persons in the same church, should not at one time or other refuse prayer together? But divers inconveniences will, I doubt not, arise in this practice, as there do many, in all our doings: which we must, therefore, labour to prevent, or moderate by godly wisdom, and not abandon for them things otherwise lawful.
If this practice may be warranted with them, why not with sundry papists also, and much more, with many excommunicants out of the church for some particular sin?
The faith of Rome, and so of papists, indeed, cannot by the Word of God be proved true, justifying faith; nor the spirit received by that faith, the spirit of prayer, which God hath promised to hear. But the faith published in the name of the Church of England, and professed by many there, personally, is to be esteemed such by the Word of God. Neither are we now come to a diverse faith, but to a diverse order, from that there prevailing: in submission whereunto we think ourselves bound to make further manifestation of our faith, than there we did, or could do. And for excommunicates, there is this apparent difference, that, whereas we are to apply ourselves to the other, not yet come so far, what we may for their further provocation; we are, on the contrary, to withdraw ourselves from them, what we may for their humbling, both in spiritual communion, and civil familiarity: their estate in the one, and other, putting a special bar between them and us. 1 Cor.v. 11.
But this will endanger the bringing in of great confusion, when one man will thus esteem of, and walk towards one, a second another, and a third will be otherwise minded towards them both.
The very same might have been objected against Paul's doctrine of application to the weak: and it might have been said; one will judge this man but weak, another that man, but a third neither of them, but both obstinate; what confusion will here be! Rom. xiv. 1; 1 Cor. ix. 22. So, for our walking towards the members of the Dutch, and French churches. Have we not administered publicly to some of either, which, unto some others of them, we would not do? The same course we hold in our private walking. Yea, do we not sundry times fall into the same difficulties in our public communion, being diversely minded in the receiving in, and casting out of members? In all which cases, we must have use of Christian discretion in ourselves, and moderation one towards another: and must study, not only how to effect that which ourselves think best, but how, to bear the contrary, with the least offence, if it be not intolerable.
And thus much for the objections against this practice: the reasons to justify it follow.
1. Arg.—The former grounds being held, and more specially, that private prayer is no church action, nor done by any church power, or order, but merely personal, both Mr. Bernard's argument, “that we are taught by our Saviour Christ, to join in prayer, and to say, ‘Our Father,’ with them, whom we judge the children of God;” as also Mr. Ames', that “we may have visible communion with them, whom we rightly discern to have communion with Christ,”* are of force, to wit, according to the limitations and distinctions formerly made. Matt. vi. 6; Gal. iii. 26; 1 John i. 8.
2. Arg.—As all communion in actions presupposeth an union of persons, so doth every union of persons, necessarily, draw with it communion in works, as a natural effect thereof. Which, as it is true in Christ the head first, with whose merits and grace no man can communicate, till by faith he be united to his person, and with which all so united do necessarily partake; so is it in the members mutually, who must first be knit together by that one faith, and one Spirit, and so being united must preserve the unity and walk in the communion thereof. John xv. 4, 5; Titus i. 3; Philem. 6; Eph. iv. 3. We are to walk in the common works of humanity with every man, according to that common bond: in the works of kindred, or friendship, as with a friend, or kinsman: of common Christianity, with a Christian: and so in the works of church communion with the members of the true church. As, then, God hath united us in our persons, by faith, and the Spirit, under one head, Christ, with many in the assemblies, so are we also to unite ourselves, in the exercises of those our personal graces, notwithstanding the human infirmities, especially about outward ordinances, appearing in us, or them.
3. Arg.—There was between them in the assemblies, who feared God, and: us, before our separation a bond of the Spirit, and we might lawfully pray together for lawful things, personally. And hath our growth in the knowledge, and obedience of the will of God, dissolved that bond, they remaining the same they were, and it may be growing, further also, therein? Surely, such is the nature, and so great the strength of this bond of the Spirit, to them who duly consider it, with that reverence which is meet, as that many and great infirmities cannot break it. And by reason of it, and of many other, so excellent things, there to be found, it deeply concerneth us to weigh with ourselves, in what respect, and how far, we make our separation: that, as we make not the good things there, as snares to entangle our souls in the things which are evil, so that neither for the evils, unavoidable in the public ordinances there, we throw away all at a venture, as some ill-advised do. And if two godly persons of them may lawfully pray together, privately, for lawful things, why not we with either, or both of them? Do we lose any lawful liberty in a common Christian duty, by breaking of our unlawful course, and standing? If not, then neither can this course be justly reproved, neither should we debar ourselves of our Christian liberty herein. Gal. v. 1.
4. Arg.—As we are not, for infirmities and corruptions, to refuse the fellowship of a true Christian church in things lawful, but, by all good means, to endeavour her reformation, whilst there is any hope: so, neither, are we to refuse the fellowship of a true Christian person, so appearing, in things lawful, for his infirmities and corruptions, especially, till he appear unto us obstinate and irrecoverable therein.
5. Arg.—Lastly, To repute them holy persons, and partakers of the same precious faith with ourselves, as I have showed you before, we have always done, notwithstanding their church state, and yet, not to join with them in the personal works of faith, no extraordinary bar coming between, seemeth a denial of that in deed, which in word is professed: and all one, if not worse, as if one man should profess of another, that he held him his special friend, but would neither perform to him, nor receive from him, any duty of special friendship: or, that he deemed him a, very honest man, but yet would neither trust him, nor have otherwise to deal with him, for a farthing,
For conclusion then let us follow the counsel of the apostle, to proceed by one rule, whereunto we are come, Phil. iii. 16: under hope that God will further reveal the truth in those particulars unto them, who are otherwise minded: as also following his example, in becoming all to all in the things which are lawful. Phil. iii. 16. And above all things let love abound in us, which will teach us, as many other good lessons, so this amongst the rest, not to cover the good graces of God, in men, under their infirmities, but contrariwise, their infirmities, under the graces of God's Spirit in them. Prov. x. 12; 1 Pet. iv. 8.
But lest this practice, and the grounds thereof be further strained, than I intend, or than it will reach, I think it here meet to add a few things, for the just and lawful bounding of it.
Shortly before the execution of Henry Barrowe, he addressed the Letter to “an Honourable Lady, and Countess of his Kindred.” It is dated “this 4th or 5th of the 4th month, 1593,” and is contained in an “Apology or Defence of such true Christians as are commonly, but unjustly called Brownists,” by Henry Ainsworth. 1604.
p. 113, 114. Vide last note. “The Apology” was the joint production of Johnson, Ainsworth, &c., though some editions are subscribed with Ainsworth's name alone.
Vide Examinations of Barrowe, Greenwood, and Penry, pp. 39, 45, 4to edit., no date.
Herodot. in Clio.
Vide Letters between. Mr. Ames and Mr. Robinson, pp. 85–87, supra.