- A Just and Necessary Apology.
- Chapter I.: Of the Largeness of Churches.
- Chapter II.: Of the Administration of Baptism.
- Chapter III.: Of Written Liturgies.
- Chapter IV.: Of the Ecclesiastical Presbytery.
- Chapter V.: Of Holy Days.
- Chapter VI.: Of the Celebration of Marriage By the Pastors of the Church.
- Chapter VII.: Of the Sanctification of the Lord's Day.
- Chapter VIII.: Of the Exercise of Prophecy.
- Chapter IX.: Of Temples.
- Chapter X.: Of Things Indifferent.
- Chapter XI.: Of Civil Magistrates.
- Chapter XII.: Of the Church of England,
- Notice Respecting the Two Letters.
- On Religious Communion
- The Preface.
- Chapter I.: Of Private Communion.
- Chapter II.: Of Public Communion.
- Chapter III.: Of Flight In Persecution.
- Chapter IV.: The Outward Baptism Received In England Is Lawfully Retained.
- Chapter V.: Of the Baptism of Infants.
- Chapter VI.: A Survey of the Confession of Faith Published In Certain Conclusions By the Remainders of Mr. Smyth's Company After His Death. *
- The People’s Plea For the Exercise of Prophecy
- An Answer to the Arguments Laid Down By Mr. John Yates, Preacher In Norwich , to Prove Ordinary Prophecy In Public, Out of Office, Unlawful; Answered By John Robinson.
- A Treatise On the Lawfulness of Hearing Ministers In the Church of England
- On the Lawfulness of Hearing the Ministers of the Church of England. By John Robinson.
- A Letter to the Congregational Church In London
- An Appeal On Truth's Behalf.
- To Our Beloved, the Elders and Church At Amsterdam , Grace and Peace From God the Giver Thereof, and In Him Our Salutations .
- An Answer to a Censorius People
- Letter By Rev. Joseph Hall, B.d., Rector of Halstead, Called By Mr. Robinson “a Censorious Epistle.”
- An Answer to “a Censorious Epistle.”
- A Catechism
- An Appendix to Mr. Perkins’ Six Principles of Christian Religion.
- No I.: The Church In Southwark.
- No. II.: The Exiles and Their Churches In Holland.
- Chronological Index of Mr. Robinson's Works.
- Index of Subjects.
- Index of Authors Referred to Or Quoted, With Occasional Brief Notices of Their Works and Lives.
- Index of Important Texts of Scripture Illustrated Or Quoted.
PREFATORY NOTICE BY THE EDITOR,
to the tbeatise and the two letters which follow.
The first Congregational Church in London being without a pastor, the Rev. Henry Jacob, their minister, having recently emigrated to Virginia, wrote letters to the sister churches at Amsterdam and Leyden, soliciting advice on various points in which they were deeply interested; and particularly respecting their duty towards some members who had occasionally attended the services of the Established Church in England.
The letter to the church at Amsterdam occasioned much contention, and led to proceedings utterly at variance with the spirit and principles of the gospel. It would seem one of their number, who had formerly been transferred from Leyden, had been guilty of the offence of hearing the gospel in an English Church, and was obnoxious on some other grounds; he was therefore proceeded against as an offender, and, through the influence of a small party in the church, was, without being allowed a fair opportunity of vindicating himself, censured and excommunicated.
The church at Amsterdam, it would seem, wrote to Mr. Robinson and his people, to explain and justify their proceedings. But neither the pastor of Leyden nor his church were satisfied; and in their name he wrote the “Appeal in Truth's Behalf,” in which he protests against their unscriptural proceeding, and declines all further consultation or conference with that church, having had in previous years much painful discussion and correspondence therewith.
“The Letter to the Church in London,” in reply to their application, was written by Mr. Robinson six months previously to the “Appeal,” in which he adverts to the proceedings at Amsterdam, and advises the London church by no means to reject those friends who, under some peculiar circumstances, had occasionally worshipped in the English Church.
He, moreover, wrote the “Treatise on the Lawfulness of Hearing the Ministers of the Church of England,” about the same time. It was evidently designed for the press; but he died without publishing it; the manuscript was found in his desk after his decease. It was carefully preserved by the church for more than nine years. It is probable that a copy had been taken by some parties, with the intention of printing it when opportunity should offer.
The work was, at length, published by persons who designate themselves only as “the printers,” and whose address “to the Christian Reader” states the reason of publication.
Internal evidence, furnished by the Preface, shows that these “printers” were intimately acquainted with the proceedings of the church at Leyden, and probably they had been actual members at Leyden, though it would seem they were now resident in London or Amsterdam. Learning that proceedings had lately been adopted in the church at Leyden, similar to those which had taken place at Amsterdam ten years previously, and against which Mr. Robinson and his friends had so earnestly protested in the “Appeal,” and to which he had adverted in his Letter to the Church in London, they resolved to print the Treatise, that the deliberate opinions of their former pastor respecting the “Lawfulness of Hearing Ministers in the Church of England,” might be generally known, and to show that such an occasional practice ought not to be considered as a violation of Christian duty, nor a compromise or abandonment of Nonconformist principles, inasmuch as the mere hearing of a discourse in the Established Church was not an “act of church communion,” and did not necessarily imply concurrence in the ecclesiastical views of the preacher, nor approbation of the National Church, as an institution.
The “printers” supply two or three objections and answers in their Address, additional to those found in Mr. Robinson's Treatise, stating that such objections had been urged by the factious party in the Leyden church, as a justification of their proceedings.
THE PRINTERS, TO THE CHRISTIAN READER.
CHRISTIAN reader, however the very naming of the Author of this following Treatise were sufficient reason for us to publish the same unto the world, in regard of those large abilities above many others which the Lord had bestowed upon him; and in regard, he being now at rest with the Lord, and so having finished long since his course in this his pilgrimage, we cannot expect to have any more use of his help this way; and although it were great pity that such a work as this should be concealed for so long time, considering the work was perfected and written by his own hand, and so found after his death, which is nine years since, in his study, yet have we thought it good all this while to conceal it, in respect of that desire we had to the peace of that church whereof the Author of this Treatise was for so many years a pastor. In regard, we did perceive that some, though not many, were contraryminded to the Author's judgment expressed in this Treatise; and this we judge to be a sufficient reason of our so long delaying of publishing this Treatise to the world: yet to our grief, we hare now just cause to put this same on foot; for, as when a city is in danger of enemies to be surprised, it is then high time to take up all those warlike munitions which happily before that time were cast aside and not regarded, that so they may the better maintain their city and the privileges of it, against their enemies; so we judge it as necessary, if not more, when we see the enemies of God's church to encroach upon the privileges of the same, especially when they aim at the utter ruinating of it, that then it is high time for us to defend the cause of Christ: and it was the wisdom of Jehoiada, the high-priest, perceiving the malice of Athalia seeking to destroy the whole seed of Jehoshaphat, to hide Joash, the right heir of the kingdom, and when he saw a fit opportunity, then to reveal him and make him known; so we, who have observed Athalia's spirit in part, to be in some who have laboured to assume the power to themselves, which is proper to the church, and so Diotrephes-like, would cast out whom they please, and retain whom they thought good; and rather than they will be hindered in this their attempt, they will labour to rend that church in pieces in which they have lived for many years together; and that we may not seem to accuse them of anything without just reason, we desire the Christian reader and themselves to consider this that follows:—
First, Their schism, or, as they call, it their leaving of the church, doth arise upon this occasion: to wit, that two who are members of the same church with them, having upon some occasion heard some of the ministers in England preach, and it coming to the knowledge of some of these, who have now made this rent in the church, they would presently have these persons dealt withal as for sin, and if they did not repent after dealing, they would have the church proceed to excommunicate them, ipso facto; which the church not willing to consent unto, these men could not be satisfied, but they would have their own wills done, or else they would rent from the church, which proceeding of theirs, if it were approved of and followed, no church could long continue together in peace; for what these four or five men have done, that may any other man do: so that if any man do conceive any of his brethren to walk in any such sin, which he judges doth deserve excommunication, if the church will not thereto consent, he may rent himself from the same. Although the Author of this Treatise hath taught them otherwise, to wit, “that if the church see not that to be sin, which I see to be a sin, I, having informed the church thereof, according to my place, I have discharged my duty, and the sin lies upon the church, (if it be a sin,) and not upon me.” But it seems these men do look for that in the church on earth which is only to be found in heaven; for themselves have affirmed, and that before divers witnesses, that there is no sin, small or great, that is to be borne withal, and that the very speaking of a word, through frailty, about worldly business on the Sabbath-day, should have as severe a sentence as he that shall openly and profanely transgress against the fourth commandment; the very naming of which, their opinion, is sufficient to discover their weakness. And that we may yet further discover these men's folly to the world more fully, we will show you how contrary they are to themselves in this their judgment; for, as they say, and do affirm, there is no sin which is to be borne withal in the church, yet themselves, or at least, the chief of them, do practise the contrary: as for example—one instead of many may serve the term—The chief of the authors of this trouble doth hold, and so hath for many years together, to wit, that it is unlawful for the members of one church to have communion with another church, and yet, notwithstanding this his judgment, he can bear with one, who hath, contrary to this his judgment practised, and so professeth still to do upon occasion; and yet notwithstanding his so practising, and so professing, he is received among them, and is their chief, if not their only teacher which they have; so that we may here easily perceive that though this man doth use Jehu's pace against the sins of others with whom he desires to be alienated, yet he can bear with as great sins in others in his judgment, with whom he desires to walk. We could show many more reasons to prove his partiality, but then we should exceed the bounds of an epistle. Only we desire the reader to take notice of these two things—First, That this practice of hearing the ministers of the church of England is not against any article of faith which is by this church professed, whereof the Author of this Treatise was a pastor, it being no act of church communion; for, if hearing simply were an act of communion, then, every heretic or atheist, or whatsoever he were that should come into the church of God, should have communion with them, which if it were true, (as this following Treatise proves the contrary,) then it were good for every church that will avoid communion with profane men, to meet in private, and then to shut their door when their own company is met together: else I cannot see how they Can avoid having communion with wicked men; to wit, if bare hearing be an act of communion. Secondly, As this hearing is not against any article of their faith, so likewise, it was not in the judgment of the church esteemed as a thing that might not be borne withal; and this may appear by a copy of a letter which we have here following published, where the church, in the counsel which they give to the church of London, do sufficiently make it appear that their judgment did manifestly differ from that of those who now have made this breach; and, which is well to be marked by the reader, how that the church, when this letter was written, enjoyed the pastor; and their company was five times greater than it was when this breach was made; and because these men in this their error are willing to restrain it, and not being able to make any sufficient reply to the answer made in this Treatise to their objections, though the manuscript thereof hath been in their hands for many years; yet, because they will find something to say more than others have done heretofore,- though of less force, therefore they have joined some new objections, which both the seducer and the seduced do think are unanswerable, therefore it will not be amiss for us to propound them, and to give some answer to them, that so if their stomachs serve they may reply to all at once.
First, They object, and say, that we hold the Church of England to be a false church, and the ministers thereof to’ be antichristian, and yet we go thither to worship the true God. Before we answer directly to this objection, we shall intreat the reader and themselves to consider of this that follows:
First, A church may be said to be false in divers respects, and according to those respects we are to have divers considerations thereof; as first, a church may be said to be false in respect of outward order, to wit, when, a church is gathered together not according to the rule of Christ, neither in their outward government do they conform thereunto; now this church cannot be said to be the church of Christ being thus erected, and governed contrary to the rule of Christ, but is false and anti-christian, and yet notwithstanding, the faith professed by this church, and the doctrines taught in this church may be sound and according to God.
Secondly, A church may be false, not only in respect of outward order, but likewise in respect of faith and doctrine.
Now to this latter we counsel no man to go, because from thence no good can be expected, and that is the esteem we have of the Church of Rome. But now, as in a true church, in respect of outward order, there may be many false doctrines taught, so, in a church that is false in respect of outward order there may be many sound and seasonable truths taught, and this esteem we have of the preaching in England: namely, that the doctrine there taught, according to the articles of their faith is sound, and the effects of it have appeared in the working of faith in the hearts of many thousands. For the outward order, or meeting there as a church, that concerns themselves, and those that are in union with that church estate, but not all that hear them.
Now that worshipping of God, which consists in hearing his Word, is warrantable for us to do in England, we prove it by this argument:
That preaching which ordinarily begets men to the faith of Christ may lawfully be heard.
That the preaching of many ministers in the Church of England hath, and doth, ordinarily beget men to the faith of Christ.
Therefore the preaching of many ministers in England may lawfully be heard.
The first part of this syllogism is proved out of Rom. x., where the apostle telling what is the ordinary way God uses to beget men to the faith of Christ, tells us it comes by hearing the Word of God preached; if faith comes by hearing the Word of God preached, to wit, if that be the outward means, then there is no question but that a man may hear such preaching, and any man may blush for shame that shall deny this: so that the major part of the argument is clear. And for the minor part they cannot deny it, no more than a man at noon-day can deny the sun to shine; for if any man make question whether faith comes ordinarily by the preaching and hearing in England, it is a great question whether they ever had faith or no, yet because some are so gross as to deny this, we will therefore prove the contrary by this argument:—
That preaching and hearing which, make them who were altogether carnal, and so not capable of a church-estate, to become saints, and so fit for a church-estate: that preaching must needs beget men to the faith.
But the preaching and hearing in England made them that were unfit and carnal to become saints, and so fit members to the true church, which were not so before.
Therefore the preaching in England and hearing the same doth beget men to the faith. That the preaching and hearing in England hath done this, witness the church of Leyden, and of Amsterdam.
Let them tell us where they received their faith: if they say they had it not till they joined in these bodies, how could they then be true to their own grounds?—That none but visible Christians are fit matter for the church, whereas none can be so esteemed, except in the judgment of charity we judge them to have true faith.
But some of these that have made this division have not denied, but faith is wrought by the preaching and hearing in England, and yet, which is wonderful contradiction, they say it is not the Word of God, as it is there preached; so that it seems there is something besides the Word of God which is an ordinary means to beget men to the faith, and there is another word besides God's Word that will do it; the like absurdity hath seldom been heard from any that profess themselves to be Christians. And that they may not seem to say this without some reason, mark the reason that they bring to prove it: say they, We do deny that to be the Word of God, as it is there preached, by a false ministry, though the word itself be of God. yet as it is by them preached it is none of God's Word. So God's Word here stands at fast and loose: it is God's Word, and it is not God's Word; as if they should say it is God's Word, if Mr. Canne shall preach it, but if another that is a minister in England preach the same, it is none of God's Word; so that men's outward calling, true or false, makes the Word to be the Word of God, or not to be the Word of God, an assertion rather to be pitied than refuted, being little better than blasphemy. That which they bring to make this assertion good, to wit, that any man having an outward calling which is unlawful, makes the Word of God which he preacheth not to be the Word of God. And this, say they, to prove it, It was true incense which Nadab and Abihu took to offer up unto the Lord, Lev. x. 1; but because they took strange fire, and not the fire which was from the altar, as the Lord had appointed, therefore the Lord sent a fire to destroy them: so say they it is the true Word of God which is preached in England, but because they preach the same by an unlawful office, therefore the Lord abhors it: a stranger collection, I think, can hardly be heard, for here strange fire is opposed to an unlawful outward calling, than which, nothing can be more absurd; for Nadab and Abihu had a true outward calling to offer; they were the sons of Aaron, saith the text; therefore if anything hence might be concluded, in just proportion, it must be to the doctrine taught, and not in the least to the calling; so that we may from thence gather thus much, that if a minister, in regard of his outward calling true, shall teach anything that is not from the Lord, they are to expect God's judgment for the same, and more cannot hence be collected; further, let it be shown that ever any prophet in the Old or New Testament was ever termed a false prophet in respect of his outward calling, hut always in respect of his doctrine; we can find that such as had true outward calling in the true church, yet were false prophets in regard to their doctrine in many particulars, as Christ teaches concerning the Scribes and Pharisees, for their false expounding of the law, let them show the like for outward callings. Thus have we thought good, having been careful witnesses of these things here propounded, to set down our censure of them, desiring the Lord to make this whole work, for the general good now set forth, to take effect in those that love the truth.
Fare you well.
LAWFULNESS OF HEARING THE
MINISTERS OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
BY JOHN ROBINSON.
As they that affect alienation from others, make their differences as great, and the adverse opinion or practice as odious as they can, thereby to further their desired victory over them, and to harden themselves, and their side against them, so on the contrary, they who desire peace and accord, both interpret things in the best part they reasonably can, and seek how and where they may find any lawful door of entry into accord and agreement with others: of which latter number, I profess myself (by the grace of God) both a companion and a guide; especially in regard of my Christian countrymen, to whom God hath tied me in so many inviolable bonds; accounting it a cross that I am, in any particular, compelled to dissent from them; but a benefit, and matter of rejoicing, when I can in anything with good conscience unite with them in matter, if not in manner, or, where it may be, in both. And this affection, the Lord and my conscience are my witnesses, I have always nourished in my breast, even when I seemed furthest drawn from them: and so all that have taken knowledge of my course can testify with me, and how I have still opposed in others, and repressed in mine own people, to my power, all sour zeal against, and peremptory rejection of, such as, whose holy graces chal lenged better use and respect from all Christians. And in testimony of mine affection this way, and for the freeing of mine own conscience, and information of other men's, I have penned this discourse; tending to prove the hearing of the Word of God preached, by the ministers of the Church of England, able to open and apply the doctrines of faith by that church professed, both lawful, and in cases necessary for all, of all sects or sorts of Christians, having opportunity and occasion of so doing, though sequestering themselves from all communion with the hierarchical order there established.
Three sorts of opposites I make account to meet withal. The first, of them who truly desire and carefully endeavour to have their whole course both in religion and otherwise framed by the holy and right seal of God's Word, either for their confirmation in the truth, or reformation, wherein, through human frailty they step aside. And unto them especially I direct this my discourse, begging at His hands who is the Father of lights, and from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift, James i. 17, for them as for myself, that as he hath given us to set our faces towards heaven, and to seek him with the whole heart, so, he would not suffer us to wander from his commandments, to the right hand or to the left. Psa. exix. 10.
A second sort, is of them, whose tender and scrupulous conscience makes them fearful and jealous of everything which hath in it the least appearance or show of evil, lest coming too near it, they be defiled by it one way or other. This their godly zeal, and tenderness of heart is to be loved of all men, and cherished by all good means. Only such are to be entreated for their own good to take knowledge of a distinction most useful for their direction in things lawful in their kind, and good in their right use: of which some are only naturally good in their kind, but not simply commanded of God: as to get and keep the riches and credit of the world, to enjoy outward peace or other bodily comfort. Others are morally good, in their kind, and commanded of God: as, to hear the Word of God, obey the magistrate, and the like. Now in things of the former sort, it is very requisite, considering both their nature and ours, that we keep a jealous eye and strait hand over ourselves, and our ways. For them, they are not in their kind enjoined as the other; neither do the Scriptures anywhere require of men to be rich or the like; as they do to hear God's Word, obey authority, &c. And for ourselves we are prone and in danger to overstrain for the getting and enjoying of them, as being naturally pleasing good things; so as if, out of a godly jealousy over our hearts towards them, we keep not ourselves from going too near the side, for the getting or keeping of them, we shall by one storm of temptation or other, be blown into the ditch of sin and destruction. But now for the practice and performance of duties simply moral and commanded in their kind, as is the hearing of God's Word, especially by God's people, we ought to strain to the utmost, and to go as near the wind as may be; seeing nothing but apparent sin in the way, can excuse the withdrawing from it, when occasion of enjoying it is offered. Oh that there were not to found!—who being very scrupulous of coming near to anything amiss in outward ordinances, or to any person failing in them, yet make no scruple of complying and conforming with the world, so far in the eager pursuit of worldly profits, immoderate use of worldly delights, and fulfilling the lusts of the world, and flesh dwelling in them, as that there appears scarce a hair-breadth or difference between them and mere worldlings which know not God; which latter evils are both worse in themselves, as being expressly condemned by the law of God and light of nature, and more odious in the persons, as being more personal, free, and voluntary than those in the other, to which they are carried by the violent current of the times.
A third sort of opposites I make account to meet with, more untractable than the former, and more vehemently bent against the thing propounded by me, out of prejudice and passion, than the other by scruple of conscience or show of reason. To them I can hardly say anything, it not being their manner to read, or willingly to hear that which crosseth their prejudices, yet something I must say touching them, out of the woeful experience of many years taken of them, though not much, I thank the Lord, amongst them, unto whom I have ministered.
Some of these I have found carried with so excessive admiration of some former guides in their course, as they think it half heresy to call into question any of their determinations or practices. We must not think that only the Pharisees of old, and Papists of later times, are superstitiously addicted to the traditions of the elders and; authority of the church. In all sects, there are divers, especially of the weaker sort, who being the less real in. their conceptions are the more personal, that rather choose to follow the troad of blind tradition, if beaten by some such foregoers as they admire, than the right way of God's Word by others to be shown them afterwards.
Some, again, are as much addicted to themselves as the former to others, conceiving in effect, though they will not profess it, the same of their own heads, which the Papists do of their head—the Pope—viz., that they cannot err or be deceived, and this especially in such matters, as for which they have suffered trouble and affliction formerly, and so having bought them dear, they value them highly. But it is too merchant-like, to strive to oversell a thing, which we have formerly overbought: we must buy the truth, and not sell it at any rate: but must account nothing either true or good, according to the valuation which we have set upon it, but God.
There is also a third sort highly advancing a kind of privative goodness and religion, and who bend their force, rather to the weakening of other men in their courses, than to the building up of themselves in their own: and in truth, rather to separation from men, not only in evil, but even in that which is good, for some other evil conceived in them, than to union with God, and his people, in his holy ordinances; and half imagining that they draw near enough to God, if they can withdraw far enough from Other men. Great zeal they have against the false church, ministry and worship so being, or by them conceived so to be, and against any appearing evil in the true, but” little for that which is true and good, as their practice manifests; but evil is as contrary to evil, as good is to evil; and so is that zeal plainly carnal, which carries a man further against evil than for good, seing no evil is so evil, as good is good.
Fourthly, There are some to be found so soured with moodings and discontentment, as that they become unsociable, and almost Lukanthropoi, (werewolfs,) as they speak. If they see nothing lamentable, they are ready to lament. If they take contentment in any, it is in them alone whom they find discontented. If they read any books, they are only invectives, especially against public states and their governors. All things tending to accord and union any manner of way, are unwelcome unto them. They have their portion in Ishmael's blessing. Gen. xvi. 12.
Lastly, There want not who (as Jehu in his fierce marching covered his ambition, cruelty, and zeal for his own house, under the pretext of zeal for God's) think to cover and palliate their own both grosser and more proper and personal corruptions, under a furious march not only against the failings, but the persons also failing of infirmity, in matters of church order and ordinances, who, if they were well acquainted, and duly affected with their own both more voluntary and greater sins, would slack their Jehu's pace, yet turn their course, though not to walk with others in evil, which God forbid! yet to apply and accommodate themselves unto them in that which is good, so far as possible they could observe any way by the Lord opened unto them. I could instance and name divers particular persons monstrously grown out of kind this way; but that course I leave unto them who rather desire the disgracing, than the bettering of them against whom they deal: or perhaps conceive in their leavened hearts, that there is no other way of bettering, especially persons of mean condition, than by shaming and disgracing them. But let not my soul come in their secret, in whose habitations are such instruments of cruelty! Gen. xlix. 5, 6.
These things thus premised, the objections follow which I have either heard from others, or can conceive of myself, most colourable against the practice by me propounded. And they are of two sorts. Some of them are framed upon supposition, that the ministers in that church are in themselves lawful and of God, but not yet to be heard by reason of the abuses and evils to be found in their ministrations. Others withdraw hearing, and those the more, upon the contrary supposition, to wit: that the very order and constitution of.that church and ministry is papal and unlawful. Now the examination of the grounds of the one or the other I will not in this place meddle with, but, though both cannot be true, will for the satisfying of the with-drawers on both parts, grant for the present to either part their ground, and so examine distinctly what exceptions they can or do build thereupon.
But first for the former. Supposing a church and the ministry thereof essentially lawful, it cannot but be lawful for the members of other churches in general union and association with it, to communicate therewith in things lawful and lawfully done, seeing the end of union is communion. God hath in vain united persons and states together, if they may in nothing communicate together. But he, who would have us receive the weak in faith, whom God hath received, would not have us refuse the fellowship of churches in that which is good, for any weakness in them of one sort or other; and this we have so plainly and plentifully commended unto us, both by the prophets, yea, by Christ himself in the Jewish church, and apostles, and apostolical men in the first Christian churches, in which many errors and evils of all kinds were more than manifest, and the same ofttimes both so far spread and deeply rooted, as the reforming of them was rather to be wished, than hoped for; as that no place is left for doubting in that case, by any who desire to follow their holy steps in faith towards God, and charity towards men, and effectual desire of their own edification.
The objections of the former sort follow.
“There is danger of being seduced and misled by the errors taught in the assemblies.”
First, We must not lose the benefit of many main truths taught, for danger of some few errors, especially in lesser matters. This were to fear the devil, more than to trust God. Secondly, There were in the Jewish church in Christ's time, and in divers of the apostolical churches afterwards, more and greater errors taught, than are in any, or all the churches of England: of which also there are not a few, which if their ministers did as fully and faithfully teach and practise all truths, as they keep themselves carefully from errors, might compare in this business with any reformed church in Europe. Thirdly, This exception hath its weight against the hearing of priests and Jesuits, especially by the weaker sort, and less able to discern of things that differ. But not against many ministers of the Church of England. Matt. v. 23; 3 Cor. xi. 19; 1. John iv. 1, 3.
“He that in anything partakes with that church, in which sins known are suffered unreformed, partakes in all the sins of that church; as he that swears by the altar, swears by the offerings upon it, which it sanctifies. Matt. xxiii. 19, 20.”
I partake not in the sins of any, how great or manifest soever the sins be, or how near unto me soever the persons be, except the same sins either be committed or remain unreformed by my fault. Otherwise, Christ our Lord had been enwrapped in the guilt of a world of sins in the Jewish church, with which church he communicated in God's ordinances, living and dying a member thereof. If my brother sin a scandalous sin, and I by just order make complaint thereof to the church, I have done my duty. It appertains to the church to excommunicate him, if he repent not; but not to me except (Pope-like) I would make myself the church. I am guilty of the evil in the commonwealth and family, for the redressing whereof I do not my duty in my place, which, if I do in the church as I can, I am free from the sins done and suffered there, which sins and evils I can no more be said to suffer, wanting power to reform them, than to suffer it to blow or rain, because I hinder it not.
But the proof of the assertion from Matt. xxiii. is of admirable device. How doth the church sanctify the sin of the sinner, as the altar doth the offering of the offerer? The altar makes that to become actually an offering or holy gift, which before was not an offering actually, but only gold, silver, or other material; so doth not the church make any man's sin to become his sin, which it was not before, but only suffers the sin that was. But to strain the strings of this imagined proportion, to make them meet, and to suppose the church in a sense to be as the altar, yet this only follows thereupon: that as he who partakes with the altar in the upholding of the offering, partakes with the offering; so he that partakes with the church in the upholding of any evil, hath his part in the evil also. And this I grant willingly, but deny as a most vain imagination, that every one that partakes with a church in things lawful, joins with it in upholding the things unlawful to be found in it. Christ our Lord joined with the Jewish church in things lawful, and yet upheld nothing unlawful in it.
“But this course of hearing will offend weak brethren, not persuaded of the lawfulness of it.”
First, It will offend more, and many of them weaker, and that more grievously, if it be not performed. Secondly, It is an offence taken and not given, seeing the thing is in itself good in its kind, commanded by God, and in that particular by men in authority; and directly tending to mine edification, and not like unto eating of flesh, or drinking of wine, or the like things of indifferent nature, and left to my free liberty to use or not to use.
And these are the principal objections on the former ground; they upon the latter follow:—
There is in the hands of many a Treatise published by a man of note, containing “certain reasons to prove it unlawful to hear, or have spiritual communion with the present ministry of the Church of England.” This hath been answered, but indeed sophistically, and in passion. Neither hath the answerer much regarded what he said, or unsaid, so he might gainsay his adversary. With that answer was joined another, directed to myself, and the same doubled, pretending to prove public communion upon private, but not pressing at all, in the body of the discourse that consequence, but proceeding upon other grounds, and in truth consisting of a continued equivocation in the terms, “public licence,” “government,” “ministry,” and the like, drawn to another sense than either I intended them, or than the matter in question will permit. Whereas, he that will refute another, should religiously take and hold to his adversary's meaning, and if, in any particular, it be not so plainly set down, should spell it, as it were, out of his words. But it is no new thing even for learned and godly men to take more than lawful liberty in dealing with them, against whom they have the advantage of the times, favouring them like the wind on their backs; but God forbid I should follow them therein! I will on the contrary use all plainness and simplicity as in the sight of God, that so I may make the naked truth appear as it is, to the Christian reader's eye, what in me lieth.
And, for the treatise mentioned, it must be observed how, both in the title and body of the book, the author confounds as one, “hearing of,” and “having spiritual communion with, the ministry,” &c., which, as it is true of such as stand in spiritual and political church union, with a church and the ministry thereof, who accordingly have church communion in the public acts and exercises of that church, so is it not true of others who are not members of, nor in ecclesiastical union or combination with the said church.
For the better clearing of things, let us in a few words consider distinctly of religious actions, according to the several ranks in which they may rightly and orderly be set. Some such actions are religious, only as they are performed by religious persons; and of this sort is hearing, and so reading, of God's Word. The Scriptures teach, and all confess, that hearing the Word of God goes before faith; for “faith comes by hearing,” as by an outward means, Rom.x. 17; 1 Tim. i. 5; Rom.x. 10; Gal. ii. 16, 20; hearing then being before faith, and faith, before all other acts of religion inward or outward, it must needs follow that hearing is not simply, or of itself a work of religion, and so not of religious communion. Hearing is properly and of itself a natural action, though it he the hearing of the very Word of God. And I call it a natural action in itself in a double respect. First, For that the light of nature teacheth every man to hear and listen to another that can and will teach and inform him in anything for his good, divine or human. Secondly, For that a mere natural man—Jew, Turk, infidel, or idolater, lawfully may, yea necessarily ought to hear God's Word, that so of natural, he may become spiritual.
In the second rank I place preaching and prayer, which are properly acts religious and spiritual, as being to be performed, the one by a gift, the other by a grace of God's Spirit. Psa. 1. 16, 17; Prov. xv. 8; John ix. 31.
Of a third sort is the participation in the sacraments, which, ordinarily at least, requires a membership in some particular and ministerial church, in the participant; they being public church ordinances.
In a fourth order I set the power of suffrage, and voice-giving in electing of officers, and censuring of offenders, for which there is requisite an interest of the person so voting in that particular church, as a member thereof.
Of the last sort is the ministration of sacraments, which requires with the rest fore-mentioned, a public state of ministry in the person administering them.
Now for preaching by some, and hearing by others, which two always go together, they may be, and oft are performed, without any religious or spiritual communion at all passing between the persons preaching or hearing.
When Paul preached to the superstitious Athenians, Acts xvii. 22, shall we conceive he had spiritual communion with that heathenish assembly? How much less had they spiritual and religious communion with him, who performed not so much as a religious work in their hearing? As God gave any of them to believe, they came into invisible or inwardly spiritual personal communion with him; as they came to make personal manifestation and declaration of their faith, they came into outward personal communion with him. Lastly, As they came to join in, or unto some particular church, into church communion with him—else not. So when there come into the church assembly, unbelievers, heathens, Turks, Jews, atheists, excommunicants, men of all religions, men of none at all, and there hear, 1 Cor. xiv. 23, what spiritual communion have they with the church, or state of the teacher, or one with another, either in regard of the nature of the act done, or by God's ordination and institution? Hearing simply, is not appointed of God to be a mark and note, either of union in the same faith, or order amongst all that hear, or of differencing of Christians from no Christians; or of members from no members of the church: as the sacraments are notes of both in the participants. The hearing of the Word of God is not so inclosed by any hedge, or ditch, divine or human, made about it, but lies in common for all, for the good of all.
The particular objections follow:—
“No man may submit his conscience to be wrought upon by an unlawful, and antichristian ministry, neither hath God promised, or doth afford, any blessing upon it, neither can any have the sanctified use thereof.”
It cannot be said properly, that the office of ministry works upon the conscience of the hearer. The office only gives power and charge to the teacher, to teach in such or such a church state: and, as it resides in the person of the officer alone, so the communion, lawful or unlawful, which any hath with it, is in regard of the lawful or unlawful ecclesiastical relation and union foregoing between the persons, and not in any working of the office upon the conscience of any. Secondly, Though God bless not the unlawful office of ministry, which is not of himself, yet he may and doth bless the truths taught by the officer, which are of himself, and from heaven. Gen. xlix. 5, 6. To deny this of many in the Church of England is, Balaam-like, to curse, where God would have us bless.
“To hear such a minister, is to honour, approve, and uphold his office of ministry.”
First, If this be simply true, then when the heathenish Athenians heard Paul preach; or, when an unbeliever comes into the church assembly, and hears the preacher, he approves, honours, and upholds the office of ministry, which—what it means he is altogether ignorant.
If any reply, But we know the ministry of the church to be as it is:—I answer, that the knowing of it, makes not our act the more or less an act of approbation. If I do an act wherein I indeed approve of a thing, if I know the thing, I really approve of it upon knowledge—if I know it not, I really approve of it but ignorantly. Secondly, If I approve of the office simply because I hear the officer preach, then, I much more approve of all the doctrines which he delivers, because I hear him deliver them. If the latter seem unreasonable, so is the former much more so, except I be in church communion with the officer, and then indeed I really approve of his office, as I also do of his doctrine, if it be according to the confession of faith made by me, for then I am in formal union with him in the one or other, and so have communion in the acts thereof. If this were a good ground, that every one approves of the evil done in matter or manner, where he is present, none could live with good conscience in any society of men upon earth. Persons so minded are best alone, for with others they will keep no peace, no, not with themselves neither, if they be true to their own ground. But they plainly balk themselves in their courses, either in weakness of judgment, or partiality of affection, or through want of due consideration of their ways.
“By this then it seems a man may be present at any act of idolatry, and do as others do, that practise idolatry, yet not approve of it. And so, the three nobles in Daniel needed not to have put themselves upon such pikes of danger as they did, for not falling down as others did in the place.”
First, In the preaching of the truths of the gospel, no idolatrous act is performed, as there was. Secondly, It must he known that approbation is properly in the heart, and only the manifestation of approbation in outward gesture, speech, or writing. Both the one and the other are evil, if the thing be evil: but here it must be considered, that I may in cases, do the same outward act which others do, and wherein they manifest their approbation of idolatry, or other evil, and yet I be free, in truth and in deed from all such approbation and stain thereof. The Jews after Christ's death, and the taking away and abolishing the legal ordinances thereby, Col. ii. 14, circumcised their infants, and frequented the temple for purification, and other Mosaical ceremonies as parts of God's worship, and still remaining of Divine institution. Paul also circumcised Timothy, entered the temple for purification, and yet did not approve, any manner of way, the error and evil in the Jewish worshippers. To come nearer home. It is the custom in popish countries, that all that pass by a cross, must in honour of it, leave it on the right hand, as they may, by reason of the placing of it, coming or going. Now if I ride with others that way, I may do the thing that they do, and keep company with them, and yet not honour the cross as they do. It is besides the former, the manner that such as so pass a cross, should in further honour put off their hat to the said cross. But if I do this also, I plainly manifest an approbation of the superstition. The reason of the difference is,. because I have another just cause to do the former thing, namely to keep on with my company, but have no just cause of the latter. But now suppose that at the very place where the cross stands, I meet with some friend or other to whom I owe that civil respect of uncovering my head. I may then do that lawfully also upon the former ground. So if I had just and reasonable cause either of coming and standing by the magistrate, to whom I owe this civil honour, whilst he is performing some act of idolatry in the streets or elsewhere, I might upon the same grounds go and stand uncovered by him without just blame. To apply these things to the objection moved: seeing no other cause could reasonably be conceived of the king's commanding such a thing, or of their doing the thing at his commandment, save the worshipping of the idol, they in so doing, could not have escaped the just blame of idolatry. But now I have just causes more than one of my hearing, and amongst the rest mine edification, and therefore cannot be challenged therein to approve of the ministers’ state or standing. Besides that, as I formerly answered, here is no idolatrous act performed.
“He that hears them preach, hears them as ministers of the Church of England, and as sent by the bishops; and so in hearing them, hears and receives them that send them, according to that of our Saviour, ‘He that hears you, hears me, and he that despiseth you, despiseth me, and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me,’ Luke x. 16; John xiii. 20.”
I grant the former part of the objection, and account the denying of it a point of familism, seeing the officers of public states in the executing of their offices, are to be esteemed, according to the public laws and orders of those states, and not according to any underhand, either course or intention, by themselves or others. They are heard as they preach, and preach as ministers of the bishop's sending and of the parishes receiving, to which they are sent by them. And so I profess I hear them as the ministers of the bishop's sending, and of the parishes sent to, but not as my ministers’ either sending or sent to, except I be of those parishes, or at least in ecclesiastical union with them. Every one, whether of a false church, or of no church, or excommunicated from the church, that hears me, hears me as the pastor of the church which I serve, but not as his pastor, I suppose not in way of any, his spiritual communion with mine office of pastorship. Secondly, By “hearing and receiving,” there, Christ means properly the hearkening too, believing and obeying the doctrine taught by the apostles; which many despised, unto whom he opposeth the former that heard it. Now the ministers in the parishes, have not the doctrines of the gospel from the bishops as they have their office; but from God in his Word, and so far forth as a man hears, that is, hearkens to, and receives them by receiving it, he so far hearkens to and receives Christ.
“Yet such as hear them have communion with their office of ministry what in them lies.”
That is, they have no communion at all with it, if it lie not in them to have any; as it doth not. If I hold up my hand as high as I can, I touch heaven with my finger, what in me lies. Do I therefore at all touch it? If such think to have, or that they have any such communion, it is their error and ignorance, but makes not the thing to be the more, than if they thought not so.
“Is there then no communion at all between the teacher and the taught? What profit then comes there by such hearing?”
The church officer feeds the flock and church over which he is set, as the object of his ministry. Acts xx. 28. Such as come in, being not in church-union therewith, hear him so doing; and, as a stander-by, hearing me talk to, or dispute with, another, though I speak not a word to him, may reap as much, and more fruit by my speech, than he to whom I directed it, so may and doth it often come to pass with him, that hears the minister feed the flock whose minister he is, though he be no part of it; he may reap fruit by hearing him feed his flock, or seeing him minister baptism to any member thereof. Here is communion only in the effects of the truths taught. It were usurpation in any, to partake in a church privilege, which the office of ministry is, that “were not in a church state first. And so, if hearing simply, imported church-communion, none but church members might lawfully hear.
“In the true church indeed is order, that the church covenant go before church-communion: but not so in the false.”
In the true church there may be unlawful church-communion without a preceding church-covenant, as well as in the other, to wit, if an act of communion, properly, pass between the church, and him that is no church-member; as for example, participation in the sacraments. But hearing being not properly an act of communion, cannot import communion necessarily with the one, or other: nor otherwise than according to a foregoing church-union; whereas to partake in the Lord's Supper imports communion in both; lawful in him that is a lawful church-member, and unlawful in him that is not in such a church-state.
“But it is the order of the Church of England, that all that hear, are, and so are reputed, members of that church.”
I deny that there is any such order. Let the law or canon either be shown that so orders things. Excommunicates are permitted to hear sermons, though not Divine service, as they call it. Secondly, What if there were such an order? It no more either made or declared me to be a member there, than doth my dwelling in such or such a parish, make me a member of that parish church, which latter is indeed the law and order there. If the church with me should make a law, canon, or order, that all that come in and hear me preach should thereby become members of it, we were the more foolish in making such an order, but they never a whit the nearer, either for membership or communion.
“He that hears, appears to have communion with the church and ministry, and all appearance of evil is to be avoided. 1 Thess. v. 23.”
The Scriptures are not to be understood of all that appears evil to others, out of an erroneous and deceived judgment; for then we must abstain from almost all good, seeing there are some to whom almost all good seems evil; but it is meant either of the doctrine in prophecy of which I have some probable suspicion, of which the apostle seems properly to speak, or of that which appears evil to a rightly discerning eye. By this imagined exposition I might not hire a house in a parish where I were not known, seeing thereby I appear a parish-member.
“None can hear without a preacher, nor preach except he be sent, Rom. x. 14, 15; therefore I cannot lawfully hear him that hath not a lawful sending.”
First, That conclusion is neither in text, nor sound. I may lawfully hear him that hath no lawful calling, as I have formerly shown. Secondly, The apostle's meaning there is not to show what is unlawful, but what is impossible. It is impossible to believe without hearing, and impossible to hear without preaching, and impossible to preach without the sending there intended; that is, without God's gracious work of providence, in raising up of men, by enabling and disposing them to preach for the effectual calling of the elect of God, of which he there speaks. If any make question whether faith come by the hearing of the preachers there, it is more questionable whether they themselves want not faith, which are so barren of charity, in which true faith is fruitful. If faith come by the preaching in England to any, it follows thereupon, that such preachers are sent in the apostle's sense.
“The sheep of Christ hear his voice; but strangers they will not hear. John x, 3, 8, 27.”
Christ doth not there speak of the outward hearing, but of the hearkening unto; that is, as he expounds himself, ver. 3–5, 14, 16, 27, of the knowing and believing of his voice and following it. So chap. ix. 27, “I told you before, and ye did not hear;” that is, not believe. And God hears not sinners, ver. 31, that is, approves not of them, and their prayers. So chap. xi. 42, “I know that thou hearestme always,” and a thousand times in the Scriptures. The drift of Christ in this place is, without question, to show the difference between such as were his sheep, and such as were not his sheep. His sheep heard his voice and they which were not his sheep, heard not his -voice. But they which were not his sheep, nor heard his voice as there he speaks, heard him preach outwardly, as well as the rest which were his sheep. Besides they which were? his sheep, and would not hear strangers in the Lord's sense, heard outwardly those strangers preach, and by hearing them, discovered them to be strangers, that is, false prophets. The strangers of whom he speaks were of the true church, and of Israel, but brought false doctrine, tending to kill the soul. Such strangers none should hear, that is, believe and follow.
“The Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament warn God's people of false prophets, which the ministers of that church are, having an unlawful calling.”
First, They warn not to hearken unto them, nor to believe them, but to try them, Deut. xiii. 3; 1 John iv. 1, which, without hearing them, cannot be done. Not that all false prophets are to be heard by all, that they might try them; for that were to tempt God : but I now answer the scriptures cited, which speak of prophets in the true church, which were to he heard, till they were orderly repressed, or at least, plainly discovered by their doctrine heard to be such. Secondly, No man's unlawful outward calling makes him a false prophet; nor his outward lawful calling a true; hut his true or false doctrine only, makes him a true or false prophet. A man may have a lawful office of ministry, and yet be a false prophet, if he teach false doctrine; so may he be a true prophet, if he teach the truth, though in an unlawful and antichristian state of ministry. Yea, Balaam was both a false prophet in cursing (in purpose) where God would have him bless, and in teaching Balak to put a stumbling-block before the people of Israel; and yet a true prophet in blessing Israel,. by the spirit of prophecy, and word of the Lord put into his mouth. Numb. xxiii. 25; Josh. xiii. 22; 2 Pet. ii. 15, 16; Rev. ii. 14. He is a prophet that speaks or declares a thing past, present, or to come, Numb. xxiii. 5, 9, 10; xxiv. 2, 3, &c. And to prophesy in our sense is nothing else but to speak to edification, exhortation, and comfort. 1 Cor. xiv. 3. He that doth this is a true prophet; he that speaks the contrary, a false. It were good if they in whose mouths the challenge of false prophets is rifest, would better weigh how themselves expound and apply the Scriptures in their prophesyings, lest notwithstanding any outward lawful church-state, they be deeper wounded by the rebound of their accusations this way, than their adversaries.
“The Lord forbids Judah going to Gilgal, or to Bethel.” Hos. iv. 15, 16.
The meaning is plain, and the words express, that they were not to go thither “to offend, and play the harlot, in joining to idols,” ver. 15–17. This I grant is to be done in no place; hut deny any such thing to be done in the hearing by me pleaded for. The Scriptures everywhere forbid the going or coming to such places, or persons, as in, or by which some evil is done; to wit for the doing of anything evil, or unlawful in or with them.
“They that eat of the sacrifice partake of the altar, 1 Cor. x. 18, so they that receive the word from an unlawful officer, partake with his office.”
I deny the consequence. The office is not to the word, as the altar is to the sacrifice. The altar makes the thing to be offered, actually to become a sacrifice, which it was not before, save only in destination; as Christ plainly teacheth, saying, “The altar sanctifieth the gift.” Matt xxiii. 19. But so doth not the office make that to become the Word of God, which was not so actually before. This argument hath its special weight, being applied to sacraments, or proper institutions. The church and ministry under God, make, in a good sense, the bread and wine sacramental, in their use, which before they were not. And to the sacraments, specially the Supper of the Lord, the apostle, in the place cited, hath an eye, showing the proportion between the eating of the sacrifices in Israel, which in that use became their sacrament; and the eating of the sacrifices of the heathens, which were their sacraments; and the eating of the Lord's Supper, as the sacrament of Christians. With these things join in the last place, that sacrifices, considered as proper institutions, might not be offered or eaten, but in the place chosen, Deut. xii. 5—7, and sanctified by the Lord, for that purpose. No more may sacraments now be eaten, but in the church; whereas the Word may be preached to any as well out of the church as in it.
“The places called temples and churches, having been built for idolatry, should be demolished, and therefore are not to be frequented, specially, being accounted and made holy places. Deut. xii. 3.”
First, The difference of places under the law, when all other places for the most solemn worship, as opposed to that one place as holy, were unholy, is now taken away; so as no place now is holy, or unholy as then. John iv. 21,23,24; 1 Tim. ii. 6. “Secondly, Suppose it to be the magistrate's duty to destroy them, (of which I now dispute not, nor how far he should proceed therein,) yet I deny the consequence, and that I may not use that lawfully which he ought to destroy.
The magistrate ought to have destroyed such cities in Israel, Deut. xiii. 12–15, as whose inhabitants had been corrupted with idolatry. Yet might the cities, if spared by the magistrates, lawfully be dwelt in afterwards; and synagogues in them both be built and frequented for God's moral worship. Jericho should have been an execration and heap for ever, Josh. vi. 17, 26; 2 Kings ii. 3, 5; yet being built again and standing, was the seat of a school of the prophets. The murderer ought to be put to death; yet if he be spared and survive, his wife, children, and servants, lawfully may, and in conscience ought to converse with him, according to the natural and civil relations between them and him. Thirdly, I know no law in force, nor doctrine received, in the Church of England, that ascribes any holiness to the places. And for errors and abuses personal, they rest in the persons so erring. I suppose some such holiness to be ascribed unto them, as to holy churches, holy buildings, consecrated places, &C. Yet I see no sufficient reason, why I may not use lawfully a natural and civil place in them, for any lawful work, civil or religious, private or public; for there is one reason of all these. If any think those places like the Idolathytes, he mistaketh therein. The things offered to idols, and eaten in the idol's temple and feast, were in proportion, as the bread and wine, being blessed, in the Lord's Supper; as both the apostle, and reason of the thing manifests. 1 Cor. x. Whereas the place which I use, though for a religious action to be performed in it, whether in the temple, or in mine own house, hath only the consideration of a natural and civil circumstance. The temple as a temple (which yet I do not think is done in England, by any either received doctrine or law) may be made an idol by consecration; and yet every particular place in it not made unlawful for all uses.
If any further object, that, in preaching and tearing God's Word therein, we have a religions use of it, they err, not considering, that though the work done be religious, yet the place is no more religious therefore, than the time in which I do it. Time and place are natural circumstances, and without which no finite action can be performed; and some time and place more commodious add fit than others, for the doing of things of all kinds. I have no more religious use of the place in which I hear publicly, than in which I pray privately in my house or chamber.
“Seeing whatsoever is not of faith is sin, what word of God, and so of faith, is there for this practice?”
Every scripture that either commands the hearing of God's Word, Matt. vii. 24, and promiseth a blessing to them that hear and keep it, Luke xi. 28; or that commands me to edify and build to myself, 1 Pet. ii. 5; or to obey the magistrate, Tit. iii. 1; or to follow after peace, Heb. xii. 14; or to prevent offences, 1 Cor. x. 32, warrants, and in cases, enjoins this practice, supposing no sin to be in the way, of which in answering the former objections, to which I suppose all other of weight or colour may be referred, I hope I have cleared it.
And for any unsatisfied, or otherwise minded, I wish I knew their reason, either for their good, by a sufficient answer to be given unto them; or for mine ovra, by admitting of them, as there may appear weight in them. In the meanwhile, let me entreat of the differently minded, one way or other, that they would exercise mutually that Christian charity one toward another, and compassion one of another's infirmities, which become all that will be in truth and deed followers of Christ Jesus; and which is most needful, specially in things of this kind, for the preserving of the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Which bond of peace, whilst men are not -careful to keep inviolated, by brotherly forbearance in matters of this nature, they miserably dissipate, and scatter themselves, and one another; even as the ears in a sheaf are scattered, when the bond breaketh.
But as few or no good things of any kind are so well used by some, but others as much abuse them; so is it to be feared, that there will not want, who will change their lawful liberty this way into lawless licentiousness, and so take up instead of all other religious exercises, a hearing course only.
And those specially of them, who disliking the present church-state in England, yet want due zeal and love to that, which themselves approve,—let me turn a little my speech to such, for the preventing in some, and remedying in others, of that inordinate and broken course.
And first, I demand of such, What is this course of hearing such ministers, as whose state of ministry they approve not? Is it any particular ordinance left by Christ, and enjoined all Christians in all ages and places? Verily no. It were to be wished that no church-ministry were to be found, which is not approvable by the Word of God, notwithstanding any good act performed by them that possess it. This hearing is only a work of natural liberty in itself, as I have showed, and sanctified to believers by their faith. It is lawful to use it upon occasion, as it is to borrow of other men; but to make it our course, is to live by borrowing, which no honest man that can do otherwise possibly, would do. Yea, what differs it from a kind of spiritual vagabondry in him that can mend it, though with some difficulty, to live in no certain church-state, and under no church order and government.
To print deep in our hearts the conscience of our duties this way, let us briefly consider how many bonds of necessity the Lord hath laid upon us, to walk in the fellowship, and under the ordinances of the ministerial and instituted church.
First, We have lying upon us the necessity of obedience to Christ our Lord in the commission apostolical, enjoining, that after we be made disciples, as the word is, and baptized, we be withal taught to observe whatsoever he hath Commanded, Matt. xxviii, 19, 20. It must not then suffice us, that we are disciples and Christians, but we must join herewith the entire observation of all the ordinances of Christ, as we can find means, from the greatest to the least And let us beware that, like the Scribes and Pharisees, we call none of God's commandments little, Matt. v. 19, 20, because we would make ourselves and others believe, that little and light account is to be made of observing them, lest we ourselves be called little, that is, be indeed none in the kingdom of heaven. Our sins of ignorance and human frailty, alas, are too many; let us not add thereunto presumptuous sins, either of commission or omission, to provoke God withal.
Second, The church and ministrations therein are not needless, but most needful means sanctified of God, and given of Christ for our salvation and edification thereunto, Acts ii. 47; Eph. iv. 11; which he that despiseth, that is, doth not submit his body and soul unto, as he hath means, and converse therein with good conscience, though in affliction and persecution, despiseth not man, but God and Christ, to the depriving of himself of the fruit of God's most gracious precious presence in his house and temple, where he hath promised to dwell, 1 Tim. iii. 15, and of Christ's ascension into heaven, for the pouring out of all kingly gifts and largesses upon men for the work of the ministry. 2 Cor. vi. 16.
Third, Our great infirmities, whereof both the Scriptures everywhere, and our own experience warn us, show in what great need we stand of all the Lord's holy ordinances and instructions, for the supplying of what is wanting in us, and correcting of what is amiss, and continuing and increasing of what is good, unto the coming of the Lord; where we must also take knowledge, and remember, that it is one note of difference, and the same very clear, between the wisdom of the flesh and the wisdom, of the Spirit, that the former will be sure to provide for the body and outward man what may be, though with danger and prejudice of the spiritual; the other will take care and order for the spiritual state, though the outward, pinch for it. And if any, out of the view and persuasion of his own strength of grace, come to conceive, that he stands in no such need of Christ's ordinances, or of any Christian fellowship for the dispensing of them; let such a man consider, that the less need he hath of others by reason of his greater plenty of grace received, the more need others have of him for their supply. But whatsover any imagine of himself, the apostle, who was not partial, teacheth, that the very head, the chief and highest member, cannot say to the feet, the lowest and meanest members, I have no need of you. 1 Cor. xii. 21.
Lastly, It is necessary for our sound and entire comfort with the Lord our God, that our obedience be entire in respect of all his holy commandments, which we do, or can discern to be such, and to concern us; according to that of the man of God, “Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect to all thy commandments.” Psa. cxix. 6. That so we may have our part in the testimony given by the Holy Ghost of Zacharias and Elizabeth, which was, “that they were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless,” Luke i. 5, 6; that is, both in the moral precepts, and sacred ceremonies, and institutions of the Lord, whose example we, in our place and times are to follow, not balking with the Lord in anything, great or small, nor seeking starting-holes, whereby to escape from him, in his Word, which is wholly good and pure. Prov. xxx. 5; Heb. vi. 5. Good, as coming from our good God, good in itself, and good for us, if we converse therein as we ought, in good conscience towards God, zeal for his ordinances, modesty in ourselves, and charity towards other men, specially towards them with whom God hath joined us in the most and best things, taking heed lest, by any uncharitable either judgment of, or withdrawing from, their persons, for such human frailties as unto which, into one kind or other, all Adam's sinful posterity are subject, we sin not more by our course held against them, than they by theirs in them, which God forbid.
To conclude: For myself, thus I believe with my heart before God, and profess with my tongue, and have before the world, that I have one and the same faith, hope, spirit, baptism, and Lord, which I had in the Church of England, and none other; that I esteem so many in that church, of what state, or order soever, as are truly partakers of that faith, as I account many thousands to be, for my Christian brethren, and myself a fellow-member with them of that one mystical body of Christ scattered far and wide throughout the world; that I have always, in spirit and affection, all Christian fellowship and’ communion with them, and am most ready, in all outward actions, and exercises of religion, lawful and lawfully done, to express the same; and withal, that I am persuaded, the hearing of the Word of God there preached, in the manner, and upon the grounds formerly mentioned, is both lawful and, upon occasion, necessary for me, and all true Christians, withdrawing from that hierarchical order of church government, and ministry, and appurtenances thereof; and uniting in the order and ordinances instituted by Christ, the only King and Lord of his church, and by all his disciples to be observed; and lastly, that I cannot communicate with, or submit unto the said church-order, and ordinances there established, either in state or act, without being condemned of mine own heart, and therein provoking God, who is greater than my heart, to condemn me much more. And for my failings, which may easily be too many, one way or other, of ignorance herein, and so for all my other sins, I most humbly crave pardon, first and most, at the hands of God; and so of all men, whom therein I offend, or have offended any manner of way; even as they desire and look that God should pardon their offences.
Here followeth a true copy of a letter sent to London, written by the author of the former treatise, and read in public, and by the whole consent of the Church was sent to London, in answer to a letter sent by the Church of London to the Church of Amsterdam and Leyden; which we have thought good to print, only to let the world see what the Church's opinion was, of hearing in England: the contents whereof followeth.