Quest. 136. How shall we know what parts of Scripture Precept or Example, were intended for universal constant obligations, and what were but for the time and persons that they were then directed to?
Answ. IT is not to be denyed, but some things in Scripture, even in the New Testament, are not Laws, much less universal and perpetual. And the difference is to be found in the Scripture it self. As,
1. All that is certainly of universal and perpetual obligation, which is but a Transcript of the Uni∣versal and perpetual Law of Nature.
2. And all that which hath the express Characters of Universality and Perpetuity upon it: And such are all the substantial parts of the Gospel; As [Except ye Repent, ye shall all perish, Luke 13. 3, 5. Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, John 3. 3, 5. He that believeth in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life, John 3. 16. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, and he that believeth not, shall be damned, Mark 16. 16. Without Holiness none shall see God, Heb. 12. 14. Go, preach the Gospel to all Nations, baptizing them, &c. teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. Matth. 28. 19, 20.] Abundance such Texts have the express Characters of Universality and Perpetuity (which many call Morality).
3. And with these we may number those which were given to all the Churches, with commands to keep them, and propagate them to posterity.
4. And those that have a plain and necessary connexion, to these before mentioned.
5. And those which plainly have a full parity of reason with them: And where it is evident that the Command was given to those particular times and persons, upon no reasons proper to them alone, but such as were common to all others. I deny not but (as Amesius noteth after others) many ceremonial and temporary Laws, are urged (when they are made) with natural and perpetual motives: But the reasons of making them were narrower, what ever the reasons of obeying them may be.
On the other side, Narrow and temporary precepts and examples, 1. Are void of all these fore∣said characters. 2. They are about Materials of temporary use. 3. Or they are but the ordering of such customes as were there before, and were proper to those Countreys. 4. And many speeches are plainly appropriated to the time and persons. 5. And many actions were manifestly occasional, with∣out any intimation of reason or purpose of obliging others to imitation.
For instance, 1. Christs preaching sometimes on a Mountain, sometimes in a Ship, sometimes in a House, and sometimes in the Synagogues, doth shew that all these are lawful in season on the like occasion: But he purposed not to oblige men to any one of them alone.
2. So Christs giving the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, in an upper room, in a private house, af∣ter Supper, to none but Ministers, and none but his family, and but to twelve, and on the fifth day of the Week only, and in the gesture of a decumbent leaning sitting; all these are plainly occasional, and not intended as obliging to imitation: For that which he made a Law of, he separated in his speeches, and commanded them to do it in remembrance of him till his coming. And Paul ex∣poundeth the distinction, 1 Cor. 11. in his practice.
So the promise of the Spirit of Revelation and Miracles is expounded by the event, as the feal of the Gospel and Scripture, proper to those times in the main.
So the primitive Christians selling their estates, and distributing to the poor, or laying it down at the Apostles feet, was plainly appropriated to that time, or the like occasions, by the Reason of it; which was suddenly to shew the world what the belief of Heaven through the promises of Christ, could make them all, and how much their Love was to Christ and one another, and how little to the world: And also by the cessation of it, when the persecutions abated, and the Churches came to any setlement; Yea, and at first it was not a thing commanded to all, but only voluntarily done.
So the womens Vail, and the custome of kissing each other as a token of Love, and mens not wear∣ing long hair, were the customes of the Countrey there ordered and improved by the Apostles about sacred things; but not introduced into other Countreys that had no such custome.
So also Anointing was in th•se Countreys taken for salubrious, and refreshing to the body, and a ceremony of initiation into places of great honour; Whereupon it was used about the sick, and Gods giving the gift of healing in those times was frequently conjunct with this means. So that hence the anointing of the sick came up; and the antient Christians turned it into an initiating Ce∣remony, Page 894 because we are Kings and Priests to God. Now these occasions extend not to those Coun∣treys where Anointing neither was of such use, or value, or signification.
So also Pauls becoming a Jew to the Jews, and being shaved, and purifying himself, and circum∣cising Timothy, are evidently temporary complyances in a thing then lawful, for the avoiding of offence, and for the furtherance of the Gospel; and no obligatory perpetual Law to us. And so most Divines think the eating of things strangled and blood were forbidden for a time to them only that conversed with the Jews, Acts 15. Though Beckman have many Reasons for the perpetuity, not contemptible.
So the Office of Deaconesses (and some think of Deacons) seemeth to be fitted to that time, and state, and condition of Christians. And where the Reasons and Case is the same, the Obligations will be the same. In a word, the Text it self will one way or other shew us, when a Command or Example is universally and durably obligatory, and when not.