The seventh Dividing Principle;* It is obstinacy for a man not to be convinced by the judgement of many, more lear∣ned and godly then himselfe.
THe making this to be the rule to judg obstinacy by, hath in all ages caused great divisions by exasperating the spi∣rits of ••en one against another. In times of Popery what rage Page 88 did it raise against men who were most conscientious? the generality of men thought they did God good service, in persecuting those who would not yeeld to the judgment of others, who had the repute of learning and piety; and those who were conscientious, could not yeeld to their determi∣nations, not seeing the truth of God in them, and this made the stir. VVhile men appear obstinate, by the rule of Christ we are not to bear with them; and this Principle sets thou∣sands of godly peaceable men in the seat of the obstinate, these cannot in conscience yeeld, and others cannot but in consci∣ence oppose them; what reconciliation then can there be ho∣ped? either men must captivate their consciences, cause them in a sordid way to bow down to slavery, or else there must needs be continuall division and opposition where this pre∣vailes.
I confesse such a Principle as this is would make for union amongst those who either think they need not, or through carelesnesse regard not to searth out truth, but with an im∣plicite faith take in all that shall be imposed upon them, who think ignorance of Gods mind and conscience slavery, to be no great evil; this is never urged with violence, but either by those who have given up their consciences to be serviceable to the ease and content of the flesh, or those who have, or hope to have power in their hands, to bring others in subjection to them.
Because the right informing our judgments in this, may much conduce to peace, I shall endeavour, 1. To shew you what due respect is to be given to mens judgments who are learned and godly. 2. Yet not so much as to make their judg∣ments the rule to judg men obstinate, if they differ from them. 3. VVhat then should be the rule? by what should we judg a man to be obstiate?
For the first, Certainly much respect is to be given to the learning and godlinesse of men. There is a great delusion in many mens hearts,* that makes them thinke it to be halfe Po∣pery, to give any respect to Learning; although the abuse of Learning hath done much evill, against that much hath been and may be said; but I dare avow this, that never since the be∣ginning of the world could a man be found to speak against Page 89 earning but an ignorant man; neither is it like, nay I may a∣ver, it is impossible that any but such will be found to the end of the world: Learning hath so much of God in it, that it ne∣ver had nor will have any enemy but ignorance.
1. Tim. 4. 13. Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to do∣ctrine. Ver. 15. Give thy selfe wholly to them,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Be in them. And when we see grace added to Learning, it should adde much to our esteem of such a man; it is the orient pearl in the gold ring, it is a great testimony to a way, that it is the way of good men, Prov. 2. 20. That thou maist walke in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. The judge∣ment and counsell of such is to be received with very great respect, especially if the eminencie of their grace appears in the tenderness of their spirits, that we may see much of the feare of God in them. Ezra 10. 3. Now let us make a covenant, according to the counsell of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandement of our God. And when not only some few godly men are of this mind, but when it is that which God hath sealed in the hearts of the Saints generally, very high re∣spect is to be given unto it.
Wherefore he that differs in his judgment from wise, learn∣ed, godly men, had need
First, spend much time in Prayer and Humiliation before [ 1] the Lord. There is a notable expression of Basil, cited in an Appendix of an Epistle of Luther to the Ministers of Norimberg,*who were at variance one from another: He who will separate him selfe from his brethren, had need consider many things even to anxiety; he had need break his sleep many nights, and seeke of God with many teares, the demonstration of the truth.
2ly. You must even then when you cannot subject to their judgments, preserve due reverence in your heart, and shew due respects to men of learning and grace according to their worth. We have a notable relation of that holy man. Mr. Greenham, in a Letter of his to the Bishop of Ely, in whose Di∣ocesse he lived; the Bishop seeking to bring him to confor∣mity, objected thus unto him, Why will not you yeeld? Luther [ 2] approved of these things, are you wiser then he? His sober and gra∣cious answer was, I reverence more the revealed will of God in teaching that worthy instrument of God, Mr. Luther so many ne∣cessary Page 90 things to salvation, then I search into his secret will, why hee kept backe from his knowledge other things of lesse impor∣tance.
[ 3] 3ly. If those things wherein we differ from the judgments of learned and godly men, be not matters of duty, they only may bring us to some suffering, we should silently yeeld for peace sake, and out of respect to them not opposse.
[ 4] 4ly. In all things wherein you may have any helpe from them, you should repair to them, and desire to partake of the benefit of those gifts and graces God hath bestowed upon them.
[ 5] 5ly. In all things wherein you can agree, you should be the more carefull to manifest all possible observance and res∣pect to them, in blessing God for any help he grants to you by them, either in making known his truth to you, or at least in further confirming you in it by them.
[ 6] 6ly. And in what still your consciences will not suffer you to agree with them, you are to take it as your affliction, and to account that way you are in to want a great lustre, and most desireable encouragement, in that so many learned and godly mens judgments and practices are against it.
We are to raise our respects to men of learning and godli∣ness thus high; but if we should go so high, as to give up our judgment and consciences to them, we should in honouring them, dishonour Christ, yea they would account themselves to be dishonoured.* Such as are truly godly and wise, do rather account it their honor to carry a loving respect to those who differ from them, then desire that men should, blindfold, be∣fore they see their grounds, follow them. Prelaticall spirits indeed account it their honour to force men to be of their mind; it is their glory that they can say to the consciences of men, Bow down before us. A gracious spirit abhors the thought of such a tyranny. This to high raising respects due to learned, holy men, hath been very hurtfull in the Church, prejudicial to the souls of men, but especially to the honour of Christ. I will give you an instance. Erasmus was no novice, yet how dangerously he was taken with this, will appear by a strange expression of his, in an Epistle hee wrote to one Bilibaldus: How far the authority of the Church prevails with others, Page 91 I know not; but with mee it hath that power, that I could be of the o∣pinion with Arrians and Pelagians, if the Church did but allow that which they taught. This you will say is a strange expression, co∣ming from a learned man, and one too, not addicted to the Church that then was in that excess as others were; how then did this conceit prevail with men more weak, who gave up their consciences to others through their blind superstition?
Wherefore secondly, though great respect is to be given to men holy and learned, yet not such, that a man must be judg∣ed obstinate, if hee submit not to their judgments and deter∣minations. For,
First, if a man should believe or do any thing before he sees [ 1] some other grounds besides their judgments or examples, though the thing were in it selfe never so good, yet it would be sin to him. If indeed this were enough to answer Christ, Lord, I am a poore weake man, I cannot find out thy truths my self, therefore I seeing learned godly men to be of such a judgement, and doing such things, I thought it too much presumption for mee to differ from them, therefore I also believed it to be true, and practised accordingly. This were an easie way for people to agree, and it might well be judged obstinacy to gainsay. But this ac∣count Christ will not take, for he tells us, Whatsoever is not of faith, is sinne, and the judgments and practices of godly lear∣ned men, he never made to be the rule of faith.
2ly. If God in revealing his mind to men, alwayes did it [ 2] according to the proportion of their gifts and graces, then it were too much boldnesse for any to differ from those who are most eminent; but experience tels us it is otherwise, as God causeth his rain to fall upon one field, and not upon another; and as the wind blows where it lists, so are the workings of the Spirit of God upon men. Although hee reveales to all his Saints whatsoever is absolutely necessary to salvation, yet for other truths, a man of eminent parts shall know one, a∣nother of weaker shall know another. David was a man as e∣minent for parts, & was filled with the Spirit of God as much as Nathan, both in regard of Prophesie and godliness; yet sometimes that was revealed to Nathan, which was kept hid from David. When the Book of the Law was found, and read Page 92 before Josiah, they send to Huldah the Prophetesse, yet there were Prophets in the Land at that time.
But you will say, Is it not more likely that men of learning and pi∣ety, should know what is right, and what is not, better then others?
True,* it is more likely they should; but God many times doth things which we think are not likely; that which is the most unlikely to us, God many times chooseth as best to serve his ends.
[ 3] Thirdly, If there were no other reason why a man of wea∣ker parts should differ from other, then because he is concei∣ted of his parts, thinks himselfe more able to understand then those who are far his betters, then there would be more liber∣ty to deale severely with him: But being •here may be this reason; why men who are weak, yet differ from those who are eminent, Christ hath laid this charge upon them, that they must not believe or practice any thing in the matters of Reli∣gion, but what they shall see ground for out of his word. If a man shall be jealous of himself, fearing lest his own under∣standing should mislead him; and in the use of all meanes he can, seeks to God, and yet cannnot see from Scripture the ground of those things learned and godly men have determi∣ned, and having received such a charge from Christ not to al∣ter his judgment or practice, till in the use of these meanes he should receive further light from him; what would you have this man do? If he yeelds to you, he sins against the charge of Christ and his own conscience; if he doth not, either now or after such a time you prefixe him, alter his judgment and pra∣ctice, you judg him obstinate, and in the name of Christ deale with him as such; do not you by this make that bond that Christ hath laid upon him (to do all he doth from a princi∣ple of faith) heavier then Christ would have it.
[ 4] Fourthly, the more learning, the more godliness men have, the more pains they take in finding out the truth; there is the lesse ground to judg those obstinate, who differ from them, because they differ.
You will say, How can that be? For if men be very learned and godly, and take much pains to finde out the truth, there is the more rea∣son we should believe their judgements more then our owne.
Page 93 We must indeed honour them,* then, the more; but yet the exquisitenesse of their learning, the eminency of their godli∣ness, the industry of their labours, for the finding out of truth, may excuse those from obstinacy who cannot see into the ground from the word, of all that they are able to see; for is it not more then probable, that men who are weak and excee∣dingly beneath them, should through meer weakness be una∣ble to see the rule of Scripture in those things which they have got the sight of, by the help of their great learning, god∣liness, and indefatigable labours? Can it be, that men who have not attained to that eminencie, who are not able to take so much pains in searching, that they (though they have their help added) should be able to attain to what these men so e∣minent and industrious have attained to? Can they in a few months come to see that which they have been studying, and debating one with another divers years before they could see it, can they be satisfied in their consciences of the mind of Christ, when these eminent men, for a long time could hard∣ly satisfie one another? yea, it may be after all the helpe of their learning, godliness, and painfull labours, they look up∣on many things but as probable, as more likely to be so then otherwise, they have not a Plerophory in their own hearts; and shall those who doe not see ground enough for the foot of Faith to settle upon, be judged, and dealt with as obstinate? Because they yet are not of their mind, (God forbid.)
Fifthly, there is much danger in making this to be the rule; [ 5] for if to go against the judgment of godly and learned men be obstinacy now, ere long it may come to this, that to goe a∣gainst those in place, who have power in their hand, shall be obstinacy, whatsoever they be; for who dare question their learning and piety? Whatsoever miscarriages these shal be in after ages in bringing men unlearned & ungodly into place; yet those must be judged as gulty of obstinacy who are not of the same judgment they shall be of, and into what a case then have we brought our selves.
If you shall say, True, our case would be sadde, but we must venture it, there is no helpe, better an inconvenience then a mischiefe.
But here will be not an inconvenience only but a mischief?*Page 94 In civil things this indeed must be ventured, for there we are not bound to understand the reason and ground of all things; but if nothing appeare to be contrary to the rules of justice and piety, we are to submit; but in the matters of Religion it is otherwise, we must understand the ground of all from the word; therefore those who shall lay downe such a position, that we may deal with these men as obstinate, by the Ordi∣nance of Christ, who after two or three admonitions shal not be of the same judgment, and do the same things that learned and godly men determine, do bring the Church into greater bondage then they are aware of.
[ 6] 6ly. Learned and godly men yet have flesh as well as spirit, & private engagements do often sway much even with them: Here with us we know how the greater number of learned and godly men goe, but in New-England the greater number of learned and godly men goe another way. Lately the grea∣ter number of learned and godly men in old England did judg submission to Prelaticall power in the Church, and practice of Ceremonies, and use of Common-prayer to be lawfull, I hope it is not so now.
[ 7] 7ly. If it be alwayes obstinacy not to believe or practise what they judg should be believed and practised, then some∣times it will be obstinacy not to believe and practise a con∣tradiction; for we know some learned and godly men deter∣mine one thing, some determine the contrary; yea, often∣times they are contrary to themselves.
[ 8] 8ly. It is against the rule of the Apostle, Try all things, keep that which is good, abstain from all appearance of evill. If after the tryall of Prophesie, there be but an appearance of evill, we are not bound to abstain.
[ 9] 9ly. We know by our own experience, we have differed from many more learned and godly men then our selves, and yet our consciences did excuse us before God, that we did it out out of obstinacy, that if our lives had lain upon it, wee could not for the present have helped it.
But if wee shall not judge men that goe against the determinati∣on of those who are most able to judge, then every man may do what seems good in his owne eyes, and so there will be nothing but confusion.
Page 95 Not so neither,* though this be not the rule to judg men to be obstinate by; yet men may by some other rules be judged to be so, and dealt with accordingly; as those by which we judged, whether the evill be in a mans conscience or in his will, especiall these four.
First, If the thing wherein men differ, be against the com∣mon [ 1] principles of Christianity; then such as will take up∣on them the profession of Christianity, doe involve them∣selves in the guilt of obstinacy, if they goe against those things.
Secondly, In other things, if their carriages be turbulent, [ 2] and altogether unbeseeming a Christian differing from his Brethren.
Thirdly, where there is neglect of those means of reforma∣tion, [ 3] which he hath nothing to say against.
Fourthly, If he so crosses his own principles, that he ap∣pears to be self-condemned.