The fourth dividing practise,* Gathering of Churches disorderly.
THis is cryed out of as the greatest dividing practice of all: You may speak of this or that to be dividing amongst us, say some, but above all things, this Gathering of Churches is the great divider amongst us.
To this I shall speak in these six things.
First, it is not absolutely unlawfull for a Church to be gathe∣red out of a Church. Voetius that learned Professor of Ʋiretcht,* answering Jansenius, pleading against us for seperating from the Romish Church, which was the most ancient and famous Church: No, sayes he, it is not absolutely evill to separate from such a Church, for then the Christians gathering themselves out of the Jewish Church were Schismaticks, which is false.
Doctor Jackson, a Prelaticall man, in the 14. Chapter of his Treatise of the Church, gives two reasons which he sayes are just and necessary, for which men (whether few or many) may and ought to seperate themselves from any visible Church. First, because they are urged or constrained to professe or beleeve, some points of doctrine,* or to adventure upon some practices which are contrary to the rule of Faith or love of God. Second, in case they are utterly deprived of freedome of Conscience in professing what they inwardly beleeve, or bereft of some other meanes, either alto∣gether necessary, or most expedient to salvation. For which lat∣ter he quotes, 1 Cor. 7. 23. Ye are bought with a price, bee not ye servants of men. Although (sayes he) we were perswaded that we could communicate with such a Church, without evident danger of damnation, yet inasmuch as we cannot communicate with it upon any better termes, then legall servants or bondslaves doe with their Masters, we are bound in conscience and religious discretion, when lawfull occasions and opportunities ore offered, to use our liberty, and to seeke our freedome rather then to live in bondage.
This doctrine was allowed of in the Bishops times. Now sup∣pose upon these two grounds there be a withdrawing from a Church, Christ does no where require his people to live without Page 163 Ordinances all their dayes, rather then they should joyne them∣selves together into another body.
Secondly, yet where these causes are not, but men may com∣municate [ 2] without sinne, professing the truth, and enjoy all or∣dinances, as the freemen of Christ. Men must not seperate from a Church, though there be corruption in it, to gather into a new Church which may be more pure, and in some respects more comfortable. First, because we never finde the Saints in Scrip∣ture seperating or raising Churches in such a case: and secondly, There would be no continuance in Church fellowship, if this were admitted: for what Church is so pure, and hath all things so comfortable, but within a while another Church will be more pure, and some things will be more comfortable there? The generall peace of the Church should be more regarded by us, then some comfortable accommodations to our selves.
Thirdly, Although you cannot for the present communicate [ 3] with the Church, in which you are, without sinne, or bondage, yet you are not presently to withdraw, to gather into another, or to joyne with another, you are bound to give so much re∣spect to the Church, as to continue with much long-suffering, to seeke the good of that Church, to remove the sinne that is upon it, with all good meanes you can. You must beare much with a brother, much more with a Church.
Fourthly, If things were in that ordered and settled way, as [ 4] they ought, there ought to be no gathering of any new Church∣es without consulting and advising with neighbour Churches, Christ would have all Churches unite themselves, and have con∣junction one with another, being all of the same body of Christ: If then there be to be raised a new Sister Church, that expects and is to desire the benefit of Communion with the rest, there is all the reason in the world that the helpe, advice, and assistance of the other Churches should be made use of in the raising and ordering this Church that they are thus to owne in the way of communion with them to whom they are to give the right hand of fellowship.
Fifthly, All beleevers who live in a place together, ought [ 5] so far as they can, joyne into one Church, though they be of dif∣ferent judgements and tempers, what ever things they differ in, yet if they may stand with grace they can have no encourage∣ment Page 164 from the examples of any of the Churches, we read of in Scripture, for them to divide themselves into little pieces. The way of Christ all along in Scripture is, that all the Saints in such a place, who are not more then can joyne in one, should joyne together and make but one Church; certainly this is more for the honour of Christs Body then the division of Saints in the same place into severall little societies, Christ stands much upon the union of his Saints in one, in all wayes, by all meanes that may be.
[ 6] Sixtly, as things are yet with us, there is no such great rea∣son of that outcry there is amongst us against gathering of Churches as so great a dividing practice as many seeme to make it.
How can this practise be so very offensive, when almost all of you thinke it lawfull for a man for any commodiousnesse to remove from that Church of which now he is, to joyne with a∣nother, sobeit he will remove his dwelling?
But these do not set up new Churches.
If a company of men who have estates,* should not be satisfied with that Ministery that belongs to that company that now they are joyned with, and should buy a piece of ground close to the place where they were, and build upon it, and have leave of the State to make a new Parish of those dwellings they build; who would blame them for gathering a Church thus? Hence it is apparent, that withdrawing from our Churches, and gathering other, is not according to the judgements of our Brethren against any Church Principle; the offence that is, is onely against some civill constitution.
[ 2] Secondly, this thing in effect hath been ordinarily practiced heretofore without any offence to the godly; yea, and is still practiced without any complaint: Hath it not beene and is it not still ordinary for many not to communicate in the Parishes where they live? nor commonly to heare there, but from all parts of the City to come to some Parishes where they con∣ceive the best Ministers to be, and there to heare and commu∣nicate, and this in a constant way, and that with allowance to the maintenance of such Ministers? yea, and thus the Husband goes one way, and the Wife another, and yet none offen∣ded; it may be the Gentleman can content himselfe with his Page 165 Parish-Church, but his wife or Lady is not satisfied, but must go elsewhere.
If it be said, But this was in a time when things were in great confusion, not so reformed as now they are, and we hope may further be.
Then it is not howsoever simply unlawfull.*
2. It continues so still in many places of this City.
3. When you have reformed further, it may be mens con∣sciences will bee further satisfied; you may reforme so farre as you may prevent much of what you now complaine so much of.
But though they came for their present reliefe, yet they did not binde themselves one to another by Covenant, so as men now doe.
If those who came constantly to your Ministry and Sacra∣ments had professed their willingnesse to joyne with you in all the Ordinances of Christ so farre as they knew,* and to walke accordingly, you might the more comfortably have administred ordinances to them, but offensive to you it could not have been.
But their Covenant bindes them so,* that they cannot returne back againe, whatsoever reformation there be.
Doe you pray for and endeavour the putting on Reformation to the uttermost,* and then see what they will doe; they have not yet declared themselves, that they hold themselves so joyn∣ed by any Covenant, that they may not joyne with you; that what releife they have had for the present time, or what agree∣ment there hath been amongst themselves, should hinder them from falling into that way all along held forth in Scripture; namely, for all the Saints that live together, to joyne in one, so farre as possible they can.
But these who gather Churches thus, looke upon all others who are not in that way as Heathens; and what division must this needs make?
If this were so,* it were a sad dividing practice indeed; wick∣ed men cannot endure to be thus judged of, to be cast out as un∣worthy of Church-fellowship, much lesse can the Saints bee able to beare it, it must needes go neerer to their hearts. Aben Ezra sayes, the Ammonites and Moabites burnt the bookes of the Law, because of that place, Deut. 23. 3. An Ammonite or Page 166 Moabite shall not enter into the Congregation of the Lord, even to their tenth Generation. If an Ammonite or Moabite cannot beare the being shut out of the Congregation of the Lord,* how can the Saints beare it? But God knows, and our Brethren may know, I hope they shall know, that the thing is not so: O no, they looke upon you as the precious Saints of God, their deare Brethren in Jesus Christ, they blesse God for the graces they see in you, and rejoice in the hope of living eternally in Heaven with you.
But why then will they not admit them to their commu∣nion?
In all worship that belongs to Saints,* as Saints they joyfully joyne with them; but they thinke there is some that belongs to Saints as gathered in a Society under Officers, which cannot be performed orderly but in that way; and they think it unrea∣sonable, that any should have the benefit of the priviledges of the Church, and be under no power, no discipline of any Church; that they should pick and choose Ordinances, and yet live at li∣berty; so that if they walke disorderly, no Church hath any power to call them to an account. Suppose this to be a reason why they admit not of some, this is another thing then the judging of them to be Heathens.
Let me say further, I know none of these congregated Chur∣ches, either here or in other parts, that ever refused any who appeared to be godly, from communicating with them, if they did but acknowledge themselves to be members of any Church elsewhere, though that Church were in a differing way from it in respect of government.
You will say, What need that?
If it be to prevent loosenesse in men who will be under no government,* if it be because they judge Sacramentall communi∣on to be a Church-Ordinance; or if it should be through a mi∣stake, yet howsoever this must not be judged to be the cause that they judge all, that doe not joyne with them to be as Hea∣thens▪ this is the most uncharitable interpretation that can be.