They who are for a Congregationall way, doe not hold absolute liber∣ty for all Religions.
BUt for all that hath been said, Are there not yet a sort of men, who though they would colour over things, & put fair glosses upon their opinions and ways, saying they would not have such an absolute liberty as to have all religions suf∣fered, yet do they not come near this in their tenets and pra∣ctise?* Doe not men in a Congregationall way take away all Ecclesiastical means that should hinder such an absolute liber∣ty as this? for they hold, every congregation hath sole Church power within it selfe, and they are not tyed to give any ac∣count to others, but meerly in an arbitrary way, will not this Page 24 bring in a toleration of all Religions, and a very Anarchy
First,* I know none holds this, and how farr men in a con∣gregationall way are from it, shall appear presently.
In the clearing of this thing, I shall not argue for one side or other, I shall only shew you that there is in effect as much means to prevent or subdue error, heresie, schisme in the con∣gregationall way, (which you call by another name) as there is in that way, other Brethren endeavour to hold forth. I am not here to plead what is right, what is wrong, but onely to shew you the difference is not great, so far as concernes this thing; what one holds, the same the other holds in effect; if this be done with clearness, then the great out-cry against that way, as fomenting divisions by opening a gap to all kind of liberty, will I hope be stilled, and your hearts in some mea∣sure satisfied. I confesse were it, as many of you are made to believe, that that way gives liberty, or at least hath no helpe against all errors & heresies, it must be acknowledged it were a means of most fearfull divisions, and in no case to be tole∣rated. But certainly you will find it far otherwise. This ar∣gument I am now about, (namely, how far Brethren agree in a matter of so great moment, and in that which they are by some thought most to disagree in, and their disagreement most feared, as a matter of dangerous consequence) I know cannot be an unpleasing argument to you, although we can∣not be ignorant that there is a generation of men that are vex∣ed when they hear how near their brethren come to them in way of agreement, it serves more for their turns to have the distance wide, they would keep open the wounds, yea widen them, but God forbid there should be such a spirit in you.
Wherefore for your help in this thing, these two things are to be premised.
1. That the only way the Church hath to keep downe er∣rors or heresies is spirituall; as for other means they are ex∣trinsicall to the Church; this all acknowledge: as for subje∣ction to the Magistrate, if he pleases to interpose, to that both they and we must yeeld.
2. The vertue of spiritual power works not upon the out∣ward man, by its prevailing upon conscience; therefore so far as men are conscientious, so far it works, and no farther.
Page 43 Now then see what difference there is in the Congregationall way from the Presbyterian, for the prevailing with mens Consciences, to reduce to the trueth those who goe astray from it.
First, Those in the Congregationall may acknowledg that [ 1] they are bound in conscience to give account of their ways to Churches about them, or to any other who shall require it; this is not in an arbitrary way, but as a duty that they owe to God and man.
Secondly, they acknowledge that Synods of others Minist∣ers [ 2] and Elders about them are an ordinance of Jesus Christ for the helping the Church against errors, schismes, and scan∣dals.
3ly. That these Synods may by the power they have from [ 3] Christ admonish men or Churches in his name, when they see evils continuing in, or growing upon the Church, and their admonitions carry with them the authority of Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, as there shall be cause, they may declare men or [ 4] Churches to be subverters of the faith; or otherwise accord∣ing to the nature of the offence, to shame them before all the Churches about them.
5ly. They may by a solemn act in the name of Jesus Christ [ 5] refuse any further communion with them, till they repent.
Sixtly, they may declare, and that also in the name of [ 6] Christ, that these erring people or Churches are not to be re∣ceived into fellowship with any the Churches of Christ, nor to have communion with one another in the ordinances of Christ. Now all this being done in Christs name, is this no∣thing to prevail with conscience?
You will say, What if they care not for all this?
That is as if you should say, What if they be not conscienti∣ous?* What if nothing can prevaile with conscience?
I demand, what can any Church-power do more to work upon mens conscience for the reducing them from evill?
You will say, They may doe all this with more authority then the Congregationall way will allow.
We need not contend about the word Authority: But, how* much higher is an act of authority in the Church, then for the Officers of Christ to act in the name of Christ?
Page 44 If you say, private Brethren may admonish, and declare in the Name of Christ.
This is more then if any private Brethren should doe the same thing; for a Synod is a solemne Ordinance of Christ, and the Elders are to be looked on as the Officers of Jesus Christ.
But our Brethren say, There is one meanes more in their way then the Congregationall way hath, that is, if the sixe former will not worke, then Synods may deliver to Satan.
In this very thing lies the very knot of the controversie be∣tween those who are for the Presbyteriall, and those who are for the Congregationall way, in reference to the matter in hand, namely the means to, reducing from, or keeping out er∣rours and heresies from the Church, in this lyes the dividing businesse; But I beseech you consider what a punctum we di∣vide here, and judg whether the cause of division in this thing be so great as there can be no help, and whether if an evil spi∣rit prevail not amongst us, we may not joyne; For,
First, consider, what is there in this delivering to Satan? which is a seventh thing that our Brethren thinke may hope∣fully prevail with mens consciences, when the sixe former cannot.
Yes, say they, for by this they are put out of the King∣dome of Christ into the Kingdome of Satan, and this will ter•ifie.
This putting out of Christs Kingdome must be understood, clave non errante, if the Synod judges right, not otherwise; Yes, this is granted by all.
Then consider, whether this be not done before, and that with an authority of Christ by those former six things; for Hereticall Congregations, or persons are judged and declared in a solemn Ordinance, by the Officers of Christ gathered to∣gether in his name, to be such as have no right in any Church-ordinance, to have no communion with any of the Churches of Christ: Now if this judgement be right, are not such persons or Congregations put out of the Kingdome of Christ, and put under the power of Sathan consequent∣ly?
What?* shall we still divide, as to devour one another, for formality and juridically, when those termes are not at all in Scripture, seeing we agree not in the substance of the thing, which may as really and fully prevaile with conscientious men, as if formality were observed? especially, if we con∣sider,
Secondly, that it is a great question amongst our Brethren, whether this traditio Satanae were not Apostolicall, peculiar to the power of Apostles, so as ordinary Elders had it not: and if it prove so, then non-communion will prove the utmost censure the Church now hath.
But thirdly, if some brethren rise to a seventh degree, and others stay at six, which yet have such a power over conscience, that if they prevaile not, the seventh is no way likely to pre∣vaile: Why should not the Apostles rule quiet us all, Phil. 3. 15, 16. whereunto we have already attained, let us walke by the same rule: If in any thing you be otherwise minded, God will reveale even this unto you. If we have attained but to six, and our brethren have attained to seven, let us walk together lovingly to the six; If God shall after reveal the seventh (we will promise to pray and study in the mean time) wee shall walke with them also: why must it needs be now urged with violence, so as to divide else? and although we hold not the seventh, yet there is an ingredient in the sixt, that hath in it the strength of the seventh? For wherein lyes the strength of the seventh above the rest? is it not in this? that it is the last meanes Christ hath appointed in his Church to worke upon the heart, this consideration hath much terrour in it: Now those in the Congregationall way say, that this is fully in the sixt, wherefore that it is as terrible to their consciences as the seventh can be to the consciences of our brethren, and that up∣on the same ground.
And consider now, my Brethren, whether the Congregatio∣nall way be such, as if it be suffered, there will be no helpe to reduce an erring or hereticall Church, but all Religions, Arrianisme, Mahumetisme, any thing must be suffered. Surely men doe not deale fairly, in raising such mighty accusations Page 46 upon such poor and weak grounds; this great aspersion, and huge out-cry, that these men would have all religions suffer∣ed, and in that way, there is no help against any Heriticall Congregations, moulders and vanishes away before you.
Let no man yet say, All this that hath been said is no∣thing.
If you be conscientious who hear them say so, your owne breasts must needs suggest an answer; surely these things would be very much to me, to prevaile with my consci∣ence.
But what if Congregations refuse to give account of their wayes? what if they will not shew so much conscientiousnesse, as to regard admonitions, declaring against them, withdrawing communion from them?
So we may say,* what if they will not regard your delive∣ring them up to Satan, but will go on still?
You will say then, you will complain to the Magistrate, his power must come in to assist, to make them regard what the Church doth.
But now you have no further help from any intrinsicall power the Church hath;* and as for subjection to the Magi∣strate, there we are upon equall ground, if he will interpose, he may assist and second the sentence of judging men subvert∣ers of faith, of withdrawing communion from them in the one, as well as the sentence of giving men up to Satan in the other; and we must still be subject here to suffer what is inflicted, if we cannot do what is required; onely we do not go so far as some do, in this one thing, whereas they lay a Law upon the consciences of Magistrates, that they are bound to assist with their power the decrees of the church, taking cognisance only of the fact of the Church, that they have thus decreed, not enquiring into the nature of the things, we dare not lay any such bond upon the Magistrates conscience.
But say, that he is to assist the Church both upon the know∣ledg of what the Church hath done, and the knowledg of the nature of the thing, seeing every private man hath this power to be judg of his own act, it were a great misery upon those who have power over men, to be denyed this power.
Page 47 If it shall be said, But surely they do not agree so far, they do not come up to these six things mentioned. To that I an∣swer, I do not in these deliver only mine own judgment, but by what I know of the judgments of all those Brethren with whom I have occasion to converse by conference both before and since; I stand charged to make it good to be their judge∣ments also; yea, it hath been both theirs and mine for divers years, even then when we never thought to have enjoyed our our own Land again; and if it be so, then let the Lord be judg between us and our Brethren, for those lowd and griev∣ous out-cryes there hath been against us in this thing.
But if the difference be so little, why doe they not come in?
We come as far as we have light to guide us, we dare not step one step in the dark; if we do, we shall certainly fall in∣to sin; whatsoever else we fall into, what ever the thing be to others, it would be our sin, if there were no other reason, but because we venture in the dark. We sayl up to our Bre∣thren as far as we can see the Line of Truth, and beyond it we dare not venture in the least.
The controversie is not about little or great trouble, or in∣convenience; if it were, such a charge might well make us blush, the inconvenience or trouble is little, yet a few men wil not yeeld to their Brethren, who are many, for peace sake, but the controversie is about sin: now whether that be little or great, the difference cannot but remain, if one part shall urge upon another that which to them is sin, as to acknow∣ledg any one thing to be a power of Christ, which he cannot see Christ hath owned in his word, must needs be; therefore the way to peace, is not the necessity of coming up one to another, because the thing is little, but the louing, and peace∣able, and brotherly carriage of one towards another, because the difference is but small.