An assertion of the government of the Church of Scotland in the points of ruling-elders and of the authority of presbyteries and synods with a postscript in answer to a treatise lately published against presbyteriall government.
Gillespie, George, 1613-1648.

CHAP. II. Of the independencies of the Elderships of particular Congregations.

WEE have now rolled away one stone of offence, but there is another in our way. It were most strange, if the col∣lective body of a Congregation, consisting it may bee of 10, 20, 30, or 40 persons, according to the grounds of these with whom we deale, should bee permitted to exercise independently all Eccleasisticall Jurisdiction: but it is almost as great a Pa∣radox, to say, that the representative of every Congregation, which is the Eldership ther∣of, consisting it may be of a Pastor, and two or three Ruling Elders, ought independent∣ly Page  113 to exercise the foresaid jurisdiction in all points.

I am debtor to D. Field, for answering one of those questions before propounded, concerning Ruling Elders, and here it falls in my hand. He asketh whether the power of Church-government and jurisdiction, doth belong to the Pastor and Elders of every Congregation, or to the Pastors and Elders of many Congregations joyned together in a Common Presbytery. I beleeve his ex∣pectation was, that while as we would sayle through betwixt the Caribdis of Episcopall tyranny, and the Scylla of popular Anarchy, wee should not know ho to direct our course, but should certainly either bee swal∣lowed up in the waves of mighty difficul∣ties, or split our selves upon hid Rockes of division. Our danger, I hope, is not so great as he did imagine; for we hold that the parti∣cular Elderships of severall Congregations have their owne power and authority of Church-government, but with a subordina∣tion unto the common or greater Presbyte∣ry, whose power is superior and of a larger extent.

First, then we shall take into considerati∣on, the bounds of the power of particular Elderships, and how the same may be said to be independent, and how not, for this pur∣pose, Page  124 I shall give foure distinctions out of Parker, and to these I shall adde other foure of my owne.*

The first distinction is, betwixt things which are proper and peculiar to one Con∣gregation,* and things which are common to many: the former pertaineth to the parti∣cular Eldership, the latter to the common Eldership: Whence it commeth that in Scotland the cases of ordination, suspension, deposition, and Excommunication, are de∣termined in the greater Presbyteries, because it doth not concerne one Congregation a∣lone, but many, who be taken into the com∣mon Presbytery, and who be put out of the sam, neither doth the Excommunication of a sinner concerne onely one Congregati∣on, but the Neighbouring Congregations also, among whom (as is to be commonly suppo∣sed▪ the sinner doth often haunt & converse. Cyprian speaking of the admission of some who had fallen, and who had no recommen∣dation from the Martyrs to be received a∣gaine, referreth the matter to a common meeting, and his reason is, because it was a common cause, and did not concerne a few, nor one church onely. See lib. 2. Ep. 14.

The second distinction is betwixt Con∣gregations, Page  125which have a competent and well-qualified Eldership, & small Congregations, who have but few office-bearers, and those (it may be) not sufficiently able for Church-govern∣ment. In this case of insufficiencie, a Congre∣gation may not independently, by it selfe, exer∣cise jurisdiction, and not in re propria, saith Parker.

3. He distinguisheth betwixt the case of right administration, and the case of aberra∣tion: whatsoever liberty, a Congregation hath in the former case, surely in the latter it must needs be subject and subordinate. If particular Elderships doe rightly manage their owne matters of Church-government, the grea∣ter Presbytery shall not need for a long time (it may be for some yeares) to intermeddle in any of their matters, which wee know by expe∣rience in our owne Churches.

4. Hee maketh a distinction betwixt the case of appellation and the case, de nulla ad∣ministratione mala praesumpta. Though the particular Eldership hath proceeded aright, though it consist of able and sufficient men, and though it bee in re propria, yet if one think himselfe wronged, and so appeale, then is it made obnoxious to a higher consistory, Page  126 for saith Parker, as the Councill of Sardis ordaineth audience must, not bee denyed to him who entreateth for it.

*So saith Zepperus, speaking of the same purpose, cuivis integrum quoque sit ad superi∣ores gradus provocare, si in inferioris gradus sententia aut decreto aliquid desideret.

5. Adde unto these a distinction betwixt a Congregation, lying alone in an Iland, Province, or Nation, and a Congregation bordering with sister Churches. If either there be but one Congregation in a King∣dome or Province, or if there be many farre distant one from another, so that their Pa∣stors and Elders cannot ordinarily meete together, then may a particular Congrega∣tion doe many things by it selfe alone, which it ought not to doe, where there are adjacent neighbouring Congregations, together with which, it may, and should have a common Presbytery.

6. Let us put a difference betwixt the sub∣ordination of one Congregation to ano∣ther, or of ore Eldership to another, and the subordination of any Congregation, and of Page  127 the Eldership thereof to a superior, Presby∣tery or Synod made out of many Congre∣gations, as one provinciall Synod is not sub∣ject to another Provinciall Synod, yet all the Provinciall Synods in the Nation are subjet 〈◊〉 the Nationall Synod, so it is also with the ordinary consistories, one particu∣lar Eldership is not subject to another, yet all the particular Elderships within the bounds of the common Presbytery are sub∣ject to the same. So that there is a vast dif∣ference betwixt this subordination which we maintaine, and the subordination of all the Parishes in a Diocesse to the Praelate and his Cathedrall. Where Douname doth object that all the Parishes of Geneva are Hierarchically subject to the Presbytery in the city, Parker denieth this, nisi quis &c. vnlesse saith he,*peradvēture one may be subject to himselfe, for the Parishes, each for their owne part, and that alihe, are this same Pres∣bytery. And after, Consistorium &c. for the Consistory of the Cathedrall Church is an ex∣ternall meeting, divers distinct and separate from the rurall Churches, which are no part thereof, this cannot be said of the Presbytery of Geneva.

7. Wee must distinguish betwixt a de∣pendance absolute, and, in some respect, a Congregation doth absolutely depend upon Page  128 the holy Scriptures alone, as the perfect rule of faith and manners, of worship and of Church-government, for we accurse the ty∣ranny of Prelates, who claimed to them∣selves an autocratoricke power over Congre∣gations,* to whom they gave their naked will for a Law. One of themselves told a whole Synod that they ought to esteeme that best which seemeth so to Superiors, and that this is a sufficient ground to the conscience for obeying, though the thing be inconvenient. We say, that Congregations ought indeed to be subject to Presbyteries and Synods, yet not absolutely, but in the Lord, and in things lawfull, and to this purpose the constituti∣ons of Presbyteries and Synods are to bee examined by the judgement of Christian discretion, for a Synod is Iudex Iudicandus, and Regula regulata, so that it ought not to be blindly obeyed, whether the ordinance be convenient or inconvenient.

Last of all we are to distinguish betwixt the condition of the Primitive Churches, before the division of Parishes, and the state of our Churches now after such division. At the first when the multitude of Chri∣stians in those great cities of Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, &c. was not divided into severall Parishes, the common Presbytery in the Page  129 city did suffice for the government of the whole, and there was no need of a particular consistory of Elders, for every assembly and Congregation of Christians within the city, except perhaps to admonish, rebuke, exhort, or to take notice of such things as were to be brought into the common Presbyterie. But after that Parishes were divided, and Christian Congregations planted in the ru∣rall villages, as well as in the cities, from henceforth it was necessary that every Con∣gregation should have at hand within it selfe, a certaine Consistory for some acts of Church-government, though still those of greater importance were reserved to the greater Presbyterie. And thus have J, out of desire to avoid unnecessary questions, set downe my conceptions concerning the El∣derships of particular Congregations, and the power of the same.

If it be said, that I seeme to deny the di∣vine right of the same, or that they have a∣ny warrant from the patterne of the Aposto∣like Churche. I answer. I acknowledge the conformity of the same with the patterne thus farre. 1. It is to bee suposed that in some small cities (especially the same not being wholly converted to the Christian faith) there was but one Christian Con∣gregation, the Eldership whereof did Page  130 manage matters of jurisdictiō proper there∣to. 2. Even in the great cities, at the first there was but one Congregation of Christi∣ans, and so but one particular Eldership. 3. After that the Gospell had spread, and Chri∣stians were multiplied in those great cities, it is true, they were all governed by a com∣mon Presbytery, but that Presbytery was not remote, but ready at hand among thēselves. Now in this we keepe our selves as closse to the patterne, as the alteration of the Chur∣ches condition by the division of Parishes will suffer us, that is to say, we have a com∣mon Presbytery for governing the Congre∣gations within a convenient circuit, but withall our Congregations have, ad manum, among themselves, an inferior Eldership for lesser acts of Government; though in respect of the distance of the seate of the common Presbytery from sundry of our Parishes, they can not have that ease and benefit of nearenesse, which the Apostolique Churches had, yet by the particular Elderships they have as great ease of this kinde as conveni∣ently can be.