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.
Page  148

CHAP. IV. Of the authority of Synods Provinciall and Nationall.

TOuching Synods, I shall first shew what their power is, and thereafter give arguments for the same. The power of Jurisdiction which wee ascribe un∣to Synods, is the same in nature and kinde with that which belongeth to Presbyteries, but with this difference, that Presbyteries doe exercise it in an ordinary way, and in matters proper to the congregations within their circuit. Synods doe exercise this pow∣er in matters which are common to a whole province, or nation; or if in matters proper to the bounds of one Presbytery, it is in an extraordinary way; that is to say, when ei∣ther Presbytery hath erred in the managing of their owne matters, or when such things are transferred to the Synod from the Pres∣bytery, whether it be by appellation or by reference.

The power of Jurisdiction, whereof I speake is threefold, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. So it is distinguished by our writers, Page  149 and all these three doe in manner foresaid be∣long unto Synods. In respect of Articles of faith or worship, a Synod is Iudex or Testis: In respect of externall order and policie in circumstances, a contriver of a Canon, or 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 In respect of heresie, schisme, obstinacie, contempt and scandall, Vindex: not by any externall coactive power (which is peculiar to the Magistrate) but by spirituall censures.

The dogmaticke power of a Synod, is not a power to make new Articles of faith, nor new duties and parts of divine worship, but a power to apply and interpret those Articles of faith, and duties of worship which God hath set before us in his written Word, and to declare the same to be inconsistent with emergent heresies and errours. To this pur∣pose it is that the Apostle calleth the Church the pillar and ground of truth,*〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, not 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which may be expounded ei∣ther in sensu forensi, the Church is the pub∣licke witnesse, notifier and keeper of truth; even as in Courts and places of judgement, there are pillars to which the Edicts of Ma∣gistrates are affixed, that people may have no∣tice thereof: or in sensu architectonico▪ as the Church by her faith is built upon Christ, or (wch is all one) upon the doctrine and truth of Page  150 Christ, contained in the writings of the Pro∣phets and Apostles, and leaneth thereto: so by her Ministery she upholdeth, under-pro∣peth, and conserveth this same truth, lest, as the Prophet speaketh, Truth fall in the streets, & perish among men. Truth standeth fast in the Church, and is kept firme, while it is profes∣sed, preached, propugned and maintained a∣gainst all contrary errour and heresie. In the same sense saith the Apostle, that unto the Jewish Church were committed the Oracles of God,* by them to be kept, interpreted, propa∣gated, &c.

By the Diatakticke power a Synod may institute, restore, or change, according to the condition and exigence of the Church, the externall circumstances in the worship of God, and Ecclesiasticall discipline: I meane those circumstances which are common both to civill and sacred Societies, the conve∣niencie whereof is determinable by the light of Nature, alwayes observing the generall rules of the Word, which commandeth that all bee done to the glory of God, that all bee done to edifying, that all bee done in order and decencie, that we give none offence, that wee support the weake, that we give no place to the enemies of the truth, nor symbolize with Idolaters, &c. Now for avoiding dis∣order Page  151 and disconformity in a Nation profes∣sing one Religion, it is fit that Nationall Sy∣nods give certaine directions and rules even concerning these rites and circumstances, not having therein an Arbitrary or Autocratorke power, but being alwayes tied to follow the rules foresaid.

The Criticke power of a Synod, is not a Lordly imperious dominiering over the flocke of Christ, which is not to bee ruled with force and cruelty; but it is the power of spirituall censures, as excommunication, deposition, and the like, most necessary for the repressing of heresie, errour, obstinacie in wickednesse, and scandals, otherwise in∣corrigible. Without this power, schismes and offences could not bee cured, but should the more increase; whileas liberty is left to heretickes, schismatickes, and obstinate per∣sons, without any censure to pester and di∣sturb a whole Nation, without any regard to the constitutions of a Nationall Synod.

But may one say, if the Decrees of a Synod concerning matters of Faith or Worship, may and ought to bee examined by the sure rule of the word of God, and onely to be re∣ceived when they doe agree therewith; and if also the constitutions of a Synod in exter∣nall circumstances, doe not binde, except ex Page  152 aquo & bono, and propter justas mandandi causas: or, as Divines speak, in casu scanda∣li & contemptus, and not for the meere will or authority of a Synod; and if therefore all Christians are by the private judgement of Christian discretion, following the light of Gods Word and Spirit, to try and examine all decrees and constitutions of any Synod whatsoever, to know whether they may law∣fully receive the same, as our Divines main∣taine and prove against Papists. If these things be so, it may seeme contrary to Chri∣stian liberty, and to the Doctrine of Prote∣stant Writers, that Synods should exercise the foresaid Criticke power, or inflict any spirituall censures, at least upon those who professe, that after examination of the de∣crees or constitutions, they cannot bee per∣swaded of the lawfulnesse of the same.

Ans. 1. Our Divines by those their tenents, meane not to open a doore to disobedience and contempt of the ordinances of a Synod, but onely to oppugne the Popish errour con∣cerning the binding power of Ecclesiasticall lawes, by the sole will and naked authority of the law-maker, & that Christian people ought not to seek any further reason or motive of o∣bedience. 2. A Synod must ever put a dif∣ference betwixt those who out of a reall Page  153 scruple of conscience, doe in a modest and peaceable way, refuse obedience to their or∣dinances, still using the meanes of their bet∣er information, & those who contemptuously or factiously disobey the same, labouring with all their might to strengthen themselves in their errour, and to perswade others to be of their minde. 3. This objection doth mi∣litate no lesse against Ecclesiasticall censures in a particular congregation, then in a Natio∣nall Synod. And they who doe at all ap∣prove of Church censures to be inflicted up∣on the contemptuous and obstinate, shall put in our mouthes an answer to objections of this kinde.