Church-government and church-covenant discussed, in an answer of the elders of the severall churches in New-England to two and thirty questions, sent over to them by divers ministers in England, to declare their judgments therein. Together with an apologie of the said elders in New-England for church-covenant, sent over in answer to Master Bernard in the yeare 1639. As also in an answer to nine positions about church-government. And now published for the satisfaction of all who desire resolution in those points.
Mather, Richard, 1596-1669., Mather, Richard, 1596-1669. Apologie of the churches in New-England for church-covenant., Peters, Hugh, 1598-1660., Davenport, John, 1597-1670.

But what shall be said of the Congregations in England, if Churches*must be combined by Covenant? Doth not this doctrine blot out all those Congregations out of the Catalogue of Churches? For what ever Covenant may be found in the reformed Churches in other parts, yet it is plaine that the English have none.

Though we deny not but the Covenant in many of those Con∣gregations* is more implicite and not so plaine as were to be desi∣red; (and what is amisse in them, in their materialls, or in want of explicite combining of pure matter, or many of their wayes, wee will not take upon us to defend) yet we hope we may say of them with Master Parker, Polit. Eccles. lib 3. cap. 16. § 1. pag. 167.

Non abost ea realis & substantialis (quanquam magis quàm parrat implicita) coitio in foedus, eaque voluntaria professio fidei substantia∣lis: quâ (Deo gratia) essentiam Ecclesiae idque visibilis hacusque sartam tectam in Angliâ conservavit; That is, there wants not that reall and substantiall comming together, (or agreeing in Cove∣nant, though more implicae then were meete) and that sub∣stantiall profession of Faith, which (thanks be to God) hath preserved the essence of visible Churches in England unto this day.

The reasons why wee are loath to say, that the Congregations in England are utterly without a Covenant, are these:

First, Because there were many Christian Churches in Eng∣land in the Apostles time, or within a while after, as Master Fox sheweth at large, Act. & Mon. lib. 2. beginning pag 137. where he reporteth out of Gildas, that England received the Gospel in the time of Tiberius the Emperour, under whom Christ suffered, and that Joseph of Arimathea was sent of Philip the Apostie from France to England about the yeare of Christ 63. and remained in England all his time, and so he with his fellowes layd the first foundation Page  37 of Christian Faith among the Britaine people, and other Prea∣chers and Teachers comming afterward, confirmed the same and increased it. Also the said Master Fox reporteth out of Tertullian, that the Gospel was dispearsed abroad by the sound of the Apo∣stles into many Nations, and amongst the rest into Britaine, yea into the wildest places of Britaine, which the Romans could never attaine unto: and alledgeth also out of Ni••phorus, that Simon Zelotes did spread the Gospel to the West Ocean, and brought the same into the Iles of Britaine: and sundry other proofes he there hath for the same point. Now if the Gospel and Christian Reli∣gion were brought into England in the Apostles times, and by their means, it is like that the English Churches were then consti∣tuted by way of Covenant, because that was the manner of con∣stituting Churches in the Apostles time, as also in the times asore Christ, as hath been shewed from the Scripture before in this dis∣course. And if Christian Congregations in England were in those times combined by Covenant, then eternitie of Gods Covenant is such, that it is not the interposition of many corruptions that may arise in after times that can disanull the same, except when men wilfully breake Covenant and reject the offers of the Gospel through obstinacy, which we perswade our selves they are not come unto: and consequently the Covenant remaines which hath preserved the essence of Churches to this day; though the mix∣ture of manifold corruptions, have made the Covenant more im∣plicite then were meete.

Secondly, Because there want no good Records (as may be seene in Seldens History of Tithes) to prove that in former times in England it was free for men to pay their Tithes and Oblations where themselves pleased: Now this paying of Tithes was ac∣counted as a dutie of people to their Minister, or sheepe to their Pastour: and therefore seeing this was by their owne voluntary agreement and consent, their joyning to the Church as members thereof, & to the Ministery thereof as sheepe of such a mans flock, was also by their owne voluntary agreement and consent: and this doth imply a Covenant •• was not the precincts of Parishes that did limit men in those dayes, but their owne choice.

Thirdly, Those Questions and Answers ministred at Baptisme, spoken of before, (viz. Dost thou renounce? I doe renounce: doest thou beleeve? I doe beleeve: doest thou promise? I doe promise) as they Page  38 were used in other places, so were they also in England, and are unto this day, though not without the mixture of sundry corrup∣tions. Now this doth imply a Covenant. And when the children came to age, they were not to be admitted to the Lords Supper, before they had made personall Confession of their owne Faith, and ratified the Covenant which was made at their Baptisme by their Parents, which course indeed afterward did grow into a Sacrament of Confirmation, but that was an abuse of a good Or∣der.

If here it be said, that the Members of the Parishionall Assem∣blies are not brought in by their owne voluntary profession, but by the Authority and Proclamation of the Prince, and therefore they have no such Covenant.

The Answer is, that the Christian Prince doth but his dutie when he doth not tollerate within his Dominions any open Idola∣try, or the open worship of false Gods by baptized persons, but suppresseth the same: and likewise when he gives free libertie to the exercise of all the Ordinances of true Religion, according to the minde of Christ, with countenance also and encouragement unto all those whose hearts are willingly bent thereunto, Ezra. 1. 1. 3. & 7. 13. And therefore this practise of his cannot overthrow the freenesse of mens ioyning in Church▪ Communion, because one dutie cannot oppose nor contradict another. And suppose that this course of the Magistrate should seeme to be a forcing of some to come in for members who were unfit, (in which case it were not justifiable) yet this doth not hinder the voluntary sub∣jection of others, who with all their hearts desired it. When the Israelites departed out of Aegypt, there went a mixed multitude with them, many going with them that were not Israelites in∣deed, Exod. 12. And in the dayes of Mordecay and Hesther, many of the people of the lands became Jewes, when the Jewes were in favour and respect, Est. 8. 17. and so joyned to them not of their owne voluntary minde, nor of any sincere heart towards God, but meerely for the favour or eare of men; yet this forced or seined joyning of some could not hinder those that were Israelites indeed from being Israelites, nor make the Jewes to be no Jewes, no Church-members.

And the same may be said in this case, Suppose the Magistrates Proclamation should be a cause, or an occasion rather, of bringing Page  39 some into the Church, who came not of their owne voluntary minde, but for feare, or for obteining favour, yet this cannot hin∣der, but others might voluntarily and freely Covenant to be sub∣ject to the Gospel of Christ: Such subjection and the promise of it being the thing which themselves did heartily desire, though the Magistrate should have said nothing in it.

If any shall hereupon inferre, that if the Parishionall Assem∣blies be Churches, then the members of them may be admitted to Church priviledges in New England, before they joyne to our Churches: Such one may finde his Answer in the Answer to the tenth of the thirty-two Questions; Whereunto we doe referre the Reader for this point. Onely adding this, that this were contrary to the judgement and practise of the Reformed Churches, who doe not admit a man for member without personall profession of his Faith, and joyning in Covenant, though he had formerly been a member of a Church in another place, as was shewed before out of Master Parker.

Lastly, If any say, that if these reasons prove the English Con∣gregations to have such a Covenant as proves them to be Chur∣ches, then why may not Rome, and the Assemblies of Papists goe for true Churches also? For some man may thinke that the same things may be said for them that here in Answer to this eleventh Objection are said for the Parishes in England: Such one must re∣member two things: first, that we doe not say simply, a Cove∣nant makes a company a true Church, but (as was said before) a Covenant to walke in such wayes of worship to God and edifi∣cation of one another, as the Gospel of Christ requireth. For who doubts▪ but there may be an agreement among theeves, Pro. 1. A confederation among Gods enemies, Psal. 83. A conspiracy among the Arabians, the Ammonites and Ashdodites, to hinder the building of Hierusalem, Neh. 4. 7, 8. And yet none of these are made true Churches by such kind of confederacies or agreements. And so wee may say of the Assemblies of Papists, especially since the Counsell of Trent. If there be any agreement or confederacy among them, it is not to walke in the wayes of the Gospell, but in wayes contrary to the fundamentall truths of the Gospel, as Ido∣latry in worship, Heresie in doctrine, and other Antichristian pol∣lutions and corruptions: and therefore if they combined in these things, such combinations will never prove them true Churches. Page  40 The Church is the Pillar and ground of truth, 1 Tim. 3. 15. But the Religion of Papists is so farre from truth, that whosoever li∣veth and beleeveth according to it, without repentance, cannot be saved. Witnesse their doctrine in the point of vilifying the Scriptures, and in point of free-will, and of Justification by works, of the Popes Supremacy, of the Sacrifice of the Masse, of worship∣ping of Images, &c. In regard of which, and such like, the Holy Ghost saith, that their Religion is a Sea, become as the bloud of a dead man, and every soule in that Sea dyeth, Rev. 16. 3. And there∣fore agreement in such a Religion will never prove them to be true Churches; nor any Assemblies of Arrians, Antitrinitaries, Anabaptists, or Famelists, supposing them also to be combined by Covenant among themselves.

But now for the Assemblies in England, the case is farre other∣wise; for the Doctrine of the Articles of Religion which they professe, and which they promise to hold and observe (though some things are amisse in some of those Articles, and though ma∣ny persons live contrary in their lives) yet the doctrine is such that whosoever beleeveth, and liveth according to it, shall undoubted∣ly be saved, and many thousands have been saved therein▪ and therefore Assemblies united by Covenant to observe this doctrine may be true Churches, when the Assemblies of Papists and others may be false, although they also were combined by Covenant: the reason of the difference rising from the difference that is in the doctrine and Religion which they severally professe, and by Co∣venant binde themselves to observe, the one being fundamentally corrupt, and consequently pernicious: The other in the funda∣mentall points Orthodoxall and sound.

Secondly, It must be remembred also (which was intimated be∣fore) that if fundamentall corruptions be professed in with impe∣nitency and obstinacy, then God may disanull the Covenant on his part, and give a Bill of divorce to such a people, Jere. 3. 8. Now experience and the Scripture also doth witnesse of the Jesui∣ted and Trent-Papists, that they repented not of the workes of their hands, of worshipping Devills, and Idolls of Gold, &c. nei∣ther repented they of their murthers, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts, Rev. 9. 20, 21.

But now for the Parish Assemblies in England, we hope that we may safely say, they doe not sinne of obstinacy, but of ignorance, Page  41 having not been convinced (and many of them never having had means to be convinced) of the corruptions that are amongst them, in respect of their constitution, and worship, and Ministery, and so the Covenant remaining among them, may prove them to be Churches, when it cannot stand the Papists in like stead, they be∣ing impenitent and obstinate: Which we doe not speake to ju∣stifie the Parishes altogether, as if there were not dangerous cor∣ruptions found in them, nay rather (the Lord be mercifull to the sinnes of his people) wee may lament it with teares, that in respect of their members and Ministery, in respect of their worship and walkings, in many of those Assemblies there are found such appa∣rent corruptions, as are justly grievous to a godly soule, that is enlightened to discerne them, and greatly displeasing to the Lord, and indeed had need to be repented of betime, least otherwise the Lord remove the Candlesticke and unchurch them, Rev. 2. 5. In a word, the corruptions remaining are just causes of repen∣tance and humiliation: but yet in as much as the Articles of Re∣ligion, which they professe, containe such wholesome doctrine, that whosoever beleeveth and walketh according thereunto, in sinceritie, shall undoubtedly be saved, and in as much as the cor∣ruptions are not persisted in with obstinacy, therefore wee deny not but they have the truth of Churches remaining.