WHEREIN IT IS PROVED
THAT THE PRESBYTERIAN GOVERNMENT, BY PREACHING AND RULING ELDERS, IN SESSIONAL, PRESBYTERIAL, AND SYNODICAL ASSEMBLIES, MAY LAY THE ONLY LAWFUL CLAIM TO A DIVINE RIGHT, ACCORDING TO THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
A NEW EDITION, CORRECTED AND AMENDED.
* * * * * BY SUNDRY MINISTERS OF CHRIST WITHIN THE CITY OF LONDON.
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TO WHICH IS ADDED
EXTRACTS FROM SOME OF THE BEST AUTHORS WHO HAVE WRITTEN ON CHURCH GOVERNMENT,
CONCERNING THE SCRIPTURAL QUALIFICATIONS AND DUTIES OF CHURCH MEMBERS; THE SOLE RIGHT OF GOSPEL MINISTERS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL; THE PEOPLE'S DIVINE RIGHT TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN PASTORS;
AN ABSTRACT OF THE ARGUMENTS OF THE GREAT DR. OWEN (THOUGH A PROFESSED INDEPENDENT) IN FAVOUR OF THE DIVINE RIGHT OF THE OFFICE OF THE RULING ELDER.
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NEW YORK: R. MARTIN & CO., 26 JOHN-STREET.
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THE EDITOR TO THE READER.
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After what the authors of the following Treatise have said in their preface, the Editor judges it unnecessary for him to detain the reader long with any observations of his upon the subject. He, however, could sincerely wish that the friends of Christ would pay that attention to the government and discipline of his Church which it justly deserves. Although this subject should not be placed among the things essential to the being of a Christian; yet if it be found among the things that Christ has commanded, it is at our peril if we continue wilfully ignorant of, or despise it. He has expressly declared, that he who breaks one of the least of his commandments, and teacheth men to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. It is an opinion too common, that if we believe the essentials of religion, there is no occasion for so much preciseness about the forms of church government, which are only circumstantials, as there will be no inquiry made about these at the tribunal of Christ. But whatever relative importance the things of religion may have, when compared with one another, we ought to reckon nothing which God hath appointed, nothing which Jesus hath ratified with his blood, nothing which the Holy Spirit hath indited, so circumstantial, as to be unworthy of our serious regard. It is at least very rash, if not presumptuous, to say, that nothing about the circumstantials of religion will be inquired into at the tribunal of Christ. God has expressly said, that every work, good or evil, every idle word, and every deed done in the body, shall be brought into judgment; and false worshippers will, perhaps, find that their form of worship consisted in something worse than idle words, or sinful words either, even in sinful deeds, for which they will be accountable at the judgment. As Christ laid down his life for his people, has instructed them, and has set a hedge about all that they have, it would be most ungrateful to requite him with pouring the highest contempt on his kingly honor and authority; and when his worship is polluted, his truth perverted, and the walls of his New Testament Zion broken down, to care for none of those things. Government and discipline are the hedge of his garden, the Church; and how will what men call the essentials of religion remain in their glory, when this is broken down, the present state of affairs can sufficiently attest, when the most damnable errors are propagated with impunity.
In our times the enemies of the scriptural order of the house of God are very numerous and very active, exerting all their power to break down the carved work of God's sanctuary. The present spirit for novelty and innovation, together with the rage for infidelity so prevalent, strongly favors the opposition made to every thing which has a tendency to bind men closely to God, to his truths, to the purity of his worship and ordinances, or to one another by a holy profession. The design, therefore, of republishing this Treatise is to assist Presbyterians of all denominations in the understanding of those passages of Scripture upon which their wall is built, that they be not led aside by the cunning speeches of false teachers, whereby they deceive and draw aside the hearts of the simple.
This work was first published at London, at the time when the controversy between the Presbyterians and ancient Independents ran very high, and every intelligent and unprejudiced reader will see, that the Holy Scriptures have been carefully perused, accurately compared, wisely collected, and judiciously explained, in order to evince that the Presbyterian government has the only lawful claim to a divine right, and is the only form appointed by Christ in his Church. It is, therefore, to be wished, that all his people would endeavor, in the strength of Divine grace, to observe the laws of his house, and to walk in all his ordinances and commandments blameless.
Considerable pains have been taken to make this edition more easily understood by common readers than the former, and yet several difficult and hard words have passed unnoticed. The Latin quotations from the Fathers have been omitted, because they contain nothing materially different from what is in the body of the work, and modern Independents pay little regard to any human authorities but their own. It was proposed to have added a few extracts from Messrs. Rutherford and Gillespie, but upon looking into their works nothing of consequence was observed, that tended to cast any new light upon the subject. It is hoped, however, that the Appendix is filled up with extracts from other authors upon subjects of considerable importance, and very necessary for these times, concerning the scriptural qualifications and duties of church members; the divine right of the gospel ministry; the people's divine right to choose their own pastors; with an abstract of Dr. Owen's arguments in favor of the divine right of the ruling elder: and as there are many serious Christians who have not a capacity to take up and retain a long chain of reasoning, a summary of the whole Treatise is given by way of question and answer as a conclusion.
The Editor is not to be understood as approving of, or vindicating every single sentiment, or mode of expression, used in this Treatise: at the same time, next to the Holy Scriptures, he recommends it as one of the best defences of presbytery which he has seen.
That it may be blessed of God for informing the ignorant, settling the wavering, and establishing the believers of the present Truth, is the earnest desire of,
Your humble servant in the Gospel,
Paisley, 28th February, 1799.
TO THE PIOUS AND JUDICIOUS READER.
Thou hast in the ensuing treatise, 1st, a brief delineation of the nature of a divine right, wherein it consists, and how many ways a thing may be accounted of divine right, according to the Scriptures; as also, 2d, a plain and familiar description of that church government which seems to have the clearest divine right for it, and (of all other contended for) to be the most consonant and agreeable to the word of Christ; which description (comprehending in itself the whole frame and system of the government) is in the several branches thereof explained and confirmed by testimonies or arguments from Scripture; more briefly, in particulars which are easily granted; more largely, in particulars which are commonly controverted; yet as perspicuously and concisely in both as the nature of this unusual and comprehensive subject insisted upon would permit. Things are handled rather by way of positive assertion, than of polemical dissertation, (which too commonly degenerates into verbal strifes, 1 Tim. vi. 3, 4; 2 Tim. ii. 23; and vain-jangling, 1 Tim. i. 6,) and where any dissenting opinions or objections are refuted, we hope it is with that sobriety, meekness, and moderation of spirit, that any unprejudiced judgment may perceive, that we had rather gain than grieve those who dissent from us; that we endeavor rather to heal up than to tear open the rent; and that we contend more for truth than for victory.
To the publication hereof we have been inclinable (after much importunity) principally upon deliberate and serious consideration of, 1st, the necessity of a treatise of this kind; 2d, the advantage likely to accrue thereupon; and, 3d, the seasonable opportunity of sending it abroad at such a time as this is.
I. The necessity of a treatise of this nature, is evident and urgent. For,
1. We hold ourselves obliged, not only by the common duty of our ministerial calling, but also by the special bond of our solemn covenant with God, especially in Art. 1, to bend all our best endeavors to help forward a reformation of religion according to the word of God, which can never be effected without a due establishment of the scripture-government and discipline in the Church of God. And to make known what this government is from the law and testimony, by preaching or writing, comes properly and peculiarly within the sphere of our place and vocation.
2. A cloud of darkness and prejudice, in reference to this matter of church government, too generally rests upon the judgments and apprehensions of men (yea of God's own people) among us, either, 1st, through the difficulty or uncommonness of this matter of church government, (though ancient and familiar in other reformed churches, yet new and strange to us;) or, 2d, through the strange misrepresentations that are made hereof, by those that are small friends to the true presbyterial government, or that are enemies to all church government whatsoever; or, 3d, through the different opinions about church government, which are to be found among pious people and ministers: by all which the weak and unstable minds of many are cast into a maze of many confused thoughts and irresolutions.
3. Though many learned treatises have been published, some whereof have positively asserted, others have polemically vindicated divers parts of church government, and the divine right thereof, yet hitherto no treatise of this nature is extant, positively laying open the nature of a divine right, what it is, and a system of that government, which is so, and proving both by the Scriptures; without which, how shall the judgments and consciences of men be satisfied, that this is that church government, according to the word of God, which they have covenanted to endeavor to promote, and whereto they are obliged to submit? And since it is our lot to travel in an unbeaten path, we, therefore, promise to ourselves, from all sober and judicious readers, the greater candor and ingenuity in their measuring of our steps and progress herein.
II. The advantage which may probably accrue hereupon, we hope shall be manifold: For, 1. Who can tell but that some of them, that in some things are misled and contrary-minded, may be convinced and regained? and it will be no small reward of our labors if but one erring brother may be brought back. 2. Some satisfaction may redound to such as are of doubtful, unresolved minds, by removing of their doubts and scruples, and ripening of their resolutions, to settle more safely in point of church government. 3. Those that as yet are unseen in the matter of church government, or that want money to buy, or leisure to read many books upon this subject, may here have much in a little, and competently inform themselves of the whole body of the government. 4. Consequently upon the attaining of the former ends, the work of reformation will be much facilitated and smoothed, the hearts of the people being prepared for the Lord and his ordinances. 5. The present attempt (if it reach not to that completeness and satisfactoriness which is desired) may yet incite some of our brethren of more acute and polished judgments to embark themselves in some further discoveries for the public benefit of the Church. 6. But though it should fall out that in all the former we should be utterly disappointed, we shall have this peace and comfort upon our own spirits, that we have not hid our talent in the earth, nor neglected to bear witness to this part of Christ's truth, touching the government of his Church, by his kingly power, wherein Christ was opposed so much in all ages, Psalm ii. 1, 2, 3; Luke xix. 14, 27; Acts iv., and for which Christ did suffer so much in a special and immediate manner, as some have observed. For this end Christ came into the world, (and for this end we came into the ministerial calling,) to bear witness to the truth.
III. Finally, the present opportunity of publishing a treatise on this subject doth much incite and encourage us therein. For at this time we are beginning, in this province of London, (and we hope the whole kingdom will, with all convenient speed, and due caution, second us,) to put that covenanted church government into actual execution, which we have a long time intended in our deliberate resolutions. So that generally we shall be engaged in the government one way or other, either as acting in it as the church officers, or as submitting to it as church members: now, how shall any truly conscientious person, either act in it, or conform and submit unto it with faith, judgment, and alacrity, till he be in some competent measure satisfied of the divine right thereof?
Will mere prudence, without a divine right, be a sufficient basis to erect the whole frame of church government upon, as some conceive? Prudentials, according to general rules of Scripture, may be of use in circumstantials, but will bare prudentials in substantials also satisfy either our God, our covenant, our consciences, or our end in this great work of reformation? What conscientious person durst have a hand in acting as a ruling elder, did he not apprehend the word of God holds forth a divine right for the ruling elder? Who durst have a hand in the censures of admonishing the unruly, excommunicating the scandalous and obstinate, and of restoring the penitent, were there not a divine right hereof revealed in the Scripture, &c. Now, therefore, that ruling elders, and the rest of the people, may begin this happy work conscientiously, judiciously, cheerfully, in some measure perceiving the divine right of the whole government, wherein they engage themselves, cleared by Scripture, we hope, by God's blessing, that this small tract will afford some seasonable assistance, which will be unto us a very acceptable recompense.
Thus far of the nature of this treatise, and the grounds of our publishing thereof. In the next place, a few doubts or scruples touching church government here asserted, being succinctly resolved, we shall preface no further.
Doubt 1. Many scruple, and much question the divine right of the whole frame of church government; as, 1. Whether there be any particular church government of divine right? 2. What that government is? 3. What church officers or members of elderships are of divine right? 4. Whether parochial or congregational elderships be of divine right? 5. Whether classical presbyteries be of divine right? 6. Whether provincial, national, and ecumenical assemblies be of divine right? 7. Whether appeals from congregational to classical, provincial, national, and ecumenical assemblies, and their power to determine upon such appeals, be of divine right? 8. Whether the power of censures in the congregational eldership, or any other assembly, be of divine right? 9. Whether there be any particular rules in the Scripture directing persons or assemblies in the exercise of their power? 10. Whether the civil magistrates, or their committees' and commissioners' execution of church censures be contrary to that way of government which Christ hath appointed in his Church?
Resol. To all or most of these doubts some competent satisfaction may be had from this treatise ensuing, if seriously considered. For, 1. That there is a church government of divine right, now under the New Testament, declared in Scripture, is proved, Part I. 2. What that government is in particular, is evidenced both by the description of church government, and the confirmation of the parts thereof by Scripture, Part. II. chap. 1, and so to the end of the book: whereby it is cleared that the presbyterial government is that particular government which is of divine right, according to the word of God. 3. What ordinary church officers, (members of the several elderships,) are of divine right, is proved, Part II, chap. 11, sect. 1, viz. pastors and teachers, with ruling elders. 4. That parochial or congregational elderships, consisting of preaching and ruling elders, are of divine right, is manifested, Part II. chap. 12. 5. That classical presbyteries, or assemblies, and their power in church government, are of divine right, is demonstrated, Part II. chap. 13. 6. That synodical assemblies, or councils in general, (consequently provincial, national, or ecumenical councils in particular,) and their power in church government, are of divine right, is cleared, Part II. chap. 14. 7. That appeals from congregational elderships, to classical and synodical assemblies, from lesser to greater assemblies associated, and power in those assemblies to determine authoritatively in such, appeals, are of divine right, is proved, Part II. chap. 15. 8. That the power of church censures is in Christ's own church officers only as the first subject and proper receptacle there of divine right, is cleared, Part II. chap. 11, sect. 2, which officers of Christ have and execute the said power respectively, in all the ruling assemblies, congregational, classical, or synodical. See section 3, and chap. 12, 13, 14, 15. 9. That the Scriptures hold forth, touching church government, not only general, but also many particular rules, sufficiently directing both persons and assemblies how they should duly put in execution their power of church, government. This is made good, Part II. chap. 4; and those that desire to know which are these rules in particular, may consult those learned centuriators of Magdeburg, who have collected and methodically digested, in the very words of the Scripture, a system of canons or rules, touching church government, as in the preface to those rules they do profess, saying, touching things pertaining to the government of the Church, the apostles delivered certain canons, which we will add in order, &c., the very heads of which would be too prolix to recite. 10. Finally, that neither the supreme civil magistrate, as such, nor consequently any commissioner or committees whatsoever, devised and erected by his authority, are the proper subject of the formal power of church government, nor may lawfully, by any virtue of the magistratical office, dispense any ecclesiastical censures or ordinances: but that such undertakings are inconsistent with that way of government which Christ hath appointed in his Church, is evidenced, Part II. chap. 9, well compared with chap. 11.
Doubt 2. But this presbyterial government is likely to be an arbitrary and tyrannical government, forasmuch as the presbyters of the assembly of divines and others (who, Diotrephes-like, generally affect domineering) have desired an unlimited power, according to their own judgments and prudence, in excommunicating men from the ordinances in cases of scandal.
Resol. A heinous charge, could it be proved against the presbyterial government. Now for wiping off this black aspersion, consider two things, viz: I. The imputation itself, which is unjust and groundless; II. The pretended ground hereof, which is false or frivolous.
I. The imputation itself is, that the presbyterial government is likely to be an arbitrary and tyrannical government. Ans. How unjust this aspersion! I. What likelihood of arbitrary conduct in this government, that is, that it should be managed and carried on according to men's mere will and pleasure? For, 1. The presbyterial government (truly so called) is not in the nature of it any invention of man, but an ordinance of Christ; nor in the execution of it to be stated by the will of man, but only by the sure word of prophecy, the sacred Scriptures. This government allows not of one church officer at all; nor of one ruling assembly made up of those officers; nor of one censure or act of power to be done by any officer or assembly; nor of one ordinance to be managed in the Church of God, but what are grounded upon, and warranted by the word of God. This government allows no execution of any part thereof, neither in substantials, nor circumstantials, but according to the particular, or at least, the general rules of Scripture respectively. And can that be arbitrary, which is not at all according to man's will, but only according to Christ's rule, limiting and ordering man's will? Or is not the Scripture a better and safer provision against all arbitrary government in the Church, than all the ordinances, decrees, statutes, or whatsoever municipal laws in the world of man's devising, can be against all arbitrary government in the commonwealth? Let not men put out their own eyes, though others would cast a mist before them. 2. Who can justly challenge the reformed presbyterial churches for arbitrary proceedings in matters of church government, practised in some of them for above these fourscore years? Or where are their accusers? 3. Why should the presbyterial government, to be erected in England, be prejudged as arbitrary, before the government be put in execution? When arbitrary conduct appears, let the adversaries complain. 4. If any arbitrary conduct hath been discovered in any reformed church, or shall fall out in ours, it is or shall be more justly reputed the infirmity and fault of the governors, than of the government itself.
II. What probability or possibility of tyranny in the presbyterial government? For, 1. Who should tyrannize, what persons, what ruling assemblies? Not the ministers; for, hitherto they have given no just cause of any suspicion, since this government was in hand: and they are counterpoised in all assemblies with a plurality of ruling elders, it being already studiously provided that there be always two ruling elders to one minister: if there be still two to one, how should they tyrannize if they would? Neither ministers nor ruling elders are likely to tyrannize, if due care be taken by them, whom it doth concern, to elect, place, and appoint, conscientious, prudent, and gracious ministers and ruling elders over all congregations. Nor yet the ruling assemblies, lesser or greater; for in the presbyterial government all lesser ruling assemblies (though now at first, perhaps, some of them consisting of more weak and less experienced members) are subordinate to the greater authoritatively; and persons aggrieved by any mal-administrations have liberty to appeal from inferior to superior: and the very national assembly itself, though not properly subordinate, yet is it to be responsible to the supreme political magistracy in all their proceedings so far as subjects and members of the commonwealth.
III. How can they tyrannize over any? Or in what respects? Not over their estates: for they claim no secular power at all over men's estates, by fines, penalties, forfeitures, or confiscations. Not over their bodies, for they inflict no corporal punishment, by banishment, imprisonment, branding, slitting, cropping, striking, whipping, dismembering, or killing. Not over their souls; for, them they desire by this government to gain, Matth. xviii. 15; to edify, 2 Cor. x. 8, and xiii. 10; and to save, 1 Cor. v. 5. Only this government ought to be impartial and severe against sin, that the flesh may be destroyed, 1 Cor. v. 5. It is only destructive to corruption, which is deadly and destructive to the soul. Thus the imputation itself of arbitrary conduct and tyranny to the presbyterial government is unjust and groundless.
II. The pretended ground of this aspersion is false and frivolous. The presbyters of the Assembly of Divines, and others (Diotrephes-like, affecting pre-eminence) have desired an unlimited power, according to their own prudence and judgment, in keeping men from the ordinances in cases of scandal not enumerated. Ans. 1. The presbyters of the Assembly and others, are so far from the domineering humor of Diotrephes, that they could gladly and heartily have quitted all intermeddling in church government, if Jesus Christ had not by office engaged them thereto; only to have dispensed the word and sacraments would have procured them less hatred, and more case. 2. They desired liberty to keep from the ordinances, not only persons guilty of the scandals enumerated, but of all such like scandals, (and to judge which are those scandals, not according to their minds unlimitedly, but according to the mind of Christ in his word, more sure than all ordinances or acts of Parliament in the world.) And was this so hideous a desire? This liberty was desired, not for themselves, but for well-constituted elderships. As great power was granted by the very service-book to every single curate; (see the Rubric before the communion.) A perfect enumeration and description of scandals can be made in no book but in the Scriptures; and when all is done, must we not refer thither? All scandals are punishable, as well as any, and to inflict penalties on some, and not on others as bad or worse, is inexcusable partiality. Why should not presbyteries duly constituted, especially the greater, be accounted, at least, as faithful, intelligent, prudent, and every way as competent judges of what is scandal, and what not, according to the Scriptures, and that without arbitrary conduct and tyranny, as any civil court, committees, or commissioners whatsoever? Ruling church assemblies are intrusted with the whole government in the church, consequently with this, and every part. The best reformed churches allow to their presbyteries power to keep from the ordinances scandalous persons, not only for scandals enumerated, but for scandals of like nature not enumerated, with some general clause or other, as may appear in eight several churches, according to the allegations here in the foot-note; and, therefore, no new thing is desired, but what is commonly practised in the reformed churches, whom we should imitate so far as they lead us on towards purity and perfection.
Doubt 3. But the independent government seems to be a far more excellent way, and it is embraced by many godly and precious people and ministers.
Ans. 1. What true excellency is there at all in the whole independent government, save only in those particulars wherein it agrees with the presbyterial government; and only so far as it is presbyterial? Therefore, the presbyterial government is equally, yea, primarily and principally excellent. Wherein is the excellency of the independent way of government? 1st. Have they only those officers which Christ himself hath appointed, pastors and teachers, ruling elders and deacons? So the Presbyterians. 2d. Have they those spiritual censures, of admonishing, excommunicating, and receiving again into communion, which Christ ordained in his Church, for guarding his ordinances, and well guiding of the flock? So the Presbyterians. 3d. Have they congregational presbyteries duly elected, and constituted for the exercise of all acts of government, proper and necessary for their respective congregations? So the Presbyterians. 4th. Have they liberty of electing their own officers, pastors, elders, and deacons? So the Presbyterians. 5th. Have they power to keep the whole lump of the Church from being leavened, and purely to preserve the ordinances of Christ, from pollution and profanation, &c.? So the Presbyterians, &c. So that whereinsoever the independent government is truly excellent, the presbyterial government stands in a full equipage and equality of excellence.
II. What one true excellence is there in the whole independent government in any one point, wherein it really differs from the presbyterial government? Take for instance a few points of difference.
In the independent government.
No other visible Church of Christ is acknowledged, but only a single congregational meeting in one place to partake of all ordinances.
The matter of their visible Church must be to their utmost judgment of discerning such as have true grace, real saints.
Their churches are gathered out of other true visible churches of Christ, without any leave or consent of pastor or flock; yea, against their wills, receiving such as tender themselves, yea, too often by themselves or others, directly or indirectly seducing disciples after them.
Preaching elders are only elected, not ordained.
Ruling elders also preach.
The subject of church government is the community of the faithful.
The church officers act immediately as the servants of the church, and deputed thereby.
All censures and acts of government are dispensed in single congregations ultimately, independently, without all liberty of appeal from them to any superior church assembly; so the parties grieved are left without remedy.
There are acknowledged no authoritative classes or synods, in common, great, difficult cases, and in matters of appeals, but only suasive and consultative; and in case advice be not followed, they proceed only to a non-communion.
In the presbyterial government.
One general visible Church of Christ on earth is acknowledged, and all particular churches; and single congregations are but as similar parts of that whole.
The matter of the Church invisible are only true believers, but of the Church visible persons professing true faith in Christ, and obedience to him according to the rules of the Gospel.
Parochial churches are received as true visible churches of Christ, and most convenient for mutual edification. Gathering churches out of churches, hath no footsteps in Scripture; is contrary to apostolical practice; is the scattering of churches, the daughter of schism, the mother of confusion, but the stepmother to edification.
Preaching elders are both elected and ordained.
Ruling elders only rule, preach not, 1 Tim. v. 17.
The subject of church government is only Christ's own church officers.
The church governors act immediately as the servants of Christ, and as appointed by him.
All censures and acts of government are dispensed in congregational presbyteries subordinately, dependently, with liberty of appeal in all cases to presbyterial or synodal assemblies; where parties grieved have sufficient remedy.
There are acknowledged, and with happy success used, not only suasive and consultative; but also authoritative classes and synods, in cases of great importance, difficulty, common concernment, or appeals; which have power to dispense all church censures, as need shall require.
Let these and such like particulars in the independent way, differing from the presbyterial, be duly pondered, and then let the impartial and indifferent reader judge, whether they be not the deformities, at least the infirmities of that way.
III. How many true excellences are there in the way of the presbyterial government, wherein it utterly surpasses the independent government! Read but the particulars of the former parallel in the presbyterial government, and then consider how far this transcends, yea, how the independent government is indeed no government at all, to the presbyterial government; wherein is to be found such ample provision, and that according to the word of God, for comely order against confusion; for peace and unity of the Church against schism and division; for truth of the faith against all error and heresy; for piety and unblamableness against all impiety and scandal of conversation; for equity and right against all mal-administrations, whether ignorant, arbitrary, or tyrannical; for the honor and purity of all Christ's ordinances against all contempt, pollution, and profanation; for comfort, quickening, and encouragement of the saints in all the ways of Christ; and consequently for the honor of God and our Lord Jesus Christ in all the mysterious services of his spiritual sanctuary: all which rich advantages, how impossible is it they should ever be found in the independent government so long as it continues independent? And what though some pious minister and people embrace the independent way! This dazzles not the eyes of the intelligent, but of the infirm; we are to be regulated by Scripture warrant, not by human examples. The best of saints have failed in the ecclesiastical affairs; what a sharp contention was there between Paul and Barnabas, Acts xv. 39, &c.; what a dangerous dissimulation was there in Peter, the Jews, and Barnabas! Gal. ii. 11, 12, 13, &c.; and, therefore, it is not safe, prudent, or conscientious, to imitate all the examples of the best, and yet how few are those that have engaged themselves in the independent way, in comparison to the multitude of precious ministers and people, inferior to them neither in parts, learning, piety, nor any other spiritual gift, who are for the presbyterial way of church government! Notwithstanding, let all the true Israel of God constantly follow, not the doubtful practices of unglorified saints, but the written pleasure of the most glorious King of saints; and as many as walk according to this rule, peace shall be on them, and upon the Israel of God.
THE DIVINE RIGHT OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
OF THE NATURE OF A DIVINE RIGHT: AND HOW MANY WAYS A THING MAY BE OF DIVINE RIGHT.
That there is a Government in the Church of DIVINE RIGHT now under the New Testament.
Jesus Christ our Mediator hath the government (both of the Church, and of all things for the Church) laid upon his shoulder, Isa. ix. 6, and to that end hath all power in heaven and earth given to him, Matth. xxviii. 18, John v. 22, Ephes. i. 22. But lapsed man (being full of pride, Psal. x. 2, 4, and enmity against the law of God, Rom. viii. 7) is most impatient of all government of God and of Christ, Ps. ii. 1, 2, 3, with Luke xix. 14, 27; whence it comes to pass, that the governing and kingly power of Christ hath been opposed in all ages, and especially in this of ours, by quarrelsome queries, wrangling disputes, plausible pretences, subtle policies, strong self-interests, and mere violent wilfulness of many in England, even after they are brought under the oath of God to reform church government according to the word of God. Yet it will be easily granted that there should be a government in the Church of God, otherwise the Church would become a mere Babel and chaos of confusion, and be in a far worse condition than all human societies in the whole world: and that some one church government is much to be preferred before another, yea, before all other; as being most desirable in itself, and most suitable to this state; otherwise, why is the Prelatical government rejected, that another and a better may be erected instead thereof? But the pinch lies in this, Whether there be any government in the Church visible of divine right? And, if so, which of those church governments (which lay claim to a divine right for their foundation) may be most clearly evinced by the Scriptures to be of divine right indeed? If the former be convincingly affirmed, the fancy of the Erastians and semi-Erastians of these things will vanish, that deny all government to the Church distinct from that of the civil magistrate. If the latter be solidly proved by Scripture, it will appear, whether the monarchical government of the pope and prelates; or the mere democratical government of all the people in an equal level of authority, as among the Brownists; or the mixed democratical government of both elders and people within their own single congregation only, without all subordination of Assemblies, and benefit of appeals, as among the Independents; or rather the pure representative government of the presbytery or church rulers only, chosen by the people, in subordination to superior synodical assemblies, and with appeals thereto, as it is among the Presbyterians, be that peculiar government which Jesus Christ hath left unto his church, by divine right, and in comparison of which all others are to be rejected.
To draw things therefore to a clear and speedy issue about the divine right of church government, let this general proposition be laid down—
The Scriptures declare, That there is a government of DIVINE RIGHT in the visible Church of Christ now under the New Testament.
This is evident, 1 Cor. xii. 28, God hath set some in the Church, first, Apostles, secondly, Prophets, thirdly, Teachers—Helps, Governments; in which place these things are plain: 1. That here the Apostle speaks of the visible Church: for he had formerly spoken of visible gifts and manifestations of the Spirit given to profit this Church withal, ver. 7 to 12. He also compares this Church of God to a visible organical body, consisting of many visible members, ver. 12, 13, &c. And in this 28th verse he enumerates the visible officers of this Church. 2. That here the Apostle speaks of one general visible Church; for he saith not churches, but church, in the singular number, that is, of one; besides, he speaks here of the Church in such a latitude as to comprehend in itself all gifts of the Spirit, all members, and all officers, both extraordinary and ordinary, which cannot be meant of the church of Corinth, or any one particular church, but only of that one general Church on earth. 3. That this general visible Church here meant, is the Church of Christ now under the New Testament, and not under the Old Testament; for he mentions here the New Testament officers only, ver. 28. 4. That in the visible Church now under the New Testament, there is a government settled; for besides Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers, here is mention of another sort of officer distinct from them all, called, in the abstract, Governments, a metaphor from pilots, mariners, or shipmasters, who by their helm, card, or compass, cables, and other tacklings, guide, and order, turn and twine the ship as necessity shall require; so these officers called Governments, have a power of governing and steering the spiritual vessel of the Church; thus, Beza on this place, says he declares the order of Presbyters, who are keepers of discipline and church polity. For how improperly should these, or any officers be styled Governments in the Church, if they had not a power of government in the Church settled upon them? Nor can this be interpreted of the civil magistrate; for, when the Apostle wrote this, the Church had her government, when yet she had no civil magistrate to protect her; and when did God ever take this power from the Church and settle it upon the civil magistrate? Besides, all the other officers here enumerated are purely ecclesiastical officers; how groundless then and inconsistent is it under this name of Governments to introduce a foreign power, viz. the political magistrate, into the list and roll of mere church officers? Finally, the civil magistrate, as a magistrate, is not so much as a member of the visible Church, (for then all Pagan magistrates should be members of the Church,) much less a governor in the Church of Christ. 5. That this government settled in the Church is of divine right; for, of those Governments, as well as of Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers, it is said, God hath set them in the Church. God hath set them, hath put, set—Tremellius out of the Syriac. Hath constituted, ordained—Beza out of the Greek. Now, if they be set in the Church and God hath set them there, here is a plain divine right for government in the Church.
Add hereto, 2 Cor. x. 8, "Of our authority, which the Lord hath given to us for the edification, and not for the destruction of you." Here are mentioned—1. Church power or authority for government in the Church. 2. The end of this power—positively, for the edification; negatively, not for the destruction of the Church. 3. The Author or Fountain of this authority—the Lord Christ hath given it, dispensed it; there is the divine right. 4. The proper subjects intrusted with this authority, viz: the church guides, our authority, which he hath given to us. They are the receptacle of power for the Church, and the government thereof. Compare also 1 Thes. v. 12, Matth. xvi. 19, 20, with xviii. 11, and John xx. 21, 22, 23. In which and divers like places the divine right of church government is apparently vouched by the Scripture, as will hereafter more fully appear; but this may suffice in general for the confirmation of this general proposition.
Of the Nature of a DIVINE RIGHT in general.
Now touching this divine right of church government, two things are yet more particularly to be opened and proved, for the more satisfactory clearing thereof unto sober minds, to unprejudiced and unpre-engaged judgments, viz:—1. What the nature of a divine right is, and how many ways a thing may be said to be of divine right, and that by warrant of Scripture. 2. What the nature of the government of the Church under the New Testament is, which is vouched by the Scripture to be of divine right.
For the first—viz. What the nature of a divine right is—consider both what a divine right is in general, and how many ways a thing may be said by Scripture warrant to be of divine right in particular.
Right is that which is most proper, just, or equal; or that which is prescribed or commanded by some statute law, and is just to be received in virtue of said law.
Divine sometimes points out a divine warrant or authority from God, engraven or enstamped upon any thing, whereby it is exalted above all human or created authority and power. And thus, all Scripture is styled divinely breathed or inspired of God. Hence is the divine authority of Scripture asserted, 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17; and in this sense divine right is here spoken of, in reference to church government, as it signifies a divine warrant and authority from God himself, engraven upon that church government and discipline, (hereafter to be handled,) and revealed to us in his holy Scriptures, the infallible and perfect oracles. So that divine right, according to this interpretation of the terms, is that which is either just, meet, and equal; or commanded and enjoined by any divine warrant or authority. And generally, a thing may be said to be of divine right, which is any way divinely just, equal, &c.; or divinely commanded by any law of God, or by that which is equivalent to a divine law. And whatsoever matters in church government can be proved by Scripture to have this stamp of divine warrant and authority set upon them, they may properly be said to be of divine right, and that by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ, to whom God hath delegated all power and authority for the government of his Church, Matth. xxviii. 18, 19, 20, Isa. ix. 6, John v. 22, Eph. i. 22. In this sense, if church government, or any part of it, be found to be of divine right, then consequently—1. It is above all mere human power and created authority in the world whatsoever, and that supereminently. A divine right is the highest and best tenure whereby the Church can hold of Christ any doctrine, worship, or government; only God can stamp such a divine right upon any of these things, whereby conscience shall be obliged. All human inventions herein, whether devised of our own hearts, or derived as traditions from others, are incompatible and inconsistent herewith; vain in themselves, and to all that use them, and condemned of God. See 1 Kings xii. 32, 33, Isa. xxix. 4, Matth. xv. 6, 7, 8, 9. 2. It is beyond all just, human, or created power, to abolish or oppose the same, or the due execution thereof in the Church of Christ; for what is of divine right, is held of God, and not of man; and to oppose that, were to fight against God. The supreme magistrates in such cases should be nurse-fathers, Isa. xlix. 23, not step-fathers to the Church; their power being cumulative and perfective, not privative and destructive unto her; for she both had and exercised a power in church government, long before there was any Christian magistrate in the world; and it cannot be proved that ever Christ took away that power from his Church, or translated it to the political magistrate, when he became Christian. 3. It is so obligatory upon all churches in the whole Christian world, that they ought uniformly to submit themselves unto it; for a divine right is equally obligatory on one church as well as on another. And it is so obligatory on all persons, states, and degrees, that none ought to be exempted from that church government which is of divine right, nor to be tolerated in another church government, which is but of human invention; nor ought any Christian to seek after, or content himself with any such exemption or toleration; for in so doing, the inventions of men should be preferred before the ordinances of God; our own wisdom, will, and authority, before the wisdom, will, and authority of Christ: and we should in effect say, We will not have this man to reign over us, Luke xix. 27. Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords away from us, Psalm ii. 3.
Of the Nature of a DIVINE RIGHT in particular. How many ways a thing may be of DIVINE RIGHT. And first, of a DIVINE RIGHT by the true light of nature.
Thus we see in general what a divine right is: now in particular let us come to consider how many ways a thing may be said to be of divine right by scripture-warrant, keeping still our eye upon this subject of church government, at which all particulars are to be levelled for the clearing of it.
A thing may be said to be of divine right, or (which is the same for substance) of divine institution, divers ways. 1. By the true light of nature. 2. By obligatory scripture examples. 3. By divine approbation. 4. By divine acts. 5. By divine precepts or mandates. All may be reduced to these five heads, ascending by degrees from the lowest to the highest divine right.
I. By light of nature. That which is evident by, and consonant to the true light of nature, or natural reason, is to be accounted of divine right in matters of religion. Hence two things are to be made out by Scripture. 1. What is meant by the true light of nature. 2. How it may be proved, that what things in religion are evident by, or consonant to this true light of nature, are of divine right.
1. For the first, What is meant by the true light of nature, or natural reason? Thus conceive. The light of nature may be considered two ways. 1. As it was in man before the fall, and so it was that image and similitude of God, in which man was at first created, Gen. i. 26, 27, or at least part of that image; which image of God, and light of nature, was con-created with man, and was perfect: viz. so perfect as the sphere of humanity and state of innocency did require; there was no sinful darkness, crookedness, or imperfection in it; and whatsoever was evident by, or consonant to this pure and perfect light of nature, in respect either of theory or practice, was doubtless of divine right, because correspondent to that divine law of God's image naturally engraved in Adam's heart. But man being lapsed, this will not be now our question, as it is not our case. 2. As it is now in man after the fall. The light of nature and image of God in man is not totally abolished and utterly razed by the fall; there remain still some relics and fragments thereof, some glimmerings, dawnings, and common principles of light, both touching piety to God, equity to man, and sobriety to a man's self, &c., as is evident by comparing these places, Psal. xix. 1, 2, &c., Acts xiv. 17, and xvii. 27, 28; Rom. i. 18-21, and ii. 12, 14, 15; 2 Cor. v. 1: in which places it is plain, 1. That the book of the creature is able (without the scriptures, or divine revelations) to make known to man much of God, his invisible Godhead and attributes, Psalm xix. 1, 2, &c.; Acts xiv. 17, and xvii. 27, 28; yea, so far as to leave them without excuse, Rom. i. 18-21. 2. That there remained so much natural light in the minds even of the heathens, as to render them capable of instruction by the creature in the invisible things of God; yea, and that they actually in some measure did know God, and because they walked not up to this knowledge, were plagued, Rom. i. 18-21, 24, &c. 3. That the work of the law (though not the right ground, manner, and end of that work, which is the blessing of the new covenant, Jer. xxxi. 33; Heb. viii. 10) was materially written in some measure in their hearts. Partly because they did by nature without the law the things contained in the law, so being a law to themselves, Rom. ii. 14, 15; partly, because they by nature forbore some of those sins which were forbidden in the law, and were practised by some that had the law, as 2 Cor. v. 1; and partly, because according to the good and bad they did, &c., their conscience did accuse or excuse, Rom. ii. 15. Now conscience doth not accuse or excuse but according to some rule, principle, or law of God, (which is above the conscience,) or at least so supposed to be. And they had no law but the imperfect characters thereof in their own hearts, which were not quite obliterated by the fall. Now so far as this light of nature after the fall, is a true relic of the light of nature before the fall, that which is according to this light may be counted of divine right in matters of religion, which is the next thing to be proved.
For the second, how it may be proved that what things in religion are evident by, or consonant to this true light of nature, are of divine right. Thus briefly,
1. Because that knowledge which by the light of nature Gentiles have of the invisible things of God, is a beam of divine light, as the apostle, speaking of the Gentiles' light of nature, saith, That which may be known of God is manifest in them—for God hath showed it to them. For the invisible things, &c., Rom. i. 19, 20. God himself is the Fountain and Author of the true light of nature; hence some not unfitly call it the divine light of nature, not only because it hath God for its object, but also God for its principle; now that which is according to God's manifestation, must needs be of divine right.
2. Because the Spirit of God and of Christ in the New Testament is pleased often to argue from the light of nature in condemning of sin, in commending and urging of duty, as in the case of the incestuous Corinthian; "It is reported commonly, that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles," (who had only the light of nature to guide them,) 1 Cor. v. 1. In case of the habits of men and women in their public church assemblies, that women's heads should be covered, men's uncovered in praying or prophesying. "Judge in yourselves, is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man hath long hair, it is a shame to him? but if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her," &c., 1 Cor. xi. 13-15. Here the apostle appeals plainly to the very light of nature for the regulating and directing of their habits in church assemblies; and thus, in case of praying or prophesying in the congregation in an unknown tongue, (unless some do interpret,) he strongly argues against it from the light of nature, 1 Cor. xiv. 7-11, and afterwards urges that women be silent in their churches, from the natural uncomeliness of their speaking there, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church, 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35.
Now, if the Spirit of God condemn things as vicious, and commend things as virtuous from the light of nature, is there not divine right in the light of nature? May we not say, that which is repugnant to the light of nature in matters of religion, is condemned by divine right; and what is correspondent to the light of nature, is prescribed by divine right? And if not, where is the strength or force of this kind of arguing from the light of nature?
Consequently, in the present case of church government, that which is agreeable to the true light of nature, must needs be confessed to be of divine right. Though the light of nature be but dim, yet it will lend some help in this particular: e.g. the light of nature teaches, 1. That as every society in the world hath a distinct government of its own within itself, without which it could not subsist, so must the Church, which is a society, have its own distinct government within itself, without which it cannot subsist more than any other society. 2. That in all matters of difference the lesser number in every society should give way to, and the matters controverted be determined and concluded by the major part; else there would never be an end: and why not so in the Church? 3. That in every ill administration in inferior societies the parties aggrieved should have liberty to appeal from them to superior societies, that equity may take place; and why not from inferior to superior church assemblies?
II. Of a Divine Right by obligatory Scripture Examples.
II. By obligatory scripture examples (which God's people are bound to follow and imitate) matters of religion become of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ, by whose Spirit those examples were recorded in Scripture, and propounded for imitation to the saints. The light of nature in this case helps something; but the light of obligatory scripture examples helps much more, as being more clear, distinct, and particular. We say scripture examples; for only these examples are held forth to us by an infallible, impartial, divine hand, and those scripture examples obligatory, or binding; for there are many sorts of scripture examples that oblige not us to imitation of them, being written for other uses and purposes.
Great use is to be made of such examples in matters of religion, and particularly in matters of church government, for the clearing of the divine right thereof; and great opposition is made by some against the binding force of examples, especially by men of perverse spirits, (as too many of the Erastian party are;) therefore it will be of great consequence to unfold and clear this matter of scripture examples, and the obliging power thereof, that we may see how far examples are to be a law and rule for us by divine right. In general, this proposition seems to be unquestionable, that whatsoever matter or act of religion Jesus Christ makes known to his Church and people, by or under any binding scripture example, that matter or act of religion so made known, is of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ: But to evince this more satisfactorily, these several particulars are to be distinctly made good and manifested: 1. That some scripture examples are obligatory and binding on Christians in matters of religion. 2. Which are those obligatory scripture examples? These things being made out, we shall see with what strength scripture examples hold forth a divine right to us in the mysteries of religion, and particularly in church government.
I. That some scripture examples in matters of religion are obligatory on Christians, as patterns and rules, which they are bound in conscience to follow and imitate, is evident,
1. By the divine intention of the Spirit of God, in recording and propounding of examples in Scripture: for he records and propounds them for this very end, that they may be imitated. Thus Christ's humility, in washing the feet of his disciples, was intentionally propounded as an obligatory example, binding both the disciples, and us after them, to perform the meanest offices of love in humility to one another. "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you," John xiii. 4, &c., 13-15. Thus Christ's suffering with innocence and unprovoked patience, not reviling again, &c., is purposely propounded for all Christians to imitate, and they are bound in conscience as well as they can to follow it—"Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps," &c., 1 Pet. ii. 21-23. Hence, the apostle so urges the example of Christ for the Corinthians to follow in their bounty to the poor saints, yea, though to their own impoverishing, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich," 2 Cor. viii. 9. Nor was the example of Christ only written for our imitation; but the examples of the apostles also in the primitive churches were intentionally left upon record for this end, that they might be binding patterns for us to follow in like cases in after ages. And in particular, this seems to be one singular ground, scope, and intention of Christ's Spirit in writing the history of the Acts of the Apostles, that the apostles' acts in the primitive churches might be our rules in successive churches. For, 1. Though this book contain in it many things dogmatical, that is, divers doctrines of the apostles, yet it is not styled the book of the doctrine, but of the Acts of the Apostles, that we may learn to act as they acted. This being one main difference between profane and sacred histories; those are for speculation, these also for admonition and imitation, 1 Cor. x. 11. The history, therefore, of the Acts propounds examples admonitory and obligatory upon us, that we should express like acts in like cases. 2. Luke (the penman of the Acts) makes such a transition from his history of Christ, to this history of Christ's apostles, as to unite and knit them into one volume, Acts i. 1; whence we are given to understand, that if the Church wanted this history of the apostles, she should want that perfect direction which the Spirit intended for her: as also that this book is useful and needful to her as well as the other. 3. In the very front of the Acts it is said, that Christ after his resurrection (and before his ascension) gave commandments to the apostles—and spake of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, Acts i. 2, 3; viz. of the polity of the Church, say some. Of the kingdom of grace, say others. Judicious Calvin interprets it partly of church government, saying, Luke admonisheth us, that Christ did not so depart out of the world, as to cast off all care of us: for by this doctrine he shows that he hath constituted a perpetual government in his Church. Therefore Luke signifies, that Christ departed not, before he had provided for his Church's government. Now those expressions are set in the frontispiece, to stamp the greater authority and obligatory power upon the acts after recorded, being done according to Christ's commandments; Christ intending their acts in the first founding of his kingdom and polity ecclesiastic to be the rule for after churches. For what Christ spoke of his kingdom to the apostles is like that, "What I say to you, I say to all," Matt. xiii. 37, as what was said to the apostles touching preaching and baptizing, remitting and retaining of sins, was said to all the apostles' successors, "to the end of the world," John xx. 21, 23, with Matt, xxviii. 18-20.
2. By God's approving and commending such as were followers not only of the doctrine, but also of the examples of the Lord, his apostles, and primitive churches; "And ye became followers" (or imitators) "of us and of the Lord," 1 Thess. i. 6, 7; and again, "Ye, brethren, became followers" (or imitators) "of the churches of God, which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews," 1 Thess. ii. 14. In which places the Holy Ghost recites the Thessalonians imitating of the Lord, of the apostles, and of the churches, to the praise of the Thessalonians, by which they are given to understand that they did well, and discharged their duty in such imitations: for God's condemning or commending any thing, is virtually a prohibiting or prescribing thereof.
3. By the Lord's commanding some examples to be imitated. Commands of this nature are frequent. In general, "Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good," 3 John 11. In particular, 1. Imitating of God and Christ; "Be ye, therefore, followers of God as dear children: and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us," Eph. v. 1, 2, with Eph. iv. 32. "He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk, even as he walked," 1 John ii. 6. 2. Imitating the apostles and other saints of God. "I beseech you, be ye imitators of me: for this cause have I sent unto you Timothy—who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ," 1 Cor. iv. 16, 17. "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ," 1 Cor. xi. 1.
"Those things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you," Phil. iv. 9. "Be not slothful, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises," Heb. vi. 12. "Whose faith imitate, considering the end of their conversation," Heb. xiii. 7. "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example" (or pattern) "of suffering affliction, and of patience," James v. 10. These and like divine commands infallibly evidence that many scripture examples are obligatory, and do bind our consciences to the imitation of them.
4. By consent of orthodox and learned writers, both ancient and modern, acknowledging an obligatory force in some scripture examples, as being left upon record for our imitation. As among others Chrysostom, and Greg. Nyssen well observe.
Among modern writers, Mr. Perkins excellently observes, This is a rule in divinity, that the ordinary examples of the godly approved in Scripture, being against no general precept, have the force of a general rule, and are to be followed. See also Pet. Martyr, Calvin, and others.
II. Thus, it is clear that some scripture examples are obligatory. Now (to come closer to the matter) consider which scripture examples are obligatory. 1. How many sorts of binding examples are propounded to us in Scripture. 2. What rules we may walk by for finding out the obligatory force of such examples.
How many sorts of binding examples are propounded unto us in Scripture, and which are those examples? Ans. There are principally three sorts, viz: Examples of God, of Christ, of Christians.
I. Of God. The example of God is propounded in Scripture as obligatory on us in all moral excellencies and actions: e.g. Matt. v. 44, 45, 48; Eph. v. 1; 1 Pet. i. 14-16; 1 John iv. 10, 11.
II. Of Christ. That the example of Christ is obligatory, and a binding rule to us for imitation, is evident by these and like testimonies of Scripture, Matt. xi. 29; 1 Cor. xi. 11; Eph. v. 2, 3, 25, &c.; 1 John ii. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 21-23. "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you," John xiii. 14, 15. In this place we must follow the reason of the example, rather than the individual act, viz: after Christ's example, we must be ready to perform the lowest and meanest offices of love and service to one another.
But which of Christ's examples are obligatory on Christians, will better appear, by distinguishing the several sorts of Christ's actions. Christ's actions were of several kinds; and to imitate them all is neither needful, nor possible, nor warrantable. Orthodox writers thus rank Christ's actions:
1. Some of Christ's actions were of divine power and virtue; as his miracles, turning water into wine, John ii. 7, &c.; walking on the sea, Mark vi. 48, 49; dispossessing of devils by his word, Mark i. 27; Luke iv. 36; curing one born blind with clay and spittle, John ix.; healing the sick by his word or touch, John iv. 50; Mark vi. 56; raising the dead to life again, as John xii. 1; Matt. xi. 5; Luke vii. 22.
2. Some were acts of divine prerogative, as sending for the ass and colt, without first asking the owner's leave, Matt. xxi. 2, &c.
3. Some mediatory, done by him as Mediator, Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church: e.g. inditing the Scripture, called therefore the word of Christ, Col. iii. 16; laying down his life for the sheep, John x. 15, &c.; giving of the Spirit, John xx. 22; Acts ii.; appointing of his own officers, and giving them commissions, Eph. iv. 7, 10, 11; Matt. x. and xxviii. 18-20; instituting of new, and thereby abrogating of old ordinances, Matt. xxviii. 18, 19; 1 Cor. xi. 23, &c.
4. Some accidental, occasional, incidental, or circumstantial, as in the case of his celebrating his supper, that it was at night, not in the morning; after supper, not before; with none but men, none but ministers; with unleavened, not with leavened bread, &c.; these circumstantials were accidentally occasioned by the passover, nature of his family, &c.
5. Some acts of Christ were moral, as Matt. xi. 29; Eph. v. 2, 3, 25, &c.; or at least founded upon a moral reason and foundation, as John xiii. 14,15.
To imitate Christ in his three first sort of acts, is utterly unlawful, and in part impossible. To imitate him in his circumstantial acts from necessity, were to make accidentals necessary, and happily to border upon superstition; for, to urge any thing above what is appointed, as absolutely necessary, is to urge superstition; and to yield to any thing above what is appointed, as simply necessary, were to yield to superstition. But to imitate Christ in his moral acts, or acts grounded upon a moral reason, is our duty: such acts of Christ ought to be the Christian's rules.
III. Of prophets, apostles, saints, or primitive churches. That their examples are obligatory, is evident by these places, 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil. iv. 8, 9; 1 Pet. iii. 4, 5, 6; 1 Thess. i. 6, and ii. 14; Heb. xiii. 7; James v. 10, 11; 3 John 11.
Which of their examples are obligatory, may be thus resolved, by distinguishing of their actions.
1. Some were sinful; written for our caution and admonition, not for our imitation: as 1 Cor. x. 5, 6, 10, 12. That neither the just be lifted up into pride by security, nor the unjust be hardened against the medicine through despair. See the fourth rule following.
2. Some were heroical; done by singular instinct and instigation of the Spirit of God; as divers acts may be presumed to be, (though we read not the instinct clearly recorded:) as, Elias's calling for fire from heaven, 2 Kings i. 10; which the very apostles might not imitate, not having his spirit, Luke ix. 54, 55; Phinehas's killing the adulterer and adulteress, Numb. xxv. 7, 8; Samson's avenging himself upon his enemies by his own death, Judges xvi. 30, of which, saith Bernard, if it be defended not to have been his sin, it is undoubtedly to be believed he had private counsel, viz. from God, for his fact; David's fighting with Goliath of Gath the giant, hand to hand, 1 Sam. xvii. 32, &c., which is no warrant for private duels and quarrels. Such heroic acts are not imitable but by men furnished with like heroic spirit, and instinct divine.
3. Some were by special calling, and singular extraordinary dispensation: as Abraham's call to leave his own country for pilgrimage in Canaan, Gen. xii. 1, 4, which is no warrant for popish pilgrimages to the holy land, &c.; Abraham's attempts, upon God's special trying commands, to kill and sacrifice his son, Gen. xxii. 10, no warrant for parents to kill or sacrifice their children; the Israelites borrowing of, and robbing the Egyptians, Exod. xii. 35, no warrant for cozenage, stealing, or for borrowing with intent not to pay again: compare Rom. xiii. 8; 1 Thess. iv. 6; Psal. xxxvii. 21; the Israelites taking usury of the Canaanitish strangers, (who were destined to ruin both in their states and persons, Deut. xx. 15-17,) Deut. xxiii. 20, which justifies neither their nor our taking usury of our brethren, Lev. xxv. 36, 37; Deut. xxiii. 19, 20; Neh. v. 7, 10; Psal. xv. 5; Prov. xxviii. 8; Ezek. xviii. 8, 13, 17, and xxii. 12; John Baptist's living in the desert, Mat. iii., no protection for popish hermitage, or proof that it is a state of greater perfection, &c.
4. Some were only accidental or occasional, occasioned by special necessity of times and seasons, or some present appearance of scandal, or some such accidental emergency. Thus primitive Christians had all things common, Acts iv. 32, but that is no ground for anabaptistical community. Paul wrought at his trade of tent-making, made his hands minister to his necessities, Acts xx. 34; would not take wages for preaching to the church of Corinth, 2 Cor. xi. 7-9; but this lays no necessity on ministers to preach the gospel gratis, and maintain themselves by their own manual labors, except when cases and seasons are alike, Gal. vi. 6-8; 1 Cor. ix. 6-13; 1 Tim. v. 17, 18.
5. Some were of a moral nature, and upon moral grounds, wherein they followed Christ, and we are to follow them, 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil. iv. 8, 9, and other places forementioned; for, whatsoever actions were done then, upon such grounds as are of a moral, perpetual, and common concernment to one person as well as another, to one church as well as another, in one age as well as another, those actions are obligatory on all, and a rule to after generations. Thus the baptizing of women in the primitive churches, Acts viii. 12, and xvi. 15, though only the males were circumcised under the Old Testament, is a rule for our baptizing of women as well as men, they being all one in Christ, Gal. iii. 28. So the admitting of infants to the first initiating sacrament of the Old Testament, circumcision, because they with their parents' were accounted within the covenant of grace by God, Gen. xvii., is a rule for us now to admit infants to the first initiating sacrament of the New Testament, baptism, because infants are federally holy, and within the covenant with their believing parents now, as well as then, Rom. xi. 16; 1 Cor. vii. 14; Col. ii. 11, 12. Thus the baptizing of divers persons formerly, though into no particular congregation, nor as members of any particular congregation, as the eunuch, Acts viii.; Lydia, Acts xvi.; the jailer, Acts xvi.; because it was sufficient they were baptized into that one general visible body of Christ, 1 Cor. xii. 12, 13, is a rule for us what to do in like cases upon the same common ground. Thus the Church's practice of preaching the word, and breaking bread on the first day of the week, Acts xx. 7, &c., is our rule for sanctifying the Lord's day, by celebrating the word, sacraments, and other holy ordinances, at these times. And in like manner, the primitive practices of ordaining preaching presbyters, by laying on of hands, 1 Tim. iv. 14; 2 Tim. i. 6; Acts xiii. 3; of governing all the congregations of a city by one common presbytery, in which respect they are all called by the name of one church, as the church of Jerusalem, Acts viii. 1, and xv. 4; the church of Antioch, Acts xiii. 1, and xi. 25, 26; the church of Corinth, 1 Cor. i. 2, 2 Cor. i. 1; which had churches in it, 1 Cor. xiv. 34. Of healing common scandals and errors, troubling divers presbyterial churches by the authoritative decrees of a synod, made up of members from divers presbyterial churches, as Acts xv., and such like, are our rules in like particulars, which the Lord hath left for our direction, the same grounds of such actions reaching us as well as them.
Now this last kind of examples are those which we are, by divers divine commands, especially enjoined to follow; and therefore such examples amount to a divine right or institution; and what we ought to do by virtue of such binding examples is of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ.
What discriminatory notes or rules may we walk by, for finding out the obligatory force of scripture examples; and what manner of examples those be? For discovery hereof, take these ensuing general rules:
1. Those examples in Scripture, which the Spirit of Christ commands us to imitate, are undoubtedly obligatory. Such are the moral examples of God, Christ, apostles, prophets, saints, and churches, recorded in Scripture, with command to follow them, Eph. iv. 32, and v. 1, 2; 1 John ii. 6; 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil. iv. 6; Heb. vi. 12, and xiii. 7; James v. 10; 3 John 11.
2. Those examples in Scripture, which the Spirit of Christ commends and praises, are obligatory; his commendings are virtual commandings; and we ought to follow whatsoever is praiseworthy, especially in God's account, Phil. iv. 8, 9; 2 Cor. x. 18. Now the Spirit of Christ commends many examples to us: as, Enoch's walking with God, Gen. v. 24; Noah's uprightness, Gen. vi.; Abraham's faith, Rom. iv., and obedience, Gen. xxii.; Lot's zeal against Sodom's sins, 2 Pet. ii. 9; Job's patience, James v. 10, 11. And in a word, all the examples of the saints, which the Lord approves and speaks well of; as Heb. xi.; 1 Pet. iii. 5, 6: together with all such examples, whose imitation by others is commended in Scripture; as, 1 Thess. i. 6, 7, and ii. 14.
3. Those examples in Scripture are obligatory, whose ground, reason, scope, or end, are obligatory, and of a moral nature, and as much concern one Christian as another, one church as another, one time as another, &c., whether they be the examples under the Old or New Testament. Thus the example of the church of Corinth, in excommunicating the incestuous person, because he was a wicked person—and lest he should leaven the whole lump; and that they might keep the evangelical passover sincerely, and for that they had power to judge them within; and that his "flesh might be destroyed, and his spirit saved in the day of the Lord Jesus," 1 Cor. v. 5-8, 11-13: which grounds and ends being moral, oblige us to use the like remedy against all wicked and scandalous persons.
4. Those acts which are propounded in Scripture as patterns or examples, that we should act the like good, or avoid the like ill, are an obligatory law to us. There is an example of caution, and an example of imitation.
Thus in reference to well-doing, or suffering for well-doing, the examples of Christ, his apostles, and other saints, are propounded as patterns to write after, as John xiii. 14, 15; Heb. xi. tot. with Heb. xii. 1, with such a cloud of witnesses. This verse is as the epilogue of the former chapter, (saith the learned Calvin,) showing to what end the catalogue of saints was reckoned up, who under the law excelled in faith, viz: that every one may fit himself to imitate them. Another adds, He calls them a cloud, whereby we may be directed; in allusion to that cloud that went before Israel in the wilderness, to conduct them to the land of Canaan. See also 1 Pet. ii. 21-23; James v. 10.
Thus also, in reference to ill-doing, that it may be avoided by us, the bad examples of saints and others are laid before us as warnings and cautions to us, binding us to eschew like evils, 1 Cor. x. 5, 6, 11. "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Now all these things happened unto them for examples," &c., Jude 7.
5. Those acts of saints or Christians, which were done by them as saints and Christians, are obligatory upon, and to be followed by all Christians; but those acts which are done by magistrates, prophets, apostles, ministers, &c., only as such, are only obligatory on such as have like offices, not on all; according to the maxim, that which agrees to any thing as such, agrees to every thing that is such. Thus James urges the example of Elias in praying, James v. 17. Paul presses the example of Abraham in being justified by believing, Rom. iv. 23,24. Peter prescribes, as a pattern to wives, the example of Sarah, and other holy women of old, for "adorning themselves with a meek and quiet spirit,—being in subjection to their own husbands," 1 Pet. iii. 4-6.
6. Those acts that were commonly and ordinarily done, are ordinarily to be imitated; as, baptizing in water only, and not in any other element, was the ordinary practice of the New Testament, Matt. iii. 11, 16; Mark i. 6, 10; Luke iii. 16; John i. 26, 31, 33; Acts i. 5, and viii. 36, 38, and x. 47, and xi. 16; and by that practice we are obliged to baptize in water only. Joining of many Christians together in receiving the Lord's supper was an ordinary practice, Matt. xxvi. 20, 26, 27; Acts ii. 42, and xx. 7, &c.; 1 Cor. xi. 20, and by us ordinarily to be imitated; how else is it a communion? 1 Cor. x. 16, 17.
But such acts as were done only upon special causes or singular reasons, are only to be imitated in like cases. Thus Christ argues from a like special cause, that he was not to do miracles at Nazareth without a call, as he did in other places where he had a call of God; from the particular example of Elijah and Elisha, who only went to them to whom God called them, Luke ix. 25-27; so he proves that in like case of necessity it was lawful for his disciples on the sabbath-day to rub ears of corn and eat them, &c., from David's example of eating show-bread when he had need, Matt. xii. 1-5.
7. Those acts that were done from extraordinary calling and gifts, are to be imitated (in regard of their special way of acting) only by those that have such extraordinary calling and gifts. Christ therefore blames his apostles for desiring to imitate Elijah's extraordinary act in calling for fire from heaven, &c., when they had not his spirit, Luke ix. 54, 55. Papists are blameworthy for imitating the extraordinary forty days' and nights' fast of Moses, Elijah, and Christ, in their Lent fast. Prelates argue corruptly for bishops' prelacy over their brethren the ministers, from the superiority of the apostles over presbyters.
Of a Divine Right by Divine Approbation.
III. By divine approbation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in his word. Whatsoever in matters of religion hath the divine approbation of the Spirit of Christ in the Scriptures, that is of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ. God's approving or allowing of any thing, plainly implies that it is according to his will and pleasure, and so is equivalent to a divine institution or appointment; for what is a divine institution or law but the publishing of the divine will of the legislator, touching things to be acted or omitted? and God cannot approve any thing that is against his will. Contrariwise, God's disallowing of any thing, plainly implies that it is against his will, and so of divine right prohibited, and unlawful. God allows or disallows things not because they are good or evil; but things are, therefore, good or evil, because he approves or disallows them.
Now God approves or disallows things divers ways:
1. By commending or discommending. God commended king Josiah for his zeal and impartiality in completing of the reformation of religion, 1 Kings xiii. 25. This is a rule for all princes and magistrates how they should reform. The angel of the church of Ephesus is commended, for not bearing of those that were evil, for trying and detecting the false apostles, and for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, Rev. ii. 2, 3, 6. The angel of the church of Pergamus is praised, for holding fast Christ's name, and not denying his faith in places of danger, and days of deepest persecution, Rev. ii. 13: a rule for all pastors and churches, how in all such cases they should carry themselves. God's commendings are divine commandings. On the contrary, God dispraises Ephesus, for falling from her first love, Rev. ii. 4. Pergamus, for holding the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, Rev. ii. 14, 15. Thyatira, for tolerating the false prophetess Jezebel, to teach and seduce his servants, &c., Rev. ii. 20. Laodicea, because she was neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, Rev. iii. 15. The church of Corinth, for coming together in public assemblies, not for better but for worse, by reason of schisms, scandals, and other disorders about the Lord's supper, 1 Cor. xi. 17, &c. In these and all such divine discommendings of the churches for their corruptions, all succeeding churches are strongly forbidden the like corruptions: God's dispraises are divine prohibitions. Thus good church elders are commended in this notion, that they are elders ruling well, 1 Tim. v. 17; therefore, that elders in the church should rule, and rule well, is by this commendation of divine right.
2. By promising and threatening. What promise did God ever make to any act or performance, which was not a duty? or what threatening against any act which was not a sin? He promises to them that forsake all for Christ, a "hundred-fold now in this time, and in the world to come eternal life," Mark x. 29, 30; therefore it is our duty to forsake all for Christ. He promised to ratify in heaven his disciples' sentences of building or loosing on earth; and to be with them whensoever two or three of them were met together for that end, Matt. xvi. 19, and xviii. 18-20, and John xx. 23. Therefore binding and loosing, remitting and retaining of sins, and meeting together for that end, belong to them by divine right. He promised to be with them that baptize, preach, remit, and retain sins in his name, &c., always, to the end of the world, John xx. 23; with Matt, xxviii. 18-20, which promise shows, that these works and employments belong to all succeeding ministers to the world's end, as well as to the apostles by divine right. On the contrary, the Lord threatens Ephesus for decay of first love, Rev. ii. 4, 5; Pergamus, for holding false doctrine, Rev. ii. 14, 15; Thyatira, for tolerating of Jezebel and her false teaching, &c., Rev. ii. 21, 21, 23; and Laodicea, for lukewarmness, Rev. iii. 15, 16. Therefore, all these were their sins, and we are bound, even by this divine threatening, to avoid the like by a divine warrant.
3. By remunerating or rewarding; whether he reward with blessings or with judgments. With blessings God rewarded the Hebrew midwives, because they preserved the male children of Israel, contrary to Pharaoh's bloody command; God made them houses, Exod. i. 17, 20, 21. He will have the elders that rule well counted worthy of double honor, &c.; i.e. rewarded with a bountiful, plentiful maintenance, 1 Tim. v. 17. Therefore, their ruling in the church is of divine right, for which God appoints such a good reward. Contrariwise, with judgments God rewarded king Saul, for offering a burnt-offering himself, 1 Sam. xiii. 12-14; Uzzah, for touching the ark, though it was ready to fall, 2 Sam. vi. 6, 7; and king Uzziah, for going into the temple to burn incense, 2 Chron. xxvi. 16. None of these being priests, yet presuming to meddle with the priest's office. A rule for all persons, being not church officers, yea, though they be princes or supreme magistrates, that they are hereby warned by the divine law, not to usurp church authority or offices to themselves. God rewarded the Corinthians with the judgments of weakness, sickness, and death, for unworthy receiving of the Lord's supper, 1 Cor. xi. 30. So that this is a divine warning for all after churches against unworthy communicating.
IV. Of a Divine Right by Divine Acts.
IV. By divine acts. Whatsoever matters of religion were erected in, or conferred upon the Church of God, by God, or any person of the blessed Trinity, and are left recorded in the Scripture, they are of divine right, by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ. Shall divine approbation, yea, shall the saints' binding example hold forth to us a divine right, and shall not the divine actions of God, Christ, and the Spirit, do it much more? Take some instances: the Lord's-day sabbath, under the New Testament, was it not instituted (the seventh day being changed to the first day of the week) by the acts of Christ, having now perfected the spiritual creation of the new world? viz: by his resurrection and apparitions to his disciples on that day, and miraculous blessing and sanctifying of that day, by pouring forth the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Acts ii., all which were seconded with the apostolical practice in the primitive churches, Acts xx. 7, &c.; 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2. And do not the churches of Christ generally conclude upon these grounds, that the Lord's-day sabbath is of divine warrant? Thus circumcision is abrogated of divine right, by Christ's act, instituting baptism instead thereof, Col. ii. 11, 12. The passover is abolished of divine right, by Christ himself, our true passover, being sacrificed for us, 1 Cor. v. 7; and the Lord's supper being instituted a memorial of Christ's death instead of it, Matt, xxvi., Mark xiv., Luke xxii. And the whole ceremonial law is antiquated and made void by Christ's death, accomplishing all those dark types; therefore Christ, immediately before his yielding up the ghost, cried, It is finished, John xix. 30. See Col. ii. 14; Eph. ii. 14, 15; abolishing the law of commandments in ordinances, Heb. viii. 13, and x. 4, 5, &c. Thus by Christ's act of giving the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter and the apostles, Matt. xvi. 19, and xviii. 18, 19, the keys belong to the officers of the church by divine right. By God's act of setting in the Church some, first apostles, &c., 1 Cor. xii. 28, all those officers belong to the general visible Church by divine right. By Christ's act of bounty upon his triumphant ascension into heaven, in giving gifts to men, Eph. iv. 7, 11, 12; all those church officers being Christ's gifts, are of divine right. Finally, by the Holy Ghost's act, in setting elders, overseers over the flock, Acts xx. 28, elders are such overseers by divine right.