A COUNTRY ESSAY FOR THE PRACTICE OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT THERE.
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OUR long expectation of some accommodation between the dissenting parties about church government being now almost totally frustrate, — being also persuaded, partly through the apparent fruitlessness of all such undertakings, partly by other reasons not at this time seasonable to be expressed, that all national disputes tending that way will prove birthless tympanies, — we deem it no ungrateful endeavor, waiving all speculative ideas, to give an essay, in such expressions as all our country friends concerned in it may easily apprehend, of what we conceive amongst us may really be reduced to comfortable and useful practice: concealing for a while all arguments for motives and inducements unto this way, with all those rocks and shelves, appearing very hideous in former proposals, which we strive to avoid; until we perceive whether any of our giants in this controversy will not come and look, and so overcome it, that at first dash the whole frame be irrecoverably ruined.
Neither would we have any expect our full sense to each particular imaginable in this business, — it being only a heap of materials, mostwhat unhewed, that we intend, and not a well-compacted fabric; and if the main be not condemned, we are confident no difference will ensue about particulars, which must have their latitude. However, if it be received as candidly as it is offered, no inconvenience will ensue. Now, that the whole may be better apprehended, and the reasons, if not the necessity, of this undertaking intimated, we shall premise some things concerning the place and persons for whose use is this proposal.
First, For ministers. The place having all this while, through the goodness of God, been preserved in peace and quietness; and by the rich supply of able men sent hither by Parliament, there are in many parishes godly, orthodox, peace-loving pastors.
Secondly, For the people. 1. Very many, as in most other places, extremely ignorant, worldly, profane, scandalously vicious. 2. Scarcely any parish where there are not some visibly appearing, of all ages, sexes, and conditions, fearing God, and walking unblamably with a right foot, as beseemeth the gospel; though in some places they are but like the berries after the shaking of an olive-tree. 3. Amongst these, very few gifted, fitted or qualified for government. 4. Many knowing professors, and such of a long standing, inclined to separation, unless some expedient may be found for comfortable communions; and in this resolution seem to be settled, to a contempt of allurements and threatenings. 5. Seducers everywhere lying in wait to catch and deceive well-meaning souls, any thing discontented with the present administration of church affairs. 6. Upon all which it appears, that comfortable communion is not to be attained within the bounds of respective parishes.
Farther to carry on our intentions, we would desire of authority, — 1. That our divisions may not be allotted out by our committees, — who, without other consideration, have bounded us with the precincts of high constables, — but be left to the prudence of ministers, and other Christians, willingly associating themselves in the work. 2. That men placed in civil authority may not, by virtue of their authority, claim any privilege in things purely ecclesiastical.
In the several parishes let things be thus ordered: — 1. Let every minister continue in his station, taking especial care of all them that live within the precincts of his parish; preaching, exhorting, rebuking, publicly, and from house to house; warning all, ¾ using all appointed means to draw them to Jesus Christ and the faith of the gospel; waiting with all patience on them that oppose themselves, until God give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and in so doing, rest upon the calling he hath already received. 2. Let the respective elders of the several parishes, to be chosen according to the ordinance of Parliament (annually, or otherwise), join with the ministers in all acts of rule and admonition, with those other parts of their charge which the parochial administration doth require. 3. Let all criminal things, tending to the disturbance of that church administration which is amongst them be by the officers orderly delated to such as the civil magistrate shall appoint to take cognizance and determine of such things.
And thus far have we proposed nothing new, nothing not common; neither in that which follows is there any thing so indeed, may it be but rightly apprehended. For the several combinations of ministers and people: — 1. Let the extremes of the division not be above eight or ten miles distant and so the middle or center not more than four or five miles from any part of it, — which is no more than some usually go to the preaching of the word, and in which space Christians are generally as well known to one another in the country as almost at the next door in cities; but yet this may be. regulated according to the number of professors fit for the society intended, — which would not be above five hundred, nor under one hundred. 2. In this division let there be, in the name of Christ and the fear of God, a gathering of professors (visible saints, men and women of good knowledge and upright conversation, — so holding forth their communion with Christ), by their own desire and voluntary consent, into one body, — uniting themselves, by virtue of some promissory engagement or otherwise, to perform all mutual duties, to walk in love and peace, spiritual and church communion, as beseemeth the gospel. 3. Let every one so assembling have liberty, at some of the first meetings, to except against another, whether minister or others, so it be done with a spirit of meekness, and submission of judgment; or to demand such questions for satisfaction as shall be thought fit to be propounded. 4. When some convenient number are thus assembled, let the ministers, if men of approved integrity and abilities, be acknowledged as elders respectively called to teach and rule in the church by virtue of their former mission, and be assumed to be so to this society by virtue of their voluntary consent and election. 5. Let the ministers engage themselves in a special manner to watch over this flock, every one according to his abilities, both in teaching, exhorting, and ruling, so often as occasion shall be administered, for things that contain ecclesiastical rule and church order; acting jointly and as in a classical combination, and putting forth all authority that such classes are entrusted with. 6. If it be judged necessary that any officers be added to them for the purpose before named, let them be chosen by the consent of the multitude. 7. If not, let the ministers have the whole distributed among themselves respectively, according to the difference of their gifts, — reserving to the people their due and just privileges. 8. Let this congregation assemble at the least once in a month, for the celebration of the communion, and other things them concerning; the meeting of the ministers may be appointed by authority, for those of a classis. 9. If any one after his admission be found to walk unworthily, let him, after solemn, repeated admonition, be by joint consent left to his former station. 10. Let any person, in any of the parishes combined as before, that is desirous to be admitted into this society, as is thought fit, be received at any time. 11. If the number in process of time appear to be too great, let it be divided and subdivided, according to conveniency. 12. Any one of the ministers may administer the sacrament, either to some or all of these, in their several parishes or at the common meeting, as opportunity shall serve. 13. Let the rules of admission into this society and fellowship be scriptural, and the things required in the members only such as all godly men affirm to be necessary for every one that will partake of the ordinances with profit and comfort, — special care being taken that none be excluded who have the least breathings of soul in sincerity after Jesus Christ.
Now, beyond these generals for the present we judge it needless to express ourselves, or otherwise to confirm what we have proposed, each assertion almost directly pointing out unto what, in that particular, we do adhere; which being sufficiently confirmed by others, were but a superfluous labor to undertake. Neither shall we trouble you with a catalogue of conveniences, — whereof men are put upon an express annumeration, when otherwise they do not appear, — but commit the consideration of the tendence of the whole to every one’s judgment, and conclude with the removal of a few obvious objections; being resolved hereafter, by God’s assistance, to endeavor satisfaction about this way unto all, — unless to such as shall be so simple or malicious as to ask whether this way be that of the Presbyterians or Independents.
Obj. 1. By this means parishes will be unchurched.
Ans. 1. If by churches you understand such entire societies of Christians as have all church power, both according to right and exercise, in and amongst themselves, as Independents speak of congregations; then they were never churched by any. 2. If only civil divisions of men that may conveniently be taught by one pastor, and ruled by elders, whereof some may be fit to partake of all the ordinances, some not, as Presbyterians esteem them; then by this way they receive no injury, nor are abridged of any of their privileges.
Ans. No such thing; but a mere forming of one church with one presbytery.
Obj. 3. It is against the Parliament’s ordinance to assume a power of admitting and excluding of church members not exactly according to their rule, nor subordinate to the supervising of such as are appointed by them.
Ans. 1. For the rules set out by ordinance, we conceive that the church officers are to be interpreters of them, until appeal be made from them, unto which we shall submit; and if it be so determined against us, that any be put on our communion “ipsi viderint,” we shall labor to deliver our own souls. 2. Though the Parliament forbid any but such authoritatively to be excluded, yet it doth not command that any be admitted but such as desire it; and we shall pray for such a blessing upon the work of our ministry as will either prepare a man for it or persuade them “pro tempore” from it; unless they be stubbornly obstinate, or openly wicked, — against whom we hope for assistance. To objections arising from trouble and inconvenience, we answer, It cost more to redeem their souls.
The God of peace and unity give the increase! “ — Si quid novisti rectius istis, Candidus imperti, si non, his utere.” [Hor. Ep., 1:6,67,68.] And this is all which, for the present, I shall assert in this business; and this also is my own vindication. Time and leisure may give me advantage hereafter (if God permit) to deal seriously in this cause. In the meantime, it is not unknown to many, that so much as this was necessary for me to do; and I will not add now any thing that is not necessary.
Now for the other head of the accusation, about toleration of errors, “philosophare volo, sed paucis.” Something I shall add of my own present judgment in this matter; but with willing, express submission unto those whom the use and experience of things, with knowledge of foreign parts, skill in the rules of commonwealths, acquaintedness with the affections and spirits of men, have enabled to look punctually into the issues and tendencies of such a toleration. The main prejudice against it arises from the disturbances which it naturally (they say) produceth in civil states. I conceive no sort of men more unfit to judge of this than those whose abilities of learning do properly put them upon the discussing of this, and other controversies, as far as they are purely ecclesiastical, — no men more frequently betraying narrowness of apprehension and weakness in secular affairs. For other consequences, I shall not be much moved with them, until it be clearly determined whether be worse, heretics or hypocrites, into maintain an error or counterfeit the truth; and whether profession upon compulsion be acceptable to God or man. Laying those aside, let the thing itself be a little considered.
Peace ecclesiastical, quiet among the churches (which without doubt would be shaken by a universal toleration), is that which most men aim at and desire. And truly he that doth not, scarcely deserves the name and privilege of a Christian. Unity in the Scripture is so pressed, so commanded, and commended, that not to breathe after it argues a heart acted by another spirit than that which moved the holy penmen thereof.
But yet every agreement and consent amongst men professing the name of Christ, is not the unity and peace commended in the Scripture. That which some think to be Christ’s order, may perhaps be anti-Christian confusion; the specious name of unity may be a cloak for tyranny. Learned men have reckoned up a sevenfold unity in the Papacy; all which, notwithstanding, are far enough from that true evangelical unity which we are bound to labor for. Again, that which is good must be sought in a right manner, Or it will not be so to us. Peace and quiet is desirable; but there must be good causes and very urgent, to make us build our habitations out of others’ ruins, and roll our pillows in their blood. I speak of things ecclesiastical. The historian makes it a part of the oration spoken by Galgacus, the chieftain of the British forces, to stir them up against the Roman insolency, that when they had finished their depopulations, then they said they had peace. The same men have set up bishoprics in the Indies, as their forefathers did colonies here and elsewhere, with fire and sword. I know not how it comes to pass, but so it is, this proceeding with violence in matters of religion hath pleased and displeased all sorts of men, however distinguished by a true or false persuasion, who have enjoyed a vicissitude of the supreme power in any place, in supporting or suppressing of them. “Ure, seca, occide,” is the language of men backed with authority: “Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris,” say the same men under oppression. To give particular instances, were to lay open that nakedness which I suppose it my duty rather to coven What, then, you will say; shall every one be suffered to do what he pleaseth? You mean, think or believe what he pleaseth, or that which he is convinced to be a truth. Must all sorts of men and their opinions be tolerated? — These questions are not in one word to be resolved: many proposals are to be confirmed, many notions distinguished and retained, before a positive answer can be given. Take them in their whole latitude, and they may serve all men’s turns. A negative universal resolution may tantamount unto, — “The many intrusted with authority, or having that to back them, ought not to tolerate any of different persuasions from them, if they suppose them erroneous.” Now truly, for my part, were I in Spain or Italy, a native of those places, and God should be pleased there to reveal that truth of his gospel unto me which he hath done in England, I believe those states ought to tolerate me, though they were persuaded that I were the most odious heretic under heaven; and what punishment soever they should impose on me for my profession would be required at their hands; — unless they can convince me that God allows men to slay his servants for professing the gospel, if they believe them to be heretics: and so also excuse the Jews in crucifying his dear Son, because they esteemed him as an impostor. Christ was once crucified amongst thieves: he may be again, in them that are so supposed. I shall therefore summarily set down what I conceive in answer to these questions, premising a few things, if I mistake not, universally granted.
And yet a word or two concerning toleration itself, that some guess may be given at what we aim and intend, must interpose. Much discourse about toleration hath been of late days amongst men; some pleading for it, more against it, was it always must be. Toleration is the alms of authority; yet men that beg for it, think so much at least their due. Some say it is a sin to grant it; others, that it is no less to deny it. Generally, the pleaders of each side have their interest in the cause. I never knew one contend earnestly for a toleration of dissenters, but was so himself; nor any for their suppression, but were themselves of the persuasion which prevaileth: for if otherwise, this latter would argue a Circumcellion fury, willfully to seek their own ruin; the former so much charity, and commiseration of the condition of mortality as in these days would procure of the most no other livery but a fool’s coat. Who almost would not admire at such newdiscovered antipodes as should offer to assert an equal regiment of Trojans and Tyrians, — a like regard and allowance from authority for other sects as for that whereof themselves are a share? Now, amongst these contesters, few (nay, not any) have I found, either on the one side or the other, clearly and distinctly to define what they mean by toleration, or what is the direct purpose, signification, and tendency of non-toleration (a word in its who]e extent written only in the forehead of the man of sin), — what bounds, what terriers are to be assigned to the one or to the other, — unto what degrees of longitude or latitude their pole is to be elevated.
Some, perhaps, by a toleration understand a universal, uncontrolled license, “vivendi ut velis,” in things concerning religion; that every one may be let alone, and not so much as discountenanced in doing, speaking, acting, how, what, where, or when he pleaseth, “in agendis et credendis fidei,” in all such things as concern the worship of God, articles of belief, or generally any thing commanded in religion; and in the meantime the parties at variance, and litigant about differences, freely to revile, reject, and despise one another, according as their provoked genius shall dispose their minds thereunto. Now truly, though every one of this mind pretends to cry for mercy to be extended unto poor afflicted truth, yet I cannot but be persuaded that such a toleration would prove exceeding pernicious to all sorts of men, and at last end in a dispute, like that recounted by Juvenal between two cities in Egypt, about their differences between their garden and river deities; or like the contest related by Vertomannus in his travels amongst the Mohammedans, about Haly and Homar, the pretended successors to their grand impostor, where every one plied his adversary, “Hastisque clypeisque et saxis grandibus,” cleaving their skulls, and making entrance for their arguments by dint of sword: and I wish experience did not sufficiently convince us that the profession of Christianity, where the power of godliness is away, will not prevent these evils: “Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.”
Others there are that press for a non-toleration of any thing that opposes or contradicts the truth in any part, themselves being in their own judgments fully possessed of all, — their tenets being unto them the only form of wholesome words. Moreover (for these things recounted make not the difference, for it is so with all sects of men), the magistrates, or those who are intrusted with all the power over men which, for the preservation of human society, God hath been pleased to make out from himself, are also of the same persuasion with them. These they supplicate that an effectual course may be taken (asserting not only that they are intrusted with power from above so to do, but also that it is their great sin if they do it not) whereby all sectaries and erroneous persons may not only not be countenanced or kept within bounds, and not be forborne in any disturbing, insolent miscarriage; but also, that all that doctrine which is not publicly owned may be sure to be supplanted by the restraint and punishment of the dissenters, whether unto imprisonment, confiscation of goods, or death itself; for they must not cease, nay (if the thing is to be effected), they cannot rationally assign where to stay in punishing, before they come to the period of all, death itself, which is the point and center wherein all the lines of this sentence meet; wherein, to me, truly there is nothing but “luctus ubique, pavor, et plurima mortis imago.” I know it is colored with fair pretences; but “quid ego verba audiam, facta cum video?” It is written with red letters, and the pens of its abettors are dipped in the blood of Christians. Doubtless between these extremes lies the way.
Again, some by a toleration understand a mutual forbearance in communion, though there be great differences in opinion; and this the generality of the clergy (as heretofore they were called) did usually incline unto, — viz., that any men almost might be tolerated, whilst they did not separate. And these lay down this for a ground, that there is a latitude in judgment to be allowed; so that the communion may be held by men of several persuasions, in all things, with an allowance of withdrawing in those particulars wherein there is dissent amongst them: and this the Belgic Remonstrants pressed hard for, before they were cast out by the Synod of Dort.
Others plead for a toleration out of communion; that is, that men renouncing the communion of those whose religion is owned and established by authority, may yet peaceably be suffered to enjoy the ordinances in separation.
Moreover, by communion some understand one thing, some another. Some think that is preserved sufficiently, if the dissenters do acknowledge those from whom they do dissent to be true churches, to enjoy the ordinances of Christ, to have the means of life and salvation in them, closing with them in all substantials of doctrine; but yet, because of some disorders in and amongst them, they dare not be as of them, — but yet only separate from those disorders.
Others, again, think that communion is utterly dissolved if any distinctions of persons be made, more than all acknowledge ought to be, — any differences in the administration of the ordinances, — any divisions in government at all.
Now, all these things, and many more that might be added, must clearly be distinguished and determined by him that would handle his matter at large and exactly, that we may know what he means by those ambiguous words, and in what acceptation he owns them. Until this be done, a man may profess to oppose both toleration and non-toleration without any contradiction at all, because in their several senses they do not always intend the same.
For my part, as on the one side; — if by toleration you mean “potestatem vivendi ut velis” (as the Stoics defined liberty), a universal concession of an unbounded liberty, or rather, bold, unbridled licentiousness, for every one to vent what he pleaseth, and to take what course seems good in his own eyes, in things concerning religion and the worship of God, I cannot give my vote for it; — so, if by non-toleration you mean that which the gloss upon that place, “Haereticum hominem de vita,” intended by adding “supple tolle,” to make up the sense, — as if they were not to be endured in any place who dissent only in not-fundamentals from that which is established, but to be hated “ad furcas et leones,” as the Christians of old, or to have their new derided lights extinguished in that light, “qua stantes ardent, qui fixo gutture fumant,” in a Nero’s bonfire, — into the secrets of them that are thus minded let not my soul descend. “In their anger they will slay a man, and in their self-will they dig down a wall.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel.” These things, then, being so ambiguous, doubtful, and uncertain, we dare not be too peremptorily dogmatical, nor positively assert but only what is certainly true; as are these following: — 1. That heresies and errors ought not to be tolerated; — that is, men ought not to connive at, or comply with, those ways and opinions which they are convinced to be false, erroneous, contrary to sound doctrine, and that form of wholesome words which is delivered unto us as (next unto Christ) the greatest treasure of our souls, — especially if credibly supposed to shake any fundamentals of the common faith; but with all their strength and abilities, in all lawful ways, upon every just call, to oppose, suppress, and overthrow them, — rote root them up and east them out, that they may not, as noxious weeds and tares, overgrow and choke the good corn, amongst which they are covertly scattered. All predictions of “false Christs, false prophets, false teachers to come,” and “to be avoided,” all cautions to “try spirits, avoid heretics, beware of seducers, keep close to the truth received, — to hate the doctrine of Nicolaitanes, to avoid endless disputes, strife of words, old fables, languishing about unprofitable questions,” — the epithets given to, and descriptions made of, heresies, that they are “pernicious, damnable, cankers, works of the flesh,” and the like, — are all incitations and encouragements for the applying of all expedient means for the taking out of the way these stumbling-blocks. Let, then, the Scriptures be searched, and all ways embraced which the gospel holdeth forth, for the discovering, convincing, silencing, reproving, confuting of errors and persons erring, by admonitions, reproofs, mighty Scripture convictions, evidencing of the truth, with fervent prayers to Almighty God, the God of truth, that he would give us one heart and one way; and if these weapons of our warfare do not prevail, we must let them know that one day their disobedience will be revenged with being cut off, and “cast out as unprofitable branches, fit to be cast into the fire.” 2. That any doctrine tending undeniably in its own nature (and not by strained consequences) to the disturbance of the civil state may be suppressed, by all such means as are lawfully to be used for the conservation of the peace and safety of the state. Jesus Christ, though accused of sedition, taught none, practiced none. His gospel gives not control to magistracy, righteous laws, or any sort of lawful government established amongst men; and therefore they whose faith is faction, and whose religion is rebellion, — I mean Jesuits and Jesuitical Papists, — some of the articles of whose creeds are directly repugnant to the safety, yea, being, of any commonwealths, wherein themselves and men of their own persuasion do not domineer and rule, may be proceeded against by them who bear not the sword in vain. The like may be said of men seditious, under any pretences whatsoever, — like the Anabaptists at Munster. 3. That such heresies or mispersuasions as are attended with any notorious sin in practice (I mean, not in consequences, but owned by their abettors, and practiced accordingly, beyond Epicurus, whose honest life was not corrupted by his foul, dishonest opinion), — like the Nicolaitanes, teaching, as most suppose, promiscuous lust; and the Papists’ express abominable idolatry, — may be in their authors more severely punished than such crimes not owned and maintained do singly deserve. To pretend conscience in such a case will not avail; “the works of the flesh are manifest,” easy to be discerned, known to all. Apologies for such, argue searedness, not tenderness: such “evil communication” as “corrupteth good manners,” is not to be tolerated. 4. No pretences whatsoever, nor seeming color, should countenance men dissenting from what is established, to revile, traduce, deride, or otherwise expose to vulgar contempt, by words or actions, the way owned by authority (if not evidently fallen off from Jehovah to Baal), or fasten bitter, uncharitable appellations on those who act according to that way; that is, the public ministers and ministry, acknowledged, owned, and maintained by the supreme magistrate, where they both are. Here, by the way, I cannot but complain of want of ingenuity and candid charity in those men who, having a comfortable maintenance arising another way, do yet, “ad faciendum populum,” continually, in pulpits and other public places, inveigh against that way of maintenance which is allowed by the magistrate, and set apart for those that labor in the word and doctrine; unto whom I wish no farther evil, but only forced patience when their neighboring tradesmen shall have persuaded the people about them that preachers of the gospel ought to live by the work of their hands, and so the contribution for their maintenance be subducted.
And therefore, truly, if some severe course were used for the restraint of those who in our days strive to get themselves a name, and to build up their repute, by slighting, undervaluing, and, by all uncharitable, malicious ways, rendering odious those from whom they dissent, I should not much intercede for them: these are evil works, fruits of the flesh, evident to all.
Now these, and such things as these, are acknowledged by all even-spirited men. Some few I shall now add, I hope not unlike them. As, — 5. That it is a most difficult undertaking to judge of heresies and heretics, — no easy thing to show what heresy is in general; — whether this or that particular error be a heresy or no, — whether it be a heresy in this or that man; especially if such things as stubbornness, and pertinacy upon conviction, with the like, be required to make a man a heretic, — for such things cannot be evidenced or made out, but only (for the most part) by most obscure conjectures, and such as will scarcely satisfy a charitable judgment. Papists, indeed, who have laid it down for a principle, that a contradiction of the doctrine of the church, known to be so, and continued in after admonition, doth infallibly make a man a heretic, are very clear, uniform, and settled in that which they have made the ground, warrant, and foundation of slaying millions of men professing the name of Christ: but for all other Christians, who acknowledge an infallibility in the rule, but no infallibility in any for the discovery of the truth of that rule (though exceeding clear and perspicuous in things necessary), — for them, I say, understanding and keeping close to their own principles, it is a most difficult thing to determine of heresy, with an assurance that they are so out of danger of erring in that determination as to make it a ground of rigorous proceedings against those of whom they have so concluded. Some things, indeed, are so clearly in the Scripture laid down and determined, that to question or deny them bespeaks a spirit self-condemned in that which he doth profess. That twice two makes four, that he that runneth moveth, are not things more evident to reason than many things in the Scripture are to every captivated understanding; — a willful deviation in such, merits no charity. But generally, errors are about things hard to be understood, not so clearly appearing, and concerning which it is very difficult to pass the sentence of heresy. No judge of heresy since the apostles’ days, but hath been obnoxious to error in that judgment; and those who have been forwardest to assume a judicature and power of discerning between truth and error, so as to have others regulated thereby, have erred most foully. Of old it was generally conceived to be in councils.
Now, I should acknowledge myself obliged to any man that would direct me to a council since that Acts 15:1 — which I may not be forced from the word to assert that it, in some thing or other, went astray.
Luther feared not to affirm of the first and best of general synods, that he “understood not the Holy Ghost to speak in it;” and that the canons thereof were but plain hay and stubble; — yea, and Beza, that such was the “folly, ignorance, ambition, wickedness of many bishops in the best times, that you would suppose the devil to have been president in their assemblies;” insomuch as Nazianzen complained that he never saw a f90 good end of any, and affirmed that he was resolved never to come at them more. And in truth, the fightings and brawls, diabolical arts of defamation and accusing one another, abominable pride, ambition, and affectation of pre-eminence, which appeared in most of them, did so far prevail, that in the issue they became (as one was entitled) dens of thieves, rather than conventions of humble and meek disciples of Jesus Christ, until at length, the holy dove being departed, an ominous owl overlooked the Lateran fathers; and though with much clamor they destroyed the appearing fowl, yet the foul spirit of darkness and error wrought as effectually in them as ever. But to close this discourse. Ignorance of men’s invincible prejudices, of their convictions, strong persuasions, desires, aims, hopes, fears, inducements, — sensibleness of our own infirmities, failings, misapprehensions, darkness, knowing but in part, should work in us a charitable opinion of poor erring creatures, that do it perhaps with as upright, sincere hearts and affections as some enjoy truth. Austin tells the Manichees, the most paganish heretics that ever were, that they only raged and were high against them who knew not what it was to seek the truth and escape error. With what ardent prayers the knowledge of truth is obtained! And how tender is Salvian in his judgment of the Arians! “They are,” saith he, “heretics, but know it not, — heretics to us, but not to themselves; nay, they think themselves so catholic that they judge us to be heretics: what they are to us, that are we to them. They err, but with a good mind; and for this cause God shows patience towards them.”
Now, if any should dissent from what I have before asserted concerning this particular, I would entreat him to lay down some notes whereby heresies may infallibly be discerned to be such; and he shall not find me repugning. 6. That great consideration ought to be had of that sovereign dictate of nature, the sum of all moral duties. “Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris;” — “Do not that unto others which you would not have done to you, were you in the mine condition with them.” In the business in hand, we are supposed by others to be in that estate wherein we suppose those to be of whom we speak; those others being to us what we are to them.
Now truly, if none of the former inconveniences and iniquities which we recounted (assertion 2,3,4, or the like), do accompany erring persons, it will be something difficult to make it appear how we may, if enjoying authority over them, impose any coercion, restraint, or punishment on them, which we would not acknowledge to be justly laid on us by others (supposing it should be laid) having authority over us, convinced that our persuasion differing from them is false and erroneous. No sort of Christians but are heretics and schismatics to some Christians in authority; and it may be their lot to live under the power and jurisdiction of men so persuaded of them, where they ought to expect that the same measure will be given unto them which, in other places, they have consented to mete out to others.
But men will say, and all men pleading the cause of non-toleration in its full extent do say, That they are heretics and erroneous persons whom we do oppose: we ourselves are orthodox; and no law of nature, no dictate of the Scriptures, requires that we should think it just to render unto them that are orthodox as unto them that are heretics, seducers, and false teachers. Because thieves are punished, shall honest men fear that they shall be so too? — But a thief is a thief in all the world, unto all men: in opinions it is not so. — He is a heretic that is to be punished. — But to whom? in whose judgment? in his own? — no more than we are in ours. — But he is so to them that judge him. — True. Put the case, a Protestant were to be judged by a Papist, as a thousand saints have been: is he not the worst of heretics to his judge? These things turn in a circle: what we are to ourselves, that he is to himself: what he is to us, that we are unto others that may be our judges. But however, you will say, we are in the truth, and therefore ought to go free. Now, truly, this is the same paralogism: who says we are in the truth? others? no, ourselves. Who says erroneous persons (as so supposed) are heretics, or the like? they themselves? no, but we: and those that are to us as we are to them, say no less of us. Let us not suppose that all the world will stoop to us, because we have the truth, as we affirm, but they do not believe. If we make the rule of our proceedings against others to be our conviction that they are erroneous; others will, or may, make theirs of us to be their rule of proceeding against us. We do thus to them, because we so judge of them; will not others, who have the same judgment of us as we of them, do the like unto us? Now here I profess that I do not desire to extend any thing in this discourse to the patronizing of any error whatsoever, — I mean, any thing commonly so esteemed in the reformed churches, — as myself owning any such; much less to the procuring of a licentious immunity for every one in his way; and least of all, to countenance men walking disorderly in any regard, especially in the particulars before recounted; — but only to show how warily, and upon what sure principles, that cannot be retorted on us, we ought to proceed, when any severity is necessarily required, in case of great danger; and how in lesser things, if the unity of faith may in some comfortable measure be kept, then to assert the proposition in its full latitude, urging and pleading for Christian forbearance, even in such manner to be granted as we would desire it from them whom we do forbear; for truly in those disputable things, we must acknowledge ourselves in the same series with other men, unless we can produce express patents for our exemptions. But some, perhaps, will say, that even in such things as these Gamaliel’s counsel is not good; better all go on with punishing that can; truth will not be suppressed, but error will. Good God! was not truth oppressed by antichristian tyranny? was not outward force the engine that for many generations kept truth in corners? But of this afterward.
Now, I am mistaken if this principle, that the civil magistrate ought to condemn, suppress, and persecute every one that he is convinced to err, though in smaller things, do not at length, in things of greater importance, make Christendom a very theater of bloody murders, killing, slaying, imprisoning men round in a compass; until the strongest becomes dictator to the rest, and he alone be supposed to have infallible guidance, — all the rest to be heretics, because overcome and subdued. (When I speak of death and killing in this discourse, I understand not only forcible death itself, but that also which is equivalent thereunto, as banishment, or perpetual imprisonment.) I had almost said, that it is the interest of mortality to consent generally to the persecution of a man maintaining such a destructive opinion. 7. That whatsoever restraint or other punishment may be allowed in case of grosser errors, yet slaying of heretics for simple heresy, as they call it, for my part I cannot close withal; nor shall ever give my vote to the burning, hanging, or killing of a man, otherwise upright, honest, and peaceable in the state, merely because he misbelieveth any point of Christian faith. Let what pretenses you please be produced, or colors flourished, I should be very unwilling to pronounce the sentence of blood in the case of heresy. I do not intend here to dispute; but if any one will, upon Protestant principles and Scripture grounds, undertake to assert it, I promise (if God grant me life) he shall not want a convert or an antagonist.
I know the usual pretences: Such a thing is blasphemy. — But search the Scripture, look upon the definitions of divines, and by all men’s consent you will find heresy, in what head of religion soever it be, and blasphemy properly so called, to be exceedingly distant. Let a blasphemer undergo the law of blasphemy; but yet I think we cannot be too cautious how we place men in that damnable series calling heaven and earth to witness the contrary. But again: To spread such errors will be destructive to souls. — So are many things, which yet are not punishable with forcible death. Let him that thinks so go kill Pagans and Mohammedans. As such heresy is a canker, but a spiritual one, let it be prevented by spiritual means. Cutting off men’s heads is no proper remedy for it. If state physicians think otherwise, I say no more, but that I am not of the college, and what I have already said I submit to better judgments. 8. It may be seriously considered, upon a view of the state and condition of Christians, since their name was known in the world, whether this doctrine of punishing erring persons with death, imprisonment, banishment, and the like, under the name of heretics, hath not been as useful and advantageous for error as truth; nay, whether it hath not appeared the most pernicious invention that ever was broached. In the first, second, and third ages, we hear little of it, — nothing for it, — something against it: — much afterward against it, in Austin and others. f93 Marlinus, the famous French bishop, rejected the communion of a company of his associate bishops, because they had consented, with Maximus the emperor, unto the death of the Priscillianists, — as vile heretics as ever breathed. At the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century, when the Arians and orthodox had successively procured the supreme magistrate to join with them, men were killed and dismembered like beasts: banishments, imprisonments, plunderings, especially by the Arians, were as frequent as in new subdued kingdoms. But never was this tragedy so acted to the life, as by the worshippers of images on the one side, and their adversaries on the other: which difference rose about the year 130, and was carried on with that barbarous outrage on both sides, especially by the Iconolatrae (as the worst were ever best at such proceedings), as is wonderful to consider. Now, excepting only those idolatrous heretics in the last, who were paid home in their own coin for a thousand years together, this doctrine was put in practice against none almost but the martyrs of Jesus. The Roman stories of the killing of heretics, are all martyrologies; thousands slain for heretics now lie under the altar, crying for vengeance, and shall one day sit upon thrones, judging their judges. So that where one man hath suffered for an error, under the name of a heretic, five hundred under the same notion have suffered for truth; a principle would seem more befitting Christians to spare five hundred for the saving of one guiltless person. Truth hath felt more of the teeth of this scorpion than error; and clearly it grew up by degrees, with the whole mystery of iniquity. In the gospel we have nothing like it: the acts of Christ purging the temple, Peter pronouncing the fate of Ananias, and Paul smiting Elymas with blindness, seem to me heterogeneous. The first laws of Constantine speak liberty and freedom. Pecuniary mulcts afterward were added, and general edicts against all sects; and so it is put over into the hands of the Arians, who exceedingly cherished it: yet for a good while pretenses must be sought out, — Eustathius of Antioch must be accused of adultery, Athanasius of sedition, magic, and I know not what, that a color might be had for their persecution. The Arian kings in Africa were the first that owned it, gugnh~| kefalh~| , and acted according to their persuasions. Methinks I hear the cries of poor dismembered, mangled creatures, for the faith of the holy Trinity! Next to these, through a few civil constitutions of some weak emperors, it wholly comes to reside in the hands of the pope; kings and princes are made his executioners, and he plays his game to the purpose. Single persons serve not this Bel and dragon, — whole nations must be slaughtered, that he may be drunk with blood. He sends whole armies to crucify Christ afresh, — he gives every one of his soldiers a cross; hence followed cruel sights, bloody battles, wasting of kingdoms, raging against the names, ashes, sepulchres of the dead, with more than heathenish cruelty. Such evil fruits hath this bitter root sent forth, the streams of this fountain have all been blood; so that it cannot be denied but that a judicature of truth, and the contrary assumed, with a forcible backing of the sentence, was the bottom-stone in the foundation and highest in the corner of the tower of Babel: and I believe that upon search it will appear, that error hath not been advanced by any thing in the world so much as by usurping a power for its suppression. In divers contests that the pope had with others, the truth was on his side (as in the business of Athanasius and others in the east deposed by the Arians ). Now, who would not have thought, that his standing up with all earnestness for the truth would not have been the ruin of the devil’s kingdom of darkness, and almost have spoiled the plot of the mystery of iniquity? when the truth is, the largest steps that ever the man of sin took towards his throne was by usurping of power to suppress errors and heresies. It would be a great encouragement to use that way for the extirpation of errors (if any such be, besides the preaching of the gospel, and convictions from thence), which any one could produce and give assurance that it hath not been tried, or been tried and proved ineffectual for the supplantation of truth; and if such a way be not produced, what if both should grow together until harvest? 9. Let us not be too hasty in pressing any opinion arising and divulged with odious consequences of sedition, turbulency, and the like, because tumults and troubles happen in the commonwealth where it is asserted. A coincidence of events is one of the principal causes of error and misjudgings in the world: because errors and tumults arise together, therefore one is the cause of the other, may be an argument “a baculo ad angulum.” It is a hard thing to charge them with sedition who protest against it, and none can make it appear that it is “contraria factis” by any of their actions, but only because it is fit they should bear the blame of what happeneth evilly in their days. Upon every disaster in the empire, the noise of old was, “Christianos ad leones.” For our part, we ought to remember that we were strangers in Egypt. It is but little more than a hundred years since all mouths were opened and filled with reproaches against that glorious Reformation wherein we rejoice. Was it not the unanimous voice of all the adversaries thereof, that a new religion was brought in, tending to the immediate ruin of all states and commonwealths, — attended with rebellion, the mother of sedition? Have we not frequent apologies of our divines for the confutation of such false, malicious, and putid criminations? It is true, indeed, the light of the gospel breaking out was accompanied with war, and not peace (according to the prediction of our Savior); whereof the gospel was no more the cause, than John Diazius was of that horrible murder, when his brains were chopped out with an axe by his brother Alphonsus, because he professed the gospel. Hence Luther, the vehemency of whose spirit gave no way to glosses and temporizing excuses, plainly affirms those tumults to be such necessary appendices of the preaching of the gospel, that he should not believe the word of God to be abroad in the world, if he saw it not accompanied with tumults; which he had rather partake in, than perish under the wrath of God in an eternal tumult. The truth must go on, though thereby the world should be reduced to its primitive chaos and confusion. Were it not a perpetual course, for men of every persuasion to charge sedition, and the like, upon that which they would have suppressed, knowing that no name is more odious unto them who have power to effect their desire; and did I not find that some, who have had much ado, whilst they were sheep, to keep off that imputation from themselves, within a few years, becoming lions, have laid it home upon others as peaceable as they; I might perhaps be more rigid than now these discoveries will suffer me to be. Far be it from me to apologize for truth itself, if seditious; — only I abhor those false, malicious criminations, whereby God’s people in these days wherein we live have exceedingly suffered. It hath pleased God so to order things in this kingdom, that the work of recovering his worship to its purity, and restoring the civil state to its liberty, should be both carried on at the same time by the same persons. Are there none now in this kingdom to whom this reforming is an almost everting of God’s worship? And are there none that have asserted that our new religion hath caused all those tumults and bloodshed? And doth not every unprejudiced man see that these are hellish lies and malicious accusations, having indeed neither ground nor color, but only their coincidence in respect of time? Is any wise man moved with their clamors? Are their aspersions considerable? Are we the only men that have been thus injuriously traduced? Remember the difference between Elijah and Ahab, — what was laid to the charge of Paul; see the apologies of the old Christians, and speak what you find.
Much might here be added concerning the qualifications, carriages, humility, peaceableness, of erring persons; all which ought to be considered, and our proceedings towards them to be, if not regulated, yet much swayed by such considerations. Some I have known myself, that I dare say the most curious inquirer into their ways, that sees with eyes of flesh, would not be able to discover any thing but mere conviction and tenderness of conscience that causeth them to own the opinions which, different from others, they do embrace. Others, again, so exceeding supercilious, scorning, proud, selfish, — so given to contemning of all others, reviling and undervaluing of their adversaries, — that the blindest pity cannot but see much carnalness and iniquity in their ways. These things, then, deserve to be weighed, all passion and particular interest being set aside. And then, if the die be cast, and we must forward, let us take along with us these two cautions: — (1.) So to carry ourselves in all our censures, every one in his sphere (ecclesiastical discipline being preserved as pure and unmixed from secular power as possible), that it may appear to all that it is the error which men maintain which is so odious unto us, and not the consequent or their dissent from us, whether by subducting themselves from our power or withdrawing from communion. For if this latter be made the cause of our proceeding against any, there must be one law for them all, — all that will not bow, to the fiery furnace! Recusancy is the fault; and that being the same in all, must have the same punishment, — which would be such an unrighteous inequality as is fit for none but Antichrist to own. (2.) That nothing be done to any, but that the bound and farthest end of it be seen at the beginning, and not leave way and room for new persecution upon new pretenses. “Cedo alteram et alteram,” one stripe sometimes makes way for another, and how know I that men will stay at thirty-nine? “Principiis obsta.”
All these things being considered, I cannot so well close with them who make the least allowance of dissent to be the mother of abominations.
Words and hated phrases may easily be heaped up to a great number, to render any thing odious which we have a mind to oppose; but the proving of an imposed evil or absurdity is sometimes a labor too difficult for every undertaker. And so I hope I have said enough to warrant my own hesitancy in this particular. Some might now expect that I should here positively set down what is my judgment concerning errors and erroneous persons dissenting from the truth received and acknowledged by authority, with respect unto their toleration: unto whom I answer, That to consider the power of the magistrate about things of religion, and over consciences; the several restraints that have been used in this case, or are pleaded for; — the difference between dangerous fundamental errors and others; — the several interests of men, and ways of disengaging; — the extent of communion, and the absolute necessity of a latitude to be allowed in some things; — with such other things as would be requisite for a full handling of the matter in hand, — ask a longer discourse, and more exactness, than the few hours allotted to this appendix can afford. Only for the present I ask, if any will take the pains to inform me, — 1. What they mean by a non-toleration? whether only a not countenancing nor holding communion with them; or if crushing and punishing them, then how? to what degree? by what means? where they will undoubtedly bound? 2. What the error is concerning which the inquiry is made? the clear opposition thereof to the word of God? the danger of it? the repugnancy that is in it to peace, quietness, and the power of godliness? 3. What or who are the erring persons? how they walk? in what manner of conversation? what is their behavior towards others not of their own persuasion? what gospel means have been used for their conviction? what may be supposed to be their prejudices, motives, interests, and the like?
And then, if it be worth asking, I shall not be backward to declare my opinion. And truly, without the consideration of these things, and other such circumstances, how a right judgment can be passed in this case, I see not.
And so, hoping the courteous reader will look with a candid eye upon these hasty lines, rather poured out than written; and consider that a day’s pains in these times may serve for that which is but for a day’s use; the whole is submitted to his judgment by him who professeth his all in this kind to be, — the love of truth and peace.