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REASON OF CHURCH-GOVERNMENT
URGED AGAINST PRELATY.
IN TWO BOOKS.
[FIRST PUBLISHED 1641.]
In the publishing of human laws, which for the most part aim not beyond the good of civil society, to set them barely forth to the people without reason or preface, like a physical prescript, or only with threatenings, as it were a lordly command, in the judgment of Plato was thought to be done neither generously nor wisely. His advice was, seeing that persua sion certainly is a more winning and more manlike way to keep men in obedience than fear, that to such laws as were of principal moment, there should be used as an induction some well-tempered discourse, showing how good, how gainful, how happy it must needs be to live according to honesty and justice; which being uttered with those native colours and graces of speech, as true eloquence, the daughter of virtue, can best bestow upon her mother's praises, would so incite, and in a manner charm, the multitude into the love of that which is really good, as to embrace it ever after, not of custom and awe, which most men do, but of choice and purpose, with true and constant delight. But this practice we may learn from a better and more ancient authority than any heathen writer hath to give us; and indeed being a point of so high wisdom and worth, how could it be but we should find it in that book, within whose sacred context all wisdom is unfolded? Moses, therefore, the only lawgiver that we can believe to have been visibly taught of God, knowing how vain it was to write laws to men whose hearts were not first seasoned with the knowledge of God and of his works, began from the book of Genesis, as a prologue to his laws; which Josephus right well hath noted: that the nation of the Jews, reading therein the universal goodness of God to all creatures in the creation, and his peculiar favour to them in his election of Abraham their ancestor from whom they could derive so many blessings upon themselves, might he moved to obey sincerely, by knowing so good a reason of their obedience. If then, in the administration of civil justice, and under the obscurity of ceremonial rights, such care was had by the wisest of the heathen, and by Moses among the Jews, to instruct them at least in a general reason of that government to which their subjection was required; how much more ought the members of the church, under the gospel, seek to inform their understanding in the reason of that government, which the church claims to have over them! Especially for that church hath in her immediate cure those inner parts and affections of the mind, where the seat of reason is having power to examine our spiritual knowledge, and to demand from us, in God's behalf, a service entirely reasonable. But because about the manner and order of this government, whether it ought to
be presbyterial or prelatical, such endless question, or rather uproar, is arisen in this land, as may be justly termed what the fever is to the physi cians, the eternal reproach of our divines, whilst other profound clerks of late, greatly, as they conceive, to the advancement of prelaty, are so earnestly meting out the Lydian proconsular Asia, to make good the prime metropolis of Ephesus, as if some of our prelates in all haste meant to change their soil, and become neighbours to the English bishop of Chalcedon; and whilst good Breerwood as busily bestirs himself in our vulgar tongue, to divide precisely the three patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch; and whether to any of these England doth belong: I shall in the mean while not cease to hope, through the mercy and grace of Christ, the head and husband of his church, that England shortly is to belong, neither to see patriarchal nor see prelatical, but to the faithful feeding and disciplining of that ministerial order, which the blessed apostles constituted throughout the churches; and this I shall assay to prove, can be no other than presbyters and deacons. And if any man incline to think I undertake a task too difficult for my years, I trust through the supreme enlightening assistance far otherwise; for my years, be they few or many, what imports it? So they bring reason, let that be looked on: and for the task, from hence that the question in hand is so needful to be known at this time, chiefly by every meaner capacity, and contains in it the explication of many admirable and heavenly privileges reached out to us by the gospel, I conclude the task must be easy: God having to this end ordained his gospel, to be the revelation of his power and wisdom in Christ Jesus. And this is one depth of his wisdom, that he could so plainly reveal so great a measure of it to the gross distorted apprehension of decayed mankind. Let others, therefore, dread and shun the Scriptures for their darkness; I shall wish I may deserve to be reckoned among those who admire and dwell upon them for their clearness. And this seems to be the cause why in those places of holy writ, wherein is treated of church-government, the reasons thereof are not formally and professedly set down, because to him that heeds attentively the drift and scope of Christian profession. they easily imply themselves; which thing further to explain, having now prefaced enough, I shall no longer defer.
That church-government is prescribed in the gospel, and that to say otherwise is unsound.
THE first and greatest reason of church government we may securely, with the assent of many on the adverse part, affirm to be, because we find it so ordained and set out to us by the appointment of God in the Scriptures; but whether this be presbyterial, or prelatical, it cannot be brought to the scanning, until I have said what is meet to some who do not think it for the ease of their inconsequent opinions, to grant that church-discipline is platformed in the Bible, but that it is left to the discretion of men. To this conceit of theirs I answer, that it is both unsound and untrue; for there is not that thing in the world of more grave and urgent importance throughout the whole life of man, than is discipline. What need I instance? He that hath read with judgment, of nations and commonwealths, of cities and camps, of peace and war, sea and land, will readily
agree that the flourishing and decaying of all civil societies, all the moments and turnings of human occasions, are moved to and fro as upon the axle of discipline. So that whatsoever power or sway in mortal things, weaker men have attributed to fortune, I durst with more confidence (the honour of Divine Providence ever saved) ascribe either to the vigour or the slackness of discipline. Nor is there any sociable perfection in this life, civil or sacred, that can be above discipline; but she is that which with her musical cords preserves and holds all the parts thereof together. Hence in those perfect armies of Cyrus in Xenophon, and Scipio in the Roman stories, the excellence of military skill was esteemed, not by the not needing, but by the readiest submitting to the edicts of their commander. And certainly discipline is not only the removal of disorder; but if any visible shape can be given to divine things, the very visible shape and image of virtue, whereby she is not only seen in the regular gestures and motions of her heavenly paces as she walks, but also makes the harmony of her voice audible to mortal ears. Yea, the angels themselves, in whom no disorder is feared, as the apostle that saw them in his rapture describes, are distinguished and quaternioned into the celestial princedoms and satrapies, according as God himself has writ his imperial decrees through the great provinces of heaven. The state also of the blessed in paradise, though never so perfect, is not therefore left without discipline, whose golden surveying reed, marks out and measures every quarter and circuit of New Jerusalem. Yet is it not to be conceived, that those eternal effluences of sanctity and love in the glorified saints should by this means be confined and cloyed with repetition of that which is prescribed, but that our happiness may orb itself into a thousand vagancies of glory and delight, and with a kind of eccentrical equation be, as it were, an invariable planet of joy and felicity; how much less can we believe that God would leave his frail and feeble, though not less beloved, church here below to the perpetual stumble of conjecture and disturbance in this our dark voyage, without the card and compass of discipline! Which is so hard to be of man's making, that we may see even in the guidance of a civil state to worldly happiness, it is not for every learned, or every wise man, though many of them consult in common, to invent or frame a discipline: but if it be at all the work of man, it must be of such a one as is a true knower of himself, and in whom contemplation and practice, wit, prudence, fortitude, and eloquence, must be rarely met, both to comprehend the hidden causes of things, and span in his thoughts all the various effects that passion or complexion can work in man's nature; and hereto must his hand be at defiance with gain, and his heart in all virtues heroic; so far is it from the ken of these wretched projectors of ours, that bescrawl their pamphlets every day with new forms of government for our church. And therefore all the ancient lawgivers. were either truly inspired, as Moses, or were such men as with authority enough might give it out to be so, as Minos, Lycurgus, Numa, because they wisely forethought that men would never quietly submit to such a discipline as had not more of God's hand in it than man's. To come within the narrowness of household government, observation will show us many deep counsellors of state and judges to demean themselves incorruptly in the settled course of affairs, and many worthy preachers upright in their lives, powerful in their audience: but look upon either of these men where they are left to their own disciplining at home, and you shall soon perceive, for all their single knowledge and uprightness, how deficient they are in the regulating of their own family; not only in what may concern the virtuous and decent composure of their minds in their several places, but that
which is of a lower and easier performance, the right possessing of the out ward vessel, their body, in health or sickness, rest or labour, diet or abstinence, whereby to render it more pliant to the soul, and useful to the commonwealth which if men were but as good to discipline themselves, as some are to tutor their horses and hawks, it could not be so gross in most households. If then it appear so hard, and so little known how to govern a house well, which is thought of so easily discharge, and for every man's undertaking; what skill of man, what wisdom, what parts can be sufficient to give laws and ordinances to the elect household of God? If we could imagine that he had left it at random without his provident and gracious ordering, who is he so arrogant, so presumptuous, that durst dispose and guide the living ark of the Holy Ghost, though he should find it wandering in the field of Bethshemesh, without the conscious warrant of some high calling? But no profane insolence can parallel that which our prelates dare avouch, to drive outrageously, and shatter the holy ark of the church, not borne upon their shoulders with pains and labour in the word, but drawn with rude oxen their officials, and their own brute inventions. Let them make shows of reforming while they will, so long as the church is mounted upon the prelatical cart, and not as it ought, between the hands of the ministers, it will but shake and totter; and he that sets to his hand, though with a good intent to hinder the shogging of it, in this unlawful wagonry wherein it rides, let him beware it be not fatal to him as it was to Üzza. Certainly if God be the father of his family the church, wherein could he express that name more, than in training it up under his own allwise and dear economy, not turning it loose to the havoc of strangers and wolves, that would ask no better plea than this, to do in the church of Christ whatever humour, faction, policy, or licentious will, would prompt them to? Again, if Christ be the Church's husband, expecting her to be presented before him a pure unspotted virgin, in what could he show his tender love to her more, than in prescribing his own ways, which he best knew would be to the improvement of her health and beauty, with much greater care, doubtless, than the Persian king could appoint for his queen Esther those maiden dietings and set prescriptions of baths and odours, which may render her at last more amiable to his eye? For of any age or sex, most unfitly may a virgin be left to an uncertain and arbitrary education. Yea, though she be well instructed, yet is she still under a more strait tuition, especially if betrothed. In like manner the church bearing the same resemblance, it were not reason to think she should be left destitute of that care, which is as necessary and proper to her as instruction. For public preaching indeed is the gift of the Spirit, working as best seems to his secret will; but discipline is the practice work of preaching directed and applied, as is most requisite, to particular duty; without which it were all one to the benefit of souls, as it would be to the cure of bodies, if all the physicians in London should get into the several pulpits of the city, and, assembling all the diseased in every parish, should begin a learned lecture of pleurisies, palsies, lethargies, to which perhaps none there present were inclined; and so, without so much as feeling one pulse, or giving the least order to any skilful apothecary, should dismiss them from time to time, some groaning, some languishing, some expiring, with this only charge, to look well to themselves, and do as they hear. Of what excellence and necessity then church-discipline is, how beyond the faculty of man to frame, and how dangerous to be left to man's invention, who would be every foot turning it to sinister ends; how properly also it is the work of God as father, and of Christ as husband of the church, we have by thus much heard
That church-government is set down in Holy Scripture, and that to say otherwise is untrue.
As therefore it is unsound to say, that God hath not appointed any set government in his church, so it is untrue. Of the time of the law there can be no doubt; for to let pass the first institution of priests and Levites, which is too clear to be insisted upon, when the temple came to be built, which in plain judgment could breed no essential change, either in religion, or in the priestly government; yet God, to show how little he could endure that men should be tampering and contriving in his worship, though in things of less regard, gave to David for Solomon, not only a pattern and model of the temple, but a direction for the courses of the priests and Levites, and for all the work of their service. At the return from the captivity, things were only restored after the ordinance of Moses and David; or if the least alteration be to be found, they had with them inspired men, prophets; and it were not sober to say they did aught of moment without divine intimation. In the prophecy of Ezekiel, from the 40th chapter onward, after the destruction of the temple, God, by his prophet, seeking to wean the hearts of the Jews from their old law, to expect a new and more perfect reformation under Christ, sets out before their eyes the stately fabric and constitution of his Church, with all the ecclesiastical functions appertaining; indeed the description is as sorted best to the apprehension of those times, typical and shadowy, but in such manner as never yet came to pass, nor ever inust literally, unless we mean to annihilate the gospel. But so exquisite and lively the description is in pourtraying the new state of the church, and especially in those points where government seems to be most active, that both Jews and Gentiles might have good cause to be assured, that God, whenever he meant to reform his church, never intended to leave the government thereof, delineated here in such curious architecture, to be patched afterwards, and varnished over with the devices and embellishings of man's imagination. Did God take such delight in measuring out the pillars, arches, and doors of a material temple? Was he so punctual and circumspect in lavers, altars, and sacrifices soon after to be abrogated, lest any of these should have been made contrary to his mind? Is not a far more perfect work, more agreeable to his perfections, in the most perfect state of the church militant, the new alliance of God to man? Should not he rather now by his own prescribed discipline have cast his line and level upon the soul of man, which is his rational temple, and, by the divine square and compass thereof, form and regenerate in us the lovely shapes of virtues. and graces, the sooner to edify and accomplish that immortal stature of Christ's body, which is his church, in all her glorious lineaments and proportions? And that this indeed God hath done for us in the gospel we shall see with open eyes, not under a veil. We may pass over the history of the Acts and other places, turning only to those epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus where the spiritual eye may discern more goodly and gracefully erected, than all the magnificence of temple or tabernacle, such a heavenly structure of evangelical discipline, so diffusive of knowledge and charity to the prosperous increase and growth of the church, that it cannot be wondered if that elegant and artful symmetry of the promised new temple in Ezekiel, and all those sumptuous things under the law, were 7