« PreviousContinue »
unto death, but through much care, and travel, and watchings, and whippings, and bonds, and beatings, in daily jeopardy, gathered us by the mighty power of God into the most precious truth. Yet in all this there hath nothing befallen us, but that which hath been the ancient lot of the Church of Christ in the primitive times.
Now he, that was careful for his church and people in old times, hath not been wanting to us in our day; but as he has again restored the truth unto its primitive integrity and simplicity, and as he has delivered our understandings from these false doctrines and principles, which prevailed in the apostacy; so he hath not gathered us to be "as sheep scattered without a shepherd," that every one may run his own way, and every one follow his own will, and so to be as a confused mass or Chaos, without any order; but he, even the Lord, hath also gathered, and is gathering us into the good order, discipline, and government of his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ: therefore he hath laid care upon some beyond others, who watch for the souls of their brethren, as they that must give account.
There are then fathers that have begotten us unto Christ Jesus through the gospel, of whom we ought to be followers, and to remember their ways, which be in Christ. There are then fathers and children, instructors and instructed, elders and young men, yea, and babes; there are that cannot cease, but must exhort, instruct, reprove, condemn, judge; or else for what end gave Christ the gifts mentioned, Ephes. 4. 11. 12? And how are the saints perfected, and the
The first is, Those that turn openly back to the world again, through finding the way of truth too narrow. These have not been capable to do us any considerable hurt; for being a salt, that has lost its savour, they mostly prove a stink among those to whom they go. And I never knew any of them, that proved any way steady among those to whom they go. I find other professors I make but small boast of any proselytes they got out from among us; I hear little of their proving champions for the principles of others against us. And, indeed, for the most part they lose all religion with the truth: for I have heard some of them say; That if ever they took on them to be religious, they would come back again to the Quakers, &c.
body of Christ edified of those, who came under the cognizance, and, as it were, the test of this order and government? I may chiefly sum them up in three sorts (though there be divers other little subdivided species of them.)
Secondly, Those, who through unwatchfulness, the secret corruption of their own hearts, and the mysterious or hidden temptations of the enemy, have fallen into his snares; and so have come under the power of some temptation or other, either of fleshly lusts, or of spiritual wickedness: who being seasonably warned by those ⚫ that keep their habitation, and faithful overseers in the church, have been again restored by unfeigned repentance; not kicking against the pricks; but have rejoiced, that others watched over them for their good, and are become monu,' ments of God's mercy unto this day.
Thirdly, Such, who being departed from their first love and ancient zeal for the truth, become cold and lukewarm; and yet are ashamed to make open apostacy, and to turn back again, so as to deny all the principles of truth, they having had already such evidence of clearness upon their understanding; yet not keeping low in their own habitations, but being puffed up, and giving way to the restless imaginations of their exalted and wandering minds, fall out with their brethren; cause divisions; begin to find fault with every thing, and to look at others more than at them. selves; with swelling words to talk of, and preach up, a higher dispensation, while they are far from living up to the life and perfection of this present; like unto such who said, We will not have this man to rule over us: cry out of formality and apostacy, because they are not followed in all things; and if they be reproved for their unruliness, according to the good order of the Church of Christ, then they cry out, Breach of liberty, oppression, persecution! we will have none of your order and government; we are taught to follow the light in our consciences, and not the orders of men. Well, of this hereafter; but this gave the rise of this controversy: which leads me to that which I proposed in the second place.
Whether there be now to be any order or government in the Church of Christ.
In answer to this proposition, I meddle not at
this time with those that deny any such thing as
a Church of Christ; I have reserved their plea to another place. Neither need I to be at much pains to prove the affirmative, to wit, that there ought to be government and order in the Church of Christ unto the generality of our opposers, both papists and protestants; who readily confess and acknowledge it, and have heretofore blamed us for want of it. Though now some of them, and that of the highest pretenders, are become so unreasonable, as to accuse us for the use of it; improving it, so far as they can, to our disadvantage: for such is the blindness of partial envy, that whereas the supposed want of it was once reckoned heretical, now the present performance of it is counted criminal.
These, then, to whom I come to prove this thing, are such, who having cast off the yoke of the cross of Christ in themselves, refuse all subjection or government: denying that any such thing ought to be, as disagreeing with the testimony of truth; or those, who not being so wilful and obstinate in their minds, yet are fearful or scrupulous in the matter in respect of the dangerous consequences, they may apprehend, such a thing may draw after it.
For the clearing then as well the mistakes of the one, as answering the cavils of the other, I judge the truth of these following assertions will sufficiently prove the matter; which I shall make no great difficulty to evidence.
First, That Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church, did appoint and ordain, that there should be order and government in it.
Secondly, That the apostles and primitive
Christians, when they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and immediately led by the Spirit of God, did practise and commend it.
Thirdly, That the same occasion and necessity now occurring, which gave them opportunity to exercise that authority, the Church of Christ hath the same power now as ever, and is led by the same spirit into the same practices.
As to the first, I know there are some, that the very name of a church, and the very words, order and government they are afraid of. Now this I suppose hath proceeded, because of the great hypocrisy, deceit and oppression, that hath been cloaked with the pretence of these things; but why should the Truth be neglected, because hypocrites have pretended to it? The right institution of these things, which have been appointed and ordained of God, must not, nor ought not to be despised, because corrupt men have abused and perverted them. I know not any thing that hath been more abused and perverted in the whole world, than the name of a Christian; shall we then renounce that honourable title, because so many thousands of wicked men, yea, Antichrists, have falsely assumed it to themselves? The man of sin hath taken upon him to sit in the temple of God, as God; yet we must not therefore deny, that God is in this temple. If the synagogue of Satan assumed the name of the Church of Christ, and hath termed her oppression and violence, the power and authority thereof; therefore must not the Church of Christ, and its authority, be exercised, where it truly is according to his mind? This Į prefix to warn all to beware of stumbling at things