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Ver. 6. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
What more positive than this? and yet the apostle was not here an imposer. And yet further, verse 14. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
Thus, Heb. 13. 7. Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God, whose faith follow; considering the end of their conversation.
Verse 17. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account: that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.
Jude 8. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.
I might at length enlarge, if needful, upon these passages, any of which is sufficient to prove the matter in hand; but that what is said may satisfy such as are not wilfully blind and obstinate. For there can be nothing more plain from these testimonies, than that the ancient apostles and primitive christians practised order and government in the church; that some did appoint and ordain certain things; condemn and approve certain practices, as well as doctrines, by the Spigit of God: that there lay an obligation in point of duty upon others to obey and submit: that
this was no encroachment nor imposition upon their christian liberty; nor any ways contradictory to their being inwardly and immediately led by the Spirit of God in their hearts: and lastly, That such as are in the true feeling and sense, will find it their places to obey, and be one with the Church of Christ in such like cases: and that it is such as have lost their sense and feeling of the life of the body, that dissent, and are disobedient, under the false pretence of liberty. So that thus it is sufficiently proved what I undertook in this place.
Thirdly, I judge there will need no great arguments to prove the people of God may, and do well to exercise the like government upon the very like occasion. For even reason may teach us, that what proved good and wholesome cures to the distemper of the church in former ages, will not now (the very like distempers falling in) prove hurtful and poisonable; especially, if we have the testimony of the same Spirit in our hearts: not only allowing us, but commanding us so to do. It is manifest (though we are sorry for it) that the same occasions now fall in; we find that there are that have eaten and drunken with us at the table of the Lord, and have been sharers of the same spiritual joy and consolation, that afterwards fall away. We find, to our great grief, that some walk disorderly; and some are puffed up, and strive to sow division, labouring to stumble the weak, and to cause offences in the Church of Christ. What then is more suitable, and more Christian, than to follow the foot-steps of the flock, and to labour and travel for the good
of the church, and for the removing all that is hurtful; even as the holy apostles, who walked with Jesus, did before us? If there be such that walk disorderly now, must not they be admonished, rebuked and withdrawn from, as well as of old? Or is such to be the condition of the church in these latter times, that all iniquity must go unreproved? Must it be heresy, or oppression, to watch over one another, in love? To take care for the poor? To see that there be no corrupt, no defiled members of the body, and carefully and christianly deal with them, for restoring them, if possible; and for withdrawing from them, if incurable? I am persuaded, that there are none that look upon the commands of Christ, and his apostles, the practice and experience of the primitive church and saints, as a sufficient precedent to authorise a practice now, that will deny the lawfulness or usefulness hereof, but must needs acknowledge the necessity of it. But if it be objected, (as some have done) do not you deny, that the scripture is the adequate rule of faith and manners; and that the commands or practices of the scripture are not à sufficient warrant for you now to do any thing, without you be again authorized, and led into it by the same spirit? And upon that score, do you not forbear some things both practised and commanded by the primitive church and saints?
Well, I hope I have not any thing weakened this objection, but presented it in its full vigour and strength: To which I shall clearly and distinctly answer thus:
First, Seasons and times do not alter the na
ture and substance of things in themselves; though it may cause things to alter, as to the usefulness, or not usefulness of them.
Secondly, Things commanded and practised at certain times and seasons fall of themselves, when as the cause and ground, for which they were commanded, is removed; as their is no need now for the decision about circumcision, seeing there are none contend for it: neither as to the orders concerning things offered to idols, seeing there is now no such occasion: Yet who will say, that the command enjoined in the same place, Acts 15. 20. To abstain from fornication, is now made void; seeing there is daily need for its standing in force, because it yet remains as a temptation man is incident to? we confess, indeed, we are against such as from the bare letter of the scripture (though if it were seasonable now to debate it, we find but few to deal with, whose practices are so exactly squared) seek to uphold customs, forms or shadows, when the use, for which they were appointed, is removed, or the substance itself known and witnessed; as we have sufficiently elsewhere answered our opposers in the case of water-baptism, and bread and wine, &c. So that the objection, as to that, doth not hold; and the difference is very wide, in respect of such things: the very nature and substance of which can never be dispensed with by the people of God, so long as they are in this world; yea, without which they could not be his people. For the doctrines, and fundamental principles of the christian faith, we own and believe originally and principally, because they are
the truths of God; whereunto the Spirit of God in our hearts hath constrained our understandings to obey and submit. In the second place, we are greatly confirmed, strengthened and comforted in the joint testimony of our brethren, the apostles and disciples of Christ, who by the revelation of the same Spirit in the days of old believed, and have left upon record the same truths; so we having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore we speak. And we deny not but some, that from the letter have had the notion of these things, have thereby in the mercy of God received occasion to have them revealed in the life: for we freely acknowledge (though often calumniated to the contrary) that whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures may have hope. So then I hope, if the Spirit of God lead me now unto that which is good, profitable, yea, and absolutely needful, in order to the keeping my conscience clear and void of offence towards God and man, none will be so unreasonable as to say, I ought not to do it, because it is according to the scriptures. Nor do I think it will savour ill among any serious, solid Christians, for me to be the more confirmed and persuaded that I am led to this thing by the Spirit, that I find it in myself good and useful; and that upon the like occasions Christ commanded it, and the apostles and primitive Christians practised and recommended it.
Now, seeing it is so that we can boldly say,