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Churches for their divisions that occurred (especially in the first rearing of them) whilst we all know the causes of their dull and stupid peace to have been carnal interests, worldly correspondencies, and coalitions, strengthened by gratifications of all sorts of men by that Religion, the principles of blind Devotion, Traditional Faith, Ecclesiastical Tyranny, by which she keeps her Children in bondage to this day. We are also certain, that the very same prejudices that from hence they would cast upon the Reformed (if they were just) do lie as fully against those pure Churches raised up by the Apostles themselves in those first times : for as we have heard of their patience, sufferings, consolations, and the transcending gifts poured out, and graces shining in them, so we have heard complaints of their divisions too, of the forsakings of their Assemblies, as the custom or manner of SOME was (which later were in that respect felo de se, and needed no other delivering up to Satan as their punishment, than what they executed upon themselves). We read of the shipwreck also of Faith and a good Conscience, and overthrowings of the fuith of SOME; and still but of some not all, nor the most: which is one piece of an Apology the Apostle again and again inserts to future ages, and through mercy we have the same to make.
And truly we take the confidence professedly to say, that these tentations common to the purest Churches of Saints separated from the mixture of the world, though they grieve us (for who is offended, and we burn not ?), yet they do not at all stumble us, as to the truth of our way, had they been many more: We say it again, these stumble us no more (as to that point) than it doth offend us against the power of Religion itself, to have seen, and to see daily in particular persons called out and separated from the world by an effectual work of conversion, that they for a while do suffer under disquietments, vexations, turmoils, unsettlements of spirit, that they are tossed with tempests and horrid tentations, such as they had not in their former estate, whilst they walked according to the course of this world: For Peter hath sufficiently instructed us whose business it is to raise such storms, even the Devil's; and also whose design it is, that after they have suffered a while, thereby they shall be settled, perfected, stablished, that have so suffered, even the God of all Grace. And look what course of dispensation God holds to Saints personally, he doth the like to bodies of Saints in Churches, and the Devil the same for his part too: And that consolatory Maxim of the Apostle, God shall tread down Satan under your feet shortly, which Paul uttereth concerning the Church of Rome, shows how both God and Satan have this very hand therein ; for he speaks that very thing in reference unto their divisions, as the coherence clearly manifests; and so you have both designs expressed at once.
Yea, we are not a little induced to think, that the divisions, breaches, etc., of those primitive Churches would not have been so frequent among the people themselves, and not the Elders only, had not the freedom, liberties, and rights of the Members (the Brethren, we mean) been stated and exercised in those Churches, the same which we maintain and contend for to be in ours.
Yea (which perhaps may seem more strange to many) had not those Churches been constituted of members enlightened further than with notional and traditional knowledge, by a new and more powerful light of the Holy Ghost, wherein they had been made partakers of the Holy Ghost and the heavenly gift, and their hearts had tasted the good Word of God, and the Powers of the world to come, and of such Members at lowest, there had not fallen out those kinds of divisions among them.
For Experience hath shown, that the common sort of mere Doctrinal Professors (such as the most are nowadays), whose highest elevation is but freedom from moral scandal, joined with devotion to Christ through mere Education, such as in many Turks is found towards Mohammed, that these finding and feeling themselves not much concerned in the active part of Religion, so they may have the honor (especially upon a Reformation of a new Refinement) that themselves are approved Members, admitted to the Lord's Supper, and their Children to the Ordinance of Baptism; they regard not other matters (as Gallio did not), but do easily and readily give up themselves unto their Guides, being like dead fishes carried with the common stream; whereas those that have a further renewed Light by a work of the Holy Ghost, whether saving or temporary, are upon the quite contrary grounds apt to be busy about, and inquisitive into, what they are to receive and practice, or wherein their Consciences are professedly concerned and involved : And thereupon they take the freedom to examine and try the spirits, whether of God or no: And from hence are more apt to dissatisfaction, and from thence to run into division, and many of such proving to be enlightened but with a temporary, not saving Faith (who have such a work of the Spirit upon them, and profession in them, as will and doth approve itself to the judgment of Saints, and ought to be so judged, until they be otherwise discovered) who at long-run, prove hypocrites, through indulgence unto Lusts, and then out of their Lusts persist to hold up these divisions unto breach of, or departings from, Churches, and the Ordinances of God, and God is even with them for it, they waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived; and even many of those that are sincere, through a mixture of darkness and erroneousness in their Judgments, are for a season apt out of Conscience to be led away with the error of others, which lie in wait to deceive.
Insomuch as the Apostle upon the example of those first times, forseeing also the like events in following generati upon the like causes, hath been to set this down as a ruled Case, that likewise in other Churches so constituted and de facto emprivileged as that of the Church of Corinth was (which single Church, in the Sacred Records about it, is the completest Mirror of Church Constitution, Order, and Government, and Events thereupon ensuing, of any one Church whatever that we have story of), his Maxim is, There must be also dirisions amongst you ; he setly inserts an (ALSO) in the case, as that which had been in his own observation, and that which would be tai tò todù the fate of other Churches like thereunto, so prophesieth he: And he speaks this as peremptorily, as he doth elsewhere in that other, We must through many tribulations enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: Yea, and that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution : There is a [MUST) upon both alike; and we bless God, that we have run through both, and do say, and we say no more, That as it was then, so it is now, in both respects.
However, such hath been the powerful hand of God's providence in these, which have been the worst of our Trials, That out of an approved Experience and Observation of the Issue, we are able to add that other part of the Apostle's Prediction, That therefore such rents must be, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you ; which holy issue God (as having aimed at it therein) doth frequently and certainly bring about in Churches, as he doth bring upon them that other fate of division, Let them therefore look unto it, that are the Authors of such disturbances, as the Apostle warneth, Gal. v. 10. The experiment is this, That we have seen, and do daily see, that multitudes of holy and precious souls, and in the Holy Ghost's word) approved Saints, have been, and are the more rooted and grounded by means of these shakings, and do continue to cleave the faster to Christ, and the purity of his Ordinances, and value them the more by this cost God hath put them to for the enjoying of them, Who having been planted in the House of the Lord, have flourished in the Courts of our God, in these evil times, to show that the Lord is upright. And this experimented event from out of such divisions, hath more confirmed us, and is a louder Apology for us, than all that our opposites are able from our breaches to allege to prejudice us.
We will add a few words for conclusion, and give a more particular account of this our Declaration. In drawing up this Confession of Faith, we have had before us the Articles of Religion, approved and passed by both Houses of Parliament, after advice had with an Assembly of Divines, called together by them for that purpose. To which Confession, for the substance of it, we fully assent, as do our Brethren of New England, and the Churches also of Scotland, as each in their general Synods have testified.
A few things we have added for obviating some erroneous Opinions, that have been more broadly and boldly here of late maintained by the Asserters, than in former times; and made other additions and alterations in method, here and there, and some clearer Explanations, as we found occasion.
We have endeavored throughout, to hold to such Truths in this our Confession, as are more properly termed matters of Faith ; and what is of Church-order, we dispose in certain Propositions by itself. To this course we are led by the Example of the Honorable Houses of Parliament, observing what was established, and what omitted by them in that Confession the Assembly presented to them. Who thought it not convenient to have matters of Discipline and Church Government put into a Confession of Faith, especially such particulars thereof, as then were, and still are controverted and under dispute by men Orthodox and found in Faith. The 30th cap. therefore of that Confession, as it was presented to them by the Assembly, which is of Church Censures, their Use, Kinds, and in whom placed : As also cap. 31, of Synods and Councils, by whom to be called, of what force in their Decrees and Determinations. And the 4th Paragr. of the 20th cap., which determines what Opinions and Practices disturb the peace of the Church, and how such Disturbers ought to be proceeded against by the Censures of the Church, and punished by the Civil Magistrate. Also a great part of the 24th cap. of Marriage and Divorce. These were such doubtful assertions, and so unsuitable to a Confession of Faith, as the Honorable Houses in their great Wisdom thought fit to lay them aside: There being nothing that tends more to heighten Dissensions among Brethren, than to determine and adopt the matter of their difference, under so high a Title, as to be an Article of our Faith : So that there are two whole Chapters, and some Paragraphs in other Chapters in their Confession, that we have upon this account omitted ; and the rather do we give this notice, because that Copy of the Parl, followed by us, is in few men's hands; the other as it came from the Assembly, being approved of in Scotland, was printed and hastened into the world, before the Parl, had declared their Resolutions about it; which was not till June 20, 1648, and yet hath been, and continueth to be the Copy (ordinarily) only sold, printed, and reprinted for these 11 years.
After the 19th cap. of the Law, we have added a cap. of the Gospel, it being a Title that may not well be omitted in a Confession of Faith : In which Chapter, what is dispersed, and by intimation in the Assemblies' Confession, with some little addition, is here brought together, and more fully, under one head.
That there are not Scriptures annexed, as in some Confessions (though in divers others it's otherwise), we give the same account as did the Reverend Assembly in the same case; which was this: "The Confession being large, and so framed, as to meet with the common Errors, ‘if the Scriptures should have been alleged with any clearness, and by showing where the strength of the proof lieth, it would have required a Volume.'
We say further, it being our utmost end in this (as it is indeed of a Confession) humbly to give an account what we hold and assert in these matters ; that others, especially the Churches of Christ may judge of us accordingly: This we aimed at, and not so much to instruct others, or convince gainsayers. These are the proper works of other Institutions of Christ, and are to be done in the strength of express Scripture. A Confession is an Ordidance of another nature.
What we have laid down and asserted about Churches and their Government, we humbly conceive to be the Order which Christ himself hath appointed to be observed, we have endeavored to follow Scripture light; and those also that went before us according to that Rule, desirous of nearest uniformity with Reforming Churches, as with our Brethren in New England, so with others, that differ from them and us.
The Models and Platforms of this subject laid down by learned men, and practiced by Churches, are various : We do not judge it brotherly, or grateful, to insist upon comparisons, as some have done ; but this Experience teacheth, That the variety, and possibly the Disputes and Emulations arising thence, have much strengthened, if not fixed, this unhappy persuasion in the minds of some learned and good men, namely, That there is no settled Order laid down in Scripture; but it's left to the Prudence of the Christian Magistrate, to compose or make choice of such a Form as is most suitable and consistent with their Civil Government. Where this Opinion is entertained in the persuasion of Governors, there, Churches asserting their Power and Order to be jure divino, and the appointment of Jesus Christ, can have no better nor more honorable Entertainment, than a Toleration or Permission.
Yet herein there is this remarkable advantage to all parties that differ, about what in Government is of Christ's appointment; in that such Magistrates have a far greater latitude in conscience, to tolerate and permit the several forms of each so bound up in their persuasion, than they have to submit unto what the Magistrate shall impose: And thereupon the Magistrate exercising an indulgency and forbearance, with protection and encouragement to the people of God, so differing from him, and amongst themselves : Doth therein discharge as great a faithfulness to Christ, and love to his people, as can any way be supposed and expected from any Christian Magistrate, of what persuasion soever he is. And where this clemency from Governors is shown to any sort of persons, or Churches of Christ, upon such a principle, it will in equity produce this just effect, That all that so differ from him, and amongst themselves, standing in equal and alike difference from the principle of such a Magistrate, he is equally free to give alike liberty to them, one as well as the other.
This faithfulness in our Governors we do with thankfulness to God acknowledge, and to their everlasting honor, which appeared much in the late Reformation. The Hierarchy, Common Prayer-Book, and all other things grievous to God's People, being removed, they made choice of an Assembly of learned men, to advise what Government and Order is meet to be established in the room of these things; and because it was known there were different opinions (as always hath been among godly men) about forms of Church Government, there was by the Ordinance first sent forth to call an Assembly, not only a choice made of persons of several persuasions, to sit as Members there, but liberty given, to a lesser number, if dissenting, to report their Judgments and Reasons, as well and as freely as the major part.
Hereupon the Honorable House of Commons (an Indulgence we hope will never be forgotten) finding by Papers received from them, that the Members of the Assembly were not like to compose differences amongst themselves, so as to join in the same Rule for Church Government, did order further as followeth : Ebat a Committee of Lords and Commons, etc., do take into consideration the differences of the Opinions in the Assembly of Divines ín point of Church government, and to endeavor a union if it be possible ; and in case that can not be done, to endeavor the finding out some way, how far tens der consciences, who can not in all things submit to the same Bule which that be established, may be born with according to the Word, and as may stand with the Public Peace.
By all which it is evident, the Parliament purposed not to establish the Rule of Church Government with such rigor, as might not permit and bear with a practice different from what they had established : In persons and Churches of different principles, if occasion were. And this Christian Clemency and indulgence in our Governors, hath been the foundation of that Freedom and Liberty, in the managing of Church affairs, which our Brethren, as well as WE, that differ from them, do now, and have many years enjoyed.
The Honorable Houses by several Ordinances of Parliament after much consultation, hav. ing settled Rules for Church Government, and such an Ecclesiastical Order as they judged would best joint with the Laws and Government of the Kingdom, did publish them, requiring the practice hereof throughout the Nation ; and in particular, by the Min. of the Pr. of Lon. But (upon the former reason, or the like charitable consideration) these Rules were not imposed by them under any Penalty, or rigorous enforcement, though frequently urged thereunto by some.
Our Reverend Brethren of the Province of London, having considered of these Ordinances, and the Church Government laid down in them, declared their Opinions to be, That there is not a complete Rule in those Ordinances ; also, that there are many necessary things not yet established, and some things wherein their consciences are not so fully satisfied. These Brethren, in the same Paper, have published also their joint Resolution to practice in all things according to the Rule of the Word, and according to these Ordinances, so far as they conceive them (to] correspond to it, and in so doing, they trust they shall not grieve the Spirit of the truly godly, nor give any just occasion to them that are contrary minded, to blame their proceedings.
We humbly conceive that (WE being dissatisfied in these things as our Brethren) the like liberty was intended by the Honorable Houses, and may be taken by us of the Congregational way (without blame or grief to the spirits of those Brethren at least), to resolve, or rather to continue in the same Resolution and Practice in these matters, which indeed were our practices in times of greatest opposition, and before this Reformation was begun.
And as our Brethren the Ministers of London, drew up and published their opinions and apprehensions about Church Government into an entire System ; so we now give the like public account of our Consciences, and the Rules by which we have constantly practiced hitherto; which we have here drawn up, and do present. Whereby it will appear how much, or how little we differ in these things from our Presbyterian Brethren.
And we trust there is no just cause why any man, either for our differing from the present settlement, it being out of Conscience, and not out of contempt, or our differences one from another, being not willful, should charge either of us with that odious reproach of Schism. And indeed, if not for our differing from the State settlement, much less because we differ from our Brethren, our differences being in some lesser things, and circumstances only, as themselves acknowledge. And let it be further considered, that we have not broken from them or their Order by these differences (but rather they from us), and in that respect we less deserve their censure; our practice being no other than what it was in our breaking from Episcopacy, and long before Presbytery, or any such form as now they are in, was taken up by them; and we will not say how probable it is, that the yoke of Episcopacy had been upon our neck to this day, if some such way (as formerly, and now is, and hath been termed Schism) had not with much suffering been then practiced, and since continued in.
For Novelty wherewith we are likewise both charged by the Enemies of both, it is true, in respect of the public and open Profession, either of Presbytery or Independency, this Nation hath been a stranger to each way, it's possible, ever since it hath been Christian ; though for ourselves we are able to trace the footsteps of an Independent Congregational way in the ancientest customs of the Churches; as also in the Writings of our soundest Protestant Divines, and (that which we are much satisfied in) a full concurrence throughout in all the substantial parts of Church Government, with our Reverend Brethren the old Puritan Non-conformists, who being instant in Prayer and much sufferings, prevailed with the Lord, and we reap with joy, what they sowed in tears. Our Brethren also that are for Presbyterial Subordinations, profess what is of weight against Novelty for their way.
And now therefore seeing the Lord, in whose hand is the heart of Princes, hath put into the hearts of our Governors, to tolerate and permit (as they have done many years) persons of each persuasion, to enjoy their Consciences, though neither come up to the Rule established by Authority: And that which is more, to give us both Protection, and the same encouragement, that the most devoted Conformists in those former Superstitious Times enjoyed; yea, and by a public Law to establish this Liberty for time to come; and yet further, in the midst of our fears, to set over us a Prince that owns this Establishment, and cordially resolves to secure our Churches in the enjoyment of these Liberties, if we abuse them not to the disturbance of the Civil Peace.
This should be a very great engagement upon the hearts of all, though of different persuasions, to endeavor our utmost, jointly to promote the honor and prosperity of such a Government and Governors by whatsoever means, which in our Callings as Ministers of the Gospel, and as Churches of Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, we are any way able to do; as also to be peaceably disposed one towards another, and with mutual toleration to love as brethren, notwithstanding such differences: remembering, as it's very equal we should, the differences that are between Presbyterians and Independents being differences between fellowservants, and neither of them having authority given from God or Man, to impose their Opinions, one more than the other. That our Governors after so solemn an establishment, should thus bear with us both, in our greater differences from their Rule: and after this, for any of us to take a fellow-servant by the throat, upon the account of a lesser reckoning, and nothing due to him upon it, is to forget, at least not to exercise, that compassion and tenderness we have found, where we had less ground to challenge or expect it.