صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

and vices, who are void of all those excellencies in notion and practice, which have already been triumphed over by the gospel when set up in competition with it, or opposition unto it, should be once imagined to bring it into question, or to cast any disreputation upon it. But to treat of these things is not our present design; we have only mentioned them occasionally, in the account which it was necessary we should give concerning our love to all men in general, with the grounds we proceed upon in the exercise of it.

CHAP. III.

Nature of the catholic church. The first and principal object of Christian love. Differences among the members of this church, of what nature, and how to be managed. Of the church catholic as visibly professing. The extent of it, or who belongs unto it. Of union and love in this church-state of the church of England with respect hereunto. Of particular churches: their institution: corruption of that institution. Of churches diocesan, &c. Of separation from corrupt particular churches. The just causes thereof, &c.

In the second sort of mankind before mentioned, consists the visible kingdom of Christ in this world. This being grounded in his death and resurrection, and conspicuously settled by his sending of the Holy Ghost after his ascension, he hath ever since preserved in the world, against all the contrivances of Satan, or oppositions of the gates of hell, and will do so unto the consummation of all things. 'For he must reign until all his enemies are made his footstool.' Towards these on all accounts our love ought to be intense and fervent, as that which is the immediate bond of our relation unto them, and union with them. And this kingdom or church of Christ on the earth may be, and is generally by all considered under a threefold notion. First, As therein, and among the members of it, is comprised that real living and spiritual body of his, which is firstly, peculiarly, and properly the catholic church militant in this world. These are his elect, redeemed, justified, and sanctified ones, who are savingly united unto their head, by the same quickening and sanctifying Spirit, dwell

ing in him in all fulness, and communicated unto them by him, according to his promise. This is that catholic church which we profess to believe, which being hid from the eyes of men, and absolutely invisible in its mystical form, or spiritual saving relation unto the Lord Christ, and its unity with him, is yet more or less always visible, by that profession of faith in him, and obedience unto him, which it maketh in the world, and is always obliged so to do. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.' And this church we believe to be so disposed over the whole world, that wherever there are any societies or numbers of men who ordinarily profess the gospel, and subjection to the kingly rule of Christ thereby, with a hope of eternal blessedness by his mediation; we no way doubt but that there are among them some who really belong thereunto. In and by them doth the Lord Christ continually fulfil and accomplish the promise of his presence by his Spirit with them that believe in his name; who are thereby interested in all the privileges of the gospel, and authorized unto the administration and participation of all the holy ordinances thereof. And were it not that we ought not to boast ourselves against others, especially such as have not had the spiritual advantages that the inhabitants of these nations have been intrusted withal, and who have been exposed unto more violent temptations than they, we should not fear to say, that among those of all sorts who in these nations hold the head, there is probably according unto a judgment to be made by the fruits of that Spirit which is savingly communicated unto the church in this sense alone, a greater number of persons belonging thereunto, than in any one nation or church under heaven. The charge therefore of some against us, that we paganize the nation, by reason of some different apprehensions from others, concerning the regular constitution of particular churches for the celebration of gospel worship, is wondrous vain and ungrounded. But we know that men use such severe expressions and reflections, out of a discomposed habit of mind which they have accustomed themselves unto, and not

a Rom. x. 10.

from a sedate judgment and consideration of the things themselves. And hence they will labour to convince others of that, whereof, if they would put it unto a serious trial, they would never be able to convince themselves.

This then is that church which on the account of their sincere faith and obedience shall be saved; and out of which, on the account of their profession, there is no salvation to be obtained; which things are weakly and arrogantly appropriated unto any particular church or churches in the world. For it is possible that men may be members of it, and yet not belong or relate unto any particular church on the earth; and so it often falleth out, as we could manifest by instances, did that work now lie before us. This is the church which the Lord Christ loved and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it unto himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." And we must acknowledge that in all things this is the church, unto which we have our first and principal regard, as being the spring from which all other considerations of the church do flow. Within the verge and compass of it do we endeavour to be found, the end of the dispensation of the gospel unto men being that they should do so. Neither would we to save our lives (which for the members of this church and their good, we are bound to lay down, when justly called thereunto), wilfully live in the neglect of that love towards them or any of them, which we hope God hath planted in our hearts, and made natural unto us, by that one and selfsame Spirit, by whom the whole mystical body of Christ is animated. We do confess, that because the best of men in this life do know but in part, that all the members of this church are in many things liable to error, mistakes, and miscarriages: and hence it is, that although they are all internally acted and guided by the same Spirit, in all things absolutely necessary to their eternal salvation, and do all attend unto the same rule of the word, according as they apprehend the mind of God in it, and concerning it, have all for the

Eph. v. 26, 27.

e 1 John iii. 16.

nature and substance of it, the same divine faith and love, and are all equally united unto their head; yet in the profession which they make of the conceptions and persuasions of their minds, about the things revealed in the Scripture, there are, and always have been, many differences among them. Neither is it morally possible it should be otherwise, whilst in their judgment and profession they are left unto the ability of their own minds, and liberty of their wills, under that great variety of the means of light and truth, with other circumstances, whereinto they are disposed by the holy wise providence of God. Nor hath the Lord Christ absolutely promised that it shall be otherwise with them; but securing them all by his Spirit in the foundations of eternal salvation, he leaves them in other things to the exercise of mutual love and forbearance; with a charge of duty after a continual endeavour to grow up unto a perfect union, by the improvement of the blessed aids and assistances which he is pleased to afford unto them. And those who by ways of force would drive them into any other union or agreement, than their own light and duty will lead them into, do what in them lies to oppose the whole design of the Lord Christ towards them, and his rule over them. In the mean time it is granted, that they may fall into divisions and schisms, and mutual exasperations among themselves, through the remainders of darkness in their minds, and the infirmity of the flesh. d And in such cases mutual judgings and despisings are apt to ensue; and that to the prejudice and great disadvantages of that common faith which they do profess. And yet notwithstanding all this (such cross entangled wheels are there in the course of our nature), they all of them really value and esteem the things wherein they agree incomparably above those wherein they differ. But their valuation of the matter of their union and agreement is purely spiritual; whereas their differences are usually influenced by carnal and secular considerations, which have for the most part a sensible impression on the minds of poor mortals. But so far as their divisions and differences are unto them unavoidable, the remedy of farther evils proceeding from them is plainly

d Rom. xiv. 3.

and frequently expressed in the Scripture. It is love, meekness, forbearance, bowels of compassion, with those other graces of the Spirit, wherein our conformity unto Christ doth consist, with a true understanding and the due valuation of the unity of faith,' and the common hope of believers, which are the ways prescribed unto us, for the prevention of those evils which, without them, our unavoidable differences will occasion. And this excellent way of the gospel, together with a rejection of evil surmises, and a watchfulness over ourselves against irregular judging and censuring of others, together with a peaceable walking in consent and unity so far as we have attained, is so fully and clearly proposed unto us therein, that they must have their eyes blinded by prejudices and carnal interests, or some effectual working of the god of this world on their minds, into whose understandings the light of it doth not shine with uncontrollable evidence and conviction. That the sons or children of this church of Jerusalem which is above, and is the mother of us all,' should on the account of their various apprehensions of some things relating to religion or the worship of God, unavoidably attending their frail and imperfect condition in this world, yea, or of any schisms or divisions ensuing thereon, proceeding from corrupt and not thoroughly mortified affectious, be warranted to hate, judge, despise, or contemn one another, much more to strive by external force to coerce, punish, or destroy them that differ from them, is as foreign to the gospel, as that we should believe in Mahomet, and not in Jesus Christ. Whatever share, therefore, we are forced to bear in differences with, or divisions from, the members of this church (that is, any who declare and evidence themselves so to be, by a visible and regular profession of faith and obedience), as it is a continual sorrow and trouble unto us; so we acknowledge it to be our duty (and shall be willing to undergo any blame, where we are found defective in the discharge of it, unto the utmost of our power) to endeavour after the strictest communion with them in all spiritual things that the gospel doth require, or whereof our condition in this world is capable. In the mean time, until this can be attained, it is our desire to manage the profession of our own light and apprehensions, without anger, bitterness, clamours, evil

« السابقةمتابعة »