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polity which they sought to bring in, should be otherwise than in the highest degree accounted of, took,
First, an exception against the difference between churchpolity and matters of necessity to salvation. Secondly, against the restraint of Scripture, which (they say) receiveth injury at our hands, when we teach that it teacheth not as well matter of polity as of faith and salvation. Thirdly, III. constrained thereby we have been, therefore, both to maintain that distinction as a thing not only true in itself, but by them likewise so acknowledged, though unawares. Fourthly, and to make manifest that from Scripture, we offer not to derogate the least thing that truth thereunto doth claim, inasmuch as by us it is willingly confessed, that the Scripture of God is a storehouse abounding with inestimable treasures of wisdom and knowledge in many kinds, over and above things in this one kind barely necessary; yea, even that matters of ecclesiastical polity are not therein omitted but taught also, albeit not so taught as those other things beforementioned. For so perfectly are those things taught, that nothing ever can need to be added, nothing ever cease to be necessary: these on the contrary side, as being of a far other nature and quality, not so strictly nor everlastingly commanded in Scripture; but that unto the complete form of church-polity, much may be requisite which the Scripture teacheth not; and much which it hath taught become unrequisite, sometimes because we need not use it, sometimes also because we cannot. In which respect, for mine own part, although I see that certain reformed churches, the Scottish especially and French, have not that which best agreeth with the sacred Scripture, I mean the government that is by bishops, inasmuch as both those churches are fallen under a different kind of regiment; which to remedy it, is for the one altogether too late, and too soon for the other during their present affliction and trouble: this their defect and imperfection I had rather lament in such a case than exaggerate; considering that men oftentimes, without any fault of their own, may be driven to want that kind of polity or regiment which is the best; and to content themselves with that which either the irremediable error of former times, or the necessity of the present, hath cast upon them. Fifthly, now, because that position V, first-mentioned, which holdeth it necessary that all things which the church may lawfully do in her own regiment be
commanded in Holy Scripture, hath by the later defenders thereof been greatly qualified; who, though perceiving it to be over-extreme, are notwithstanding loath to acknowledge any oversight therein, and therefore labour what they may to salve it up by construction; we have for the more perspicuity delivered what was thereby meant at the first. Sixthly, How injurious a thing it were unto all the churches of God for men to hold it in that meaning. Seventhly, And how imperfect their interpretations are, who so much labour to help it either by dividing commandments of Scripture into two kinds, and so defending, that all things must be VIII. commanded if not in special, yet in general precepts. Eighthly, Or by taking it as meant, that in case the church do devise any new order, she ought therein to follow the direction of Scripture only, and not any starlight of man's reason. IX. Ninthly, Both which evasions being cut off, we have in the next place declared after what sort the church may lawfully frame to herself laws of polity, and in what reckoning such positive laws both are with God, and should be with men. X. Tenthly, Farthermore, because to abridge the liberty of the church in this behalf, it hath been made a thing very odious, that when God himself hath devised some certain laws, and committed them to sacred Scripture, man by abrogation, addition, or any way, should presume to alter and change them; it was of necessity to be examined, whether the authority of God in making, or his care in committing those his laws unto Scripture, be sufficient arguments to prove that God doth in no case allow they should suffer any such XI. kind of change. Eleventhly, The last refuge for proof, that Divine laws of Christian church-polity may not be altered, by extinguishment of any old, or addition of new, in that kind, is partly a marvellous strange discourse, that Christ (unless he should shew himself not so faithful as Moses, or not so wise as Lycurgus and Solon") must needs have set down in Holy Scripture some certain complete and unchangeable form of polity; and partly a coloured show of some evidence, where change of that sort of laws may seem expressly forbidden, although in truth nothing less be done.
Nisi Reip. suæ statum omnem constituerit, magistratus ordinarit, singulorum munera potestatemque descripserit, quæ judiciorum forique ratio habenda? quomodo civium finiendæ lites? non solum minus Ecclesiæ Christianæ providit, quam Moses olim Judaicæ, sed quam a Lycurgo, Solone, Numa, civitatibus suis prospectum sit. Lib. de Ecclesiast. Discip.
I might have added hereunto their more familiar and popular disputes, as, the church is a city, yea, the city of the great King; and the life of a city is polity. The church is the house of the living God; and what house can there be without some order for the government of it? In the royal house of a prince, there must be officers for government, such as not any servant in the house, but the prince whose the house is, shall judge convenient; so the house of God must have orders for the government of it, such as not any of the household, but God himself, hath appointed. It cannot stand with the love and wisdom of God to leave such order untaken as is necessary for the due government of his church. The numbers, degrees, orders, and attire, of Solomon's servants, did shew his wisdom; therefore he which is greater than Solomon hath not failed to leave in his house such orders for government thereof as may serve to be as a looking-glass for his providence, care, and wisdom, to be seen in. That little spark of the light of nature which remaineth in us, may serve us for the affairs of this life; but as in all other matters concerning the kingdom of heaven, so principally in this which concerneth the very government of that kingdom, needful it is we should be taught of God. long as men are persuaded of any order that it is only of men, they presume of their own understanding, and they think to devise another not only as good, but better than that which they have received. By severity of punishment this presumption and curiosity may be restrained. But that cannot work such cheerful obedience as is yielded where the conscience hath respect to God as the author of laws and orders. This was it which countenanced the laws of Moses, made concerning outward polity for the administration of holy things. The like some lawgivers of the heathens did pretend, but falsely; yet wisely discerning the use of this persuasion. For the better obedience' sake therefore it was expedient, that God should be author of the polity of his church. But to what issue doth all this come? A man would think that they which hold out with such discourses, were of nothing more fully persuaded than of this, that the Scripture hath set down a complete form of church-polity, universal, perpetual, altogether unchangeable. For so it would follow, if the premises were sound and strong to such effect as is pretended. Notwithstanding, they which have thus formally
The Defence of Godly Ministers
against Dr. Bridges, p. 133.
maintained argument in defence of the first oversight, are by the very evidence of truth themselves constrained to make this in effect their conclusion, that the Scripture of God hath many things concerning church-polity; that of those many some are of greater weight, some of less; that what hath been urged as touching immutability of laws, it extendeth in truth no farther than only to laws wherein things of greater moment are prescribed.
Now these things of greater moment, what are they? Forsooth, "doctors, pastors, lay-elders, elderships compounded of these three: synods, consisting of many elderships, deacons, women-church-servants, or widows; free consent of the people unto actions of greatest moment, after they be by churches or synods orderly resolved." All this form of polity, if yet we may term that a form of building, when men have laid a few rafters together, and those not all of the soundest neither; but, howsoever, all this form they conclude is prescribed in such sort, that to add to it any thing as of like importance (for so I think they mean), or to abrogate of it any thing at all, is unlawful. In which resolution, if they will firmly and constantly persist, I see not but that concerning the points which hitherto have been disputed of, they must agree, that they have molested the church with needless opposition; and henceforward, as we said before, betake themselves wholly unto the trial of particulars, whether every of those things which they esteem as principal be either so esteemed of, or at all established for perpetuity in Holy Scripture; and whether any particular thing in our church-polity be received other than the Scripture alloweth of, either in greater things, or in smaller. The matters wherein churchpolity is conversant, are the public religious duties of the church, as the administration of the word and sacraments, prayers, spiritual censures, and the like. To these the church standeth always bound. Laws of polity, are laws which appoint in what manner these duties shall be performed. In performance whereof, because all that are of the church cannot jointly and equally work, the first thing in polity required, is a difference of persons in the church, without which difference those functions cannot in orderly sort be executed. Hereupon we hold, that God's clergy are a state, which hath been and will be, as long as there is a church upon earth, necessarily by the plain word of God himself;
a state whereunto the rest of God's people must be subject, as touching things that appertain to their souls' health. For where polity is, it cannot but appoint some to be leaders of others, and some to be led by others. "If the blind lead the Luke blind, they both perish." It is with the clergy, if their persons be respected, even as it is with other men; their quality many times far beneath that which the dignity of their place requireth. Howbeit, according to the order of polity, they being the "light of the world," others (though better and Matt. wiser) must that way be subject unto them. Again, forasmuch as where the clergy are any great multitude, order doth necessarily require that by degrees they be distinguished; we hold there have ever been, and ever ought to be in such case, at leastwise, two sorts of ecclesiastical persons, the one subordinate unto the other; as to the apostles in the beginning, and to the bishops always since, we find plainly both in Scripture, and in all ecclesiastical records, other ministers of the word and sacraments have been. Moreover, it cannot enter into any man's conceit to think it lawful, that every man, which listeth, should take upon him charge in the church; and therefore a solemn admittance is of such necessity, that without it there can be no church-polity. A number of particularities there are, which make for the more convenient being of these principal and perpetual parts in ecclesiastical polity, but yet are not of such constant use and necessity in God's church. Of this kind are, time and places appointed for the exercise of religion; specialties belonging to the public solemnity of the word, the sacraments and prayer; the enlargement or abridgment of functions ministerial, depending upon those two principals beforementioned: to conclude, even whatsoever doth by way of formality and circumstance concern any public action of the church. Now although that, which the Scripture hath of things in the former kind, be for ever permanent; yet in the latter, both much of that which the Scripture teacheth is not always needful; and much the church of God shall always need what the Scripture teacheth not. So as the form of polity by them set down for perpetuity, is three ways faulty: faulty in omitting some things which in Scripture are of that nature, as namely, the difference that ought to be of pastors, when they grow to any great multitude: faulty in requiring doctors, deacons, widows, and such-like, as things of perpetual necessity by the