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3. That in our way we sow seeds of division, and hindrance of edification in every family; whilst admitting into our churches only voluntaries, the husband will be of one church, the wife of another ; the parents of one church, the children of another ; the master of one church, the servants of another. And so the parents and masters being of different churches from their children and servants, they cannot take a just account of their profiting by what they hear; yea, by this means the husband, parents, and masters shall be chargeable to the maintenance of many other churches, and chureh officers, besides their own ; which will prove a charge and burthen unsupportable.
But for answer, as to the first ; for gathering churches out of churches, we cannot say that it is a thing unheard of in scripture. The first christian church was gathered out of the Jewish church, and out of many synagogues in that church, and consisted partly of the Galileans ; who though they kept some communion in some parts of public worship with the temple, yet neither did they frequent the sacrifices, nor repair to the sanhedrim for the determining of their church causes, but kept intire and constant communion with the
apostles' church in all the ordinances of the gospel. And for the first christian church of the Gentiles at Antioch, it appeareth to have been gathered and constituted partly of the dispersed brethren of the church at Jerusalem whereof some were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, and partly of the believing Gentiles. Acts xi. 10, 21.
If it be said, the first christian church at Jerusalem, and that at Antioch, were gathered not out of any christian church, but of the Jewish temple and synagogues, which were shortly after to be
abolished, and their gathering to Antioch was upon occasion of dispersion in time of persecution
We desire it may be considered, 1. That the members of the Jewish church were more strongly and straitly tied by express holy covenant, to keep fellowship with the Jewish church till it was abolished, than any members of christian parish churches are wont to be tied to keep fellowship with their parish churches. The episcopal canons, which bind them to attend on their parish church, it is likely, they are now abolished with the episcopacy. The common law of the land is satisfied, as we conceive, if they attend upon the worship of God in any other church, though not within their own parish. But not like such covenant of God, nor any other religious tie lieth upon them to attend the worship of God in their own parish church, as did lie upon the Jews to attend upon the worship of God in their temple and synagogues.
Ž. Though the Jewish templechurch at Jerusalem was to be abolished, yet that doth not make the desertion of it by the members to be lawful, till. it was abolished. Future abolition is no warrant for present desertion, unless it be lawful, in some case, whilst the church is yet in present standing, to desert it ; to wit, either for avoiding present polutions, or for hope of greater edification, and. so for better satisfaction to conscience in either.. Future events, or foresight of them do not dissolve. present relations, else wives, children, servants, might desert their husbands, parents, masters, when they be mortally sick.
3. What the members of the Jewish church did, in joining to the church at Antioch in time of persecution, it may well be conceived the members
of any christian church may do the like for satisfaction of conscience. Peace of conscience is more desirable than the peace of the outward man; and freedom from scruples of conscience is more comfortable to a sincere heart, than freedom from persecution.
If it be said, those members of the christian church at Jerusalem that joined to the church at Antioch, removed their habitations together with their relations; which if the brethren of the congregational way would do, it would much abate the grievance of their departure from their pres. byterial churches :
We verily could wish them so to do, as well approving the like removal of habitation, in case of changing church relations, provided that it may be done without too much detriment to their outward estates, and we for our parts have done the same. But to put a necessity of removal of habitation in such a case, it is to foment and cherish a corrupt principle of making civil cohabitation, if not a formal cause, yet at least a proper adjunct of church relation, which the truth of the gospel doth not acknowledge. Now to foment an error to the prejudice of the truth of the gospel, is not to walk with a right foot, according to the truth of the gospel, as Paul judgeth, Gal. ii. 1.
4. We do not think it meet or safe, for a member of a presbyterial church forthwith to desert his relation to his church, betake himself to the fellowship of a congregational church, though he may discern some defect in the estate or government of his own. For,
1. Faithfulness of brotherly love in church relation requireth that the members of the church should first convince their brethren of their sinful defects, and duly wait for their reformation, before
they depart from them. For if we must take such a course for the healing of a private brother, in a way of brotherly love, with much meekness and patience; how much more ought we so to: walk with like tenderness towards a whole church..
Again, 2. By the hasty departure of sound members from a defective church, reformation is not promoted, but many times retarded, and corruption increased.
Whereas on the contrary, while sincere members, breathing after purity of reformation, abide together, they may by the blessing of God upon their faithful endeavours, prevail much with their elders and neighbours towards a reformation, it may be so much as that their elders in their own church shall receive none to the seals but visible saints; and in the classis shall put forth no authoritative act, but consultative only, touching the members of other churches, not touching their own, but with the consent, silent consent at least, of their own church: Which two things, if they can obtain with any humble, meek, holy, faithful endeavours, we con. ceive they might, by the grace of Christ, find lib. erty of conscience to continue their relation with their own presbyterial church without scruple.
5. But to add a word further, touching the ga. thering of churches out of churches : what if there were no example of such a thing extant in the scripture? That which we are wont to answer the antipædo-baptists, may suffice here ; it is enough, if any evidence thereof may be gathered from just consequence of scripture light. Dr. Ames' judgment concerning this case passeth, for ought we know, without exception, which he gave in his fourth book of conscience, in answer to two ques. tions chap. xiv.num. 16, Ifany, said he wronged with
unjust vexation, or providing for his own edification, or in testimony against sin, depart from a church, where some evils are tolerated, and join himself to another more pure, yet without condemning of the church he leaveth, he is not therefore to be held as a schismatic, or as guilty of any other sin.
Where the tripartite disjunction, which the judicious doctor putteth, declareth the lawfulness of the departure of a church member from his church, when either through weariness of unjust vexation, or in way of provision for his own edification, or in testimony against sin, he joineth himself to another congregation more reformed; any one of these he judgeth a lawful departure, though all of them do not concur together. Neither will such a practice despoil the best ministers of the parishes of their best hearers. For,
1. Sometimes the ministers themselves are will. ing to join with other better sort of hearers in this way of reformation, and then they and their hearers continue still their church relation together ; yea, and confirm it more straitly and strongly, by an express renewed covenant, though the ministers may still continue their wonted preaching to the whole parish.
2. If the ministers do dislike the way of those whom they otherwise count the members, and so refuse to join with them therein ; yet if those members can procure some other ministers to join with them in their own way, and still continue their dwelling together in the same town, they may easily order the times of public assembly, as to attend constantly upon the ministry of their former church; and either after or before the public assembly of the parish, take an opportunity to gather together for the administration of the sacra.