THE GREAT QUESTION CONCERNING THINGS INDIFFERENT IN RELIGOUS WORSHIP
THE GREAT QUESTION CONCERNING THINGS INDIFFERENT IN RELIGOUS WORSHIP,
Briefly stated and tendred to die consideration of all sober and impartial men.
The third edition, Chillingworth Praef. §. 34.
Not protestants for rejecting, but the church of Rome for imposing upon the faith of christians, doctrines unwritten and unnecessary, and for disturbing the churches peace, and dividing unity in such matters, is in an high degree presumptuous and schismatical.
London, printed in the year, 1660.
The publisher of this treatise to the christian and candid reader.
Though opinions should be weighed, not by the reputation of the authors which deliver, but by the strength of the arguments which defend them yet it is too usual with unobserving readers, to slight the argument for the author’s sake, and to consider, not so much what is said who it is that says it. Which being the common fate of most discourses, such especially as do at all meddle with that excellent, but too much abused notion of christian liberty, do most expose the writers to censure: The most obvious character that is fastened upon them, being, that they are men either of loose, or else of factious principles: And so being discredited, before the are read, their books, how sober soever, do not remove, but only fettle and fix the preconceived prejudice; as in diseased stomachs, everything they take turns to nourish and to increase the humor.
That this is like to be the fortune of this small treatise, I have reason to expect, and therefore I have suffered it to run abroad in the world without, a name like one of those (unreadable Greek spelling) Pliny mentions, as if it were born of itself and begotten without a parent. That so those few readers it may meet with, may only fasten upon the faults of the discourse itself without diverting themselves unto that question, which all times, as well at Saul’s, have malice enough to make a proverb of, but who is their father? Yet christian reader, that it may appear only with its own faults, and have no aggravating suspicions upon it, from any mistake of the authors design or humor, I have adventured to give thee this account of him.
First, that he is a strict assertor of the doctrine of the church of England, as it is contained in the 39 articles, and for that which is the prime branch of discipline, viz. episcopacy, or the subordination between bishops and presbyters, he doth own it to be of apostolical institution, that is, as he understands jure divino. At least he thinks himself able to speak as much for the order of bishops in the church, as any can for the baptizing of infants, for the change of the Sabbath, or for anything else, which hath no particular divine precept, but only primitive practice and example to warrant it. And therefore in conformity to this principle of his, when the bishops were sunk lowest, not only for pomp but likewise for reputation and when no temptation either of profit or convenience, but rather the contrary, could work upon him, he then chose to be ordained a presbyter by one of them: which is a greater argument of his reality and steadfastness in judgment, then most of those, who now signalize themselves by distinctive habits, can pretend to; since such may reasonably be presumed to wear them, either because they are the fashion, or else the way to preferment.
Secondly, this I must say likewise, that none is more satisfied with the present government, or hath a more loyal and affectionate esteem for his Majesties person and prudence, than this writer: and therefore instead of declaiming against, or too rigid re-enforcing our old rites, fitted only for the infancy of the church these being as it were its swaddling clouts, and at the best do but show its minority he doth heartily wish that all parties would agree to refer the whole cause of ceremonies to his Majesties single decision: From whose unwearied endeavors in procuring first, and afterwards in passing so full an amnesty of allow civil discord, we need not doubt but we may obtain, that these apples of ecclesiastical contention may be removed out of the way. Which are so very trifles, that they would vanish of themselves, but that some men’s pride, others want of merit make them so solicitous to continue them lest it those little things were once taken away, they should want something whereby to make themselves remarkable.
Lastly he doth profess yet further that as to himself be needs not that liberty, which here he pleads for, since, though for the present he doth make use of that indulgence, which his Majesty hath been pleased to allow unto tender conferences, i.e. to all rational and sober christians: (the continuance of which, he dares not so much wrong his Majesties goodness, as once to question) yet should his Majesty be prevailed upon for some reason of state, to enjoin outward conformity, this writer is resolved by the help of God, either to submit with cheerfulness or else to suffer with silence.
For as there is an active disobedience, viz. resist which is a practice he abhors, so there is a passive disobedience, and that is, to repine (hadern) which he can by no means approve of. Since whatever he cannot conscientiously do, he thinks himself obliged to suffer for, with as much joy, and with as little reluctance, as if any other act of obedience was called for from him.
Having said this concerning the author, I need not speak much concerning the argument, but only this, that it was not written out of vanity or ostentation of wit; but as a question, in which he is really unsatisfied and therefore thought himself bound to impart his doubts: Which having done to many in discourse, with little success or satisfaction; he hath now communicated them to the world, hoping they may light into such men’s hands, who may he prevailed upon, if not to alter the judgment, yet at least to moderate the passion of some, who would put out our eyes, because we cannot see with their spectacles; and who have placed ceremonies about religion, a little too truly as a fence: For they serve to keep out all others from their communion. All therefore which this treatise aims at, is briefly to prove this, — that none is to hedge up the way to heaven; or by scattering thornes (Dornen) and punctilio’s (Nadelspitzen) in it, to make christianity more cumbersome, tedious, and difficult, then Christ hath left it. That is in short, that none can impose, what our Savior in his infinite wisdom did not think necessary, and therefore left free.
THE GREAT QUESTION
Concerning things indifferent in religious worship
Briefly stated and tendred (vorgestellt) to the consideration of all sober and impartial men.
Question: Whether the civil magistrate may lawfully impose and determine the use of indifferent things, in reference to religious worship.
For the understanding and right stating of this question, I will suppose these two things;
1.That a christian may be a magistrate; this I know many do deny, grounding themselves upon that discourse of our Savior to his disciples, “Ye know”, said he, “that the Princes of the Gentiles do exercise dominion over them, and they that are great, exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so much amongst you:” from whence they infer, that all who will‘ be Christ’s disciples, are thereby forbid any exercise of temporal sovereignty. And I remember amongst many other of the primitive writers, who were of the same opinion, Tertullian in his apology doth expressly say “nos ad omnem, ambitionis auram frigemus”, &c. We Christians says he, have not the least taint of ambition, being so far from affecting honors, that we look not after so much as the aedileship (Ädile), which was the lowest magistracy in Rome; and afterwards of Tiberius, “Tiberius”, says he, “would have become a christian, if either the world did not need or it were lawful for christians to be emperors.”
Many other expressions there are both in Tertullian, Cyprian and Origen, to the same purpose. But because the practice of the christian world, down from Constantine’s time, even in the most reformed churches hath carried it in the affirmative for christian magistracy; and the contrary doctrine, besides the gap it opens to all civil confusion, is built only upon some remote consequences from Scripture, rather than any direct proof; I will therefore admit that a Christian may lawfully exercise the highest place of magistracy, only as the Apostle sais in another case, in the Lord, i.e. no: extending his commission farther than the word of God doth warrant him.
- I will suppose that there are some things in their own nature indifferent, I mean, those outward circumstances of our actions: which the law of God hath left free and arbitrary, giving us only general precepts for the use of them either way: Such are, do all things to the glory of God, and do what makes most for edification, and the like, which rules whoever observes, may in things indifferent, either do or forbear them, as he in his christian prudence shall think convenient.
Of these indifferent things some are purely so, as the time and place of meeting for religious worship; which seem to me, to be so very indifferent, that they cannot without great violence, be wrested to any superstitious observance; and therefore concerning these I do not dispute.
Other things there are, commonly supposed indifferent in their own nature, but by abuse have become occasions of superstition: such as are, bowing in the name of Jesus, the cross in Baptism, pictures in churches, surplices in preaching, kneeling at the sacrament, set forms of prayer, and the like; all which seem to some indifferent in their own nature, and by any who is persuaded in his confidence of the lawfulness of them, without doubt may lawfully enough be practiced; yet I hold it utterly unlawful for any christian magistrate to impose the use of them. And that for these reasons:
First, because it is directly contrary to the nature of christian religion in general, which in every part of it is to be free and unforced; for since the christian magistrate cannot, as I think now all protestant writers do agree, force his religion upon any, but is to leave even those poor creatures the Jews and Mahometans to their unbelief (though they certainly perish in it) rather than by fines and imprisonments to torture them out of it; then much less may he abridge his fellow Christian in things of lesser moment, and which concern not the substance of his religion, from using that liberty in serving God, which his conscience prompts him to, and the nature of his religion doth warrant him in. For God as he loves cheerful giver, so likewise a cheerful worshipper, accepting of no more than we willingly perform.
Secondly and more particularly. This imposing of things indifferent, is directly contrary co Gospel precept. Our Savior doth in many places inveigh against the rigid and imposing pharisees, for laying yokes upon others, and therefore invites all to come unto him for freedom. “Take my yoke upon you,” said he, “for it is easy, and my burden is light. And if the son set you free, then are you free indeed. Whereby freedom I do not only understand freedom from sin, but from all human impositions; since the Apostle Paul doth seem to allude unto this place, in that command of his to the Galatians, “stand fast in the liberty, wherewith Christ hath made you free and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage”; where, that I may prevent an objection, I will grant, that by yoke of bondage, he understands circumcision and other Jewish ceremonies; but from thence I will draw an unanswerable argument against the urging of any other now upon a christian account; for since the mosaical ceremonies which had so much to plead for themselves, upon the account of their divine original; and which even after they were fulfilled by our Savior, still remained indifferent in their use, and were so esteemed and practiced by Paul; yet when once they were imposed, and a necessity pleaded for their continuance, the Apostle writes sharply against them, exhorting the Galatians to stand fast in their liberty, as part of our Saviors purchase. If this, I say, was the cafe with those old rites, then much less can any now impose an invented form of worship, for which there cannot be pretended the least warrant that ever God did authorize it. And it seems altogether needless, that the Jewish ceremonies, should, as to their necessity at least, expire and be abrogated, if others might succeed in their room, and be as strictly commanded, as ever the former were.
For this only returns us to our bondage again, which is so much the more intolerable, in that our religion is styled the perfect law of liberty: Which liberty I understand not wherein it consists, if in things necessary, we are already determined by God, and in things indifferent we may still be tied up to humane ordinances, and outside rites, at the pleasure of our christian magistrates.
To these Scriptures which directly deny all imposition, maybe added all those texts, which consequentially do it, such as are “Do to others, as you would have others do to you”: And who is there that would have his conscience imposed upon? “And you that are strong bear with the infirmity of the weak; whereas this practice will be so far from easing the burden of the weak; that if men are at all scrupulous, it only lays more load upon them. These scriptures with many hundreds the like, show that this kind of rigor is utterly inconsistent with the rules of christian forbearance and charity, which no christian magistrate ought to think himself absolved from: Since though as a magistrate he hath a power in civil things yet as a christian, he ought to have a care that in things of spiritual concernment he grieve not the minds of any, who are upon that relation, not his subjects, so much as his brethren: and therefore since they have left their natural, and voluntarily parted with their civil, they ought not to be entrenched upon in their spiritual freedom: especially by such a magistrate, who owning the same principles of religion with them, is thereby engaged to use his power, only to support, and not to ensnare them, to bound perhaps, but not to abridge their liberty; to keep it indeed from running into licentiousness (which is a moral evil) but not to shackle, undermine, and fetter it, under pretence of decency and order. Which when once it comes to be an order of constraint and not of consent, it is nothing else but in the imposer, tyranny in the person imposed upon, bondage: And makes him to be, what in things appertaining to religion we are forbidden to be, viz. “the servants of men. Ye are bought”, said the Apostle, with a price and manumitted by Christ, “be you not the servants of men:” which prohibition doth not forbid civil service, for he said a little before. “Art thou called while thou art a servant? Care not for it; but if thou canst be free, use it rather,” implying, that civil liberty is to be preferred before servitude, yet not to be much contended for, but held as a matter indifferent; but when once our masters, shall extend their rule over the conscience, then this precept holds valid, “be ye not the servants of men”
Thirdly, it is contrary co christian practice, of which we have many remarkable instances:
The first shall be that of our Savior Christ, who was of a most sweet and complying disposition; he says of himself, that he came eating and drinking, i.e. doing the common actions of other men; and therefore he never disclaimed to keep company with any, even the meanest and most despicable sinner; his retinue consisting for the most part of those the Jews called, (unreadable Greek spelling) i. e. sinners in an eminent find notorious manner; whom as a physician he not only cured; but as a merciful priest sought out to save. Yet when his christian liberty came once to be invaded, he laid aside his gentleness, and proved a stifle and peremptory assertor of it.
To omit many passages, of which his story is full, I shall mention but one and that was his refuting to wash his hands before meat. This was not only a thing in itself indifferent, but likewise had some argument from decency to induce, and a constant tradition from the Elders or Sanhedrim to enforce it, who at this time were not only their ecclesiastical but their civil rulers: Yet all these motives, in a thing so innocent and small as that was, could not prevail with our Savior to quit his liberty of eating with unwashed hands. And in defense of himself, he calls them superstitious fools, and blind guides, who were offended at him; and leaves two unanswerable arguments, which are of equal validity in things of the like nature. As
- That this was not a plant, of his father’s planting, and therefore it should be rooted up whereby our Savior intimates, that as the Pharisees had no divine warrant to prescribe such a toy as that was, so God would at last declare his indignation against their supererogatory worship, by pulling it up root and branch. From whence I gather this rule, that when once human inventions become impositions, and lay a necessity upon that, which God hath left free; then may we lawfully reject them, as plants of mans setting, and not of Gods owning.
- The second argument our Savior uses is, that, these things did not defile a man, i. e. as to his mind and confidence. To eat with unwashed hands was at the worst, but a point of ill manners, and unhandsome perhaps or indecent, but not an impious or ungodly thing; and therefore more likely to offend nice stomachs, than scrupulous consciences. Whose satisfaction in such things as these our Savior did not at all study. From whence I inferre (schließe), that in the worship of God we are chiefly to look after the substance of things; and as for circumstances, they are either not worth our notice, or else will be answerable to our inward impressions; according to which our Savior in another place, says, “O blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter that so the outside may be clean, hereby implying, that a renewed hearty will be sure to make a changed and seemly behavior; whereas the most specious outside is consistent with inward filth and rottenness. So that they who press outward conformity in divine worship, endeavor to serve God the wrong way, and often times do only force carnal and hypocritical men to present God a sacrifice which he abhors; while co others that are more tender and scrupulous, they make the sacrifice itself unpleasant, because they will not let it be, what God would have it, a free-will offering.
- My second instance shall be the resolution of the Apostles in that famous and important Quaere, concerning the Jewish ceremonies, whether they were to be imposed or not. After a long dispute to find out the truth (unreadable Greek spelling, says the text) Peter directly opposes those rites, why, says he, do ye temp God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples? Intimating that to put a yoke upon others (and to impose in things indifferent is certainly a great one) from which, God hath either expressly freed us, by commanding the contrary; or else tacitly freed us, by not commanding them: This is nothing else but to tempt God, and to pretend to be more wise and holy than he. Again, James decries those ceremonies upon this score, least they should (unreadable Greek spelling,) be troublesome to the converted Gentiles; implying, that however men may think it a small matter, to impose an indifferent thing, yet indeed it is an infinite trouble and matter of disquiet to the party imposed upon, because he is thereby disabled from using his liberty, in that which he knows to be indifferent.
Upon the hearing of these two, the result of the whole council was the brethren should not be imposed upon, although the arguments for conformity were more strong then, than now they can be; because the Jews in all probability, might thereby have been the sooner won be over to the christian persuasion. The decree which that apostolical, and truly christian synod makes
- From the stile they use, it seems good (say they) to the Holy Ghost, and to us, — so that whoever exercises the same imposing Power, had need be sure he hath the fame divine authority, for fear he only rashly assumes what was never granted him.
- From the things they impose, it seems good, &c. (say they) to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. Whence I observe,
- that they call their imposition (unreadable Greek spelling) a weight, or burden, which is not unnecessarily to be laid on the shoulders of any.
- they say, they forbid only (unreadable Greek spelling) these very necessary things, to show, that necessary things only, and not indifferent, should be the matter of our imposition.
For whereas some gather from hence, that the church, i.e. where a state is christian, the christian magistrate hath a power to oblige men to the doing of things he commands, though in their own nature they be indifferent; because they suppose that the Apostles did so; as for example, in forbidding to eat blood. Therefore consider,
- that this is quite contrary to the Apostles scope, whose business was to ease and free, and not to tie up their brethren; and therefore they say, they merely do lay upon them things very necessary.
- That all those things they forbid, were not indifferent, but long before prohibited by God, not only in the ceremonial, but in his positive law, and therefore obligatory, whereupon the Apostles call them necessary, i.e. things necessary to be forborne, even before they had made any decree against them: As
- (unreadable Greek spelling) i.e. the meat of things offered to idols: To eat of them was not in all cases indifferent; for to so it with conscience of the idol, i.e. intending thereby to worship the idol, this was a thing against the second commandment. But if a man was convinced that the idol was nothing, and therefore the meat, though consecrated, was free to him: Yet if his weaker brother was offended; he was then to abstain in observance of christian charity and condescencion: But if the eater himself did doubt, then was he to forbear for his own peace and quiet’s sake, for to eat, while he was unsatisfied whether it was lawful or not, was nothing else but to condemn himself, as the Apostle says, “He that doubts is (not damned as we render it, but (unreadable Greek spelling)) — condemned i.e. self condemned if he eat, because he doth that which he inwardly doth either not approve, or else at least suspects, that it is not lawful: So that the case of eating (unreadable Greek spelling), being so nice, and so apt co be mistaken: The Apostles do make their prohibitionuniversal, as that which was most safe, and least subject to scruple.
- (unreadable Greek spelling) Blood; i.e. flesh with the blood; or, as some, raw flesh; and things strangled; to eat these was not indifferent, but prohibited long before by God, in his law given to Noah. And therefore the Apostles prohibition here, is not to be interpreted, as their giving a temporary law, with respect had to the then constitution and economy of the Jews (as some I think weakly and without ground from Scripture, imagine) but rather as their reviving and re-enforcing an old law, which being given by God to Noah, both then was, and still is obligatory to all his posterity, God having no where dispensed with it.
- Lastly, (unreadable Greek spelling), if you render it fornication, then it is evidently contrary to those precepts of purity, holiness and perfection, which God everywhere requires. But if you expound it, as many learned men do, unlawful copulations; then the prohibition enforces upon us the observance of those laws concerning marriage, which are recorded in Levit.18 and which is evident, are not in their own nature indifferent, since marrying with our mother, sister or daughter, the heathen Plato and the Grecian laws condemned even by the light of nature. And God, there in that chapter, calls the contrary practices, abominable customs; for which he threatens to root even the heathen out, v.27.ad fin.
From what hath been said out of this instance, 1. conclude, that since, i.e. the Apostles, though divinely inspired, yet did not impose any rites upon the church , by their own proper power, but join themselves with the Holy Ghost, as being acted and commissioned by him. Since, 2., they use no arguments from decency to justify their imposition, nor by any unnecessary burden upon any, by forbidding or enjoining things purely indifferent but only prohibit such things, as they call, and it is clear from what has been said, were necessary. And lastly, since the retaining some of the more innocent and less burdensome ceremonies of the Jews, in point of order and convenience only, would in all probability have been the readiest means to bring chat precise and superfluous people unto a compliance with the Gospel; and without doubt for that reason would have been enjoined, had the Apostles conceived they had any power to have meddled with them.
Hence I conclude, for persons,
1. Who have no such authority.
2. in things much more indifferent.
And lastly, where the necessity of conformity is nothing near so pressing and urgent. For such, I say, to take upon themselves an arbitrary and an imposing power, it is altogether unwarrantable, and consequently sinful.
- My last instance shall be that of the Apostle Paul, who was of an universally complying carriage; he says of himself, that he became all things to all men even to Jews at a Jew, &co. with many more words to the same purpose. And to show his liberty, he circumcised Timothy, though a Greek, that he might gain the Jews in those parts. But when once a sect of men rose up, who began to preach the necessity of circumcision, he doth in many places sharply inveigh against them, calling them dogs, evil workers, and in derision, (unreadable Greek spelling), or the concision, and concludes his epistle to the Galatians, with bidding them to beware of such, as labored to boast in their flesh i. e. sought to bring them unto a conformity in those outward ordinances. Nay so jealous and precisely careful was that Apostle of this great christian privilege and charter, viz. freedom in indifferent things; that he could not brook so much as Peters suspicious carriage in that particular, but for his dissimulation, and pretending to be less free, then he was;
Paul says, that he openly reproved him to his face. And for other false brethren, who crept into their assemblies, merely to spy out their liberty, and without doubt, used the fame arguments for conformity, which many do now; the Apostle says, he resisted them, and yielded not to them, so much as for a moment.
And that he might forever preserve his Galatians from being ensured, and brought under bondage again, he leaves them the caveat, I mentioned before, stand fast in your liberty, &e. From whence I infer, that so long as a thing is left indifferent, though there be some suspicion of superstition in it, we may lawfully practice it, as Paul did circumcision; but when any shall take upon them to make it necessary, then the thing so imposed presently loses not its liberty only, but likewise its lawfulness; and we may not without breach of the Apostles precept, submit unto it: Because we thereby do own, that those whose injunctions we obey, had a power to impose; and so by assenting, we become abettors and promoters of their usurpation.
- My last argument against impositions shall be taken from the inconveniences that attend such a practice. For though I lay little stress upon such kind of arguments (because truth is to be tried by its evidence, and not by its consequences) yet because,
- In principles, on which moral actions are grounded, the inconveniences do use to be weighed, and that doctrine for the most part seems most true, at least most plausible, which is attended by fewest inconveniences and because,
- the opposers of liberty, haw very little elseto urge for themselves, but by pretending the many inconveniences that flow from it.
Therefore I shall clearly prove that many more absurd and more destructive and fatal consequences attend the doctrine of impositions, then the doctrine of christian liberty, as,
- The first inconvenience is the impossibility to fix a point where the imposer will stop. For do but once grant, that the magistrate hath power to impose, and then we lie at his mercy, how far he will go. For the unmarried state of the clergy, holy unction, consecrating the host &co. are as indifferent in their own nature, as using the cross, or surplice. And if the magistrate hath indeed lawful power to impose, he may as well command those, as these, especially if he be convinced that they are either decent or convenient; at which door have entered in all those gross fooleries, which are in the popish worship: Any of which, take them singly and apart from the circumstances which determine them, so they are indifferent, and may, for ought I know, be conscientiously observed.
But put them together and consider the power which imposes, and the end which continues them, so they are the grossest idolatry, and the vilest tyranny that ever yet was practiced. For we are for the most part mistaken in the notion of popery, if we see a surplice, or a cross, or organs, or bowing, we presently cry out popery: Whereas I think it a more manifest sign of popery to forbid these things, as we do, under penalties, then to practice them with freedom. If, I understand anything of Antichrist, his nature seems to consist in this that he acts in a way contrary to Christ i.e. instead of a spiritual, he brings in a devised worship; and instead of freedom, lays a constraint even upon our devotion. So that, as John in his revelation says of him, “Men shall neither buy nor sell, who have not a mark; i.e. who do not serve God in that outward way, which he commands. So that whoever doth own the doctrine of imposition though in the smallest circumstance of worship he brings in the essence, though not the name of popery; and lays down that for his foundation, on which all the will-worship, which this day reigns in the world, is bottomed.
For whatever opinions we have concerning the necessity of bowing, kneeling or the like, while they stand confined to our private practices, they are at worst but hay and stubble, which will perish at the day of account, though he that doth them may very well be saved. But when once a man goes further and not content with his persuasions, envies his brother that liberty, which he himself desires to enjoy; and seeks to obtrude his conceits upon others, who perhaps are not so well satisfied as he is: Whoever doth this, becomes impious to God, by invading his sovereignty, and lording it over another man’s conscience; and likewise injurious to men, by pressing such things, as are only baits to the careless, and traps for the conscientious. I know very well, that the Argument is specious and often urged — why should men be so scrupulous? Most pleading for ceremonies, Lot did for Zoar, are they not little things? But l answer, 1. that a little thing unwarrantably done is a great sin. 2. That a little thing unjustly gained, makes way for a greater: and therefore we should not let the serpent get in his head, how beautiful soever it seems, lest he bring in his tail, and with that his sting – how curious even almost to superstition, our Savior and his Apostles especially Paul, were in this point, I have already mentioned; by whose example we are little profited, if we do not learn, that in impositions we are not so much to consider how small and inconsiderable the thing imposed is, as how lawful it is: Not, what it is in itself, as whither it tends, and what will he the consequence of it admission. For the smaller the thing imposed is, the more is our christian liberty invaded, and consequently the more injurious and sinful is its imposition.
- The second inconvenience is, that it quite inverts the nature of christian religion; not only by taking away its freedom, but likewise its spirituality; our Savior says, that God will now be worshipped not in show and ceremony, but in spirit, and in truth; whereas this doctrine of imposition, places it in such things, in the observance of which, superstition will be sure to out-do devotion. But true religion like the spirits of wine or subtle essences, whenever it comes to ne opened and exposed to view, runs the hazard of being presently dispirited, and lost. In the service of God there is a vast difference, between purity and pomp, between spirit and splendor; whereas the imposer only drives at, and improves the latter; but of the former is altogether secure and careless, as is evident in those places, where uniformity is most strictly practiced.
- This doctrine making no provision at all for such as are scrupulous and tender, supposes the same measure of faith in all: Whereas nothing is more clear, then as the Apostle says concerning things offered to idols, so concerning ceremonies, I may say, that all have not knowledge. But to this day many there are utterly unsatisfied with the lawfulness of any, and most are convinced of the uselessness of them all. Whose consciences, how erroneous soever, yet are to be tenderly and gently dealt with; lest by our rigid commanding what they can by no means comply with, we bring them unto that dangerous dilemma, either of breaking their inward peace and comfort, by doing outwardly what they do not inwardly approve of: Or else of running themselves upon the rocks of poverty and prejudice, by disobeying what is commanded. For though we are upon all occasions to suffer gladly, yet let not Reuben smite Ephraim; let us not receive our wounds in the house of our friends, for then our sufferings will be sharpened from the consideration of the unkindness, that our brethren should put us upon the needless trial of our faith and patience, especially in such things, which white the imposer calls indifferent, he thereby acknowledges, that they may very well be spare.
- The last inconvenience is that by impositions, especially when the penalty is severe, we seem to lay as much weight and stress upon these indifferent things, as upon any the most material parts of our religion. This rigid irrespective obtruding of small things makes no difference at all between ceremony and substance. So that a man who were not a Christian at all, would find as good, nay perhaps better usage from the imposer, then he who laboring and endeavoring to live up to other parts of christian faith, shall yet forbear to practice these ceremonies: Which is not only harsh and cruel, but very incongruous dealing, that a Jew or Mahometan, should be better regarded, than a weak and scrupulous Christian. This is nothing else, but to deal with our fellow Christians, as Jephtha did with the Ephraimites, to kill them for no weightier crime, than because they cannot pronounce Shibboleth.
To these inconveniences I might add the certain decay of the growth of religion as to its inward purity, while there is this disguise and mask of needless ceremonies upon it to keep it under; but those which I have already urged, are so great, that those which are commonly insisted upon by men of another persuasion, are not at all to be put into the balance with them; as will appear by this brief answer to their main objections.
- They object that this will be the way to beget all manner of disorder and confusion; that every man will have a several fashion and custom by himself; and for want of uniformity and ceremony, the unity and essence of religion will perish. But I answer,
- Doth any pled for Baal? He that will abuse the principle of liberty, to justify his licentiousness of life, let him know that the magistrate bears not the sword in vain, but has it to cut off such offenders. If you suffer as Christians, said the Apostle, rejoice at it; but let none suffer, as a thief, murderer (unreadable Greek spelling), seditious person, a state-incendiary, or as a busy intermeddler in other men’s matters, for he that doth these things suffered justly; nor can he plead anything from the Gospel, which is a rule of strictness, to exempt him from punishment. But
2.This disorder, which is so vehemently and so tragically aggravated, and for the prevention of which, ceremonies must be invented and forced, is indeed nothing else but a malicious and ill-founding name, put upon an excellent and most comely thing, i.e. variety, For as God, though he be a God of order, hath not made all men of one countenance, and in the world hath given several and divers shapes to many things, which yet are the same for substance; so in the assemblies of his people, who all come to honor him, and agree in the essence of his worship, why should we doubt, but God will be well pleased with their variety in circumstances? The exercise of which not only their consciences do prompt, but God himself doth induce them to, because in his word he hath not prescribed anyone outward form, that all should necessarily agree in; but in such things hath left them to the dictates of their own spirits, and the guidance of christian prudence; which variety is so far from being a confusion, that nothing can be more comely and harmonious, as serving to set out the indulgence of God, the arbitrary actings of the Holy Spirit, and the liberty of the Saints, who can preserve unity in mind, without uniformity in behavior.
- The second Objection is, the practice of the Jewish Princes, who as soon as ever they were installed in their Kingdoms, set upon reforming the house of God, and imposing upon all a form of worship: Which since all Scripture is written by divine inspiration, and for our instruction, seems to be a leading case that christian Princes should imitate them, and do so likewise. But l answer, i.e. though arguments taken from analogy are of very little weight, when positive precepts are required, yet I will grant, that the piety of the Jewish, is, and ought to be exemplary to the christian magistrates — but withal I deny the inference, since the Jewish Princes, when they reformed religion, they therein followed a divine law, which did command it from them, and which, in the minutest circumstances, had provided for uniformity worship from which rigor and restraint all Christians are absolved, and therefore it is very unconcluding to argue from the Jews, who had; to the christian magistrate, who wants divine authority. To this is also objected,
- That since things necessary to the worship of God, be already determined by God, and over them the magistrate hath no power; if likewise he should have no power in indifferent things, then it would follow that in things appertaining to religion, the christian magistrate had no power at all — which they think to be very absurd – so the reverend and learned Mr. Hooker, and Dr. Sanderson. But I answer,
- It is no absurdity at all, that Princes should have no more power in ordering the things of God, then God himself hath allowed them. And if God hath no where given them such an imposing power, they must be content to go without it. But in this case, where will the christian magistrate find his warrant, the Scriptures being utterly silent, that he is now to take such authority upon him, which, because the thing concerns not man, but the worship of God, had it been thought necessary and fit, would certainly not have been omitted.
- It is so far from being an argument for impositions, to urge that the thing imposed is indifferent, that there cannot be a stronger argument against them: Since it is as requisite to christian practice, that things indifferent should still be kept indifferent, as things necessary, be held necessary, – As I have already proved.
Lastly, it is much more suited to the nature of the Gospel that christian Princes should reform religion, rather by the example of their lives, then by the severity of their laws; and if they may show their power at all in this case, it should rather be b y subtracting then by adding. By taking away all impertinences, which may hinder the progress of it, rather than by obtruding unwarrantable methods, to tie all men up to such outward forms; as may make piety suspected only for policy disguised.
Much more might be said for this from authority, but I willingly wave it. For if Scripture and reason will not prevail to hinder impositions, I have no cause to expect that any sentences from antiquity should. Only this is certain, that all the writings of the Christians for the first three hundred years, are full of nothing else, but such arguments as evince a liberty, more absolute and universal then I contend for. And likewise it may be of some weight, that the churches doctrine was then more pure, their discipline more strict and severe then now; and yet they had nothing but mutual consent, either to establish or protect it, the magistrates being all against them. But when once Constantine took upon him to manage the affairs of the church, and by penal laws, ratified and confirmed church-orders, he laid that foundation of antichristian tyranny, which presently after him, his son Constantius exercised, against the assertors of the trinity: And, the churches worldly power increasing as fast, as the purity of religion did decrease; the bishops of Rome within a few years, gained to themselves, and have ever since practiced severely against such, whom they call heretics, i.e. deniers of their factious doctrine; and opposers of their most ungospel-like, but indeed most politic and prudential impositions, whose furious and bloody tenets, like subtle poison, have run through the veins of almost all professors, scarce any sort even of protestants, allowing to others that liberty of religion, which at the beginning of their sects, they justly challenged to themselves.
Nor is there any hope, that the world should be freed from cruelty, disguised under the name of zeal, till it please God to inform all magistrates, how far their commission reaches , that their proper province is only over the body, to repress and correct those moral vices, to which our outward man is subject: But as for christian religion, since it is so pure and simple, so free from state and worldly magnificence, so gentle and complying with the meanest christian, and withal so remote from harshness, rigor and severity, there the magistrate most consults Gods honor and his own duty, if being strict to himself, he leaves all others in these outward ceremonies to their inward convictions. Which liberty, is so tar from weakening, that it is indeed the security of a throne; since besides gaining, the peoples love (especially the most conscientious and sober of them) it doth in a special manner entitle him to Gods protection: Since in not pretending to be wiser then God, he gives religion that free and undisturbed passage, which our Savior seems by his life and death to have opened for it.
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