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him as a ruler of the church, and yet more especially, and in a further degree, to all them met together ; where, if ever, the Holy Spirit gives such helps and graces which relate to the public government, and have influence upon the communities of christians, that is, will bless their meeting, and give them such assistances as will enable them to do the work for which they
But yet if any man shall say, “what need the church meet in public synods, to make forms of prayer, when private ministers are able to do it in their several parishes ?” I
answer, it is true many can, but they cannot do it better than a council ;” and I think no man is so impudent as to say he can do it so well ; howeyer, quod spectat ad omnes, ab omnibus tractari debet, “the matter is of public concernment, and therefore should be of public consultation,” and the advantages of publicly described forms I shall afterwards specify. In the mean time,
Fifthly, and the church, I mean the rulers of the church, are appointed presidents of religious rites, and as the rulers, in conjunction, are enabled to do it best by the advantages of special promises, and double portions of the spirit; so she always did practise this, either in conjunction or by single dictate, by public. persons or united authority ; but in all times, as necessity required, they prescribed set forms of prayer. .
LIBERTY OF PROPHESYING.
The infinite variety of opinions, in matters of religion, as they have troubled Christendom with interests, factions, and partialities, so have they caused great divisions of the heart, and variety of thoughts and designs amongst pious and prudent men. For they all, seeing the inconveniences which the disunion of persuasions and opinions have produced, directly or accidentally, have thought themselves obliged to stop this inundation of mischiefs, and have made attempts accordingly. But it hath happened to most of them,
as to a mistaken physician, who gives excellent physic, but misapplies it, and so misses of his cure: so have these men ; their attempts have, therefore, been ineffectual: for they put their help to a wrong part, or they have endeavoured to cure the symptoms, and have let the disease alone till it seemed incurable. Some have endeavoured to reunite these fractions, by propounding such a guide which they were all bound to follow ; hoping that the unity of a guide would have persuaded unity of minds; but who this guide should be, at last became such a question, that it was made part of the fire that was to be quenched, so far was it from extinguishing any part of the fame. Others thought of a rule, and this must be the means of union, or nothing could do it. But supposing all the world had been agreed of this rule, yet the interpretation of it was so full of variety, that this also became part of the disease for which the cure was pretended. All men resolved upon this, that though they yet had not hit
upon the right, yet some way must be thought upon to reconcile differences in opinion; thinking, so long as this variety should last, Christ's kingdom was not advanced, and the work of the gospel went on but slowly. Few men, in the mean time, considered, that so long as men had such variety of principles, such several constitutions, educations, tempers, and distempers, hopes, interests, and weaknesses, degrees of light and degrees of understanding, it was impossible all should be of one mind. And what is impossible to be done, is not necessary it should be done. And, therefore, although variety of opinions was impossible to be cured, and they who attempted it did like him who claps his shoulder to the ground to stop an earthquake; yet the inconveniences arising from it might possibly be cured, not by uniting their beliefs, that was to be despaired of, but by curing that which caused these mischiefs, and accidental inconveniences of their disagreeings. For although these inconveniences, which every man sees and feels, were consequent to this diversity of persuasions, yet it was but accidentally and by chance; inasmuch as we see that in many things, and they of great concernment, men allow to themselves, and to each other, a liberty of disagreeing, and no hurt neither. And, certainly, if diversity of opinions were, of itself, the cause of mischiefs, it would be so ever, that is, regularly and universally: but that we see it is not. For there are disputes in Christendom concerning matters of greater concernment than most of those opinions, that distinguish sects and make factions; and yet because men are permitted to differ in those great matters, such evils are not consequent to such differences, as are to the uncharitable managing of smaller and more inconsiderable questions. It is of greater consequence to believe right, in the question of the validity or invalidity of a death-bed repentance, than to believe aright in the question of purgatory; and the consequences of the doctrine of pre-determination are of deeper and more material consideration, than the products of the belief of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of private masses : and yet these great concernments, where a liberty of prophesying in these questions hath been permitted, have made no distinct communion, no sects of Christians, and the others have; and so have these too, in those places where they have peremptorily been determined on either side. Since, then, if men are quiet and charitable in some disagreeings, that then and there the inconvenience ceases ; if they were so in all others where lawfully they might, and they may in most, Christendom should be no longer rent in pieces, but would be redintegrated in a new pentecost. And although the Spirit of God did rest upon us in divided tongues, yet so long as those tongues were of fire, not to kindle strife, but to warm our affections and inflame our charities, we should find that this variety of opinions, in several persons, would be looked upon as an argument only of diversity of operations, while the spirit is the same: and that another man believes not so well as I, is only an argument that I have a better and a clearer illumination than he, that I have a better gift than he, received a special grace and favour, and excel him in this, and am, perhaps, excelled by him in many more. And if we all impartially endeavour to find a
truth, since this endeavour and search only is in our power, that we shall find it being ab extra, a gift and an assistance extrinsical, I can see no reason why this pious endeaveavour to find out truth shall not be of more force to unite us in the bonds of charity, than the misery in missing it shall be to disunite us. So that since an union of persuasion is impossible to be attained, if we would attempt the cure by such remedies as are apt to enkindle and increase charity, I am confident we might see a blessed peace would be the reward and crown of such endeavours.
But men are now a days, and, indeed, always have been, since the expiration of the first blessed ages of Christianity, so in love with their own fancies and opinions, as to think faith and all Christendom is concerned in their support and maintenance; and whoever is not so fond, and does not dandle them like themselves, it grows up to a quarrel, which, because it is in materiâ theologiæ, is made a quarrel in religion, and God is entitled to it; and then if you are once thought an enemy to God, it is our duty to persecute you even to death, we do God good service in it: when, if we should examine the matter rightly, the question is either in materiâ non revelatâ, or minus evidenti, or non necessaria, either it is not revealed, or not so clearly but that wise and honest men may be of different minds; or else it is not of the foundation of faith, but a remote superstructure; or else of mere speculation ; or perhaps, when all comes to all, it is a false opinion, or a matter of human interest, that we have so zealously contended for ; for to one of these heads most of the disputes of Christendom may be reduced ; so that I believe the present fractions, or the most, are from the same cause which St. Paul observed in the Corinthiam schism : “When there are divisions among you, are ye not carnal ?" It is not the differing opinions that is the cause of the present ruptures, but want of charity; it is not the variety of understandings, but the disunion of wills and affections; it is not the several principles, but the several ends, that cause our miseries ; our opinions commence and are upheld, according as our
turns are served and our interests are preserved, and there is no cure for us but pięty and charity. A holy life will make our belief holy, if we consult not humanity and its imperfections, in the choice of our religion, but search for truth without designs, save only of acquiring heaven, and then be as careful to preserve charity as we were to get a point of faith ; I
as much persuaded we shall find out more truths by this means; or however, which is the main of all, we shall be secured though we miss them; and then we are well enough.
For if it be evinced that one heaven shall hold men of several opinions, if the unity of faith be not destroyed by that which men call differing religions, and if an unity of charity be the duty of us all, even towards persons that are not persuaded of every proposition we believe, then I would fain know to what purpose are all those stirs and great noises in Christendom ; those names of faction, the several names of churches not distinguished by the division of kingdoms, ut ecclesia sequatur imperium, which was the primitive rule and canon, but distinguished by names of sects and men ; these are all become instruments of hatred; thence come schisms and parting of communions, and then persecutions, and then wars and rebellion, and then the dissolutions of all friendships and societies. All these mischiefs proceed not from this, that all men are not of one mind, for that is neither necessary nor possible ; but that every opinion is made an article of faith, every article is a ground of quarrel, every quarrel makes a faction, every faction is zealous, and asl zeal pretends for God, and whatsoever is for God cannot be too much ; we, by this time, are come to that pass, we think we love not God except we hate our brother, and we have not the virtue of religion, unless we persecute all religions but our own; for lukewarmness is so odious to God and man, that we, proceeding furiously upon these mistakes, by supposing we preserve the body, we destroy the soul of religion, or, by being zealous for faith, or, which is all one, for that which we mistake for faith, we are cold in charity, and so lose the reward of both.