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pect, he gives this reason, verse 4. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving of theni that believe and know the truth. So we see, that in these particular things there is great need of warinesss in the Church of Christ; for that some. times forbearance under a pretence of liberty may be more hurtful than down-right judging. I suppose, if any should arise and pretend conscience, and claim a liberty for circumcision and the purifications of the law, whether all Christians would not with one voice condemn it? and so as to days and meats, how do the generality of Protestants judge it? Though I deny not but there may, and ought to be a mutual forbearance in the Church of Christ in certain such cases, which may fall in; and a liberty there is in the Lord, which breaks not the peace of the true church; but in such matters (as I observed at large before) both the nature of the things, the spirit they come from, and the occasion from whence, and their consequence and tendency is to be carefully observed.
Concerning the Power of decision. SEEING then it may fall out in the Church of Christ, that both some may assume another place in the body than they ought, and others may lay claim to a liberty and pretend conscience in things they ought not, and that without question the wrong is not to be tolerated, but to be testified against, however specious its appearance may be; and that it must and ought to be judged: the question will arise, Who is the proper judge or judges, in whom resideth the power of deciding this controversy? And this is that which I undertook in the next place to treat of, as being the specific difference and distinguishing property of the Church of Christ from all other antichristian assemblies and churches of man's building and framing
To give a short, and yet clear and plain answer to this proposition : The only proper judge of controversies in the church, is the Spirit of God, and the power of deciding solely lies in it; as having the only unerring, infallible and certain judgment belonging to it; which infallibility is not necessarily annexed to any persons, person or places whatsoever, by virtue of any office, place or station any one may have or have had in the body of Christ. That is to say, that any have ground to reason thus: Because I am or have been such an eminent member, therefore my. judgment is infallible; or, because we are the greatest number; or, that we live in such a noted or famous place, or the like: though some of these reasons may, and ought to have their true weight in cases of contradictory assertions (as shall hereafter be observed) yet not so, as upon which either mainly, or only the infallible judg. ment is to be placed; but upon the Spirit, as that which is the firm and unmoveable foundation.
And now, if I should go on no further, I have said enough to vindicate us from imposition, and from the tyranny, whether of Popery, Irelacy or
Presbytery, or any such like we have been, or may be branded with, as shall after appear.
But to proceed: herein lies the difference be. twixt the dispensation of the law and the gospel or new-covenant; for that of old all answers were to be received from the priests in the tabernacle. For he that appeared betwixt the cherubims there, spake forth his mind to the people; and there were also families of the prophets, to whom they resorted for the answer of the Lord (though sometimes, as a signification of the further glory that was to be revealed, it pleased God to reveal his mind to some, even to them who were nei. ther prophets nor prophets' sons) but under the gospel, we are all to be taught of God, that is, none are excluded from this privilege by not being of the tribe of Levi, or of the children of the prophets : though this privilege is as truly exercised in some, by assenting and obeying to what God commands and reveals through others (they feeling unity with it in the life) as by such, who by the revelation and command of God's Spirit hold forth his will to his People in certain particulars, which the same Spirit leads and commands them to obey. So that we say, and that with a very good ground, that it is no way inconsistent with this sound and unerring principle to affirm, that the judgment of a certain person or persons in certain cases is infallible, or for a certain person or persons to give a positive judg. ment, and pronounce it as obligatory upon others, because the foundation and ground thereof is, not because they are infallible, but because in these things, and at that time they were led by the in
fallible Spirit. And therefore it will not shelter any in this respect to pretend, I am not bound to obey the dictates of fallible man ; is not this Popery, I not being persuaded in myself? Because it is not to be disobedient to them, but to the judgment of truth through them at such a time; and one or more their not being persuaded, may as probably proceed from their being hardened, and being out of their p...ce, and in an incapacity to hear the requirings, as that the thing is not re. quired of them, which one can deny; but it may as well be supposed, as the contrary. But for the further clearing of this matter, before I conclude, I shall not doubt both to affirm and prove these following propositions.
First, That there never will, nor can be wanting, in case of controversy, the Spirit of God, to give judgment through some or other in the Church of Christ, so long as any assembly can properly, or in any tolerable supposition be so termed.
Secondly, That God hath ordinarily, in the communicating of his will under his gospel, employed such whom he had made use of in gath. ering of his Church, and in feeding and watching over them; though not excluding others.
Thirdly, That their de facto, or effectual meet. ing together, and giving a positive judgment in such cases, will not import tyranny and usurpa. tion, or an inconsistency with the universal pri. vilege that all Christians have to be led by the Spirit; neither will the pretences of any contradicting them, or refusing to submit upon the ac. count they see it not, or so, excuse them from being really guilty of disobeying God.
For the first, to those that believe the scrip. ture, there will need no other probation than that of Matt. 28. 20. And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. And verse 18. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Now if the Church of Christ were so destitute of the Spirit of God, that in case of difference there were not any found that, by the infallible Spirit, could give a certain judgment; would not then the gates of hell prevail against it ? For where strife and division is, and no effectual way to put an end to it, there not only the gates, but the courts and inner chambers of darkness prevail; for where envy and strife is, there is confusion, and every evil work.
But that there may be here no ground of mistake or supposition, that we were annexing infal. libility to certain persons, or limiting the church to such; I understand not by the church, every particular gathering or assembly,circumscribed to any particular country or city : for I will not refuse but divers of them, both apart and together, if not established in God's power, may err.
Nor yet do I lay the absolute stress upon a general assembly of persons, as such, picked and chosen out of every one of those particular churches; as if what the generality or plurality of those conclude upon, were necessarily to be supposed to be the infallible judgment of truth : though to such an assembly of persons truly stated (as they ought) in God's power, he hath heretofore re. vealed his will in such cases; and yet may as the
; most probable way (which shall be spoken of hereafter :) yet such, as a mere assembly, is not