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The substance, then, of what is asserted and proved in this Treatise,
resolves in these following particulars:
First, That in the church of Christ, when it consists of a visible
people (for I speak not here of the church in the dark night of apostasy,
that consisted not of any society visibly united) gathered into the belief
of certain principles, and united in the joint performance of the worship
of God, as meeting together, praying, preaching, &c., there is and
still must be a certain order and government.
Secondly, That this government, as to the outward form of it, consists
of certain meetings, appointed principally for that end; yet not so, as
to exclude acts of worship, if the Spirit move thereunto.
Thirdly, The object of this government is two-fold, outwards and inwards.
The outwards relate mainly to the care of the poor, of widows and fatherless;
where may be also included marriages, and the removing of all scandals
in things undeniably wrong: the inwards respect an apostasy either in principles
or practices, that have a pretence of conscience, and that either in denying
some truths already received and believed; or asserting new doctrines,
that ought not to be received. Which again, (to subdivide) may either be
in things fundamental, and of great moment; or in things of less weight
in themselves, yet proceeding from a wrong spirit, and which in the natural
and certain consequence of them tend to make schisms, divisions, animosities,
and in sum, to break that bond of love and unity, that is so needful to
be upheld and established in the Church of Christ. And here come also under
this considcration all emulations, strifes, back-bitings and surmisings.
Fourthly, That in the true Church of Christ, (according to the definition
above given of it) there will in such cases of differences and controversies
still be an infallible judgment from the Spirit of God, either in one or
other, few or more.
Fifthly, That this infallible judgment is and unalterably annexed and
seated in the Spirit and power of God; not to any particular perpersons,
meeting or assembly, by virtue of settled ordination, office, place or
station, that such may have or have had in the church; no man, nor meeting,
standing or being invested in any authority in the Church of Christ upon
other terms, than so long as he or they abide in the living sense and unity
of the life in their own particulars; which whosoever one or more inwardly
departs from, ipso facto loses all authority, office, or certain
discerning, he or they formerly have had; though retaining the true principles
and sound form, and (may be)not fallen into any gross practices, as may
declare them generally to be thus withered and decayed.
Sixthly, That Jesus Christ under the gospel hath ordinarily revealed
his will in such cases through the elders, and ministers of the church,
or a general meeting; whose testimony is neither to be despised or rejected
without good cause. Neither is their taking upon them really to decide,
any just ground to charge them with imposition, or to quarrel with their
judgment; unless it can be proved, that they are decayed, and have lost
their discerning, as above.
Seventhly, That to submit and obey in such cases, is no detracting
from the common privilege of Christians to be inwardly led by the Spirit,
seeing the Spirit has led some heretofore so to do, and yet may. And that
every pretence of unclearness is not a sufficient excuse for disobedience,
seeing that may proceed from obstinacy, or a mind prepossessed with prejudice:
yet say I not, any ought to do it, before they be clear; and who are every
way right, will not want clearness, in what they ought to do.
And lastly, That these principles are no ways tainted with imposition,
or contrary to true liberty of conscience: and that they fundamentally
differ from the usurpations both of Popery, Prelacy and Presbytery, or
any other of that nature.