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Of Uniformity in Religion, Worship of God, and Church Government.

Database

Of Uniformity in Religion, Worship of God, and Church Government.

James Dodson

by

George Gillespie
Scottish Commissioner
To the Assembly of Divines
At Westminster.

 

CHAPTER XV.

 

The word uniformity is become as odious to divers who plead for liberty and toleration, as the word conformity was in the prelates' times. Hence proceeded Mr Dell's book against uniformity, and Mr Burton's book, entitled, Conformity's Deformity. I confess my love and desire of uniformity hath not made me any whit to depart from my former principles against the prelatical conformity, or the astricting of men's consciences (at least in point of practice and observation) to certain rites, whether unlawful or indifferent in their own nature, under pain of censure. Yet I must needs justify (as not only lawful, but laudable) what the solemn league and covenant of the three kingdoms obligeth us unto, namely, to endeavour to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in one confession of faith, one directory of worship, one form of church government and catechism.

It is always to be remembered, that good things, yea the best things, may be dangerously abused by the corruptions of men, especially when the times are generally corrupted. Luther had reason in his time, and as the case stood then, to decline a general synod of Protestants for unity in ceremonies (which some moved for), before the doctrine of faith and the substance of the gospel was settled. He said the name of synods and councils was almost as much suspected with him as the name of freewill, and that he would have the churches freely and voluntarily to comply and conform in external rites, by following the best examples in these things, but by no means to be compelled to it, or snares prepared for the consciences of the weak. (See Melchior Adamus, in Vit. Lutheri, p. 128,129.) But if Luther had found as good opportunity and as much possibility of attaining a right uniformity in church government and worship as God vouchsafeth us in this age, I do not doubt but he had been more zealous for it than any of us now are; or, if he had been in Calvin's stead, I make no question he had done in this business as Calvin did. So that we ought to impute it rather to the times and places in which they lived, than to the difference of their spirits, that Luther's zeal was wholly spent upon the doctrine of free grace. Calvin's zeal did also extend itself to discipline, about which Luther was unwilling to make any business at all. But for further satisfaction to truly tender consciences, and that they may not fear we are leading them back again to Egypt, I desire that these particular differences between the prelatical conformity and the presbyterial uniformity, according to the covenant, may be well observed.

1. They did, after the heathenish and popish manner, affect ceremonies, and a pompous external splendour and respectability, and made the kingdom of God come with observation.[1] We desire to retain only the ancient apostolical simplicity and singleness, and, we conceive, the fewer ceremonies the better, knowing that the minds of people are thereby inveigled and distracted from the spiritual and inward duties.

2. Much of the prelatical conformity consisted in such things as were in themselves, and in their own nature, unlawful and contrary to the word. Show us the like in any part of our uniformity, then let that thing never more be heard of. Uniformity in any thing which is unlawful is a great aggravation of the sin.

3. They conformed to the Papists, we to the example of the best reformed churches, which differeth as much from their way, as she that is dressed like other honest women differeth from her that is dressed like a whore.

4. The prelatical conformity was, for the most part, made up of sacred ceremonies, which had been grossly and notoriously abused either to idolatry or superstition, and therefore being things of no necessary use, ought not to have been continued, but abolished, as the brazen serpent was by Hezekiah. But in our uniformity now excepted against, I know no such thing (and I am confident no man can give instance of any such thing in it) as a sacred religious rite or thing, which hath neither from Scripture nor nature any necessary use, and hath been notoriously abused to idolatry or superstition: if any such thing can be found, I shall confess it ought not to be continued.

5. They imposed upon others, and practised themselves, ceremonies (acknowledged by themselves to be in their own nature not merely indifferent, but looked upon by many thousands of godly people as unlawful and contrary to the word) to the great scandal and offence of their brethren. Our principle is, that things indifferent ought not to be practised with the scandal and offence of the godly.

6. Their way was destructive to true Christian liberty both of conscience and practice, compelling, the practice, and conscience itself, by the mere will and authority of the law-makers. Obedite præpositis was the great argument with them to satisfy consciences: Sic volo, sit jubeo, sic pro ratione voluntas. We say that no canons nor constitutions of the church can bind the conscience nisi per et propter verbum Dei, i.e., except in so far as they are grounded upon and warrantable by the word of God, at least by consequence, and by the general rules thereof; and that canons concerning things indifferent bind not extra casum scandali et contemptus, i.e., when they may be omitted without giving scandal, or showing any contempt of the ecclesiastical authority.

7. The prelatical ordinances were after the commandments and doctrines of men, as the Apostle speaks, Col. 2.22. Compare Matt. 15.9, But in vain do they worship me, teaching, for doctrines, the commandments of men. Where doctrines may fitly express the nature of significant mysterious ceremonies, such as was the Pharisaical washing of hands, cups, tables, &c., to teach and signify holiness. All sacred significant ceremonies of man's devising we condemn as an addition to the word of God, which is forbidden no less than a diminution from it. Let many of those who object against our uniformity, examine whether their own way hath not somewhat in it which is a sacred significant ceremony of human invention, and without the word; for instance, the anointing of the sick in these days when the miracle is ceased, the church covenant, &c. For our part, except it be a circumstance such as be-longeth to the decency and order which ought to appear in all human societies and actions, whether civil or sacred, we hold that the church hath not power to determine or enjoin anything belonging to religion; and even of these circumstances we say, that although they be so numerous and so various that all circumstances belonging to all times and places could not be particularly determined in Scripture, yet the church ought to order them so, and hath no power to order them otherwise, as may best agree with the general rules of the word. Now, setting aside the circumstantials, there is not any substantial part of the uniformity according to the covenant which is not either expressly grounded upon the word of God, or by necessary consequence drawn from it, and so no commandment of men, but of God.

Other differences I might add, but these may abundantly suffice to show that the prelatical conformity and the presbyterian uniformity are no less contrary one to another than darkness and light, black and white, bitter and sweet, bad and good.

And now having thus cleared the true nature and notion of uniformity—that it is altogether another thing from that which its opposers apprehend it to be—the work of arguing for it may be the shorter and easier. Mr. Dell, in his discourse against uniformity, argueth against it, both from nature and from Scripture. I confess if one will transire de genere in genus, as he doth, it is easy to find a disconformity between one thing and another, either in the works of creation or in the things recorded in Scripture. But if one will look after uniformity in uno et eodem genere, in one and the same kind of things (which is the uniformity we plead for), then both nature and Scripture giveth us precedents not against uniformity, but for it. It is a maxim in natural philosophy, that motus cœli est semper uniformis velocitate —the heavens do not move sometime more slowly, sometime more swiftly, but ever uniformly. God himself tells us of the sweet influences of Pleiades, of the bands of Orion, of the bringing forth of Mazzaroth in his season, and of the other ordinances of heaven, which all the power on earth cannot alter nor put out of course, Job 38.31-33; of the sea which is shut up within the decreed place, and within the doors and bars which it cannot pass, ver. 10,11; and generally, all the great works which God doth there discourse of, each of them in its own kind is uniform to itself: so likewise, Psalm 104. Hath not God said, that while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease, Gen. 8.22. If there were not an uniformity in nature, how could fair weather be known by a red sky in the evening, or foul weather by a red and lowring sky in the morning? Matt. 16.2,3. If there be not an uniformity in nature, why saith Solomon, The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun? Eccl. 1.9. Is it not an uniformity in nature that the stork in the heaven know-eth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming, Jer. 8.7. Is not that an uniformity in nature, John 4.35, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? As the Apostle saith of the members of the body which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour, 1 Cor. 12.23; so I may say of those things in nature which may perhaps seem to have least uniformity in them (such as the waxing, and waning of the moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, and the like), even in these a very great uniformity may be observed.

As for Scripture precedents, there was in the Old Testament a marvelously great uniformity both in the substantials and rituals of the worship and service of God. For instance, Num. 9.3, it is said of the passover, Ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it. Exod. 12.49, One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. Another instance see in the sacrifices, first seven chapters of Leviticus. Another instance, Acts 15.21, For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath-day. A fourth instance, in the courses and services of the priests and Levites, 1 Chron. 23.26; Luke 1.8,9. The like in other instances.

Of the church of the New Testament it was prophesied, that God would give them one way as well as one heart, Jer. 32.39; that there shall not only be one Lord, but his name one, Zech. 14.9. We are exhorted to walk by the same rule, so far as we have attained; that is, to study uniformity, not diversity, in those things which are agreed upon to be good and right, Phil. 3.16. Doth not the Apostle plainly intimate and commend an uniformity in the worship of God, 1 Cor. 14.27, If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret; ver. 33, For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints; ver. 40, Let all things be done decently, and in order. He limiteth the prophets to that same number of two or three, even as he limiteth those that had the gift of tongues, ver. 29. And was it not a great uniformity, that he would have every man who prayed or prophesied to have his head uncovered, and every woman covered, 1 Cor. 11? Doth not the same Apostle, besides the doctrine of faith and practical duties of a Christian life, deliver several canons to be observed in the ordination and admission of elders and deacons, concerning widows, concerning accusations, admonitions, censures, and other things belonging to church policy, as appeareth especially from the epistles to Timothy and Titus? And, 1 Cor. 16.1,2, he will have an uniformity between the churches of Galatia and of Corinth in the very day of putting forth their charity, Now, concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, &c. In the ancient church, although there was not an uniformity in all particulars among all the churches,—for instance, in the point of fasting, some fasting on the Sabbath, some not; some taking the Lord's supper fasting, some after meals (which differences in fasting gave occasion to the old rule, Dissonantia jejunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei); although, likewise, there was a great difference between the custom of one church and another in the time and manner of celebrating the Lord's supper, and in other particulars, as Augustine, Socrates, and the author of the Tripartite history record unto us,—yet the Centurists, and other ecclesiastical historians, show us in every century a great uniformity in those ancient times, even in very many things belonging to church government and form of worship. Neither can any man doubt of the great uniformity in the ancient church. Who is a stranger to the canons of the ancient councils? And although Irenæus and others justly blamed Victor, bishop of Rome, for excommunicating the churches of Asia, and the Quartodecimans, because of their disconformity in keeping of Easter, yet the endeavouring of the nearest uniformity in that particular was so far from being blamed, that it was one cause (though neither the sole nor principal) of the calling and convening of the Council of Nice; which council did not leave it arbitrary to every one to follow their own opinion concerning Easter, but by their canon determined that it should not be kept upon the same day with the Jews, that is, upon the fourteenth day of the month.


Footnotes:

[1] Mentes humanæ mirifice capiuntur et fascinantur ceremonialium splendore et pompa, Hospin. Epist. ante lib. de Orig. Monach.