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conclusive, nor yet do I understand by the Church, every gathering or assembly of people, who may hold sound and true principles, or have a form of truth ; for some may lose the life and power of Godliness, who, notwithstanding, may retain the form or notions of things, but yet are to be turned away from, because in so far as I observed before) as sanctification, to wit, those that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, make the Church, and give the right definition to it: where that is wholly wanting, the Church of Christ ceaseth to be; and there remains nothing but a shadow without substance. Such assemblies then are like the dead body, when the soul is departed, which is no more fit to be conversed with; because it corrupts, and proves noisome to the living. But by the Church of Christ, I understand all those that truly and really have received and hold the truth, as it is in Jesus, and are in measure sanctified, or sanctifying in and by the power and virtue thereof working in their inward parts; and this may be made up of divers distinct gatherings or churches in several countries or nations: I say, so long as these, or any of them retain that, which justly entitles them the Church or Churches of Christ (which they may be truly called) though there may fall out some differences, divisions or schisms among them; as we may see there was no small dissention in the Church of Antioch, and yet it ceased not to be a church, Acts 15. 2. and Cor. 1. 11.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you ; and yet, verse 2. he entitles them the Church of
God, them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus : so long, I say, as they truly retain this title of the Church of Christ, as being really such, there will never be wanting the certain judgment of truth. For which, besides the positive promise of Christ before-mentioned (which is not without blasphe. my to be called in question, or doubted of) I shall add these reasons. That seeing the Church of Christ is his body, of which he is the head, it were to make Christ negligent of his body, who stiles himself the good Shepherd, and hath said, He will never leave nor forsake his own; or else (which is worse) it will infer a possibility of error, or mistake in Christ, in whom as the head, are the eyes of the body, by which it is to be ruled in all things. Next, we never find in all the scripture since the gospel, that ever this was wanting ; but that God still gave infallible judgment by his Spirit in some of the respects above-mentioned. If the transactions and controversies of the after centuries be alledged, I will boldly affirm and prove, That there was never a true judgment wanting, so long as the nature and essence of the true Church was retained : if any will needs affirm otherwise, let them shew me where, and I shall answer it. Though I deny not (that after the mystery of iniquity did begin to work, or had so wrought, first by intermixing, and afterwards by altogether forsaking the nature of truth, retaining only the bare name of the church) but that there might be some scattered ones, here and there one in a nation, and now and then one in an age, who by the power and virtue of the Spirit of life working in them, might be truly
sanctified; yet these were but as witnesses in sackcloth, no way sufficient to give these assemblies, in which they were engrossed, the appellation of the Church of Christ, coming no more under observation by the generality, nor having, as to them, any more influence than some little or scarcely discernible sparks of fire in many great heaps and mountains of ashes. And thus much to prove, that where there is any gathering or as. sembly, which truly and properly may be called the Church of Christ, the infallible judgment will never be wanting in matters of controversy.
Secondly, That ordinarily God hath, in the communicating of his will under his gospel, employed such whom he had made use of in gathering of his Church, and in feeding and watching over them, though not excluding others. For, as in a natural body (to which the Church of Christ is compared) the more substantial and powerful members do work most effectually ; and their help is most necessary to supply any defect or trouble in the body: so also, if there be diversities of gifts in the Church (as is above proved) and some have a greater measure, and some a lesser, those that have the greater are more capable to do good, and to help the body in its need, than others that are weaker and less powerful. Since there are strong and weak, babes and young men, who have overcome the evil one, and in whom the word of God abideth, such are more able, when the enemy besets, to resist (having already overcome) than others who are but yet wrestling, and not conquerors. Now, every controversy and dissention in the Church comes from the besetments of the enemy; yet if any of these strong or young men, or powerful mem. bers, go from their station, it is not denied but that they are as weak as any; and it is pre-supposing their faithfulness in their place that I thus affirm, and no otherwise. Nor yet do I limit the Lord to this method : For in him are all the treasures both of our wisdom and strength; and the weakest in his hand are as strong as the strongest, who may now, as well as heretofore, kill a Goliah by the hand of little David; yet we see the Lord doth ordinarily make use of the strong to support the weak : and indeed, when such as may be termed weak are so made use of, it alters the nature of their place, and constitutes them in a higher and more eminent degree. For though it was little David ; it was also he that was to be king of Israel. Though the apostles were mean men among the Jews, yet they were such as were to be the apostles of the Lord of Glory ; instruments to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to proclaim the acceptable day of the Lord. And though Paul was once aocounted the least of all the saints, a child born out of due time; yet was he him who was to be the greatest
: apostle of the Gentiles.
Now then, let us consider whom the Lord made use of in the affairs of the primitive church, and through whom he gave forth his infallible judgment. Did he not begin first by Peter ? He was the first that spake in the first meeting they had, Acts 1. and who first stood up after the pouring forth of the Spirit ; and who first appeared before the council of the Jews, and spake
in behalf of the gospel of Christ : though I am far from calling him (as some do) the prince of the apostles; yet I may safely say, he was one of the most ancient and eminent, and to whom Christ, in a manner somewhat more than ordinary, had recommended the feeding of his flock. We see also he was first made use of in preaching to the Gentiles, and what weight his and James's words had in the contest about circumçision towards the bringing the matter to a conclusion, Acts 15. Yet that 'we may see infallibility was not inseparably annexed to him, he was found blameable in a certain matter, Gal. 2. 11. notwithstanding his sentence was positively received in many particulars.
So also the apostle Paul argues from his gathering of the churches of Corinth and Galatia, that they ought to be followers of him, and positively concludes in divers things : and upon this supposition, exhorts the churches (both he and Peter) in many passages heretofore mentioned (which I will not, to avoid repetition, again rehearse) to obey the elders that watch for them; to hold such in reputation and to submit themselves to them that have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, 1 Cor. 16. 15, 16.
Also, we see how the Lord makes use of John his beloved disciple, to inform and reprove the seven churches of Asia ; and no doubt John (the rest, by the usual computation, being at that time all removed) was then the most noted and famous elder alive and indeed I mind not where, under the gospel, Christ hath used any other method; þut that he always, in revealing his will, hath