On the Abuse of the Reformation.
TO the doctrines which are pleaded in defence of separation, I might have added the use which has been made of the historical event of our Reformation from the errors of the Church of Rome. Here the Dissenters are in confederacy with the Papists against us. The Papists object, that by the fact of our separation from their Church, the principle of separation is admitted; and being once admitted, it will multiply sects and divisions amongst us, and justify them all, as much as it justifies us. This is the very argument^ which the Dissenters have repeated an hundred times; and they borrowed it originally from Rome, whose emissaries were detected among the Puritans in the days of Elizabeth, feeding them with reasons and objections for the multiplying of schism, and the weakening of the Episcopal Church of England: and God knows, they succeeded but too well. However, the link which unites these two parties may easily be broken. They both agree, that the Reformation of the Church of England was a separation from the Church of Rome, of the same kind, and on the same principles, with the separation of our Dissenters. But to say this, is to assert, that the Pope had a legal authority over the Church of England; when in fact it was an usurped authority; and the Church of England reformed Itself, as a national Episcopal Church, on the ground of its original independence on the See of Rome. Therefore, till our Sectaries have given up this point to the Papists, and made the Church of England legally dependent on the authority of Rome, the case of our Reformation affords no precedent to their separation. This Bishop Hoadley knew; therefore he allowed the authority of the Church of Rome, and made the Reformation of this Church a forcible separation, or schism, that all the Sectaries might be justified by our example. But he goes to a greater length: he maintains, that we did not reform, because the doctrines of the Church of Rome were actually corrupt, but because we thought them so; putting our Reformation on the foot of opinion, not of reasonable right, and actual knowledge: and opinion being once admitted as a rule of Reformation, will hold as good against us, as against the Papists: nay, it will stop no where, till it make every man a Church to himself; with such doctrines as he likes, and without any one Christian ordinance whatsoever. When we descend to reason and authority, a weak cause may soon be overthrown; but if opinion is to justify, the Quakers may stand their ground; and so may Socinians, Mahometans, Jews, and Heathens; because the opinions of men, from the force of custom and habit, will go with the persuasion in which they have been educated. The Papists wish to put all Reformation from their Church, on such a foot, that the principle may be ruined by its own absurdity: and in this our Sectaries, with Bishop Hoadley for their advocate, have given them all the advantage they can desire.
Popular power is another engine which hath been turned against the Church; that is, against the authority of God and his ministers; and if this is admitted, then must that be right which the people set up, whatever it may be. All unlawful authority affects to ride in upon the backs of the people: and the patriots of Pagan Rome, while they trampled upon captive kings, and looked upon all nations as made to be their slaves, were always flattering the people of their own commonwealth, with the conceit of their own majesty. The Geneva discipline went upon this principle; and they were followed therein by our Puritans and Independents. But the Scripture is so expressly against it, that its friends were tempted to corrupt the text of the New Testament, to give it countenance. In the History of the Ordaining of the seven Deacons, in the sixth chapter of the Acts, the text says--whom WE may appoint over this business--giving the appointment to the Apostles. But the words were altered into--whom YE may appoint--giving the appointment to the people. One of the largest and the most numerous folio editions of the bible ever printed in this country, which is that of Field 1660, several copies of which are still to be seen, upon the reading desks in our Churches, has this corruption; as many others had from the years 1640 to 1660. Field's edition was worked off in the time of the Usurpation, and was to have been published under the authority of the Parliament; but not coming forth till after the Restoration, the title page was changed, and it made its appearance cum Privilegio.
From this falsification of the Apostolical History, it is easy to foresee (and every young reader should be aware of it) how the English History, particularly that of the last century, must have suffered under the hands of the same party; what falsities and forgeries must have been propagated, to conceal the truth, to defame and blacken the best characters, and to justify the worst. Sometimes these bold experiments brought the authors of them into great embarrassment. Mr. Baxter, in two editions of his Saint's Everlasting Rest, printed before the year 1660, instead of the Kingdom of Heaven, as it is in the Scripture, calls it the Parliament of Heaven, (and, if like their own, it must have been a parliament without a King), and into this Parliament he puts some of the regicides, and other like saints, who were then dead. But in the editions after the Restoration, he drops them all out of Heaven again, and restores the kingdom of God to its place, in the language of the Gospel. Lord Brook was one of the saints whom Baxter thus discanonized: of whose remarkable end Lord Clarendon gives an account; vol. u. chap. vi. p. 114.
But to return to the subject of popular Election. I have an author before me, a declaimer against Priestcraft, who finds the right of the people in the History of the Election of Matthias to the Apostleship. "Matthias is elected," says he, "to testify that ordination might be valid by the votes of the people only, without the immediate interposition of Heaven" He calls the Assembly of Apostles and Disciples, who were an hundred and twenty in number, the people; of whom we know that eleven were Apostles; that seventy more Were ordained ministers; and nothing appears, but that (the women excepted) all the rest of this assembly were of the ministry likewise. But supposing them to be the people, how does it appear, that ordination was valid by their votes? Where is the account of this voting? The election is referred to God in the determination of a lot.--Thou, Lord, shew whither of these two thou hast chosen. Here the immediate interposition of Heaven is applied for; but our orator says, this ordination was from the votes of the people only, without any such interposition of Heaven. [See the Axe laid to the Root of Priestcraft, in four Discourses. Disc. iv. p. 5.] These two examples may be sufficient to shew the wretched shifts, and bold experiments, to which men are driven in the handling of the Scripture, to uphold the Anti-christian doctrine of a Church, derived from the authority of the people.