Part III. Chapter VIII.
Of communicating in like necessity, where there are some prayers sinful in the matter of them.
But in communicating with anti-bishops, and their adherents, set up to head immoral prayers and practices, as is set forth in the fore-mentioned cases, there is not only the schismaticalness of the assemblies, but the sinful matter of the prayers to be considered. There is a fault in what they pay, which is a corrupt and sinful worship; as well as in the society where they pay it, which is not in the unity of the spirit, and the bond of peace, but in schismatical congregations. And though the necessity of having some ministerial offices, and the want of opportunity for any others, will excuse the first faultiness, viz. the schismaticalness of the assemblies: what shall such people do to get over the second, viz. The unrighteous petitions, or sinful matter of the prayers, which are offered up to God therein?
As to this, to concur and go along in any immoral or unrighteous petition, or thanksgiving, is certainly an immoral and unrighteous thing; as praying, is most solemnly taking part with, and endeavouring for them. Nay, to offer up these, in prayers and religious addresses, is a most impudently and horribly profane thing; it abuses the great and most holy God, by making him a present of the most hateful abominations; it blasphemes and asperses him, for an immoral and unrighteous God, who can accept a present of unrighteousness, who can be pleased, or think himself honoured therewith, or be entreated to become the patron and maintainer thereof. So that when such prayers occur in sacred offices, or when they have the accessional allotment and furtherance, of set days, of fasting, or thanksgiving; no man, who would preserve any reverence for God, or respect for religion, or care of his own soul, must concur therein: but, instead of helping on, all true worshippers of God, and lovers of righteousness, as I conceive, most utterly detest and abhor them.
But in mixed prayers, where some are holy, and some are sinful, what may be done by those, who would pick and choose, and join with them only in the good, but keep off from the evil?
Now as to this, the sinful mixture may be of idolatrous worship or prayers. And not to discuss, whether it may be excusable in any cases, to resort to churches, where there are such mixtures of idolatrous service; I think however, these are not on the same level with others, but that there is a greater bar to all communion in worship, by such mixtures. For idolatry, doth more peculiarly and heinously affect worship. In respect of it, God declares himself a jealous God: and so is less likely to accept of any worship in partnership with creatures; or, in sacred offices, to admit of, and go halves with rivals. And with particular respect to this, St. Paul sets out the incompatibleness of communicating, both with Christ and Belial; and the scripture-precepts, of be ye separate, and come out from among them, do more directly and forcibly affect this, than other sins in religious assemblies.
Or the good parts of the worship, which are intermixed with the evil, may not afford them all that is necessary in Christian worship; or not in such a way, as it is necessary they should have it. And then, there is a bar to communion in such worship, not only from the mixture of ill prayers, from which the partakers in other parts would separate; but also from the defectiveness of those good parts thereof, which are to recommend it, because they do not supply the worshippers with all that is necessary in Christian worship. Thus, instead of whole, they may administer half sacraments, sacrilegiously withholding the cup from the people, which Christ has appointed to be received by all the communicants, as well as the bread. Or, what good prayers and oblations they do put up to God, may be all in an unknown tongue: which is not to pray in that way that is necessary for Christians, who are to offer up a spiritual worship, which is to be done by praying with understanding.
Or the evil parts, which are intermixed with the good, are indispensably to be performed together with them, and he, who would communicate in one, must not be allowed to let the other alone. As there can be no receiving of the sacrament, without worshipping it, in the church of Rome. It imposing a compliance with its corruptions, as a condition to those, who would partake in any sound parts of its offices.
And these are such hindrances of communicating with that church in the mass, which are not to be urged in bar of communion, under all immoral mixtures of worship and devotions.
And much less is the allowance of some communion under such immoral mixtures, to be extended for a justification of the same communion, in the assemblies of Jews, yea, or even of Mohammedans, on pretence of joining, in like manner only with the good, but standing off from the ill parts of their offices. For that church-communion, which, as Christians, in our creed we all profess to believe, and seek, is the communion of saints, that is, in the language of those times, of Christians, not any church communion of professed unbelievers.
But suppose, that in a Christian church, retaining all the essentials of faith, or articles of the creed, all that is necessary in Christian worship, is to be had pure, and unspotted; and in a tongue, which all understand; but some immoral petitions, or prayers, are intermixed therewith, which people may be tolerated to pass over, and to express dissent from, whilst they show concurrence with all the good prayers, which come along with them. Are they barred from such communion, by such mixtures?
As to this, it may depend much upon the degree thereof, according as the evil passages, are tolerable or intolerable, (I mean not to be done, as if any man were to expect a toleration to do a wicked action, but to be born,) on the point of this unlawfulness. In care of keeping union, much would be bore withal for peace, and in hopes of seeing a cure thereof, whilst more modesty is shown, in these unrighteous and immoral petitions. And, in want thereof other ways, for the benefit of communicating in some ministerial offices and public devotion, men would bear more. If such unlawful and immoral passages, were fewer in number, and occurred more seldom in the service, to shock and gall good minds; or, if they are any ways uncertain, and less peremptory in signification, and some way or other accomodable to an innocent and lawful sense: good people, though they could not concur in, would yet more patiently endure them. But they are less to be born, when more express and unavoidable in signification, and more grown in number. So that as any assemblies multiply these petitions, they increase these difficulties and discouragements to those, who, for the sake of peace; yea, or (on the setting up of a schism, after which they are no longer bound to maintain ecclesiastical peace and union with them,) for the benefit of having public offices and ministrations, would fain meet at their public service.
If once the minglers of such immoralities in prayers, shall, to this impediment of immoral mixtures, add another, viz. of breaking the unity of the church, especially by setting up of anti-bishops, and forming a flagrant schism: there is an end of bearing with these mixtures for the sake of peace, and for maintenance of communion with them. For this peace and union, is not to be kept with schismatics, as I have shown; the scriptural and ecclesiastical rules, being not to seek, but to shun communion with such persons. It is to keep united to those bishops, who are the orthodox and rightful heads, and to such as depend on them, and adhere to them; not to such heterodox dividers, as break off from them. So that this bearing with the irksomeness of such mixtures, for the sake of union, is a reason of bearing only before the formation of the schism; but is never to be urged that way more, but has all its force turned, another way, when once that is done.
Or, before such formation of a schism, the immorality of those petitions may be so express and unavoidable, the iniquity of them so staring and heinous, or the repetitions thereof so numerous, and the use thereof so fixed and settled; that good people neither would, nor ought to bear them, could they have any opportunity of doing otherwise.
Indeed, sin and wickedness, especially in any plane, gross, and great instances thereof, if once evidently made the matter of worship, and put up in prayers, sets people at liberty in any church, as I have shown, to refuse them, and join in others, whose matter is pure and sinless.
When once therefore corruption gets into the matter of prayers, and sin makes a part of sacred offices, it gives a liberty for people to withdraw from those prayers, though administered by their lawful pastors; and, if any ministers regularly empowered will give them the opportunity thereof, to change them for a pure and sinless service. And still, the higher and more open the iniquity of such prayers or clauses, and the more numerous the repetition of them is; the more are they, not only set free, but forced and necessitated to this. And the more answerably, are the orthodox and faithful ministers necessitated, to afford them opportunities thereof.
Lovers of peace, out of an ardent desire of union, may forbear a while, so long as those churches are more modest in their corruptions, or whilst there may be hopes of curing them, especially at the beginning, and of closing the breaches. And this allowance of forbearance, for a time, in case of such corruption of worship; is no more than we see is made in case of heresy, which is a corruption in faith. This corruption of faith, as well as corruption of worship, gives a discharge of communion, as I have shown. And yet communion is not so discharged thereby, but that it may be kept on for a time, as I observed it was with the Arians in the beginnings of that heresy: the rule being, not to reject an heretic from communion whilst he may be thought savable, or not till he has had a first and second admonition. And thus it was judged and practiced, by those orthodox at Antioch, who kept a meeting for some time in the Arian assemblies under Leontius, after their error and impiety was introduced into their public offices and ministrations, and was put up to God in derogatory doxologies. In which union of assemblies, these orthodox were headed and lead on by Flavian and diodorus, that admirable pair of best men, as they are styled by theodoret speaking of this business, and who first brought in the doxology at the end of the psalms, which continues still to be used at the reading thereof, in our days. But who, whilst they showed concurrence with the Arians in all the good parts of their office, thought fit to show their standing off from them in their corrupt and derogatory doxologies, as oft as they came in the course of the public service. For when, at the end of the hymns, the Arians sung, glory be to the father, in the son, or, as others, glory be to the father, by the son, in the Holy Ghost, aiming by this change of particle, to intimate dissimilitude and inferiority: the orthodox sung, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, by that particle of conjunction, making the three persons all alike in receipt of this glory, or expressing their equality.
But whatever compliances may be made thus for a time; yet, as the sinful mixtures grow more fixed, and the iniquity is more open and barefaced; when it greatly and evidently pollutes devotions, and corrupts men's principles and practices, and is carried on by all arts and endeavours to entrap and catch souls: there is more apparent necessity to stand off from them. And then, they are bound, I conceive, and as I think, I have shown , to afford God's faithful people, more safe, and salutary, and Christian administrations: and the people, without any hindrance from the precepts of peace and union, are to break off from the other, and to join therein. So that such unlawful matter in prayers, especially still as it grows more apparent and heinous, and more firmly fixed therein, is enough to carry people off, notwithstanding their desires of peace and union, from any assemblies, though they had not added anti-bishops to head their unlawful mixtures, or made an open schism in the church.
As to this mixture of immoral prayers then, with such a service as is wanting in nothing else, but has all that is necessary in worship, if these additions might be let alone: the desire of keeping peace and union in assemblies or churches, whatever it may do for a while, or in some cases, will not always get over them. And if once the makers of immoral additions, do moreover set up anti-bishops, and make a schism for maintenance thereof; unity is no longer in duty to be kept, but broke with them; so that the desire of unity, will be no reason to bear therewith, but to do quite contrary, after that time.
But there is besides another, and a stronger ground of bearing, viz. the necessity of having some ministerial offices, and public devotion, when they live under a want of better opportunities, and must take up, either with these or none. And this, as it will excuse the faultiness of meeting with those who are in a schism: so, I conceive, will excuse men too, in bearing with these corrupt matters and immoral additions, whilst they can be allowed sufficiently to signify, and express their dissent from them.
They come then, it is true, and, (as the forementioned orthodox Christians did at Antioch, under the derogatoriness of the Arian doxologies) for the sake of many good prayers, submit to be present at others, whereby they will see God's worship profaned, and hear his sacred name dishonored and libeled, which is, and ought to be, a grievous mortification to every pious mind. But they submit to be present at all this, in the way of a necessary duty, viz. attending on some ministerial offices. And in want of all opportunities, of having those more pure in any other places: as was also the case of those orthodox at Antioch, where Constantius had refused to allow them so much as one church. And meeting it that way, though they may see and hear it, they are only aggrieved and wounded, but not polluted thereby. As servants, or any others, are not polluted by hearing God's name blasphemed, or seeing other wickednesses committed, which they are like to meet in the necessary duty and discharge of their attendance or stations: who are not guilty of the evil, that is uttered or acted, especially if they are allowed to show dislike, and to be reprovers of it. So that when others are guilty, by concurring in these immoral petitions; he contracts no guilt, by being present at them much against his will, and in the necessary and due payment of some public devotion, which he has no opportunities of paying any where else, so long as he apparently singles out the good, and lets all the bad alone.
Nor is his mere presence at these additional immoral prayers, an interpretative profession of his concurrence in them. It is too rigorous, I think, to make coming to any religious assemblies, a profession of concurring in every particular, which, in any part of the ministration, is professed, or put up to God there. Men are liable to have various apprehensions, about some passages or other, that may happen to be in the public service, whether in the professions which are made to God, or in the prayers which are put up to him. And also about some undertakings, events, or transactions of this world, which may be brought, as occasion is, into the common service and devotion, though all are not of one mind or belief about them. And under this liableness, to such variety of apprehensions about these matters, we could never be able to keep up public communion, especially to keep it up so fixed and constant, and to keep all persons in one communion, as our Lord requires they should be kept, upon these terms. And they are more liable still, to have the same variety of apprehension, about private composures in pulpit-prayers; which may be more subject to the tincture, either of some particular opinions, or expressions, which all cannot assent to, or approve of. Considering which, it would be harder still to keep up such communion, under the allowance of these pulpit-prayers of private composure; which yet, besides what they have been formerly, or are at this time in other places, are now allowed of by our own church.
In public fasts, indeed, or thanksgivings, where the very meeting or assembling is made significant of any purposes; to be present at them, is a profession of what is signified by them. And it is insincere for those, who abhor that design, which they are appointed to carry on, to afford their presence, or meet at them. But I think it is not so, with any particular passages and petitions, in the ordinary devotion at other times; and that coming to church assemblies at such times, which are for devotion at large, is no determinate and limited profession of concurrence in those passages, from which, though a man would profess to dissent, yet might he still resort to the assemblies for so many other purposes. And of this difference betwixt these two, as to their being a profession of concurrence, they who list, may see more in a book entitled, of Christian prudence.
It is true, it will give some presumption of concurrence in these petitions, if they visibly manifest no dislike; but, whatever they are in their hearts, appear externally to join in them, as much as they do in others. And therefore, I conceive, it were not amiss, as they come in the course of the service, by some external sign, to show they disclaim, and stand off from them. As I noted the orthodox did, whilst (in the beginnings, and, as was hoped, more sanable age of the Arian heresy, before they broke communion quite off) they met in the Arian assemblies under Leontius at Antioch. But there is no room, or pretence for such presumption of concurrence, (and they would be strange presumptions, that should be made in contradiction to express declarations) if we signify the contrary by some external sign. For none must presume, or we are not answerable for it if they do, that we join in such passages, if by some external sign we protest to all that we stand off from them; whilst, by like visible signs, we show concurrence in all those good prayers, which are put up together with them.
I grant, the communion of prayers, should be an entire communion; and no petitions of public assemblies, should be the private desire of some, but the joint desire of all in common. And where any thing is inserted, which all cannot join in, it makes a broken communion. But there, the inserters thereof make this breach; and others, who are driven by necessity to bear the same, only suffer it as their misfortune. And when they can have no other, which they would embrace, though with persecutions; yea, and it may be are illiterate, and unable by reading, to carry on the worship of God, and the work of instruction, in their own families: it is better, I think, to take up with a broken communion than with none. And though their wishes are to have one more entire, yet till they can have their wish, I conceive, their way will be to communicate in most prayers, rather than in none at all.
Whilst they are careful then, by some sufficient external sign, to show their standing off from these additional immoral passages; the necessity of having some ministerial offices and devotions, will bear them out, I conceive, when they can have no better, in resorting to such mixed service, for concurrence in the body of other good prayers. But all this, as I say, is whilst such visible signification and refusal of the sinful matters, will be allowed of. For if all, either in reality must, or in external show and appearance must seem to concur therein: they ought not to be guilty, either of iniquity, or hypocrisy; and so, upon that account, are utterly barred and shut out from such communion.
And thus much, as it is greatly needed, so I have adventured to say on this point, concerning that liberty and allowance, which, in compliance with the love of peace, and the necessity of some ministerial offices, may, as I conceive, be made in abatement of the strict rules against communion with schismatics. I know all the use some are apt to make of such concessions, is, instead of making them relieve others, only to turn them against the authors, and taking hold of them as principles, to try if thereby they can overthrow the main cause. I think this is very disingenuous; and a wrong way of reasoning too. For it is beginning at the wrong end in these matters. These concessions, are not set up for main principles, much less as points to be held against them; but as points of favour and ease, that may be thought fairly and equitably consistent with them. Which, should it happen otherwise, the principles must stand firm, (unless they can be overthrown by arguments intrinsic, and proper to themselves;) and all that can be said as to these concessions of ease, is, that there is an end of them. So, by that course, men do not so much oppose the established principles, as themselves; and what they show is, that, in consistence with truth of principles, no concessions can be made; and that the truth will not permit them to make such approaches, or to come so near to them, as they fain would do. But these liberties in the present case, seem to me fairly reconcilable, on the grounds here given, with the reason and reality of things; and with the intent of the foresaid principles: and every man is left to judge for himself, whether they are or no.
And thus, I think, it may appear, both how careful we ought to be, in shunning the communion of anti-bishops, and their schismatical adherents, where we have other opportunities: and now, for the benefit of some ministerial offices, we may be at liberty to take up with them, when we can have the same from none else. Yea, for all they happen at any time to have made an addition of immoral mixtures, to a body of otherwise good, and sufficient prayers, if we openly and sufficiently express our dislike and standing off from them, whilst we as openly concur, and join in others. And as it was before shown, who make the schism in any divisions of churches, and who can cure it in the foresaid cases: so, having found who are to answer for the schism, this may suffice to show what communion may be held with such, and how good Christians are to carry it towards both parties.
As to that exercise of spiritual ministrations then, which faithful pastors stand so many ways obliged to, notwithstanding any deprivation of state, yea, or of synods, as I have shown: the care of preserving unity, or preventing schism in the church, ought to be no stop thereto in the foresaid cases. Nay, if to head their immoral prayers, doctrines, and practices, the defectors shall set up anti-bishops, and so make a schism in the church: the conscionable care of preserving unity, will bind them fast to such faithful ministers, who are their rightful pastors. And the conscionable and truly Christian dread of schism, will make them effectually keep off from the communion of those defectors, who, by erection of anti-bishops, have set up, altar against altar, and schismatically broke off from them.
And thus I have gone through those particulars, which I thought sittest to be considered, and of most force to clear up this argument. And from what has been offered in these papers, I think it will not be difficult for honest inquirers, to see what their duty is, under any unhappy differences or divisions of churches, at such times. I pray God neither the desire of thriving, nor the fear of suffering, may make men afraid to see it, or to follow what they see they ought to do, when they are tried with such cases.
It extremely concerns all men, who would show any serious care of their immortal souls at such times, to discern the right way, and to take it in these matters. It is not for any to think lightly of these points of difference: for it is hard to say what things would concern their eternal salvation more, or wherein to go wrong would be of more fatal consequence. If any things will lie hard upon us at the great day of accounts, sure the breach of faith, and of the most solemn oaths, of civil subjection and obedience, and of common honesty and justice, will sting and terrify us to the height, and be a burden unsupportable. Such wickednesses will sink heathens; how much more Christians, who act them against so much plainer revelations and spiritual advantages. They are any of them enough to condemn those, who at any time have been guilty of them, unless they truly repent and amend them. How much more must all of them, everlastingly confound those who always live in them, and daily repeat the same; whose hearts, have resisted all reproofs, and convictions; whose consciences, are thereby hardened therein, and grown callous; and who, not content to provoke God thereby in their daily practice, have horribly presumed as daily to profane him at such times, by a blasphemous tender thereof in their daily devotions.
Nor is it safe, on pretence of any subtleties started about these points, by irreligious and ill employed wits on such occasions, to hope for finding an excuse, by pleading mistake or ignorance, should those subtle salvos prove false. For whatever it may with some persons, whose sincere care, as well as desire, to see and follow the right, is best known to God himself: yet in the general, I must remind them, that it is ill trusting to ignorance, in such plain matters of natural conscience, as men cannot ordinarily mistake or be ignorant of, till they have blinded themselves. It needs no skill, nor learning, to fee the wickedness of all these ways. And accordingly, when they are first tried with them, the consciences of most persons, who can pretend to sobriety and justice, and are not debauched with corrupt principles, are startled at them, and in their first judgments, when they judge of themselves, and from natural sentiments and convictions, they scruple and condemn them. But it needs much learning, or pains, to blind our own eyes, and overcome our natural convictions, and see no wickedness in them. And if men of parts, should set their parts and learning as much to work, (which God avert) to baffle men's common convictions of any other wickednesses and immoralities; I do believe, they would give the disobedient as much pretence for mistake and ignorance in those offences, as, after all their pains, they are able to allege in these.
The zeal against Popery, is given out often in these latter days of the world, to go furthest in blinding many. But though Popery, on account of the many dangerous errors and unlawful practices thereof, is a most dangerous religion; yet must they be a strange sort of religious persons, who can think nothing but Popery will endanger them. Whatever be the religion, of false, and for sworn men, of rebels, thieves, and murderers; their religion shall do nothing to save them, but perjury, and rebellion, and unrighteousness, will be sure, without true repentance, to condemn them. So that if they are afraid of Popery, because of its sinfulness, and of the dangers it brings upon their precious souls; they must not be less afraid of gross injustice and immoralities, which are not less sinful, and are more surely destructive, than it is, having less favor and plea of ignorance and mistake, for well-meaning minds to offer for their excuse. And I beg all such, as are in earnest for the salvation of their souls, to consider, that it is as wretched a part, both of folly and wickedness, to throw away their souls, in any immoral or otherwise unlawful ways, to keep out Popery; as it would be, to throw them away in turning to it.
There is also the consideration of schism in these matters. And how light soever too many, God knows, may make of it, yet, in the account of God, it is full of guilt; and in the lamentable experience of the world, it is fruitful in other wickednesses, and abounds in mischief. It rends unity, which Christ, among his last requests to his father, was so earnestly concerned to have kept up in his church. It breaks peace, and, like a canker, eats out the heart of charity, which ought to be the very badge of his disciples. It turns devotion, into contentiousness; and humility and the love of our brethren, into pride and self-pleasing, and a studiousness by all ways to maintain what we have once done ill, and bear up our own reputation; into bitter zeal, and angry passions, and a deplorable train of other wickednesses. And therefore if all the guilt of schism supervenes, to that of the foresaid immoralities in any case, how broad is the net spread there for destruction? How many there, are like to be drawn into the snare, and how loud will the blood of those souls cry, who are caught therein?
Methinks, this must needs be enough, to show men the infinite weight and consequence of these debates, and to cure all indifference, and unconcernedness about them, on such occasions. If they are careless what becomes of their souls, and care only or chiefly for worldly interests; all these things, indeed, will easily be slighted and over-looked, when they oppose the clamours of flesh and blood. But men, who would pretend religion, or secure their eternal happiness in the world to come, must needs see how deeply, and closely these matters affect it, and how infinitely it concerns them, not to go wrong, or to be mistaken therein. And it is only to men so disposed, that discourses of this nature are like to do any good. To such therefore this is tendered with a sincere and charitable intent, of ministering to give them right notions and apprehensions of these matters, and of serving them in the way of their everlasting concerns. I humbly request of them, for their own sakes, that they would fully resolve to set up God, and not this world, in these matters. And if they will seek truth sincerely, and consider and examine what they read impartially; then let them judge of all, and apply what is here said, for the determination of their own minds, and for making such judgment of practices on such unhappy differences, as they see cause.