WILLIAM MAXWELL HETHERINGTON,
D. D., LL. D.
THE INDEPENDENT CONTROVERSY, ANNO 1644.
The Assembly directed to begin the Subjects of Discipline, Directory of Worship, and Government – The Subject of Church-officers stated and Discussed – Pastor – Doctor – Ruling Elder – Deacon – Widow – Ordination of Ministers – Opposition of the Independents – Consent of the Congregation, or Election – Contest with the Parliament about Ordination – Directory for Public Worship – Propositions concerning Presbyterial Church Government – The Apologetical Narration by the Independents – Answers to it – The Antapologia – Views of the Independents – Keen and Protracted Debates – Excommunication – Selden and Gillespie – Nye – Attempt to Accommodate – The Power of Congregations – Suspension and Excommunication – Committee of Accommodation – Proceedings of that Committee – Suspended – Reasons of Dissent by the Independents – Answers by the Assembly – General Outline of these Reasons and Answers – The Independents Requested and Enjoined to State their own Model of Church Government – The Publication of a Copy of a Remonstrance – Assembly’s Answer to it – The Committee of Accommodation Revived – Additional Papers Prepared – Ends without Effecting an Accommodation – Brief Summary of the Points of Disagreement between the Presbyterians and Independents – Political Intrigues – Errors of both Parties.
A BOUT a fortnight after the House of Commons had taken the Solemn League and Covenant, and while the Assembly of Divines were engaged in discussing the doctrinal tenets of the sixteenth of the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles, on the 12th of October 1643, they received an order from both Houses of Parliament, requiring them to direct their deliberations to the important topics of discipline, and a directory of worship and government. The order was as follows: –
"Upon serious consideration of the present state and conjuncture of the affairs of this kingdom, the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament do order, that the Assembly of Divines and others do forthwith confer and treat among themselves, of such a discipline and government as may be most agreeable to God’s Holy Word, and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home, and nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other Reformed Churches abroad, to be settled in this Church in stead and place of the present Church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors, commissaries, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical officers, depending upon the hierarchy, which is resolved to be taken away; and touching and concerning the Directory of Worship, or Liturgy, hereafter to be in the Church: and to deliver their opinions and advices of and touching the same to both or either House of Parliament with all the convenient speed they can."
By this order the attention of the Assembly was turned from any further examination of the Thirty-nine Articles, and fairly directed to the important task for the accomplishment of which they had been called together. Baillie informs us that Henderson did not entertain any sanguine expectations of their conformity to the Church of Scotland, till they should have experienced the advantage of the Scottish army’s presence in England. This proves that he was not overreached by the English 1 commissioners in the framing of the Solemn League and Covenant, but was quite aware of the views and feelings which they entertained, although he cherished the hope that circumstances might lead to a better result.
After having made some preliminary arrangements, and prepared their own minds by keeping a solemn fast, the Assembly read the order from Parliament, pointing out the new field of deliberative discussion on which they were to enter. The first question that arose regarded the order of procedure, whether they should begin with government or discipline, and it was agreed that they should begin with the subject of Church government. This suggested another preliminary point, – whether the Scriptures contain a rule for government. Goodwin and the other Independents eagerly urged that this question should be first of all debated and decided, he expressing his conviction that the Word of God did contain a rule. Lightfoot opposed this course, and wished the Assembly first of all to give a definition of the leading term of all their discussions, " a Church." It is evident that this would have been the most logical course, first to define a Church, then to inquire into its government, and lastly to treat of discipline, which is government in operation. But it was felt that this course would bring forward first the very points on which the greatest differences of opinion were known to exist; and therefore it was judged prudent rather to adopt a less perfect order of procedure, for the purpose of ascertaining first how far all could agree, in the hope that then their differences would either disappear, or be capable of being brought into some general accommodation. It was accordingly resolved, that since all admitted the existence of a Church, and of Church government, however they might differ regarding their nature and extent, these subjects should be left for the present indefinite, and they should commence with the subject of office bearers in the Church, or, to use their own term, Church-officers.2
From this early, and comparatively slight discussion, it was evident that both parties in the Assembly were keenly vigilant lest any thing should be done which might in any degree prejudge their opinions; and consequently, that their debates would be eager, animated, and protracted, on every controverted topic. But as the very object for which the Assembly was called was to prepare a form of Church government, of discipline, and of worship for the nation, which was intended to be final and lasting, it was judged right to give to every portion of their great work the benefit of the most full and deliberate discussion, though at the expense of considerable delay.
Committees, according to the usual arrangement, had been appointed to prepare the subject of Church-officers for public discussion, and gave in their separate reports. That of the second committee began thus: – "In inquiring after the officers belonging to the Church of the New Testament, we first find that Christ, who is Priest, Prophet, King, and Head of the Church, hath fullness of power, and containeth all other offices, by way of eminency, in himself; and therefore hath many of their names attributed to him." To this sacred and comprehensive proposition they appended a number of Scripture proofs, in six divisions. The following names of Church officers were mentioned as given in Scripture to Christ: –
5. Minister, or
but this last name was rejected by the Assembly, as not meaning a Church officer in the passage where it is used. The report of the third committee was similar in character, ascribing, in Scripture terms, the government to Jesus Christ, who, being ascended far above all heavens, "hath given all officers necessary for the edification of his Church; some whereof are extra-ordinary, some ordinary. Out of the scriptures referred to they found the following officers: – Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, Bishops or Overseers, Presbyters or Elders, Deacons, and Widows. 3
In the discussion which followed upon the reading of these reports, it is rather remarkable that the Erastians took no part; although the full meaning of the main proposition, – that Christ contains all offices, by way of eminency, in himself, and has given all officers necessary for the edification of his Church, – seems to contain enough to preclude the Erastian theory. But we shall have occasion to show the reason why they allowed this proposition to pass unchallenged. It did not, however, escape the opposition of the Independents. Mr. Goodwin opposed it, as anticipating the Assembly’s work, and concluding that Christ’s influence into his Church is through his officers, whereas he questions whether it be conveyed that way or not. Again, when the kingly office of Christ was under discussion, Goodwin doubted whether the Scriptures prove that Christ is King, in regard of discipline in the Church. He questioned also whether the Headship of Christ should be specified, as being no office in the Church. All these objections were overruled, and the reports proved, as the basis of subsequent deliberations.
The four following questions were also reported by the third committee: –
1. What officers are mentioned in the New Testament?
2. What officers of these were pro tempore, and what permanent?
3. What names were common to divers officers, and what restrained?
4. What the office of those standing officers?"
The general names of officers having been already stated, the debate arose on the second question, – "What officers were perpetual?" The office of apostles was declared to be only pro tempore, and extraordinary, for the eight following reasons: –
1. They were immediately called by Christ;
2. They had seen Christ;
3. Their commission was through the whole world;
4. They were endued with the spirit of infallibility in delivering the truths of doctrine to the churches;
5. They only by special commission were set apart to be personal witnesses of Christ’s resurrection;
6. They had power to give the Holy Ghost;
7. They were appointed to go through the world to settle churches, in a new form appointed by Christ;
8. They had the inspection and care of all the churches.
Little opposition was made to these reasons, and that little was chiefly made by Mr. Goodwin, – particularly respecting the power the apostles to plant and settle churches; he being afraid, apparently, that if he admitted this power, even in apostles, it might so far condemn the practice of the Independents, where ordinary believers formed themselves into churches, and appointed their own officers totally without the intervention or aid of any other church, or of any person previously ordained. Not a single voice was raised in behalf of the theory first started by Bancroft, and carried to its height by Laud, – that prelates are the successors of the apostles, and possess their office and its authority, in virtue of unbroken personal apostolic succession, – this extravagant absurdity being abandoned by all.
Another point respecting the apostleship was introduced, which led to considerable discussion, not on its own account, but because of its ultimate consequence: – That the apostles had the keys (that is, the power of government, doctrine, and discipline) immediately given to them. The importance of this point consisted in its bearing upon the Independent theory; as also, though not so directly, upon Erastianism. Lightfoot granted that the keys were universally held to mean the government of the Church; but that in his own opinion the keys were given to Peter only, to open the door of admission to the Gentiles; and that he regarded the power of the keys as merely the authority to declare doctrinal truths. In this view, as we shall have occasion to show, lay the germ of Lightfoot’s Erastianism. The Independent brethren resisted the idea that the power of the keys was committed to the apostles in any sense implying official authority; it being one of their principles, that the Church, in their sense of that term, namely, ordinary believers, possessed all power and authority. Goodwin, Simpson, Burroughs, and Bridge, all engaged in this debate on the negative side; but the Assembly affirmed the proposition.
The next discussion arose respecting the office of pastor, which the report stated to be perpetual, and to consist in feeding the flock, and in the dispensation of sacraments. In the term " feeding " was included, to preach and teach, to convince, to reprove, to exhort, and to comfort. Mr. Coleman questioned whether a pastor, in the Old Testament, meant the ecclesiastical officer in the Church, and not constantly the civil. This was supported by Lightfoot; and here also appeared the germ of their Erastianism. A long discussion followed on the question, Whether the public reading of the Scriptures be the pastor’s office? some desiring to retain what was termed "a reader" in each congregation; but it was at length decided to belong to the pastor’s office. The duty of catechizing was also assigned to the pastor; and likewise that of praying when he preached, which had been prohibited by the bishops. It was also held, that it belongs to the pastor to take care of the poor, though not to supersede the deacon’s office.
The next subject which occupied the Assembly’s attention was the question, whether pastors and teachers, or doctors, formed one and the same office. The Independents maintained the divine institution of a doctor, as distinct from a pastor, in every congregation. It had been their own practice to have a doctor or teacher, as holding a somewhat subordinate position, to that of the pastor, – one to which an ordinary member might readily aspire, forming a connecting link between the pastor and the people; and they were exceedingly desirous to persuade the Assembly to retain this distinction. On the other hand, this was one of the peculiarities of the Congregational system, different from what prevailed in all other Churches, and it was strenuously and even keenly resisted by the Assembly. At length Henderson interposed to procure an accommodation and agreement between the contending parties. It was at last concluded, that there are different gifts, and corresponding difference of exercises in ministers, though these may belong to the same person; that he who most excels in exposition may be termed a doctor; that such a person may be of great use chiefly in universities; and where there are several ministers in the same congregation, each may devote himself to that department in which he most excels; and that where there is but one, he must to his ability perform the whole work of the ministry. Henderson warned the Assembly that the eyes of all the Reformed Churches were upon them, earnestly watching whether their proceedings would be such as to promote or prevent the desired uniformity of all Protestant Christendom; entreating them not to be too minutely metaphysical and abstract in treating of such matters, but rather to direct their attention to leading and important topics, with the view of securing a general harmony, though smaller points should be allowed considerable freedom of interpretation. 4
A still more important subject then came before the Assembly, – the subject of ruling elders; on the right understanding and decision of which depended the adoption or rejection of the distinctive principle of Presbyterian Church government. It was brought forward in the following terms: – "That besides those presbyters that both rule well and labor in the word and doctrine, there be other presbyters, who especially apply themselves to ruling, though they labor not in the word and doctrine." Aware that this order of Church officers was almost a novelty in England, Henderson took an early part in the debate, showing that it had been used in the Reformed Churches at a very early period, – even before its institution at Geneva, – and that it had proved very beneficial to the Church of Scotland. Nearly the whole talent and learning of the Assembly were called into long and strenuous action by this discussion, which began on the 22d of November, and was not concluded till the 8th of December. The institution of ruling elder was opposed by Dr. Temple, Dr. Smith, Mr. Gataker, Mr. Vines, Mr. Price, Mr. Hall, Mr. Lightfoot, Mr.
Coleman, Mr. Palmer, and several others, besides the Independents, – of whom, however, Nye and Bridge opposed but partially. It was supported by Mr. Marshall, Mr. Calamy, Mr. Young, Mr. Seaman, Mr. Walker, Mr. Newcomen, Mr. Herle, Mr. Whitaker, and the Scottish divines, of whom Rutherford and Gillespie particularly distinguished themselves. At length, having thoroughly exhausted their arguments, Henderson moved that a committee might be appointed to draw up a statement how far all parties were agreed, with the view of arriving at some fair accommodation; and being supported by Goodwin, this motion was agreed to, and the debate terminated. The report of the committee contained these three propositions: –
1. Christ hath instituted a government and governors ecclesiastical in the Church;
2. Christ hath furnished some in his Church with gifts for government, and with commission to exercise the same when called thereunto;
3. It is agreeable to, and warranted by, the Word of God, that some others beside the ministers of the Word, or Church governors, should join with the ministers in the government of the Church."
To these propositions were added the texts, Romans 12: 7, 8, and 1 Corinthians 12: 28. "Some liked the propositions," says Lightfoot, "but not the applying of the places of Scripture; and of that mind was I myself, – for the proposition I understood of magistracy." The first and second 5 propositions were, however, affirmed without opposition, and the third with only the negative vote of Lightfoot himself; the texts also were approved, with the additional opposition of Dr. Temple.
The carrying of this question was justly regarded as of the utmost importance, as fixing the character of the Church to be established; and it is matter of surprise that the opposition sunk so nearly to nothing. Even the accommodation by means of which these propositions were framed and carried, was somewhat of a perilous experiment; for it narrowly missed introducing the unsound principle of admitting into the arrangements of the Church what had no higher authority than considerations of expediency and prudence. For all were willing to have admitted the order of ruling elders on these grounds; but this was decidedly rejected, especially by the 6
Scottish divines, and by those of the Puritans or English Presbyterians who fully understood the nature of the controversy so long waged by their predecessors, against admitting into a divine institution any thing of merely human invention.
There was yet one point to be discussed respecting the ruling elder. It had been decided that this officer is of divine institution, but it remained to define in what his office consisted; and this gave rise to another, and a very animated debate. In the previous discussion respecting the office itself, considerable weight had been attached to the argument drawn from the constitution of the Jewish Church, and from the elders of the people in that institution; and when preparing to define the office of an elder in the Christian Church, reference was again made to the corresponding functionary among the Jews; and the question arose, Whether the Hebrew elders were chosen purposely for ecclesiastical business? Coleman first brought forward the inquiry, affirming that both the elders and the seventy senators in the sanhedrim were civil officers; Mr. Calamy and Dr. Burgess both held the reverse; and Mr. Gillespie proved that the seventy were joined with both Moses and Aaron at their institution, – that the elders in other passages of Scripture are joined with the priests, and in others with prophets, and in others are spoken of as distinct from the rulers. 7 Lightfoot somewhat differed from Coleman, and also from Selden, who took part in this debate; and, after a very learned and animated discussion, the opinions of the Assembly being nearly balanced, the subject was laid aside for a time, without any definite conclusion.
The office of deacon next engaged their attention. The institution of this orifice was not denied, but several were of opinion that it was of a temporary nature. This view was entertained by few except the Erastians; and when the Assembly decided that the office of deacon was of a permanent nature, Lightfoot alone voted in the negative, though both Coleman and Selden had spoken against it. The opposition to the permanency of this office seems to have arisen chiefly from the fact, that there existed in England a civil poor-law, instituted in the reign of Elizabeth; which led some to oppose the deaconship as unnecessary, and others, as interfering with a civil arrangement. It was well suggested by Mr. Vines, "That the provision of civil officers made by the civil State for the poor should rather slip into the office of a deacon, than the reverse, because the latter bears the badge of the Lord."
As the report concerning Church officers had mentioned "widows," this was the last point to be discussed, whether widows were to be considered as deaconesses, and their office one of permanent continuation in the Church. Some of the Independents, and one or two others, were inclined to retain this office; but after some debate it was decided that the existence of such an office in the Church was not proved. With this discussion terminated the year 1643, in which the business of the Assembly had been chiefly of a preliminary character. It had, however, been solemnly decided, that Christ is so completely the Head of the Church, that all its offices are essentially in him, and from him are they all primarily and authoritatively derived; that of these offices some are extraordinary, and have ceased, – those, namely, of apostles, prophets, and evangelists; that pastors and doctors, or teachers, are essentially the same, and form the highest order of divinely appointed officers in the Church; that ruling elders are also of divine appointment, and are distinct from pastors; and that deacons are likewise of divine and permanent institution, though not entitled to preach or to rule, but to take charge of charitable and pecuniary concerns. And as considerable progress had thus been made, reasonable hopes might have been cherished that the business of the Assembly would continue to proceed with as much celerity as was consistent with the grave deliberation due to its vast importance.
But there were other elements of a less propitious nature at work, some of which had already appeared, and others were felt, though scarcely yet fully visible. On the 19th of October, soon after the Assembly had seriously begun its task, the House of Commons intimated, through Dr. Burgess, their desire that two points should be decided upon as speedily as possible, namely, an arrangement for the ordination of ministers; and an arrangement for their institution and induction to vacant benefices. The 8 former of these points could not be determined till the Assembly should have discussed the subject of Church officers in general. But as the latter was a subject of immediate and urgent importance, a committee was appointed to determine in what manner trial should be made of the qualifications of those who might apply for those vacant benefices. Twenty-one rules of examination were at length drawn up, in conformity with which every applicant was to be tried, in order to ascertain his soundness in doctrine and fitness for the situation. Application was frequently made by ministers who had been cruelly plundered by the king’s army, and constrained to flee to London, both for safety and to seek some kind of maintenance. The examination of such applicants proved to be a very delicate task, as the king’s army plundered alike the sound Puritans and the erratic Sectarians, – so that persons of each character made application to the Assembly. Sometimes the Sectarians, knowing that no rule of ordination had yet been framed, procured ordination from other Sectarians, and attempted to deceive the examinators; and when this was either not attempted, or found impracticable, they then endeavored to form a party among the citizens, and others who had flocked to London, that from them they might derive a means of subsistence. This led directly to a prodigious increase of sectarianism in London, and tended to throw the whole city into a state of confusion and anarchy. To remedy this state of matters, the city ministers presented a supplication to the Assembly, lamenting their disturbed condition; requesting order to be taken for the ordination of ministers; stating the fearful increase of pernicious sects, and complaining of their restless endeavors to gather separate congregations; and requesting the Assembly to intercede with the Parliament for the redress of these grievances, and for the erection of a college at London, where the youth might be educated, as Oxford was in the possession of the king. The Assembly answered, that it was not yet safe to meddle with the9 ordination of ministers; that they had applied to the Parliament for redress in the other matters; and desired information to be given respecting those who gather churches, that in this also they may seek redress. Mr. Nye objected to the expression against gathering churches, and was sharply answered. 10 This apparently slight incident we have mentioned, because it indicates the line of policy which the Independent party were beginning to pursue, in connecting themselves with the mass of Sectarians throughout the kingdom, in which Nye performed so active a part, and of which he seems to have been the chief contriver.
The year 1644 began with the introduction into the Assembly of subjects still more certain to produce disunion than any that had been previously discussed. The general subject of Church officers had been so far determined; but the most important parts of this matter remained to be debated, namely, the method of appointing Church officers, and the authority which they ought to possess, or, in other words, ordination and discipline. Well did the Assembly know that great diversity of opinion would arise on these two leading points, and gladly would they have avoided entering upon them till a subsequent period, had it been at all practicable. But the disturbed state of the country, increased and aggravated by the want of religious ordinances and government, rendered it imperatively necessary that some steps should be taken for the remedy of so many and such great national maladies. A commission had been appointed in September 1643, for the purpose of inquiring into the conduct of ministers throughout the country, and of removing all such as were convicted of scandalous conduct, or proved to be destitute of sufficient qualifications. On the 17th of November, Parliament authorized the publication of a treatise, entitled, "The First Century of Scandalous and Malignant Priests; or, a narration of the causes for which Parliament hath ordered the sequestration of the benefices of several ministers complained of before them," etc. This was drawn up by Mr. White, M. P., the chairman of the commission; and it certainly proves that the ministers so sequestered were utterly unworthy of the sacred office, or rather, that many of them were unworthy of the name of men, though we cannot pollute our pages by quotations.11 The reason of referring to the subject, is to show the necessity thence arising for the ordination of other men to supply the benefices become vacant by means of these sequestrations. However desirous, therefore, the Assembly were to postpone the consideration of a subject, on which they were certain to disagree, till they should have framed a Confession of Faith, and other matters, in which entire unanimity was expected, they were constrained reluctantly to proceed to doubtful disputations.
There is considerable difficulty in giving a direct and continuous view of the discussions on which we are now to enter, in consequence of the contemporaneous, or rather intertwined manner in which they arose and were conducted; for instead of continuing steadily to prosecute one subject till it was completed, and then passing on to another, there were generally two or three subjects under deliberation at the same period, each being peculiarly entrusted to one or other of the committees in which they were prepared for public debate, and were successively laid aside and resumed according to their respective states of preparation. For example, on the 2d of January 1644, the two following subjects were both brought forward: – "Pastors and teachers have power to inquire and judge who are fit to be admitted to the sacraments, or kept from them; as also who are to be excommunicated or absolved from that censure:" and, "The apostles had power to ordain officers in all churches, and to appoint evangelists to ordain." Notwithstanding the general terms employed, it was impossible to discuss these propositions without bringing forward the very points on which the greatest amount of division existed, namely, discipline and ordination; and as they investigated every topic in a minute and scholastic manner, by a series of fine-drawn distinctions and syllogistic propositions previously prepared in the committees, it almost inevitably followed, that the business of the committees came before the Assembly on alternate days. In order to avoid the seeming confusion of such a mode of procedure, it will be expedient for us to trace each separate subject till its completion, instead of attempting to carry them forward contemporaneously, as the Assembly did.
It was in consequence of the method of treating every subject minutely, and as convenience served, that the proposition respecting the apostolic office was thus brought forward, long after its main elements had been defined, and its character as extraordinary and temporary admitted. When this part of the definition was stated, namely, "That the apostles had power to ordain officers in all churches, and to appoint evangelists to ordain;" the Independents were afraid, that if this passed unquestioned, it might be held to have been already decided, that the apostles alone had that power, and that they had so transmitted it by Church officers that none others could ordain; whereas they held that the Church itself, that is, ordinary Church members assembled, possessed that power. It was also disputed whether the term used, Acts 14: 23, , meant ordination or election; and on this point a long debate took place, Gillespie, Vines, Simpson, and others, holding that election was the proper meaning. 12 After some further debate on the power of the apostles to appoint evangelists to ordain, the whole proposition received the sanction of the Assembly.
On the 9th of January, the whole question of ordination was fairly stated by Dr. Temple, chairman of one of the committees, in the following series of interrogatory propositions: –
1. What ordination is?
2. Whether necessarily to be continued?
3. Who to ordain?
4. What persons to be ordained, and how qualified?
5. The manner how?"
To these were appended the following answers for the Assembly’s consideration: –
1. Ordination is the solemn setting apart of a person to some public office in the Church.
2. It is necessarily to be continued in the Church.
3. The apostles ordained, evangelists did, preaching presbyters did: because apostles and evangelists are officers extraordinary, and not to continue in the Church; and since, in Scripture, we find ordination in no other hands, we humbly conceive that the preaching presbyters are only to ordain."
The first proposition was affirmed without much debate. The second was opposed chiefly because of the word "necessarily," Mr. Nye questioning whether it were necessitate finis, or necessitate precepti, – a necessity for the accomplishment of the purpose, or a necessity arising out of its being commanded. Both sides shrunk from the danger of division on this point; and having changed the word "necessarily" into "always," the proposition was affirmed. In the next proposition it was easily admitted that apostles and evangelists ordained; but when that passage, 1 Timothy 4: 14, was referred to, as proving that preaching presbyters ordained, a very considerable debate arose, Lightfoot, in particular, asserting that it must mean, not ordination, but admission to be an elder; and when it was affirmed by the Assembly, he and some other voted in the negative.13
This was, however, merely the beginning of the struggle. When the latter part of the proposition was brought forward for debate, "preaching presbyters were only to ordain," it was felt by all, that to this the Independents would not assent without some modification. Calamy, Gillespie, and Seaman, proposed, therefore, that a committee of Independents might be chosen, who should, in their own terms, state the question concerning ordination; in the hope that, by having both views of the subject brought forward at once, it might be possible to fuse and blend them together, so as to prevent division. Their report was given in by Mr. Nye, as follows: –
1. Ordination, for the substance of it, is the solemnization of an officer’s outward call; in which the elders of the Church, in the name of Christ, and for the Church, do, by a visible sign, design the person, and ratify his separation to his office, with prayer for, and blessing upon his gifts in the ministration thereof.
2. That the power that gives the formal being to an officer, should be derived by Christ’s institution from the power that is in elders as such, on the act of ordination, – as yet, we find not anywhere held forth in the Word."
It will readily be supposed that the Assembly must have listened to such vague and unintelligible propositions with considerable amazement, not unmingled with displeasure, to find their courtesy requited by such studied ambiguity, certainly not calculated, and it could scarcely be thought intended, to promote agreement. They questioned the use of the word "elders," as obscure and ambiguous; also the expression "for the Church," which Nye interpreted, vice ecclesiae, in the stead of the Church. "Other scrupulous and ambiguous passages," says Lightfoot, "were found; which, after a very long canvass upon them, were laid by, and our old proposition reassumed." 14
The conduct of the Independents, on this occasion, was both discreditable in itself, and led to very pernicious results. It was discreditable either to their candor or their talents, to produce propositions couched in such ambiguous language, much more calculated to perplex than to clear the subject; and as they were men of decided abilities, the accusation falls upon their character, and constrains us to regard them as uncandid and disingenuous. But finding that they had succeeded so ill in their attempt to deceive or confuse in this instance, they never again could be prevailed upon to state to the Assembly their own opinions in writing, though sufficiently pertinacious in retaining them, and supporting them by every kind of argument. The new course of tactics thus adopted proved the means of retarding the Assembly beyond measure, and ended at last in rendering all its prolonged toils comparatively abortive.
When the Assembly was on the point of resuming the consideration of its own propositions, Lord Manchester entered, bringing an order from the House of Lords, which required the Assembly to make haste and conclude the subject of ordination. A committee was appointed to prepare the matter for public discussion; and next day, 22d January, the two following propositions were reported: –
1. That in extraordinary cases something extraordinary may be done, until a settled order may be had; yet keeping as close as may be to the rule.
2. It is lawful, and according to the Word, that certain ministers of the city be desired to ordain ministers in the city and vicinity, jure fraternitatis."
A keen debate ensued, Coleman, Goodwin, and Nye opposing, – Vines, Seaman, Lightfoot, and others supporting the report. Nye, in particular, offered the most determined and pertinacious resistance to the clause "keeping as close to the rule as may be." "Again," says Lightfoot, "he interposed, again, and again;" 15 but, in the end, the vote was carried in the affirmative. Every kind of scruple was started, every kind of objection brought forward by the Independents, aided by Selden, with whom they did not hesitate to make common cause in this matter. Nye even went so far as to argue that bishops might still ordain, rather than he would admit the case to be extraordinary, requiring a prompt remedial measure. In order, if possible, to end the tedious debate, it was proposed by Gillespie, that the question of a presbytery should be expressly declared as still left open; and Vines moved that the Independents should propose their own way for the supply of the present necessity. The Earl of Pembroke urged haste, as both Church and kingdom were on fire, and might be destroyed during such tedious delays; but Nye would not abate his opposition. After a keen and even stormy debate of fourteen days’ duration, the subject was laid aside, in compliance with the request of Lord Say, who supported the Independents; and who suggested that it would really expedite the matter first to decide what ought to be the ordinary way and rule of ordination, to which any thing extraordinary could be then made to conform. The cause of the extreme obstinacy of the Independents in this discussion, was their fear that it would overrule two points which they held to be of vital importance, involving the very essence of their system, namely, the power of ordination by a single congregation; and the existence and powers of a presbytery. The Assembly repeatedly assured them that these subjects should not be regarded as in any respect decided; and Gillespie tendered four distinct arguments to show that it could not determine the question of a presbytery. 16
The subject of ordination was again resumed on the 18th of March, partly with reference to the existing necessity, and partly as occurring in the course of discussion respecting the palling and appointment of ministers. One additional element of some importance was now introduced, which led to another still more important; – the first was the necessity of designation to some particular place, to avoid disorder and irregularity; and the second, arising out of this, was, the consent of the congregation to which the pastor is to be ordained. The form of the proposition brought forward on this point was, "That he be recommended to that congregation to whom he is to be a minister, and have their consent, unless they can show just cause of exception against him." Gillespie proposed to add, "Or will petition for a man that they conceive may be more advantageous to them in his preaching, and more powerful upon their experience." Henderson wished this question to be debated: "The presbytery recommend one, and the people desire another; how shall it be determined?" Gillespie desired that this might hold: "In no case, in a settled church, a minister may be obtruded on a congregation." Rutherford said, "The Scriptures constantly give the choice of the pastor to the people. The act of electing is in the people; and the regulating and correcting of their choice is in the presbytery." Gillespie again resumed: "But if they cannot show just cause against him, what then is to be done? The people say, We see no error in him, in life and doctrine, but honor and reverence him; but we can better profit by another: what is to be done in this case?" He then moved that this proposition might be debated: "He that is to be ordained be not obtruded against the will of the congregation:
for the prelates are for obtrusion, the separation for a popular voting; therefore let us go in a medium." At length the debate terminated by the passing of the following proposition: – "No man shall be ordained a minister of a particular congregation, if they can show any just cause of exception against him." 17
In the beginning of April the Assembly completed the doctrinal part of ordination, and proceeded to frame a directory how it should be conducted. A committee was chosen to prepare it for debate, consisting of Messrs Palmer, Herle, Marshall, Tuckney, Seaman, Vines, Goodwin, Gataker, and the Scottish ministers. Their report was given in and ratified on the 19th of April, and next day laid before both Houses of Parliament. Although Parliament had repeatedly urged the Assembly to hasten forward the directory and rules for ordination, yet, when this had been done, the matter was allowed to remain inoperative, for want of the ratification of the Legislature, from the 20th of April, when it was received, till the 15th of August. Before it was returned, some rumors had been in circulation that considerable alterations had been made by the Parliament; and when it was actually produced before the Assembly, these were found to be more extensive than had even been apprehended. They had omitted the whole doctrinal part of ordination, and all the scriptural grounds for it; and they had chosen only the extraordinary way of ordination, and even in that part had struck out whatever might displease the Independents, the patrons, and the Erastians. 18 The Scottish commissioners would by no means consent to these alterations; and, in an address to the Grand Committee of Lords, Commons, and the Assembly, they expressly condemned them. This decided conduct, aided by a timely petition to both Houses from the city ministers, produced the desired effect;19 and, on the 16th of September, the Assembly’s directory for ordination was returned, restored to its original condition. On the 18th, a committee was appointed for the ordination of ministers, consisting of ten of the Assembly divines, and thirteen of those belonging to the city of London. This was ratified by both Houses on the 2d of October; and thus that long delayed point was concluded. 20
As the discussions respecting the directory for public worship were not of such importance as those concerning government and discipline, and were first concluded, though not begun till after the other had continued for a considerable time, it will conduce to simplicity and clearness to give an outline of the former of these topics in the present place.
On the 21st of May 1644, Mr. Rutherford moved for the speeding of the directory for public worship, to which no attention had hitherto been paid. In consequence of this motion, Mr. Palmer, chairman of the committee appointed for that purpose, gave in a report on the 24th, which brought the subject fairly before the Assembly. Some little difference of opinion arose, whether any other person, except the minister, might read the Scriptures in the time of public worship; which terminated in the occasional permission of probationers. But when the subject of the dispensation of the Lord’s supper came under discussion, it gave rise to a sharp and protracted debate, chiefly between the Independents and the Scottish commissioners. The Independents opposed the arrangement of the communicants, as seated at the communion table, it being the custom among them for the people to remain in their pews; while the Scottish members urgently defended the proposed method of seating themselves at the same table. Another disputed point was, with regard to the power of the minister to exclude ignorant or scandalous persons from communion. The debates on these points occupied the Assembly from the 10th of June to the 10th of July. The directory for the sacrament of baptism was also the subject of considerable debate, continued from the 11th of July to the 8th of August. The directory for the sanctification of the Sabbath was readily received; and a committee was appointed to prepare a preface for the completed directory for public worship. This committee consisted of Messrs Goodwin, Nye, Bridge, Burgess, Reynolds, Vines, Marshall, and Dr. Temple, together with the Scottish ministers. The appointment of so many of the Independents was for the purpose of avoiding any renewal of the protracted contentions in which they had so long held the Assembly, as we learn from Baillie. 21 This part of the Assembly’s labors received the ratification of Parliament on the 22d of November 1644; with the exception of the directions for marriage and burial, which were finished on the 27th of the same month, and soon afterwards the whole received the full ratification of Parliament.
It will be remembered that the Assembly of Divines, when required by Parliament to prepare a new form of government and discipline, attempted at first to begin and proceed with their task in a manner strictly systematic and logical, commencing with Christ, the Divine Head of the Church, who possesses all rower and all offices by way of eminency in Himself; from that they proceeded to mention the various kinds of Church officers who are named in the Scriptures, and to define the nature of their official powers and duties, intending to complete this part before undertaking any other. But they were turned aside from the systematic course of procedure, partly by the urgency of the Parliament’s desire to obtain a directory for ordination to supply vacant charges; and partly by their own wish to avoid the discussion of controverted topics till they should have agreed on as many as possible. Even in these preliminary steps, however, they came into contact with several points which led to keen debates between the Independent and the Presbyterian parties, proving but too plainly that a full agreement was scarcely to be expected. For a time the Scottish commissioners strove to act the part of peacemakers, and repeatedly moved to avoid disputable topics, and to direct their attention chiefly to those on which all might be united. As the subjects on which they were engaged advanced, this became impracticable, and all parties prepared for the struggle. On the 19th of January 1644, Dr. Burgess reported from the first committee, who were to draw up the propositions concerning Presbytery in the following terms: –
1. That the Scripture holdeth out a Presbytery in a Church, 1 Timothy 4: 14; Acts 15: 2,4,6.
2. That a Presbytery consisteth of ministers of the Word, and such other public officers as have been already voted to have a share in the government in the Church."22
The subject having been thus brought forward in the Assembly in the due order of procedure, the Scottish commissioners prepared a book containing an outline of the Presbyterial form of Church government, as it already existed in Scotland, and caused a copy of it to be given to each member of Assembly. They also prepared a paper containing a brief statement of the chief heads of Church government, which having been laid before the Grand Committee, was by them transmitted to the Assembly for their consideration. It was to the following effect: – "Assemblies are fourfold:
1. Elderships of particular congregations;
2. Classical Presbyteries;
3. Provincial Synods;
4. National Assemblies.
Elderships particular are warranted:
1. By Christ’s institution, Matthew 18: 17;
2. By the common light of nature;
3. By unavoidable necessity.
Classical Presbyteries are warrantable:
1. By Christ’s institution, Matthew 18: 17;
2. By the example of Apostolic Churches – instancing in the Church of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, etc."23
These propositions were given to the committee which was entrusted with the preparation of all matters connected with Presbytery, as the proper channel through which they might again be brought forward in the Assembly; not, however, without some opposition, both from the Independents and from Selden. This took place on the 25th of January; and on the 27th of the same month, Lord Wharton reported from the House of Lords, that a person named Ogle, formerly a royalist officer, at that time a prisoner, had been detected holding correspondence with Lord Bristol, expressing his hope that a large party of the Parliament’s adherents might be induced to join the king, "if the moderate Protestant and the fiery Independent could be brought to withstand the Presbyterian." 24 His lordship produced, at the same time, letters from the Earl of Bristol, encouraging the scheme of bringing in the Independents to the support of the royal cause. In this plot the Independents in the Assembly do not appear to have been directly implicated; for Nye and Goodwin assisted in its detection, by obtaining permission to hold private intercourse with Ogle, and to seem to consent to his proposals, with the view of ascertaining their full extent and nature. 25 Although the Assembly Independents were vindicated from participation in this plot, yet a certain amount of suspicion rested on the party in general, which, together with the points of difference already stated, and those on the brink of being brought forward, seem to have induced them to adopt a course which proved exceedingly pernicious, so far as regarded the prospect of arriving at ultimate unanimity.
About the end of January, or the beginning of February 1644, they published a treatise, termed "An Apologetical Narration, humbly submitted to the Honorable Houses of Parliament, by Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson, Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge." The date on the title page is 1643; but the parliamentary year commenced on the 25th of March, according to the English computation; and Baillie mentions this treatise as newly published, in a letter dated the 18th of February 1644, he dating the beginning of the year from January, as had been the custom in Scotland from the year 1600. The language of Baillie is very pointed respecting this production. "At last," says he, "foreseeing they behooved ere long to come to the point, they put out, in print, on a sudden, an Apologetical Narration of their way, which long had lain ready beside them, wherein they petition the Parliament, in a most sly and cunning way, for a toleration; and withal lend too bold wipes to all the Reformed Churches, as imperfect yet in their reformation, till their new model be embraced."26 Baillie further insinuates, that the appearance of the treatise was "by some men intended to contribute to the very wicked plot, at that same instant a-working, but shortly after discovered almost miraculously." If this conjecture be correct, the intercourse of Nye and Goodwin with Ogle may have been for the purpose of concealing their own connection with the plot, rather than to aid in its complete detection. We are not, however, desirous to fix upon them a larger amount of criminality, as conducting dark and treacherous intrigues, than can be maintained by the clearest and most irresistible evidence, and therefore shall not at once adopt the suggestion of Baillie.
The publication of this treatise, the "Apologetical Narration," by the Independents, tended greatly to prevent the probability of any amicable arrangement in which all parties might agree. Till that time nothing had been done which foreclosed the possible adjustment of at least all minor differences; and the Scottish divines, in particular, had striven to avoid the premature determination of points disputed by the Independents. But when they had thus carried the controversy away from the Assembly to the Parliament, and had, by publishing this work, laid it before the world, it became almost morally impossible that any accommodated adjustment could take place, each party feeling bound in honor to make out its own cause, and to adhere pertinaciously to the views thus publicly declared. It may be remarked also, that the Scottish commissioners had always caused their publications to be laid before the Assembly, so as to render them fairly the subjects of discussion; Whereas the Independents addressed their production to the Parliament, and published it to the community, without formally giving copies to the Assembly; so that, whatever might be thought, the subject could not, without violation of order and propriety, be taken up and debated there. This, of course, led to the publication of a series of answers, in which, as usual, each disputant was more eager to confute his antagonist than to promote peace and harmony. From that time forward the contest between the Independents and the Presbyterians became one of irreconcilable rivalry, to which the utter defeat of the one or the other was the only possible termination. And historical truth compels us to say, that as this bitter warfare was begun by the Independents, they are justly chargeable with all the consequences of the fatal feud.
The "Apologetical Narration" is, in many points of view, a remarkable production. Though it extends to no more than thirty-one pages of small quarto, it contains a very plausible account of the history of the five Independent divines, the peculiar tenets of Church government which they held, and their objections against the Presbyterian system; so expressed as both to convey a highly favorable view of themselves and their opinions to Parliament, and to the public, and to serve as the vehicle of skillfully constructed adulation to Parliament itself. The treatise begins by complaining of the accusations which were generally urged " (though not expressly directed against us in particular, yet in the interpretation of the most reflecting on us)," by which they had been awakened and enforced to anticipate a little that discovery of themselves which otherwise they had resolved to have left to time and experience of their ways and spirits. They present themselves, therefore, "to the supreme judicatory of this kingdom; which is, and hath been in all times, the most just and severe tribunal for guiltiness to appear before, much more to dare to appeal unto; and yet, withal, the most sacred refuge and asylum for mistaken and misjudged innocence." They then mention that most of them had enjoyed stations in the ministry ten years before, which they had been constrained to abandon in consequence of the corruptions in the public worship and government of the Church. Having been compelled first to look at the dark part, as they term it, or the actually existing evils, which forced them to exile, they next began to inquire into and examine the light part, or the positive part of Church worship and government, as stated in the apostolic directions, and the examples of the primitive New Testament Churches. "In this inquiry," say they, "we looked upon the Word of Christ as impartially and unprejudicedly as men made of flesh and blood are like to do in any juncture of time that may fall out." – "We had no new commonwealths to rear, to frame church government unto (a hint for the Erastians), whereof any one piece might stand in the other’s light, to cause the least variation by us from the primitive pattern; we had no state ends or political interests to comply with; no kingdoms in our eye to subdue unto our mold, which yet will be co-existent with the peace of any civil government on earth; no preferment of worldly respects to shape our opinions for: we had nothing else to do but simply and singly to consider how to worship God acceptably, and so most according to his Word." 27 These good men do not seem to have perceived that a precisely similar course of reasoning, in a closely similar condition, led to the erroneous conclusions of the ascetic and monastic orders in the early ages of Christianity, nothing being more common than for men to spring from one extreme into that which is most directly and remotely opposite. And it will be observed that there is an allusion to the usual charge brought against the Scottish Covenanters, which it would have been more in accordance with the spirit of charity and peace not to have made.
They next proceed to point out the advantages which they enjoyed from the writings of the Nonconformists – the errors of the Separatists, or Brownists – the example of other Reformed Churches, and particularly the example of their expatriated countrymen in New England. As if to prove that they were not men of unaccommodating temper, and rigid sectarian spirit, they admit that even in the worst times of the Church of England, "multitudes of the assemblies and parochial congregations thereof were the true churches and body of Christ, and the ministry thereof a true ministry " (the italics are in the work itself); "and that they both had held, and would hold, communion with them as the churches of Christ." Mention is also made of the friendly terms in which they had lived with the National Presbyterian Church of Holland, as a further proof of their truly Christian fairness and liberality of spirit.
Having given this general view of their own feelings, they proceed to state briefly the way and practices of their churches, which, accordingly, we quote in their own words: "Our public worship was made of no other parts than the worship of all other Reformed Churches doth consist of: As public and solemn prayers for kings and all in authority, etc., – the reading the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, exposition of them as occasion was; and constant preaching of the Word, the administration of the two sacraments, baptism to infants, and the Lord’s supper, singing of psalms, collections for the poor, etc., every Lord’s day. For officers and public rulers in the Church, we set up no other but the very same which the Reformed Churches judge necessary and sufficient, and as instituted by Christ and his apostles for the perpetual government of his Church; that is, pastors, teachers, ruling eiders (with us not lay, but ecclesiastical persons separated to that service), and deacons. And for the matter of government and censures of the Church, we had not executed any other but what all acknowledge, namely, admonition, and excommunication upon obstinacy and impenitency (which we bless God we never exercised). This latter we judged should be put in execution for no other kind of sins than may evidently be presumed to be perpetrated against the party’s known light. We had these three principles more especially in our eye to guide and steer our practice by. First, the supreme rule without us was the primitive pattern and example of the churches erected by the apostles. A second principle we carried along with us in all our resolutions was, not to make our present judgment and practice a binding law unto ourselves for the future, which we in like manner made continual profession of upon all occasions; which principle we wish were (next to that most supreme, namely, to be in all things guided by the perfect will of God) enacted as the most sacred law of all other, in the midst of all other laws and canons ecclesiastical in Christian States and Churches throughout the world. Thirdly, we are able to hold forth this true and just apology unto the world, that in the matters of greatest moment and controversy, all still chose to practice safely, and so as we had reason to judge that all sorts, or the most of all the churches, did acknowledge warrantable, although they make additaments thereunto."
In order to explain what they mean by these additaments, they proceed to say, – "For instance: whereas one great controversy of these times is about the qualification of the members of churches, and the promiscuous receiving and mixture of good and bad; therein we chose the better part, and to be sure, received in none but such as all the churches in the world, by the balance of the sanctuary, acknowledge faithful." With regard to Church government, after referring to the Presbyterian system at that time prevalent in all the Reformed Churches, except that of England, they say, – "We could not but judge it a safe and an allowed way, to retain the government of our several congregations for matters of discipline within themselves, to be exercised by their own elders, whereof we had (for the most part of the time we were abroad) three at least in each congregation, whom we were subject to; yet not claiming to ourselves an independent power in every congregation, to give account or be subject to none others, but only a full and entire power complete within ourselves, until we should be challenged to err grossly." To meet the objection, that such a system afforded no remedy for misconduct in any erring congregation, they state, that when one church gives offense to others, they ought to submit to trial and examination by those offended; and if the offending church should persist in their error, then the others are "to pronounce that heavy sentence against them, of withdrawing and renouncing all Christian communion with them until they do repent." This sentence of non-communion, as they term it, is what they meant by excommunication ; and as its efficiency was questioned, they say, in answer to such an objection: "And if the magistrate’s power (to which we give as much, and, as we think, more than the principles of the Presbyterial government will suffer them to yield) do but assist and back the sentence of other churches denouncing this non-communion against churches miscarrying, according to the nature of the crime, as they judge meet, and as they would the sentence of churches excommunicating other churches in such cases, upon their own particular judgment of the cause; then, without all controversy, this, our way of Church proceeding, will be every way as effectual as their other can be supposed to be."
A short narrative is then given of the way in which they had succeeded in terminating a dispute, which had occurred among them while in Holland; but strict truth constrains us to say, that their narrative is by no means of an impartial character; and as the whole facts of the case were well known to many of the Assembly divines, from their intercourse with the Netherlands, they could not fail to be displeased with this apologetic account of the affair. The relation goes on to suggest, in a tone of considerable self-complacency, that though the Reformed Churches had made considerable progress, yet it seemed likely that a much more perfect reformation might be obtained; manifestly implying that this would best be accomplished by following their model. Again complaining of the reproaches and calumnies which they bad endured, they mention, as among them, " That proud and insolent title of Independency was affixed unto us, as our claim; the very sound of which conveys to all men’s apprehensions the challenge of an exemption of all Churches from all subjection and dependence, or rather a trumpet of defiance against whatever power, spiritual or civil; which we do abhor and detest: Or else, the odious name of Brownism, together with all their opinions as they have stated and maintained them, must needs be owned by us; although upon the very first declaring our judgments in the chief and fundamental point of all Church discipline, and likewise since, it hath been acknowledged that we differ much from them. And we did then, and do here publicly profess, we believe the truth to lie and consist in a middle way, betwixt that which is falsely charged on us, Brownism ; and that which is the contention of these times, the authoritative Presbyterial government in all the subordinations and proceedings of it."28
After a few more general declarations respecting their own "peaceable practices," and "constant forbearance" in the midst of many provocations, and their resolution to bear all "with a quiet and strong patience," they intimate their intention to decline further controversy, reserving the declaration and defense of their opinions to the Assembly. They declare also their full agreement with the Assembly in all points of doctrine that had yet been discussed; and their wish to yield in matters of discipline, in which alone they had yet differed, to the utmost latitude of their light and consciences. And finally, they conclude their Apologetical Narration, by beseeching the Parliament to regard them as men who, if they cannot be promoters, have no wish to be hinderers of further reformation; who differ less from the Reformed Churches and their brethren than they do from what themselves were three years past; who have long been exiles and are now sufferers of reproach; and who pursue no other design but a subsistence, be it the poorest and meanest, in their own land, with the enjoyment of the ordinances of Christ, and with the allowance of a latitude to some lesser differences with peaceableness, as not knowing where else with safety, health, and livelihood, to set their feet on earth.
The publication of this Apologetical Narrative operated instantaneously like a declaration of war. A number of answers almost immediately appeared, various in talent, learning, and power, but at least sufficiently keen and pointed. Even the calm, plausible, and stately tone of the Narrative, tended to provoke their antagonists to the use of undue asperity; for they regarded it as an attempt to recommend their own system, and disparage others, by means of careful concealments, plausible evasions, and alluring insinuations of its accommodating nature, skillfully contrasted with hints and suggestions of an unfavorable kind respecting the character and tendency of the Presbyterian form of Church government and discipline. For this reason many seemed to think that the Narration was not merely to be answered, but assailed with vehemence and indignation. In this, although the temptation was great, they certainly erred, and erred grievously; both because such a method is not likely to disarm hostility, or remove prejudice, and because it seemed to prove that the charge of intolerance, so frequently urged against them, was but too well founded. Let it, however, be observed, that none of the Scottish divines entered warmly into this controversy, although the Independents had alluded to them in a manner sufficiently ungracious. Baillie, indeed, speaks of them with considerable severity in some parts of his letters; and the view which he gives of their system in his "Dissuasive," is certainly not such as would gratify its adherents; and Rutherford did not hesitate to encounter them in fair argument, in several of his works, but without any asperity of temper, or harshness of language. They were answered by Mr. Herle, in his treatise entitled "The Independency upon Scripture of the Independency of Churches;" and he also retained a dignified and Christian-like calmness of spirit and manner. But other antagonists kept no such terms. Dr. Bastwick, Mr. Vicars, and Mr. Edwards, assailed the Narration with not less keenness of expression than strength of argument. Of these answers, the most elaborate was that entitled "Antapologia; or, a Full Answer to the Apologetical Narration; by Thomas Edwards," extending to 259 pages of small quarto, and embracing every disputed or suggested topic. It will scarcely be denied, by those who have carefully perused the Antapologia, that it furnishes a very ample and strong, but most ungracious refutation of the main positions taken up by the authors of the Apologetical Narration. No formal reply was returned by the Independents to the Antapologia; but Mr. Burroughs sometime afterwards published a vindication of himself from some of the charges that had been urged against him. To that vindication we may have occasion to refer subsequently, for another purpose.
Instead, therefore, of tracing the Antapologia, and extracting its statements, it may be enough to advert to some of the main points in which it answered the Narration. It is proved clearly by facts, that the Independent brethren had not been such silent and retiring men as they represented themselves to have been; but that, on the contrary, they had been very active in endeavoring to recommend and spread their own views as widely as possible; that in reality all their principles, of which they spoke as in a great measure discovered by themselves, in their own study of the Scriptures, had been previously promulgated and acted upon by others; that, in effect, their boasted theory of non-communion had not been found adequate to the maintenance of peace among them, and had but very imperfectly answered the end in the case to which they referred as a practical instance of its sufficiency; that they had not experienced any peculiar hardships either before or during their exile; and that, since their return, they had enjoyed comfort, influence, and honor, at least equal to that which any of the Presbyterians had obtained. The insinuations against the Presbyterian system were shown to be invidious and unfounded, and were very sharply retorted against themselves and their course of procedure; and their practice in "gathering churches out of churches," was shown to be contrary to their own declarations as members of the Westminster Assembly. It was proved, also, that they maintained a more intimate intercourse with the Brownists and other Sectarians than they were willing to admit; and were engaged in a series of intrigues which they were anxious to conceal. All these points appear to be proved in the Antapologia by a strength and minuteness of evidence which could not be set aside, and which they did not attempt to meet. But there was so much of a fiercely hostile spirit displayed by Edwards, that his attack recoiled somewhat upon himself, and diminished considerably the value of his production, while it furnished a kind of excuse for his antagonists in abstaining from giving a direct answer.
Such was the first direct outbreak of the controversy between the Independents and the Presbyterians, – a controversy greatly to be deplored, as having proved ultimately the main cause why the Westminster Assembly failed to accomplish all the good which had been expected from its important deliberations. Viewed as a theological controversy alone, it contained but few, and these not vitally important, elements. There was no disagreement between the two parties in matters of doctrine; they both admitted the same orders of office-bearers in the Church, though the Independents would have recognized more than the Presbyterians thought either necessary or commanded in the Scriptures; and they differed little in their opinions respecting the powers properly inherent in congregations. But the Independents refused to recognize the Presbyterian system of successive Church courts, – as presbyteries, synods, and assemblies, – possessing authoritative jurisdiction over those immediately beneath them, though they were willing to admit the advantage of synods, in cases of difficulty, to the opinions of which great respect would be due, but not subjection and necessary obedience. The point, however, on which the greatest disagreement existed, was that relating to the ideas which they attached to the term, Church. In their view, each company of believers, though not more than seven in number, forms a church, complete in itself, and in no respect subordinate to, or requiring the aid of, any other church. Such a church might, at its first formation, be entirely without pastors, elders, or church-officers of any kind; but having met together, and made a solemn declaration of faith, and entered into a mutual church-covenant, they immediately became possessed of such inherent powers as to entitle them to choose and ordain all necessary church-officers, without the presence or the intervention of any pastor previously ordained. Other pastors might indeed be present, but their presence was not necessary to the validity of the ordination conferred. In the same manner, the congregation of ordinary members might censure or depose their office-bearers, and choose and ordain new ones whenever they thought proper; and if the office-bearers did not readily submit and become private members again, the congregation were entitled to withdraw from communion with them altogether, and to reconstruct their system as at first. Against such proceedings no appeal could be taken to any other authority, each congregation possessing all power in itself, and being free to have recourse to the principle of non-communion in any case, though against the whole Christian Church. Even when thus stated, the difference between the Independent and the Presbyterian systems may be brought within a very narrow compass. The Presbyterians never denied that a company of true believers might be a true church, though destitute of pastors; nor that they might select the most grave and pious of their number, and set him solemnly apart to the office of the ministry, without the presence of any ordained pastor, if in circumstances where that could not be obtained. They admitted that the Church must possess in itself the power of all that is necessary to the continuation of its own existence. But they held, also, that Christ himself at first chose and appointed office-bearers, and gave to them authority to ordain others; that this was matter of precept, and to be regularly obeyed in every instance where that was possible, because it had been so commanded; while they regarded the Congregational mode as a matter of necessity, justifiable only in cases where without it the enjoyment of Christian ordinances could not be obtained. The error of the Independents consisted in adopting as the ordinary rule the case of necessity, instead of the method of precept ; and in adhering so pertinaciously to this view as to condemn and refuse to admit into their communion all who could not agree with them.
It was a necessary consequence of this essential principle, that the Independents held the theory of admitting none to be members of their churches except those whom they believed to have been thoroughly and in the highest sense regenerated, or, in the language of the time, "true saints," and consequently, perfectly qualified to exercise rightly all the high and sacred functions which they asserted to belong to the congregation, as in itself a complete church. For the same reason, they necessarily opposed the idea of a national Church, in any other sense than as a series of congregational churches, gathering together true believers as the wheat, and leaving the chaff to its fearful fate. And following up this theory, they regarded it as perfectly right to gather churches of their own kind out of the congregations of other ministers, – a process which necessarily gave great offense to those whose congregations they thus divided and led away. Nor was it at all strange that considerable numbers should be willing to join a system which gave such irresponsible power to ordinary Church members; and which, at the same time, certainly tended to encourage the feeling of spiritual pride in those who, in being admitted, were recognized as truly regenerated persons. In one point of view they were, to a certain extent, right. It must always be desirable that Church members should be real believers, and that Christian communion should be enjoyed by none but true believers; but it must always be impossible for man, who cannot read the heart, to avoid being deceived by the plausible language and manners of skillful hypocrisy, – and therefore it was impossible for the Congregational theory to be fully realized. And at the same time, while assuming so much purity and reality in its members, its want of the power either to inflict Church censures or to appeal to higher authority, rendered it peculiarly unable to preserve that very purity in which it assumed its superiority over other Churches to consist. Still further, by placing the very essence of its system in congregational power, it necessarily stood closely allied, in theory at least, with all the multitudinous sects with which that period was so prodigiously rife, – all of which were perfectly ready to maintain the sole and uncontrollable power of separate congregations; and thus the Independents were in a manner compelled to become the head sectarian body, and to defend not only their own religious liberties, but also the liberty claimed by the most wild and monstrous sects to hold and to teach errors the most immoral and blasphemous, – of which they by no means approved, or rather, which they strongly condemned, but could not consistently oppose. They were thus led to advocate a toleration in theory which they never granted where their own power was predominant, as in New England, – and which, it may be added, they never would consent to grant to the Presbyterians, whom they would not admit to communion with them unless they were willing to abandon Presbyterianism, and become Congregationalists. But as the subject of toleration was scarcely suggested in the Apologetical Narration, we shall postpone the consideration of it till we reach the period when it became a leading element of controversy.
All the topics which have been stated above were known to the two parties of Presbyterians and Independents in the Assembly, before the publication of the Apologetical Narration, and several of them had casually become the subject of debate; but there had been considerable forbearance on both sides, arising from a natural and laudable reluctance to anticipate a perhaps unavoidable contest. The Scottish divines, in particular, had repeatedly interposed to prevent any premature discussion of debatable subjects, and had recommended as much accommodation to the views of the Independents as was consistent with the maintenance of principle. And although the allusions to them in the Apologetical Narration were sufficiently ungracious and irritating, they were in no haste to show resentment; being far more desirous to see the religious welfare of the community promoted and secured, than to vindicate their own character from groundless aspersions. But, nevertheless, the publication of that most ill-omened production caused an estrangement which was never fully removed, and led to a degree of keenness and obstinacy in all the subsequent deliberations of the Assembly, whenever disputed points arose, which tended greatly both to retard their proceedings and to obscure the prospect of ultimate and harmonious success in their great work. And having thus opened the subject of the Independent controversy, we shall now proceed to trace it, according to the course which circumstances led it to pursue.
After some preliminary arrangements, in which it was agreed that the Independents should bring forward their objections to the proposition of the committee, the subject was formally stated, on the 6th of February, in the following terms: – "The Scripture holdeth forth that many particular congregations may be under one presbyterial government." The Independent argument against this proposition was stated by Mr. Goodwin, to this effect, as given by Lightfoot: – "If many elders put together make one presbytery classical, then every one of those elders is to be reputed as an elder to every one of those churches; but the Word of God doth not warrant any such thing." In proof of the minor proposition he argued thus: – "The deacons are not to be officers to divers churches, therefore not the pastor; the pastor is not to preach in divers churches, therefore not to rule; the several congregations are not to give honor or maintenance to the pastor of another church; one pastor was not chosen, ordained, and maintained by divers churches, therefore not to have power in them; several offices are not to meet in one and the same person." 29 It will be observed that this argument opposed presbyterial government not on scriptural grounds, but on the supposed incongruities and inconveniences of the system; and this was promptly and very easily met.
Mr. Vines, in answer to the major proposition, replied, that "what belongs to the whole, as such, does not belong to every part;" but the presbytery is an aggregate whole, and so are the churches combined under this presbytery; therefore the relations borne by the presbytery to the church of its bounds have respect to the aggregate whole, and do not interfere with the peculiar relations which the respective pastors and congregations bear to each other. He illustrated his argument by reference to the original government of the Hebrew commonwealth, where the heads of the tribes governed the whole community; but this did not alter the relation between the head of each tribe and that particular tribe; and he showed that the Independent argument might be retorted against their own system. Mr. Marshall began by proving the proposition of the committee: – That the whole Church is but one body, and its members ought to act not as distinct persons, but as joint-members; that the office-bearers were instituted by Christ, for the general good and edification, and also ought to act in unity that members are baptized not into one particular congregation, but into the general body; and that this general body is cast into societies, which are called by divines instituted churches. He further reasoned, that it appears from Scripture, that when so many were converted in any city as to make a congregation, the apostles appointed them elders; that though they increased, so as to form many congregations in that city, they continued to be but one Church, as at Jerusalem; that though not specifically declared, yet it seemed probable that the several pastors had their several charges: and that this pattern ought to be followed. Mr. Gillespie pursued a similar line of argument; gave an illustration from the representative government of the States-General in the Netherlands; and added, that the power of government in a presbytery is not power of order, but of jurisdiction, and that they govern not as presbyters, but as a presbytery. Mr. Seaman met the objections of Mr. Goodwin, by proving that the inconveniences alleged against the presbyterial government of churches would, were they just, apply equally to civil government of the representative kind; but no such inconveniences or incongruities were experienced: therefore the objections urged by Mr. Goodwin could not be well founded. He proved, also, that a minister may stand in relation to more congregations than one, and that several offices may, without incongruity, meet in one person: that a minister may do his duty in one congregation and also in the presbytery, as a representative may to his own constituents and also to the general administration; and that the people may enjoy their full rights under a presbyterial government, in the choice of their pastor, as in civil matters they have their full rights in the choice of their parliamentary representatives. 30
Such is a fair outline of the arguments used on both sides at the commencement of the main stem of the Independent controversy. When Mr. Goodwin replied, he admitted the truth and applicability of the logical maxim, "What belongs to the whole, as such, does not equally belong to each part;" for the whole is a presbytery, but every member of it is not a presbytery. Various attempts were made by him, and also by others of the Independents, to escape from the force of the argument, and to support their own proposition, but without success. A slight change was given to the course of debate by the reference which Mr. Burroughs made to 1 Corinthians 5: 4, in which church censure is spoken of as inflicted in the presence of the church; and this, he endeavored to prove, could not have taken place had it been the deed of a presbytery. A lengthened discussion arose on this point, in which much minuteness of criticism and subtlety of argument were displayed on both sides, till the topic was abandoned, as not conclusive. During this debate, Mr. Nye admitted that there was a very close approximation between, the two systems, saying, that the Independents "held classical and synodical meetings very useful and profitable, yea, possibly agreeable to the institution of Christ; but the question is this, Whether these meetings have the same power that ecclesia prima, or one single congregation, has?" 31 If he and his friends could have admitted one additional elementary principle, there might speedily have taken place a complete agreement, – namely, that the power of presbyteries, synods, and assemblies, is cumulative, not privative; that is, that it consists in the collected power of all the congregations of which it is composed, and in reality adds to the power of each, rather than takes away its proper power from any.
Becoming weary of this protracted discussion, several of the divines proposed that they should leave off these metaphysical disquisitions, and proceed to the consideration of those passages of Scripture which might be brought forward as direct proofs; but by the vote of the Assembly the Independents were allowed to continue bringing forward all their objections. 32 This we mention in order to show that the Assembly treated the Dissenting Brethren with extreme indulgence and toleration, and never attempted to run them down by the force of numbers and the authority of a vote, as they could have so easily done, and no doubt would have done, had they been the intolerant and overbearing bigots which they have been so generally and so unjustly called.
[Chapter 3 contd. in next section]
1 Baillie, vol. 2 p. 104.
2 Lightfoot, p. 20.
3 Lightfoot, p. 23.
4 Lightfoot, pp. 53, 58; Baillie, vol. 2 p. 110.
5 Lightfoot, p. 76.
6 Baillie, vol. 2 p. 111.
7 Lightfoot, p. 78.
8 Lightfoot, p. 24.
9 Lightfoot, p. 57; Baillie, vol. 2 p. 111.
10 Lightfoot, p. 62.
11 First Century, etc.
12 Lightfoot, pp. 100-102; Baillie, vol. 2 p. 129.
13 Lightfoot p. 113.
14 Lightfoot, p. 115.
15 Lightfoot, p. 117.
16 Ibid., p. 130.
17 Lightfoot, pp. 230-233. The conduct and language of the Scottish divines in this debate prove clearly that they held the principle of election by the people to be the right one; and that the utmost modification of it to which they could consent was, that no man be intruded. They were, in short, what would now be termed "decided Non-Intrusionists," at the least; and their consent to a modified proposition was caused by their dread of the sectarian confusion then prevalent in England.
18 Baillie, vol. ii. pp. 198 and 221.
19 Rushworth, vol. v. p. 780.
20 Rushworth, vol. 5 p. 781. The names of the Assembly divines were, Drs. Burgess and Gouge, Messrs Walker, Conant, Cawdry, Calamy, Chambers, Ley, Gower, and Roborough. The city ministers were, Messrs Downham, Dod, Clendon, Bourne, Roberts, Offspring, Crauford, Clarke, Billets, Cooke, Lee, Horton, and Jackson. A similar committee was also appointed for the county of Lancaster. – Neal, vol. 2 p. 273.
21 Baillie, vol. 2 p. 242.
22 Lightfoot, p. 115.
23 Lightfoot, p. 119.
24 Ibid., p. 126.
25 Baillie, vol. 2 p. 137.
26 Baillie, vol. 2 p. 130.
27 Apologetical Narration, pp. 3, 4.
28 Apol. Nar., pp. 23, 24.
29 Lightfoot, p. 132.
30 Lightfoot, pp. 132-134.
31 Lightfoot, p. 144.
32 Ibid., p. 147.