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RANTERS - Section Five: In What Cases, and How Far This Government Extends

By Robert Barclay


      I shall begin with that which gave the first rise for this order among the apostles; and I do verily believe, might have been among the first occasions, that gave the like among us, and that is, the care of the poor, of widows and orphans. Love and compa ssion are the great, yea, and the chiefest marks of Christianity; hereby shall it be known, saith Christ, "that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another." And James the apostle places religion herein in the first place: "pure religion, (saith he,) and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions," etc. For this, then, as one main end, do we meet together, that enquiry may be made, if there be any poor of the household of faith, that need, that t hey may be supplied; that the widows may be taken care of, that the orphans and fatherless may be bred up and educated. Who will be so unchristian, as to reprove this good order and government, and to say it is needless ? But if any will thus object, may not the Spirit lead every one of you to give to them thatneed ? What needs meeting about it, and such for realities?
      I answer, the Spirit of God leads us so to do; what can they say to the contrary ? Nor is this a practice any ways inconsistent with being inwardly and immediately led by the Spirit; for the Spirit of God doth now, as welt as in the days of old, lead his people into those things which are orderly, and of a good report; for he is the God of order, and not of confusion; and therefore the holy apostles judged it no inconsistency with their being led by the Spirit to appoint men full of the Holy Ghost and o f wisdom over the business of the poor. Now if to be full of the Holy Ghost. he a qualification needful for this employment ; surely the nature of their employment was not to render this so needful a qualification useless and ineffectual as if they wer e not to be led by it.
      Moreover we see, though they were at that time all filled with the Spirit, yet there was something wanting before this good order was established. There was a murmuring, that some widows were neglected in the daily ministration; and we must not suppose, the apostles went about to remedy this evil, that was creeping into the Church, without the counsel of God by his Spirit, or that this remedy they were led to, was stepping into apostasy; neither can it be so said of us, we proceeding upon the like occas ion.
      If then it be thus needful and suitable to the gospel to relieve the necessities of the poor, that as there was no beggar to be among Israel of old, so far less now; must there not be meetings to appoint contribution, in order to the performing these thi ngs ? Which is no other, but the giving of a general intimation what the needs are; that every one, as God moves their hearts, and hath prospered them, (without imposition, force or limitation,) may give towards these needful uses. In which case these mu rmured at our good order in such matters, may well think strange at the apostle; how pressingly, how earnestly doth he reiterate his desires and provocations, so to speak, in this respect to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. xvi. 2. and the 8th and 9th chapters of the 2d epistle throughout!
      Now though he testifies to them elsewhere, that they are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that the Spirit of God dwells in them; yet ceaseth he not to entreat and exhort, yea, and to give them certain orders in this matter.
      Besides all these reasons, which are sufficient to convince any unprejudiced man, the, secret approbation of God's Spirit accompanying as in this thing, together with the fruits and effects of it; which hundreds can witness to, whose needs have been supp lied, and themselves helped through divers difficulties; and the testimonies of some already, and of many more orphans and fatherless children, who have found no want either of father or mother, other relations, through the tender love and care of God's people in putting them in trades and employments, and giving them all needful education: which will make it appear, ere this age pass away, to those that have an eye to see, that these are not the mere doings and orders of men; but the work of him who is appearing in ten thousands of his saints, to establish not only truth, but mercy and righteousness in the earth.
      And for that end therefore, in the second place, this order reacheth the taking up and composing of differences as to outward things, which may fall out betwixt friend and friend; for such things may fall out through the intricacies of divers affairs, wh ere neither hath any positive intention to injure and defraud his neighbour, as in many cases might be instanced. Or if through the workings and temptations of him, whose work is to beset the faithful, and people of the Lord, and to engender (so far as h e can) strife and division among them, any should. step aside, as to offer to wrong or prejudice his neighbour; we do boldly aver, as a people gathered together by the Lord unto the same faith, and distinguished from all others by our joint testimony and sufferings, that we have power and authority to decide and remove these things among ourselves, without going to others to seek redress. And this in itself hath so much reason, that I cannot tell, if any that are not wholly prejudicate or obstinate, can blame it. For if we be of one mind concerning faith and religion, and that it be our joint interest to bring all others unto the same truth with us, as supposing them to be wrong, what confidence can we have to think of reclaiming them, if the truth we profess have not efficacy, as to reconcile us among ourselves in the matters of this world ? If we be forced to go out to others for equity and justice, because we cannot find it among ourselves, how can we expect to invite them to come among us, when su ch virtues, as which still accompany the truth, are necessarily supposed to be wanting? Should we affirm otherwise, it were to destroy the truth and faith, we have been and are in the Lord's hand building up: and indeed the spirit and practice of such as oppose us herein, hath no less tendency.
      Moreover, besides the enforcing and intrinsic reason of this thing, we have the concurrence, approbation and comfort of the Apostle's testimony, 1 Cor. vi.: ' Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before t he saints?' If it be objected, do you reckon all unjust that are not of you ? Think ye' all other people void of justice?
      I answer, though the Apostle useth this expression, I 'am persuaded, he did not reckon all others unjust, that had not received 'then the Christian faith. There were, no doubt, moral and just men among the heathen; and therefore the same Paul commends th e nobility of Festus. He reckons them there unjust in respect of the saints, or comparatively with them, as such as are not come to the just principle of God in themselves to obey it and follow it: and therefore though he accounts them, who are least est eemed in the Church, capable to decide such matters; yet he supposeth it safer to submit to their judgment in such cases, though it were by taking wrong, or suffering wrong, than to go before others to the greater reproach of the truth. We hope, though m any occasions of this kind have fallen in among us, since we have been a people, none have had just occasion to decline our judgment. And though some should suppose themselves to be wronged; yet if they Should go bring their matter before others, we migh t say, as the Apostle saith in the fore-mentioned chapter, ver. 7. This were thereby a fault in them, and would evidence a greater care of some outward concern, than of the honour and interest of truth: and therefore such as have a tender regard that way , would rather suffer, what to their apprehensions may seem wrong. For in matters, wherein two parties are opposite in the case of meum and it is somewhat hard to please both; except where the power of truth, and the righteous judgment thereof reaching t o that of God in the conscience, hath brought to a true acknowledgment him that hath been mistaken, or in the wrong: which hath frequently fallen out among us, to the often refreshing and confirming our souls in the certain belief that Christ was fulfill ing his promises among us, in restoring judges, as at the first, and counsellors, as in the beginning.
      Now suppose, any should be so pettish, or humorous, as not to agree in such matters to the judgment of his brethren, and to go before the unbelievers (for though I reckon them not such unbelievers, as the heathen of old, because they profess a faith in G od and Christ; yet I may safely say, they are unbelievers as to these principles and doctrines which we know are the truth of God; and in that sense must be unbelievers as to him, that so appealeth to them from his brethren), I say, such as so do, first commit certain hurt, and evil, in staining the honour and reputation of the truth they profess; which ought to be dearer to us than our lives. And even in that outward matter, for which they thus do, they run a hazard, not knowing, whether things shall c arry, as they expect: if they lose, they have a double prejudice; if they gain, it is a too dear rate, even with the hurt of truth's reputation, which their outward advantage cannot make up. If, then, it be unlawful to do evil, that good may come of it, even a spiritual good; far less is it lawful to do a positive evil of so deep a dye, as to bring an evil report upon the good land, and give the uncircumcised an occasion to rejoice: out of the uncertain hope of an outward gain, it is far better to suffe r loss, as the Apostle very well argues in the place above-mentioned.
      Indeed, if there be any such, have been, or appear to be of us, as suppose, there is not a wise man among us all, nor an honest man, that is able to judge betwixt his brethren; we shall not covet to meddle in their matter; being persuaded, that either th ey, or their cause is nought. Though (praises to God) among all those that have gone from us, either 'upon one account or other, I never heard, that any were so minded towards us; but the most part of them having let in the offence of some things, or per sons, have had this unanimous testimony concerning us, that generally we are an honest and upright-hearted people.
      But whatever sense our enemies, or apostates have of us, who look asquint on the face of truth, and can see nothing aright in those they love not, or are prejudicate against; this we can say in the last place (besides the reasons and Scripture above decl ared) that the good fruits and effects, which daily abound to the household of faith, in this, as well as the other parts of the government the Lord is establishing among us, doth more and more commend it unto us; and confirmeth our hearts in the certain belief of that, which we can confidently testify in good conscience, that God hath led us hereunto by his Spirit: and we see the hand of the Lord herein, which in due time will yet more appear; that as through our faithful testimony, in the hand of the Lord, that antichristian and apostatized generation, the National Ministry, hath received a deadly blow by our discovering and witnessing against their forced maintenance, and tythes, against which we have testified by many cruel sufferings of all kinds, as our chronicles shall make known to generations to come, so that their kingdom, in the hearts of thousands, begins to totter and lose its strength, and shall assuredly fall to the ground, through truth's prevailing in the earth; so on the other hand d o we, by coming to righteousness and innocency, weaken the strength of their kingdom, who judge for rewards, as well as such as preach for hire, and by not ministering occasions to those, whohave heaped up riches, and lived in excess, lust and riot, by f eeding and preying upon the iniquities and contentions of the people. For as truth and righteousness prevails in the earth, by our faithful witnessing and keeping to it, the nations shall come tobe eased and disburdened of that deceitful tribe of lawyers , (as well as priests) who by their many tricks, and endless intricacies, have rendered justice, in their method, burdensome to honest men, and seek not so much to put an end, as to foment controversies and contentions, that they themselves may be still fed and upheld, and their trade kept up. Whereas by truth's propagation, as many of these controversies will die by men's coming to be less contentious; so when any difference ariseth, the saints giving judgment, without gift or reward, or running into t he tricks and endless labyrinths of the lawyers, will soon compose them. And this is that we are persuaded, the Lord is bringing about in our day, though many do not, and many will not see it; because it is indeed in a way different and contrary to man's wisdom, who are now despising Christ in his inward appearance, because of the meanness of it; as the Jews of old did him in his outward: yet notwithstanding there were some then that did witness, and could not be silent, but must testify that he was com e; even so now are there thousands, that can set to their seal, that he hath now again the second time appeared, and is appearing in ten thousands of his saints; in and among whom (as a first fruits of many more that shall be gathered he is restoring the golden age, and bringing them into the holy order and government of his own Son, who is ruling, and to rule in the midst of them, setting forth the counsel lots as at the beginning, and judges as at first; and establishing truth, mercy, righteousness an d judgment again in the earth: Amen, Hallelujah!
      Thirdly, These meetings take care in the case of marriages, that all things be clear; and that there be nothing done in that procedure, which afterwards may prove to the prejudice of truth, or of the parties concerned; which being an outward thing (that is, acknowledged in itself to be lawful) of the greatest importance a man, or woman, can perform in this world; and from the sudden, unwary, or disorderly procedure whereof, very great snares and reproaches may be cast upon the parties, and the professio n owned by them; therefore it doth very tidy, among other things, when it occurs, come to be considered of by the people of God, when met, to take care to preserve all things right and savoury in the household of faith. We do believe, our adversaries, th at watch for evil against us, would be glad, how promiscuously or disorderly we proceed in this weighty matter; that so they might the more boldly accuse us, as overturners of all humane and Christian order; but God hath not left us without his counsel a nd wisdom in this thing; nor will he, that any should receive just occasion against. us, his people; and therefore in this weighty concern, we, who can do nothing against the truth, but all for, and with regard to the truth, have diverse testimonies for the Lord. And--
      First, That we cannot marry with those that walk not in, and obey not the truth, as being of another judgment, or fellowship; or pretending to it, walk not suitable and answerable thereto.
      Secondly. Nor can we go to the hireling priests. to uphold their false. and usurped authority. who take upon them to marry people without any command, or precedent for it from the laws of God.
      Lastly, Nor can we suffer any such kind of marridges to pass among us, which either as to the degrees of consanguinity, or otherwise, in itself is unlawful, or from which there may be any just reflection cast upon our way.
      As to the first two, they being matter of principles received and believed, it is not my work here to debate them; only since they are received and owned as such, (for which we can, and have given our sufficient reasons elsewhere, as for our other princi ples,) we ought to care, how any, by walking otherwise, bring reproach upon us. Yet not to pass them wholly by, as to the first; besides the testimony of the Spirit of God in our hearts, (which is the original ground of our faith in all things,) we have the testimony of the apostle Paul, 2. Cot. vi. 14: "Be ye not unequally yoked together," etc. Now, if any should think, it were much from this scripture to plead it absolutely unlawful in any case, to join in marriage with any, (however otherwise sober,) because Of their not being one with us in all things; I shall speak my judgment. To me it appears so; and to many more who have obtained mercy; and we think we have the Spirit of God. But whether it be lawful or not, I can say positively, it is not expe dient, neither doth it edify; and (as that which is of dangerous tensequence) doth give justly offence to the Church of Christ; and therefore, no true tender heart. will prefer his private love to the good and initerest'(of the whole body.)
      As for the second, in that we deny' the priests their assumed authority and power: to marry, it isthat which in no wise we can resile from, nor can we own any in the doing of it; being a part of our testimony against the usurpations of that generation, w ho never yet, that I ever heard of, could produce any Scripture proof or example for it. And seeing, none can pretend coltscience in the matter, (for they themselves confess that it is no part of the essence of marriage,) if any pretending to be among us , should through fear, interest, or prejudice to the truth, come under and bow to that image, have we not reason to deny such slavish and ignoble spirits, as mind not truth and its testimony?
      Lastly, Seeing, if any walking with us, or going under the same name, should hastily or disorderly go together, either being within the degrees of consanguinity, which law of God forbids, or that either party should have been formerly under any tie or ob ligation to others, or any other vast disproportion, which might bring a just reflection upon us from our opposers; can any blame us for taking care to prevent these evils, by appointing that such as So design, make known their intentions to these church es or assemblies, where they are most known, that if any know just cause of hindrance, it may be mentioned, and a timous let put to the hurt, either by stopping it, if they can be brought to condescend; or by refusing to be witnesses and concurrers with them in it, if they will not ? For we take not upon us to hinder any to marry, otherwise than by advice, or disconcerning ourselves; neither do we judge that such as do marry contrary to our mind, that therefore their marriage is null and void in itself, or may be dissolved afterwards; nay, all our meddling is in a holy care for the truth. For if the thing be right, all that we do, is to be witnesses; and if otherwise, that we may say for our vindication to such, as may upbraid us therewith, that we adv ised otherwise, and did no ways concur in the matter: that so they may bear their own burden, and the truth and people of God be cleared.
      Now, I am confident that our way herein is so answerable to reason and Christianity, that none will blame us therefor; except either such, whose irregular and impatient lusts cannot suitor a serious and Christian examination, and an advised and moderate procedure; or such, who watching for evil against us, are sorry we should proceed so orderly, and would rather we should suffer all manner of irregularities and abominations, that they might have the more to say against us. But the solid and real reasons we have for our way herein, will sufficiently plead for us in the hearts of all sober men; and moreover, the testimony of God's Spirit in our hearts doth abundantly confirm us, both against the folly of the one, and the envy of the other.
      Fourthly, There being nothing more needful, than to preserve men and women in righteousness, after they are brought into it; and also nothing more certain, than that the great enemy of man's soul seeks daily, how he may draw back again, and catch those, who have in some measure escaped his snares, and known deliverance from them; therefore do we also meet together; that we may receive an opportunity to understand. if any have fallen under his temptations that we may restore them again, if possible; or o therwise separate them from us. Surely, if we did not so, we might be justly blamed as such, among whom it were lawful to commit any evil unreproved; indeed, this were to be guilty of that libertinism, which some have falsely accused us of, and which hat h been our care all along, as became the people of God, to avoid: therefore we have sought always to keep the house clean, by faithfully reproving and removing, according to the nature of the offence, and the scandal following thereupon; private things p rivately, and public things publicly. We desire not to propagate hurt, and defile people's minds with telling them such things as tend not to edify; yet do we not so cover over or smooth over any wickedness, as not to deal roundly with the persons guilty , and causing them to take away the scandal in their acknowledgment before all, to whose knowledge it hath come; yet judge we not ourselves obliged to tell that in Gath, or publish that in the streets of Askdon, which makes the daughters of the uncircumc ised rejoice; or strengthen Atheists and Ranters in their obduredhess, who feed more upon the failings of the saints, than to imitate their true repentance. And therefore where we find an unfeigning returning to the Lord, we desire not to remember that w hich the Lord hath forgotten; nor yet to throw offences in the way of the weak; that they may stumble upon them.
      And therefore I conclude that our care as to these things also, is most needful, and a part of that order and government, which the Church of Christ never was, nor can be without; as doth abundantly appear by divers Scriptures heretofore mentioned.

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