Seeing then, it may fall out in the Church of Christ, that both some may assume another place in the body than they ought, and others may lay claim to a liberty, and pretend conscience in thing's they ought not, and that without question the wrong is not to be tolerated, but to be testified against, however specious its appearance may be; and that it must and ought to be judged: the question will arise, Who is the proper judge or judges, in whom resideth the power of deciding this controversy? and this is that, which I undertook in the next place to treat of, as being the specific difference, and distinguishing property of the Church of Christ from all other anti-christian assemblies and churches of man's building and framing. To give a short, and yet clear and plain answer to this proposition: the only proper judge of controversies in the Church, is the Spirit of God, and the power of deciding solely lies in it; as having the only unerring, infallible and certain judgment belonging to it: which infallibility is not necessarily annexed to any persons, person, or places whatsoever, by virtue of any office, place, or station any one may have, or have had in the body of Christ. That is to say, that any have ground to reason thus, because I am or have been such an eminent member, therefore my judgment is infallible; or, because we are the greatest number; or, that we live in such a noted or famous place, or the like: though some of these reasons may and ought to have their true weight in case of contradictory assertions, (as shall hereafter be observed,) yet not so, as upon which either mainly or only the infallible judgment is to be placed; but upon the Spirit, as that which is the firm and unmovable foundation. And now, if I should go on no further, I have said enough to vindicate us from imposition, and from the tyranny, whether of popery, prelacy, or presbytery, or any such like we have or may be branded with; as shall after appear. But to proceed: herein lies the difference betwixt the dispensation of the law, and the Gospel or new covenant; for that of old all answers were to be received from the priests in the tabernacle. For he, that appeared betwixt the churbims there, spake forth his mind to the people;and there were also families of the prophets, to whom they resorted for the answers of the Lord (though sometimes as a signification of the further glory, that was to be revealed, it pleased God to reveal his mind to some, even to those who were neither prophets nor prophets' sons); but under the gospel, we are all to be taught of God, that is, none are excluded from his privilege by not being of the tribe of Levi, or of the children of the prophets: though this privilege is as truly exercised in some by assenting and obeying, to what God commands and reveals through others, (they feeling unity with it in the life,) as by such, who by the revelation and command of God's Spirit hold forth his will to his people in certain particulars, which the same Spirit leads and commands them to obey. So that we say, and that with a very good ground, that it is no way inconsistent with this sound and unerring principle, to affirm, that the judgment of a certain person or persons in certain cases is infallible, or for a certain person or persons to give a positive judgment, and pronounce it as obligatory upon others, because the foundations and ground thereof is not because they are infallible, but because in these things, and at that time, they were led by the infallible Spirit. And therefore it will not shelter any in this respect to pretend, I am not bound to obey the dictates of fallible man; is not this popery, I not being persuaded in myself? Because it is not to be disobedient to them, but to the judgment of truth through them at such a time; and one or more there not being persuaded, may as probably proeeed from their being hardened, and being out of their place, and in an incapacity to hear the requirings, as that the thing isnot required of them; which none can deny, but it may as well be supposed, as the contrary. But for the further clearing of this matter, before I conclude, I shall not doubt both to affirm and prove these following propositions: First, That there never will, nor can be wanting, in case of controversy, the Spirit of God to give judgment through some or other in the Church of Christ, so long as any assembly can properly, or in any tolerable supposition be so termed. Secondly, That God hath ordinarily, in the communicating of his will under his gospel, employed such, whom he had made use of in gathering of his Church, and in feeding and watching over them; though not excluding others. Thirdly, That their de facto, or effectual meeting together, and giving a positive judgment in such eases, will not import tyranny and usurpation, or an inconsistency with the universal privilege, that all Christians have, to be led by the Spirit; neither will the pretences of any contradicting them, or refusing to submit, upon the account they see it not, or so, excuse them from being really guilty of disobeylng God. For the first, to those that believe the Scripture, there will need no other probation than that of Matt. xxviii. 20: "And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." And xvi. 18, "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Now, if the Church of Christ were so destitute of the Spirit of God, that in case of difference there were not any found, that by the infallible Spirit could give a certain judgment: would not then the gates of hell prevail against it? For where is strife and division, and no effectual way to put an end to it., there not only the gates, but the courts and inner chambers of darkness prevail; for where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But that there may be here no ground of mistake, or supposition, that we were annexing infallibility to certain persons, or limitting the Church to such; I understand not by the Church, every particular gathering or assembly, circumscribed to any particular country or city: for I will not refuse, but divers of them, both apart and together, if not established in God's power, may err. Nor yet do I lay the absolute stress upon a general assembly of persons truly stated (as they ought) in God's power, he hath heretofore revealed his will in such cases; and yet may, as the most probable way (which shall be spoken of hereafter :) yet, such, as a mere assembly, is not conclusive. Nor yet do I understand by the Church, every gathering or assembly of people, who may hold sound and true principles, or have a form of truth; for some may lose the life and power of godliness, who notwithstanding may retain the form or notions of things, but yet are to be turned away from, because in so far (as observed before) as sanctification, to wit, those that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, make the Church, and give the right definition to it: where that is wholly wanting, the Church of Christ ceaseth to be; and there remains nothing but a shadow without substance. Such assemblies then are like the dead body, when the soul is departed, which is no more fit to be conversed with; because it corrupts, and proves noisome to the living. But, by the Church of Christ I understand all those, that truly and really have recieved and hold the truth, as it is in Jesus, and are in measure sanctified, or sanctifying in and by the power and virtue thereof, working in their inward parts: and this may be made up of divers distinct gatherings or churches in several countries or nations: I say, so long as these or any of them do retain that, which justly entitles them the Church or Churches of Christ (which they may be truly called) though there may fall out some differences, divisions, or schisms among them: as we may see, there was no small dissensions in the Church of Antioch, and yet it ceased not to be a church. Acts xv. 2, and 1 Cor. i. 11. "For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you," and yet verse 2, he entitles them the Church of God, them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus; so long, I say, as they truly retain this title of the Church of Christ, as being really such, there will never be wanting the certain judgment of truth. For which, besides the positive promise of Christ before mentioned, (which is not without blasphemy to be called in question, or doubted of,) I shall add these reasons. That seeing Church of Christ is his body, of which he is the head, it, were to make Christ negligent of his body, who styles himself the good shepherd, and hath said, he will never leave nor forsake his own; or else (which is worse) it will infer a posibility of error, or mistake in Christ, in whom, as the head are the eyes of the body, by which it is to be ruled in all things. Next, we never find in all the Scripture, since the Gospel, that ever this was wanting; but that God still gave infallible judgment by his Spirit in some of the respects above mentioned. If the transactions and controversies of the after centuries be altered, I will boldly affirm and prove, that there was never a true judgment wanting, so long as the nature and essence of the true Church was retained; if any will needs affirm otherwise, let them show me where, and I will answer it. Though I deny not, (that after mystery of iniquity did begin to work, or had so wrought first by intermixing, and afterward by altogather forsaking the nature of truth, retaining only the bare name of the Church) but that there might some scattered ones, here and there one in a nation, and now and then one in an age, who by the power and virtue of the Spirit of Life working in them, might be truly sanctified; yet these were but as wittnesses in sackcloth, no ways sufficient to give these assemblies, in which they were engrossed, the appellation of the Church of Christ, coming no more under observation by the generality, nor having as to them any more influence, than some tittle, or scarcely discernable sparks of fire in many great heaps and mountains of ashes. And thus much to prove, that where there is any gathering or assembly, which truly and properly may be called the Church of Christ, the infallible judgment will never be wanting in matters of controversy. Secondly, that ordinarily God hath in the communicating of his will under his Gospel employed such, whom he had made use of in gathering of his Church, and in feeding and watching over them, though not excluding others. For as in a natural body (to which the Church of Christ is compared) the more substantial and powerful members do work most effectually; and their help is most necessary to supply any defect or trouble in the body: so also, if there be diversities of gifts in the Church (as is above proved) and some have a greater measure, and some a lesser; those that have the greater, are more capable to do good and to help the body in its need, than others, that are weaker, and ]ess powerful: since there are strong and weak, babes and young men, "who have overcome the evil one, and in whom the word of God abideth;" such are more able when the enemy besets, to resist (having already overcome) than others, who are but yet wrestling, and not conquerors. Now, every controversy and dissension in the Church comes from the besetments of the enemy; yet if any of these strong or young men, or powerful members, go from their station, it is not denied, but that they are as weak as any; and it is presupposing their faithfnlness in their place, that I thus affirm, and no otherwise. Nor yet do I limit the Lord to this method: "For in him are all the treasures both of our wisdom and strength;" and the weakest in his hand is as strong as the strongest, who may now, as well as heretofore, kill a Goliath by the hand of a little David: yet we see, the Lord doth ordinarilly make use of the strong to support the weak; and indeed, when such as may be termed weak, are so made use of, it alters the nature of their place, and constitutes them in a higher and more eminent degree. For though it was little David, it was also he that was to be King of Israel. Though the Apostles were mean men among the Jews; yet they were such, as were to be the Apostles of the Lord of glory, instruments to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to proclaim the acceptable day of the Lord. And though Paul was once accounted the least of all the saints, a child born out of due time: yet was he him, who was to be the greatest apostle of the Gentiles. Now then let us consider, whom the Lord makes use of in the affairs of the primitive Church, and through whom he gave forth his inffalible judgment? Did he not begin first by Peter? He was the first, that spake in the first meeting they had, Acts i.,and who first stood up after the pouring forth of the Spirit and who first appeared before the council of the Jews, and spake in behalf of the Gospel of Christ: though I am far from calling him (as some do) the Prince of the Apostles; yet I may safely say, he was one of the most ancient and eminent, and to whom Christ in a manner somewhat more than ordinary had recommended the feeding of his flock. We see also, he was first made use of in preaching to the Gentiles; and what weight his and James's words had in the contest about circumcision towards the bringing the matter to a conclusion, Acts xv. Yet that we may see, infallibility was not inseparably annexed to him, he was found blamable in a certain matter, Gal. ii .i 11, notwithstanding his sentence was positively received in many particulars. So also the Apostle Paul argues from his gathering of the Churches of Corinth and Galatia, that they ought to be followers of him; and positively concludes in divers things: and upon this supposition exhorts the churches (both he and Peter) in many passages heretofore mentioned, (which I will not, to avoid repetition, again rehearse,) to obey the elders that watch for them; to hold such in reputation, and to submit themselves to them that have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, I Cor. xvi. 15, 16. Also we see, how the Lord makes use of John his beloved disciple, to inform and reprove the seven Churches of Asia; and no doubt, John, (the rest by the usual computation being at that time all removed) was then the most noted and famous elder alive: and indeed, I mind not where, under the Gospel, Christ hath used any other method, but that he always in revealing his will hath rnade use of such, as he himself had before appointed elders and officers in his Church. Though it be far from us to limit the Lord, so as to exclude any from this privilege; nor yet on the other hand will the possibility hereof be a sufficient warrant to allow every obscure member to stand up, and offer to rule, judge and condemn the whole body: nor yet is it without cause, that such an one's message is jealoused, and called in question, unless it have very great evidence, and be bottomed upon some very weighty and solid cause and foundation. And God doth so furnish those whom he raiseth up, in a singular manner, of which (as I said) I mind no instance in the New Testament: and in the Old we see, though it was strange, that little David should oppose himself to the great Gohath, yet he had before that killed both the lion and the bear, which was no less improbable; and which of all is most observable, was before that time by the appointment of God, and the hand of the prophet anointed King of Israel. Compare the 16th and 17th chapter of the 1st of Samuel. Now as to the third, that any particular persons de facto, or effectually giving out a positive judgment, is no encroaching nor imposing upon their brethren's conscience, is neeessarily included in what is said before; upon which for further probation there will only need this short reflection. That for any member or members in obedience to the Lord to give forth a positive judgment in the Church of Christ, is their proper place and office, they being called to it; and so for them to exercise that place in the body, which the head moves thru to, is not to usurp authority over their fellow-members: as on the other hand to submit and obey, (it being the place of some so to do,) is not a renouncing a being led by the Spirit; seeing the Spirit lead them so to do; and not to obey, in case the judgment be according to truth, and the Spirit lead to it is, no doubt, both offensive and sinful. And that all this may be supposed in the Church of Christ without absurdity, and so establish the above mentioned propositions, will appear by a short review the former passages. If that Peter and James their giving a positive judgment in the case of difference in divers particulars, did not infer them to be imposers, so neither will any so doing now, being led to it by the same authority: every one may easily make the application. And on the contrary, if for any to have stood and resisted their judgment, pretending an unclearness, or so, and thereby held up the difference after their sentence, breaking the peace and unity of the Church, (things being concluded with as it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us,) say, if such would have given just cause of offence, and have been cut off, as despisers of dignities of old, will not the like case now occurring hold the same conclusion? Now whether those proposition do not hold upon the principles before laid down and proved, I leave to every judicious and impartial reader to judge. Moreover, we see, how positive the Apostle Paul in many particulars throughout all his epistles, il asmuch as he saith, 2 Thess. iii. 14, "If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." And in many more places before mentioned, where he commands them both to obey him and several others, who were appointed (no doubt by the Spirit of God) to be rulers among them; and yet who will say, that either the apostle did more than he ought, in commanding? Or they less, than they were obliged to, in submitting? And yet neither were to do any thing contrary or more, than the Spirit of God in themselves led them to, or allowed them in. And if the Church of God bear any parity or proportion now in these days, with what it did of old (as I know no reason why it should not) the same things may now he supposed to take effect, that did then; and also be lawfully done upon the like occasion proceeding from the same Spirit, and established upon the same basis and foundation. And thus much as to that part, to show, in whom the power of decision is; which being seriously and impartially considered, is sufficient to clear us fi'om the tyranny either of popery, or any other of that nature, with those that are not either wilfully blind, or very ignorant of popish principles, as the judicious reader may observe. But seeing, to manifest that difference, was one of those things proposed to be considered of, I shall now come to say something of it in its proper place.