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RANTERS - Section Eight: How This Government Altogether Differeth From the Oppressing and Persecuting Principality of the Church of Rome, and Other Anti-Christian Assemblies.

By Robert Barclay


      Whatever way we understand the popish principles in this matter, whether of those that are most devoted to the see of Rome, as the king of Spain's dominions, and the princes of Italy; the Jesuits and generality of all those called religious orders, who hold, that Papa in cathedra non potest errare, licet absque concilio; that is, That the pope in his chair cannot err, though without a council; or of those that are less devoted, who plead this infallibility in the pope and council lawfully convened, who yet by the more zealous are reckoned petty schismatics; I say, whatever way we take them, all those that do profess themselves members of the Romish church, and are so far such, as to understand their own principles, do unquestionably acknowledge,
      First, That no general council can be lawfully called, without the bishop of Rome, as Christ's vicar and Peter's successor, call it.
      Secondly, That either he himself, or some for him, as his legates, must be there present, and always preside.
      Thirdly, That the members having vote, are made up of bishops or presbyters, or commissioners from the several orders, being of the clergy.
      Fourthly, That what is concluded on by plurality of votes, and agreed to by the pope and his legates, must necessarily be supposed to be the judgment of the infallible Spirit.
      Fifthly, That all the members of the church are bound implicitly to receive and believe it, because it proceeds from a council to be accounted lawful in the respects above mentioned, without regard to the intrinsic or real truths of the things prescribed, or bringing them in any respect to the test or examination of the Spirit of God in themselves, or the Scripture's testimony, or their agreement or disagreement with truths formerly believed and received: for so much as to prove or try them by way of doubt, they reckon a breach of the first command; as on the other hand a matter of merit, implicitly to receive and believe them, however inconsistent with the testimony of the Spirit in one's own heart, Scripture, truth and reason.
      Sixthly, That no man as a member of the church of Christ in that simple capacity, unless a clergyman, or the ambassador of some king, &c., can be admitted to sit, vote, or give his judgment.
      Seventhly, That it is in no respect to be supposed, that any members, especially laics, whether in a particular city, country or nation, may meet concerning any things relating to the faith and worship of the church, and give by the Spirit of God any judgment; but that all such meetings are to be accounted schismatical and unlawful. And
      Lastly, That the promise of infallibility, and the gates of Hell not prevailing, is necessarily annexed to the pope and council called and authorized in the manner above expressed.
      Now if to deny every one of these propositions, wherein all understanding men know the errors and abuses of the Romish charch consist, be to be popish; then indeed may we be supposed to be one with the Papists in this matter, but no otherwise: so that the very mentioning of these things is sufficient to show the difference betwixt us and them. But if any will needs plead our agreement with them thus:
      The Papists affirm an infallibility of judgment in the church of Christ, and so do you; therefore you are one with Papists.
      I answer, that proves no more our oneness in this matter, than if it should be said, the Papists plead that, God ought to be worshipped, and so do you; therefore ye agree: notwithstanding the vast differences as to that, which is not only known betwixt us and them, but betwixt them and all Protestants, who agree more with them in the matter of worship, than we do.
      Next again, infallibility in the Church, (according as we hold it, and I have above defined it,) no man upon our supposition (or hypothesis) can deny it. For since we first assert, as a principle that no gathering, no church, nor assembly of people, however true their principles or exact their form be, are to be accounted the Church of Christ, except the infallible Spirit lead and guide; what can be the hazard to say, that in such a church there is still an infallible judgment? Indeed, this is so far from Popery, that it resolves in a proposition quite contradictory to them. The Rommanists say, that the infallible Spirit always accompanies the outward visible professors, and is annexed to the external succession of bishops and pastors, though ever so vicious as to their lives: yea, though perfect atheists and infdels in their private judgments, yet if outwardly professing the catholic faith, and subjection to the Church, they must be partakers of the infallible Spirit. We say the quite contrary, that where there is either viciousness of persons, or unsoundness of judgment in the particular members, these cannot, by virtue of any outward call or succession they have, or any profession they make, or authority they may pretend to, so much as claim an interest in any part of the Church of Christ, or the infallible Spirit.
      So then, if we admit none to be members of tho church, but such as are led and guided by the Spirit, it will be no popery in the second place to affirm, that where there is a company of people so gathered, who are not any longer to retain justly the name of the Church of Christ, than they are led and guided by his Spirit, or a church so qualified and designed, there is still infallible judgment. So that this infallibility is annexed to the persons, to the succession, to the bare visible profession, (though true, which the Church of Rome is denied to be,) or to any society, because of its profession; but singly and alone to true, real and effectual work of sanctification and regeneration, the new creature brought forth in the heart: and this is the spiritual man, which the apostle saith, judgeth all things, 1 Cor. ii. 15. To affirm, there is an infallibility here, cannot well be condenmed by any, or whoso doth, must needs say, the Spirit of God is fallible: for we place the infallibility in the Spirit and in the power, not in the persons. And so these are the degrees we ascend by: "Because such and such men are led by the Spirit of God, and are obedient to the grace their hearts, therefore are they members and officers in the Church of Christ. And because they are members of the Church of Christ in the respect before declared, therefore there is an infallible judgment among them." We do not say, because such men profess the Christian faith, and have receive an outward ordination, and so are by a lawful succession formally established officers in the Church when they meet together, (according to certain rules above declared,) there is an infallibility annexed to their conclusions, and they cannot but decide what is right; or rather, what they decide must needs be supposed to be right. Who seeth not here a vast disproportion?
      Now we differ herein fundamentally, that is, as to the very basis and foundation upon which we build; and that not only from the Church of Rome, bu also froth the generality of Protestants in this matter. All Protestants do acknowledge a general council to be useful, yea, necessary in the case of division or debate; let us consider the basis upon which they proceed, and the stress they lay upon it.
      First, All jointly, both the prelatical and presbyterial, will have this synod or council to consist of a convocation of the clergy, chosen and sent from the particular congregations, with some few laic elders, called together by the civil magistrate, in case he be one in judgment with them.
      They decide by plurality of votes. And though they assmee not all absolute infallibility, in that they reckon it possible for them to err; yet do they reckon their decisions obligatory upon their supposed consonancy of the Scripture: and however do affirm, that the civil magistrate hath power to constrain all to submit and obey; or else to punish them either by death, banishment, imprisonment, confiscation of goods, or some other corporeal pain; even though such be persuaded and offer to make appear, that the decisions they refuse, are contrary to the Scriptures.
      And lastly: (among the Papists) none, though otherwise confessed to be a member of the church both knowing and sober, except commissionate in some of the respects above declared, can be admitted to sit, vote and give his judgment.
      Any that will be at the pains to apply this to the foundation I before laid of the infallibility of judgment, in that we may account only to be truly called the Church of Christ, will easily see the great difference betwixt us; which I shall sum up in these particulars:
      First, Do we exclude any member of the Church of Christ, that may be truly accounted so, to tell his judgment?
      Secondly, Do we say, man ought to be persecuted in his outwards for his dis-assent in spirituals?
      Thirdly, Do we plead, that decision is to pass conclusive, because of the plurality of votes?
      And much more; which the reader may observe, from what is already mentioned: which that it may be all more obvious at one view, whill appear somewhat clearly by this following figure; which will give the reader an opportunity to recollect, what lay heretofore more scattered.
         I. The Romanists say, II. The generality of Protestants say,
      1. That there is an infallibility in the church: which infallibility is, when the pope calls a general council of bishops &c., that whosoever they conclude and agree upon, must needs be the infallible judgment of the Spirit of God, because of the promise of Christ, that he would never suffer the gates of hell to prevail against his church. 1. That though all synods and councils may err; yet such assemblies are needful for the edification of the church.--That such do consist of a convocation of the clergy, with some few laics particularly chosen. That all others, except those so elected, have not any right to vote or give judgment.
      2. And that the pope and council, made up of certain of the clergy, having one outward succession, and being lawfully ordained according to the canons, are that church, to which that promise is made, however wicked or depraved they be; yet this infallible judgment follows them, as being necessarily annexed to their office, in which the authority still stands in its full strength and vigor. 2. That such an assemblu so constituted, may ministerially determine controversies of faith, cases of conscience, matters of worship, and authoritatively determine the same. The decision is to be by plurality of votes, without any necessary respect to the inward holiness or regeneration of the persons; if so be they outwardly called, ordained, and invested in such a place and capacity, as gives them an authority to be members of such an assembly.
      3. So that there lies an obligation upon the whole body of the church to obey their decrees: and such as do not, ane not only certainly damned for their disobedience, but that it is the duty of the civil magistrate to punish such by death, banishment, or imprisonment, &c. in case they refuse. 3. What they thus decide (as they judge according to the Scripture) ought to be received with reverence, and submitted to: and those that do not, to be punished by the civil magistrate by death, banishment or imprisonment, though they declare and be ready to evidence, that it is, because they are not agreeable to the Scripture, they refuse such decrees.

      III. The QUAKERS say,

      1. That whereas none truly ought, nor can be accounted the Church of Christ, but such as are in a measure sanctified or sanctifying by the grace of God, and led by his Spirit; not yet any made officers in the church, but by the grace of God and inward revelation of his Spirit, (not by outward ordination and succession:) from which none is to be excluded, if so called, whether married, or a tradesman, or a servant.
      2. If so be, in such a church there should arise any difference, there will be an infallible judgment from the Spirit of God, which may be in a general assembly; yet not limited to it, as excluding others: and may prove the judgment of the plurality: yet not to be decided thereby, as if the infallibility were placed there, excluding the fewer. In which meeting or assembly upon such an account, there is no limitation to be of persons particularly chosen; but that all that in a true sense may be reckoned of the church, as being sober and weighty, may be present and give their judgment.
      3. And that the infallible judgment of truth (which cannot be wanting in such a church) whether it be given through one or more, ought to be submitted to, not because such persons give it, but because the Spirit leads so to do: which every one coming to inthemselves, will willingly and naturally assent to. And if any through disobedience or unclearness, do not all that the Church ought to do, she is to deny them her spiritual fellowship; in case the nature of their disobedience be of that conscience, as may deserve such a censure; but by no means for matter of conscience to molest, trouble, or persecute any in their outwards.
      Who will be at the pains to compare these three seriously together, I am hopeful, will need no further argument to prove the difference. But if any will further object, What, if it fall out de facto,   that the teachers, elders, or plurality do decide, and from thence will say, this is like the Church of Rome, and other false churches? It will be hard to prove that to be an infallible mark of a wrong judgment, as we have not said it is of a right. And, indeed, to conclude it were so, would necessarily condemn the Church in the apostles' days, where we see the teachers and elders, and so far as we can observe, the greater number did agree to the decision, Acts i. 15. For if the thing be right, and according to truth, it is so much the better, that the elders and greater number do agree to it; and if wrong, their affirming it will not make it right: and truly, a gathering, where the elders and greater number, are always or most frequently wrong, and the younger and lesser number right, is such, as we cannot suppose the true Church of Christ to be. And if any will plead, that there is now no infallible judgment to be expected from the Spirit of God in the Church, it (no doubt) will leave the dissenters as much in the mist, and at as great a loss, as those they dissent from; both being no better than blind men hiltting at random, which will turn Christianity into scepticism. And though we may acknowledge, that this uncertainty prevails in the generality of those called churches; yet we do firmly believe (for the reasons above declared, and many more that might be given) that the true Church of Christ has a more solid, stable foundation; and being never separated from Christ, her head, walks in a more certain, steady, and unerring path.

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