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Of Uniformity in Religion, Worship of God, and Church Government


by George Gillespie


Summary of this section from the table of contents:
-Why Luther declined a general synod for unity in ceremonies.

-There is a great difference between the prelatical conformity and
the presbyterial uniformity.

-This is branched out in seven particulars.

-Both nature and Scripture give precedents for uniformity.

-The church in the Old Testament was very uniform both in the
substantials and rituals of their worship.

-It was also prophesied to be under the New Testament, and commended
and commanded in it.

-The church in the ancient times had a great uniformity.
The word uniformity is become as odious to divers who plead for
liberty and toleration, as the word conformity was in the prelates'
times. Hence proceeded Mr Dell's book against uniformity, and Mr
Burton's book, entitled, Conformity's Deformity. I confess my love
and desire of uniformity hath not made me any whit to depart from my
former principles against the prelatical conformity, or the
astricting of men's consciences (at least in point of practice and
observation) to certain rites, whether unlawful or indifferent in
their own nature, under pain of censure. Yet I must needs justify
(as not only lawful, but laudable) what the solemn league and
covenant of the three kingdoms obligeth us unto, namely, to
endeavour to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the
nearest conjunction and uniformity in one confession of faith, one
directory of worship, one form of church government and catechism.

It is always to be remembered, that good things, yea the best
things, may be dangerously abused by the corruptions of men,
especially when the times are generally corrupted. Luther had reason
in his time, and as the case stood then, to decline a general synod
of Protestants for unity in ceremonies (which some moved for),
before the doctrine of faith and the substance of the gospel was
settled. He said the name of synods and councils was almost as much
suspected with him as the name of freewill, and that he would have
the churches freely and voluntarily to comply and conform in
external rites, by following the best examples in these things, but
by no means to be compelled to it, or snares prepared for the
consciences of the weak. (See Melchior Adamus, in Vit. Lutheri, p.
128,129.) But if Luther had found as good opportunity and as much
possibility of attaining a right uniformity in church government and
worship as God vouchsafeth us in this age, I do not doubt but he had
been more zealous for it than any of us now are; or, if he had been
in Calvin's stead, I make no question he had done in this business
as Calvin did. So that we ought to impute it rather to the times and
places in which they lived, than to the difference of their spirits,
that Luther's zeal was wholly spent upon the doctrine of free grace.
Calvin's zeal did also extend itself to discipline, about which
Luther was unwilling to make any business at all. But for further
satisfaction to truly tender consciences, and that they may not fear
we are leading them back again to Egypt, I desire that these
particular differences between the prelatical conformity and the
presbyterial uniformity, according to the covenant, may be well
observed.

1. They did, after the heathenish and popish manner, affect
ceremonies, and a pompous external splendour and respectability, and
made the kingdom of God come with observation.[A] We desire to
retain only the ancient apostolical simplicity and singleness, and,
we conceive, the fewer ceremonies the better, knowing that the minds
of people are thereby inveigled and distracted from the spiritual
and inward duties.

2. Much of the prelatical conformity consisted in such things as
were in themselves, and in their own nature, unlawful and contrary
to the word. Show us the like in any part of our uniformity, then
let that thing never more be heard of. Uniformity in any thing which
is unlawful is a great aggravation of the sin.

3. They conformed to the Papists, we to the example of the best
reformed churches, which differeth as much from their way, as she
that is dressed like other honest women differeth from her that is
dressed like a whore.

4. The prelatical conformity was, for the most part, made up of
sacred ceremonies, which had been grossly and notoriously abused
either to idolatry or superstition, and therefore being things of no
necessary use, ought not to have been continued, but abolished, as
the brazen serpent was by Hezekiah. But in our uniformity now
excepted against, I know no such thing (and I am confident no man
can give instance of any such thing in it) as a sacred religious
rite or thing, which hath neither from Scripture nor nature any
necessary use, and hath been notoriously abused to idolatry or
superstition: if any such thing can be found, I shall confess it
ought not to be continued.

5. They imposed upon others, and practised themselves, ceremonies
(acknowledged by themselves to be in their own nature not merely
indifferent, but looked upon by many thousands of godly people as
unlawful and contrary to the word) to the great scandal and offence
of their brethren. Our principle is, that things indifferent ought
not to be practised with the scandal and offence of the godly.

6. Their way was destructive to true Christian liberty both of
conscience and practice, compelling the practice, and conscience
itself, by the mere will and authority of the law-makers. Obedite
praepositis was the great argument with them to satisfy consciences:
Sic volo, sit jubeo, sic pro ratione voluntas. We say that no canons
nor constitutions of the church can bind the conscience nisi per et
propter verbum Dei, i.e., except in so far as they are grounded upon
and warrantable by the word of God, at least by consequence, and by
the general rules thereof; and that canons concerning things
indifferent bind not extra casum scandali et contemptus, i.e., when
they may be omitted without giving scandal, or showing any contempt
of the ecclesiastical authority.

7. The prelatical ordinances were "after the commandments and
doctrines of men," as the Apostle speaks, Col. ii. 22. Compare Matt.
xv. 9, "But in vain do they worship me, teaching, for doctrines, the
commandments of men." Where doctrines may fitly express the nature
of significant mysterious ceremonies, such as was the Pharisaical
washing of hands, cups, tables, &c., to teach and signify holiness.
All sacred significant ceremonies of man's devising we condemn as an
addition to the word of God, which is forbidden no less than a
diminution from it. Let many of those who object against our
uniformity, examine whether their own way hath not somewhat in it
which is a sacred significant ceremony of human invention, and
without the word; for instance, the anointing of the sick in these
days when the miracle is ceased, the church covenant, &c. For our
part, except it be a circumstance such as belongeth to the decency
and order which ought to appear in all human societies and actions,
whether civil or sacred, we hold that the church hath not power to
determine or enjoin anything belonging to religion; and even of
these circumstances we say, that although they be so numerous and so
various that all circumstances belonging to all times and places
could not be particularly determined in Scripture, yet the church
ought to order them so, and hath no power to order them otherwise,
as may best agree with the general rules of the word. Now, setting
aside the circumstantials, there is not any substantial part of the
uniformity according to the covenant which is not either expressly
grounded upon the word of God, or by necessary consequence drawn
from it, and so no commandment of men, but of God.

Other differences I might add, but these may abundantly suffice to
show that the prelatical conformity and the presbyterian uniformity
are no less contrary one to another than darkness and light, black
and white, bitter and sweet, bad and good.

And now having thus cleared the true nature and notion of
uniformity-that it is altogether another thing from that which its
opposers apprehend it to be-the work of arguing for it may be the
shorter and easier. Mr Dell, in his discourse against uniformity,
argueth against it, both from nature and from Scripture. I confess
if one will transire de genere in genus, as he doth, it is easy to
find a disconformity between one thing and another, either in the
works of creation or in the things recorded in Scripture. But if one
will look after uniformity in uno et eodem genere, in one and the
same kind of things (which is the uniformity we plead for), then
both nature and Scripture giveth us precedents not against
uniformity, but for it. It is a maxim in natural philosophy, that
motus caeli est semper uniformis velocitate -- the heavens do not
move sometime more slowly, sometime more swiftly, but ever
uniformly. God himself tells us of the sweet influences of Pleiades,
of the bands of Orion, of the bringing forth of Mazzaroth in his
season, and of the other ordinances of heaven, which all the power
on earth cannot alter nor put out of course, Job xxxviii. 31-33; of
the sea which is shut up within the decreed place, and within the
doors and bars which it cannot pass, ver. 10,11; and generally, all
the great works which God doth there discourse of, each of them in
its own kind is uniform to itself: so likewise, Psal. civ. Hath not
God said, that "while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest,
and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall
not cease"? Gen. viii. 22. If there were not an uniformity in
nature, how could fair weather be known by a red sky in the evening,
or foul weather by a red and lowring sky in the morning? Matt. xvi.
2,3. If there be not an uniformity in nature, why saith Solomon,
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which
is done, is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing
under the sun"? Eccl. i. 9. Is it not an uniformity in nature that
"the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the
turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their
coming"? Jer. viii. 7. Is not that an uniformity in nature, John iv.
35, "There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest"? As the
Apostle saith of the members of the body which we think to be less
honourable, "upon these we bestow more abundant honour," 1 Cor. xii.
23; so I may say of those things in nature which may perhaps seem to
have least uniformity in them (such as the waxing and waning of the
moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, and the like), even in
these a very great uniformity may be observed.

As for Scripture precedents, there was in the Old Testament a
marvellously great uniformity both in the substantials and rituals
of the worship and service of God. For instance, Num. ix. 3, it is
said of the passover, "Ye shall keep it in his appointed season:
according to all the rites of it, and according to all the
ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it." Exod. xii. 49, "One law shall
be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth
among you." Another instance see in the sacrifices, first seven
chapters of Leviticus. Another instance, Acts xv. 21, "For Moses of
old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the
synagogues every Sabbath-day." A fourth instance, in the courses and
services of the priests and Levites, 1 Chron. xxiii. 26; Luke i.
8,9. The like in other instances.

Of the church of the New Testament it was prophesied, that God would
give them one way as well as one heart, Jer. xxxii. 39; that there
shall not only be one Lord, but his name one, Zech. xiv. 9. We are
exhorted to walk by the same rule, so far as we have attained; that
is, to study uniformity, not diversity, in those things which are
agreed upon to be good and right, Phil. iii. 16. Doth not the
Apostle plainly intimate and commend an uniformity in the worship of
God, 1 Cor. xiv. 27, "If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it
be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one
interpret;" ver. 33, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of
peace, as in all churches of the saints;" ver. 40, "Let all things
be done decently, and in order"? He limiteth the prophets to that
same number of two or three, even as he limiteth those that had the
gift of tongues, ver. 29. And was it not a great uniformity, that he
would have every man who prayed or prophesied to have his head
uncovered, and every woman covered, 1 Cor. xi.? Doth not the same
Apostle, besides the doctrine of faith and practical duties of a
Christian life, deliver several canons to be observed in the
ordination and admission of elders and deacons, concerning widows,
concerning accusations, admonitions, censures, and other things
belonging to church policy, as appeareth especially from the
epistles to Timothy and Titus? And, 1 Cor. xvi. 1,2, he will have an
uniformity between the churches of Galatia and of Corinth in the
very day of putting forth their charity, "Now, concerning the
collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of
Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, let every
one of you lay by him in store," &c. In the ancient church, although
there was not an uniformity in all particulars among all the
churches,-for instance, in the point of fasting, some fasting on the
Sabbath, some not; some taking the Lord's supper fasting, some after
meals (which differences in fasting gave occasion to the old rule,
Dissonantia jejunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei); although,
likewise, there was a great difference between the custom of one
church and another in the time and manner of celebrating the Lord's
supper, and in other particulars, as Augustine, Socrates, and the
author of the Tripartite history record unto us,-yet the Centurists,
and other ecclesiastical historians, show us in every century a
great uniformity in those ancient times, even in very many things
belonging to church government and form of worship. Neither can any
man doubt of the great uniformity in the ancient church. Who is a
stranger to the canons of the ancient councils? And although
Irenaeus and others justly blamed Victor, bishop of Rome, for
excommunicating the churches of Asia, and the Quartodecimans,
because of their disconformity in keeping of Easter, yet the
endeavouring of the nearest uniformity in that particular was so far
from being blamed, that it was one cause (though neither the sole
nor principal) of the calling and convening of the Council of Nice;
which council did not have it arbitrary to every one to follow their
own opinion concerning Easter, but by their canon determined that it
should not be kept upon the same day with the Jews, that is, upon
the fourteenth day of the month.

End note:

[A] Mentes humanae mirifice capiuntur et fascinantur ceremonialium
splendore et pompa. Hospin. Epist. ante lib. de Orig. Monach.
From: George Gillespie's Works, volume 2, being Chapter 15, "A
Treatise of Miscellany Questions," pp. 82-85.)

 

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