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good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you, &c.''
Now, suppose a question should arise about any doctrine, or any rite, in the Church of England supposing some were anxious to alter the Prayer Book--would " the whole Church” be consulted ? would the Saints in any way be questioned as to their opinion or wishes ? would not the matter be determined in the Palace at Lambeth ? and, having been so determined, would it not pass into a command by the sign manual of the King, as Supreme Head of the Church ? In vain, therefore, do I seek for the smallest trace of the Church of England in the Scriptures : excepting the word “Bishop,” excepting those six letters, I cannot, by anxious investigation, discover any thing that bears the smallest resemblance to anything in the Established Church ; nay, I know not how the ingenuity of man could well have invented a system more unlike the Church Government discoverable in the Acts of the Apostles and in their Epistles, than that fabric of Prelacy which is now established in England.
I have but one more passage to quote from Scripture relating to the Church of Christ. It is from the 18th of Matthew :-“If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother : but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two
more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established; and if he shall neglect to hear them, TELL IT UNTO THE CHURCH ; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” (15--17.) Any one on reading this passage, who had not a theory to defend, or a party to support, would naturally determine, if asked, that the Church here mentioned meant the body of believers, who, having received a believer into their body, were the fit persons to judge of his conduct, and to rebuke him. This is so evident, that nothing but dishonesty could well dare to deny it; and yet if this interpretation be allowed, it is fatal to the diocesan Establishment, for then it would follow that the believers, as a body, had the power of excommunication; and that Bishops' and Chancellors' Courts, who now usurp this right, are an invention of Popery,--that our Lord says nothing of Prelates and their power; and that the authority of rebuke and excision is vested solely with the whole company of the faithful.
As this conclusion has been foreseen, some persons have endeavoured to give any meaning to our Lord's words but that which is the true one. Thus some say
that the command tell it unto the Church," means," tell it unto the Diocesan Bishop,”_"tell it to the Archbishop,”—“ tell it to the Archdeacon,”—“ tell it to the Proctors of the Eccle. siastical Court,"_" tell it to the Pope,”-tell it,
in short, to any person or persons, excepting those whom our Lord would indicate. Dr. Owen appears to me to have spoken well on this passage:“ There have been so many contests about the sense of these words, and the interpretation of them; so many reasons and opposite opinions about them, and those debated in such long and operose discourses, that some would take an argument from thence, that nothing can be directly proved from them, nor any certain account of the state and duty of the Church be thence collected. But nothing can be insinuated more false and absurd, nor which more directly tendeth to the overthrow of the whole authority of the Scripture : for if when men are seduced by their interests, or otherwise, to multiply false expositions of any place of Scripture, and to contend earnestly about them, making them thereby lose unto us their instructive power and certain determination of truth, we should quickly have no bottom or foundation for our faith in the most important articles of religion, nor could have so at this day. But all the various pretences of men, some whereof would have the Pope, others a general council, some the civil magistrates, some the Jewish Synagogue, some company of arbitrators, are nothing but so many instances of what interest, prejudice, corrupt lusts, ambitious designs, with a dislike of the truth, will bring forward. To me it seems strange that any impartial man, reading this context, can take the
Church in this place in any other sense but for such a society, as whereunto an offending and offended brother or disciple of Christ might and ought to belong, to the body whereof they might address themselves for relief and remedy, or the removal of offences, by virtue of the authority and appointment of Jesus Christ.”
You will, therefore, observe that, in this letter, I confine my objections generally to the misapplication of Church authority. In the Establishment the authority is with the King, or the Parliament, or the Bishops : in the Scriptures, the whole multitude of believers are called on to deliberate and to decide; and this appears to me so plain, that I despair of ever seeing those arguments whereby the true Church of England shall be proved to be the Church wherein the faith was first nursed,
I am, &c.
LET TER XX.
FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.
MY DEAR UNCLE,
AFTER I had dispatched my last letter to you, I found I had omitted some things connected with the subject of Church authority, which are in my apprehension of too much importance to be passed over altogether; I must, therefore, send you the gleanings of my observations in this sheet; and though I fear you must think my letters very long and tedious, yet believe me I find it difficult to give you my objections in the compass of a letter, so much have I to say on these topics.
In the New Testament the admonitions of the Holy Spirit are all directed to believers, to the general body of the faithful, not to diocesan Bishops or Archdeacons, not to Archbishops or their officers. This being so, it follows of a certainty that the prelatical authority, or, in other words, that power whereby one man rules some hundred Churches with absolute sway, being styled their “ Lord,” and treated as their master, oid not then exist.