« PreviousContinue »
Passing by examples between, and not shutting wilfully our eyes, we may see the like story brought to pass in our own land. This king, more than any before him, except perhaps his father, from his first entrance to the crown, harbouring in his mind a strange fear and suspicion of men most religious, and their doctrine, which in his own language he here acknowledges, terming it "the seditious exorbitancy" of ministers' tongues, and doubting "lest they," as he not Christianly express it, "should with the keys of heaven let out peace and loyalty from the people's hearts." Though they never preached or attempted aught that might justly raise in him such thoughts, he could not rest, or think himself secure, so long as they remained in any of his three kingdoms unrooted
But outwardly professing the same religion with them, he could not presently use violence as Pharaoh did; and that course had with others before but ill succeeded. He chooses therefore a more mystical way, a newer method of antichristain fraud, to the church more dangerous; and, like to Balak the son of Zippor, against a nation of prophets thinks it best to hire other esteemed prophets, and to undermine and wear out the true church by a false ecclesiastical policy. To this drift he found the government of bishops most serviceable; an order in the church, as by men first corrupted, so mutually corrupting them who receive it, both in judgment and manners. He, by conferring bishoprics and great livings on whom he thought most pliant to his will, against the known canons and universal practice of the ancient church, whereby those elections were the people's right, sought, as he confesses to have "greatest influence upon churchmen.' They on the other side finding themselves in a high dignity, neither founded by scripture, nor allowed by reformation, nor supported by any spiritual gift or grace of their own, knew it their best course to have dependence only upon him; and wrought his fancy by degrees to that degenerate and unkingly persuasion of "No bishop, no king." Whenas on the contrary all prelates in their own subile sense are of another mind; according to that of Pius IV., remembered in the history of Trent, that bishops then grow to be most vigorous and potent, when princes happen to be most weak and impotent. Thus when both interest of tyranny and episcopacy were
incorporate into each other, the king, whose principal safety and establishment consisted in the righteous execution of his civil power, and not in bishops and their wicked counsels, fatally driven on, set himself to the extirpating of those men whose doctrine and desire of church-discipline he so feared would be the undoing of his monarchy. And because no temporal law could touch the innocence of their lives, he begins with the persecution of their consciences, laying scandals before them; and makes that the argument to inflict his unjust penalties both on their bodies and estates. In this war against the church, if he had sped so, as other haughty monarchs whom God heretofore hath hardened to the like enterprise, we ought to look up with praises and thanksgiving to the Author of our deliverance, to whom victory and power, majesty, honour, and dominion belong for ever.
In the meanwhile, from his own words we may perceive easily that the special motives which he had to endear and deprave his judgment to the favouring and utmost defending of episcopacy, are such as here we represent them; and how unwillingly, and with what mental reservation, he condescended against his interest to remove it out of the peer's house, hath been shewn already. The reasons, which, he affirms, wrought so much upon his judgment, shall be so far answered as they be urged.
Scripture he reports, but distinctly produces none; and next the "constant practice of all Christian churches, till of late years tumult, faction, pride, and covetousness invented new models under the title of Christ's government." Could any papist have spoken more scandalously against all refor mation? Well may the parliament and best affected people not now be troubled at his calumnies and reproaches, since he binds them in the same bundle with all other the reformed churches; who also may now further see, besides their own bitter experience, what a cordial and well-meaning helper they had of him abroad, and how true to the protestant cause.
As for histories to prove bishops, the Bible,-if we mean not to run into errors, vanities, and uncertainties,―must be our only history. Which informs us that the apostles were not properly bishops; next, that bishops were not successors of apostles, in the function of apostleship. And that if they were apostles, they could not be precisely bishops;
if bishops, they could not be apostles; this being universal, extraordinary, and immediate from God; that being an ordinary, fixed, particular charge, the continual inspection over a certain flock. And although an ignorance and deviation of the ancient churches afterward may with as much reason and charity be supposed as sudden in point of prelacy, as in other manifest corruptions, yet that "no example since the first age for fifteen hundred years can be produced of any settled church, wherein were many ministers and congregations, which had not some bishops above them;" the ecclesiastical story, to which he appeals for want of scripture, proves clearly to be a false and over-confident assertion.
Sozomenus, who above twelve hundred years ago, in his seventh book, relates from his own knowledge, that in the churches of Cyprus and Arabia (places near to Jerusalem, and with the first frequented by apostles) they had bishops in every village; and what could those be more than presbyters? The like he tells of other nations; and that episcopal churches in those days did not condemn them. I add, that many Western churches, eminent for their faith and good works, and settled above four hundred years ago in France, in Piedmont and Bohemia, have both taught and practised the same doctrine, and not admitted of episcopacy among them. And if we may believe what the papists themselves have written of these churches, which they call Waldenses, I find it in a book written almost four hundred years since, and set forth in the Bohemian history, that those churches in Piedmont have held the same doctrine and government since the time that Constantine with his mischievous donations poisoned Sylvester and the whole church.
Others affirm they have so continued there since the apostles; and Theodorus Belvederensis in his relation of them confesseth, that those heresies, as he names them, were from the first times of Christianity in that place. For the rest I refer me to that famous testimony of Jerome, who upon that very place which he cites here, the Epistle to Titus, declares openly that bishop and presbyter were one and the same thing, till by the instigation of Satan, partialities grew up in the church, and that bishops, rather by custom than any ordainment of Christ, were exalted above presbyters; whose interpretation we trust shall be received before this intricate
stuff tattled here of Timothy and Titus, and I know not whom their successors, far beyond court-element, and as far beneath true edification. These are his "fair grounds both from scripture canons and ecclesiastical examples;" how undivinelike written, and how like a worldly gospeller that understands nothing of these matters, posterity no doubt will be able to judge; and will but little regard what he calls apostolical, who in his letter to the pope calls apostolical the Roman religion.
Nor let him think to plead, that therefore "it was not policy of state," or obstinacy in him which upheld episcopacy, because the injuries and losses which he sustained by so doing were to him " more considerable than episcopacy itself;" for all this might Pharaoh have had to say in his excuse of detaining the Israelites, that his own and his kingdom's safety, so much endangered by his denial, was to him more dear than all their building labours could be worth to Egypt. But whom God hardens, them also he blinds.
He endeavours to make good episcopacy not only in "religion, but from the nature of all civil government, where parity breeds confusion and faction." But of faction and
confusion, to take no other than his own testimony, where hath more been ever bred than under the imparity of his own monarchical government? of which to make at this time longer dispute, and from civil constitutions and human conceits to debate and question the convenience of divine ordinations, is neither wisdom nor sobriety. And to confound Mosaic priesthood with evangelic presbytery against express institution, is as far from warrantable. As little to the purpose is it, that we should stand polling the reformed churches, whether they equalize in number " those of his three kingdoms;" of whom so lately the far greater part,-what they have long desired to do, have now quite thrown off episcopacy.
Neither may we count it the language or religion of a protestant, so to vilify the best reformed churches (for none of them but Lutherans retain bishops) as to fear more the scandalizing of papists, because more numerous, than of our protestant brethren, because a handful. It will not be worth the while to say what "schismatics or heretics" have had no bishops: yet, lest he should be taken for a great reader, he who prompted him, if he were a doctor, might have remembered the forementioned place in Sozomenus; which affirms,
that besides the Cyprians and Arabians, who were counted orthodoxal, the Novatians also, and Montanists in Phrygia, had no other bishops than such as were in every village. And what presbyter hath a narrower diocess? As for the Aërians, we know of no heretical opinion justly fathered upon them, but that they held bishops and presbyters to be the same. Which he in this place not obscurely seems to hold a heresy in all the reformed churches; with whom why the church of England desired conformity, he can find no reason, with all his "charity, but the coming in of the Scots' army;" such a high esteem he had of the English!
He tempts the clergy to return back again to bishops, for the fear of "tenuity and contempt," and the assurance of better "thriving under the favour of princes;" against which temptations if the clergy cannot arm themselves with their own spiritual armour, they are indeed as " poor a carcass" as he terms them. Of secular honours and great revenues added to the dignity of prelates, since the subject of that question is now removed, we need not spend time: but this perhaps will never be unseasonable to bear in mind out of Chrysostom, that when ministers came to have lands, houses, farms, coaches, horses, and the like lumber, then religion brought forth riches in the church, and the daughter devoured the mother.
But if his judgment in episcopacy may be judged by the goodly choice he made of bishops, we need not much amuse ourselves with the consideration of those evils, which by his foretelling, will "necessarily follow" their pulling down, until he prove that the apostles, having no certain diocess or appointed place of residence, were properly "bishops over those presbyters whom they ordained, or churches they planted;" wherein ofttimes their labours were both joint and promiscuous; or that the apostolic power must "necessarily descend to bishops, the use and end" of either function being so different And how the church hath flourished under episcopacy, let the multitude of their ancient and gross errors testify, and the words of some learnedest and most zealous bishops among them; Nazianzen in a devout passion, wishing prelacy had never been: Bazil terming them the slaves of slaves: Saint Martin, the enemies of saints; and confessing that after he was made a bishop, he found much of that grace decay in him which he had before.