Imprinted, M.DC.XLIV.

A Modest Offer of some meet Considerati­ons, Tendered to the Learned Prolo­cutor, and to the rest of the Assembly of Divines met at VVestminster.

LEarned and Reverend Brethren; If you be now (as is supposed) upon the ad­vise of a Forme of Church-Govern­ment; I beseech you, in the feare of God, setting aside all prejudice, to take into your sad thoughts these considera­tions following.

It is (I perceive) an usuall Prayer of many Preachers well affected to your Assembly, that God would now (af­ter 1600 yeares universall practice of the whole Church of Christ, upon earth) shew you the patterne in the mount; as if, after so long and perfect inquisitions, there could be any new discoveries of the forme that was, or should be; wherein, I suppose their well-meaning is not a little injurious both to the knowne truth, and to you: for, what revelations can we expect thus late? or what monuments of either Scripture, or history can now be hoped to be brought to light, which your eyes have not seene, and former ages have not inquired into? [Page 2] Surely, ye well know, there can be but these three forms of Church-government, possibly devised; Either by Bi­shops, or by Presbyteries, or by the multitude of several and select congregations: Every of which, have both their abettors, and thei [...] adversaries; The first hath all times, and places, since the dayes of the blessed Apostles, till this age, to stand for it; The second hath the late persecuted, reformed Church of France, (which never de­sired, nor meant to make their necessitated forme, a pat­terne for others) the Netherlands, and Scotland, for prece­dents of it; The third hath the Ministers of New-England, and their Associates, commonly styled by the name of INDEPENDENTS, vehemently contending for it: The adversaries of every of these are as well known, as their friends; and the pleas, which every of them makes for it selfe, are as well known as either.

I suppose it is yet res integra; else, I should lay my finger upon my lips; Both the Houses of Parliament, your Assembly, and the whole Kingdome, stand yet free, and unengaged to any part: For the National Co­venant (as it is interpreted by some of your selves, and those other Divines whose allowed Sermons have com­mented upon it) intends not to abjure, and disclaime Epi­scopacie, as such; but only bends against the whole pre­sent fabrick of Government, as it is built on these Arches, these Pedestalls; so as if it be taken asunder from those (some of them, not necessary) appendances, you are no way forstalled in your judgement against it; nor any o­ther, that hath lift up his hand in this solemne Covenant.

That I may not urge the Latine Translation of the same Covenant, printed and sent abroad to the Low-Countries and France, and other Churches, which ran onely upon tyrannicum regimen Episcoporum; that onely [Page 3] the Tyrannicall Government of the Prelates, not their fatherly and brotherly preeminence, is there abjured.

Your wisdomes know well how to distinguish be­twixt a Calling, and the abuses of the execution thereof; betwixt the maine substance of a Calling, and the cir­cumstantiall and separable appurtenances thereunto; from which it may be devested, and yet stand intire.

I should be a flatterer of the times past (which is not often seene) if I should take upon me to justifie, or ap­prove of all the carriages of some that have been entrust­ed with the Keyes of Ecclesiasticall Government; or to blanch over the Corruptions of Consistoriall Officers; in both these, there was fault enough, to ground both a complaint, and Reformation; and, may that man never prosper, that desires not an happy Reformation of what ever hath been, or is amisse in the Church of God; But this I offer to your serious consideration, whether Epi­scopacie, stripped of all circumstances that may be justly excepted against, and reduced to the Primitive estate, may not be thought a forme, both better in it selfe, and more fit for this Kingdome and Church, then either of the other.

How ancient it is, I need not appeale to any but your selves, who doe well know, that there was never yet any History of the Church, wherein there was not full men­tion made of Bishops, as the onely Governours thereof; neither can any learned adversary deny, that they have continued, with the generall allowance of Gods Church, from the very Apostolike times, untill this present age. And whether it can be safe, and, lye not open to much scandall, to exchange so ancient an institution hitherto perpetuated to the Church, for a new, where no neces­sity inforces us, judge ye.

[Page 4]How universall it is, being the onely received govern­ment of all the Christian Churches over the face of the whole earth, (excepting onely this small spot of our neighbourhood) ye know as well, as the undoubted re­lation of the Christianographie can tell you: and how un­safe it may be, to depart from the forme of all the Chur­ches, that professe the name of Christ, (who doe all sub­mit themselves to Bishops, or Superintendents, except the fore-excepted) I leave to your grave judgement.

Besides, how Episcopacie is, and hath long been set­led in this Kingdome, and (as it were) incorporated into it; and enwoven into the municipall Laws of this Land, so as that it cannot be utterly removed, without much alteration in the whole body of our Lawes; is a matter well worthy of not the least consideration.

But, all these would yet seeme light upon the Balance, if there were not an intrinsecall worth in the institution it selfe, that might sway with you: The Covenant bindes to the indeavour of such a Government, as is according to the Word of God, and the example of the best Re­formed Churches. And now, let me appeale to your owne hearts, and the hearts of all judicious and unpreju­dicate Readers, whether the rules of Church-Govern­ment, laid forth in the Epistles to Timothie and Titus, doe not suppose, and import that very proper jurisdiction, which is claimed by Episcopacie at this day: Which, if it were not intended to be left as a perfect pattern to suc­cession; the whole Church of Christ should have been left in the dark, without any direction for the succeeding administration thereof: Those charges are plainly given, not to many, but to one; and doe most manifestly im­ply not a parity, but preeminence and power.

And if the example of the best Churches must carry [Page 5] it: What Church could be more pure, and more fit for our imitation, then the Primitive? and that part of it which immediately followed the Apostles of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ? And doe not you full wel know, that our Histories, and unquestionable Authors name the men, whom those Apostles, by imposition of hands, or­dained to this function? Do not Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertul­lian, Polycrates, Egesippus, Clemens, Eusebius, Ierome instance in those persons, who succeeded each other in those first Sees? If you tell me of the difference betwixt the Epi­scopacie of those first Ages of the Church, and that of the present times; I doe willingly yeeld it, but, withall, I must adde, that it is not in any thing essentiall to the calling, but in matters outward, and meerly adventitious; the abatement whereof (if it shall be found needfull) di­minisheth nothing from the substance of that holy insti­tution; What can be more expresse, then, in the ancient­est of them, the blessed Martyr, Ignatius, the mention of the three distinct degrees of Bishops, Presbyters, Dea­cons; encharged with their severall duties which were yet never intermitted, and let fall to this present day; How frequently, and vehemently doth he in his genuine Epistles (twice in that to the Ephesians) call for due sub­jection to the Bishop and the Presbyterie? How distinct­ly doth he in his Epistle to the Magnesians, name their Bishop, Dama; and their Presbyters, Bassus, Apollonius, Stephanus? How doth he in his Epistle Ad Trallianos set forth the Bishop [...], and the Presby­terie, [...], &c. And if any man shall be so un­justly scrupulous, as to call into question the credit of this gracious Author, (reserved, no doubt, by a speciall pro­vidence, for the conviction of the schismes of these last times) therein out-doing Vedelius himselfe, (who stoutly [Page 6] asserteth some of these Epistles, whiles he rejects others as suppositious) let him cast his eyes upon the no lesse famous, and holy Martyr, and Bishop, Polycarpus; who (as Irenaeus, Iren. advers. Haeres. l. 3. c. 3. an unquestionable Author tels us, one, whose eyes beheld that Saint) did not onely converse with those that had seene Christ, but also was by the Apostles con­stituted in Asia, Bishop of the Church of Smyrna. Let him, if he can, deny Cyprian the holy Martyr and Bishop of Carthage, writing familiarly to the Presbyters, and Deacons there; sometimes gravely reproving them; sometimes fatherly admonishing them of their duties; in divers of his Epistles. Let him deny, that his contem­poranye Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, acknowledgeth 46. Presbyters committed by the Catholique Church, to his charge: Shortly, let him, if he stick at this truth, deny that there was any Christian Church of old, any Historie.

All which duly considered, I would faine know what reason can be shewed, why that ancient, yea first govern­ment by the Bishop and his Presbyterie, received, and with all good approbation and successe, used in the Primitive Church, and derived (though not without some faulty omissions, and intertextures, which may ea­sily be remedied) untill this present day, should not rather take place; then a government lately, and occasi­onally raised up in the Church, for the necessity, or con­venience of some speciall places, and persons; without any intention of an universall rule and prescription.

If you shall say that this Government by Bishops hath been found, by sad experience, hitherto, a block in the way of perfect Reformation, destructive to the power of Godlinesse, and pure Administration of the Ordinances of Christ; give me leave to answer; That, first, I feare, [Page 7] the Independent part, will be apt to say no lesse of the Presbyterian; boldly pressing their defects, both in constitution, and practice; and publiquely averring, the exquisitely-reformed way to lye betwixt the Epi­scopall, and Calvinian, which they have had the hap­pinesse to light upon; neither want there, those, who, upon challenge of further illumination, taxe those Semi-separists, as comming far too short of that per­fection of Reformation, which themselves have at­tained.

Secondly, I must, in the feare of God, beseech you here to make use of that necessary distinction, betwixt Callings, and Persons; for it oftentimes fals out, that the Calling unjustly suffers for that, whereof onely the Person is guilty; Let the Calling be never so holy, & the rules of Administration never so wise, and perfect; yet if the person, in whose trust they are, be either neg­ligent, or corrupt, or impotent in ordering his passions and carriage, it cannot be but all things must goe a­misse, and much disorder and confusion must needs follow to the Church of God; and if such hath been the case in some late times, why should the blame be laid upon the Calling, which both is innocent, and might have been better improved? Give me a Bishop (such there have been, and such there are, let D. Potter the late Bishop of Carlile, for instance, be one) that is truly conscionable, pious, painfull, zealous in promo­ting the glory of God, ready to encourage all faith­full Preachers, and to censure and correct the lazie, and scandalous; carefull of the due imposition of his hands; meek and unblameable in all his carriage; and now tell me how the government of such an one (re­gulated [Page 8] by the holy and wholsome Lawes of our Church) can be said to be obstructive to the successe of the Gospel, or to destroy the power of Godlines? certainly, if all be not such, the fault is in the Men; their Calling doth not onely admit of, but incites them to all vertue and goodnesse; whereof if they be defe­ctive, let the Person take off the blame from the Fun­ction.

Neither doubt I to affirme, that it may well be made good, that the perfectest Reformation, which the Church of God can be capable of, here upon earth, may consist with Episcopacie, so regulated, as it may be, if it please the High Court of Parliament to pitch upon that course: And indeed how can it be con­ceived, that the carefull inspection of one constant, pru­dent, and vigilant overseer, super-added to a grave and judicious Presbyterie, should be any hindrance to the progresse of godlinesse? especially, when he is so li­mited by the bounds of good lawes and constitutions, that he cannot run out, without the danger of a just censure; There are already many excellent rules of Government, if they were awaked, and actuated by full authority; and, where there is any deficiency, more might be easily added to make the body of Church-lawes complete.

To give a taste of what may be effected, with very little or no alteration of one Forme of Government to another.

I remember one of our Brethren of Scotland, in a Discourse tending to the advancing of the Presbyteri­an way, tells us, that Dr. Montague, the late worthy Bishop of Winchester, asked King James of blessed me­mory, [Page 9] (whose sweet affability the world well knew) How it came about, that there were so few heresies, and errors of doctrine, broached, and prosecuted, to the publique disturbance of the Church of Scotland? Unto which, the wise and learned King is said to have re­turned this Answer; That every Parish hath their Pa­stor, ever present with them, and watching over them; That the Pastor hath his Elders and Deacons, sorted with him; That he with them, once a week, meets at a set time and place, for the censure of manners, or what ever disorder falls out in the Parish; so as he, by this meanes, perfectly knowes his flock; and every aberration of them, either in matter of opinion, or practice: And, lest any Er­ror, or Heresie may seize upon the Pastor; they have their Presbyteries, consisting of severall Shrivalties, which meet together in the chiefe Towne or City next to them, every week also once; and have there their ex­ercise of Prophecying; after which, the Moderator of the said Meeting asks and gathers the judgements of all the said Pastors, concerning the doctrine then delivered, or, of any other doubtfull point, that is then and there pro­pounded; And if the said Presbyters be divided in their opinions, then the Question is, under an injoyned silence, put over to the next Synode, which is held twice a yeare; unto that all the Pastors of that Quarter, or Province duly resort; accompanyed with their Elders; The Modera­tor of the former Synode begins the Action; then a new Moderator is chosen for the present, or (as it seldome falls out) the last Moderator, by Voices, continued.

Any Question of doubt being proposed, is either decided by that meeting, or (if it cannot be so done) is, with charge of silence, reserved till the Nationall Synode, or [Page 10] Generall Assembly; which they hold every yeare once; Whither come not the Pastors onely, but the King him­selfe, or his Commissioners; and some of all Orders and Degrees, sufficiently authorized for the determining of any Controversie, that shall arise amongst them. Thus he. And certainly this beares the face of a very faire and laudable course, and such, as deserves the approba­tion of all the wel-willers to that discipline: But let me adde, that we either have, or may have, (in this very same state of things, with some small variation) in effect, the same Government with us; onely there wants some care and life in their execution, which might, without much difficulty, be redressed; Every pa­rish hath, or by Law ought to have their Minister ever present with them; and carefully watching over them. In stead then of their Pastor, Elders, and Deacons; we have in every Parish, the Minister, whether a Re­ctor, or Vicar; Churchwardens, Questmen, or Side­men, and Overseers for the Poore; and in places of any eminence, a Curate or Assistent to the Rector, who is a Deacon at least; These may, and ought, and, in some places, doe duly meet together, every week, on a set day, in their Vestry; and decide such diffe­rences as happen amongst them; and may well be enjoyned, to take notice of such abuses and mis-de­meanours, as are incident into their parish, for their speedy reformation, within the Verge of their owne power.

In stead of their Presbyteries, consisting of severall pastors, we have our number, and combination of mi­nisters, in the divisions of our severall Deanries; un­der which, are ranged all the Ministers within that [Page 11] circuit; Over whom the Rurall Deane (as he is cal­led) is every year chosen, by the said Ministers of that division, as their moderator, for the yeare ensuing; whose office (if it were carefully looked unto, and re­duced to the originall institution) might be of singu­lar use to Gods Church; This Deanry, or Presbytery, consisting of severall pastors, may be injoyned to meet together every moneth, or oftner (if it seeme fit) in some city or town next unto them; and may there have their exercise of prophesying, as I have known it practiced in some parts of this kingdom; and as it is earnestly wished and recommended, by that excel­lently-Learned Lord, Verulame, late Lord Chancelour of England, in his prudent Considerations: and then, and there, may indevour to decide any doubt, that may arise in their severall parishes; either concerning the doctrine of their Minister, or scruple in cases of consci­ence, and may transact any publique businesse that may concerne their whole division; But if any such matter or question should arise, as their divided opini­ons cannot fully determine; it may (under charge of silence) be put over to a more publique meeting; which is the synodall assembly of the Clergy held twice a yeare, under the moderation (hitherto) of the Archdeacon; And if there the question fayle, of a full determination, it is, or may be referred, (with like si­lence and peace) to a Diocesan Synode, which may be held every yeare once; under the presidency of the Bishop; And if yet the decision come not home, it may be referred to the determining of a Provinciall Synod, or yet higher, to a Nationall: So as in these cases of doubts, or errors, if men would not be wanting to [Page 12] themselves, nothing needs to be wanting in the state we now stand in, to the safety, and happinesse of our Church.

For matter of Ordination of Ministers; the for­mer Constitutions of our Church, have deeply en­joyned the presence, and assistance of those, who by their originall institution, are the Presbyterie of the Bishop, at, and, in, the examination, and al­lowance of the persons to be ordained; requiring also, the joynt-imposition of those hands, which attested the sufficiency of the said Examinates; not without a severe sanction of two yeares suspension, of the act of Ordaining, to passe upon any Bishop, or Suffragane, that shall be found failing in any of the particulars; The qualification of those that are to be ordained, is in our Canons already set forth, with much caution; for their age, their degrees, their abilities, the testimonie of their holy conver­sation; neither need I doubt to affirm, that he, who (besides all other circumstances of education) is a­ble to give a good account of his faith in Latine, ac­cording to the received Articles of the Church of England, and to confirme the same by sufficient testi­monies, out of the holy Scripture, may be thought competently fit, (for matter of knowledge) to enter upon the first step of Deaconship; which the wis­dome of the Church hath (according to the Apostles rule) appointed (not without a sufficient distance of time) in way of probation, to the higher order of Ministery; forbidding to give both orders at once; and requiring, that he, who is ordained Deacon, shall continue a whole yeare, at least, in that station, except, upon some weighty reasons, it shall seeme fit to the [Page 13] Bishop, to contract the time limited: And, lest there should be any subreption in this sacred busi­nesse, it is Ordered, that these Ordinations should be no other then solemne, both in respect of time and place; neither ought they to be, nor in some places are, without a publique preconization of lawfull warning affixed upon the Cathedrall Church doore, where the said Ordination shall be celebrated; and over and besides the charge, that none shall be admitted to be a Candidate of holy Orders, but he who brings sufficient testimonials of his good life and conversation, under the seale of some Colledge in Cambridge or Oxford, or of three, or foure grave Ministers, together with the subscription and testimonie of other credible per­sons, who have known his life and behaviour, by the space of three yeeres next before; it is well knowne to you, that before the Act of Ordinati­on there is publique Proclamation made to the whole Assembly, that if any man knowes any crime or impediment in any of the persons pre­sented, for which he ought not to be ordained, that hee should come forth and declare it before any hand be laid upon his head, for his full ad­mission.

Notwithstanding all which care of our deare Mother the Church of England; if it shall bee thought meet, that any further act of Tryall, shall passe upon those, which are suitors for Ordinati­on, how easily may it be ordered, that at the monethly (or, if need be, more frequent) meet­ing of the Ministers, within the same Presby­terie, [Page 14] or Deanrie; they may be appointed to make tryall of their gifts, and undergoe such fur­ther examination of their abilities, as shall bee thought requisite, ere they shall be presented, and admitted by the Bishop, and his Presbyterie to that holy function.

And whereas it is much stood upon, that it is meet the people, (whose soules must have right in him, to whose trust they are committed) should have some hand in their consent to that Pastor, by whom they must be fed; it must be said, that be­sides their devolution of their right to the patron, who, as their trustee, presents a Minister for them, it may be no prejudice at all to the power which by Law and inheritance is setled upon the patron, that the person whom his choyce pitches upon, be appointed before hand to preach, (for a triall) to that congregation to which he is so designed, and if either for his voice, or other just exceptions he be found unmeet for them, that another, more fit may be recommended by the said Patron to the place; but if through faction, or self-will, or parti­alitie, the multitude shall prove pe [...]vish, and fastidi­ous, they may, in such a case, be over-ruled by just authority.

As for matter of censures, it may not be deny­ed, that there hath been great abuse in the mana­ging of them, both upon Ecclesiasticall persons, and others: suspension of Ministers upon slight, and insufficient causes; both ab officio, and beneficio, hath been too rife in some places of later times; and the dreadfull sentence of Excommunication hath too [Page 15] frequently, and familiarly passed upon light and tri­viall matters: How happy were it, if a speedy course may be taken, for the prevention of this evil; In the conference at Hampton-Court, a motion was strongly made to this purpose, but without effect; if the wisedom of the present Parliament shall set­tle some other way for the curbing of contumati­ous offences against Church-authority, it will be an act worthy of their care and justice. In the meane time, as for this, and all other Ecclesiasticall proceedings, it may with much facility, and willing consent of all parts, be ordered, that the Bishop shal not take upon him, to inflict either this, or any o­ther important censure, without the concurrence of his Presbitery; which shall be a meanes (in all likelyhood) to prevent any inconvenience that may arise from the wonted way of Judicature.

As for the co-assession of a Lay-presbyterie, in swaying these affaires of Church-government; Ye well know how new it is; some of you might have been acquainted with the man that brought it first into any part of this Island; and what ground there is for it, either in Scripture, or antiquity, I appeale to your judgement: Surely, the late lear­ned Author of the Counsaile for the reforming the Church of England, (although otherwise a vehement assertor of the French Discipline) inge­nuously confesseth, that however those Prote­stants which live under Popish Governours, have done wisely, in deputing some choise men, sele­cted out of their congregations, whom they call Elders, to share with their pastors, in the care [Page 16] and management of Ecclesiasticall affaires; Yet, those Protestant Churches which live under the government of Protestant Princes, may with the safety of those respects, which mutually intercede betwixt Pastors and people, forbeare any such de­putation: for as much, as the supreme Magistrate, transfers (for the most part) to himselfe, that, which is the wonted charge of those deputed El­ders; concluding, that those men, do meerely lose their labour, who so busily indevour on the one side, to disprove the antiquity of the Lay-Elder­ship; and, on the other, by weak proofes to main­taine, (cleane contrary to the minde of the Apo­stle) that the text of Saint Paul (1 Tim. 5.17.) is to be understood of Pastors, and Lay-Elders; Thus he; with what faire probability, I leave to your judgment.

Neither is it any intention of mine to meddle with any piece of that government, which obtain­eth in other the Churches of God; but onely, to contribute my poor opinion, concerning the now-to-be-setled affaires of our own.

What shall I need to suggest unto you the dan­gerous under-workings of other Sects? secretly indevouring to spring their hidden mines to the overthrow both of the one government, and the other; whereof, without speedy remedy, perhaps it will be too late to complaine; no doubt, the wis­dom, and authority of that great Senate (whom ye also serve to advise) will forthwith interpose it self to the prevention of those mischiefes, which the variety of these heresies, and sects (though some of [Page 17] them cloaked with the fayrest pretences) threaten to this poor Church: It is no boot for me to tel you, that the lesse disunion there is, the more ground of safety; and that where the holy purposes of Re­formation may be effected, with the least change, there must needs be the most hope of accor­dance.

The rest to the wise application of the power­full and judicious; It is enough for me to have thus boldly shot my bolt amongst you; and to have thus freely discovered my honest, and well meant thoughts to so able judgments; What I want in my poor indevours shall be supplyed with my prayers, that God would be pleased to com­pose all our miserable distractions, and to put an happy issue, to the long and perilous agitations of this wofully tottering and bleeding Church and Kingdome; Which the good God of heaven vouchsafe to grant for his great mercies sake, and for the sake of the dear Sonne of his love Jesus Christ, the Just. Amen.

Septemb. 12. 1644.

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