A Breif Enquiry INTO THE Ground, Authority, and Rights, OF Ecclesiastical Synods; Upon the Principles of SCRIPTURE, AND Right Reason: Occasion'd by a Late BOOK, INTITUL'D, Municipium Ecclesiasticum: &c.

LONDON, Printed by M. B. for Richard Sare, at Gray's-Inn-Gate, in Holbourn. 1699.


THE Reverend Dr. Wake, in his Book Intitul'd, The Au­thority of Christian Princes over their Ecclesiastical Synods asserted, &c. has chiefly argued from matters of Fact, in those Instances of Power and Jurisdiction, which have, all along, been claimed and exercised by Christian Emperours and Kings (except only where the unjust En­croachments of the Papacy, had pre­vailed against the Lawful Right of [Page]the Civil Magistrate) and which, by the Laws of England, are actually annexed to the Imperial Crown of the Realm. Now if the Historical account, which he has given of this matter, be defective; let it be shewn either that his Quotations are false, or else insufficient. But if nei­ther of these can be done, I won­der how any one, who has subscrib'd to the Second Canon of our Church, can deny The King's Majesty to have the same Authority, in Causes Ecclesi­astical, as the Doctor has proved the Christian Emperours to have had, in the Primitive Church: But much more do I admire, that such a man should venture to impeach in any part the Regal Supremacy, in the said Causes Restored to the Crown; and by the Laws of the Realm therein established.

But supposing a man to pay no deference to the Authority of our Church, nor yet to the Opinions of our most learned Divines; many of which the Doctor has Collected in his Appeal to all true members of the Church of England, in the behalf of the Kings Ecclesiastical Suprema­cy; there is one plausible Objection that may be made against his Book; and is earnestly urged by the Name­less Author of the Municipium Ec­clesiasticum, Chap. x. viz. That to ar­gue a right in any one, from bare Matter of Fact alone, is by no means a sufficient or conclusive way of Reasoning: And therefore to take off this prejudice, I think it would be a very necessary and useful work, to give a clear and satisfactory ac­count, of the Ground, Authority and [Page] Rights of Ecclesiastical Synods, from the Law of God, and Reason of things; Whereby it might plainly be made appear, whether or no that Power which other Christian Prin­ces have exercised, and our Kings do claim and practise over them; be built upon a good Foundation; or else be only an Encroachment and Usurpation upon the Church.

What the Municipium Ecclesiasti­cum advances, upon this subject, to me seems very obscure and confu­sed: And whether the fault be in the Book, or in my Understanding, I know not; but I must own that I am not able to frame sufficiently clear and distinct notions of the Au­thors Opinions, or the force of his Arguments, in reference to this mat­ter, which he professedly proposes to [Page]handle. And altho' Dr. Wake has here and there some very useful hints upon this subject; yet as they are not all laid together in one part of his Book, so neither perhaps would they amount to, nor were they in­tended for, a just discourse upon this Argument: Which therefore I could heartily wish that he would set him­self to write; as being well assured, by what I have read of his other works, that he is abundantly able to give satisfaction to all reasonable men, in whatsoever he shall think fit to undertake.

To provoke, therefore, either him, or some other Learned man, to set upon this work; I have drawn up the following short Essay; in which I have very freely and plainly set down my own thoughts; And [Page]wherever I may happen to be in the wrong; I shall own my self much obliged unto any Charitable hand that shall endeavour again to set me right.

AN ESSAY Concerning Ecclesiastical Synods.

1. BY an Ecclesiastical Synod, I mean, a Lawful Assembly, either of Bi­shops alone; or of one or more Bi­shops in conjunction with some Presbyters of the Church; or, Lastly, of Presbyters alone; duly and sufficiently Autho­riz'd to consult and determine some matter, relating to the good of the Church, and be­nefit of Religion; so as that others shall be oblig'd to submit, and give Obedience, to their Decrees and Determinations. For tho' Dea­cons, or Lay Persons, may, in some cases, be admitted to assemble with the others in a Synod; Yet I take it for granted, that their absence makes it never the less, or their presence the more, a Synod; sup­posing it to have all the other qualificati­ons. And if such an Assembly be not [Page 2] Lawful; that is to say Justifiable by some sufficient Law; it would rather be a Rio­tous, or Schismatical Meeting, than an Eccle­siastical Synod. And if the Bishops or Pres­byters, when met together, have not Suf­ficient Authority to transact matters, and lay an Obligation upon others, as is above said; they can, at most be said to be but a Prudential Assembly. And Lastly if they meet upon other business, wherein the Church, and Religion, are not concern'd; Notwithstanding that the Persons who compose the Assembly may be all Ecclesi­asticks, yet such an Assembly, I conceive can not so properly be call'd Ecclesiasti­cal.

2. From the different extent of that tract, or district, of the Church, from whence, and for which, any Synod is con­vened; It may take and derive to it self a different denomination. Thus, for ex­ample; If a Synod be call'd from within so much of the Church only, as is under the care and Government but of one Bi­shop, It is call'd a Diocesan Synod: If from within several Diocesses, more im­mediatly consociated under the jurisdiction of one Metropolitan, a Provincial Synod: If from all the several Provinces of one Kingdom or People, a National Synod: And if from every part of the whole [Page 3]Church, a General or Oecumenical Sy­nod.

3. Concerning Ecclesiastical Synods, I shall propose Four things to be inquired into: First, Of what Institution they are in the Christian Church: viz. Whether of Di­vine or Human? Secondly, What right they have to meet and act, antecedent to the Civil Laws of each Kingdom or Common­wealth? Thirdly, In what things, and over whom, they may have Authority? (I mean still antecedent to the Civil Laws) And Fourth­ly, How far their right of Meeting and Act­ing, or their Authority over others, may be restrained, limited, or qualified, by the con­cessions of the Church to the Civil Magi­strate, or otherwise by the Laws of any King­dom or Commonwealth?

4. Towards the answering the First Inquiry; Let it be noted, that to the In­stitution of any Assembly it is absolutely necessary that there be some certain Rule for the fixing and determining, at the least, these three things; viz. First, At what time, and place, they shall meet; Secondly, Of what Persons the Assembly shall be compos'd; And Thirdly, What they are to do when they come together. For while any one of these things remain uncertain, the Assembly can not be said to be Instituted or Appointed. For First, if the time or place of Meeting [Page 4]be undetermined; some of the Members may come at one time, and to one place, and some at, and to, another; and so either return again for want of Business to be done; Or else form themselves into many little Junctos instead of one Assembly. Se­condly, if it be not known who the Per­sons are that are to make up the Assem­bly; Either all men may absent them­selves, and so there will be no Assembly at all; Or else they who are altogether unqualified for such a Meeting, may yet croud in; And so instead of an Assembly become a confused multitude. And Third­ly, if when they are met together they know not what they are to do; As their meeting will be altogether useless and im­pertinent; so can they not, in my opinion, be justly called an Instituted Assembly; The very Notion of which, in my apprehensi­on, implies a Company of Men chosen and met together, For the dispatch of some Business, either known to them before hand, or else to be Communicated to them at the time of their meeting. If then either the standing Law of God, or any occasional Command of his, has any where required, First, that in the Christian Church, Assem­blies shall meet at such a certain time, and place, either appointed by God himself, or to be appointed by some certain Person [Page 5]or Persons, having Power from God to ap­point the same: And Secondly that such Assemblies shall consist principally, if not only, of the Bishops or Presbyters of the Church; And Thirdly that their Business, when they meet, shall be to consult, and to determine certain matters relating to the good of the Church, and benefit of Religi­on; in such Wise as that others shall be o­blig'd to submit, and give Obedience, to their decrees and determinations; Then indeed it will be most evident that Ecclesiastical Sy­nods (according to the Definition laid down §. 1.) are of Divine Institution. But if, on the other side, it appears that these three things are no other way enacted and determined, save only, at first, by the volun­tary agreement of the Church, and, after­wards, by its setled and establish'd Con­stitutions; And last of all by the Laws and Constitutions of the several Christian Kingdoms and States in the World; Then it will no less plainly appear that Eccle­siastical Synods are not of Divine, but Human Institution. Or, Lastly, If it be found that these same things are setled and fixed, partly by the Law or Command of God, and partly by human Agree­ments, Laws, and Constitutions; Then it must follow that the Institution of Eccle­siastical Synods, is partly Divine, and part­ly [Page 6]Human. And having thus, I think, plainly stated the Case, and proposed the Issue to be tried, upon the first Inquiry; I shall proceed to Consider, what solid Foundation may be had, upon which to build a sound and determinate judgement in the matter.

5. And First That Ecclesiastical Synods (whether Diocesan, Provincial, National, or General) are not purely, and altogether, of Divine Institution, I take to be a thing most evident: There being neither any standing Law, nor occasional Command of God (that appears) which either requires that any such Assemblies shall meet; or gives Authority to any one to appoint the time, and place, of their meeting; or sets down the qualifications of such Persons as are to make up the Assembly; Or, Lastly, declares what power they have (or that they have any at all) to determine any matter, so as to lay an Obligation upon other Men, to submit to their Decrees or Definitions. See §. 5.

6. But here perhaps it may be objected, that the Christian Church is a Society; that the very nature of a Society supposes Order and Government; and that these do as necessarily require Deliberation and Con­sultation; that is to say debating and de­termining such difficulties as may occasi­onally [Page 7]arise: And as these things cannot be duly performed without the meeting of regular Assemblies; so is it not in the least to be doubted, but that the Bishops and Pastors of the Church (who on all hands are allowed to be under Christ the Rulers and Governours of it) ought, if not solely, yet cheifly, to compose and make up such Assemblies; Which therefore must be Ecclesiastical Synods, according to the De­finition of them laid down by me §. 1. Now altho' to all this I need make no Re­ply, because it does not Answer what I have Urged; but wholly (in a manner) waves and leaves it behind: Yet because I do not desire to avoid any difficulty, without giving full satisfaction to it; I shall very freely set down my Thoughts in relation to what is here alleged; Being al­ways ready either to alter or retract them, whensoever I shall be convinced of any mistake in Them.

7. That the Christian Church then is a Society, I readily grant; as also that a Society cannot be, that is to say cannot subsist and continue, without Order and Government: But then it does not follow that the same Person, who Institutes a So­ciety, must necessarily appoint the compleat Model of its Government. But it may be sufficient for him to determine and propose [Page 8]the end for which they are associated; and prescribe all those Laws that are absolutely necessary for the obtaining of that end; And when that is done to leave the Society to their own prudence, to regulate them­selves into such a certain frame of Govern­ment, as they find may be most fit and proper for the pursuing that end, for which they are Incorporated, according to those Laws which their First Founder has given them. Thus (for Example) it is possible that the King, may erect a Company or Corporation, for the carrying on of such a certain Negotiation: And as long as They pursue the end for which they are thus Embodyed, and observe the Laws of the Land, and such other necessary directions as are given them at their Erection; It is no manner of absurdity to suppose that they may be left to their own liberty, among themselves, to appoint and deter­mine who, and what, and how many per­sons, and under what limitations and qua­lifications, shall have the Government and Managment of the affairs of the Society; in Subordination still to the Laws of the Civil State, and the Authority of the Su­preme Magistrate. Thus likewise I sup­pose it will easily be granted, that by the Law of Nature, which is the Law of God, all mankind in general are a Society; that [Page 9]is to say, a number of Persons under, an O­bligation mutually to help, and be assistant each to other, in the promoting and carrying on some certain End and Design, viz. The general welfare of all and every Man. Now that this Society (as all others) cannot with­out Government, be duly maintained and kept up, must likewise be granted. But yet it is plain, that neither the Law of Na­ture, nor any other Law of God, has setled or determin'd any certain Frame or Model of Government, either for the whole World in general, or for each Kingdom or Com­mon-Wealth in particular: But as long as Men Swerve not from the Laws of God, and that general design, which he, by the Principles of Reason, and more fully by Revelation, has made known unto us; 'tis certain that he forbids them not, but leaves them at their own liberty to form themselves into such Civil Communities, and to erect such Forms and Schemes of Government among themselves, as they, in their own prudence, shall think fit to agree upon. In like manner, that the Church is a Society, Instituted by Christ, for the promoting of God's Glory and the Salvation of mankind; That He has gi­ven divers Laws and Directions to this Society; And that, for the better obser­ving and enforcing of these Directions [Page 10]and Laws, Order and Government is ne­cessary in the Church; are things by no means to be denyed or gainsaid: But that God has laid down any compleat and exact model of Ecclesiastical Government, either for the whole Church in general; or for the parts of it (as Nations or Kingdoms) in particular, is what I can no where find; But should be very glad, if it be really so, to see such clear and evident proof thereof as may safely be relied on. Altho' there­fore it may be granted that all Christians in general; and, in particular, the Bishops and Pastors of the Church, are under an Obligation, as they have opportunity, and as occasion shall call upon them; to deli­berate and consult about such things, as may most conduce to the promoting of the great end and design of Christianity; and, in order thereunto, to have such Meetings as they apprehend may be most serviceable to this purpose (to which there­fore every good Christian ought for his part to consent, and, as much as lies in him, to concurr) yet how any certain Form, or Prescript, of Ecclesiastical Synods; either General, National, Provincial, or Diocesan, duly invested with Authority, can from hence be inferred, without any farther hu­man appointment, I cannot in the least ima­gine. And however a man may put a [Page 11]specious and plausible gloss upon the mat­ter, yet to affirm that Ecclesiastical Synods are of Divine Institution; without assigning any Law or Command of God, either im­mediately, or else by good consequence, to make good those particulars that I have but now denyed §. 5. must I think, upon a through examination, be found most ab­surd and unreasonable.

8. But, it may be, it will be farther objected that it is beyond dispute, that the Apostles did hold Ecclesiastical Synods: And therefore we may well presume that there was a Command for this, altho' we do not find it recorded expresly in the ho­ly Scriptures. To which I answer; that I do indeed allow that the Apostles, with some Others, did sometimes meet together for the determining and setling of some things, which related to the good of the Church, and Benefit of Religion: Act. 1.15. and 6.2. and 15.6. And therefore I will not say but that they did, or might have held Ecclesiastical Synods. But why must we suppose that they had a particu­lar Command from God for the doing of that, which common Prudence and natural Reason, must needs suggest to all sober men in the like circumstances? Or if they had any special Command from God for the holding any of those Meetings (which [Page 12]yet is more than we can tell) I cannot see how such an unrecorded, and Unknown Command, can ever be reckoned as a stand­ing and perpetual Rule to the Church.

9. Secondly, Altho' there is no manner of Divine Institution, Properly speaking; Yet I freely allow that, in the Law of God and the Reason of things, there is a very good prudential Foundation for Ecclesiastical Synods. That is to say, that such things are suggested unto us, partly by God's Law, and partly by natural Reason; as must needs convince every sober and thinking man, that it is highly conveni­ent that, upon some occasions, Ecclesiasti­cal Synods should be convened and holden. For as the Law of God obliges every man to do as much good as he is able, in his place and station; and to promote the ho­nour of God and the Salvation of all men, as far as he has, or can procure, opportu­nities, for so doing; so does our own Rea­son sufficiently assure us that these things may, upon many occasions, be expedited and set forward, and free from such ob­structions and impediments as too often do arise; much better by the joint and unani­mous endeavours of many wise and good men concurring together, than by the di­stinct and separate labour of each of those men severally and apart: As also that no [Page 13]men ordinarily can be supposed to be more fit to handle, judge, and determine, whatever relates to matters of this Na­ture, than they who have made these very things, their chiefest care and Business; that is to say than the Bishops and Pa­stors of the Church. Whenever there­fore any doubt or difficulty arises about any thing, wherein the Glory of God, and the Salvation of Men are concerned; which cannot more readily or easily be assoiled and removed; Nothing, I think, can be more proper and rational, than that a convenient number of the Bishops and Pastors of the Church should be assembled together, in order to consult and declare their Sense and Judgement in the Case. And because such Assemblies would signi­fie little or nothing, if every Man were still left at his Liberty, either to give or refuse Submission to their Determinations; It is therefore very proper that all those Men, for whose sake, and upon whose account, the Assembly meets, should be under some obligation to acquiesce in, and be obedient unto, such things as are there Concluded upon and Decreed: The ground and extent of which Obligation shall be inquired into in its proper place. And this I take to be a fair and rational Account of, and Foundation for, the As­sembling [Page 14]and holding of Ecclesiastical Sy­nods; But by no means to denominate them of Divine Institution, any more than Parliaments, or any other Assemblies, which are held for the promoting of the temporal welfare and happiness of men; to the forwarding of which every man is as really (tho' perhaps not as highly) o­bliged by the Law of God, as he is to advance the glory of God, or promote the Salvation of others.

10. Thirdly, altho' I will not take up­on me to determine whether the Apostles had any immediate Command from God, for the holding of any of those Assem­blies (or Synods as some will have them to be) of which we but just now were speaking §. 8. which for ought I know, they might; or whether therein they fol­lowed only the Dictates of common pru­dence; which, as far as I can judge is altogether as probable as the other: Yet, untill I shall see some better reason to the contrary; I cannot but think that, From the time of the Apostles downwards, All the Ecclesiastical Synods, that ever have been held in the Church, have been purely and al­together of human Institution. Altho' (as I have said in the preceeding Section) there may have been a prudential Foun­dation for them in the Law of God, and [Page 15]the reason of things; As indeed there is for Parliaments or such sort of Assemblies in the State, as well as for Synods in the Church. For if no other Rule or Law can be found (excepting only first the vo­luntary Agreement of the Church it self, and afterwards the Laws of Civil States when they became Christian) either first for the calling of any such Assemblies at all; Or the appointing of time or place for their meeting; Or secondly for pre­scribing and determining who and what Persons shall compose them; Or Third­ly for the empowering them to Act, or o­bliging others to submit to them; Then it must follow that they are purely and al­together of Human Institution; Accor­ding to what I have laid down §. 4. But no other Law or Rule for any of these things did ever yet appear to me, upon the most impartial search that I have been able to make: And therefore I cannot judge them to be of any other Institution than what I have already said. And let thus much suffice for the first Enqui­ry.

11. As to the Second Enquiry, viz. What right Ecclesiastical Synods have to meet and Act antecedent to the Laws of each Kingdom and Commonwealth: By a right to do any thing I understand, not only a [Page 16]Natural, but, such a Moral Power of perform­ing such an Action, as that it would be un­lawful for another man to hinder or obstruct the same. Thus every man has a Right to make use of those things, which he has honestly gotten, for the preserving and sustaining of his own Life; And also to worship God according as he has appoin­ted, in order to his own Salvation: Nor can it (at least ordinarily) be Lawful for any man to debar, or prohibit another in, or from the doing of either of these things. Let us then but set our Selves to enquire how far, and in what cases, it may be ei­ther Lawful or Unlawful for any Persons to hinder an Ecclesiastical Synod from Act­ing or Meeting; And this will lead us to an exact knowledge of their Right to Meet and Act; together with the just ex­tent and measure of it.

12. In the first place then. Where any Persons meet together in order to do good; And it also sufficiently appears that there is no probability of any evil Consequence of their meeting; Such an Assembly as this ought not upon any account, or by any one, either to be prohibited or disturbed. For as every man is under an obligation, himself, to do all the good which he has an opportunity for; so ought he not (by parity of Rea­son) to be any hindrance to any other men [Page 17]in their doing whatever good may lie in their power.

13. But, Secondly, Wherever there is a just and well grounded Suspicion, that such a Meeting or Assembly will prove, in the end, to be of Evil Consequence (However well it may perhaps, by some, be designed;) As far as any Person or Persons lie under an Obligation to prevent the Evil that is so justly beforehand suspected, so far are they obliged to hinder, as much as they can, the Convening of such an As­sembly: I mean upon a supposition that the Evil Consequence is not by any other way to be avoided. This I take to be as plain as any thing almost can be. And therefore if the Civil Magistrate, according to the best of his Understanding, foresees and be­lieves that the meeting of any Assembly (altho' upon the design and business of Religion) will probably create feuds and animosities among the People, or keep up and heighten those which are already rais'd, which in the end may tend to Fac­tion or Division in the Church or State; As he is obliged, by the Trust reposed in him, to preserve and maintain Peace and quietness, and good order in the Com­monwealth; so will it Consequently be his Duty, as far as he is Invested with Lawful Power for it, to prevent and put a stop to any such Meetings.

[Page 18] 14. Thirdly, Altho' any number, and of any men whatsoever, may Lawfully assemble together, whensoever it is for a good end, and no evil Consequence of such a Meeting is foreseen, or justly to be suspected; Yet even The Bishops and Pres­byters of the Church have no right to meet together as an Ecclesiastical Synod (That is to say they can have no Authority so to transact matters as to lay an Obligation up­on others §. 1.) Except they have a Lawful Power and Commission for their so doing. For whosoever in any case, Acts without a suf­ficient Commission, may undoubtedly be Opposed by every man who is any way concerned in the matter; and may justly be obstructed and hindered in their pro­ceedings, by those who have Lawful Au­thority over them.

15. Here then, for the full and final de­termination of this Second Enquiry, let this Question be proposed, viz. From whence does an Ecclesiastical Synod, derive its Power and Authority, to sit, and Act, as a Synod? In answer to which I take it First to be ve­ry plain from what I have said §. 5. that Ecclesiastical Synods do not derive their Power and Authority immediately from God. For if they did they must be of Di­vine Institution. And Secondly as for the Civil Magistrate, our very Enquiry [Page 19]supposes him, as yet, to have no hand in the matter. Thirdly then it must remain that Ecclesiastical Synods do immediately de­rive their power and Authority (Antecedent­ly to the Civil Laws) only from the Church its self: (Immediately I say; For that all Lawful Power and Authority whatsoever is Mediately and Ultimately derived from God I freely grant) For neither can we find any other person from whom imme­diately to fetch the Power of such Synods; Nor is it to be doubted but that (By vir­tue of that Power which God has given to all men over themselves) the Church may in some Cases, Invest a Synod with an Authority over its self; as well as the People, in their Civil capacity, may do the same thing by a Parliament.

16. The Sum then is this, that as Ecclesi­astical Synods are of Human Institution; so, antecedently to the Civil Laws, their Power and Authority is immediately de­rived only from the Church (As the Power of a Parliament is from the Peo­ple in their Civil capacity) And whene­ver a Synod is duly appointed by the Church, it has a right to sit and Act; Nor ought it to be therein hindered or ob­structed by the Civil Magistrate; except he has just ground to believe that some ill consequence will unavoidably follow [Page 20]from their Sitting and Acting, which it is his duty to prevent. And let this suffice for the Second Enquiry.

17. The Third Enquiry contains two distinct Questions; viz. First In what things; And Secondly, Over what Persons may an Ecclesiastical Synod have Authority? (But still antecedent to the Civil Laws.) And here I shall lay this down as a fundamen­tal proposition viz. That as no Assembly can have greater Authority than what is Originally lodged in those Persons by whom they are appointed and empowered; so neither can they justly claim or Exercise this Authori­ty, but only in such a measure or degreé, as it is Actually Communicated to them. Which being premised (And the truth thereof I take to be so evident as neither to need nor be capable of any proof) I shall from thence draw some very plain Corollaries in Answer to the Two Questions but just now proposed.

18. And First if it be demanded In what things may an Ecclesiastical Synod have Au­thority? From the Proposition now laid down, I answer First, That the Authority of an Ecclesiastical Synod cannot possibly be so great as to make that Doctrine which is false become true; or that to be­come Lawful which is against God's Law: For this would be to alter the very Na­ture [Page 21]of things, or Laws of God; which Power is not in the Church, nor in all mankind taken together. Nor yet, Second­ly, can they have any Authority to make that a part of Religion which Almighty God has not alreadly made so: For altho' the Modes and Circumstances of Worship and Religion, may be settled and determin­ed by the Church; Yet to make any thing become a part of Religion, that is to say essential to it, and thereby immutably and perpetually necessary to Salvation, is a Pre­rogative that belongs to God alone. But Thirdly, in doubts or Controversies, con­cerning matters of Faith, or Points of Doctrine, an Ecclesiastical Synod may have Power to consult, and debate the things in dispute; and to declare their Sense and Opinion concerning them: For this is no more than what may Lawfully be done not only by the whole Church, but even by any prudential Assembly of wise and good Men; there being no Law of God which forbids, or any way hinders them, so to do. But, Fourthly, when an Ecclesiastical Synod has thus de­termined any Point of Faith or Doctrine; Their Authority cannot extend so far as to oblige any man either to believe the Truth of what they have so determined, if it be against his perswasion; or to profess it, if [Page 22]he does not believe it to be true: The former of these being impossible and con­trary to the Nature of things; and the la­ter Unlawful, as being forbidden by God; And therefore both of them excluded by the first of those Corollaries which I have laid down in this present Section. Fifthly, But if an Ecclesiastical Synod shall deter­mine any thing in favour of an Errour, and even directly contrary to the truth; Yet if the Error be an Innocent one; that is to say contains nothing which is any way contrary either to the necessary Arti­cles of Faith, or the Rules of a good life; altho' a man cannot be oblig'd to believe or profess such an errour contrary to the convictions of his own mind; yet still he may be bound in Conscience to be quiet, and not to give any publick opposition to such a determination; for fear of disturb­ing the Peace, or breaking the Unity, of the Church thereby. For altho' every Christian is required, according to his abi­lity, earnestly to contend for that Faith (i. e. that Religion) which was once delivered to the Saints; Yet for such truths as have no necessary influence either upon Faith, or Practice, we are no where Commanded to contend: And if we cannot stand up for such a truth without the hazard of Con­fusion, or disturbance in the Church; we [Page 23]ought to be quiet, and permit other men to abound in their own Sense, untill such time as God shall think fit to bring their understand­ings to a better disposition; and not to Sacrifice Peace and Unity, which the Laws of God require us carefully to maintain, un­to such a truth as we are not Commanded to teach to others; or zealously, our selves, to contend for. And Lastly if an Ecclesi­astical Synod duly empowered shall make any Decree to determine our Practice in any thing which is indifferent in it self, and no way determined by the Law of God; from thence I do conceive will a­rise an undoubted obligation to Obedience and Conformity to be paid unto such a Decree, which is so made. For if the Church, by a voluntary Agreement, might Lawfully lay a restraint upon themselves in such things as are indifferent (which no man I presume will doubt) what can hinder but that they may give a power un­to a Synod to lay the like restraint upon them? For whatever Obligation People, of their own accord, may Lawfully lay themselves under; The very same Obliga­tion to all intents and purposes, may cer­tainly be laid upon them by their Repre­sentatives, duly chosen and Authorized.

19. Secondly if it be demanded Over what Persons may an Ecclesiastical Synod have [Page 24]Authority? From that Fundamental Pro­position which I have laid down §. 17. together with the Third Proposition which I have laid down §. 15. these following Conollaries will evidently arise; which will make up a full Answer to it viz. First that an Ecclesiastical Synod can have no more Authority than what is vested in the Body of that Church by which they are empowered to Sit and Act. For the Church can give no more Authority than what it first has in it self; Nor can a Synod, which is but a part of the Church, have any greater Power than what the whole is Originally endowed with. Se­condly, But whatsoever Authority is Law­fully vested in the Collective Body of the Church, the same may by them be dele­gated to an Ecclesiastical Synod. For neither is there any thing which should hinder such a delegation as this; And where a Society is very numerous (as the Church is) it is morally impossible for it to exert and exercise that Power and Au­thority which is Originally diffused throughout the whole Body; otherwise than by appointing and delegating their Representatives to do it for them. As the legislative Power which, in a Common­wealth, is Originally founded in the Body of the People, could never be brought to [Page 25]any useful effect, if there were not appoint­ed Parliaments, or Assemblies of the Estates, on purpose to represent and Act for them. Thirdly, therefore it will follow, That an Oecumenical Synod may have Authority over the whole Church; but a National, Provincial, or Diocesan One, can extend its Authority no farther than the People, Pro­vince or Diocess, for, and from which, it is appointed and chosen; Because one such Limited or particular Church is not vested with any Power or Superiority over ano­ther. And, Fourthly, that the Authority of any Synod is greater, or less, according as it is given them by the Church which chuses and appoints them: Provided that the Church does not pretend to Commu­nicate greater Power to them, than what is Originally vested in its self.

20. To conclude this point; As the Bi­shops and Pastors of the Church, who de­rive their Succession down from the Apo­stles, have thereby a divine Authority communicated to them, to perform their respective Offices, and to teach and Go­vern their respective Flocks, according to the Rules prescribed by God's Law; From which no variation must, upon any ac­count, be allowed of, or admitted: So is there no manner of Restraint laid by God either upon the Universal or any Particu­lar [Page 26]Churches; But that with a due subor­dination to his Law, they may, in all other things, which are not thereby already pro­vided for, manage and govern themselves as other Societies do, by the Rules of Rea­son and Prudence; And appoint their Sy­nods or Representative Assemblies to a­gree upon, and lay down such Rules, as they think most necessary to be observed. And not only he who violates the immediate Divine Law and so continues without Repentance; but even he also who Obsti­nately refuses to be conformable to the Lawful and wholesome Constitutions of the Church it self; and thereby causes disturbance and division in it (which is as really, tho' not so immediately contrary to God's Command as the other) is justly to be excluded from the Communion and privileges of the Society. And so much for the Third Enquiry.

21. I proceed then to the Fourth and Last Point proposed; viz. How far the right of Meeting and Acting of Ecclesiastical Synods, or their Authority over others, may be Restrain­ed, Limited, or Qualified, by the Concessions of the Church to the Civil Magistrate; Or other­wise by the Laws of any Kingdom or Common­wealth. And in order to the clearing of this matter, I shall lay down these two preli­minary Propositions. First that neither the [Page 27]Consent of the Church it self, nor any Civil Law whatsoever, can lay any Obligation upon the Church, or any part or member thereof, to do, or forbear any thing, If by such doing, or forbearing, true Religion is any way so obstruct­ed or discouraged, as that God is thereby dis­honoured, or the Salvation of men hindered. For neither our own voluntary Act, nor any Law that is enacted by an inferiour Power, can free us from an Obligation which is laid upon us by an Authority that is Superiour. But by the Law of God, which is above all, we are All obliged to promote the Interest of true Religion, and thereby both to advance his Glory and set forward the Salvation of other men. And therefore if we have consented to any thing, or if the Civil Law has enacted any thing, which proves to be contrary to this Obliga­tion under which we beforehand indispensa­bly lay; both our consent so given, and the Law so enacted, must be looked upon as void (I mean so far as they are thus pre­judicial to Religion) and all Obligations of this Inferiour sort must ever be construed with a tacit exception, that they, be not contrary to any former and superiour Ob­ligation. But Secondly, If the Church Uni­versal, or any particular Church, shall consent; or if, without such consent, the Civil Autho­rity of any place shall by Law enact or require [Page 28]any thing which no way tends to the real pre­judice of true Religion, nor any way obstructs either God's Glory, or Men's Salvation: Such a consent so given, until it is duly revoked, and such a Law, until it is by Lawful Au­thority repealed, shall certainly oblige all such as are members of the Church which so con­sented, or Subjects of that Kingdom, or Com­monwealth, in which such a Law is enacted. For who can doubt but that any Society may, by general consent, lay an obligati­on upon themselves in such things as are no way Unlawful? And as for the Au­thority of the Civil Laws; the command of God runs in the most general and com­prehensive terms, that Every Soul should be Subject to the higher Powers. And that we should submit our selves to every Ordinance of Man: Nor does either reason or Scrip­ture furnish us with any other Limitation of, or Exception to this Precept, save only that one of the Apostles, Act. 5.29. We ought to obey God rather than Men. Which sufficiently proves that nothing can excuse us from giving Obedience unto all such Laws as are made by the Legislative Power of the Kingdom or Commonwealth, of which we are Members; Except it be that something is thereby required which is contrary to the Laws of God.

From these two General Propositions, these following Corollaries, with particu­lar relation to Ecclesiastical Synods, do most evidently follow in Answer to the Last Enquiry; viz. First That the Church may consent, and the Civil Authority may, either with, or without such consent, Enact whatever Laws they please, concerning the calling; modelling, manner of proceeding, and Limitation of the Authority of Ecclesiastical Synods; Provided that nothing is thereby done which is prejudicial to true Religion and Pi­ety, Secondly, But if true Piety or Religi­on, or any part thereof, be really in danger, by the breaking in of Atheism, Hetero­doxy, or Immorality; And no other way can be taken, or found, to prevent or redress such a mischief, but onely the Assembling and free Acting of an Ecclesiastical Synod; Let the Civil Law say what it will; The Church (notwithstanding any consent of hers gi­ven, or pretended to be given to the con­trary) is bound to convene an Ecclesiastical Synod, freely to consult and determine what is fit to be done for the redressing of such evils as these. And (as Dr. Wake ju­diciously observes) If the Civil Magistrate shall so far abuse his Authority,Authorit. of Christian Prin­ces. pag. 43.as to render it necessa­ry for the Clergy, by some extraordinary me­thods to provide for the Churches wellfare; [Page 30]That necessity will warrant their taking of them. But Thirdly, If any other way may as effectually be found, for the preservation of the true Religion and Piety; The Church ought by no means to break in upon the Civil Law; Nor to Assemble or Act in an Ecclesiastical. Synod, in any other manner than what is agree­able to its Constitutions.

23. But if any man shall be so hardy as to demand, What Authority the Civil Power has to make any Laws at all in Ec­clesiastical matters: Their proper business being only to secure the Peace, and pro­mote the welfare of the people under them, in this World alone; and not to watch over their Souls, or direct them in the way of Eternal Salvation; which is the Office of those of another Function; and, me­diately or immediately, ought ever to be the design of all Ecclesiastical Constituti­ons: I answer; First, that since Experience abundantly assures us how great an influ­ence the due management of the affair of Religion, generally has upon the Peace and Temporal welfare of any People; I will follow that the Civil Government (whether it be heathen or Christian) to whose care the latter is committed must needs be vested in a Power of making Laws concerning the former; so far as is necessary for the performance of their [Page 31]Office, and the Execution of that Trust which is committed to them by the Peo­ple. And if the Temporal Magistrate at any time apprehends that differences a­bout Religion among his Subjects, may likely be improved into farther disorders and breaches of the Peace, of which he is appointed the Supreme keeper and Guar­dian; He certainly may (I mean with the concurrence of the Legislative Authority) enact and make such Laws, as may best put an end to such Discords, and prevent those evils which thereby, tho' at some di­stance, threaten the Civil State. And al­tho' he has no Power, by Virtue of his Civil Authority, to determine Controver­sies in Religion; Yet he may very Law­fully; And by his Office he is obliged to over rule and suppress all such dissentions about it, as are any way likely to prove injurious to the welfare of that Society which is committed to his Care and Charge. Secondly; Whereas it is very possible that Governours of the Church, may assume to themselves more Power than what really belongs to them, and by degrees encroach upon the Authority of the Civil Magistrate, (as has actually been done by the Church of Rome;) It is Lawful for the Magistrate, in such a case, to make such Laws, as may effectually keep, and restrain the Church, [Page 32]within the proper bounds and Limits of it's own jurisdiction. For to say that the Supreme Magistrate has not sufficient Au­thority to assert and maintain his Lawful Power against all Encroachments whatso­ever, is in effect to take away his Suprema­cy; and so to make him Supreme, and not Supreme, at the same time. Thirdly; If the Supreme Magistrate be a Christian and a Professor of the true Religion; It will be his duty to make use of that Authority, in which he is vested, as much as he can, for the Encouragement of that Profession of which he himself is. For he that has great Opportunities of doing good, and yet neglects to make use of them, is ac­countable to God for burying that Talent, which he ought to have employed in his Masters Service. Altho' therefore he ought not to Persecute even a False Religion, as long as it teaches nothing which is Inju­rious to Civil Society; Yet he may, and he ought, both to defend and encourage the true one. Which cannot, as I con­ceive, sufficiently be done, without mak­ing some Laws concerning Ecclesiastical affairs, as well for the supporting of the Churches Authority by the Civil Power, as also for the Correcting and restraining those who are Unruly and Disorderly; and under the pretence of Religion would em­broil [Page 33]the Church (And perhaps the State too) And cannot be kept in Order by her Discipline and Censures. And if the chief Stations in the Church should happen to be filled with such Men, as should oppose the making of any such Laws, as really would tend to the Security, Peace and Ad­vantage of Religion; I see no reason why the Civil Legislative Power (If in the hands of Christians) may not, even with­out the consent of the Church, enact such Laws, and enforce them with such proper penalties, as they are fully convinced would be really useful and serviceable to so good an end.

24. But here it may perhaps be demand­ed; suppose the judgement of the Civil Magistrate and that of the Church should, in this point, differ one from the other, which of them ought to take place? And put the case that the Church should think it, at any time, to be absolutely necessary, for the Glory of God and the good of Religi­on, to hold an Ecclesiastical Synod; and the Civil Magistrate, at the same time should refuse his consent, or directly for­bid them so to do; And that upon a strong persuasion that the meeting of such a Sy­nod would, in such a juncture, be of very dangerous Consequence, either to the Church it self, or to the State, or it may [Page 34]be to both; What must in this case be done? Must the Church convene a Synod, in Obe­dience to the Conviction which she has of the necessity thereof? And must the Civil Magistrate yield unto it against his own judgment? Or must the will of the Magistrate be obeyed and the Church act contrary to her own perswasion? To which I am able to give no other answer but this; That every man who is honest and sincere will always act according as he is fully convinced to be his duty; as he shall answer for the same before the Tribu­nal of God: And if the different and con­trary perswasions of men do sometimes occasion some clashing and opposition be­tween them, I know not how in this world it is to be avoided. But consider­ing how both Reason and Scripture do enforce Obedience to the Civil Powers upon the Conscience of every man; I think the case ought to be Exceeding plain, before Subjects should offer, upon any ac­count, to act contrary to the Laws of the Land: And when even their most necessary duty to God Obliges them so to do; yet still it ought to be with all the respect and deference to the Civil Ma­gistrate that the case will possibly admit of, that all just reason of offence may be avoided; and that the World may be [Page 35]throughly satisfied, that it is pure Con­science alone, and not any discontent or turbulent humour, which moves them to proceed in such a manner. And so much for the Fourth and Last Enquiry.


Books Printed for Richard Sare, at Gray's-Inn-Gate in Holbourn.

THE Authority of Christian Princes over Ecclesiastical Synods; in answer to a Letter to a Convocation Man. Octavo.

An Appeal to all the True Members of the Church of England, in behalf of the King's Supremacy. Octavo.

The Principles of the Christian Religion Ex­plained, in a Brief Comentary on the Church Catechism. Octavo.

A Practical Discourse against Profane Swear­ing. Twelves.

These Four by the Reverend Dr. Wake.

Essays on several Moral Subjects. Octavo.

A short View of the Profaness and Immorality of the English Stage. Octavo.

A Defence of the said View. Octavo. These Three by the Reverend Mr. Collier.

Maxims and Reflexions on Plays (in Answer to a Discourse Printed before a Play call'd Beauty in Distress) Written in French by the Bi­shop of Meaux; with an Advertisement concerning the Book and Author. By Mr. Col­lier. Octavo.

A Gentleman's Religion; in Three Parts. Twelves.

Humane Prudence, or the Art by which a Man may raise himself, and Fortune to Grandeur. The Seventh Edition. Twelves.

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