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SECT. XI. Concerning church-government.

A SMALL difficulty may here be objected to us, which arises from the form of church-government and discipline, commonly called ecclesiastical: for no society, such as a church is; can subsist without order, and therefore there must be some form of government appointed. Now it is debated amongst Christians, what form of government was appointed by the apostles; for that seems preferable to all others, which was appointed from the beginning; and therefore of two churches, in which the Gospel is taught with equal purity and sincerity in all other respects, that is to be preferred, in which the. form of government is apostolical; 272though government without the thing itself, that is, the Gospel, is only the faint shadow of a church.

There are now two forms of government, one of which is that wherein the church acts under one bishop, who alone has the right of ordaining presbyters, or the inferior order of the Gospel ministers; the other is that, where the church is governed by an equality of presbyters, joined with some lay persons of prudence and honesty. They who without prejudice have read over the most ancient Christian writers that now remain, very well know that the former manner of discipline, which is called episcopal, such as that in the south part of Great Britain, prevailed every where in the age immediately after the apostles; whence we may collect that it is of apostolical institution.897897   See my ecclesiastical history, century i. to the year iii, 6. and lxviii. 8. and the following ones. Le Clerc. The other, which they call presbyterian, was instituted in many places of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, by those who in the sixteenth century made a separation from the church of Rome.

They who read with attention the histories of that century, are fully satisfied that this latter form of government was introduced for this reason only, because the bishops would not allow to them, who contended that the doctrine and manners of Christians stood in need of necessary amendment, that those things should be reformed, which they complained were corrupted. Otherwise, if the bishops every where at that time had been willing to do of their own accord, what was not long after done in England; that government had prevailed even to this day amongst all those who separated from the Romish church; and the numberless calamities which happened, when all things were disturbed and confounded, had then been prevented. For if we would judge of the matter truly, there was no other reason for changing the government but this, that whilst the ancient government remained, nothing could be procured, however just in itself. Therefore, the presbyterian form is appointed in many places; which after it was once done, was so much for the interest of all them who 273presided in the state affairs in those places, and is so at this time, not to have it changed, that it must of necessity continue; unless any one had rather, upon that account, that all the dominions in which it prevails should be put into the most dangerous disorders; which prudent men will never allow, nor is it to be wished. The form of government was appointed of old to preserve the Christian doctrine, and not to disturb the commonwealth, which can scarce happen without endangering the religion itself.

Wherefore prudent men, though they above all things wish for the apostolical form of church-government, and that it might be every where alike; yet they think things had better be left in the state in which they now are, than venture the hazards which always attend the attempt of new things. In the mean time, they that are wise, will by no means hate, reproach, nor condemn one another upon that account, as the most violent men are apt to do; as if eternal salvation depended upon either form, which do not seem to be taught any where in the apostolical writings, nor can it be gathered from the nature of the Christian religion.

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