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Chapter IV.

Of the worship of God by the apostles — No liturgies used by them, nor in the churches of their plantation — Argument from their practice — Reasons pleaded for the use of liturgies: disabilities of church officers for gospel administration to the edification of the church; uniformity in the worship of God — The practice of the apostles as to these pretences considered — Of other impositions — The rule given by the apostles — Of the liturgies falsely ascribed unto some of them.

Our next inquiry is after the practice of the apostles, — the best interpretation of the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ as to the “agenda” of the church, or what he would have done therein in the worship of God, and how. That one end of their being furnished with the Spirit of Christ, was the right and due administration of his ordinances in his church, to the edification of his disciples, I suppose will not be denied. By virtue of his assistance, and the gifts from him received, they discharged this part of their duty accordingly. That they used any liturgies in the church-worship, wherein they went at any time before the disciples, cannot with any colour of proof be pretended. The Scripture gives us an account of many of their prayers, — of none that were a repetition of a form. If any such were used by them, how came the memory of them utterly to perish from off the earth? Some, indeed, of the ancients say that they used the Lord’s prayer in the consecration of the eucharist; which by others is denied, being in itself improbable, and the testimonies weak that are produced in behalf of its assertion. But, as hath been showed, the use of that prayer no way concerns the present question. There are no more Christs but one: “To us there is one Lord Jesus Christ.” For him who hath affirmed that it is likely they used forms of prayer and homilies composed for them by St Peter, I suppose he must fetch his evidence out of the same authors that he used who affirmed that Jesus Christ himself went up and down singing mass!

The practice, then, of the apostles is not, as far as I know, by any sober and learned persons controverted in this matter. They administered the holy thing of the gospel by virtue of the holy gifts they had received. But they were apostles. The inquiry is, what directions and commands they gave unto the bishops or pastors of the churches which they planted, that they might know how to behave themselves in the house and worship of God. Whatever they might do in the discharge of their duty, by virtue of their extraordinary gifts, yet the case might be much otherwise with them who were intrusted with ordinary ministerial gifts only. But we do not 17find that they made any distinction in this matter between themselves and others; for as the care of all the churches was on them, the duties whereof they were to discharge by virtue of the gifts they had received, according to their commission empowering them thereunto, so to the bishops of particular churches they gave charge to attend unto the administration of the holy things in them, by virtue of the gifts they had received to that purpose, according to the limits of their commission. And upon a supposition that the apostles were enabled to discharge all gospel administrations to the edification of the church, by virtue of the gifts they had received, which those who were to come after them in the performance of the same duties not be enabled unto, it cannot be imagined but that they have provided a supply for that want and defect themselves, and not have left the church halt and maimed to the cure of those whose weakness and unfitness for the duty was its disease. So, then neither did the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ use any liturgies, in the sense spoken of, in their administration of the worship instituted by him in his church, nor did they prescribe or command any such to the churches, or their officers that were planted in them; nor by any thing intimate the usefulness of any such liturgy, or form of public worship, as after ages found out and used.

Thus far, then, is the liberty given by Christ unto his church preserved entire; and the request seems not immodest that is made for the continuance of it. When men cry to God for the liberty in his worship which was left unto them by Christ and his apostles, he will hear, though their fellow-servants should be deaf to the requests made unto them; and truly they must have a great confidence in their own wisdom and sufficiency, who will undertake to appoint, and impose on others, the observation of things in the worship of God which neither our Lord Jesus nor his apostles did appoint or impose.

Two things are principally pretended as grounds of the imposition of public liturgies:— First, The disability of the present ministers of churches to celebrate and administer the ordinances of the gospel, to the honour of God and edification of the church, without the use of them. Secondly, The great importance of uniformity in the worship of God, not possibly to be attained but by virtue of this expedient. I desire to know whether these arguments did occur to the consideration of the apostles or no. If they shall say they did, I desire to know why they did not make upon them the provision now judged necessary; and whether those that so do, do not therein prefer their wisdom and care for the churches of God unto the wisdom and care of the apostles. If it shall be said, that the bishops or pastors of the churches in their days had abilities for the discharge 18of the whole work of the ministry without this relief, so that the apostles had no need to make any such supply, I desire to know from whom they had these abilities. If it be said that they had them from Jesus Christ, I then shall yet also farther ask, whether ordinary bishops or pastors had any other gifts from Jesus Christ but what he promised to bestow on ordinary bishops and pastors of his churches? It seems to me that he bestowed no more upon them than he promised to bestow, — namely, gifts for the work of the ministry, with an especial regard to that outward condition of his churches whereunto by his providence they were disposed. It will, then, in the next place, be inquired whether the Lord Jesus Christ promised to give any other gifts to the ordinary bishops and pastors of the churches in those days than he promised to all such officers in his church to the end of the world? If this appear to be the state of things, that the promise by virtue whereof they received those gifts and abilities for the discharge of their duty which rendered the prescription of liturgies needless, as to the first ground of them pretended, did and doth equally respect all that succeed in the same office and duty, according to the mind and will of Christ, unto the end of the world, is not the pretended necessity derogatory to the glory of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, as plainly intimating that he doth not continue to fulfil his promise; or at least a full declaration of men’s unbelief, that they do not nor will depend upon him for the accomplishment of the same? Thus the first pretended ground of the necessary use of such liturgies as we speak of endeth in a reflection upon the honour of our Lord Jesus, or a publication of their own unbelief and apostasy.

The second is like the former. It will not, I suppose, be denied but that the apostles took care for the unity of the churches, and for that uniformity in the worship of God which is acceptable unto him. Evidence lies so full unto it in their writings that it cannot be denied. Great weight everywhere they lay upon this duty of the churches, and propose unto them the ways whereby it may be done, with multiplied commands and exhortations to attend unto them. Whence is it, then, that they never once intimate any thing of that which is now pressed as the only medium for the attaining of that end? It cannot but seem strange to some, that this should be the only expedient for that uniformity which is acceptable unto God, and yet not once come into the thoughts of any of the apostles of Christ, so as to be commended unto the churches for that purpose. Considering the many treacheries that are in the hearts of men, and the powerful workings of unbelief under the most solemn outward professions, I fear it will appear at the last day, that the true rise of most of the impositions on the consciences of men, which on various 19pretences are practised in the world, is from the secret thoughts that either Christ doth not take that care of his churches, nor make that supply unto them of spiritual abilities for the work of the ministry, which he did in the days of old; or that men are now grown wiser than the apostles, and those who succeeded them in the administration of the things of God, and so are able to make better provision for attaining the end they professedly aimed at than they knew how to do.

The heathen, I confess, thought forms of prayer to be a means of preserving a uniformity in their religious worship. Hence they had a solemn form for every public action; yea, for those orations which the magistrates had unto the people. So Livius informs us, that when Sp. Posthumius the consul was to speak unto the people about the wickednesses that were perpetrated by many under the pretence of some Bacchanalian superstition, he gave them an account of the usefulness of the “solenne precationis carmen,” which he had recited to keep out and prevent such differences about their religion as were then fallen out, lib. xxix. 15: “Concione advocata cum solenne carmen precationis, quod præfari, priusquam populum alloquantur, magistratus solent, peregisset consul, ita cœpit: ‘Nulli unquam concioni, Quirites, tam non solum apta, sed etiam necessaria, hæc solennis Deorum comprecatio fuit, quæ nos admoneret, hos esse Deos, quos colere, venerari, precarique majores vestri instituissent, non illos,’ ” etc. But I hope we shall not prefer their example and wisdom before that of our Lord Christ and his apostles.

Were prejudices removed, and self-interests laid out of the way, a man would think there were not much more necessity for the determination of this difference. Christ and his apostles, with the apostolical churches, knew no such liturgies. At least it seems, as was said, not an unreasonable request, to ask humbly and peaceably at the hands of any of the sons of men, that they would be pleased to allow unto ministers of the gospel that are sound in the faith, and known so to be, who will willingly submit the trial of their ministerial abilities to the judgment of any who are taught of God, and enabled to discern of them aright, that liberty in the worship of God which was confessedly left unto them by Christ and his apostles. But the state of things is altered in the world. At a convention of the apostles and others, wherein the Holy Ghost did peculiarly preside, when the question about impositions was agitated, it was concluded that nothing should be imposed on the disciples but what was necessary for them to observe antecedently to any impositions, Acts xv. 28, 29; necessary, though not in their own nature, yet in the posture of things in the churches; necessary to the avoidance of scandal, whereby the observation of that injunction was to be regulated. Nor 20was there among the things called necessary the imposition of any one thing positively to be practised by any of the disciples in the worship of God, but only an abridgment of their liberty in some few external things, to which it did really extend. But that spirit of wisdom, moderation, and tenderness, whereby they were guided, being rejected by men, they began to think that they might multiply impositions as to the positive practice of the disciples of Christ in the worship of God at their pleasure, so that they could pretend that they were indifferent in themselves before the imposition of them; which gives, as they say, a necessity to their observation: which proceeding must be left to the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, Matt. xxv. 45.

It is not worth our stay to consider what is pretended concerning the antiquity of liturgies, from some yet extant that bear the names of some of the apostles or evangelists. There is one that is called by the name of James, printed in Greek and Latin; another ascribed unto Peter, published by Lindanus; one also to Matthew, called the Ethiopic; another to Mark; which are in the Bible11    So the words are given in the original and subsequent editions. The reference is to the “Bibliotheca Patrum,” in the second volume of which the liturgies mentioned will be found, —Ed. P.P. And pains have been taken by Santesius, Pamelius, and others, to prove them genuine; but so much in vain as certainly nothing could be more. Nor doth Baronius in their Lives dare ascribe any such thing unto them. We need not any longer stay to remove this rubbish out of our way. They must be strangers to the spirit, doctrine, and writings of the apostles, who can impose such trash upon them as these liturgies are stuffed withal. The common use of words in them not known in the ages of the apostles, nor of some of them ensuing; the parts in them whose contrivers and framers are known to have lived many ages after; the mentioning of such things in them as were not once dreamed of in the days whereunto they pretend; the remembrance of them in them, as long before them deceased, who are suggested to be their authors; the preferring of other liturgies before them when once liturgies came in use, with a neglect of them; with the utter silence of the first Christian writers, stories, councils, concerning them, do abundantly manifest that they are plainly suppositions of a very late fraud and invention. Yea, we have testimonies clear enough against this pretence in Gregor., lib. vii. epist. 63. Alcuinus, Amatorius, Rabanus, Lib. P. P. tom. x.; with whom consent Walafridus Strabo, Rupertus Titiensis, Berno, Radulphus Tangrensis, and generally all that have written any thing about liturgies in former days; many of whom show how, when, and by whom, the several parts of that public form which at length signally prevailed were invented and brought into use.

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