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COMMONLY REPUTED TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN BY THE BISHOP
LETTER I. SIR,
In the late conference I had with your friend, the sum of what I said was this :
1. That episcopal government, managed in conjunction with presbyters in presbyteries and synods, is not contrary either to the rule of scripture, or the example of the primitive church, but most agreeable to both.
2. Yea, it is not contrary to that very covenant, which is pretended by so many as the main, if not the only reason of their scrupling ; and for their sakes it is necessary to add this. For notwithstanding the many irregularities both in the matter and form of that covenant, and the illegal and violent ways of pressing and prosecuting of it, yet to them who remain under the conscience of its full force and obligation, and in that seem invincibly persuaded, it is certainly most pertinent, if it be true, to declare the consistence of the even present government with that obligation. And as both these assertions, I believe upon the exactest (if impartial and impassionate) inquiry, will be found to be in themselves true; so they are owned by the generality of the presbyterians in England ; as themselves have published their opinion in print under this title :—Two Papers of proposals humbly presented to his Majesty by the Reverend Ministers of the Presbyterian persuasion, Printed at London, Anno 1660.
Besides other passages in these papers to the same purpose,
at page 11 and 12, are these words : “ And as these are our general ends and motives, so we are induced to insist upon the form of a synodical government, conjunct with a fixed presidency; for these reasons.
1. “ We have reason to believe that no other terms will be so generally agreed on, &c.
2. “It being agreeable to the Scripture and primitive government, is likeliest to be the way of a more universal concord, if ever the churches on earth arrive to such a blessing : however, it will be most acceptable to God, and well-informed consciences.
3. “It will promote the practice of discipline and godliness without disorder, and promote order without hindering discipline and godliness.
4. “And it is not to be silenced (though in some respect we are loth to mention it) that it will save the nation from the violation of their solemn vow and covenant, without wronging the church at all, or breaking any other oath, &c." And a little after they add, that the prelacy disclaimed in that covenant, was the engrossing of the sole power of ordination and jurisdiction, and exercising of the whole discipline absolutely by bishops themselves and their delegates, chancellors, surrogates, and officials, &c. excluding wholly the pastors of particular churches from all share in it. And there is one of prime note amongst them, who, in a large treatise of churchgovernment, doth clearly evince, that this was the mind both of the parliament of England, and of the assembly of divines at Westminster, as they themselves did expressly declare it, in the admitting of the covenant, “ that they understand it not to be against all episcopacy, but only against the particular frame, as it is worded in the article itself: for our principal model in England, and the way of managing of it, whatsoever is aniiss (and it can be no wrong to make that supposition concerning any church on earth), or whatsoever they apprehend to be amiss, though it may be upon mistake, the brethren that are dissatisfied had possibly better acquitted their duty by free admonitions and significations of their own sense in all things, than by leaving of their station, which is the one thing that hath made the breach (I fear) very hard to cure, and in human appearance near to incurable: but there is much charity due to them, as following the dictate of their own conscience : and they owe, and, I hope, pay the same back again to those that do the same in another way; and whatsoever may be the readiest and happiest way of reuniting those that are mutually so minded, the Lord reveal it to them in due time.” This one word I shall add, That this difference should arise to so great a height, may seem somewhat strange to any man that calmly considers, that there is in this church no change at all, neither in the doctrine nor worship, no nor in the substance of the discipline itself : but when it falls on matters easily inflammable, how little a spark, how great a fire will it kindle ?
Because every one hath not the book, I have transcribed here Mr. Baxter's own words. Bax. of Church Government, P. III. c. i. p.
276. “ An Episcopacy desirable for the reforination and peace of the churches. A fixed president durante vitá, pp. 297, 330. But some will say, we are engaged against all prelacy by covenant, and therefore cannot yield to so much as you do without perjury. Ans. That this is utterly untrue, I thus demonstrate.
1. “When that covenant was presented to the assembly with the bare name of prelacy joined to popery, many grave and reverend divines desired that the word prelacy might be explained, because it was not all episcopacy they were against ; and thereupon the following concatenation in the parenthesis was given by way of explication in these words : That is church-government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries, deans, and chapters, archdeans, and all the other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy. By which it appears, that it was only the English hierarchy or
frame that was covenanted against, and that which was then existent that was taken down.
2. “ When the House of Lords took the covenant, Mr. Thomas Coleman, that gave it them, did so explain it, and profess that it was not their intent to covenant against all episcopacy, and upon this explication it was taken ; and certainly the parliament was most capable of giving the due sense of it, because it was they that did impose it.
3. “And it could not be all episcopacy that was excluded, because a parochial episcopacy was at the same time used and approved commonly here in England.
4. “And in Scotland they had used the help of visiters for the reformation of their churches, committing the care of a country or circuit to some one man, which was as high a sort of episcopacy, at least as any I am pleading for. Besides that they had moderators in all their synods, which were temporary bishops.
5. “ Also the chief divines of the late assembly at Westminster, that recommended that covenant to the nations, have professed their own judgments for such a moderate episcopacy as I am here defending, and therefore never intended the exclusion of this by covenant.”
After he adds, “As we have prelacy to beware of, so we have the contrary extreme to avoid, and the church's peace (if it may be) to procure ; and as we must not take down the ministry, lest it prepare men for episcopacy, so neither must we be against any profitable exercise of the ministry, or desirable order amongst them for fear of introducing prelacy." Thus far Baxter's own words.
There is another that hath writ a treatise on purpose, and that zealous and strict enough, touching the obligation of the league and covenant, under the name of Theophilus Timorcus. And yet therein it is expressly asserted, that“ however, at first, it might appear that the parliament had renounced all episcopacy, yet upon stricter inquiry, it was evident to the author, that that very scruple was made by some members in parliament, and resolved with the consent of their brethren in Scotland) that the covenant was only intended against prelacy as then it was in being in England, leaving a latitude for episcopacy, 8c."
It would be noted, that when that covenant was framed, there was no episcopacy at all in being in Scotland, but in England only; so that the extirpation of that frame only could then be meant and intended. Likewise it would be considered, that though there is in Scotland at present the name of dean, and chapter, and commissaries, yet that none of those at all do exercise any part of the discipline under that name, neither any other, as chancellor or surrogate, &c., by delegation from bishops, with a total exclusion of the community of presbyters from all power and share in it, which is the great point of difference betwixt that model and this with us, and imports so much as to the main of discipline. I do not deny that the generality of the people, yea even of ministers in Scotland, when they took the covenant, might likewise understand that article as against all episcopacy whatsoever, even the most moderate, especially if it should be restored under the express name of bishops and archbishops ; never considering how different the nature, and model, and way of exercising it may be, though under the same names, and that the due regulating of the thing is much more to be regarded than either the retaining or altering of the name. But though they did not then consider any such thing, yet certainly it concerns them now to consider it, when it is represented to them, that not only the words of the oath itself do very genuinely consist with such a qualified and distinctive sense, but that the very composers or imposers of it, or a considerable part of them, did so understand and intend it. And unless they make it appear, that the episcopacy now in question with us in Scotland is either contrary to the word, or to that mitigated sense of their own oath, it would seem more suitable to christian charity and modera