« PreviousContinue »
but at certain times; which sheweth that the primitive Church did not attribute so much to the ceremony, as they would break an outward and general order for it; the book should afterwards allow of private baptism, as if the ceremony were of that necessity, as the very institution, which committed baptism only to the ministers, should be broken in regard of the supposed necessity. And therefore this point of all others I think was but a “Concessum propter duritiem cordis."
For the form of celebrating matrimony, the ring seemeth to many even of vulgar sense and understanding, a ceremony not grave, especially to be made, as the words make it, the essential part of the action; besides, some other of the words are noted in speech to be not so decent and fit.
For music in churches; that there should be singing of psalms and spiritual songs, is not denied : so the question is “de modo ;" wherein if a man will look attentively into the order and observation of it, it is easy to discern between the wisdom of the institution and the excess of the late times. For first there are no songs or verses sung by the quire, which are not supposed by continual use to be so familiar with the people, as they have them without book, whereby the sound hurteth not the understanding: and those which cannot read upon the book, are yet partakers of the sense, and may follow it with their mind. So again, after the reading of the word, it was thought fit there should be some pause for holy meditation, before they proceeded to the rest of the service : which pause was thought fit to be filled rather with some grave sound, than with a still silence ; which was the reason of the playing upon the organs after the Scriptures read: all which was decent and tending to edification. But then the curiosity of division and reports, and other figures of music, have no affinity with the reasonable service of God, but were added in the more pompous times.
For the cap and surplice, since they be things in their nature indifferent, and yet by some held superstitious; and that the question is between science and conscience, it seemeth to fall within the compass of the apostle's rule, which is, “ that the stronger do descend and yield to the weaker.” Only the difference is, that it will be materially said, that the rule holdeth between private man and private man; but not between the conscience of a private man, and the order of a Church. But yet since the question at this time is of a toleration, not by connivance, which may encourage disobedience, but by law, which may give a liberty; it is good again to be advised whether it fall not within the equity of the former rule: the rather, because the silencing of ministers by this occasion is, in this scarcity of good preachers, a punishment that lighteth upon the people as well as upon the party. And for the subscription, it seemeth to me in the nature of a confession, and therefore more proper to bind in the unity of faith, and to be urged rather for articles of doctrine, than for rites and ceremonies, and points of outward government. For howsoever politic considerations and reasons of state may require uniformity, yet Christian and divine grounds look chiefly upon unity.
TOUCHING A PREACHING MINISTRY.
To speak of a learned ministry: it is true that the worthiness of the pastors and ministers is of all other points of religion the most summary ; I do not say the greatest, but the most effectual towards the rest : but herein, to my understanding, while men go on in zeal to hasten this work, they are not aware of as great or greater inconvenience, than that which they seek to remove. For while they inveigh against a dumb ministry, they make too easy and too promiscuous an allowance of such as they account preachers ; having not respect enough to their learnings in other arts, which are handmaids to divinity ; not respect enough to years, except it be in case of extraordinary gift; not respect enough to the gift itself, which many times is none at all. For God forbid, that every man that can take unto himself boldness to speak an hour together in a Church, upon a text, should be admitted for a preacher, though he mean never so well. I know there is a great latitude in gifts, and a great
variety in auditories and congregations; but yet so as there is
aliquid infimum," below which you ought not to descend. For you must rather leave the ark to shake as it shall please God, than put unworthy hands to hold it up. And when we in God's temple, we are warned rather to “put our hands upon our mouth, than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” And surely it may be justly thought, that amongst many causes of atheism, which are miserably met in our age; as schisms and controversies, prophane scoffings in holy matters, and others; it is not the least that divers do adventure to handle the word of God, which are unfit and unworthy. And herein I would have no man mistake me, as if I did extol curious and affected preaching ; which is as much on the other side to be disliked, and breedeth atheism and scandal as well as the other : for who would not be offended at one that cometh into the pulpit, as if he came upon the stage to play parts or prizes ? neither on the other side, as if I would discourage any who hath any tolerable gift.
But upon this point I ground three considerations: first, whether it were not requisite to renew that good exercise which was practised in this Church, some years, and afterwards put down by order indeed from the Church, in regard of some abuse thereof, inconvenient for those times; and yet against the advice and opinion of one of the greatest and gravest prelates of this land, and was commonly called prophesying; which was this: That the ministers within a precinct did meet upon
a week-day in some principal town, where there was some ancient grave minister that was president, and an auditory admitted of gentlemen, or other persons of leisure. Then every minister successively, beginning with the youngest, did handle one and the same part of Scripture, spending severally some quarter of an hour or better, and in the whole some two hours : and so the exercise being begun and concluded with prayer, and the president giving a text for the next meeting, the assembly was dissolved. And this was, as I take it, a fortnight's exereise; which, in my opinion, was the best way to frame and train up preachers to handle the word of God as it ought to be handled, that hath been practised. For we see orators have their declamations, lawyers have their moots, logicians their sophisms; and every practice of science hath an exercise of erudition and initiation before men come to the life; only preaching, which is the worthiest, and wherein it is most danger to do amiss, wanteth an introduction, and is ventured and rushed upon at the first. But unto this exercise of the prophecy, I would wish these two additions: the one, that after this exercise, which is in some sort public, there were immediately a private meeting of the same ministers, where they might brotherly admonish the one the other, and especially the elder sort the younger, of any thing that had passed in the exercise, in matter or manner, unsound and uncomely; and in a word, might mutually use such advice, instruction, comfort, or encouragement, as occasion might minister ;