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The Keyes Of The Kingdom Of Heaven And Power Thereof by John Cotton


THE greatest commotions in Kingdomes have for the most part beene raised and maintained for and about Power, and Liberties, of the Rulers, and the Ruled, together with the due bounds and limits of either: And the like hath fallen out in Churches, and is continued to this day in the sharpest contentions (though now the seate of the warre is changed) who should bee the first adequate, and compleat subject of that Church-power, which Christ hath left on earth, how bounded, & to whom committed. This controversie is in a speciall manner the lot of these present times: And now that most parties (that can pretend any thing towards it) have in severall ages had their turns and vicissitudes of so long a possession of it, and their pleas for their severall pretences, have beene so much and so long heard, it may wel be hoped it is neere determining; and that Christ wil shortly settle this power upon the right heires to whom he primitively did bequeathe it.

In those former darker times, this golden Ball was throwne up by the Clergy (so called) alone to runne for among themselves: And as they quietly possessed the name Klero`s, the Clergy and of the Church, appropriated to themselves; so answerably all manner of interest in power or cognisance of matters of the Church, was wholly left and quitted to them: whilst the People that then knew not the law, having given up their soules to an implicit faith in what was to be beleeved, did much more suffer themselves to be deprived of all Liberties in Church affaires. This royall donation bestowed by Christ upon his Church, was taken up and placed in so high thrones of Bishops, Popes, Generall Councells, &c. not only farre above these things on earth, the people; but things in heaven also, we meane the Angels & Ministers of the Churches themselves; in so great a remotenesse from the people, that the least right or interest therein, was not so much as suspected to belong to them. But towards these latter times, after many removalls of it downe againe, and this as the issue of many suits againe and againe renued & removed, & upon the sentence (even of whole States) as oft reversed. It hath now in these our dayes been brought so neere unto the people, that they also have begunne to pleade & sue for a portion, & legacy bequeathed them in it. The Saints (in these knowing times) finding that the Key of knowledge hath so farre opened their hearts, that they see with their owne eyes into the substantialls of Godlinesse, and that through the instruction and guidance of their teachers, they are enabled to understand for themselves such other things as they are to joyn in the practice of. They doe therefore further (many of them) begin more then to suspect, that some share in the Key of power should likewise appertain unto them.

It was the unhappinesse of those, who first in these latter times revived this plea of the peoples right, to erre on the other extreame (as it hath ever beene the fate of truth, when it first ariseth in the Church from under that long night of darknes which Antichristianisme had brought upon the world to have a long shadow of errour to accompanie it) by laying the plea and claim on their behalf unto the whole power; & that the Elders set over them did but exercise that power for them, which was properly theirs, and which Christ had (as they contended) radically and originally estated in the people only.

But after that all titles have been pleaded, of those that are content with nothing but the whole, the final judgment and sentence may (possibly) fall to be a sutable & due proportioned distribution & dispersion of this power into severall interests, and the whole to neither part. In Commonwealths, it is a Dispersion of severall portions of power and rights into severall hands, joyntly to concurre and agree in acts and processe of weight and moment, which causeth that healthfull kra'sis and constitution of them, which makes them lasting and preserves their peace, when none of al sorts find they are excluded, but as they have a share of concernment, so that a fit measure of power or priviledge, is left and betrusted to them. And accordingly the wisdome of the first Constitutors of Commonwealths is most seen in such a just balancing of power and priviledges, and besides also in setting the exact limits of that which is committed unto each; yea and is more admired by us in this than in their other Lawes; and in experience, a cleare and distinct definement and confinement of all such parcells of power, both of the kind and extent of them, is judged to be as essentially necessary (if not more) than whatever other statutes, that set out the kinds & degrees of crimes or penalties.

So in that Politie or Government by which Christ would have his churches ordered, the right of disposall of the power therein (we humbly suppose) may lie in a due and proportioned allotment and dispersion (though not in the same measure and degree) into divers hands, according unto the severall concernments and interests that each rank in his Church may have; rather than in an entire and sole trust committed to any one man (though never so able) or any one sort or kinde of men or officers, although diversified into never so many subordinations under one another. And in like manner, wee cannot but imagine, that Christ hath been as exact in setting forth the true bounds and limits of whatever portion of power he hath imparted unto any (if wee of this age could attain rightly to discern it) as hee hath been in ordering what kinde of censures, and for what sinnes and what degrees of proceedings unto those censures; which wee find hee hath been punctuall in.

Now the scope which this grave & judicious Author in this his Treatise doth pursue, is, to lay forth the just lines and terriers of this division of Church-power, unto all the severall subjects of it; to the end to allay the contentions now on foot, about it. And in generall hee layes this fundamentall Maxime, that holds in common true of all the particulars, to whom any portion of power can be supposed to be committed: That look whatever power or right any of the Possessours and subjects thereof may have, they have it each, alike immediately (that is, in respect of a mediation of delegation or dependence on each other) from Christ, & so are each, the first subjects of that power that is allotted to them. And for the particular subjects themselves, hee follows that division (in the handling of them) which the controversie itself hath made unto his hands; to wit, 1. What power each single Congregation (which is indowed with a Charter to be a body-politique to Christ) hath granted to it to exercise within itself: And 2. What measure, or rather, kinde of Power Christ hath placed in Neighbour-Churches without it, & in association with it.

For the first. As hee supposeth, each Congregation, such, as to have the priviledge of injoying a Presbyterie, or company of more or lesse Elders proper unto itself; so being thus Presbyterated hee asserteth this incorporate body or society to be the first and primary subject of a compleat and entire power within itself over its own members; yea, and the sole native subject of the power of Ordination & Excommunication, which is the highest Censure. And whereas this corporation consisteth both of Elders &Brethren, (for as for women & children, there is a speciall exception by a Statute-Law of Christ against their injoyment of any part of this publique power;) His scope is to demonstrate a distinct & severall share & interest of power, in matters of common concernment, vouchsafed to each of these, and dispersed away both, by Charter from the Lord: as in some of our towns corporate, to a Company of Aldermen, the Rulers, & a Common Councell, a body of the people, there useth to be the like: He giving unto the Elders or Presbytery a binding power of Rule and Authority proper and peculiar unto them; and unto the Brethren, distinct and apart, an interest of power & priviledge to concurre with them, and that such affairs should not be transacted, but with the joynt agreement of both, though out of a different right: so that as a Church of Brethren only, could not proceed to any publique censure, without they have Elders over them, so nor in the Church have the Elders power to censure without the concurrence of the people; and likewise so, as each alone hath not power of Excommunicating the whole of either, though together they have power over any particular person or persons in each.

And because these particular Congregations, both Elders and People, may disagree & miscarry and abuse this power committed to them; He, therefore, Secondly, asserteth an association or communion of Churches, sending their Elders and Messengers into a Synod (so hee purposely chooseth to stile those Assemblies of Elders which the Reformed Churches do call Classes or Presbyteries, that so hee might distinguish them from those Presbyteries of Congregations before mentioned). And acknowledgeth that it is an Ordinance of Christ, unto whom Christ hath (in relation to rectifying Mal-administrations, and healing dissensions in particular Congregations, and the like cases) committed a due & just measure of power, suited & proportioned to those ends; and furnished them not only with ability to give counsell and advice, but further upon such occasions with a Ministeriall power and authority to determine, declare and injoyne such things as may tend to the reducing of such Congregations to right order and peace. Onely in his bounding and defining this power, he affirms it to be. First for the kinde and quality of it, but a dogmaticall or doctrinall power (though stamped with authority Ministeriall as an Ordinance of Christ) whether in judging of controversies of faith (when they disturb the peace of particular Congregations, and which themselves finde too difficult for them) or in decerning matters of fact and what censures they doe deserve; but not armed with authority and power of Excommunicating or delivering unto Satan, either the Congregations or the Members of them: But they in such cases, having declared and judged the nature of the offence, and admonished the peccant Churches, and decerned what they ought to do with the offending members; they are to leave the formall act of this censure to that authority which can only execute it, placed by Christ in those Churches themselves; which if they deny to do, or persist in their miscarriage, then to determine to withdraw communion from them. And also for the extent of this power in such Assemblies and Association of Churches, he limits and confines that also unto cases, & with cautions (which will appear in the Discourse) to wit, that they should not intrench or impair the priviledge of entire Jurisdiction committed unto each Congregation (as a liberty purchased them by Christs blood) but to leave them free to the exercise and use thereof, untill they abuse that power or are unable to manage it; and in that case only to assist, guide and direct them, and not take on them to administer it for them, but with them & by them.

As for ourselves, we are yet neither afraid nor ashamed to make profession (in the midst of all the high waves on both sides dashing on us) that the substance of this brief extract from the Authors larger Discourse, is That very Middle-way (which in our apologie we did in the generall intimate and intend) between that which is called Brownisme, and the Presbyteriall-gorernment, as it is practised; whereof the one doth in effect put the chief (if not the whole) of the rule, and government into the hands of the people, and drowns the Elders votes (who are but a few) in the major part of theirs: And the other, taking the chief and principall parts of that rule (which we conceive is the due of each Congregation, the Elders and Brethren) into this Jurisdiction of a common Presbyterie of severall Congregations, doth thereby in like manner swallow up, not only the interests of the people, but even the votes of the Elders of that Congregation concerned, in the major part thereof.

Neither let it seem arrogance in us, but a testimony rather to the truth, further to Remonstrate, that this very Boundry platforme and disposement of Church power, as here it is (we speake for the substance of it) set out & stated; as also that the tenure and exercise thereof in all these subjects, should be immediately from Christ unto them all, is not new unto our thoughts; yea it is no other than what our owne apprehensions have been moulded unto long since: And this many of our friends, and some that are of a differing opinion having knowne our private judgments long, as likewise our owne Notes and transcripts written long agoe, can testifie; besides many publike professions since as occasion hath beene offered: Insomuch as when we first read this of this learned Author (knowing what hath been the more generall current both of the practice and judgement of our Brethren for the Congregationall way) we confess we were filled with wonderment at that Divine hand, that hath thus led the judgments (without the least mutuall interchange, or intimation of thoughts or notions in these particulars) of our Brethren there, and ourselves (unworthy to be mentioned with them) here: Onely we crave leave of the reverend Author and those Brethren that had the view of it, to declare: that we assent not to all expressions scattered up and down, or all and every Assertion interwoven in it; yea nor to all the grounds and allegations of scriptures; nor should wee in all things perhaps have used the same terms to expresse the same materialls by.

For instance, wee humbly conceive Prophesying (as the Scripture tearmes it) or speaking to the edification of the whole Church, may (sometimes) be performed by Brethren gifted, though not in Office as Elders of the Church; onely 1. Occasionally, not in an Orderly course; 2. By men of such abilities as are fit for Office; and 3. not assuming this of themselves, but judged such by those that have the power, and so allowed and designed to it: And 4. so as their Doctrine be subjected (for the judging of it) in an espiciall manner to the Teaching-Elders of that Church: And when it is thus cautioned, wee see no more incongruity for such to speake to a point of Divinity in a Congregation, then for men of like abilities to speake to and debate of matters of religion in an Assembly of Divines, which this reverend Author allows; and here, with us, is practised.

Againe, in all humility, we yet see not that assembly of Apostles, Elders, and Brethren, Acts 15, to have beene a formall Synod, of Messengers, sent, out of a set and combined association from neighbor Churches; but an Assembly of the Church of Jerusalem, and of the Messengers from the Church of Antioch alone; that were farre remote each from other, and electively now met: Nor are we at present convinced that the Apostles to the end to make this a Precedent of such a formal Synod, did act therein as Ordinary Elders, and not out of Apostolicall guidance & assistance; But we rather conceive (if we would simply consider the mutual aspects which these two Churches and their Elders stood in this conjunction, abstracting from them that influence and impression (that superior Sphere) the Apostles who were then present had in this transaction) this to have been a Consultation (as the learned Author doth also acknowledge it to have beene in its first originall, onely rising up to be a Generall Councell by the Apostles presence, they being Elders of all the Churches;) or if you will, a reference by way of Arbitration for deciding of that great controversie risen amongst them at Antioch, which they found to bee too difficult for themselves; and so to be a warrant indeede for all such waies of communion between all, or any, especially neighbor churches; and upon like occasions to bee Ordinances furnished with ministeriall power for such ends and purposes. Our reasons for this, wee are now many waies bound up from giving the accompt of, in this way, and at this season: But however if it should have beene so intended as the learned Author judgeth, and the Apostles to have acted therein as ordinary Elders, yet the lines of that proportion of power that could bee drawne from that patterne would extend no farther then a Ministeriall Doctrinall power, &c. in such Assemblies, which we willingly grant. And it may bee observed with what a wary eye & exact ayme hee takes the latitude and elevation of that power there held forth, not daring to attribute the least, either for kind or degree, then what that example warrants, which was at utmost but a Doctrinall decernment both of the truth of that Controversie they were consulted in; as also the matter of fact in those that had taught the contrary, as belyers of them and subverters of the faith; without so much as brandishing the sword and power of Excommunication, against those high & grosse delinquents, or others, that should not obey them by that Epistle.

Onely in the last place for the further clearing the difference of the peoples interest (which the reverend Author usually calleth Liberty, sometimes Power) and the Elders rule and authority (which makes that first distribution of church-power in particular congregations) at likewise for the illustration of that other allotment of Ministerial doctrinal power in an association or communion of Churches as severed from the power of Excommunication (which is the second.) We take the boldnes to cast a weake beame of bur dimne light upon either of these; & to present how these have layne stated in our thoughts, to this end that wee may haply prevent some readers mistake, especially about the former. For the first, we conceive the Elders and Brethren in each Congregation, as they are usually in the New Testament thus mentioned distinctly apart, and this when their meeting together is spoken of, so they make in each congregation two distinct intrests (though meeting in one Assembly), as the interest of the Common-Councell or body of the people, in some Corporations, is distinct from that of Aldermen; so as without the consent and concurrence of both nothing is esteemed as a Church act. But so as in this company of Elders, this power is properly Authority; but in the people is a priviledge or power. An apparent difference betweene these two is evident to us from this. That two or three or more select persons should be put into an Office and betrusted with an intire interest of power for a multitude, to which that multitude ought (by a command from Christ) to bee subject & obedient as to an ordinance to guide them in their consent, and in whose sentence the ultimate formall Ministeriall act of binding or loosing should consist: this power must needs be esteemed and acknowledged in these few to have the proper notion and character of Authority, in comparison of that power (which must yet concurre with theirs) that is in a whole body or multitude of men, who have a greater and neerer interest and concernment in those affairs, over which these few are set as Rulers.

This difference of power cloth easily appeare in comparing the severall interest of Father and Child, in his disposement of her in marriage, and her concurrence with him therein, (although we intend not the parallell between the things themselves.) A virgin daughter hath a power truly & properly so called, yea and .a power ultimately to dissent upon an unsatisfied dislike, yea, and it must be an act of her consent, that maketh the marriage valid: But yet for her Parents to have a power to guide her in her choyce (which she ought in duty to obey) and a power which must also concurre to bestowe her, or the marriage is invalid, this (comparing her interest (wherein she is more neerly and intimately concerned) with theirs) doth arise to the notion of an extrinsicall authority; whereas that power in her is but simply the power of her own act, in which her own concernment which doth interest her free by an intrinsicall right. The like difference would appeare, if we had seene a Government tempered of an Aristocracy and democracy; in which, suppose the people have a share, and their actuall consent is necessary to all lawes and sentences, &c. whereas a few nobles that are set over them (whose concernment is lesse generall) in whom the formall sanction of all should lye, in these it were Rule and Authority, in that multitude but Power and interest, and such an Authority is to be given to a Presbytry of Elders in a particular congregation, or else (as wee have long since beene resolved), all that is said in the New Testiment about their Rule, and of the peoples Obedience to them, is to be looked upon but as Metaphors, and to hold no proportion with any substantiall reality of Rule and Government.

And in this Distribution of power, Christ hath had a suitable and due regard unto the estate and, condition of his Church; as now under the New Testament, He hath qualified and dignified it. Vnder the Old Testament, it was in its infancy, but it is comparatively come forth of its nonage, growen up to a riper age (both as the tenure of the Covenant of grace in difference from the old, runs in the Prophets, and as Paul to the Galatians expresseth it.) They are therefore more generally able, if visible Saints (which is to be the subject matter of churches under the New Testament) to joyn with their Guides & Leaders in judging and discerning what concernes their own and their Brethrens conscences; And therefore Christ hath not now lodged the sole power of all church matters solely & entirely in the Churches Tutors & Governors as of old when it was under age He did: But yet because of their weaknes and unskillfulnes (for the generality of them) in comparison to those whom He hath ascended to give gifts unto, on purpose for their guidance & the government of them; He hath, therefore, placed a Rule and Authority in those Officers over them, not directing onely but binding: so as not onely nothing (in an ordinary way of church government) should be done without them, but not esteemed validly done unlesse done by them. And thus by meanes of this due and golden ballancing & poysing of power and interest, Authority and Privilege, in Elders and the Brethren, this Government might neither degenerate into Lordlynesse and oppression in Rulers over the Flocke, as not having all power in their hands alone; nor yet into Anarchy and confusion in the Flocke among themselves; and so as all things belonging to mens consciences might be, transacted to common edification, & satisfaction.

For the second, Let it not seeme a paradoxe that a Ministeriall Doctrinall Authority should be found severed from that power of Excommunication, to second it, if not obeyed. Every Minister and Pastour hath in himselfe, alone, a Ministeriall Doctrinall authority over the whole Church that is his charge, and every person in it, to instruct, rebuke & exhort with all authority: By reason of which those under him are bound to obey him in the Lord, not only vi Materiæ by virtue of the matter of the commands, in that they are the commands of Christ (for so he should speake with no more authority than any other man, yea a child, who speaking a truth out of the word, should leade us, as the prophet speakes;) But further, by reason of that Ministeriall Authority which Christ hath endowed him withall, he is to be looked at by them as an Ordinance of His, over them and towards them: And yet he alone hath not the authority of Excommunication in him, to inforce his Doctrine if any doe gainsay it: Neither therefore is this authority (as in him considered) to be judged vaine and fruitlesse and ineffectuall, to draw men to obedience.

Neither let it seeme strange, that the power of this Censure, of cutting men off, and delivering them to Satan (in which the positive part (and indeed the controversie betwixt us and others,) of Excommunication lyes) should be inseperably linked by Christ unto a particular Congregation, as the proper native priviledge hereof, so as that no Assembly or company of Elders justly presumed and granted to be more wise & judicious, should assume it to themselves, or sever the formall power thereof from the particular Congregations. For though it be hard to give the reason of Christs institutions. Yet there is usually in the wayes of humane wisdom and reason something analogous thereunto, which may serve to illustrate, if not to justifie this dispersion interests: And so (if we mistake not) there may be found even of this in the wisdome of our Ancestours, in the constitutions of this Kingdome; The sentencing to death of any subject in the Kingdome, as it is the highest civill punishment, so of all other the neerest and exactest paralell to this in spiritualls, of cutting a soule off and delivering it to Satan; yet the power of this high judgement is not put into the hands of an Assembly of Lawyers onely, no not of all the Judges themselves, men selected for wisdome, faithfulnesse, and gravity, who yet are by office designed to have an interest herein; But when they upon any speciall Cause of difficulty, for councell and direction in such judgements doe all meete (as sometimes they doe): Yet they have not power to pronounce this sentence of death upon any man without the concurrence of a Jury of his Peeres, which are of his owne rank; and in Corporations of such as are Inhabitants of the same place: And with a Jury of these (men, of themselves not supposed to be so skilfull in the Lawes &c.) two Judges, yea one, with other Justices on the Bench hath power to adjudge and pronounce that which all of them, and all the Lawyers in this Kingdome together, have not without a Jury. And we of this Nation use to admire the care and wisdom of our Ancestors herein, & do esteeme this priviledge of the Subject in this particular (peculiar to our Nation) as one of the glories of our Lawes, and doe make boast of it as such a liberty and security to each persons life, as (we thinke) no Nation about us can shew the like. And what should be the reason of such a constitution but this (which in the beginning we insisted on) the dispersion of power into severall hands which in capitall matters, every mans tryall should runne through; whereof the one should have the tye of like common intrest to oblige them unto faithfulnesse; as the other should have skill and wisdome to guide them and direct therein.

And besides that interest that is in any kind of Association, fraternity, yea or neighbourhood, or like wise, that which is from the common case of men alike subjected to an Authority set over them to sentence them, there is also the speciall advantage of an exact knowledge of the fact in the hainous circumstances thereof, yea, and (in these cases) of the ordinary conversation of the person offending.

We need not inlarge in the application of this: Although a greater Assembly of Elders are to be reverenced as more wise and able than a few Elders with their single Congregations, and accordingly may have an higher doctrinall power, (a power properly and peculiarly, suited to their abilities) in cases of difficulty, to determine and direct Congregations in their way; yet Christ hath not betrusted them with that power Hee hath done the Congregation; because they are abstracted from the people: And so one Tribe of men concerned in all the forementioned respects is wanting which Christ would have personally concurring, not by delegation or representation alone, not to the execution only, but even to the legall sentence also of cutting men off, as in the former paralell and instance may bee observed. Yea, and the higher and the greater the associations of the Presbyteries are, the further are they removed from the people, and although you might have thereby a greater helpe, in that Juridicall knowledge of the Rule, to be proceeded by: yet they are in a further distance (and disinabled thereby) from that Precise practique knowledge of the Fact and frame of spirit in the person transgressing. And Cases may be as truely difficult and hard to bee decided from obscuritie and want of light into the Circumstantiation of the Fact, and person: in which it was committed, and by him obstinately persisted in; as of the Law itself.

Other considerations of like weight might here be added, if not for the proofe (which we do not here intend) yet the clearing of this particular; As also to demonstrate that that other way of proceeding by withdrawing communion is most suitable to the relation, that by Christs endowment all Churches stand in one towards another, yea and wherein the least (being a body to Christ) doth stand unto all: But we should too much exceed the bounds of an Epistle, and too long detayne the Reader from the fruitfull and pregnant labors of the worthy Authour.

The God of peace and truth, santifie all the truths in it, to all those holy ends (and through his grace much more) which the holy and peaceable spirit of the, Author did intend.



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