But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
~ Ephesians 4:7-8
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
~ Galatians 3:10-11
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
~ Matthew 15:2-3, Mark 7:9, Hebrews 4:12, Deuteronomy 12:32
Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
~ Matthew 16:6
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,
~ Luke 24:44, Psalm 40:7
Let all things be done decently and in order.
~ 1 Corinthians 14:40
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
~ Revelation 22:18-19
A Discourse Concerning Liturgies, and Their Imposition, by John Owen. 1662. This is an excerpt from the text.
It deserves attention that this pamphlet, with its humble title, “A Discourse concerning Liturgies,” etc., and printed anonymously in 1662, contains the judgment of our author in regard to measures which gave rise to most important events in the ecclesiastical history of England. It is an argument against the liturgy, the imposition of which obliged nearly two thousand clergy of the Church of England to resign their livings rather than sacrifice a good conscience.
On the Restoration, the Book of Common Prayer had been resumed in the royal chapel at Whitehall; it was ordained to be read in the House of Peers; and before the year closed, some of the parochial clergy, who scrupled to use it, were prosecuted according to the laws in force before the civil war.
As many leading Presbyterians, however, had been favourable to the Restoration, the Court could not afford at first to come to an open rupture with them, and accordingly, in 1661, a conference was appointed between twelve bishops and an equal number of Presbyterian ministers, with instructions to revise the Book of Common Prayer, so as to bring it into conformity with the religious convictions of both parties, and establish peace and unity in the church. This conference, however, after long and keen debate, broke up without any good results.
The Convocation was then ordered to revise the liturgy. The changes made on it were not such as to relieve the consciences of the Presbyterians; but, nevertheless, as revised by the Convocation, it was adopted by Parliament, and ratified by the Act for Uniformity in the Prayers and Ceremonies of the Church of England. This act, designed, according to Burnet, to make the terms of conformity stricter than before, passed the House of Commons by a majority of 186 to 180, The House of Lords endeavoured to abate the stringency of some of its provisions, but, supported by the Court, the majority in the Lower House effectually resisted the modifications proposed. The bill passed the House of Peers by a small majority, and received the royal assent on 19th May 1662. The act required all ministers to announce publicly their adherence to the liturgy, and to subscribe a declaration that it was unlawful, upon any pretence, to take arms against the king, or to endeavour any change in the government of church or state. No person, moreover, according to the act, could hold a benefice or administer the Lord’s supper unless he was episcopally ordained. Fines, imprisonment, and the forfeiture of their livings, were the penalties to be inflicted on those who could not yield compliance with the law. The act took effect on the 24th of August, and nearly two thousand devout and faithful pastors were then expelled from the Church of England.
The chief merit of the following tract can only be understood in the light of these exciting events. From some expressions in it, it must have been written while the contest prevailed, and before the liturgy was actually imposed; and yet the whole argument is conducted in perfect temper, and the readers of Owen might fail to bear in mind that he is discussing a question which was stirring English society to its depths, and involved consequences unparalleled in English history. The treatise has all the weight and gravity of a judicial decision. The author, rising above petty details, expends his strength in proof that the imposition of a liturgy by civil enactment is an interference with the authority of Christ; and, unwilling to heighten the asperities of the prevailing controversy, he excludes from discussion the character of the English liturgy, and confines himself to the abstract question, as to the lawfulness of enforcing it on the conscience as essential to divine worship. It is the more honourable to Owen that he should have exerted himself against the imposition of the liturgy, when it is remembered that as at this time he held no living in the church, he could not suffer under the Act of Uniformity, and the measures of the Court were directed against the Presbyterians rather than the Independents. Orme remarks of this production and its subject, “The principle which these forms of human composition involve is of vast importance; and I know not where, in so small a compass, this principle is so well-stated and so ably opposed as in this work.” — Ed.
The state of the Judaical church — The liberty given by Christ; 1. From the arbitrary impositions of men; 2. From the observances and rites instituted by Moses — The continuance of their observation, in the patience and forbearance of God — Difference about them stated — Legal righteousness and legal ceremonies contended for together — The reason of it.
Although our present inquiry be merely after one part of instituted worship under the gospel, and the due performance of it according to the mind of God, yet, there being a communication of some light to be obtained from the turning over of that worship from the Mosaical to the care and practice of the evangelical church, we shall look a little back unto it as therein stated; hoping thereby to make way for our clearer progress. What was the state of the church of God amongst the Jews as to instituted worship, when our blessed Saviour came to make the last and perfect discovery of his mind and will, is manifest both from the appointment of that worship in the law of Moses, and the practice of it remarked in the gospel. That the rites and ordinances of the worship in the church observed, were from the original in their nature carnal, and for the number many, on both accounts burdensome and grievous to the worshippers, the Scripture frequently declares. Howbeit, the teachers and rulers of the church, being grown wholly carnal in their spirits, and placing their only glory in their yoke, not being able to see to the end of the things that were to be done away, had increased those institutions, both in number and weight, with sundry inventions of their own; which, by their authority, they made necessary to be observed by their disciples. In an equal practice of these divine institutions and human inventions did our Lord Jesus Christ find the generality of the church at his coming in the flesh. The former, being to continue in force until the time of reformation, at his resurrection from the dead, should come, both by his practice and his teaching, as a minister of Circumcision, he confirmed and pressed frequently on the consciences of men, from the authority of the Law-maker. The latter he utterly rejected, as introduced in a high derogation from the perfection of the law, and the honour of Him whose prerogative it is to be the sole lawgiver of his church, — the only fountain and disposer of his own worship. And this was the first dawning of liberty that, with the rising of this Day-star, did appear to the burdened and languishing consciences of men. He freed them, by his teaching, from the bondage of Pharisaical, arbitrary impositions, delivering their consciences from subjection to any thing in the worship of God but his own immediate authority. For it may not be supposed that, when he recommended unto his hearers an attendance unto the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, with an injunction to obey their directions, that he intended aught but those commands which they gave from Him, and according to his mind, whose fear they did outwardly profess; seeing that, both in general and particular, he did himself condemn their traditions and impositions, giving out a rule of liberty from them unto others in his own constant practice. Yea, and whereas he would do civil things in their own nature indifferent, whereunto he was by no righteous law obliged, to avoid the offence of any which he saw might follow, Matt. xvii. 27, yet would he not practise or give countenance unto, nay, nor abstain from condemning of, any of their ecclesiastical self-invented observances, though he saw them offended and scandalised at him, and was by others informed no less, chap. xv. 12–14; confirming his practice with that standing rule concerning all things relating to the worship of God, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” But he is yet farther to carry on the work of giving liberty to all the disciples, that he might take them into a subjection to himself and his own authority only. The Aaronical priesthood being the hinge on which the whole ceremonial worship turned, so that upon a change thereof the obligation of the law unto that worship, or any part of it, was necessarily to cease, our blessed Saviour, in his death and oblation, entering upon the office, and actually discharging the great duty of his priesthood, did virtually put an end to the whole obligation of the first institution of Mosaical worship. In his death was the procurement of the liberty of his disciples completely finished, as unto conscience; the supposed obligation of men’s traditions, and the real obligation of Mosaical institutions, being by him (the first as a prophet in his teaching, the last as a priest in his offering) dissolved and taken away. From that day all the disciples of Christ were taken under his immediate lordship, and made free to the end of the from all obligations in conscience unto any thing in the worship of God but what is of his own institution and command.
This dissolution of the obligation of “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” being declared by his apostles and disciples, became a matter of great difference and debate amongst the Jews, to whom the gospel was first preached. Those who before had slain him, in pursuit of their own charge, that he would bring in such an alteration in the worship of God as was now divulged, were many of them exceedingly enraged at this new doctrine, and had their prejudices against him and his way much increased, — hating indeed the light, because their deeds were evil. These being obstinately bent to seek after righteousness (as it were, at least) by the works of the law, contended for their ceremonial works as one of the best stakes in their hedge, in whose observance they placed their chiefest confidence of their acceptance with God. But this is not all: many who, falling under powerful convictions of his doctrine and miracles, believed on him did yet pertinaciously adhere to their old ceremonial worship. Partly for want of clear light and understanding in the doctrine of the person and office of the Messiah; partly through the power of unspeakable prejudices which influenced their minds in reference to those rites which, being from of old observed by their forefathers, derived their original from God himself (much the most noble pleas and pretences that ever any of the sons of men had to insist upon for a subjection to such a yoke as indeed had lost all power to oblige them); they were very desirous to mix the observance of them with obedience unto those institutions which they, through the Lord Jesus, had superadded to them.
Things being thus stated amongst the Jews, God having a great work to accomplish among and upon them in a short time, would not have the effect of it turn upon this hinge merely; and therefore, in his infinite wisdom and condescension, waived the whole contest for a season. For whereas, within the space of forty years or thereabout, he was to call and gather out from the body, by the preaching gospel, his remnant according to the election of grace, and to leave the rest inexcusable, — thereby visibly glorifying his justice in their temporal and eternal ruin, — it pleased him, in a way of connivance and forbearance, to continue unto that people an allowance of the observation of their old worship until the time appointed for its utter removal and actual casting away should come. Though the original obligation on conscience, from the first institution of their ceremonies, was taken away, yet hence arose a new necessity of the observation of them, even in them who were acquainted with the dissolution of that obligation, — namely, from the offence and scandal of them to whom their observance was providentially indulged. On this account the disciples of Christ (and the apostles themselves) continued in a promiscuous observation of Mosaical institutions with the rest of the body of that people, until the appointed season of the utter rejection and destruction of the apostate churches was come. Hence many of the ancients affirm that James the Less, living at Jerusalem in great reputation with all the people for his sanctity and righteousness, was not, to the very time of his martyrdom, known to be a Christian; which had been utterly impossible had he totally abstained from communion with them in legal worship. Neither had that old controversy about the feast of the passover any other rise or spring than the mistake of some, who thought John had observed it as a Christian, who kept it only as a Judaical feast among the Jews: whence the tradition ran strong that he observed it with them on the fourteenth day of the month; which precise time others, turning it into a Christian observation, thought meet to lay aside.
Things being thus stated, in the connivance and forbearance of God, among the Jews, some of them, not contented to use the indulgence, granted to them in mere patience, for the ends before mentioned, began sedulously to urge the Mosaical rites upon all the Gentiles that were turned unto God; so making, upon the matter, the preaching of the gospel to be but a new way of proselyting men unto Judaism. For the most part, it appears that it was not any mistake or unacquaintedness with the liberty brought in by Christ that made them engage in this quarrel for Moses; but that indeed, being themselves carnal, and, notwithstanding the outward name of Christ, seeking yet for righteousness by the law, they esteemed the observation of the ceremonies indispensably necessary unto salvation. This gave occasion unto Paul, unto whom the apostleship of the Gentiles was in a special manner committed, to lay open the whole mystery of that liberty given by Christ to his disciples from the law of Moses; as also the pernicious effects which its observance would produce, upon those principles which were pressed by the Judaical zealots. Passing by the peculiar dispensation of God towards the whole nation of the Jews, wherein the Gentile believers were not concerned; as also that determination of the case of scandal made at Jerusalem, Acts xv., and the temporary rule of condescension as to the abridgment of liberty in some particulars agreed unto thereupon; he fully declares that the time of the appointment was come, that there was no more power in the law of their institutions to bind the consciences of men, and that it was not in the power of all the men in the world to impose the observation of them, or any like unto them, upon anyone, though the meanest of the disciples of Jesus Christ. The mind of Christ in this matter being fully made known, and the liberty of his disciples vindicated, various effects in the minds of men ensued thereupon. Those who were in their inward principle themselves carnal, notwithstanding their outward profession of the gospel, delighting in and resting on an outward ceremonious worship, continued to oppose him with violence and fury. Those who with the profession of the Lord Christ had also received the Spirit of Christ, and were by him instructed, as in the perfection of righteousness, so in the beauty and excellency of the worship of the gospel, rejoiced greatly in the grace and privilege of the purchased liberty. After many contests, this controversy was buried in the ruins of the city and temple, when the main occasion was utterly taken away.
By these degrees were the disciples of Christ put into a complete actual possession of that liberty which he had preached to them, and purchased for them. Being first delivered from any conscientious subjection to the institutions of men, and then to the temporary institutions of God which concerned them not, they were left in a dependence on and subjection unto himself alone, as to all things concerning worship; in which state he will assuredly continue and preserve them to the end of the world, under the guidance and direction of those rules for the use of their liberty which he has left in his word. But yet the principle of the difference before mentioned, which is fixed in the minds of men by nature, did not die together with the controversy that mainly issued from it. We may trace it effectually exerting itself in succeeding ages. As ignorance of the righteousness of God, with a desire to establish their own, did in any take place, so also did endeavours after an outward, ceremonious worship: for these things do mutually further and strengthen each other; and commonly proportionable unto men’s darkness in the mystery of the righteousness of God in Christ is their zeal for a worldly sanctuary and carnal ordinances. And such hath been the force and efficacy of these combined principles in the minds of carnal men, that, under the profession of Christianity, they reduced things (in the Papacy) to the very state and condition wherein they were in Judaism at the time of reformation; the main principle in the one and the other church, in the apostasy, being righteousness and an insupportable yoke of ceremonious observances in the worship of God. And generally, in others the same principles of legal righteousness and a ceremonious worship have prevalency in a just proportion, the latter being regulated by the former; and where by any means the former is everted, the latter for the most part falls of its own accord; yea, though riveted in the minds of men by other prejudices also. Hence when the soul of a sinner is effectually wrought upon, by the preaching of the gospel, 8to renounce himself and his own righteousness, and, being truly humbled for sin, to receive the Lord Christ by faith, as “made unto him of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” there needs, for the most part, little arguing to dissuade him from resting in or laying weight upon an outside, pompous worship; but he is immediately sensible of a delivery from its yoke, which he freely embraceth. And the reason hereof is, because that good Spirit by whom he is enabled to believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, gives him also an acquaintance with, and an experience of, the excellency, glory, and beauty of that spiritual communion with God in Christ whereunto believers are called in the gospel; which discovers the emptiness and uselessness of all which before, perhaps, he admired and delighted in: for “where the Spirit of Christ is, there is liberty.” And these things, — of seeking a righteousness in Christ alone, and delighting in spiritual communion with God, exercising itself only in the ways of his own appointment, — do inseparably proceed from the same Spirit of Christ, as those before mentioned from the same principle of self and flesh.
The disciples of Christ taken into his own disposal — General things to be observed about gospel institutions — Their number small — Excess of men’s inventions — Things instituted brought into a religious relation by the authority of Christ — That authority is none other — Suitableness in the matter of institutions, to be designed to their proper significancy — That discoverable only by infinite wisdom — Abilities given by Christ for the administration of all his institutions — The way whereby it was done, Eph. iv. 7, 8 — Several postulata laid down — The sum of the whole — State of our question in general.
We have brought unto and left the disciples of Jesus Christ in the hand and sole disposal of him, their Lord and Master, as to all things which concern the worship of God; and how he hath disposed of them we are in the next place to consider. Now, he being the Head, Lord, and only Lawgiver of his church, coming from the bosom of his Father to make the last revelation of his mind and will, was to determine and appoint that worship of God in and by himself which was to continue to the end of the world. It belongeth not unto our purpose to consider distinctly and apart all the several institutions which by him were ordained. We shall only observe some things concerning them in general, that will be of use in our progress, and so proceed to the consideration of that particular about which we are in disquisition of his mind and will. The worship of God is either moral and internal, or external and of sovereign or arbitrary institution. The former we do not now consider; nor was the ancient, original, fundamental obligation unto it altered or dissolved in the least by the Lord Christ. It was as unto superadded institutions of outward worship, which have their foundation and reason in sovereign will and pleasure, that he took his disciples into his own disposal, discharging them from all obligations to aught else whatever but only what he should appoint. Concerning these, some few considerations will lead us to what in this discourse we principally intend. And the first is, That they were few, and easy to be observed. It was his will and pleasure that the faith and love of his disciples should, in some few instances, be exercised in a willing, ready subjection to the impositions of his wisdom and authority; and their service herein he doth fully recompense, by rendering those his institutions blessedly useful to their spiritual advantage. But he would not burden them with observances, either for nature or number, like or comparable unto them from which he purchased liberty. And herein hath the practice of succeeding ages put an excellent lustre upon his love and tenderness. For whereas he is the Lord of his church, to whom the consciences of his disciples are in an unquestionable subjection, and who can give power and efficacy to his institutions to make them useful to their souls, yet some of their fellow-servants came, I know not how, to apprehend themselves enabled to impose arbitrarily their appointments, reasons seeming good to their wisdom, they might have been considered moderate if they had not given above ten commandments for his one. Bellarmine tells us, indeed, that the laws and institutions of the church that absolutely bind all Christians, so that they omit their observation, are upon the matter but four, — namely, to observe the fasts of Lent and Ember-weeks, to keep the holy days, confession once a year, and to communicate at Easter, De Rom. Pontif., lib. iv. cap. 18. But whereas they double the number of the sacred ceremonies instituted by Christ, and have every one of them a greater number of subservient observations attending on them, so he must be a stranger to their councils, canon-laws, and practices, that can believe his insinuation.
Again: as the institutions and ordinances of Christ in the outward worship of God, whose sole foundation was in his will and pleasure, were few, and easy to be observed, being brought into a relation of worship unto God by virtue of his institution and command, without which no one thing in their kind can do so more than another; so they were, for the matter of them, such as he knew had an aptness to be serviceable unto the significancy whereunto they were appointed by him, which nothing but infinite wisdom can judge of. And this eternally severs them from all things of men’s invention, either to the same purpose, or in the same way to be used. For as whatever they shall appoint in the worship of God can have no significancy at all, as unto any spiritual end, for want of a Christ-like authority in their institution, which alone can add that significancy to them which in themselves, without such an appointment, they have not; so they themselves, want wisdom to choose the things which have any fitness or aptitude to be used for that end, if the authority were sufficient to introduce with them such a significancy. There is nothing they can in this kind fix upon, but as good reason as any they are able to tender, for the proof of their expedience unto the end proposed to them, will be produced to prove them meet for a quite other signification and purpose, and the contrary unto them, at least things diverse to them, be asserted with as fair pretences, as meet to be used in their place and room.
But that which we principally shall observe, in and about Christ’s institutions of gospel worship, is the provision that he made for the administration of it acceptably unto God. It is of the instituted worship of his public assemblies that we treat. The chiefest acts and parts thereof may be referred to these three heads:— preaching of the word, administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of discipline; all to be performed with prayer and thanksgiving. The rule for the administration of these things, so far as they are purely of his institution, he gave his disciples in his appointment of them. Persons, also, he designed to the regular administration of these his holy things in the assemblies of his saints, — namely, pastors and teachers, — to endure to the end of the world, after those of an extraordinary employment under him were to cease. It remaineth, then, to consider how the persons appointed by him unto the administration of these holy things in his assemblies, and so to the discharge of the whole public worship of God, should be enabled thereunto, so as the end by him aimed at, of the edification of his disciples and the glory of God, might be attained. Two ways there are whereby this may be done: First, By such spiritual abilities for the discharge and performance of this whole work as will answer the mind of Christ therein, and so serve for the end proposed. Secondly, By the prescription of a form of words, whose reading and pronunciation in these administrations should outwardly serve as to all the ends of the prayer and thanksgiving required in them, which they do contain. It is evident that our Saviour fixed on the former way; what he hath done as to the latter, or what his mind is concerning it, we shall afterward inquire.
For the first, as in many other places, so signally in one, the apostle acquaints us with the course he has taken, and the provision that he hath made — namely, Eph. iv. 7, 8, 11–13: “Unto every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” etc. The thing aimed at is, the bringing of all the saints and disciples of Christ, the whole church, to that measure and perfection of grace which Christ hath assigned to them in this world, that may be meet for himself to receive in glory. The means whereby this is to be done and effected is, the faithful and regular discharge of the work of the ministry; unto which the administration of all his ordinances and institutions doth confessedly belong. That this work may be discharged in an orderly manner to the end mentioned, he has granted unto his church the offices mentioned, to be executed by persons variously called thereunto, according to his mind and will.
The only inquiry remaining is, how these persons shall be enabled for the discharge of their office, and so accomplishment of the work of the ministry? This, he declares, is by the communication of grace and spiritual gifts from heaven unto them by Christ himself. Here lieth the spring of all that followeth, — the care hereof he hath taken upon himself unto the end of the world. He that enabled the shoulders of the Levites to bear the ark of old, and their arms to slay the sacrifices, without which natural strength those carnal ordinances could not have been observed (nor was the ark to be carried for a supply of defect of ability in the Levites), hath, upon their removal, and the institution of the spiritual worship of the gospel, undertaken to supply the administrators of it with spiritual strength and abilities for the discharge of their work, allowing them supply of the defect of which he hath taken upon himself to perform. I suppose, then, these ensuing will seem but reasonable postulata:—
1. That the means which Jesus Christ hath appointed for the attaining of any end, is every way sufficient for that purpose whereunto it is so appointed. His wisdom exacts our consent to this proposition.
2. That what he hath taken upon himself to perform unto the end of the world, and promised so to do, that he will accomplish accordingly. Here his faithfulness requires our assent.
3. That the communication of spiritual gifts and graces to the ministers of the gospel, is the provision that Christ hath made for the discharge of the work of their ministry, unto the edification of his body. This lies plain in the text.
4. That the exercise and use of those gifts, in all those administrations for which they are bestowed, are expected and required by him. The nature of the thing itself, with innumerable testimonies, confirm this truth also.
5. That it is derogatory to the glory, honour, and faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ, to affirm that he ceaseth to bestow gifts for the work of the ministry, whilst he continueth and requireth the exercise and discharge of that work. What hath befallen men, or doth yet befall them, through the wretched sloth, darkness, and unbelief, which their wilful neglect of dependence on him, or of stirring up or improving of what they do receive from him, and the mischiefs that have accrued to the church by the intrusion of such persons into the place and office of the ministry as were never called nor appointed by him thereunto, are not to be imputed unto any failing on his part, in his promise of dispensing the gifts mentioned to the end of the world. Of which several positions we shall have some use in our farther progress.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, having delivered his disciples from the yoke of Mosaical institutions, which lay upon them from of old; as also from being entangled in their consciences by or from any inventions of men imposed on them; giving them rules for the practice of the liberty whereunto by him they were vindicated, taking them for the future into his own sole disposal in all things concerning the worship of God, he appoints, in his sovereign authority, both the ordinances which he will have alone observed in his church, and the persons by whom they are to be administered; [and] furnishing them with spiritual abilities to that end and purpose, promising his presence with them to the end of the world, commands them to set such, in his name and strength, in the way and unto the work that he hath allotted to them.
That, now, which on this foundation we are farther to inquire into is, whether, over and above what we have recounted, our Saviour hath appointed, or by any ways given allowance unto, the framing of a stinted form of prayers and praises, to be read and used by the administrators of his ordinances in their administration of them? or whether the prescription and imposing of such a form or liturgy upon those who minister in the church, in the name and authority of Christ, be not contrary to his mind, and cross to his whole design for perpetuating of his institutions to the end of the world, in due order and manner? And this we shall do, and withal discover the rise and progress which such liturgies have had and made in the church of God.
Of the Lord’s prayer, and what may be concluded from thence as to the invention and imposition of liturgies in the public worship of God — The liberty whereunto Christ vindicated and wherein he left his disciples.
The first plea used to give countenance unto the composing and imposing of liturgies is taken from that act of our Saviour himself, who, upon the request of his disciples, composed for them a form of prayer; which, being recorded in the gospel, is said to have the force of an institution, rendering the observation or use of that form a necessary duty unto all believers to the end of the world. And this plea is strengthened by a discovery which some learned men say they have made, — namely, that our blessed Saviour composed this form, which he delivered to his disciples, out of such other forms as were then in ordinary use among the Jews; whereby, they say, he confirmed that practice of prescribing forms of prayer among them, and recommended the same course of proceeding, by his so doing, unto his disciples. Now, though it be very hard to discover how, upon a supposition that all which is thus suggested is the very truth, any thing can be hence concluded to the justification of the practice of imposing liturgies, now inquired into; yet, that there may be no pretence left unto a plea, though never so weak and infirm, of such an extract as this lays claim unto, it will be necessary to consider the severals of it. It is generally apprehended that our Saviour, in his prescription of that form of prayer unto his disciples, did aim at two things:— 1. That they might have a summary symbol of all the most excellent things they were to ask of God in his name, and so a rule of squaring all their desires and supplications by. This end all universally concur in; and therefore Matthew, considering the doctrinal nature of it, gives it a place in the first recorded sermon of our Saviour, by way of anticipation, and mentions it not when he comes to the time wherein it was really first delivered by him. 2. For their benefit and advantage, together with other intercessions that they should also use the repetition of those words, as a prescript form wherein he had comprised the matter of their requests and petitions. About this latter all men are not agreed in their judgments, whether indeed our Saviour had this aim in it or no. Many learned men suppose that it was a supply of a rule and standard of things to be prayed for, without prescribing to them the use or rehearsal of that form of words, that he aimed at. Of this number are Musculus, Grotius, and Cornelius à Lapide, with many others; but it may suffice to intimate, that some of all sorts are so minded. But we shall not, in the case in hand, make use of any principle so far obnoxious unto common prejudice as experience proves that opinion of these learned men to be. Let it, therefore, be taken for granted that our Saviour did command that form to be repeated by his disciples, and let us then consider what will regularly ensue thereupon. Our Saviour at that time was minister of the Circumcision, and taught the doctrine of the gospel under and with the observation of all the worship of the Judaical church. He was not yet glorified, and so the Spirit was not as yet given; I mean that Spirit which he promised unto his disciples to enable them to perform all the worship of God by him required at their hands, whereof we have before spoken. That, then, which the Lord Jesus prescribed unto his disciples, for their present practice in the worship of God, seems to have belonged unto the economy of the Old Testament. Now, to argue from the prescription of, and outward helps for, the performance of the worship of God under the Old Testament, unto a necessity of the like or the same under the New, is upon the matter to deny that Christ is ascended on high, and to have given spiritual gifts unto men eminently distinct from and above those given out by him under the Judaical pedagogy. However, their boldness seems unwarrantable, if not intolerable, who, to serve their own ends, upon this prescription of his, do affirm that our Lord Jesus composed this form out of such as were then in common use among the Jews. For as the proof of their assertion which they insist on, — namely, the finding of some of the things expressed in it, or petitions of it, in the writings of the Jews, the eldest whereof is some hundreds of years younger than this prayer itself, — is most weak and contemptible; so the affirmation itself is exceeding derogatory to the glory and honour of his wisdom, assigning unto him a work so unnecessary and trivial as would scarce become a man of ordinary prudence and authority. But yet, to carry on the work in hand, let it be supposed that our Saviour did command that form of prayer out of such as were then customarily used among the Jews (which is false, and asserted without any colour of proof); also, that he prescribed it as a form to be repeated by his disciples (which we have shown many very eminently learned men to deny); and that, though he prescribed it as a minister to the Judaical church, and to his disciples whilst members of that church, under the economy of the Old Testament, not having as yet received the Spirit and gifts of the New, yet that he did it for the use and observance of his disciples to the end of the world, and that not as to the objective regulation of their prayers, but as to the repetition of the words; yet it doth not appear how, from all these concessions, any argument can be drawn to the composition and imposition of liturgies, whose rise and nature we are inquiring after: for it is certain that our Saviour gives this direction for the end which he intends in it, not primarily as to the public worship of the assemblies of his disciples, but as to the guidance of every individual saint in his private devotion, Matt. vi. 6–8. Now, from a direction given unto private persons, as to their private deportment in the discharge of any religious duty, to argue unto a prescription of the whole worship of God in public assemblies is not safe. But, that we may hear the argument drawn from this act of our Saviour speak out all that it hath to offer, let us add this also to the fore-mentioned presumptions that our Saviour hath appointed and ordained, that in the assemblies of his disciples, in his worship by him required, they who administer in his name in and to the church should repeat the words of this prayer, though not peculiarly suited to any one of his institutions: what will thence be construed to ensue? Why, then, it is supposed that this will follow, — That it is not only lawful, but the duty of some men to compose other forms, a hundred times as many, suited in their judgment to the due administration of all ordinances of worship is particular, imposing them on the evangelical administrations of those ordinances to be read by them, with a severe interdiction of the use of any other prayers in those administrations. Bellarmine, De Pont. Rom., lib. iv. cap. 16, argues for the necessity of the observation of rites indifferent, when once commanded by the church, from the necessity of the observation of baptism, in itself a thing indifferent, after it was commanded by Christ. Some think not to dispute, but blaspheme. Nor is the inference before mentioned of any other complexion. When it shall be made to appear, that whatever it was lawful for the Lord Christ to do and to prescribe to his church and disciples, in reference to the worship of God, the same, or any thing of the like nature, it is lawful for men to do, under the pretence of their being invested with the authority of the church, or any else whatever, then some colour will be given to this argument; which being raised on the tottering suppositions before mentioned, ends in that which seems to deserve a harder name than at present we shall affix to it.
And this is the state and condition wherein the disciples of Christ were left by himself, without the least intimation of any other impositions in the worship of God to be laid upon them. Nor in any thing, or by any act of his, did he intimate the necessity or lawful use of any such liturgies as these which we are inquiring after, or prescribed and limited forms of prayers or praises, to be used or read in public administration of evangelical institutions; but indeed made provision rendering all such prescriptions useless, and (because they cannot be made use of but by rejection of the provision himself by made) unlawful.