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exercises, and especially for expounding of Holy Scripture, may, by the liberality of the godly rich, be taught and trained up to preach.
Let that exposition, as often as it shall be convenient to be had, be in the presence at least of one minister, by whose presence they may be kept in order, and in the same sort (as touching the manner of preaching) that public sermons are made: which being ended, let the other students (he being put apart that was speaker) note wherein he hath failed in any of those things that are to be performed by him that preacheth publicly, as is set down before: of whose opinion let the minister that is present, and is moderator of their exercise, judge and admonish the speaker as he shall think meet.
Let the elders know every particular house and person of the church, that they may inform the minister of the condition of every one, and the deacons of the sick and poor, that they may take care to provide for them they are not to be perpetual; neither yet easily to be changed.
In the consistory the most voices are to be yielded unto. In it only ecclesiastical things are to be handled. Of them, first they are to be dealt with such as belong to the common direction of the public assembly, in the order of liturgy, or divine service, sermon, prayers, sacraments, marriages, and burials. Then with such also as pertain to the oversight of every one, and their particular deeds. Farther, they are to cause such things as shall be thought meet, to be registered and written in a book. They are also to cause to be written in another book, the names of them that are baptized, with the names of their parents and sureties: likewise of the communicants. Farther also are to be noted, their names that are married, that die, and to whom letters testimonial are given.
Of the Censures.
None is to be complained of unto the consistory, unless first the matter being uttered with silencing the parties' names, if it seem meet so to be done by the judgment of the consistory.
In private and less faults, the precept of Christ, Matt. xviii. is to be kept.
Greater and public offences are to be handled by the consistory. Farther, public offences are to be esteemed, first, Such as are done openly before all, or whomsoever, the whole church knowing of it. Secondly, Such as be done in a public place, albeit few know it. Thirdly, That are made such by pertinacity and contempt. Fourthly, That for the heinousness of the offence are to be punished with some grievous civil punishment.
They that are to be excommunicated, being in public charge in the church, are to be deposed also from their charges. They also are to be discharged that are unfit for the ministry, by reason of their ignorance, or of some incurable disease; or by any other such cause, are disabled to perform their ministry: but in the room of such as are disabled by means of sickness or age, let another be placed without the reproach of him that is discharged; and farther, so as the reverence of the ministry may remain unto him, and he may be provided for, liberally and in good order.
When there is question concerning a heretic complained of to the consistory, straight let two or three neighbour ministers be called, men godly and learned, and free from that suspicion, by whose opinion he may be suspended, till such time as the conference may take knowledge of his cause.
The obstinate, after admonition by the consistory, though the fault have not been so great, are to be suspended from the communion; and if they continue in their obstinacy, this shall be the order to proceed to their excommunication. Three several sabbath-days after the sermon, publicly let be declared the offence committed by the offender. The first sabbath let not the offender's name be published: the second let it be declared, and withal a certain day of the week named, to be kept for that cause in fasting and prayer: the third let warning be given of his excommunicating to follow the next sabbath after, except there may be shewed some sufficient cause to the contrary: so upon the fourth sabbath day, let the sentence of excommunication be pronounced against him, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
He that hath committed great offences, opprobrious to the church, and to be grievously punished by the magistrate's authority; albeit he profess his repentance in words, yet for the trial thereof, and to take away the offence, let him for a time be kept from the communion; which how often and how long it is to be done, let the consistory, according to their discretion, determine; after which, if the party repent, he is brotherly to be received again, but not until he have openly professed his repentance before the church, by consent whereof he should have been excommunicated.
If the ministers of any public charge of the church commit any such thing, they are to be deposed from their charge.
Of the Assemblies of the Church.
Particular churches are to communicate one with another, by common meetings and resorts in them only ecclesiastical matters are to be handled, and of those, only such as pertain to the churches of that resort; concerning other churches, unless they be desired, they are to determine nothing farther than to refer such matters to their next common and great meeting.
Let the order of proceeding in them be this: first, let the survey be taken of those that are present, and the names of those that are absent, and should be there, be noted, that they may give a reason at their next meeting of their absence, or be censured by the judgment of the assembly. Next, let the acts of the last assembly of that kind be read, that if any of the same remain unfinished, they may be dispatched: then, let those things be dealt in that are properly belonging to the present assembly; where first the instructions sent from the churches are to be delivered by every one in order, as they sit together, with their letters of credence. Secondly, Let the state of the churches of that resort be considered; to wit, how they are instructed and guided: whether the holy doctrine and discipline be taught and exercised in them; and whether the ministers of public charges do their duty, and such like. Furthermore, they shall determine of those things that do appertain to the common state of all the churches of that resort, or unto any of the same; which way may be sufficient for the oversight of the churches, Lastly, if it seem meet, the delegates present may be censured.
They that are to meet in such assemblies, are to be chosen by the consent of the churches of that assembly and conference to whom it may appertain.
Let such only be chosen that exercise public function in the church, of ministry or eldership, and which have subscribed to the doctrine and discipline, and have promised to behave themselves according to the word of God; notwithstanding, it may be lawful also to be present for other elders and other ministers; and likewise (if the assembly think it meet) for deacons, and for students in divinity, especially those that exercise themselves in expounding the Holy Scriptures in the conferences, and be asked their opinion; which in students is to this end, that their judgment, in handling matters ecclesiastical, may be both tried and sharpened. But they only are to give voice which are chosen by the churches, and have brought their instructions signed from them. If there fall out any very weighty matter to be consulted of, let notice of it be given to the moderator of the assembly next going before, or to the minister of that church where the next meeting is to be the same is to send word of it in due time to the minister of every church of that assembly, that they may communicate it aforehand with those to whom it appertaineth, that the delegates resorting to the next meeting may understand and report their judgments.
In appointing of the place for the assembly, regard must be had of the convenient distance, and other commodities, that no part may justly complain that they are burdensome above others.
In every such ecclesiastical assembly, it is meet there be a moderator: he is to have charge of the assembly, to see it kept in good order. He is always, if it may be conveniently, to be changed. The choice is to be in this manner :
The moderator of the former assembly of that kind, or, in his absence, the minister of the church where they meet, having first prayed fitly to that purpose, is to move the assembly to choose a moderator. He being chosen, is to provide that the things done in the assembly may be written that the delegates of every church may write them out, and communicate them with the conferences from whence they came.
The moderator is also, by the order and judgment of the assembly, to give answer, either by speech or by letters, to such as desire any answer; and to execute censures, if any be to be executed. Farther, he is to procure all things to be done in it, godly and quietly; exhorting to meekness, moderation of spirit, and forbearing one of another where need shall be, and referring it to the assembly to take order for such as are obstinate and contentious. Lastly, he is to remember them of the next meeting following, with thanks for their pains, and exhortation to proceed cheerfully in their callings; and so courteously to dismiss the assembly. Before such time none may depart without leave of the assembly.
Those assemblies, according to their kinds, have great authority if they be greater, and less if they be less. Therefore, unless it be a plain act, and manifest unto all, if any think himself injured by the less meeting, he may appeal still unto a greater, till he come to a general council; so that he ascend orderly from the less to the next greater. But it is to be understood, that the sentence of the assemblies be holden firm, until it be otherwise judged by an assembly of greater authority.
Assemblies or Meetings are either Conferences or Synods. Conferences are the meetings of the elders of a few churches, as for example of twelve. There are to meet in a conference, chosen of the eldership of every particular church, one minister, and one elder. The conferences are to be kept once in six weeks,
They are specially to look into the state of the churches of that resort and conference; examining particularly these several points: Whether all things be done in them according to the holy doctrine and discipline of the gospel; to wit, whether any questions be moved concerning any point of doctrine? Whether the ecclesiastical discipline be duly observed ? Whether any minister be wanting in any of those churches, that a sufficient one in due time may be procured? Whether the other ministers of public charge in the church be appointed in every congregation? Whether care be had of schools, and for the poor? Finally, they are to be demanded wherein any of them needeth the advice of the conference, for the advancement of the gospel amongst them.
Before the end of the meeting, if it shall be so thought good by them, let one of the ministers assembled in conference, either chosen by voice, or taking it by turn, preach publicly. Of his speech, let the rest judge among themselves, the elders being put apart, admonish him brotherly, if there be any cause, examining all things according to those rules that are before declared in the chapter concerning the things that are to be performed by those that preach.
A synod is the meeting of chosen men of many conferences: in them let the whole treatise of discipline be read: in them, also, other things first being finished, as was said before, let all those that are present be censured, if it may be done conveniently, and let them also have a communion in and with the church where they were called.
There are two sorts of synods; the first is particular, which comprehendeth both the provincial and national synod. A provincial synod is the meeting of the chosen men of every conference within the province. A province containeth four-and-twenty conferences.
A fit way to call a provincial council may be this: the care thereof, except themselves will determine of it, may be committed to the particular eldership of some conference within the province; which, by advice of the same conference, may appoint the place and time for the meeting of the provincial synod.
To that church or eldership are to be sent the matters that seemed, to the particular conferences, more difficult for them to take order in, and such as belong to the churches of the whole province; which is to be done diligently, and in good time, that the same may, in due season, give notice of the place and time of the synod, and of the matters to be debated therein, that they which shall be sent may come the better prepared, and judge of them according to the advice of the conferences.
Two ministers, and as many elders, are to be sent from every conference unto the provincial synod. The same is to be held every half year, or oftener, till the discipline be settled. It is to be held three months before every national synod; that they may prepare and make ready those things that pertain to the national. The acts of the provincial synod are to be sent unto the national, by the eldership of that
church in which it was holden; and every minister is to be furnished with a copy of them, and with the reasons of the same. A national synod, or convocation, is a meeting of the chosen men of every province, within the dominion of the same nation and civil government. The way to call it, unless it shall determine otherwise, may be the same with the provincial, that is, by the eldership of some particular church, which shall appoint the time and place of the next national convocation; but not otherwise than by the advice of their provincial synod.
Out of every provincial synod there are to be chosen three ministers, and as many elders, to be sent to the national. They are to handle the things pertaining to the churches of the whole nation or kingdom, as the doctrine, discipline, ceremonies, things not decided by inferior meetings, appeals, and such-like. By the order of the same, one is to be appointed which may gather into one book the notes of every particular church.
Thus much for particular meetings; the universal followeth, which is called a general or œcumenical council; which is a meeting of the chosen men of every national synod. The acts of all such councils are to be registered and reported in a book.
The discipline, entitled, "The Discipline of the Church," described in the word of God, as far as we can judge, is taken and drawn from the most pure fountain of the word of God; and containeth in it the discipline of the church that is necessary, essential, and common to all ages of the church.
The synodical also adjoined, as it resteth upon the same foundations, is likewise necessary and perpetual; but as far as it is not expressly confirmed by authority of the Holy Scripture, but is applied to the use and times of the church as their divers states may require, according to the analogy and general rules of the same Scripture, is to be judged profitable for the churches that receive it, but may be changed in such things as belong not to the essence of the discipline upon a like godly reason, as the divers estates of the church may require.
The Form of the Subscription.
The brethren of the conference of N. whose names are here underwritten, have subscribed this discipline after this manner :-This discipline we allow as a godly discipline, and agreeable to the word of God; yet so as we may be satisfied in the things hereunto noted, and desire the same so acknowledged by us, to be furthered by all lawful means; that by public authority of the magistrate, and of our church, it may be established.
Which thing, if it may be obtained of her right excellent majesty, and other the magistrates of this kingdom, we promise that we will do nothing against it, whereby the public peace of the church may be troubled. In the mean time we promise to observe it, as far as may be lawful for us so to do, by the public laws of this kingdom, and by the peace of our church.
A Letter of the Puritan Ministers imprisoned, to her Majesty, in Vindication of their Innocence; dated April, 1592.
May it please your excellent majesty,
"THERE is nothing, right gracious sovereign, next to the saving mercy