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A Hind Let Loose by Alexander Shields

Vindicating this cause of suffering


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in their practice, without

scandal on either hand, or sin against their own conscience; how to avoid the rocks and extremes that inadvertency or precipitancy in this matter may rush upon; so as to escape and sail by the Scylla of sinful separation on the one hand, and the Charybdis of sinful union and communion on the other, which are equally dangerous; especially how these cautions are to be managed in a broken, and disturbed, and divided case of the church. The question also is the more difficult, that as it was never so much questioned before this time, and never so much sought to be obscured, by the perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, to find out evasions to cover sin and escape sufferings upon this account; so it hath never been discussed by divines either at home or abroad, with relation to our case, except what hath been of late by some faithful men, who have suffered upon this head, from whom I shall gather the most of my arguments, in as compendious a way as I can without wronging them. The reason, I fancy, that we are at such a loss in our helps from the learned on this head, is partly, that they have written with relation to their own times, in a constitute case of the church, when corruptions and disorders might be orderly rectified, and people might have access to get their scruples removed in a legal way by church-order, in which case the learned and judicious Mr. Durham hath written excellently in his book on scandal; but therein neither he nor others did consult, nor could have
a prospect of such a case as ours is; and partly, that foreign divines, not having this for their exercise, could not be acquainted with our circumstantiate case, and so are not fit nor competent arbiters to decide this controversy; hence many of them do wonder at our sufferings upon this head. Every church is best acquainted with her own testimony. Yet we want not the suffrage of some of the most learned of them, as the great Gisb. Voetius in his polit. eccles. in several places comes near to favour us: where he allows people to leave some, and hear such ministers as they profit most by, from these grounds, 'That people should choose the best and most edifying gifts, and from that scripture, 1 Thess. v. 21. Prove all things, &c. and answers objections to the contrary, and granteth, that, upon several occasions, one may abstain from explicit communion with a corrupt church, for these reasons, that such communion is not absolutely necessary, by necessity either of the mean or precept, where the Christian shall have more peace of conscience, and free exercise of Christian duties elsewhere, and that he may keep communion with more purity in other places, polit. eccles. quest. 17. pag. 68. And he approves of the people refusing to bring their children to be baptized by such corrupt ministers, because they may wait until they have occasion of a minister; for if the best gifts be to be coveted, why should not the best ministers be preferred? and why should not Christians shew by their deeds, that they honour such as fear the Lord, and contemn a vile person? They ought not to partake of other men's sins, 1 Cor. v. 9, 11. Eph. v. 11. They should not strengthen the hands of the wicked, and make sad the godly; the authority of such ministers should not be strengthened,' Voet. polit. eccles. pag. 637 to 640. But though it labour under all these disadvantages; yet it is not the less, but so much the rather necessary, to say somewhat to clear it, with dependence upon light from the fountain, and with the help of faithful men who have sufficiently cleared it up, to all that have a conscience not blinded nor bribed with some prejudices, by which more light hath accrued to the church in this point of withdrawing from corrupt ministers than ever was attained in former times; which is all the good we have got of prelacy. Insomuch that I might spare labour in adding any thing, were it not that I would make the arguments, vindicating this cause of suffering, a little more public, and take occasion to shew, that the grounds espoused by the present and reproached party for their withdrawings, so far as they are stretched, are no other than have been owned by our writers on this head; to the intent that it may appear, there is no discrepancy, but great likeness and harmony between the arguments and grounds of withdrawing, in the late informatory vindication, &c. and those that are found in other writings. And so much the rather I think it needful to touch this subject now, that not only this hath been the first ground of our sufferings, but many that suffered a while for it, now have fainted, and condemned all their former contendings for this part of the testimony, calling in question all these reasons that formerly satisfied them. But to proceed with some distinctness in this thorny point: some concessory assertions must first be permitted, and then our grounds propounded.


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