Tuesday, 2 October 2012

John Corbet on Nonconformity Part 2

The idea that their principles of government had a palpable inconsistence with the welfare of governors is also refuted when we offer an appeal concerning it to the whole Christian Church, both of the present and former ages.
Being a nonconformist he calls a grievance and distress that was not in the power of our own wills to help. He goes on to reiterate what he said at the beginning.

We affect not singularity, disunity or dissent from others, and so far as we are constrained to it, we take it for our infelicity. We grudge not at the liberty of others, but are so far glad on the behalf of able and faithful men, as they are in a capacity of more public service for God and his church; and though we are dissatisfied in the way wherein they have gained it, yet we retain charity and peace towards them and are willing to concur with them in the common interest of true religion.

His next concern is to refute the idea that these men had chosen not to conform for reasons of expediency. No, they question the truth of some things asserted, the lawfulness of some things laid down and fear the dangerous tendency of some forms and rules of ministration. He admits that some of these matters may be comparatively minor. But this argument cuts both ways as if they are minor things then their opponents should be willing to let the nonconformists differ. They for their part are convinced that it is not right to allow lesser evils for the greater good and they cannot do what they know to be contrary to God's will.
The further problem is that even if these are minor matters, what is desired is

an unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained in large human volumes, imposed by our superiors, who acknowledge they are not infallible.

We have not so much he says as our internal judgement and choice left to us about a multitude of human ordinances and determinations.

Some argued that all the church wanted was a general submission but for Corbet and others that was clearly not what was being asked. Another writer (Joseph Read in Mr. Read's case: published for prevention of scandal to his brethren & people, 1682) says

There is a great deal of difference (let us note here) between All and Some - between reading the ordinary Lord's Day 'Service and approving the book, and all that is in it. Mr Baxter in his Plea for Peace, gives no less than thirty particular instances of several things in the Common-Prayer-Book which the Nonconformists cannot declare their assent and consent to.

Corbet goes on to refer briefly to the whole matter of re-ordination and the almost complete lack of discipline that existed in the national church but does not go into these matters. He again reasserts too that episcopacy and the King's civil and ecclesiastical supremacy were not the issue.
The desire is not to have ministers domineer over their churches but that they should be free to serve the congregations to which they are sent, disciplining only those that voluntarily submit to such discipline. He denies that discipline by the church necessarily demands punishment by the civil magistrate. Nonconformists are keen to learn the lessons of history and have no desire for the sort of church tyranny that we associate with the Church of Rome.
He then talks about the fact that he is not giving all the reasons why he and others do not conform. It has not really been expedient to do even what he does do here until this point. He emphasises that if some way could be found to conform then they would take it. Why would they needlessly suffer as they do? If it is suggested that they are simply ashamed of retracting he asserts that “if our consciences were well secured, we would trust God with our reputation”. He also cites a number of titles setting forth the position that were submitted to the ecclesiastical powers before the Act of Uniformity.
He believes that there should be no animosity between those who differ on the question and cites Charles II's speech to the House of Commons on his return to England saying that the presbyterians were peaceable and arguing that there was no reason why there should not be changes in their favour. Some took the view that it would be unwise to give the nonconformists even an inch. They spoke, he says, “as if our exclusion, not our conformity were desired”. He also complains of the way they seized on some things said unwisely by nonconformists (or even by others with no real right to the title) that seemed ridiculous and odious and unfairly tarred everyone with the same brush.
He moves on then to a reassertion of their orthodoxy as Bible believers, rational and plain preachers and those who seek genuine conversions not merely the recruitment of disciples to their cause. He rejects preparationism and assures his readers, importantly, that the people he represents are no antinomians. He says, sounding every inch a Puritan,

We teach none to call themselves godly, merely because they hear sermons, frequent lectures, and meet together for prayer and other religious exercises; yet our aim is that men should make religion their business, and we encourage their diligence in attending on God's ordinances, and redeeming the time, and helping each other forward in the way to heaven.

He then returns to his earlier assertions of not wanting to decry the conformists. Rather a godly conformist than a merely opinionative nonconformist. Far from refusing to enter the Parish church they would greatly rejoice if every parish had a godly minister, conformist or not. Their argument is not with the articles if faith, which they accept. They would love a better public settlement, which at this point was still seven years away. They prize unity enough to “dread the weakening or shattering of it by needless schisms”. He disavows the view that if Christians part the other party must be considered impious. He says

If by scruple of conscience we cannot join in one church communion, yet we ought to keep the unity of faith and love.

He also points out that before the restoration many presbyterians were for moderation and is only seeking the same moderation from the conformists now they hold the cards.
And so he concludes

We have here set forth our principles that all may take notice how we are misrepresented by those that make other representations of us. And we are ready to clear our selves against those that accuse us of contradicting them in our practice.

He says that were there enough conforming ministers preaching nonconformists like himself would be happy to desist from preaching. He goes as far as to say

If we live where the public authority hath set up worthy ministers, our duty is to promote their reputation with the people and to farther the success of their labours and to attend on their ministry when we are not necessarily hindered. And our labours in concurrence with them can be no grievance to any to whom it is not a grievance that their Lord's service and the success of their own endeavours should be farthered by their fellow-servants.

London, for example, was a place where there was plenty of room for more ministers.
He goes on to say that

it is a palpable injury to burden us with the various parties with whom we are now herded by our ejection in the general state of dissenters and to make us responsible for them all.

Nonconformists can surly not be held responsible for all that might be done in their name by a small handful.
His plea then is for indulgence and toleration, something that Corbet never saw in his lifetime but that came, eventually, in 1689.

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