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WORKS OF ARMINIUS - ON THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN ENACTING LAWS
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ON THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN ENACTING LAWS
I. The laws which may be prescribed to the church, or which may be considered as having been prescribed, are of two kinds, distinguished from each other by a remarkable difference and by a notable doctrine -- according to the matter, that is, the acts which are prescribed -- according to the end for the sake of which they are prescribed, and, lastly, according to the force and necessity of obligation. 2.
(1.) For some laws concern the very essence of ordering the life according to godliness and Christianity, and the necessary acts of faith, hope and charity; and these may be called the necessary and primary or principal laws, and are as the fundamental laws of the kingdom of God itself.
(2.) But others of them have respect to certain secondary and substituted acts, and the circumstances of the principal acts, all of which conduce to the more commodious and easy observance of those first acts. On this account they deserve to be called positive and attendant laws.
III. 1. The church neither has a right, nor is she bound by any necessity, to enact necessary laws, and those which essentially concern the acts of faith itself, of hope and of charity. For this belongs most properly to God and Christ; and it has been so fully exercised by Christ, that nothing can essentially belong to the acts of faith, hope and charity, which has not been prescribed by him in a manner the most copious.
V. In prescribing laws of this kind, the church ought to turn her eyes, and to keep them fixed, on the following particulars: First. That the acts which she will command or forbid be of a middle or an indifferent kind, and in their own nature neither good nor evil; and yet that they may be useful, for the commodious observance of the acts [divinely] prescribed, according to the circumstance of persons, times and places.
VI. Secondly. That laws of this description be not adverse to the word of God, but that they rather be conformable to it, whether they be deduced from those things which are, in a general manner, prescribed in the word of God, according to the circumstances already enumerated, or whether they be considered as suitable means for executing those things which have been prescribed in the word of God.
VII. Thirdly. That these laws be principally referred to the good order and the decorous administration of the external polity of the church. For God is not the author of confusion; but he is both the author and the lover of order; and regard is in every place to be paid to decorum, but chiefly in the church, which is "the house of God," and in which it is exceedingly unbecoming to have any thing, or to do any thing, that is either indecorous or out of order.
VIII. Fourthly. That she do not assume to herself the authority of binding, by her laws, the consciences of men to acts prescribed by herself; for she will thus invade the right of Christ, in prescribing things necessary, and will infringe Christian liberty, which ought to be free from snares of this description.
IX. Fifthly. That, by any deed of her own, by a simple promise or by an oath, either orally or by the subscription of the hand, she do not take away from herself the power of abrogating, enlarging, diminishing or of changing the laws themselves. It would not be a useless labour if the church were to enter her protest, at the end of the laws, about the perpetual duration of this her power, in a subjoined clause, such as the civil magistrate is accustomed to employ in political positive laws.
X. But with regard to the observance of these laws; as they are already enacted, all and every one of those who are in the church are bound by them so far, that it is not lawful to transgress them through contempt, and to the scandal of others; and the church herself will not estimate the observance of them at so low a value as to permit them to be violated through contempt and to the scandal of others; but she will mark, admonish, reprove and blame such transgressors, as behaving themselves in a disorderly and indecorous manner, and she will endeavour to bring them back to a better mind.
Is it not useful, for the purpose of bearing testimony to the power and the liberty of the church, occasionally to make some change in the laws ecclesiastical, lest the observance of them becoming perpetual, and without any change, should produce an opinion of the [absolute] necessity of their being observed?