John Goodwin

Theomachia;
Or, the grand imprudence of men running the hazard of fighting against God,
In suppressing any way, doctrine, or practice concerning which they know not certainly whether it be from God or no.

London 1644

 

Excerpts

 

"And now I say unto you, Refrain yourselves from these men and let them alone; for if this counsel or work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, ye cannot destroy it lest ye be found fighters even against God."
Acts 5:38

It is one thing to oppose or contend against a doctrine or way of God per modum Doctoris [in a teacher's way] as when a minister through a mistake or weakness of judgement pleads for Baal against God, preacheth error up and truth down (which may befall the faithfullest of men). Another to do it per modum Judicis [in a judge's way] as when men will assume an authoritative power, whether ecclesiastic or civil, to suppress or silence the publishing, practicing, arguing or debating of such ways or doctrines, with the judgements and consciences of men. It is true even this kind of opposing them is sometimes incident to men otherwise upright in the main before God. But the children of this contention and contestation against their Maker must expect to be taught more wisdom and reverence towards him with briars and thorns.

If to attempt the suppression or keeping down any way, doctrine or practice which is from God be of no less concernment , of no safer interpretation than fighting against God, then  certainly it is the greatest imprudence or improvidence under heaven for any man or rank of men whatsoever to appear (especially in any high-handed opposition or contestation) against any way, doctrine or practice whatsoever, until they have proof upon proof, demonstration upon demonstration, evidence upon evidence, yea, all the security that men in an ordinary way at least are capable of, that such ways or doctrines only pretend unto God as the author of them, and that in truth they are not at all from him, but either from men or of a baser parentage.

It were great folly in any man to expose himself to the just offence and displeasure of God, by seeking to right himself in an angry and revengeful manner upon him whom he certainly knows to have injured him - God himself being ready with his stroke of justice to do him right and to avenge him on his adversary though he himself be patient and sit still. But it would be a point yet of seven-times greater folly than so for a man to fall foul in a way of revenge upon an imaginary adversary and who (at most) can only be supposed or suspected to have done him wrong, considering that God - who is an infallible discerner and judge of injustice and wrongs and withal a just avenger of all such things - will shortly appear for His full vindication, in case He hath been wronged indeed. Nor hath any man cause in this case to fear lest while the grass grows, the steed should starve (as the proverb is). I mean that the person injured (whether really or in supposition only) should suffer loss by possessing his soul in patience until the day of divine recompense and vengeance shall come. For God certainly will give full and ample consideration for all forbearance and long-suffering of men wherein and whereby the rights of his throne are tendered and maintained. It were no less than an exaltation of folly in any man to expose his own life to the stroke of justice by assaulting the life of a malefactor whilst he is going to execution.

If it be objected, that Reformation suffers and loseth time because that Way is not yet hedged up with thorns but men are suffered to walk in it.
I answer, First, if the Way be one of those ways which call God father, reformation indeed suffers and loseth time. But not because this way is not hedged up with thorns, but because it is not laid more open, because it is not repaired and made more passable by the favour and countenance of men in place, whether ministers or others, that so the people of God whose hearts are towards it may walk therein without fear.
2.  That reformation (so called) which is the apple of so many eyes and the joy of so many hearts needs suffer nothing, nor lose an hour's time though the Way we speak of be occupied in peace by those whose feet by the light of God's word and spirit (at least as they conceive) are guided into it. For what doth the poor fly sitting on the top of the wheel hinder the waggoner from driving on his way? If the residue of this nation be subjected to this Reformation, the nation itself may be said to be reformed (according to such a denomination as this reformation will afford) notwithstanding such a number  of persons (comparatively so inconsiderable, I mean as touching their number) as adhere to this way be not included in it. During the regency of prelatical extravagancy , there were many Nonconformists -yea, several congregations of people in the land who openly disclaimed and protested against that government, and yet this nation was looked upon as episcopally reformed notwithstanding. The irregularity of the mountains and valleys in the surface of the earth troubles no man's opinion concerning the perfect roundness of it because it is swallowed up into victory by the vastness of the globe. John saith, that the whole world lieth in wickedness notwithstanding a remnant who were born of God. The gleanings of independency (so called) will not hinder the vintage of Presbytery.

This liberty of choosing pastors only by choosing houses is so conditioned that it smiles only upon the rich (and that but somewhat faintly neither) but frowns upon the poor; and so is partial and therefore not Christian. He that hath enough of that which (as Solomon saith, Ecclesiastes 10:19) "answers all things" may probably be able to accommodate himself within the precincts of what parish he pleaseth in point of dwelling - as either by buying out some inhabitant or by purchasing ground and building upon it or the like. But the case of the poor man is many times such that he cannot tell where to find another hole in the world to hide his head in besides that wherein it is hid already. So that this liberty of choosing a pastor being nothing else if plainly interpreted but only a liberty of choosing such or such a parish determinately to dwell in, is little better than a mere collusion in respect of those that are poor, and (indeed) rather an upbraiding them with their poverty than any gratification of them with liberty.

A second objection levied against it and all sufferance of it by those that are adversaries to it , is that if it be permitted quietly to walk up and down amongst us and not be suppressed, it soon make the land unquiet, fill the land with troubles, tumults, divisions, distractions, dissensions, discontents, confusions, in city, in country, in relations, in families, and where not? To this also I answer.
There is no substantial reason at all can be given why this Way should occasion troubles, divisions, discontents or the like above the rate of that other Way which so magnifies itself against it, except (haply) this, that it hath more of God and Christ in it  than that other, and there is no marvel if it be more offensive and troublesome to the world.

The way we speak of is never the more any cause of troubles, dissensions and divisions, because troubles, dissensions and divisions many times follow upon the embracement and entertaining of it.

Surely that way which commandeth homage and subjection unto her from all her fellows and threatens to break them all in pieces like a potter's vessel with a rod of iron if they will not bow and deny themselves for her sake, is the way of pride and so of contention (according to Solomon's logic, Proverbs 13:10); not that which is gentle and easy to be entreated by others, claiming no superiority or jurisdiction over any. If there by any clashing or unkindness between the two ways - Independency (so called) and Presbytery - when they meet together, either in a relation, family &c., the very complexion of the latter betrays that to be still the foundress of the quarrel.

I would gladly know what the plaintiff in the objection means by distractions, rents, divisions, in relations, families, congregations &c.  If he means only this, that the father goes to hear one minister in one place and the son another minister in another, and that some within the same parochial line go to this minister or are members of this church, others to another minister and are members of another church, and the like &c. I answer that in this case I know no more occasion (at least no more necessity) of any distraction, rent or division than when the father, being free of one Company, as suppose of Merchant Taylors shall still upon occasion of the meeting of this company repair to the hall belonging to it, and the son, being free of another, as perhaps of the Company of Grocers, shall upon the like occasion repair to the hall appertaining to them.

Suppose that all which the objection chargeth upon the Way we speak for be granted for truth, that where this Way comes and is entertained, congregations are torn, families rent, relations distanced &c. Yet this maketh much more for it than against it. Because such figures and characters as these are the known impressions of the Gospel upon the world where it comes in power and is entertained in truth. "Think ye" saith our Saviour (Luke 12:51 ff) "that I am come to give peace on earth? I teel you, nay, but rather debate, For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son and the son against the father: the mother against the daughter and the daughter against the mother: the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law".

A third objection against that Way whose condemnation outruns her trial day and way in the world is that it opens a door to all errors, heresies and unsound opinions, yea, to all looseness and profaneness. And consequently it cannot but be a thing displeasing to God, and so prejudicial to the peace and safety of the nation if it should be tolerated or practised amongst us. But to these things also full and clear answers are not wanting. For,
First, it being certain that error cannot be healed or suppressed but by manifestation of the truth - as darkness cannot be destroyed or removed but by shining of the light - that way which affords the greatest advantages and the best encouragements unto men, both for the searching out and bringing forth into light the truth being found, must needs be so far from opening doors unto errors, heresies, unsound opinions &c. that it steers the most advantageous and hopeful course that lightly can be taken for the evicting and consequently for the suppressing of them. I need not add that it is the Congregational Way (and this only amongst all its fellows) that rejoiceth in the method of this warfare and advance against those enemies of God and religion, error and heresies. And,
Secondly, for the way surnamed Presbyterian, which conjures all men's gifts, parts and industry into a synodical circle and suffers them only to dance therein. As it may possibly shut the door against some errors and heresies (which were not like to stay long in case they should enter under the other way), so it is in every whit as much possibility and danger  of shutting the door upon and compelling such errors and heresies as are already gotten in, and otherwise have a mind to be gone to stay by it and so to infect and annoy the truth and peace of the churches of Christ against their wills.

If it be here replied and said, Yea, but all this notwithstanding , the Way you plead for is but feeble-handed for the suppression of errors and heresies. Because these - though hated, preached against, and cast out of the church by excommunication - may yet live and gather head in the world, except error and errant be further restrained by a secular hand, and heresy and heretic put to silence together in the grave. And this which the most, if not the only, effectual means to preserve the wheat from those tares, the Way of your desires exerciseth not, nor yet approveth.
I answer: First we presume that prisons and swords are no church-officers, nor any appurtenance to any ecclesiastic authority in what form of government soever.
Secondly, we suppose that the Lord Christ so far tendered the spiritual safety and peace of his churches as to leave them sufficiently furnished and every ways appointed with internal provisions for the effectual procurement and preservation of them without an concurrence of heterogeneal or external power. Especially considering that he foresaw that these churches of his for the space of three hundred years together and somewhat more (during which term he knew likewise that they would continue in their greatest purity and perfection of love and loyalty to him) were not like to have any accommodation at all in this kind from any secular or civil power.
Thirdly, though the churches of Christ during this period of time wherein they had no comportance with any secular arm for their preservation either in this or any other kind were not wholly free from errors and heresies, yet did they quit and defend themselves against the danger spreading and troublesomeness of them upon better terms and with far better success than they were able to do afterwards when they had an arm of flesh and a sword in it to assist them.
Fourthly, if persons delivered up unto Satan by the church whether for error, heresy or other crime were presently to be cut off by the secular sword, all opportunity for the effectual and saving work of that ordinance of Christ upon the persons delivered up, would be cut off also. If it be here objected and said, But if an heretic be suffered to live, he is in danger of infecting others and destroying them eternally. I answer:  first, so is a drunkard, a fornicator, a swearer, a covetous person with the like; the lives of all these kinds of sinners are of as dangerous a consequence in respect of infecting , yea, and destroying the souls of others as the life of an heretic is, and yet no man (I presume) judgeth this a sufficient ground why such men should be punished with death. Secondly, as for those that are within the church, they are not capable of any communion with or commerce with an heretic that is cast out by excommunication and so are not in danger to be infected by him. And for those that are without, these are infected already with a disease every whit as mortal as any heresy - I mean, unbelief. So that infection with heresy will not much impair the estates or conditions of these. Thirdly and lastly, the truth us that an heretic being dead (especially if punished with death for his opinion sake) speaketh in his surviving heresy with every whit as much authority, and consequently with every whit as much danger of infecting others therewith as he could do if he were alive, if not more. And so,
Fifthly (and lastly) concerning other civil means for the suppression and restraint  of those spiritual evils, errors, heresies, &c. as imprisonment, banishment, interdictions, finings &c. both reason and experience concur in this demonstration that such fetters as these put upon the feet of errors and heresies to secure and keep them under, still have proved and are like to prove no other than wings whereby they raise themselves the higher in the thoughts and minds of men, and gain an opportunity of a further and ranker propagation of themselves in the world.

The light of evangelical truth wherein the Reformed Churches rejoice at this day, yea, and triumph over Antichristian darkness, did not break out of the clouds of councils and synods unto them, but God caused it to shine upon them from scattered and single stars, as Luther, Calvin, Zwinglius, Martyr, &c. God never took any pleasure to cumber his arm with flesh and blood when he meant to do any great thing for his church by it. when synods and councils shall bear themselves inordinately upon their numbers and multitudes, upon their wisdom, learning, and piety, and because of these shall upon the matter challenge an infallibility. (For what do they less when they command all men's judgments and consciences to bow down at the feet of their determinations?) This is little less than an authorized ground of divination that they will miscarry and God will not honour them with the discovery of any of his truth into the world.

 


that Way = Independency i.e. Congregational church government.

Ecclesiastes 10:19 = "A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things".

that other Way = Presbyterianism

Proverbs 13:10 = "Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom".
 

Luke 12:51 = Compare with the Baptists' arguments from the same text thirty years before.