Identifying Obligatory Scripture Examples

Identifying Obligatory Scripture Examples

Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici


II. Of a Divine Right by obligatory Scripture Examples.

II. By obligatory scripture examples (which God’s people are bound to follow and imitate) matters of religion become of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ, by whose Spirit those examples were recorded in Scripture, and propounded for imitation to the saints. The light of nature in this case helps something; but the light of obligatory scripture examples helps much more, as being more clear, distinct, and particular. We say scripture examples; for only these examples are held forth to us by an infallible, impartial, divine hand, and those scripture examples obligatory, or binding; for there are many sorts of scripture examples that oblige not us to imitation of them, being written for other uses and purposes.

Great use is to be made of such examples in matters of religion, and particularly in matters of church government, for the clearing of the divine right thereof; and great opposition is made by some against the binding force of examples, especially by men of perverse spirits, (as too many of the Erastian party are;) therefore it will be of great consequence to unfold and clear this matter of scripture examples, and the obliging power thereof, that we may see how far examples are to be a law and rule for us by divine right. In general, this proposition seems to be unquestionable, that whatsoever matter or act of religion Jesus Christ makes known to his Church and people, by or under any binding scripture example, that matter or act of religion so made known, is of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ: But to evince this more satisfactorily, these several particulars are to be distinctly made good and manifested: 1. That some scripture examples are obligatory and binding on Christians in matters of religion. 2. Which are those obligatory scripture examples? These things being made out, we shall see with what strength scripture examples hold forth a divine right to us in the mysteries of religion, and particularly in church government.

I. That some scripture examples in matters of religion are obligatory on Christians, as patterns and rules, which they are bound in conscience to follow and imitate, is evident,

1. By the divine intention of the Spirit of God, in recording and propounding of examples in Scripture: for he records and propounds them for this very end, that they may be imitated. Thus Christ’s humility, in washing the feet of his disciples, was intentionally propounded as an obligatory example, binding both the disciples, and us after them, to perform the meanest offices of love in humility to one another. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you,” John xiii. 4, &c., 13-15. Thus Christ’s suffering with innocence and unprovoked patience, not reviling again, &c., is purposely propounded for all Christians to imitate, and they are bound in conscience as well as they can to follow it—”Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps,” &c., 1 Pet. ii. 21-23. Hence, the apostle so urges the example of Christ for the Corinthians to follow in their bounty to the poor saints, yea, though to their own impoverishing, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich,” 2 Cor. viii. 9. Nor was the example of Christ only written for our imitation; but the examples of the apostles also in the primitive churches were intentionally left upon record for this end, that they might be binding patterns for us to follow in like cases in after ages. And in particular, this seems to be one singular ground, scope, and intention of Christ’s Spirit in writing the history of the Acts of the Apostles, that the apostles’ acts in the primitive churches might be our rules in successive churches. For, 1. Though this book contain in it many things dogmatical, that is, divers doctrines of the apostles, yet it is not styled the book of the doctrine, but of the Acts of the Apostles, that we may learn to act as they acted. This being one main difference between profane and sacred histories; those are for speculation, these also for admonition and imitation, 1 Cor. x. 11. The history, therefore, of the Acts propounds examples admonitory and obligatory upon us, that we should express like acts in like cases. 2. Luke (the penman of the Acts) makes such a transition from his history of Christ, to this history of Christ’s apostles, as to unite and knit them into one volume, Acts i. 1; whence we are given to understand, that if the Church wanted this history of the apostles, she should want that perfect direction which the Spirit intended for her: as also that this book is useful and needful to her as well as the other. 3. In the very front of the Acts it is said, that Christ after his resurrection (and before his ascension) gave commandments to the apostles—and spake of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, Acts i. 2, 3; viz. of the polity of the Church, say some. Of the kingdom of grace, say others. Judicious Calvin interprets it partly of church government, saying, Luke admonisheth us, that Christ did not so depart out of the world, as to cast off all care of us: for by this doctrine he shows that he hath constituted a perpetual government in his Church. Therefore Luke signifies, that Christ departed not, before he had provided for his Church’s government. Now those expressions are set in the frontispiece, to stamp the greater authority and obligatory power upon the acts after recorded, being done according to Christ’s commandments; Christ intending their acts in the first founding of his kingdom and polity ecclesiastic to be the rule for after churches. For what Christ spoke of his kingdom to the apostles is like that, “What I say to you, I say to all,” Matt. xiii. 37, as what was said to the apostles touching preaching and baptizing, remitting and retaining of sins, was said to all the apostles’ successors, “to the end of the world,” John xx. 21, 23, with Matt, xxviii. 18-20.

2. By God’s approving and commending such as were followers not only of the doctrine, but also of the examples of the Lord, his apostles, and primitive churches; “And ye became followers” (or imitators) “of us and of the Lord,” 1 Thess. i. 6, 7; and again, “Ye, brethren, became followers” (or imitators) “of the churches of God, which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews,” 1 Thess. ii. 14. In which places the Holy Ghost recites the Thessalonians imitating of the Lord, of the apostles, and of the churches, to the praise of the Thessalonians, by which they are given to understand that they did well, and discharged their duty in such imitations: for God’s condemning or commending any thing, is virtually a prohibiting or prescribing thereof.

3. By the Lord’s commanding some examples to be imitated. Commands of this nature are frequent. In general, “Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good,” 3 John 11. In particular, 1. Imitating of God and Christ; “Be ye, therefore, followers of God as dear children: and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us,” Eph. v. 1, 2, with Eph. iv. 32. “He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk, even as he walked,” 1 John ii. 6. 2. Imitating the apostles and other saints of God. “I beseech you, be ye imitators of me: for this cause have I sent unto you Timothy—who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ,” 1 Cor. iv. 16, 17. “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ,” 1 Cor. xi. 1.

“Those things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you,” Phil. iv. 9. “Be not slothful, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” Heb. vi. 12. “Whose faith imitate, considering the end of their conversation,” Heb. xiii. 7. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example” (or pattern) “of suffering affliction, and of patience,” James v. 10. These and like divine commands infallibly evidence that many scripture examples are obligatory, and do bind our consciences to the imitation of them.

4. By consent of orthodox and learned writers, both ancient and modern, acknowledging an obligatory force in some scripture examples, as being left upon record for our imitation. As among others Chrysostom, and Greg. Nyssen well observe.

Among modern writers, Mr. Perkins excellently observes, This is a rule in divinity, that the ordinary examples of the godly approved in Scripture, being against no general precept, have the force of a general rule, and are to be followed. See also Pet. Martyr, Calvin, and others.

II. Thus, it is clear that some scripture examples are obligatory. Now (to come closer to the matter) consider which scripture examples are obligatory. 1. How many sorts of binding examples are propounded to us in Scripture. 2. What rules we may walk by for finding out the obligatory force of such examples.

How many sorts of binding examples are propounded unto us in Scripture, and which are those examples? Ans. There are principally three sorts, viz: Examples of God, of Christ, of Christians.

I. Of God. The example of God is propounded in Scripture as obligatory on us in all moral excellencies and actions: e.g. Matt. v. 44, 45, 48; Eph. v. 1; 1 Pet. i. 14-16; 1 John iv. 10, 11.

II. Of Christ. That the example of Christ is obligatory, and a binding rule to us for imitation, is evident by these and like testimonies of Scripture, Matt. xi. 29; 1 Cor. xi. 11; Eph. v. 2, 3, 25, &c.; 1 John ii. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 21-23. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you,” John xiii. 14, 15. In this place we must follow the reason of the example, rather than the individual act, viz: after Christ’s example, we must be ready to perform the lowest and meanest offices of love and service to one another.

But which of Christ’s examples are obligatory on Christians, will better appear, by distinguishing the several sorts of Christ’s actions. Christ’s actions were of several kinds; and to imitate them all is neither needful, nor possible, nor warrantable. Orthodox writers thus rank Christ’s actions:

1. Some of Christ’s actions were of divine power and virtue; as his miracles, turning water into wine, John ii. 7, &c.; walking on the sea, Mark vi. 48, 49; dispossessing of devils by his word, Mark i. 27; Luke iv. 36; curing one born blind with clay and spittle, John ix.; healing the sick by his word or touch, John iv. 50; Mark vi. 56; raising the dead to life again, as John xii. 1; Matt. xi. 5; Luke vii. 22.

2. Some were acts of divine prerogative, as sending for the ass and colt, without first asking the owner’s leave, Matt. xxi. 2, &c.

3. Some mediatory, done by him as Mediator, Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church: e.g. inditing the Scripture, called therefore the word of Christ, Col. iii. 16; laying down his life for the sheep, John x. 15, &c.; giving of the Spirit, John xx. 22; Acts ii.; appointing of his own officers, and giving them commissions, Eph. iv. 7, 10, 11; Matt. x. and xxviii. 18-20; instituting of new, and thereby abrogating of old ordinances, Matt. xxviii. 18, 19; 1 Cor. xi. 23, &c.

4. Some accidental, occasional, incidental, or circumstantial, as in the case of his celebrating his supper, that it was at night, not in the morning; after supper, not before; with none but men, none but ministers; with unleavened, not with leavened bread, &c.; these circumstantials were accidentally occasioned by the passover, nature of his family, &c.

5. Some acts of Christ were moral, as Matt. xi. 29; Eph. v. 2, 3, 25, &c.; or at least founded upon a moral reason and foundation, as John xiii. 14,15.

To imitate Christ in his three first sort of acts, is utterly unlawful, and in part impossible. To imitate him in his circumstantial acts from necessity, were to make accidentals necessary, and happily to border upon superstition; for, to urge any thing above what is appointed, as absolutely necessary, is to urge superstition; and to yield to any thing above what is appointed, as simply necessary, were to yield to superstition. But to imitate Christ in his moral acts, or acts grounded upon a moral reason, is our duty: such acts of Christ ought to be the Christian’s rules.

III. Of prophets, apostles, saints, or primitive churches. That their examples are obligatory, is evident by these places, 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil. iv. 8, 9; 1 Pet. iii. 4, 5, 6; 1 Thess. i. 6, and ii. 14; Heb. xiii. 7; James v. 10, 11; 3 John 11.

Which of their examples are obligatory, may be thus resolved, by distinguishing of their actions.

1. Some were sinful; written for our caution and admonition, not for our imitation: as 1 Cor. x. 5, 6, 10, 12. That neither the just be lifted up into pride by security, nor the unjust be hardened against the medicine through despair. See the fourth rule following.

2. Some were heroical; done by singular instinct and instigation of the Spirit of God; as divers acts may be presumed to be, (though we read not the instinct clearly recorded:) as, Elias’s calling for fire from heaven, 2 Kings i. 10; which the very apostles might not imitate, not having his spirit, Luke ix. 54, 55; Phinehas’s killing the adulterer and adulteress, Numb. xxv. 7, 8; Samson’s avenging himself upon his enemies by his own death, Judges xvi. 30, of which, saith Bernard, if it be defended not to have been his sin, it is undoubtedly to be believed he had private counsel, viz. from God, for his fact; David’s fighting with Goliath of Gath the giant, hand to hand, 1 Sam. xvii. 32, &c., which is no warrant for private duels and quarrels. Such heroic acts are not imitable but by men furnished with like heroic spirit, and instinct divine.

3. Some were by special calling, and singular extraordinary dispensation: as Abraham’s call to leave his own country for pilgrimage in Canaan, Gen. xii. 1, 4, which is no warrant for popish pilgrimages to the holy land, &c.; Abraham’s attempts, upon God’s special trying commands, to kill and sacrifice his son, Gen. xxii. 10, no warrant for parents to kill or sacrifice their children; the Israelites borrowing of, and robbing the Egyptians, Exod. xii. 35, no warrant for cozenage, stealing, or for borrowing with intent not to pay again: compare Rom. xiii. 8; 1 Thess. iv. 6; Psal. xxxvii. 21; the Israelites taking usury of the Canaanitish strangers, (who were destined to ruin both in their states and persons, Deut. xx. 15-17,) Deut. xxiii. 20, which justifies neither their nor our taking usury of our brethren, Lev. xxv. 36, 37; Deut. xxiii. 19, 20; Neh. v. 7, 10; Psal. xv. 5; Prov. xxviii. 8; Ezek. xviii. 8, 13, 17, and xxii. 12; John Baptist’s living in the desert, Mat. iii., no protection for popish hermitage, or proof that it is a state of greater perfection, &c.

4. Some were only accidental or occasional, occasioned by special necessity of times and seasons, or some present appearance of scandal, or some such accidental emergency. Thus primitive Christians had all things common, Acts iv. 32, but that is no ground for anabaptistical community. Paul wrought at his trade of tent-making, made his hands minister to his necessities, Acts xx. 34; would not take wages for preaching to the church of Corinth, 2 Cor. xi. 7-9; but this lays no necessity on ministers to preach the gospel gratis, and maintain themselves by their own manual labors, except when cases and seasons are alike, Gal. vi. 6-8; 1 Cor. ix. 6-13; 1 Tim. v. 17, 18.

5. Some were of a moral nature, and upon moral grounds, wherein they followed Christ, and we are to follow them, 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil. iv. 8, 9, and other places forementioned; for, whatsoever actions were done then, upon such grounds as are of a moral, perpetual, and common concernment to one person as well as another, to one church as well as another, in one age as well as another, those actions are obligatory on all, and a rule to after generations. Thus the baptizing of women in the primitive churches, Acts viii. 12, and xvi. 15, though only the males were circumcised under the Old Testament, is a rule for our baptizing of women as well as men, they being all one in Christ, Gal. iii. 28. So the admitting of infants to the first initiating sacrament of the Old Testament, circumcision, because they with their parents’ were accounted within the covenant of grace by God, Gen. xvii., is a rule for us now to admit infants to the first initiating sacrament of the New Testament, baptism, because infants are federally holy, and within the covenant with their believing parents now, as well as then, Rom. xi. 16; 1 Cor. vii. 14; Col. ii. 11, 12. Thus the baptizing of divers persons formerly, though into no particular congregation, nor as members of any particular congregation, as the eunuch, Acts viii.; Lydia, Acts xvi.; the jailer, Acts xvi.; because it was sufficient they were baptized into that one general visible body of Christ, 1 Cor. xii. 12, 13, is a rule for us what to do in like cases upon the same common ground. Thus the Church’s practice of preaching the word, and breaking bread on the first day of the week, Acts xx. 7, &c., is our rule for sanctifying the Lord’s day, by celebrating the word, sacraments, and other holy ordinances, at these times. And in like manner, the primitive practices of ordaining preaching presbyters, by laying on of hands, 1 Tim. iv. 14; 2 Tim. i. 6; Acts xiii. 3; of governing all the congregations of a city by one common presbytery, in which respect they are all called by the name of one church, as the church of Jerusalem, Acts viii. 1, and xv. 4; the church of Antioch, Acts xiii. 1, and xi. 25, 26; the church of Corinth, 1 Cor. i. 2, 2 Cor. i. 1; which had churches in it, 1 Cor. xiv. 34. Of healing common scandals and errors, troubling divers presbyterial churches by the authoritative decrees of a synod, made up of members from divers presbyterial churches, as Acts xv., and such like, are our rules in like particulars, which the Lord hath left for our direction, the same grounds of such actions reaching us as well as them.

Now this last kind of examples are those which we are, by divers divine commands, especially enjoined to follow; and therefore such examples amount to a divine right or institution; and what we ought to do by virtue of such binding examples is of divine right, and by the will and appointment of Jesus Christ.

What discriminatory notes or rules may we walk by, for finding out the obligatory force of scripture examples; and what manner of examples those be? For discovery hereof, take these ensuing general rules:

1. Those examples in Scripture, which the Spirit of Christ commands us to imitate, are undoubtedly obligatory. Such are the moral examples of God, Christ, apostles, prophets, saints, and churches, recorded in Scripture, with command to follow them, Eph. iv. 32, and v. 1, 2; 1 John ii. 6; 1 Cor. xi. 1; Phil. iv. 6; Heb. vi. 12, and xiii. 7; James v. 10; 3 John 11.

2. Those examples in Scripture, which the Spirit of Christ commends and praises, are obligatory; his commendings are virtual commandings; and we ought to follow whatsoever is praiseworthy, especially in God’s account, Phil. iv. 8, 9; 2 Cor. x. 18. Now the Spirit of Christ commends many examples to us: as, Enoch’s walking with God, Gen. v. 24; Noah’s uprightness, Gen. vi.; Abraham’s faith, Rom. iv., and obedience, Gen. xxii.; Lot’s zeal against Sodom’s sins, 2 Pet. ii. 9; Job’s patience, James v. 10, 11. And in a word, all the examples of the saints, which the Lord approves and speaks well of; as Heb. xi.; 1 Pet. iii. 5, 6: together with all such examples, whose imitation by others is commended in Scripture; as, 1 Thess. i. 6, 7, and ii. 14.

3. Those examples in Scripture are obligatory, whose ground, reason, scope, or end, are obligatory, and of a moral nature, and as much concern one Christian as another, one church as another, one time as another, &c., whether they be the examples under the Old or New Testament. Thus the example of the church of Corinth, in excommunicating the incestuous person, because he was a wicked person—and lest he should leaven the whole lump; and that they might keep the evangelical passover sincerely, and for that they had power to judge them within; and that his “flesh might be destroyed, and his spirit saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” 1 Cor. v. 5-8, 11-13: which grounds and ends being moral, oblige us to use the like remedy against all wicked and scandalous persons.

4. Those acts which are propounded in Scripture as patterns or examples, that we should act the like good, or avoid the like ill, are an obligatory law to us. There is an example of caution, and an example of imitation.

Thus in reference to well-doing, or suffering for well-doing, the examples of Christ, his apostles, and other saints, are propounded as patterns to write after, as John xiii. 14, 15; Heb. xi. tot. with Heb. xii. 1, with such a cloud of witnesses. This verse is as the epilogue of the former chapter, (saith the learned Calvin,) showing to what end the catalogue of saints was reckoned up, who under the law excelled in faith, viz: that every one may fit himself to imitate them. Another adds, He calls them a cloud, whereby we may be directed; in allusion to that cloud that went before Israel in the wilderness, to conduct them to the land of Canaan. See also 1 Pet. ii. 21-23; James v. 10.

Thus also, in reference to ill-doing, that it may be avoided by us, the bad examples of saints and others are laid before us as warnings and cautions to us, binding us to eschew like evils, 1 Cor. x. 5, 6, 11. “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Now all these things happened unto them for examples,” &c., Jude 7.

5. Those acts of saints or Christians, which were done by them as saints and Christians, are obligatory upon, and to be followed by all Christians; but those acts which are done by magistrates, prophets, apostles, ministers, &c., only as such, are only obligatory on such as have like offices, not on all; according to the maxim, that which agrees to any thing as such, agrees to every thing that is such. Thus James urges the example of Elias in praying, James v. 17. Paul presses the example of Abraham in being justified by believing, Rom. iv. 23,24. Peter prescribes, as a pattern to wives, the example of Sarah, and other holy women of old, for “adorning themselves with a meek and quiet spirit,—being in subjection to their own husbands,” 1 Pet. iii. 4-6.

6. Those acts that were commonly and ordinarily done, are ordinarily to be imitated; as, baptizing in water only, and not in any other element, was the ordinary practice of the New Testament, Matt. iii. 11, 16; Mark i. 6, 10; Luke iii. 16; John i. 26, 31, 33; Acts i. 5, and viii. 36, 38, and x. 47, and xi. 16; and by that practice we are obliged to baptize in water only. Joining of many Christians together in receiving the Lord’s supper was an ordinary practice, Matt. xxvi. 20, 26, 27; Acts ii. 42, and xx. 7, &c.; 1 Cor. xi. 20, and by us ordinarily to be imitated; how else is it a communion? 1 Cor. x. 16, 17.

But such acts as were done only upon special causes or singular reasons, are only to be imitated in like cases. Thus Christ argues from a like special cause, that he was not to do miracles at Nazareth without a call, as he did in other places where he had a call of God; from the particular example of Elijah and Elisha, who only went to them to whom God called them, Luke ix. 25-27; so he proves that in like case of necessity it was lawful for his disciples on the sabbath-day to rub ears of corn and eat them, &c., from David’s example of eating show-bread when he had need, Matt. xii. 1-5.

7. Those acts that were done from extraordinary calling and gifts, are to be imitated (in regard of their special way of acting) only by those that have such extraordinary calling and gifts. Christ therefore blames his apostles for desiring to imitate Elijah’s extraordinary act in calling for fire from heaven, &c., when they had not his spirit, Luke ix. 54, 55. Papists are blameworthy for imitating the extraordinary forty days’ and nights’ fast of Moses, Elijah, and Christ, in their Lent fast. Prelates argue corruptly for bishops’ prelacy over their brethren the ministers, from the superiority of the apostles over presbyters.


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