Another in our series of extracts from Richard Baxter’s Cure of Church Divisions, published in 1670, in the hope of preventing presbyterians and congregationalists leaving the Church of England after the 1662 Act of Uniformity. As long as Christians are still dividing and being divided, Baxter’s examination of the attitudes that lead to division remains relevant.

Direction V:

Distinguish between those who separate from the Universal Church, or from all the Orthodox or purest and Reformed parts of it, and those who only forsake the Ministry of some one person, or sort of persons, without refusing Communion with the rest.

As many occasions may warrant a removal from a particular Church, but nothing can excuse a separation from the Universal Church, so he that separateth only from some particular Churches, and yet is a member of the Universal Church, may also be a member of Christ and be saved. He may be a Christian who is no member of your flock, or of any particular Church, but he is no Christian who is no member of the Universal Church. Paul and Barnabas may in the heat of a difference part from one another, and yet neither of them part from Christ or the Church-Universal.

I do not excuse the fault of those who sin against any one Church or Pastor: but I would not have the clergy sin too by making the fault of those separating greater than it is; nor to let their own interest lead them to call men schismatics or separatists, in a sense for which they have no ground. If they can learn more by another minister than by me, what reason have I to be offended at their edification, though perhaps some infirmity of judgement may appear in it. A true mother that knoweth her child is like to thrive better by a nurses milk than by her own, will be so far from hatred or envy either at the nurse or child, that she will consent, and be thankful, and pay the nurse. Solomon made it the sign of the false mother, that could bear the dividatur, the hurt of the child for her own commodity; and of the true mother, that she had rather lose her commodity than the child should suffer. And Paul giveth God thanks that Christ was preached, even though it was by them that did it in strife and envy. He is not worthy of the name of a physician, who had rather the patients health were deplorate, than that he should be healed by another who is preferred before him. If I knew that man by whom the salvation of my flock were like to be more happily promoted than by me (whatever infirmity of theirs might be the cause) I should think my self a servant of Satan the envious enemy of souls, if I were against it.