by Thomas Hooker
Hand-typed, modernized, formatted, corrected, and annotated by William Gross
For readability, and because citations no longer require them, the original page numbers are omitted. The format of the 1648 printing was a jumble of odd fonts, capitalizations, and italicized text. Those have been revised. Headings and bullets were added (breadcrumbs to follow). The invasive marginal notes in Latin and Greek are omitted, but references to external texts are preserved. Marginal Scripture references are superscripted in the text, or footnoted. There are additional verse references; and the verse text is often footnoted for convenience. The extensive Latin and Greek phrases Hooker used, because those languages are largely unknown today, have been translated; the original was moved to footnotes. Please excuse my crude renderings. If you find substantive errors, please contact me at my website above, and I'll gladly make corrections.
In Part I, Hooker's arguments were difficult to distinguish from Rutherford's — like listening to one side of a phone conversation. He was responding to contemporary criticisms made in the four then well-known treatises listed on the title page. So I've made it explicit as to who is speaking, and provided some transitional phrases to help connect the dots. Rutherford's are in quotation marks. I've placed abstracts at the top of chapters 2 and 3, to compare and contrast these competing views of Church government. What are the rights and powers of the people of God, and from where does leadership, whether civil or ecclesiastical, derive its authority?
This book is not only about Church Discipline, but Church Government. Is the Church defined by its clergy who hold the power of the Keys to open and shut? Or is it the assembly of God's people, who elect their elders, and delegate their power to them? Ten years earlier, in 1638, Hooker preached on authority first lying in the free consent of the people. Consider that John Locke, whose ideas inspired the American founders, was only six at the time. Hooker said that God granted the people the right to choose their leaders, and the power to put limitations on the rule of those individuals. The following year, he helped establish the Fundamental Orders that governed the colony at Connecticut River. I've included those Orders in Appendix I. Hooker says a comparable covenant must apply to the Church (see Part III). He argues that believers are in a covenantal relationship with each other in a Church, just as they're in a covenantal relationship with God above. Therefore, the Church ought to have a constitutional form of government.
This didn't go over well with the Church of England, nor with many fellow Puritans. When this was written, the English Civil Wars had ceased for the time being. The Westminster Assembly had been tasked by the Parliament with developing a fixed set of doctrines and practices for the Church. It would be a bulwark against the papists. Independent churches were not politically expedient nor welcome. Hooker found it necessary to defend them against his fellow Protestants, and prove they were not a threat to the Church of England (see Part II. Ch. 3). Those Puritans who sensed that the Church of England was too political, and couldn't be reformed, left England for the Netherlands, or for America, to seek a purer form of worship, and of church government.
In his preface to this book, Hooker asks: 1. What does the spiritual rule of Christ's Kingdom consist in: how is it revealed and dispensed to the souls of his servants inwardly? 2. What is the order and manner of it: how is the government of His kingdom to be managed outwardly in his churches?
Hooker is described as a Puritan, or Nonconformist. Here he argues for "congregational" churches – more specifically, independent local churches. At the same time, he pushes for a community, or consociation of churches. He disagreed with the Brownists, who were radical separatists; they claimed the Church of England was no church at all, because it was formed by the government, and because it lacked church discipline. He weighs Samuel Rutherford's centralized, Presbyterian, hierarchical view of church government, against the Brownists' congregational view. Then he provides "a middle way." Hooker argues that church and state are two different "species;" but he is "not yet persuaded that the chief Magistrate should stand neutral, and tolerate all religions."
In Appendix II, I've provided excerpts from George Walker's book, Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat (1891), explaining the context of this treatise, why Hooker was reluctant to write it, and why its style is uncharacteristically cumbersome. You may want to read that first, because Part I is definitely not an easy read. My notes are marked with "– WHG." Hooker's are marked with "— Hooker." Some of the notes are Goodwin's (the original editor).
Hooker has been described as an ecclesiastical republican. He helped create a framework for spiritual liberty, on which the American ideal of civil liberty would be built — a representative and constitutional form of government, by consent of the governed. This book lays out that American ideal, flowing from a "New England Mind." Hooker was foremost a pastor, not a political theorist. His book, Poor Doubting Christian, makes that clear.
The first eight chapters are Hooker's responses to Rutherford's attacks on the congregational churches. In chapter 9, Hooker articulates his own arguments, to which Mr. Rutherford replies, and in turn is refuted. Read Edmund Morgan's Visible Saints for a broad historical context.
Many Latin terms are used, with subtle distinctions. I found they obfuscated rather than clarified the arguments. As an aid, here's a Glossary of Terms to keep handy. The descriptions are my own inferences from Hooker's use of them:
Totum essentiale (an Essential Whole) – the whole of the essence of its parts Totum organica (an Organic Whole) – the organized sum of its parts Corpus organicum (an Organic Body) – an organism acting in its entirety Homogeneum (a Homogenous Whole) – the whole is the same substance as its parts Totum integrale (an Integral Whole) – the whole is the integration of its parts Totum genericum (a Generic Whole) – the traits of the parts apply to the whole 1 Totum universale (a Universal Whole) 2 – the whole is everywhere alike, but not identical Totum aggregatum (an Aggregate Whole) – the whole is a mere collection of its parts integrum (a united whole) – the whole is incomplete without every part integrum in membra (the aggregate of its members) – the whole exists in its parts Genus (class) – comprised of consenting particular churches Species (instance) – a particular visible church ruled by locally elected officers
What then is the difference between a totum aggregatum and an integrum in membra? It's the difference between a totum, and an integrum. A totum is divisible; an integrum is not. The United States are "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Synopsis — The Church is a society of believers. If the Church is too centralized, those who lead are tempted to lord it over others, as with the Papacy. If the Church is too splintered, there may be unity within a local church, but not between the churches – there is no "Church." Where then is the proper balance between the one and the other?
Rutherford favors strong central control; Hooker favors decentralization and local control. Rutherford favors appointing local leaders from above; Hooker favors local election. Rutherford favors excommunication by a Presbytery; Hooker favors local discipline.
Both men are equally committed to ensuring purity of doctrine and practice. But for Rutherford, it's ensured by the rule of men, who determine the truth of Scripture for the Church. For Hooker, it's ensured by the authority of Scripture alone, without intervening human authority, using the teachers God calls to bring about consensus, in a local congregation, as to that one Truth.
This all hinges on the doctrine of Union with Christ. That's what the two men are debating — how that Union is to be expressed in the Church. It's the theme of Part I, chap. 4.
For Rutherford, profession alone brings union with Christ, and that union brings membership in the Church. Communion with fellow believers in a local congregation is incidental. Thus, as a member of the Church generally, you may serve as an administrator at a higher level, without being a member of a church locally.
For Hooker too, profession alone brings union with Christ; but it requires membership in a local congregation, by Covenant and mutual consent. Fellowship with Christ and fellowship with His people are inseparable. Administration is meaningful only as it applies to the word, sacraments, and discipline — all of which are necessarily administered locally.
It is valuable for every believer to consider what the church is, and how it ought to operate. I pray this classic is edifying to your Christian walk, and encouraging to your life in the Body.
William H. Gross
July 25, 2020
Modernization and Overview
A Preface by the Author
TO THE READER
Part I. Ecclesiastical Policy
Chapter 1. Ecclesiastical Policy Defined.
Chapter 2. The Constitution of a Visible Church.
Chapter 3. The Invisible Church as the Subject of the Seals and Privileges.
Chapter 4. The Formal Cause of a Visible Church: the Church Covenant.
Chapter 5. Whether Baptism gives formality, or makes a member of a visible Church?
Chapter 6. Whether Profession makes a member of a Congregation?
Chapter 7. An Answer to Arguments made against the Church Covenant.
Chapter 8. The Precedency of a Church, as a Homogenous Whole.
Chapter 9. The Nature and Being of a Presbyterial Church.
Section 1. The Essence of a Presbyterian Church
Section 2. The Grounds of such a Constitution.
Section 3. Reasoning from such grounds, against it.
Section 4. The Nature of a Church and a Classis.
Section 5. Particular Churches Meeting in One Place.
Answers to Mr. R.’s Arguments for Confirming a Presbyterial Church.
Chapter 11. The Subject of Ecclesiastical Power – the Keys.
Section I. Its Nature.
Section II. Where this Power is Seated.
Section III. Rutherford's Arguments for Who Holds the Keys,
Section IV. Rutherford's Arguments for Who Holds the Keys,
Chapter 12. To Whom the Keys to the Visible Church are
Chapter 13. The catholic Church as it is a Representative Whole.
Chapter 14. The Universal Church as an Integral Whole.
Chapter 15. Answer to Mr. Hudson re: the Visible Church as an
Section 1. Conclusions
Section 2. A catholic visible Church examined
Section 3. Examining the Alleged Scripture Proofs
Chapter 16. Church Communion as a Peculiar Privilege to the
Members of a Church.
I. The Sense of Communion.
II. The Things and Manner of Communion.
III. Ordinance, Dispensation, and Hearing of it.
IV. Set, Ordinary, Professed, and Resolved Hearing of it.
Part II. The Church Considered as an Organic Body.
Chapter 1. The Number of Officers in it, and the Nature of it.
Of the Ruling Elder
Of the Pastor's Office
Of the Teacher's Office
The Manner of Their Work.
The Reward for Their Work.
Tithing and Maintenance
The Limits of the Office of Deacon
Chapter 2. The Nature of Ordination, and a Pastor's Power over
1. Whether Ordination is by nature before Election.
2. Whether Ordination gives all the Essentials to an Officer.
3. What Ordination Is.
4. To whom the right of dispensing the Ordinance pertains.
Chapter 3. The Right Meaning of an Independent Church.
Part III. Church Government
Chapter 1. Of the Government of the Church.
Chapter 2. Of the Dispensation of the Sacraments.
1. The Parties to the Sacraments
2. The Manner of Dispensing the Sacraments
Chapter 3. Of Censures and Excommunication.
Part IV. Concerning Synods.
Chapter 1. The Nature of a Synod and its Power to Bind.
Of Acts 15.
Chapter 2. Alleged Superiority of Classes and Synods above
Mr. Rutherford's 7th and 9th Arguments.
Mr. Rutherford's 8th Argument.
Mr. Rutherford's 10th Argument.
Mr. Rutherford's 11th Argument.
Mr. Rutherford's 12th Argument.
Chapter 3. An Appendix to the Former Treatise Concerning Synods.
Ques. 1. What is a Synod?
Ques. 2. How are Synods proved to be Scriptural?
Ques. 3. What is the Power of a Synod?
Ques. 4. To whom does the power of calling Synods pertain?
The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut
Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat