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THE SALVATION OF “OUR FATHERS”"

Which illation [that is, inference] containeth many things whereof it were much better both for you to hear and me to speak, if necessity did not draw me to another task. Paul and Barnabas being requested to preach the same things again which once they had preached,[Acts 13:42] thought it their duties to satisfy the godly desires of men sincerely affected towards the truth. Nor may it seem burdensome to me, or for you unprofitable, that I follow their example, the like occasion unto theirs being offered me. When we had last the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews in our hands, and of that epistle these words, "In these last days he hath spoken unto us by his Son";[Heb 1:2] after we had thence collected the nature of the visible Church of Christ, and had defined it to be a community of men sanctified through the profession of that truth which God hath taught the world by his Son; and had declared that the scope of Christian doctrine is the comfort of them whose hearts are overcharged with the burden of sin; and had proved that the doctrine professed in the Church of Rome doth bereave men of comfort, both in their lives and at their deaths; the conclusion in the end whereunto we came was this: "The Church of Rome being in faith so corrupted as she is, and refusing to be reformed as she doth, we are to sever ourselves from her. The example of our fathers may not retain us in communion and fellowship with that church, under hope that we, so continuing, might be saved as well as they. God, I doubt not, was merciful to save thousands of them, though they lived in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly; but the truth is now laid open before our eyes." The former part of this last sentence, namely, these words. "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living In poplsh superstitions inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly" -- this sentence I beseech you to mark, and to sift it with the strict severity of austere judgment, that if it be found as gold it may stand, suitable to the precious foundation whereupon it was then laid; for I protest that if it be hay or stubble mine own hand shall set fire to it. [Cf 1 Cor 3:11ff] Two questions have risen by occasion of the speech before alleged: the one, whether our fathers, infected with popish errors and superstitions, might be saved; the other, whether their ignorance be a reasonable inducement to make us think that they might. We are therefore to examine first what possibility, and then what probability, there is that God might be merciful unto so many of our fathers.

[OBJECTION:] So many of our fathers living in popish superstitions, yet by the mercy of God to be saved? No, this could not be: God hath spoken by his angel from heaven unto his people concerning Babylon (by Babylon we understand the Church of Rome), "Go out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. [Rev 18:4] For answer whereunto, first, I do not take these words to be meant only of temporal plagues, of the corporal death, sorrow, famine, and fire whereunto God in his wrath hath condemned Babylon; and that to save his chosen people from these plagues he saith, "Go out"; and with like intent, as in the Gospel, speaking of Jerusalem's desolation he saith, "Let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains, and them who are in the midst thereof depart out";[Mt 24:15ff; Mk 13:14ff; Lk 21:21ff] or as in former times unto Lot, "Arise, take thy wife and thy daughters who are here, lest thou be destroyed in the punishment of the city"; [Gen 19:15] but forasmuch as here it is said, "Go out of Babylon that ye be not partakers of her sins, and by consequence of her plagues," plagues eternal being due to the sins of Babylon, no doubt their everlasting destruction, who are partakers herein, is either principally meant or necessarily implied in this sentence. How then was it possible for so many of our fathers to be saved, since they were so far from departing out of Babylon that they took her for their mother and in her bosom yielded up the ghost?

[REPLY:] First, the plagues being threatened unto them that are partakers in the sins of Babylon; we can define nothing concerning our fathers out of this sentence, unless we show what the sins of Babylon be, and who they be that are such partakers in them that their everlasting plagues are inevitable. The sins which may be common both to them of the Church of Rome and to others departed thence must be severed from this question. He who saith, "Depart out of Babylon lest ye be partakers of her sins", showeth plainly that he meaneth such sins as, except we separate ourselves, we have no power in the world to avoid; such impieties as by law they have established, and whereunto all that are among them either do indeed assent or else are by powerable means forced in show and in appearance to subject themselves: as, for example, in the Church of Rome it is maintained that the same credit and reverence which we give to the Scriptures of God ought also to be given to unwritten verities; that the pope is supreme head ministerial over the universal Church militant; that the bread in the eucharist is transubstantiated into Christ; that it is to be adored, and to be offered up unto God as a sacrifice propitiatory for quick and dead; that images are to be worshipped, saints to be called upon as intercessors, and such like.

Now, because some heresies do concern things only believed; as transubstantiating of sacramental elements in the eucharist; some concern things which are practised also and put in ure [usage], as adoration of the elements transubstantiated, we must note that the practice of that is sometimes received whereof the doctrine which teacheth it is not heretically maintained. They are all partakers in the maintenance of heresies who by word or deed allow them, knowing them, although not knowing them to be heresies; as also they, and that most dangerously of all others, who, knowing heresy to be heresy, do notwithstanding, in worldly respects, make semblance of allowing that which in heart and in judgment they condemn. But heresy is heretically maintained by such as obstinately hold it after wholesome admonition. Of the last sort, as also of the next before, I make no doubt but that their condemnation, without actual repentance, is inevitable. Lest any man therefore should think that in speaking of our fathers I speak indifferently of them all, Iet my words, I beseech you, be well noted: "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers"; which thing I will now by God's assistance set more plainly before your eyes.

Many are partakers of the error who are not of the heresy of the Church of Rome. The people, following the conduct of their guides, and observing as they did exactly that which was prescribed them, thought they did God good service, when indeed they did dishonor him. This was their error. But the heresies of the Church of Rome, their dogmatical positions opposite unto Christian truth, what one man among ten thousand did ever understand? Of them who understand Roman heresies, and allow them, all are not alike partakers in the action of allowing. Some allow them as the first founders and establishers of them, which crime toucheth none but their popes and councils. The people are clear and free from this. Of them who maintain popish heresy not as authors, but receivers of it from others, all maintain it not as masters. In this are not the people partakers neither, but only their predicants and their schoolmen [preachers and teachers]. Of them who have been partakers in the sin of teaching popish heresy there is also a difference; for they have not all been teachers of all popish heresies. "Put a difference," saith St. Jude; "have compassion upon some." [Jude 22] Shall we lap up all in one condition? Shall we cast them all headlong? Shall we plunge them all in that infernal and ever-flaming lake -- them who have been partakers in the error of Babylon together with them within the heresy -- them who have been the authors of heresy with them that by terror and violence have been forced to receive it -- them who have taught it with them whose simplicity hath by sleights and conveyances of false teachers been seduced to believe it -- them who have been partakers in one with them who have been partakers in many -- them who in many with them who in all?

Notwithstanding I grant that, although the condemnation of one be more tolerable than of another, yet from the man that laboureth at the plough to him that sitteth in the Vatican, to all partakers in the sins of Babylon, our fathers, though they did but erroneously practise that which their guides did heretically teach, to all without exception plagues worldly were due. The pit is ordinarily the end as well of the guided as the guide in blindness. But woe worth the hour wherein we were born, except we might persuade ourselves better things, things that accompany men's salvation, [Heb 6:9] even where we know that worse and such as accompany condemnation are due. Then must we show some way how possibly they might escape.

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