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THE WAY TO ESCAPE JUDGMENT

What way is there for sinners to escape the judgment of God but only by appealing unto the seat of his saving mercy? Which mercy we do not with Origen extend unto devils and damned spirits. God hath mercy upon thousands, but there be thousands also who be hardened. Christ hath therefore set the bounds; he hath fixed the limits of his saving mercy within the compass of these two terms. In the third of St. John's Gospel, mercy is restrained to believers. "God sent not his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through his might be saved. He that believeth shall not be condemned; he that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not in the Son of God." [Jn 3:17f] In the second of the Revelation, mercy is restrained to the penitent; for of Jezebel and her sectaries thus he speaketh: "I gave her space to repent and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit fornication with her into great affliction, except they repent them of their works; and I will kill her children with death." [Rev 2:21-23] Our hope therefore of the fathers is vain if they were altogether faithless and impenitent.

They be not all faithless that are either weak in assenting to the truth or stiff in maintaining things any way opposite to the truth of Christian doctrine. But as many as hold the foundation which is precious, although they hold it but weakly and as it were by a slender thread, although they frame many base and unsuitable things upon it, things that cannot abide the trial of the fire, yet shall they pass the fiery trial and be saved, who indeed have builded themselves upon the rock which is the foundation of the Church. [See 1 Cor 3:10-15] If then our fathers did not hold the foundation of faith, there is no doubt but they were faithless. If many of them held it, then is there herein no impediment but that many of them might be saved. Then let us see what the foundation of faith is, and whether we may think that thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions did notwithstanding hold the foundation.

If THE FOUNDATION OF FAITH do import the general ground whereupon we rest when we do believe, the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles are the foundation of Christian faith: "We believe it because we read it," saith St. Jerome. [ADVERSUS HELVIDIUM, 21] O that the Church of Rome did as soundly interpret those fundamental writings whereupon we build our faith as she doth willingly hold and embrace them!

But if the name FOUNDATION do note the principal thing which is believed, then is that the foundation of our faith which St. Paul hath unto Timothy: "God manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, etc.";[1 Tim 3:16] that of Nathanael: "Thou art the Son of the living God, thou art the king of Israel" [Jn 1:49]; that of the inhabitants of Samaria: "This is Christ, the Saviour of the world." [Jn 4:42] He that directly denieth this doth utterly raze the very foundation of our faith. I have proved heretofore that, although the Church of Rome hath played the harlot worse than ever did Israel, yet are they not, as now the synagogue of the Jews which plainly denieth Christ Jesus, [Rev 2:9; 3:9] quite and clean excluded from the new covenant. But as Samaria compared with Jerusalem is termed AHOLAH, a church or tabernacle of her own, contrariwise Jerusalem AHOLIBAH, the resting place of the Lord [see Ezek 23]; so whatsoever we term the Church of Rome when we compare her to reformed churches, still we put a difference, as then between Babylon and Samaria, so now between Rome and heathenish assemblies. Which opinion I must and will recall; I must grant, and will, that the Church of Rome together with all her children is clean excluded: there is no difference in the world between our fathers and Saracens, Turks, or Painims, if they did directly deny Christ crucified for the salvation of the world.

But how many millions of them are known so to have ended their mortal lives that the drawing of their breath hath ceased with the uttering of this faith: "Christ my Saviour, my Redeemer Jesus!" And shall we say that such did not hold the foundation of Christian faith?

[OBJECTION:] Answer is made that this they might unfeignedly confess, and yet be far enough from salvation. For behold, saith the Apostle, "1, Paul, say unto you that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing." [Gal 5:2] Christ, in the work of man's salvation, is alone: the Galatians were cast away by joining circumcision and other rites of the law with Christ. The Church of Rome doth teach her children to join other things likewise with him; therefore their faith, their belief, doth not profit them anything at all.

It is true, they do indeed join other things with Christ; but how? Not in the work of redemption itself, which they grant that Christ alone hath performed sufficiently for the salvation of the whole world; but in the application of this inestimable treasure, that it may be effectual to their salvation, how demurely soever they confess that they seek remission of sins no otherwise than by the blood of Christ, using humbly the means appointed by him to apply the benefit of his holy blood, they teach, indeed, so many things pernicious to the Christian faith, in setting down the means whereof they speak, that the very foundation of faith which they hold is thereby plainly overthrown, and the force of the blood of Jesus Christ extinguished. We may therefore dispute with them, press them, urge them even with as dangerous sequels as the Apostle doth the Galatians.

[REPLY:] But I demand, if some of those Galatians, heartily embracing the Gospel of Christ, sincere and sound in faith, this only error excepted, had ended their lives before they were ever taught how perilous an opinion they held, shall we think that the damage of this error did so overweigh the benefit of their faith that the mercy of God, his mercy, might not save them? I grant that they overthrew the very foundation of faith by consequent. Doth not that so likewise which the Lutheran churches do at this day so stiffly and so fiercely maintain? [perhaps the necessity of auricular confession?] For mine own part, I dare not hereupon deny the possibility of their salvation who have been the chiefest instruments of ours, albeit they carried to their grave a persuasion so greatly repugnant to the truth. Forasmuch therefore as it may be said of the Church of Rome, "She hath yet a little strength,[Rev 3:8] she doth not directly deny the foundation of Christianity," I may, I trust without offense, persuade myself that thousands of our fathers in former times, living and dying within her walls, have found mercy at the hands of God.

[OBJECTION:] What, although they repented not of their errors? [REPLY:] God forbid that I should open my mouth to gainsay that which Christ himself hath spoken: "Except ye repent, ye shall all perish." [Lk 13:3] And if they did not repent they perished. But withal note that we have the benefit of a double repentence. The least sin which we commit in deed, work, or thought is death, without repentance. Yet how many things do escape us in every of these which we do not know, how many which we do not observe to be sins! And without the knowledge, without the observation of sin there is no actual repentance. It cannot then be chosen but that for as many as hold the foundation, and have all known sin and error in hatred, the blessing of repentance for unknown sins and errors is obtained at the hands of God through the gracious mediation of Christ Jesus, for such suitors as cry with the prophet David, "Purge me, O Lord, from my secret sins." [Ps 19:12]

[OBJECTION:] But we wash a wall of loam; we labour in vain; all this is nothing: it doth not prove, it cannot justify, that which we go about to maintain. Infidels and heathen men are not so godless but that they may, no doubt, cry God mercy, and desire in general to have their sins forgiven them. To such as deny the foundation of faith there can be no salvation, according to the ordinary course which God doth use in saving men, without a particular repentance of that error. The Galatians, thinking that except they were circumcised they could not be saved, overthrew the foundation of faith directly. Therefore if any of them did die so persuaded, whether before or after they were told of their error, their case is dreadful, there is no way with them but one, death and condemnation. For the Apostle speaketh nothing of men departed, but saith generally of all: "If ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing. Ye are abolished from Christ, whosoever are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." [Gal 5:2:4] Of them in the Church of Rome the reason is the same. For whom Antichrist hath seduced, concerning them did not St. Paul speak long before, that "because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved, therefore would God send them strong delusions to believe lies, that all they might be damned who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness"? [2 Thess 2:10-12] And St. John: "All that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast], whose names are not written in the Book of Life." [Rev 13:8] Indeed many of them in former times, as their books and writings do yet show, held the foundation, to wit, salvation by Christ alone, and therefore might be saved. For God hath always had a Church among them who firmly kept his saving truth. As for such as hold with the Church of Rome that we cannot be saved by Christ alone without works, they do not only by a circle of consequence, but directly, deny the foundation of faith; they hold it not, not so much as by a slender thread.

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