« Prev GENERAL REPENTANCE NOT INTENDED Next »

GENERAL REPENTANCE NOT INTENDED

[REPLY:] This, to my remembrance, being all that hath been as yet opposed with any countenance or show of reason, I hope, if this be answered, the cause in question is at an end. Concerning general repentance, therefore: what? a murderer, a blasphemer, an unclean person, a Turk, a Jew, any sinner to escape the wrath of God by a general "God forgive me"? Truly, it never came within my heart that a general repentance doth serve for all sins or for all sinners: it serveth only for the common oversights of our sinful life, and for faults which either we do not mark, or do not know that they are faults. Our fathers were actually penitent for sins wherein they knew they displeased God, or else they come not within the compass of my first speech. Again, that otherwise they could not be saved than holding the foundation of Christian faith, we have not only affirmed but proved. Why is it not then confessed that thousands of our fathers, although they lived in popish superstitions, might yet, by the mercy of God, be saved? FIRST, if they had directly denied the very foundation of Christianity, without repenting them particularly of that sin, he who saith there could be no salvation for them, according to the ordinary course which God doth use in saving men, granteth plainly, or at the leastwise closely insinuateth, that an extraordinary privilege of mercy might deliver their souls from hell; which is more than I required. SECONDLY, if the foundation be denied, it is denied by force of some heresy which the Church of Rome maintaineth. But how many were there amongst our fathers who, being seduced by the common error of that church, never knew the meaning of her heresies! So that if all popish heretics did perish, thousands of them who lived in popish superstitions might be saved.

THIRDLY, seeing all that held popish heresies did not hold all the heresies of the pope, why might not thousands who were infected with other leaven live and die unsoured by this, and so be saved? FOURTHLY, if they all had held this heresy, many there were that held it no doubt only in a general form of words, which a favourable interpreter might expound in a sense differing far enough from the poisoned conceit of heresy; as, for example: did they hold that we cannot be saved by Christ without works? We ourselves do, I think, all say as much, with this construction, salvation being taken as in that sentence, "With the heart man believes unto justification and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." [Rom 10:10] Except infants, and men cut off upon the point of their conversion, of the rest none shall see God but such as seek peace and holiness, though not as a cause of their salvation, yet as a way through which they must walk that will be saved. Did they hold that without works we are not justified? Take justification so that it may also imply sanctification, and St. James doth say as much; for except there be an ambiguity in some term, St. Paul and St. James do contradict each other, which cannot be. Now, there is no ambiguity in the name either of faith or of works, both being meant by them both in one and the same sense. Finding therefore that justification is spoken of by St. Paul without implying sanctification when he proveth that a man is justified by faith without works; finding likewise that justification doth sometimes imply sanctification also with it; I suppose nothing more sound than so to interpret St. James as speaking not in that sense, but in this.

We have already showed that there are two kinds of Christian righteousness: the one without us, which we have by imputation; the other in us, which consisteth of faith, hope, charity, and other Christian virtues; and St. James doth prove that Abraham had not only the one, because the thing he believed was imputed unto him for righteousness, but also the other, because he offered up his son. God giveth us both the one justice [righteousness] and the other: the one by accepting us for righteous in Christ; the other by working Christian righteousness in us. The proper and most immediate efficient cause in us of this latter is the spirit of adoption which we have received into our hearts. [Rom 8:15f] That whereof it consisteth, whereof it is really and formally made, are those infused virtues proper and particular unto saints, which the Spirit, in that very moment when first it is given of God, bringeth with it. The effects thereof are such actions as the Apostle doth call the fruits, the works, the operations of the Spirit [see Gal 5:22; 1 Cor 12:6,11, KJV]; the difference of which operations, from the root whereof they spring, maketh it needful to put two kinds likewise of sanctifying righteousness, habitual and actual: habitual, that holiness wherewith our souls are inwardly endued the same instant when first we begin to be temples of the Holy Ghost;[1 Cor 3:16f; 6:19] actual, that holiness which afterward beautifieth all the parts and actions of our life, the holiness for which Enoch, Job, Zachary, Elizabeth, and other saints are in Scriptures so highly commended [see Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5; Job 1:8; Lk 1:5f].

If here it be demanded which of these we do first receive, I answer that the Spirit, the virtues of the Spirit, the habitual justice which is ingrafted, the external justice of Christ Jesus which is imputed, these we receive all at one and the same time. Whensoever we have any of these we have all; they go together. Yet since no man is justified except he believe, and no man believeth except he have faith, and no man hath faith unless he have received the Spirit of adoption, forasmuch as these do necessarily infer justification, but justification doth of necessity presuppose them; we must needs hold that imputed righteousness, in dignity being the chiefest, is notwithstanding in order the last of all these [belief, faith, adoption], but actual righteousness, which is the righteousness of good works, succeedeth all, followeth after all, both in order and in time. Which thing being attentively marked showeth plainly how the faith of true believers cannot be divorced from hope and love; how faith is a part of sanctification, and yet unto sanctification necessary; how faith is perfected by good works, and yet no works of ours good without faith; finally, how our fathers might hold, we are justified by faith alone, and yet hold truly that without good works we are not justified. Did they think that men do merit rewards in heaven by the works they perform on earth? The ancient fathers use meriting for obtaining, and in that sense they of Wittenberg have in their Confession: "We teach that good works commanded of God are necessarily to be done, and that by the free kindness of God they merit their certain rewards. [Confession of Wuerttemberg, ch 7] Others therefore, speaking as our fathers did, and we taking their speech in a sound meaning, as we may take our fathers', and ought, forasmuch as their meaning is doubtful and charity doth always interpret doubtful things favourably, what should induce us to think that rather the damage of the worse construction did light upon them all than that the blessing of the better was granted unto thousands?

FIFTHLY, if in the worst construction that can be made they had all embraced it living, might not many of them dying utterly renounce it? Howsoever men, when they sit at ease, do vainly tickle their own hearts with the wanton conceit of I know not what proportionable correspondence between their merits and their rewards, which, in the trance of their high speculations, they dream that God hath measured, weighed, and laid up, as it were, in bundles for them; notwithstanding we see by daily experience, in a number even of them, that when the hour of death approacheth, when they secretly hear themselves summoned forthwith to appear and stand at the bar of that Judge whose brightness causeth the eyes of angels themselves to dazzle, all those idle imaginations do then begin to hide their faces. To name merits then is to lay their souls upon the rack; the memory of their own deeds is loathsome unto them; they forsake all things wherein they have put any trust and confidence: no staff to lean upon, no ease, no rest, no comfort then, but only in Christ Jesus.

Wherefore if this proposition were true, "To hold in such wise as the Church of Rome doth that we cannot be saved by Christ alone without works is directly to deny the foundation of faith" -- I say that if this proposition were true, nevertheless so many ways I have showed whereby we may hope that thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions might be saved. But what if it be not true? What if neither that of the Galatians concerning circumcision nor this of the Church of Rome about works be any direct denial of the foundation, as it is affirmed that both are? I need not wade so far as to discuss this controversy, the matter which first was brought into question being so cleared, as I hope it is. Howbeit, because I desire that the truth even in this also may receive light, I will do mine endeavour to set down somewhat more plainly, first, the foundation of faith, what it is; secondly, what it is directly to deny the foundation; thirdly, whether they whom God hath chosen to be heirs of life may fall so far as directly to deny it; fourthly, whether the Galatians did so by admitting the error about circumcision and the law; last of all, whether the Church of Rome, for this one opinion of works, may be thought to do the like, and thereupon to be no more a Christian Church than are the assemblies of Turks or Jews.

This word FOUNDATION being figuratively used hath always reference to somewhat which resembleth a material building, as both the doctrine of Christianity and the community of Christians do. By the masters of civil policy nothing is so much inculcated as that commonwealths are founded upon laws; for that a multitude cannot be compacted into one body otherwise than by a common acceptation of laws, whereby they are to be kept in order. The ground of all civil laws is this: No man ought to be hurt or injured by another. Take away this persuasion and you take away all laws; take away laws, and what shall become of commonwealths? So it is in our spiritual Christian community: I do not now mean that body mystical whereof Christ is the only head, that building undiscernible by mortal eyes wherein Christ is the chief cornerstone [Eph 1:22f; 2:20-22; 4:15f; 1 Pet 2:4ff]; but I speak of the visible church, the foundation whereof is the doctrine of the prophets and apostles professed.[Eph 2:20] The mark whereunto their doctrine tendeth is pointed at in those words of Peter unto Christ, "Thou has the words of eternal life" [Jn 6:69]; in those of Paul to Timothy, "The Holy Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation." [2 Tim 3:15]

It is the demand of nature itself: "What shall we do to have eternal life?" [Cf Lk 10:25; Acts 16:30] The desire of immortality and of the knowledge of that whereby it may be attained is so natural unto all men that even they who are not persuaded that they shall, do notwithstanding wish that they might, know a way how to see no end of life. And because natural means are not able still to resist the force of death, there is no people in the earth so savage which hath not devised some supernatural help or other to fly unto for aid and succour in extremities against the enemies of their lives. A longing therefore to be saved, without understanding the true way how, hath been the cause of all the superstitions in the world. O that the miserable estate of others, who wander in darkness and wot not whither they go, could give us understanding hearts worthily to esteem the riches of the mercies of God towards us, before whose eyes the doors of the kingdom of heaven are set wide open! Should we not offer violence unto it? [Mt 11:12] It offereth violence to us, and we gather strength to withstand it.

« Prev GENERAL REPENTANCE NOT INTENDED Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |