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DISTINCTIONS TO BE MADE

We must therefore put a difference between them who err of ignorance, retaining nevertheless a mind desirous to be instructed in the truth, and them who, after the truth is laid open, persist in stubborn defence of their blindness. Heretical defenders, froward and stiffnecked teachers of circumcision, the blessed Apostle calleth dogs. [Phil 3:2] Silly men, that were seduced to think they taught the truth, he pitieth, he taketh up in his arms, he lovingly embraceth, he kisseth, and with more than fatherly tenderness doth so temper, qualify, and correct the speech he useth towards them, that a man cannot easily discern whether did most abound, the love which he bare to their godly affection or the grief which the danger of their opinion bred him. Their opinion was dangerous; was not so likewise theirs who thought that the kingdom of Christ should be earthly? was not theirs who thought that the Gospel should be preached only to the Jews? What more opposite to prophetical doctrine concerning the coming of Christ than the one, concerning the Catholic Church than the other? Yet they who had these fancies, even when they had them, were not the worst men in the world. The heresy of freewill was a millstone about the Pelagians' neck: shall we therefore give sentence of death inevitable against all those fathers in the Greek church who, being mispersuaded, died in the error of freewill?

Of those Galatians, therefore, who first were justified, and then deceived, as I can see no cause why as many as died before admonition might not by mercy be saved, even in error, so I make no doubt but as many as lived till they were admonished found the mercy of God effectual in converting them from their error, lest any one that is Christ's should perish. Of this, as I take it, there is no controversy. Only against the salvation of them who died, though before admonition, yet in error, it is objected that their opinion was a very plain direct denial of the foundation. If Paul and Barnabas had been so persuaded, they would haply have used their terms otherwise, speaking of the masters themselves who did first set that error abroach, "certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed." [Acts 15:5] What difference was there between these Pharisees and others from whom by a special description they are distinguished but this: they who came to Antioch teaching the necessity of circumcision were Christians, the other, enemies of Christianity? Why then should these be termed so distinctly believers, if they did directly deny the foundation of our belief, besides which there was none other thing that made the rest to be unbelievers?

We need go no further than St. Paul's very reasoning against them for proof of this matter: "Seeing ye know God, or rather are known of God, how turn you again unto impotent rudiments? The law engendereth servants, her children are in bondage. They who are begotten by the Gospel are free. Brethren, we are not children of the servant, but of the free woman, and will ye yet be under the law?" [Gal 4:9, 21ff,31] That they thought it unto salvation necessary for the Church of Christ to observe days and months and times and years, to keep the ceremonies and the sacraments of the law, this was their error. [Gal 4:10f] Yet he who condemneth their error confesseth, notwithstanding, that they knew God and were known of him; he taketh not the honour from them to be termed sons begotten of the immortal seed of the Gospel. Let the heaviest words which he useth be weighed; consider the drift of these dreadful conclusions: "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing; as many as are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace." [Gal 5:2,4] It had been to no purpose in the world so to urge them had not the Apostle been persuaded that at the hearing of such sequels, "no benefit by Christ," "a defection from grace," their hearts would tremble and quake within them; and why? because they knew that in Christ, in grace, their salvation lay, which is a plain direct acknowledgement of the foundation.

Lest I should herein seem to hold that which no one godly and learned hath done, let these words be considered, which import as much as I affirm: "Surely those brethren who, in St. Paul's time, thought that God did lay a necessity upon them to make choice of days and meats spake as they believed, and could not but in words condemn that liberty which they supposed to be brought in against the authority of divine Scripture. Otherwise it had been needless for St. Paul to admonish them not to condemn such as eat without scrupulosity whatsoever was set before them. This error, if ye weigh what it is of itself, did at once overthrow all Scripture whereby we are taught salvation by faith in Christ, all that ever the prophets did foretell, all that ever the Apostles did preach of Christ. It drew with it the denial of Christ entirely, insomuch that St. Paul complaineth that his labour was lost upon the Galatians, unto whom this error was obtruded, affirming that Christ, if so be they were circumcised, should not profit them anything at all. Yet so far was St. Paul from striking their names out of Christ's book that he commanded others to entertain them, to accept them with singular humanity, to use them like brethren. He knew men's imbecility, he had a feeling of our blindness who are mortal men how great it is, and being sure that they are the sons of God whosoever he endued with his fear would not have them counted enemies of that whereunto they could not as yet frame themselves to be friends, but did even of a very religious affection to the truth unwittingly reject and resist the truth. They acknowledged Christ to be their only and their perfect Saviour, but saw not how repugnant their believing the necessity of Mosaical ceremonies was to their faith in Jesus Christ." [preceding quotation from Bucer, DE UNITATE ECCLESIAE SERVANDA]

Hereunto reply is made that if they had not directly denied the foundation they might have been saved; but saved they could not be; therefore their opinion was, not only by consequent, but directly, a denial of the foundation. When the question was about the possibility of their salvation, their denying of the foundation was brought for proof that they could not be saved: now that the question is about their denial, the impossibility of their salvation is alleged to prove they denied the foundation. Is there nothing which excludeth men from salvation but only the foundation of faith denied? I should have thought that, beside this, many other things are death except they be actually repented of, as indeed this opinion of theirs was death unto as many as, being given to understand that to cleave thereunto was to fall from Christ, did notwithstanding cleave unto it. But of this enough. Wherefore I come to the last question: whether the doctrine of the Church of Rome concerning the necessity of works unto salvation be a direct denial of the foundation of our faith.

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