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OF CONSTANCY IN THE PROFESSION OF THE TRUE RELIGION.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised.—Heb. x. 23.
THESE words contain an exhortation to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” and an argument or encouragement thereto, because “he is faithful that promised.” By the exhortation to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” is not meant, that those who are capable of examining the grounds and reasons of their religion should blindly hold it fast against the best reasons that can be offered; because upon these terms every man must continue in the religion in which he happens to be fixed by education, or an ill choice, be his religion true or false, without examining and looking into it, whether it be right or wrong; for, till a man examines, every man thinks his religion right. That which the apostle here exhorts Christians to hold fast, is the ancient faith, of which all Christians make a solemn profession in their baptism, as plainly appears from the context. And this “profession of our faith” we are to hold in the following instances, which I shall but briefly mention, without enlarging upon them.
1. We are to “hold fast the profession of our faith,” against the confidence of men, without Scripture or reason to support that confidence.164
2. And much more against the confidence of men, contrary to plain Scripture and reason, and to the common sense of mankind.
3. Against all the temptations and terrors of the world—against the temptations of fashion and example, and of worldly interest and advantage; and against all terrors and sufferings of persecution.
4. Against all vain promises of being put into a safer condition, and groundless hopes of getting to heaven upon easier terms than the gospel has proposed, in some other church and religion.
Lastly, We are to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” against all the cunning arts and insinuations of busy and disputing men, whose design it is to unhinge men from their religion, and to make proselytes to their party and faction.
But, without entering into these particulars, I shall, in order to our establishment in the reformed religion, which we profess, in opposition to the errors and corruptions of the church of Rome, apply myself at this time to make a short comparison between the religion which we profess and that of the church of Rome, that we may discern on which side the advantage of truth lies; and, in making this comparison, I shall insist upon three things, which will bring the matter to an issue, and are, I think, sufficient to determine every sober and considerate man, which of these he ought in reason, and with regard to the safety of his soul, to embrace: and they are these:—
I. That we govern our belief and practice, in matters of religion, by the true ancient rule of Christianity, the word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures; but the church of Rome, for the maintenance 165of their errors and corruptions, have been forced to devise a new rule, never owned by the primitive church, nor by the ancient fathers and councils of it.
II. That the doctrines and practices in difference betwixt us and the church of Rome, are either contrary to this rule, or destitute of the warrant and authority of it, and are plain additions to the ancient Christianity, and corruptions of it.
III. That our religion hath many clear advantages of that of the church of Rome, not only very considerable in themselves, but very obvious and discernible to an ordinary capacity, upon the first proposal of them. I shall be as brief in these as I can.
I. That we govern our belief and practice in matters of religion, by the true ancient rule of Christianity, the word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures: but the church of Rome, for the maintaining of their errors and corruptions, have been forced to devise a new rule, never owned by the primitive church, nor by the ancient councils and fathers of it; that is, they have joined with the word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures, the unwritten traditions of their church, concerning several points of their faith and practice, which they acknowledge can not be proved from Scripture, and these they call the unwritten word of God; and the council of Trent hath decreed them to be “of equal authority with the Holy Scriptures,” and that they do “receive and venerate them with the same pious affection and reverence;” and all this contrary to the express declaration and unanimous consent of all the ancient councils and fathers of the Christian church (as I have already shewn); and this never declared to be a point of faith, till it was decreed, not much above 166a hundred years ago, in the council of Trent. And this, surely, if any thing, is a matter of great consequence—to presume to alter the ancient rule of Christian doctrine and practice, and to enlarge it, and add to it at their pleasure. But the church of Rome having made so great a change in the doctrine and practice of Christianity, it became consequently necessary to make a change of the rule: and therefore, with great reason, did the council of Trent take this into consideration in the first place, and put it in the front of their decrees, because it was to be the foundation and main proof of the following definitions of faith, and decrees of practice, for which, without this new rule, there had been no colour.
II. The doctrines and practices in difference betwixt us and the church of Rome, are either contrary to the true rule, or destitute of the warrant and authority of it, and plain additions to the ancient Christianity, and corruptions of it. The truth of this will best appear by instancing in some of the principal doctrines and practices in difference betwixt us.
As for their two great fundamental doctrines, of the supremacy of the bishop of Rome over all the Christians in the world, and the infallibility of their church, there is not one word in Scripture concerning these privileges; nay, it is little less than a demonstration that they have no such privileges, that St. Paul, in a long epistle to the church of Rome, takes no notice of them, that the church of Rome either then was, or was to be soon after, the mother and mistress of all churches, which is now grown to be an article of faith, in the church of Rome; and yet it is hardly to be imagined that he could have omitted to take notice of such remarkable 167privileges of their bishops and church, above all in the world, had he known they had belonged to them. So that in all probability he was ignorant of those mighty prerogatives of the church of Rome; otherwise it cannot be, but that he would have written with more deference and submission to this seat of infallibility and centre of unity; he would certainly have paid a greater respect to this mother and mistress of all churches, where the head of the church, and vicar of Christ, either was already seated, or by the appointment of Christ was designed for ever to fix his throne and establish his residence; but there is not one word, or the least intimation of any such thing throughout this whole Epistle, nor in any other part of the New Testament.
Besides that both these pretended privileges are omitted, by plain fact and evidence of things themselves; their supremacy, in that the far greatest part of the Christian church, neither is at this day, nor can be shewn by the records of any age, ever to have been subject to the bishop of Rome, or to have acknowledged his authority and jurisdiction over them: and the infallibility of the pope, whether with or without a general council, about which they still differ, though infallibility was devised on purpose to determine all differences; I say, this infallibility, wherever it is pretended to be, is plainly confuted by the contradictory definitions of several popes and councils; for if they have contradicted one another, as is plain, beyond all contradiction, in several instances, then there must of necessity be an error on one side; and there can be no so certain demonstration, that any one is infallible, as evident error and mistake is of the contrary.
Next, their concealing both the rule of religion, 168and the practice of it in the worship and service of God, from the people, in an unknown tongue; and their administering the communion to the people in one kind only, contrary to clear Scripture, and the plain institution of our blessed Saviour. And then their worship of images, and invocation of angels and saints, and the blessed Virgin, in the same solemn manner, and for the same blessings and benefits which we beg of God himself; contrary to the express word of God, which commands us to worship the Lord our God, and to serve him only; and which declares, that as there is but one God, so there is but “one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus;” but one mediator, not only of redemption, but of intercession too; for the apostle there speaks of a mediator of intercession, by whom only we are to offer up our prayers, which are to be put up to God only; and which expressly forbids men to worship any image or likeness. And the learned men of their own church acknowledge, that there is neither precept nor example for these practices in Scripture, and that they were not used in the Christian church for several ages; and this acknowledgment we think very considerable, since so great a part of their religion, especially as it is practised among the people, is contained in these points. For the service of God in an unknown tongue, and withholding the Scriptures from the people, they do not pretend so much as one testimony of any father for the first six hundred years; and nothing, certainly, can be more unreasonable in itself, than to deny people the best means of knowing the will of God, and not to permit them to understand what is done in the public worship of God, and what prayers are put up to him in the church.169
The two great doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory are acknowledged, by many of their own learned writers, to have no certain foundation in Scripture: and that there are seven sacraments of the Christian religion, though it be now made an article of faith by the council of Trent, is a thing which cannot be shewn in any council or father for above a thousand years after Christ. And we find no mention of this number of the sacraments, till the age of Peter Lombard, the father of the school men.
That the church of Rome is the mother and mistress of all churches, though that also be one of the new articles of Pope Pius the Fourth’s creed, which their priests are by a solemn oath obliged to believe and teach; and yet it is most evidently false. That she is not the mother of all churches is plain, because Jerusalem was certainly so; for there certainly was the first Christian church, and from thence all the Christian churches in the world derive themselves: that she is not (though she fain would be) the mistress of all churches, is as evident; because the greatest part of the Christian church does, at this day, and always did deny, that she hath any authority or supremacy over them. Now these are the principal matters in difference betwixt us; and if these points, and a few more, be pared off from popery, that which remains of their religion, is the same with our’s; that is, the true ancient Christianity.
III. I shall shew that our religion hath many clear advantages of their’s, not only very consider able in themselves, but very obvious and discernible to an ordinary capacity, upon the very first proposal of them; as,170
1. That our religion agrees perfectly with the Scriptures, and all points both of our belief and practice, esteemed by us as necessary to salvation, are there contained, even our enemies themselves being judges. We “worship the Lord our God, and him only do we serve.” We do not fall down before images and worship them: we address all our prayers to God alone, by the only mediation and intercession of his Son Jesus Christ, as he himself hath given us commandment, and as St. Paul doth plainly direct, giving us this plain and substantial reason for it—because, as there is but one God, so there is but “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”
The public worship and service of God is performed by us in a language which we understand, according to St. Paul’s express order and direction, and the universal practice of the ancient church, and the nature and reason of the thing itself. We administer the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in both kinds, according to our Saviour’s example and plain institution, and the continual practice of all the Christian churches in the world for above a thou sand years.
2. We believe nothing as necessary to salvation, but what hath been owned in all ages to be the Christian doctrine, and is acknowledged so to be by the church of Rome itself; and we receive the whole faith of the primitive Christian church, viz. whatever is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, and in the explications of that in the creeds of the four first general councils. By which it plainly appears, that all the points of faith in difference betwixt us and the church of Rome are mere innovations and plain additions to the ancient Christian faith: but 171 all that we believe, is acknowledged by them to be undoubtedly the ancient Christian faith.
3. There is nothing wanting in our church and religion, whether in matter of faith or practice, which either the Scripture makes necessary to salvation, or was so esteemed by the Christian church for the first live hundred years; and we trust, that what was sufficient for the salvation of Christians in the best ages of Christianity, for five hundred years together, may be so still; and we are very well content to venture our salvation upon the same terms that they did.
4. Our religion is not only free from all idolatrous worship, but even from all suspicion and probable charge of any such thing: but this the church of Rome is not, as is acknowledged by her most learned champions, and as no man of ingenuity can deny; and the reason which the learned men give, why the worship of images and the invocation of angels and saints departed, were not practised in the primitive church for the first three hundred years, is a plain acknowledgment that these practices are very liable to the suspicion of idolatry: for they say, that the Christians did then forbear those practices because they seemed to come too near to the pagan idolatry, and lest the heathen should have taken occasion to have justified themselves, if these things had been practised among Christians; and they cannot now be ignorant, what scandal they give by these practices both to the Jews and Turks, and how much they alienate them from Christianity by this scandal; nor can they choose but be sensible, upon how great disadvantage they are in defending these practices from the charge of idolatry, and that by all their blind distinctions, with which they raise such a 172cloud and dust, they can hardly make any plausible and tolerable defence of themselves from this charge; insomuch, that to secure their own people from discerning their guilt in this matter, they have been put upon that shameful shift of leaving out the second commandment in their common catechisms and manuals, lest the people, seeing so plain a law of God against so common a practice of their church, should upon that discovery have broken off from them.
5. Nor is our religion encumbered with such an endless number of superstitious and troublesome observances, as their’s infinitely is, even beyond the number of the Jewish ceremonies, to the great burden and scandal of the Christian religion, and the diverting of men’s minds from the spiritual part of religion, and the more weighty and necessary duties of the Christian life; so that, in truth, a devout pastor is so taken up with the external rites and little observances of his religion, that he hath little or no time to make himself a good man, and to cultivate and improve his mind in true piety and virtue.
6. Our religion is evidently more charitable to all Christians that differ from us, and particularly to them who, by their uncharitableness to us, have done as much as is possible to discharge and damp our charity towards them. And charity, as it is one of the most essential marks of a true Christian, so it is likewise the best mark and ornament of a true church; and of all things that can be thought of, methinks the want of charity in any church should be a motive to no man to fall in love with it, and to be fond of its communion.
7. Our religion doth not clash and interfere with 173any of the great moral duties to which all mankind stand obliged by the law and light of nature; as fidelity, mercy, and truth. We do not teach men to break faith with heretics or infidels; nor to destroy and extirpate those who differ from us, with fire and sword: no such thing as equivocation or mental reservation, or any other artificial way of falsehood, is either taught or maintained, either by the doctrine, or by the casuists of our church.
8. Our religion and all the doctrines of it are perfectly consistent with the peace of civil government, and the welfare of human society. We neither exempt the clergy from subjection to the civil powers, nor absolve subjects upon any pretence whatsoever from allegiance to their princes; both which points, the necessity of the one, and the law fulness of the other, have been taught and stiffly maintained in the church of Rome, not only by private doctors, but by popes and general councils.
9. The doctrines of our religion are perfectly free from all suspicion of a worldly interest and design; whereas the greatest part of the erroneous doctrines with which we charge the church of Rome, are plainly calculated to promote the end of worldly greatness and dominion.
The pope’s kingdom is plainly of this world; and the doctrines and maxims of it, like so many servants, are ready upon all occasions to fight for him. For most of them do plainly tend, either to the establishment and enlargement of his authority; or to the magnifying of the priests, and the giving them a perfect power over the consciences of the people, and the keeping them in a slavish subjection and blind obedience to them. And to this purpose do plainly tend the doctrines of exempting the clergy 174from the secular power and jurisdiction, the doctrine of transubstantiation; for it must needs make the priest a great man in the opinion of the people, to believe that he can make God, as they love to express it, without all reason and reverence. Of the like tendency is the communicating of the laity only in one kind, thereby making it the sole privilege of the priest to receive the sacrament in both: the withholding the Scripture from the people, and celebrating the service of God in an unknown tongue: the doctrine of an implicit faith, and absolute resignation of their judgments to their teachers: these do all directly tend to keep the people in ignorance, and to bring them to a blind obedience to the dictates of their teachers. So likewise the necessity of the intention of the priest, to the saving virtue and efficacy of the sacraments; by which doctrine, the people do upon the matter depend as much upon the good-will of the priest, as upon the mercy of God for their salvation. But, above all, their doctrine of the necessity of auricular and private confession of all mortal sins committed after baptism, with all the circumstances of them, to the priest; and this not only for the ease and direction of their consciences, but as a necessary condition of having their sins pardoned and forgiven by God; by which means they make themselves masters of all the secrets of the people, and keep them in awe by the knowledge of their faults, scire volunt secreta domus atque inde timeri. Or else their doctrines tend to filthy lucre, and the enriching of their church: as their doctrines of purgatory and indulgences, and their prayers and masses for the dead, and many more doctrines and practices of the like kind, plainly do.175
10. Our religion is free from all disingenuous and dishonest arts of maintaining and supporting itself. Such are clipping of ancient authors, nay, and even the authors and writers of their own church, when they speak too freely of any point; as may be seen in their indices expurgatorii, which much against their wills have been brought to light. To which I shall only add these three gross forgeries, which lie all at their doors, and they cannot deny them to be so.
1. The pretended canon of the council of Nice in the case of appeals, between the church of Rome and the African church; upon which they insisted a great while very confidently, till at last they were convinced by authentic copies of the canons of that council.
2. Constantine’s donation to the pope, which they kept a great stir with, till the forgery of it was discovered.
3. The decretal epistles of the ancient popes; a large volume of forgeries compiled by Isidore Mercator, to countenance the usurpations of the bishop of Rome, and of which the church of Rome made great use for several ages, and pertinaciously defended the authority of them, till the learned men of their own church have at last been forced for very shame to disclaim them, and to confess the imposture of them. A like instance whereto is not, I hope, to be shewn in any Christian church. This is that which St. Paul calls κυβεία, “the sleight of men,” such as gamesters use at dice; for to allege false and forged authors in this case, is to play with false dice, when the salvation of men’s souls lies at stake.
11. Our religion has this mighty advantage: That it doth not decline trial and examination, which, to 176any man of ingenuity, must needs appear a very good sign of an honest cause; but if any church be shy of having her religion examined, and her doctrines and practices brought into the open light, this gives just ground of suspicion that she hath some distrust of them; for truth doth not seek corners, nor shun the light. Our Saviour hath told us who they are that love “darkness rather than light,” viz. “they whose deeds are evil;” “for every one (saith he) that doth evil, hateth the light; neither cometh he to the light, Jest his deeds should be reproved and made manifest.” There needs no more to render a religion suspected to a wise man, than to see those who profess it, and make such proud boasts of the truth and goodness of it, so fearful that it should be examined and looked into, and that their people should take the liberty to hear and read what can be said against it.
12. We persuade men to our religion by human and Christian ways, such as our Saviour and his apostles used, by urging men with the authority of God, and with arguments fetched from another world, the promise of eternal life and happiness, and the threatening of eternal death and misery, which are the proper arguments of religion, and which alone are fitted to work upon the minds and consciences of men. The terror and torture of death may make men hypocrites, and awe them to profess with their mouths what they do not believe in their hearts; but this is no proper means of converting the soul, and convincing the minds and consciences of men; and these violent and cruel ways cannot be denied to have been practised in the church of Rome, and set on foot by the authority of councils, and greatly countenanced and 177encouraged by popes themselves; witness the many crusades for the extirpation of heretics, the standing cruelties of their inquisition, their occasional massacres and persecutions, of which we have fresh instances in every age.
But these methods of conversion are a certain sign that they either distrust the truth and goodness of their cause, or else that they think truth and the arguments for it are of no force, when dragoons are their ratio ultima, the last reason which their cause relies upon, and the best and most effectual it can afford.
Again, we hold no doctrines in defiance of the senses of all mankind; such as is that of transubstantiation, which is now declared in the church of Rome to be a necessary article of faith, so that a man cannot be of that religion, unless he will renounce his senses, and believe against the clear verdict of them in a plain sensible matter: but after this, I do not understand how a man can believe any thing, because by this very thing he destroys and takes away the foundation of all certainty. If any man forbid me to believe what I see, I forbid him to believe any thing upon better and surer evidence. St. Paul saith, that “faith cometh by hearing;” but if I cannot rely upon the certainty of sense, then the means whereby faith is conveyed is uncertain; and we may say as St. Paul doth in another case, “then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
Lastly, (to mention no more particulars) as to several things used and practised in the church of Rome, we are on much the safer side, if we should happen to be mistaken about them, than they are, if they should be mistaken; for it is certainly lawful 178to read the Scriptures, and lawful to permit to the people the use of the Scriptures in a known tongue; otherwise we must condemn the apostles and the primitive church for allowing this liberty. It is certainly lawful to have the public prayers and service of God celebrated in a language which all that join in it can understand. It is certainly lawful to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to the people in both kinds; otherwise the Christian church would not have done it for a thousand years. It is certainly lawful not to worship images, not to pray to angels, or saints, or the blessed Virgin; otherwise the primitive church would not have forborne these practices for three hundred years, as is acknowledged by those of the church of Rome.
Suppose a man should pray to God only, and offer up all his prayers to him only by Jesus Christ, without making mention of any other mediator or intercessor with God for us, relying here in upon what the apostle says concerning our high-priest, Jesus the Son of God, (Heb. vii. 25.) that “he is able to save them to the uttermost, who come unto God by him,” i. e. by his mediation and intercession, “since he ever liveth to make intercession for them;” might not a man reasonably hope to obtain of God all the blessings he stands in need of by addressing himself only to him, in the name and by the intercession of that “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus?” Nay, why may not a man reasonably think, that this is both a shorter and more effectual way to obtain our requests, than by turning ourselves to the angels and saints, and importuning them to solicit God for us? especially if we should order the matter so, as 179to make ten times more frequent addresses to these, than we do to God and our blessed Saviour; and, in comparison of the other, to neglect these. We cannot certainly think any more able to help us and do us good, than the great God of heaven and earth, “the God (as the psalmist styles him) that heareth prayers,” and therefore “unto him should all flesh come.” We cannot certainly think any intercessor so powerful and prevalent with God, as his only and dearly-beloved Son, offering up our prayers to God in heaven, by virtue of that most acceptable and invaluable sacrifice, which he offered to him on earth. We cannot surely think, that there is so much goodness any where as in God; that in any of the angels or saints, or even in the blessed mother of our Lord, there is more mercy and compassion for sinners, and a tenderer sense of our infirmities, than in the Son of God, “who is at the right hand of his Father, to appear in the presence of God for us?” We are sure that God always hears the petitions which we put up to him; and so does the Son of God, by whom we put them up to the Father, because he also is God, blessed for ever more. But we are not sure that the angels and saints hear our prayers, because we are sure that they are neither omniscient nor omnipresent; and we are not sure, nor probably certain, that our prayers are made known to them any other way, there being no revelation of God to that purpose. We are sure that God hath declared himself to be a “jealous God,” and that “he will not give his honour to another;” and we are not sure but that prayer is part of the honour which is due to God alone; and if it were not, we can hardly think but that God should be so far from being pleased with our 180making so frequent use of those other mediators and intercessors, and from granting our desires the sooner upon that account, that, on the contrary, we have reason to think he should be highly offended, when he himself is ready to receive all our petitions, and hath appointed a great mediator to that purpose, to see more addresses made to, and by the angels and saints, and blessed Virgin, than to himself by his blessed Son: and to see the worship of himself almost justled out, by the devotion of people to saints and angels, and the blessed mother of our Lord; a thing which he never commanded, and which, so far as appears by Scripture, never came into his mind. I have been the longer upon this matter, to shew how unreasonable and needless, at the best, this more than half part of the religion of the church of Rome is; and how safely it may be let alone.
But now, on the other hand, if they be mistaken in these things, as we can demonstrate from Scripture they are, the danger is infinitely great on that side; for then they oppose an institution of Christ, who appointed the sacrament to be received in both kinds; and they involve themselves in a great danger of the guilt of idolatry, and our common Christianity in the scandal and reproach of it; and this without any necessity, since God hath required none of these things at our hands; and, after all the bustle which hath been made about them, the utmost they pretend (which yet they are not able to make good) is, that these things may lawfully be done; and at the same time they cannot deny, but that if the church had not enjoined them, they might lawfully be let alone. And can any thing be more unreasonable, than so pertinaciously to insist upon things 181so hard, I may say impossible, to be defended or excused, and which, by their own acknowledgment, are of no great weight and necessity: in which we are certainly safe in not doing them, if they should prove lawful; but if they do not prove so, they are in a most dangerous condition. So that here is certain safety on the one hand, and the danger of damnation on the other; which is as great odds as is possible.
And they must not tell us that they are in no danger, because they are infallible, and cannot be mistaken; they must prove that point a great deal better than they have yet done, before it can signify any thing either to our satisfaction or their safety.
I might have insisted more largely upon each of these particulars, any one of which is of weight to incline a man to that religion, which hath such an advantage on its side; but all of them together make so powerful an argument to an unprejudiced person, as must almost irresistibly determine his choice; for most of the particulars are so evident, that they cannot, upon the very mention and proposal of them, be denied to be clear advantages on our side.
And now, to use the words of St. Peter, “I testify unto you that this is the true grace of God wherein you stand;” that the reformed religion which we profess, and which by the goodness of God is by law established in this nation, is the true ancient Christianity, the faith which was at first delivered to the saints, and which is conveyed down to us in the writings of the apostles and the evangelists of our Lord and Saviour. “Remember therefore how ye have received and heard; and hold fast; for he is faithful that hath promised;” which is the second part of the text: the encouragement which the 182apostle gives us “to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering—he is faithful that hath promised” to give us his Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to establish, strengthen, and settle us in the profession of it, to support and comfort us under all trials and temptations, “and to seal us up to the day of redemption;” and “he is faithful that hath promised” to reward our constancy and fidelity to him and his truth, with “a crown of everlasting life and glory.” “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;” “for he is faithful that hath promised,” and let us provoke one another to charity and good works, which are the great ornament and glory of any religion, and (t so much the more, because the day approacheth in which God will judge” the belief and lives of “men, by Jesus Christ;” not according to the imperious and uncharitable dictates of any church, but according to the gospel of his Son, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory now and for ever.
Now the God of peace, which brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good word and work, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.183
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