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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 hath promised.—Heb. x. 23.
I HAVE already made entrance into these words, which I told you do contain in them,
First, An exhortation to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”
Secondly, An argument or encouragement there to; “because he is faithful that promised.” If we continue steadfast and faithful to God, we shall find him faithful to us, in making good all the promises which he hath made to us, whether of aid and support, or of recompense and reward of our fidelity to him.
I have begun to handle the first part of the text, viz. The apostle’s exhortation to Christians to be constant and steady in their religion: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” The word ἀκλινῆ, which we render “without wavering,” signifies inflexible and unmoveable, not apt to waver and to be shaken with every wind of contrary doctrine, nor by the blasts and storms of persecution. And that we might the better comprehend the full and true meaning of this exhortation, I propounded to do these two things:
I. To shew negatively, wherein this constancy 90and steadiness in the profession of the true religion doth not consist. And,
II. To shew positively, what is implied and in tended here by the apostle in “holding fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”
I. To shew negatively, wherein this constancy and steadiness in the profession of the true religion doth not consist. This I spake to the last day; and shewed at large, that there are two things which are not contained and intended in this exhortation.
1. That men should not have the liberty to examine their religion, and to inquire into the grounds and reasons of it; such I mean as are capable of this examination and inquiry; which some, I shewed, are not; as children, who, while they are in that state, are only fit to learn and believe what is taught them by their parents and teachers: and likewise such grown persons, as, either by the natural weakness of their faculties, or by some great disadvantage of education, are of a very low and mean capacity and improvement of understanding. These are to be considered, as in the condition of children and learners, and therefore must of necessity trust and rely upon the judgment of others.
2. This “holding fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” does not imply, that when men upon examination and inquiry are settled, as they think and verily believe, in the true religion, they should obstinately refuse to hear any reason that can be offered against them. Both these principles I shewed to be unreasonable, and arguments of a bad cause and religion.
I shall now proceed to explain the meaning of 91this exhortation, to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” by shewing, in the
Second place, What it is that is implied in the constant and steady profession of the true faith and religion: namely, that when upon due search and examination, we are fully satisfied, that it is the true religion which we have embraced, or, as St. Peter expresses it, 1st Epistle, v. 12. that “this is the true grace of God, wherein we stand;” that then we should adhere steadfastly to it, and hold it fast, and not suffer it to be wrested from us, nor ourselves to be moved from it, by any pretences, or insinuations, or temptations whatsoever: for there is a great deal of difference between the confidence and steadfastness of an ignorant man, who hath never considered things, and inquired into the grounds of them; and the assurance and settlement of one, who hath been well instructed in his religion, and hath taken pains to search and examine to the bottom, the grounds and reasons of what he holds and professeth to believe. The first is mere wilfulness and obstinacy. A man hath entertained and drank in such principles of religion by education, or hath taken them up by chance; but he hath no reason for them: and yet, however he came by them, he is resolved to hold them fast, and not to part with them. The other is the resolution and constancy of a wise man. He hath embraced his religion upon good grounds, and he sees no reason to alter it: and therefore is resolved to stick to it, and to hold fast the profession of it steadfastly to the end. And to this purpose there are many exhortations and cautions scattered up and down the writings of the holy apostles; as that we should be “steadfast and unmoveable, established in the truth, 92rooted and grounded in the faith,” and that we should “hold fast that which is good,” and not suffer ourselves “to be carried to and fro with every wind of doctrine, through the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness of those that lie in wait to deceive;” that we should “not be removed from him that hath called us unto the grace of Christ, unto another gospel;” that we should “stand fast in one spirit and one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and be in nothing terrified by our adversaries;” and that, if occasion be, we should “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints;” and here in the text, that we should “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” For the explaining of this, I shall do two things:
I. Consider what it is that we are to hold fast; namely, “the profession of our faith;” and,
II. How we are to hold it fast, or what is implied in “holding fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”
I. What it is that we are to hold fast; namely, “the profession of our faith;” i. e. of the Christian faith or religion; for, I told you before, that this profession or confession of our faith, or hope (as the word properly signifies), is an allusion to that profession of faith, which was made by all those who were admitted members of the Christian church by baptism; of which the apostle makes mention immediately before the text, when he says, “let us draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water:” and then it follows, “let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” The profession of faith; which 93we made in our baptism, and which by the ancient fathers is called the rule of faith, and which is now contained in that which we call the Apostles’ Creed, and which is called by St. Paul, (Rom. vi. 17.) “the form of doctrine which was delivered to them,” t. e. to all Christians; and (2 Tim. i. 13.) the “form of sound words:” “hold fast (saith he) the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus;” and, by St. Jude, “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
So that it is the first and ancient faith of the Christian church, delivered to them by Christ and his apostles, which we are here exhorted to “hold fast;” the necessary and fundamental articles of the Christian faith; and by consequence all those truths which have a necessary connexion with those articles, and are implied in them, and by plain consequence are to be deduced from them. It is not the doubtful and uncertain traditions of men; nor the partial dictates and doctrines of any church, since the primitive times, which are not contained in the Holy Scriptures and the ancient creeds of the Christian church, but have been since declared and imposed upon the Christian world, though with never so confident a pretence of antiquity in the doctrines, and of infallibility in the proposers of them: these are no part of that faith which we are either to profess or to hold fast; because we have no reason to admit the pretences, by virtue whereof those doctrines or practices are imposed; being able to make it good, and having effectually done it, that those doctrines are not of primitive antiquity; and that the church, which proposeth them, hath no more claim to infallibility, than all other parts of the 94Christian church; which since the apostles time is none at all.
In a word, no other doctrines, which are not sufficiently revealed in Scripture, either in express terms, or by plain and necessary consequence; nor any rites of worship, nor matters of practice, which are not commanded in Scripture, are to be esteemed any part of that faith in religion, the profession whereof the apostle here commands all Christians to “hold fast without wavering;” much less any doctrines or practices which are repugnant to the word of God, and to the faith and practice of the first ages of Christianity; of which kind I shall have occasion in my following discourse to instance in several particulars. In the mean time I shall only observe, that that faith and religion which we profess, and which, by God’s grace, we have ever held fast, is that which hath been acknowledged by all Christian churches in all ages, to have been the ancient catholic and apostolic faith, and cannot (as to any part or tittle of it) be denied to be so, even by the church of Rome herself.
I proceed to the
II. Second thing which I proposed to consider; namely, How we are to hold fast the profession of our faith, or what is implied by the apostle, in this exhortation, “to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” And I think, these following particulars may very well be supposed to be implied in it:
1. That we should hold fast the profession of our faith, against the confidence of men, without Scripture or reason to support their confidence.
2. And much more against the confidence of men, contrary to Scripture, and reason, and the common sense of mankind.95
3. Against all the temptations and terrors of the world.
4. Against all vain promises of being put into a safer condition, and groundless hopes of getting to heaven upon easier terms in another religion.
5. Against all the cunning arts and insinuations of busy and disputing men, whose design it is to unhinge men from their religion, and to gain proselytes to their own party and faction. I shall go over these with as much clearness and brevity as I can.
1. We should hold fast the profession of our faith, against the confidence of men, without Scripture or reason to support that confidence. All religion is either natural or instituted. The rule of natural religion is the common reason of mankind: the rule of instituted religion is Divine revelation, or the word of God; which all Christians before the council of Trent did agree to be contained in the Holy Scriptures. So that nothing can pretend to be religion, but what can be proved to be so, one or both of those ways; either by Scripture, or by reason, or by both. And how confident soever men may be of opinions destitute of this proof, any man that understands the grounds of religion will without any more ado reject them, for want of this proof; and, notwithstanding any pretended authority or infallibility of the church that imposed them, will have no more consideration and regard of them, than of the confident dictates and assertions of any enthusiast whatsoever; because there is no reason to have regard to any man’s confidence, if the arguments and reasons which he brings bear no proportion to it. We see in experience, that confidence is generally ill-grounded, and is a kind of passion 96in the understanding, and is commonly made use of, like fury and force, to supply for the weakness and want of argument. If a man can prove what he says by good argument, there is no need of confidence to back and support it. We may at any time trust a plain and substantial reason, and leave it to make its own way, and to bear out itself. But if the man’s reasons and arguments be not good, his confidence adds nothing of real force to them, in the opinion of wise men, and tends only to its own confusion. Arguments are like powder, which will carry and do execution according to its true strength; and all the rest is but noise. And generally none are so much to be suspected of error, or a design to deceive, as those that pretend most confidently to inspiration and infallibility; as we see in all sorts of enthusiasts, who pretend to inspiration, although we have nothing but their own word for it: for they work no miracles; and all pretence to inspiration and infallibility, without miracles, whether it be in particular persons, or in whole churches, is enthusiastical: i. e. a pretence to inspiration, without any proof of it.
And therefore Si. Paul was not moved by the boasting and confidence of the false apostles; because they gave no proof and evidence of their Divine inspiration and commission, as he had done; for which he appeals to the sense of men, whether he had not wrought great miracles; which the false apostles had not done, though they had the confidence to give out themselves to be apostles as well as he. (2 Cor. xii. 11, 12.) “I am (says he) be come a fool in glorying, ye have compelled me. And truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders, 97and mighty deeds.” And (Rev. ii. 2.) Christ there commends the church of Ephesus, because she had tried them which said they were apostles, but were not; and had found them liars. And as we are not to believe every one that says he is an apostle, so neither every one that pretends to be a successor of the apostles, and to be endued with the same spirit of infallibility that they were; for these also, when they are tried, whether they be the successors of the apostles or not, may be found liars. And, therefore, St. John cautions Christians not to believe every spirit (that is, every one that pretends to Divine inspiration, and the Spirit of God); “but to try the spirits whether they be of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John iv. 1.) And, therefore, the confidence of men in this kind ought not to move us, when their pretence to infallibility is destitute of the proper proof and evidence of it, which is a power of miracles; and when their doctrines and practices have neither the evidence of reason or Scripture on their side.
For instance, that—the church of Rome is the mother and mistress of all churches, which is one of the new articles of Pope Pius the IVth’s creed, and yet there is not one syllable in Scripture tending to this purpose. And in reason it cannot be, that any but that which was the first Christian church should be the mother of all churches; and that the church of Rome certainly was not, and the church of Jerusalem undoubtedly was.
And then, that the bishop of Rome, as successor of St. Peter there, is the supreme and universal pastor of Christ’s church by Divine appointment, as hr assumes to himself; and that it is necessary to 98salvation for every human creature to be subject to the bishop of Rome, as is declared in their canon law by a constitution of Pope Boniface VIII. which constitution is confirmed in the last Lateran council; of all which there is not the least mention in Scripture, nor any Divine appointment to that purpose to be found there. And it is against reason that all the world should be obliged to trudge to Rome for the decision of causes and differences, which, in many and the most weighty matters, are reserved to the decision of that see, and can be determined no where else. And against reason likewise it is to found this universal supremacy in his being successor of St. Peter, and to fix it in the bishop of Rome, rather than at Antioch, when it is certain, and granted by themselves, that St. Peter was first bishop of Antioch, and out of all question, that he was bishop of Antioch; but not so, that lie was bishop of Rome.
Nor is there any thing in Scripture for the deliverance of souls out of purgatory by the prayers and masses of the living. The whole thing is groundless, and not agreeable to the constant sup positions of Scripture concerning a future state. Nor is there any reason for it besides that which is not fit to be given—the wealth and profit which it brings in.
The invocation and worship of the blessed virgin, and of all the saints departed, is destitute of all Scripture warrant or example, and confessed by themselves not to have been owned or practised in the three first ages of the church, because it looked too like the heathen idolatry, which deserves to be well considered by those who pretend to derive their whole religion from Christ and his apostles 99by a continued and uninterrupted succession. And this practice is likewise destitute of all colour of reason, unless we be assured that they hear our prayers in all places, which we cannot be, unless they be present in all places, which they themselves do not believe; or that God doth some way or other reveal and make known to them the prayers which are made to them, which we cannot possibly be assured of, but by some revelation of God to that purpose, which we no where find, nor doth the church of Rome pretend to it.
But I proceed to the
II. Second thing, namely, that we should much more “hold fast the profession of our faith” and religion against the confidence of men, contrary to Scripture and reason and the common sense of mankind. For these are the chief grounds of certainty which we can have for or against any thing; and if these be clearly on our side, we ought not to be much moved by the confidence of men, concerning any doctrines or practices of religion, which are plainly contrary to these. If in points wherein we have this advantage on our side, we do not “hold fast the profession” of our religion, our error and folly are capable of no excuse. And this advantage we plainly have in several points and controversies between us and the church of Rome.
As in the worship of images, which is as expressly and clearly forbidden in the second commandment, and that without any distinction, as any other thing is forbidden in the whole Bible. And that it is so forbidden in this commandment, and that this commandment is still in force among Christians, was the universal sense of the ancient Christian church.100
Prayers and the service of God in an unknown tongue, are directly contrary to the very nature and end of religious worship, which ought to be a reasonable service; which it cannot be, if it be not directed by our understandings, and accompanied with our hearts and affections: but if it be performed in an unknown tongue, our understanding can have no part in it; and if we do not understand it, it cannot move our affections. And this likewise is plainly contrary to Scripture, namely, to a large discourse of St. Paul’s almost throughout a whole chapter, where he purposely sets himself to shew the unprofitableness and gross absurdity of praying, or celebrating any other part of religious worship, in an unknown tongue. If any part of our religion had been half so clearly condemned in Scripture, as this is, (which yet is the constant and general practice of the church of Rome) we must have lain down in our shame, and confusion would have covered us; and we must either have rejected the authority of the Bible, or have renounced that point of our religion, whatever it had been; though it had been dear to us as our right hand, and our right eye, we must, upon such plain evidence of Scripture against it, have cut it off, and plucked it out, and cast it from us.
The like may be said of locking up the Scriptures from the people in an unknown tongue, contrary to the command of the Scriptures themselves, and to the great end and design of Almighty God in the writing and publishing of them; and contrary to the perpetual exhortations and councils of all the ancient fathers of the Christian church for a great many ages, not one excepted. They are hardly more frequent, and copious, and earnest, in any argument, 101than in persuading people of all ranks and conditions to the constant and careful reading of the Holy Scriptures: and contrary to the common reason and sense of mankind. For what should men be persuaded to be acquainted withal, if not with that which is the great instrument of our salvation? That book, which was written on purpose to reveal and convey to men the knowledge of God, and of his will, and their duty? What should men be allowed to know, if not that which is the best and most effectual means to direct and bring them to heaven, or turn them from sin, and to preserve them from eternal misery? When our Saviour would represent the best and most effectual means of bringing men to happiness, and saving them from the eternal torments of hell, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, he brings in Abraham, giving the best advice he could to the rich man, who was in hell, concerning his brethren that were upon earth, how they might prevent their coming into that place of torment, and he directs them to the Scriptures, as the best and most effectual means to that purpose: “They have (says he) Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.”
Now if in the church of God, among the Jews, the same course had been taken that is now in the church of Rome, the rich man might, and in all reason ought, to have replied, “Nay, father Abraham, but they have not Moses and the prophets, nor are they permitted to read them in a language that they can understand, and, therefore, this advice is of no use to them;” and then he might with reason have pressed him, as he did, that “one might be sent to them from the dead, to testify unto them.” But it appears, that Abraham was very positive 102and peremptory in this advice, and that he prefers the knowledge of the Scriptures to any other way and means that could be thought of, and that if this had not its effect to persuade men to repentance, and to preserve them from hell, he did not know any thing else that was so likely to do it; for he concludes, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” And this is the conclusion of the parable, which plainly shews what was the main scope and design of our Saviour in it; namely, to recommend to us the use of the Holy Scriptures, as the best and most effectual means which the wisdom of God hath provided for the salvation of mankind.
And now any man would be apt to think, that the declared judgment of our Saviour in the case should go a great way, even with the most infallible church in the world. However, this we must say, that it is in truth a very hard case, to which the church of Rome hath reduced men; that it will neither allow them salvation out of their church, nor the best and most effectual means of salvation when they are in it. I might say much more upon this head; but this I hope may be sufficient.
The next instance shall be in the doctrine of transubstantiation; which is contrary to the Scriptures, which, after consecration, so frequently call the elements bread and wine, and which, without reason or necessity, puts an absurd and impossible sense upon those words of our Saviour, “This is my body;” which do no more prove transubstantiation than those words, “This cup is the New Testament,” do prove, that the material cup which was 103used in the sacrament was substantially changed into the New Testament; and no more than those texts, which affirm God to have eyes, and ears, and hands, do prove that he really hath so. But besides the contrariety of this doctrine to Scripture, nothing can be more repugnant to reason. It is so big with contradictions, and so surfeited of impossibilities, that it would be endless to reckon them up. And, besides all this, it plainly contradicts the clear and constant evidence of four of our five senses, which, whoever contradicts, undermines the foundation of all certainty.
And then the communion in one kind is plainly contrary to our Saviour’s institution of the sacrament in both kinds, as they themselves acknowledge. And therefore the council of Constance, being sensible of this, was forced to decree it with an express non obstante to the institution of Christ, and the practice of the apostles and the primitive church. And their doctrine of concomitancy (as if the blood were in the flesh, and together with it) will not help the matter: because in the sacrament Christ’s body is represented as broken, and pierced, and exhausted, and drained of its blood; and his blood is represented as shed and poured out; so that one kind can by no means contain and exhibit both.
The next instance is, the repetition of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice in the mass, so often as that is celebrated: against all reason; because the sacrifice of Christ once offered upon the cross, was a full and perfect propitiation for the sins of the whole world; and therefore ought not, because it needs not, to be again repeated for that end, in any manner whatsoever. And it is directly contrary to the 104main scope of a great part of this Epistle to the Hebrews, which shews the excellency of the gospel above the law in this respect, that the expiatory sacrifice of the gospel was offered once for all; whereas the sacrifices of the law were perpetually repeated. Chap. vii. 27. speaking of Christ: “who needs not daily, as those high-priests, to offer up sacrifices; first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once when he offered up himself. (Chap. ix. 26.) But once in the end of the world hath he appeared, to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself: and as it is appointed for all men once to die; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” And, chap. x. 10. “By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” And, verse 12. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.” And, verse 14. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” There cannot be plainer texts for any thing in the Bible, than this propitiatory sacrifice was never to, be repeated.
And whereas they say, that the sacrifice of the mass is an unbloody sacrifice: this, instead of bringing them off, doth but entangle the matter more. For if blood be offered in the sacrifice of the mass, how is it an unbloody sacrifice? What can be more bloody than blood? And if blood be not offered, how is it propitiatory? Since the apostle lays it down for a certain rule, that “with out shedding of blood, there is no remission” of sins; i. e. there can be no propitiation for the sins of the living or the dead; which the church of Rome affirms there is.105
I might have added one or two instances more; and then should have proceeded to shew, in the third place, that we are to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” against all the temptations and terrors of the world: which is more especially and principally here intended by the apostle in this exhortation.
But I shall proceed no farther at present.106
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