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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.
I HAVE already made a considerable progress in my discourse upon these words, in which I told you there is an exhortation to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering:” and an argument or encouragement thereto, because “he is faithful that promised.” I am yet upon the first of these, the exhortation “to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;” by which, I told you, the apostle doth not intend, that those who are capable of examining the grounds and reasons of their religion, should not have the liberty to do it; nor that, when, upon due inquiry, they are, as they verily believe, established in the true faith and religion, they should obstinately refuse to hear any reason that is fairly offered against their present persuasion.
And then I proceeded to shew positively,
First, What it is that we are exhorted to hold fast, viz. “the confession,” or “profession of our faith;” the ancient Christian faith, of which every Christian makes profession in his baptism. For it is of that the apostle here speaks, as appears plainly by the context.
Secondly, How we are to “hold fast the profession of our faith.” And of this I gave account in these following particulars:144
1. We should “hold fast the profession of our faith,” against the confidence of men, without Scripture or reason to support that confidence.
2. And much more against the confidence of men, contrary to plain Scripture and reason, and the common sense of mankind; of which I gave you particular instances.
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 some other church and religion. I am now upon the
5th and last particular I mentioned, namely, that 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. I have already mentioned some of the arts which they use, (I mean particularly them of the church of Rome) in making proselytes to their religion; and I have shewn the absurdity and unreasonableness of them. As,
First, In allowing men to be very competent and sufficient judges for themselves, in the choice of their religion (i. e. which is the true church and religion in which alone salvation is to be had); and yet telling them, at the same time, that they are utterly incapable of judging of particular doctrines and points of faith. As for these, they must rely upon the judgment of an infallible church; and, if they do not, they will certainly run into damnable errors and mistakes.
And they must of necessity allow them the first, 145a sufficient ability to judge for themselves in the choice of their religion: otherwise in vain do they offer them arguments to persuade them to their’s, if they cannot judge of the force of them. But now, after this, to deny them all ability to judge of particular doctrines and points of faith, is a very absurd and inconsistent pretence.
Secondly, Another art they use, in order to their making a right choice of their religion, is earnestly to persuade them to hear and read only the arguments and books on their side: which is just as if one should go about to persuade a judge, in order to the better understanding and clearer decision of a cause, to hear only the counsel on one side.
Thirdly, They tell them, that the only thing they are to inquire into, is, which is the true church, the one catholic church mentioned in the creed, out of which there is no salvation; and when they have found that, they are to rely upon the authority of that church, which is infallible, for all other things. And this method they wisely take, to avoid particular disputes about the innovations and errors which we charge them withal. But I have shewn at large, that this cannot be the first inquiry: because it is not the true church that makes the true Christian faith and doctrine; but the profession of the true Christian faith and doctrine, which makes the true church.
Besides, their way of proving their church to be the only true church, being by the marks and properties of the true church, of which the chief is, the conformity of their doctrines and practices with the primitive and apostolical church, this unavoidably draws on an examination of their particular doctrines and practices, whether they be conformable 146to those of the primitive and apostolical church, before their great inquiry, “which is the true church?” can be brought to an issue; which, it is plain, it can never be, without entering into the ocean of particular disputes, which they desire above all things to avoid. So that they are never the nearer by this method: they can neither shorten their work by it, nor keep off the examination of their particular errors and corruptions; which are a very sore place, and they cannot endure we should touch it.
I shall now proceed to discover some other arts and methods which they use in seducing people to their church and religion, and shall be as brief in them as I can.
Fourthly, They pretend, that the Roman church is the catholic church, i. e. the visible society of all Christians, united to the bishop of Rome, as the supreme pastor and visible head of Christ’s church upon earth: from whence it clearly follows, that it is necessary to all Christians to join themselves to the communion of the Roman church; otherwise they cannot be members of the catholic church of Christ, out of which there is no salvation.
We grant the consequence, that if the Roman church be the catholic church it is necessary to be of that communion; because out of the catholic church there is ordinarily no salvation to be had. But how do they prove, that the Roman church is the catholic church? They would fain have us so civil, as to take this for granted: because if we do not, they do not well know how to go about to prove it. And, indeed, some things are obstinate, and will not be proved without so much trouble and difficulty, that it is better to let them alone; and 147by the confident assertion of them, by importunity, and by any other fair means, to get them bettered, without proof of this stubborn sort of propositions, which will admit of no proof. This is one that a part is the whole; or, which is all one, that the Roman church is the catholic church. For that it is but a part of the Christian church, and not the best part neither, but perhaps the very worst and most corrupt of all the rest, is no difficult matter to prove, and hath been often done. But now to prove the church of Rome to be the catholic church, that is, the whole society of all true Christians in the world, these following particulars ought to be clearly shewn and made out.
1. A plain constitution of our Saviour, whereby St. Peter, and his successors at Rome, are made the supreme head and pastors of the whole Christian church. For St. Peter first:—Can they shew any such constitution in the gospel, or can they produce the least proof and evidence out of the history of the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles, that St. Peter was acknowledged for such by the rest of the apostles? Nay, is there not clear evidence there to the contrary, that in the first council of the Christian church at Jerusalem, St. James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was, if not superior, at least equal to him? Does St. Paul acknowledge any superiority of St. Peter over him? Nay, does he not upon several occasions declare himself equal to the chiefest apostles, even to St. Peter himself? And is this consistent with a plain constitution of our Lord’s making St. Peter supreme head and pastor of the Christian church?
But suppose this to have been so; where doth it appear, by any constitution of our Saviour, that 148this authority was derived to his successors? and if it were, why to his successors at Rome, rather than at Antioch, where he was first, and unquestionably bishop? They must acknowledge, that when he was bishop of Antioch, he was the supreme head and pastor of the whole Christian church; and then the style must have been, the Antiochian catholic church, as it is now the Roman catholic. But do they find any footsteps of such a style in ecclesiastical history?
2. To make good this proposition, that the Ro man church is the catholic church, they are in consequence obliged to affirm and believe, that the churches of Asia, which were excommunicated by the bishops of Rome, for not keeping Easter as they did; and the churches of Asia and Africa, which were excommunicated by the same bishop, upon the point of rebaptizing heretics; that all these, by being turned out of the communion of the Roman church, were also cut off from the catholic church, and from a possibility of salvation. This the church of Rome themselves will not affirm; and yet, if to be cast out of the communion of the Roman, and the catholic church, be all one, they must affirm it.
3. In consequence of this proposition, that the church of Rome is the catholic church, they ought to hold, that all baptism out of the communion of their church is void and of none effect. For if it be good, then it makes the persons baptized members of the catholic church; and then those that are out of the communion of the Roman church, may be true members of the catholic church; and then the Roman, and the catholic church are not all one. But the church of Rome holds the baptism of heretics, 149and of those that are out of the communion of their church, to be good; which is a demonstration, that the Roman church neither is the catholic church; nor, if she believe consistently, can she think herself to be so.
4. In consequence of this proposition, all the Christians in the world, which do not yield subjection to the bishop of Rome, and acknowledge his supremacy, are no true parts of the catholic church, nor in a possibility of salvation. And this does not only exclude those of the reformed religion from being members of the catholic church: but the Greeks, and the eastern churches; i. e. four or five patriarchal churches of the Christian world; which, taken together, are really greater than those in communion with the church of Rome. And this the church of Rome does affirm, concerning all those churches and Christians, which refuse subjection to the bishop of Rome, that they are out of the communion of the catholic church, and a capacity of salvation. But surely it is not possible, that the true catholic church of Christ can have so little charity as this comes to; and to a wise man there needs no other demonstration than this, that the church of Rome is so far from being the whole Christian church, that it is a very arrogant and uncharitable part of it.
5. And lastly; In consequence of the truth of this proposition, and of the importance of it to the salvation of souls, and to the peace and unity of the Christian church, they ought to produce express mention of the Roman catholic church, in the ancient creeds of the Christian church. For if this proposition, that the Roman church is the catholic, be true; it was always so, and always of the 150greatest importance to the salvation of men, and the peace and unity of the Christian church: and if it were so, and always believed to be so, by the Christian church, as they pretend, what reason can be imagined, why the ancient Christian church should never say so, nor put an article of such consequence and importance in express words in their creeds; nor why should they not have used the style of Roman catholic as familiarly then, as they do now in the Roman church? a plain evidence that this is a new style which they use when they give themselves the title of the Roman catholic church; and that the ancient Christian church knew better, than to call one part of the catholic church the whole. I am sure, that Æneas Sylvius (who was afterwards Pope Pius the Second) says, that before the council of Nice, little respect was had to the Roman church. But how does this consist with their present pretence, that the Roman church is, and always hath been the catholic church; and that the bishop of Rome is, by Christ’s appointment, the supreme pastor, and visible head of the whole Christian church? Is it possible, that this should be believed in the Christian church before the council of Nice; and yet little respect to be had at that time to the Roman church? This indeed was said by Æneas Sylvius before he sat in the infallible chair; but is never the less true for that.
Fifthly, The next step of their method is, that the Roman church is infallible; and by this means they have a certain remedy against heresy, and a judge of controversies, from which there is no appeal, which we want in our church. And this is a glorious privilege indeed, if they could prove that they had it, and that it would be so certain a remedy 151against heresy, and give a final decision to all controversies. But there is not one tittle of all this, of which they are able to give any tenable proof: for,
1. All the pretence for their infallibility relies upon the truth of the former proposition, that the church of Rome is the catholic church, and that they say is infallible: and I have already shewn, that that proposition is not only destitute of any good proof; but is as evidently false, as that a part of a thing is the whole.
2. But supposing it were true, that the Roman church were the catholic church; yet it is neither evident in itself, nor can be proved by them, that the catholic church of every age is infallible, in deciding all controversies of religion. It is granted by all Christians that our Saviour and his apostles were infallible, in the delivery of the Christian doctrine, and that they proved their infallibility by miracles; and this was necessary at first for the security of our faith: but this doctrine being once delivered and transmitted down to us in the Holy Scriptures, written by the evangelists and apostles who were infallibly assisted by the Holy Ghost; we have now a certain and infallible rule of faith and practice, which, with the assistance and instruction of those guides and pastors which Christ hath appointed in his church, is sufficiently plain in all things necessary. And as there is no evidence of the continuance of infallibility in the guides and pastors of the church, in the ages which followed the apostles, because miracles are long since ceased: so there is no need of the continuance of it, for the preservation of the true faith and religion; because God hath sufficiently provided for that, by that infallible rule of 152faith and manners which he hath left to his church in the Holy Scriptures, which are every way sufficient and able to make both pastors and people “wise unto salvation.”
3. As for a certain remedy against heresy, it is certain God never intended there should be any; no more than he hath provided a certain remedy against sin and vice; which surely is every whit as contrary to the Christian religion, and therefore as fit to be provided against, as heresy: but it is certain in experience, that God hath provided no certain and effectual remedy against sin and vice; for which I can give no other reason, but that God does that which he thinks best and fittest, and not what we are apt to think to be so.
Besides that, infallibility is not a certain remedy against heresy. The apostles were certainly infallible; and yet they could neither prevent nor extinguish heresy; which never more abounded than in the apostles’ times. And St. Paul expressly tells us, (1 Cor. xi. 19.) “That there must be heresies; that they which are approved may be made manifest.” And St. Peter, (the 2d Epist. ii. 1.) “That there should be false teachers among Christians, who should privily bring in damnable heresies; and that many should follow their pernicious ways.” But now, if “there must be heresies,” either the church must not be infallible, or infallibility in the church is no certain remedy against them.
I proceed to the next step they make, viz.
Sixthly, That Christ hath always a visible church upon earth: and that they can shew a church, which, from the time of Christ and his apostles, hath always made a visible profession of the same doctrines and practices which are now believed and 153practised in the church of Rome: but that we can shew no visible church, that, from the time of Christ and his apostles, hath always opposed the church of Rome, in those doctrines and practices which we now revile and find fault with in their church.
That Christ hath always had, and ever shall have to the end of the world, a visible church, professing and practising his true faith and religion, is agreed on both sides: but we say, that he hath nowhere promised, that this shall be free from all errors and corruptions in faith and practice. This the churches planted by the apostles themselves were not, even in their times, and during their abode amongst them; and yet they were true parts of the Christian catholic church. In the following ages, errors and corruptions and superstitions did by degrees creep in and grow up in several parts of the church; as St. Augustine, and others of the fathers complain of in their times. Since that, several famous parts of the Christian church, both in Asia and Africa, have not only been greatly corrupted, but have apostatized from the faith; so that in many places there are hardly any footsteps of Christianity among them. 13ut yet still Christ hath had in all these ages a visible church upon earth; though perhaps no part of it at all times free from some errors and corruptions; and in several parts of it great corruptions both in faith and practice; and in none I think more and longer than in the church of Rome, for all she boasts herself, like old Babylon, (Isa. xlvii. 7, 8.) “That she is a lady for ever; and says in her heart, I am, and none else besides me;” and like the church of Laodicea, (Rev. iii. 17.) which said “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of no thing;” when the spirit of God saith, that “she 154was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; and knew it not.”
Thus the church of Rome boasts, that she hath in all ages been the true visible church of Christ, (and none besides her) free from all errors in doctrine, and corruptions in practice; and that, from the age of Christ and his apostles, she hath always professed the same doctrines and practices which she does at this day. Can any thing be more shame less than this? did they always believe transubstantiation? let their pope Gelasius speak for them; who expressly denies, that in the sacrament there is any substantial change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Was this always an article of their faith, and necessary to be believed by all Christians? let Scotus, and several other of their schoolmen and learned writers speak for them. Was purgatory always believed in the Roman church as it is now de6ned in the council of Trent? let several of their learned men speak. In what father, in what council before that of Trent, do they find Christ to have instituted just seven sacraments, neither more nor less? And for practices in their religion, they themselves will not say, that in the ancient Christian church the Scriptures were with held from the people, and locked up in an unknown tongue; and that the public service of God, the prayers and lessons were read, and the sacraments celebrated, in an unknown tongue; and that the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was given to the people only in one kind. Where do they find in Holy Scripture, or in the doctrine and practice of the ancient Christian church, any command or example for the worship of images, for the invocation of saints and angels, and the blessed Virgin, which 155do now make a great part of their religion? Nay, is not the doctrine of the Scriptures, and of the ancient fathers, plainly against all these practices? With what face then can it be said, that the church of Rome hath made a constant visible profession of the same faith and practice in all ages, from the time of Christ and his apostles? or would the primitive church of Rome, if it should now visit the earth again, own the present church of Rome to be the same in all matters of faith and practice, that it was when they left it?
And whereas they demand of us, to shew a visible church from the time of Christ and his apostles, that hath always opposed the church of Rome, in those points of doctrine and practice which we object to them; what can be more impertinent than this demand? when they know, that in all these points we charge them with innovations in matters of faith and practice, and say that those things came in by degrees, several ages after the apostles time, some sooner, some later; as we are able to make good, and have done it. And would they have us shew them a visible church, that opposed these errors and corruptions in their church, before ever they appeared? this we do not pretend to shew. And supposing they had not been at all opposed, when they appeared, nor a long time after, nor till the Reformation; yet, if they be errors and corruptions of the Christian doctrine, and contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and to the faith and practice of the primitive church, there is no prescription against truth. It is never too late for any church to reject those errors and corruptions, and to reform itself from them.
The bottom of all this matter is, they would have 156us to shew them a society of Christians, that in all ages has preserved itself free from all such errors and corruptions as we charge them withal; or else we deny the perpetual visibility of the catholic church. No such matter. We say, the church of Christ hath always been visible in every age since Christ’s time; and that the several societies of Christians, professing the Christian doctrine, and laws of Christ, have made up the catholic church; some parts whereof have in several ages fallen into great errors and corruptions; and no part of the catholic into more and greater than the church of Rome; so that it requires the utmost of our charity, to think that they are a true, though a very unsound and corrupt part of the catholic church of Christ.
We acknowledge, likewise, that we were once involved in the like degeneracy; but, by the mercy of God, and pious care and prudence of those that were in authority, are happily rescued out of it: and though we were not out of the catholic church before, yet since our reformation from the errors and corruptions of the church of Rome, we are in it upon better terms, and are a much sounder part of it; and I hope, by the mercy and goodness of God, we shall for ever continue so.
So that to the perpetual visibility of Christ’s church, it is not necessary, that the whole Christian church, nor indeed that any part of it, should be free from all errors and corruptions. Even the churches planted by the apostles in the primitive times were not so. St. Paul reproves several doctrines and practices in the church of Corinth, and of Colosse, and of Galatia; and the Spirit of God, several things in the seven churches of Asia: and yet all these were true parts and members of the catholic church of 157Christ, notwithstanding these faults and errors; because they all agree in the main and essential doctrines of Christianity. And when more and greater corruptions grew upon the church, or any part of it, the greater reason and need there was of a reformation. And as every particular person hath a right to reform any thing that he finds amiss in himself, so far as concerns himself; so much more every national church hath a power within itself, to reform itself from all errors and corruptions, and by the sanction of the catholic authority to confirm that reformation; which is our case here in England. And whatever part of the church, how great and eminent soever, excludes from her communion such a national church, for reforming herself from plain errors and corruptions, clearly condemned by the word of God, and by the doctrine and practice of the primitive Christian church, is undoubtedly guilty of schism. And this is the truth of the case between us and the church of Rome. And no blind talk about a perpetual visible church can render us guilty of schism, for making a real reformation; or acquit them of it, for casting us out of their communion for that cause.
Seventhly, and lastly, (to mention no more) They pretend, that we delude the people, by laying too much stress upon the Scripture, and making it the only rule of faith and manners: whereas Scripture and tradition together make up the entire rule of faith; and not Scripture interpreted by every man’s private fancy, but by tradition carefully preserved in the church. So that it ought to be no wonder, if several of their doctrines and practices cannot be so clearly made out by Scripture, or perhaps seem contrary to it, as it may be expounded by a private 158spirit; but not as interpreted by the tradition of the church, which can only give the true sense of Scripture. And therefore they are to understand, that several of those doctrines and practices, which we object against, are most clearly proved by the tradition of their church, which is of equal authority with Scripture.
In this objection of their’s, which they design for the cover of all their errors and corruptions, there are several things distinctly to be considered, which I shall do as briefly as I can.
First, Whereas it is suggested., that we delude the people by laying too much stress upon the Scripture (which certainly we cannot well do, if it be the word of God), it ought to be considered, whether they do not delude and abuse them infinitely more, in keeping the Scriptures from them, and not suffering them to see that which they cannot deny to be at least a considerable part of the rule of Christian doctrine and practice. Doth it not by this dealing of their’s appear very suspicious, that they are extremely afraid that the people should examine their doctrine and practice by this rule? for what other reason can they have to conceal it from them?
Secondly, Whereas they affirm, that Scripture alone is not the rule of Christian faith and practice, but that Scripture and oral tradition preserved in the church, and delivered down from hand to hand, make up the entire rule: I would fain know, whence they learned this new doctrine of the rule of faith. I know that the council of Trent declares it for the rule they intend to proceed upon, and make use of, for the confirmation and proof of their following determinations and decrees. But did any of the 159ancient councils of the Christian church lay down this rule, and proceed upon it? Did not Constantine the emperor, at the opening of the first general council, lay the Bible before them, as the only rule, according to which they were to proceed? and this with the approbation of all those holy fathers that were assembled in that council? And did not following councils proceed upon the same rule? Do any of the ancient fathers ever mention any rule of Christian faith and practice, besides the Holy Scriptures, and the ancient creed; which, because it is an abridgment of the necessary articles of Christian faith contained in the Holy Scriptures, is by them frequently called “the rule of faith?” Do not the same fathers frequently and expressly say, that the Scriptures are a perfect rule, and that all things are plainly contained in them, which concerns faith and life; and that whatever cannot be proved by testimony of Scripture is to be rejected? All this I am sure I can make good, by innumerable express testimonies of the ancient fathers, which are well known to those that are versed in them. By what authority then hath the council of Trent set up this new rule, unknown to the Christian church for one thousand five hundred years? and who gave them this authority? The plain truth is, the necessity of it for the defence of the errors and corruptions which they had embraced, and were resolved not to part with, forced them to lengthen out the rule; the old rule of the Holy Scriptures being too short for their purpose.
Thirdly, Whereas they pretend that Holy Scripture, as expounded by a private spirit, may not seem so favourable to some of their doctrines and practices; yet, as interpreted by tradition, which can only give the true sense of Scripture, it agrees 160very well with them. I suppose they mean, that whereas a private spirit would be apt to understand some texts of Scripture, as if people were to search and read the Scripture; tradition interprets those texts in a quite other sense, that people are not to be permitted to read the Holy Scriptures. A private spirit would be apt to understand St. Paul’s discourse, in the 14th of the first to the Corinthians, to be against celebrating prayer and the service of God in an unknown tongue, as being contrary to edification, and indeed to common sense; for he says, “If one should come and find them speaking and praying in an unknown tongue, will they not say, Ye are mad?” But now tradition, which only knows how to give the true sense, can reconcile this discourse of St. Paul very easily with the practice of the church of Rome in this matter. And so likewise the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, with the worship of angels; and the Epistle to the Hebrews, with offering the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ in the mass a thousand times every day. And to give but one instance more:—whereas a man, by his private spirit, would be very apt to understand the second commandment to forbid all worship of images; tradition discovers the meaning of this commandment to be, that due veneration is to be given to them. So that at this rate of interpreting Scripture by tradition, it is impossible to fix any objection from Scripture, upon any doctrine or practice which they have a mind to maintain.
Fourthly, Whereas they pretend the tradition of their church, delivered from the mouth of Christ, or dictated by the Holy Spirit, and brought down to them, and preserved by continual succession in the church, to be of equal authority with the word 161of God; for so the council of Trent says, that “the holy synod doth receive and venerate these traditions with equal pious affection and reverence as they do the written word of God;” this we must declare against, as unreasonable in itself, to make tradition, conveyed by word of mouth from one to another, through so many ages, and liable to so many mistakes and miscarriages, to be, at the distance of one thousand five hundred years, of equal certainty and authority with the Holy Scriptures, carefully preserved and transmitted down to us; because this (as I said before) is to make common rumour and report of equal authority and certainty with a written record. And not only so; but hereby they make the Scriptures an imperfect rule; contrary to the declared judgment of the ancient fathers and councils of the Christian church; and so, in truth, they set up a new rule of faith, whereby they change the Christian religion; for a new rule of faith and religion makes a new faith and religion. This we charge the church of Rome with, and do challenge them to shew this new rule of faith before the council of Trent; and, consequently, where their religion was before that council; to shew a religion, consisting of all those articles which are defined by the council of Trent as necessary to salvation, and established upon this new rule, professed by any Christian church in the world before that time. And as they have pitched upon a new rule of faith, so it is easy to see to what end; for take Pope Pius the Fourth’s creed, and we may see where the old and new religion parts; even at the end of the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed, which was the ancient Christian faith; to which are added, in 162Pope Pius’s creed, twelve articles more, defined in the council of Trent, and supported only by tradition: so that as the Scripture answers for the twelve old articles, which are plainly contained there, so tradition is to answer for the twelve new ones. And, therefore, the matter was calculated very exactly, when they make tradition just of equal authority with the Scriptures; because as many articles of their faith were to be made good by it, and rely upon it, as those which are proved by the authority of Scripture. But that tradition is of equal authority with the Scriptures, we have nothing in the whole world for it but the bare assertion of the council of Trent.
I should now have added some other considerations, tending to confirm and establish us in our religion, against the pretences and insinuations of seducing spirits: but I shall proceed no farther at present.163
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