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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.
IN these words, I have told you, are contained these two parts:
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.” I am yet upon the
First of these; the exhortation to Christians, to be constant and steady in the profession of their religion: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” And that we might the better comprehend the true and full meaning of this exhortation, I shewed,
I. Negatively, what is not meant and intended by it. And I mentioned these two particulars:
1. The apostle doth not hereby intend, that those who are capable of inquiring into, and examining the grounds and reasons of their religion, should not have the liberty to do it. Nor
2. That when upon due inquiry and examination, men are settled, as they think and verily believe, in the true faith and religion, they should obstinately refuse to hear any reason that can be offered against their present persuasion. For reason, when it is fairly offered, is always to be heard. I proceeded in the
II. Second place, positively, to explain the meaning of this exhortation. And to this purpose I proposed to consider,
First, What it is that we are to hold fast, viz. “the confession or profession of our faith;” the ancient Christian faith, which every Christian makes profession of in his baptism: not the doubtful and uncertain traditions of men, nor the imperious dictates and doctrines of any church (which are not contained in the Holy Scriptures) imposed upon the Christian world, though with never so confident a pretence of the antiquity of the doctrines, or of the infallibility of the proposers of them. And then I proceeded, in the
Second place, to shew, how we are “to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;” and I mentioned these following particulars, as probably implied and comprehended in the apostle’s exhortation:
1. That 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; under both which heads I gave several instances of doctrines and practices imposed with great confidence upon the world, some without, and others plainly against Scripture, and reason, and the common sense of mankind.
3. Against all the temptations and terrors of the world—the temptations of fashion and example, and of worldly interest and advantage; and against the terrors of persecution and suffering for the truth. Thus far I have gone; I shall now proceed to the two other particulars, which remain to be spoken to.
4. We are to “hold fast the profession of our faith,” 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. God hath plainly declared to us in the Holy Scriptures, upon what terms and conditions we may obtain eternal life and happiness, and what will certainly exclude us from it; that, “except we repent,” i. e. without true contrition for our sins, and forsaking of them, “we shall perish;” that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” that “no fornicator, or adulterer, or idolater, or covetous person, nor any one that lives in the practice of such sins, shall have any inheritance in the kingdom of God or Christ.” There is as great and impassable a gulf fixed between heaven and a wicked man, as there is betwixt heaven and hell. And when men have done all they can to debauch and corrupt the Christian doctrine, it is impossible to reconcile a wicked life with any reasonable and well-grounded hopes of happiness in another world. No church hath that privilege, to save a man upon any other terms, than those which our blessed Saviour hath declared in his gospel. All religions are equal in this—that a bad man can be saved in none of them.
The church of Rome pretends their church and religion to be the only safe and sure way to salvation; and yet, if their doctrine be true, concerning the intention of the priest (and if it be not, they are much to blame in making it an article of their faith), I say, if it be true, that the intention of the priest is necessary to the validity and virtue of the sacraments; then there is no religion in the world, that runs the salvation of men upon more and greater hazards and uncertainties, and such as, by no care and diligence of man in “working out his own salvation,” are to be avoided and prevented.
As for the easier terms of salvation which they offer to men, they signify nothing, if they be not able to make them good; which no man can reasonably believe they can do, that hath read the Bible, and doth in any good measure understand the nature of God, and the design of religion. For instance; that after the long course of a most lewd and flagitious life, a man may be reconciled to God, and have his sins forgiven at the last gasp, upon confession of them to the priest, with that imperfect degree of contrition for them, which they call attrition, together with the absolution of the priest.
Now attrition is a trouble for sin, merely for fear of the punishment of it. And this, together with confession, and the absolution of the priest, without any hatred of sin for the evil and contrariety of it to the holy nature and law of God, and without the least spark of love to God, will do the sinner’s business, and put him into a state of grace and salvation, without any other grace or disposition for salvation, but only the fear of hell and damnation. This, I confess, is easy: but the great difficulty is, to believe it to be true. And certainly, no man, that ever seriously considered the nature of God and religion, can ever be persuaded to build the hopes of his salvation upon such a quicksand. The absolution of all the priests in the world will not procure the forgiveness of God for any man, that is not disposed for his mercy by such a repentance as the gospel requires; which, I am sure, is very different from that which is required by the council of Trent.
They that offer heaven to men upon so very large and loose terms, give great cause to suspect, that they will never make good their offer; the terms are so unreasonably cheap and easy, that there must be some fraud and false dealing. And on the other hand, nothing ought to recommend our religion more to a wise and considerate man, than that the terms of salvation which we propose to men, viz. faith, and repentance, and a sincere obedience to the precepts of the gospel, manifested in the tenour of a holy and virtuous life, are not only perfectly agreeable to the plain and constant declaration of Holy Scripture; but do likewise naturally tend to engage men most effectually to a good life, and thereby to make them “meet to be made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” And therefore every body ought to be afraid of a religion, which makes such lavish offers of salvation, and to take heed how he ventures his soul upon them. For if, after all the hopes that are given of salvation upon such and such terms, the sinner doth really miscarry and miss of heaven; it is but very ill comfort to him to be put into a fool’s paradise, for a minute or two before he leaves the world, and the next moment after to find himself in the place of torments. I proceed to the
5. Fifth and last particular I mentioned, as implied in the exhortation here in the text, viz. That we should “hold fast the profession of our faith with out 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 gain proselytes to their party and faction. To this purpose there are several cautions given by our blessed Saviour and his apostles. (Matth. xxiv. 4.) “Take heed, that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, and shall deceive many.” (Eph. iv. 14.) “That ye henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men; εν τῇ κυβείᾳ, (the word signifies the cunning of gamesters at dice;) by the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” And chap. v. 6. “Let no man deceive you with vain words.” (Col. ii. 8.) “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit;” that is, by sophistry and vain reasoning, under a pretence of philosophy. (Heb. xiii. 9.) “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.” (2 Pet. iii. 17.) “Beware, lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” And this caution is enforced by an express prediction of a great apostacy, which should happen in the Christian church, by which many should be seduced by pretence of miracles, and by several arts of deceit and falsehood. This apostacy St. Paul expressly foretels, 2 Thess. ii. 1, 2, 3. “We beseech you, brethren, by the coining of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, (that is, by pretence to inspiration) nor by word, (or message) nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” And, after a particular description of him, he adds, (ver. 9.) “Whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all deceitfulness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” From all which he concludes, (ver. 15.) “Therefore, brethren, stand fast.”
The particular nature and kind of this apostacy the same apostle describes more fully, 1 Tim. iv. 1, 2, 3. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall apostatize from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, (i. e. under a great pretence of sanctity spreading their pernicious errors) forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats.” This is a very lively and pat description of that great apostacy in the Christian church, which began in the western part of it, and hath spread itself far and wide. For there the spirit of error and falsehood has prevailed, under an hypocritical pretence of their being the only true church and true Christians in the world. There marriage, and several so r its of meats, are forbidden to several ranks and orders of men. All the difficulty is, what is here meant by doctrines of devils; and these certainly can be no other than doctrines tending to idolatry, which the Scripture every where doth in a particular manner ascribe to the devil, as the inventor and great promoter of it. And this is very much confirmed by what we find added in some ancient Greek copies in this text, which runs thus: “In the latter times some shall apostatize from the faith; for they shall worship the dead, as some also in Israel worshipped.” And then it follows, “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” So that the particular kind of idolatry, into which some part of the Christian church should apostatize, is here pointed at; that they should worship souls departed, or the spirits of dead men; which was part of the heathen idolatry, into which the people of Israel did frequently relapse. So that the Spirit of God doth here foretel such an apostasy in some part of the Christian church, as the people of Israel were guilty of, in falling into the heathen idolatry. “They shall be worshippers of the dead, as the Israelites also were.”
And this is the great and dangerous seduction which the Christians are so much cautioned against in the New Testament, and charged to hold fast the profession of the faith against the cunning arts and insinuations of seducing spirits; not but (as I said before) that we are always to have an ear open to reason, and to be ready to hearken and to yield to that, whenever it is fairly proposed: but to be overreached and rooted out of one’s religion, by little sophistical arts and tricks, is childish and silly. After we are, upon due trial and examination of the grounds of our religion, settled and established in it, we ought not to suffer ourselves to be removed from it, by the groundless pretences of confident people to infallibility, and to be practised upon by cunning men, who lie at catch to make proselytes to their party. This is to be “like children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”
And we ought to be the more careful of ourselves; because there never was any time wherein seducing spirits were more bold and busy to pervert men from the truth. Against these we should hold fast our religion, as a man would do his money in a crowd. It passeth in the world for a great mark of folly, when a man and his money are soon parted: but it is a sign of much greater folly, for a man easily to quit his religion; especially to be caught by some such gross methods, as the seducers I am speaking of commonly use, and which lie so very open to suspicion; such as ill-designing men are wont to practise upon a young heir, when they have insinuated themselves into his company to make a prey of him. They charge him to tell nobody in what company he hath been; nor to ask the counsel and advice of his friends concerning what they have been persuading him to; because they for their own interest will be sure to dissuade him from it. Just thus do these seducers practise upon weak people. They charge them not to acquaint their minister with whom they have been; nor what discourse they have had about religion; nor what books have been put into their hands: because then all their kind design and intention towards them will be defeated. But above all they must be sure to read no books on the other side, because they are no competent judges of points of faith; and this reading on both sides will rather confound than clear their understandings. They tell them that they have stated the matter truly, and would not for all the world deceive them; and they may easily perceive, by their earnest application to them, that nothing but charity and a passionate desire of the salvation of their souls, makes them take all these pains with them. But this is so gross a way of proceeding, that any man of common understanding must needs discern, by this kind of treatment, that these men can have no honest design upon them.
To come then to a more particular consideration of the arts and methods which they use (I mean particularly those of the church of Rome) in making proselytes to their religion: as,
1. In allowing them to be very competent and sufficient judges for themselves, in the choice of their church and religion (that is, 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 and practice; but for these they must rely upon the judgment of an infallible church, when they are in it; otherwise they will certainly run into damnable errors and mistakes about these things.
And they must of necessity allow them to be sufficient judges for themselves in the choice of their religion; as will be evident, by considering in what method they proceed with their intended proselyte.
They propose to him to change his church and his religion, because he is in the wrong; and they will shew him a better, and such a one as is the only true one, and in which alone salvation is to be had. To persuade him hereto, they offer him some reasons and arguments, or give him books to read containing arguments to move him to make this change, to satisfy him of the reasonableness, and to convince him of the necessity of it.
Now by this way of proceeding (and they can take no other) they do, whether they will or no, make the person, whom they are endeavouring to convert, a judge for himself, which church and religion is best; that which they would have him embrace and come over to, or that which they would persuade him to forsake. For to what end else do they offer him reasons and arguments to persuade him to leave our church, and to come over to theirs; but that he may consider the force and weight of them; and having considered them, may judge whether they be of force sufficient to overrule him to make this change? So that as unwilling as they are to make particular persons judge for themselves about points of faith, and about the sense of Scripture confirming those points (because this is to leave every man to his own private spirit and fancy, and giddy brain), yet they are compelled by necessity, and against their own principles, to allow a man in this case of choosing his religion, to be a judge of the reasons and arguments which they offer to induce him thereunto. So that, whether they will or no, they must permit him to be a judge for himself for this once, but not to make a practice of it, or to pretend this privilege ever after; for in acknowledgment of this great favour, of being permitted to judge for himself this once (which they do unwillingly grant him, and upon mere necessity) he is for ever after to resign up his judgment to the church. And though this liberty be allowed pro hac vice, and properly to serve a turn, i. e. in order to the changing of his religion; yet he is to understand, that he is no fit and competent judge of particular points of faith; all these he must learn from the true church when he is in it, and take them upon her authority, and in so doing he shall do very prudently, because she is infallible, and cannot be deceived; but he may.
But is there any sense in all this, that a man should be very fit and able to judge of that which they esteem the main and fundamental point of all, namely, which is the true church and religion; and of the reasons and arguments whereby they pretend to demonstrate it; and of the true meaning of those texts of scripture whereby they pretend to prove theirs to be the only true church: and yet should be wholly unable to judge of particular points of faith; or of the true sense of any texts of scripture that can be produced for the proof of those points? Is it so very prudent, in all the particular points of faith, for a man to rely upon the judgment of the church, because she is infallible; and not to trust his own judgment about them, because he is fallible and may be deceived? And is it prudent likewise for this man to trust his own judgment in the main business of all; namely, which is the true church and religion; concerning which he is as fallible in his judgment, and as liable to be deceived, as in the particular points? And if he be mistaken in the main point, they must grant his mistake to be fatal; because his sincerity, as to all the rest, depends upon it. This is a great mystery and riddle, that every particular man should have so sufficient a judgment as to this main and fundamental business, which is the true church and religion; and should have no judgment at all about particular points, fit to be trusted and relied upon: as if there were a certain judgment and prudence, quoad hoc; and as if all men’s understandings were so framed, as to be very judicious and discerning in this main point of religion; but to be weak and dangerous, and blind, as to all particular points: or, as if a man might have a very good judgment, and be fit to be trusted and relied upon, before he come into their church; but from the very moment he enters into it, his judgment were quite lost and good for nothing: for this in effect and by interpretation they say, when they allow a man to be very able to judge which is the true church and religion; but so soon as he hath discovered and embraced that, to have no judgment of his own afterwards of any point of religion what soever; and a very tempting argument it is to any man that hath judgment to enter into that church.
2. Another art they use with their intended proselyte, in order to his making a right choice of his religion, is to caution him, to hear and read only the arguments and books which are on one side. But now admitting their designed proselyte to be just such a judge, and so far they will allow him to be, and no farther, viz. which is the true church; but to have no fitness and ability at all to judge of particular points of faith: yet methinks they put a very odd condition and untoward restraint upon this judge, in telling him (as they certainly use to do those whom they would pervert), that he must have no discourse, nor read any books, but only on that side which they would gain him to; because that is the way to perplex and confound him, so that he shall never be able to come to a clear judgment and resolution in the matter. But will any man admit this way of proceeding in a temporal case? This is just as if in a cause of the greatest consequence, the counsel on one side should go about to persuade the judge, that it is only fit to hear what he hath to say in the case; that he will open it very plainly, and state the matter in difference so clearly and impartially, and bring such strong reasons and proofs for what he says, that he shall not need to hear any thing on the other side, but may proceed to judgment without any more ado: but if, when the matter is thus laid before him so plainly, and is even ripe for judgment, he will trouble himself needlessly to hear the other side; this will cast them back where they first began, and bring the matter to an endless wrangling, and so confound and puzzle his understanding, that he shall never be able to pass any clear judgment in the cause.
What, think we, would a judge say to such a bold and senseless pleader? The case is the same, and the absurdity every whit as gross and palpable, in pressing any man to make a judgment in a matter which infinitely more concerns him, upon hearing only the reasons and arguments on one side.
3. Another art which they use in making proselytes, is to possess them, that there is but one thing that they are mainly concerned to inquire into, and that is this: since there is but one true catholic church of Christ upon earth, out of which there is no salvation to be had; which that true church is? And when they have found that out, that will teach them in a most infallible way the true faith and religion, and all things that are necessary to be believed or done by them, in order to their salvation: so that they have nothing to do, but to satisfy themselves in this single inquiry, which is the true catholic church of Christ? This is the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary: and, when they have found out this, and are satisfied about it, they need to inquire no farther; this church will fully instruct and satisfy them in all other things. And this I cannot deny to be a very artificial way of proceeding, and to serve their purpose very well; for they have these two great advantages by it.
1. That it makes the work short, and saves them a great deal of labour, by bringing the whole business to one single inquiry: and when they have gained this point, that this single question is all that they need to be satisfied in; then they have nothing to do, but to ply and puzzle the man with their motives of credibility, and marks of the true church; and to shew, as well as they can, how these marks agree to their church, and are all to be found in it, and in no other; and to set out to the best advantage the glorious privileges of their church, the miraculous things that have been, and are still daily done in it, and the innumerable multitude of their saints and martyrs; and if these general things take and sink into them, their work is in effect done.
2. Another great advantage they have by it, is, that by bringing them to this method, they divert and keep them off from the many objections against their church and religion, namely, the errors and corruptions which we charge them withal. For this is the thing they are afraid of, and will by no means be brought to, to vindicate and make good their innovations in faith and practice, so plainly in many things contrary to Scripture, and to the faith and practice of the primitive church; as the doctrines of transubstantiation, of purgatory, the pope’s supremacy, of the infallibility of their church, of their seven sacraments instituted by Christ, and of the intention of the priest being necessary to the validity and virtue of the sacraments. And then several of their practices; as of the worship of images, of the invocation of angels and saints, of the service of God and the Scriptures in an unknown tongue, and the communion in one kind; and several other things, so plainly contrary to the Scriptures, and the practice and usage of the primitive church, that almost the meanest capacity may easily be made sensible and convinced of it. These are sore places, which they desire not to have touched, and therefore they use all possible artifice to keep men at a distance from them; partly, be cause the particular discussion of them is tedious, and it requires more than ordinary skill, to say any thing that is tenable for them, and so to paint and varnish them over, as to hide the corruptions and deformities of them; but chiefly because they are conscious to themselves, that as in all these points they are upon the defensive, so they are also upon very great disadvantages; and therefore to avoid, if it be possible, being troubled with them, they have devised this shorter, and easier, and more convenient way of making proselytes.
Not that they are always able to keep themselves thus within their trenches; but are sometimes, whether they will or no, drawn out to encounter some of these objections: but they rid themselves of them as soon and as dexterously as they can, by telling those that make them, that they will hereafter give them full satisfaction to all these matters, when they are gotten over the first and main inquiry, which is the true church? For if they can keep them to this point, and gain them to it, they can deal with them more easily in the rest: for when they can once swallow this principle, that the church of Rome is the one true catholic church, and consequently, as they have told them all along, infallible: this infallibility of the church once entertained, will cover a multitude of particular errors and mistakes; and it will very much help to cure the weakness and defects of some particular doctrines and practices, and at last to silence and over rule all objections against them. So that the benefit and advantage of this method is visibly and at first sight very great; and therefore, no wonder they are so steady and constant to it, and do so obstinately insist upon it. But how convenient so ever it be to them, it is, I am sure, very unreason able in itself; and that upon these accounts.
1. Because the true church doth not constitute and make the true Christian faith and doctrine; but it is the true Christian faith and doctrine, the profession whereof makes the true church; and therefore, in reason and order of nature, the first inquiry must be, what is the true faith and doctrine of Christ, which by him was delivered to the apostles, and by them published and made known to the world, and by their writings transmitted and conveyed down to us? And, this being found, every society of Christians, which holds this doctrine, is a true part of the catholic church; and all the Christians throughout the world, that agree in this doctrine, are the one true catholic church.
2. The inquiry about the true church can have no issue, even according to their own way of proceeding, without a due examination of the particular doctrines and practices of that church, the communion whereof they would persuade a man to embrace. We will admit at present this to be the first inquiry, which is the true church? Let us now see in what way they manage this, to gain men over to their church. They tell them, that the church of Rome is the one true catholic church of Christ. The truth of this assertion we will particularly examine afterwards, when we come to consider the next step of their method in dealing with their converts. At present I shall only take notice in the general, what way they take to prove this assertion; namely, that the church of Rome is the one true catholic church; and that is, by the notes and marks of the true church, which they call their motives of credibility; because, by these they design to persuade them, that the church of Rome is the one true catholic church. I shall not now reckon up all the notes and marks which they give of the true church; but only observe, that one of their principal marks of the true church is this: that the faith and doctrine of it be agreeable to the doctrine of the primitive and apostolic church, i. e. to the doctrine delivered by our Saviour and his apostles: and this Bellarmine makes one of the marks of the true church. And they must unavoidably make it so; because the true faith and doctrine of Christ is that which indeed constitutes the true church. But if this be an essential mark of the true church, then no man can possibly know the church of Rome to be the true church, till he have examined the particular doctrines and practices of it, and the agreement of them with the primitive doctrine and practice of Christianity; and this necessarily draws on and engages them in a dispute of the particular points and differences betwixt us; which is the very thing they would avoid by this method, and which I have now plainly shewed they cannot do, because they cannot possibly prove their church to be the true church, with out shewing the conformity of their doctrines and practices to the doctrine and practice of the primitive and apostolic church; and this will give them work enough; and will, whether they will or no, draw them out of their hold and fastness, which is to amuse people with a general inquiry which is the true church, without descending to the examination of their particular doctrines and practices. But this they must of necessity come to, before they can prove by the notes and marks of the true church, that theirs is the true church.
And this is a demonstration, that their method of satisfaction, as it is unnatural and unreasonable, so it cannot serve the purpose they aim at by it; which is, to divert men from the examination of the particular points in difference between the church of Rome and us, and to gain them over to them, by a wile and trick; because the very method they take to prove themselves to be the true catholic church, will enforce them to justify all their particular doctrines and practices, before they can finish this proof.
And here we fix our foot, that the single question and point upon which they would put the whole issue of the matter, cannot possibly be brought to any reasonable issue, without a particular discussion and examination of the points in difference betwixt their church and our’s: and when they can make out these to be agreeable to the primitive doctrine and practice of the Christian church, we have reason to be satisfied, that the church of Rome is a church, in the communion whereof a man may be safe; but, till that be made out, they have done nothing to persuade any man that understands himself, that it is safe, much less necessary to be of their communion. But if particular points must be discussed and cleared, before a man can be satisfied in the inquiry after the true church; then they must allow their intended convert to be a judge likewise of particular points; and if he be sufficient for that too, before he comes into their church, I do not see of what use the infallibility of the church will be to him, when he is in it.
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