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5. 1 Cor. 1, 2. and iv. 17. and xiv. 4. Rev. ii. and iii. chap. By which it plainly appears that the universal and visible church, so much bragged of, for the rule and judge of faith, &c. is an upstart thing; and, like mean families, or ill-got goods, it uses false heraldry to give it a title,
For the apostolic times, to which all others must veil, and by whom they must be tried, knew no such conceit and the truth is, it was first started, when the pride of one man made him ambitious, and his power able to bid, for headship, empire, and sovereignty: it was then needful to his being universal head, that he should have an universal body. But suppose such a church there were, it is utterly impossible that such a church could be called together in any one place, or at any one time, to be told, or to determine of, any thing: so that yielding the thing by them desired, it is useless and impracticable to the ends for which they desire it. But alas! who knows not, that loves not to be blind, that the church among them is the priesthood? That a few cunning men govern the majority, and entitle their conceits the canons of Christ's church,' to give them entrance and acceptance: and then human power and force, the policy and weapons of this world, must be employed to back their decrees. And all this comes from the ignorance and idleness of the people, that give the pride and industry of the clergy an opportunity to effect their designs upon them. For so mean-spirited are the people, as to take all upon trust for their souls, that would not trust or take from an archbishop a brass shilling or a slit groat.
It is prodigious to think what veneration that priesthood have raised to themselves, by their usurped commission of apostleship, their pretended successions, and their clinkclank of extraordinary ordination. A priest! a God on earth, a man that has the keys of heaven and hell: do as he says, or be damned!' What power like to this? The ignorance of the people of their title and pretences, hath prepared them to deliver up themselves into their hands, like a crafty usurer, that hedges in the estate on which he has a mortgage; and thus they make themselves over in fee to the clergy, and become their proper patrimony, instead of being their care, and they the true ministers or servants of the people so that believing as the church believes, is neither more nor less than rooking men out of their understandings, or doing as ill gamesters are wont to do, get by using false dice. Come, come; it is believing as the priesthood believes, which has made way for the offence wise and good men have taken against the clergy in every age. And did the people examine their bottom, the ground of their religion and faith,
it would not be in the power of their leaders to cause them to err. An implicit veneration of the clergy begun the misery. What! doubt my minister, arraign his doctrine, put him to the proof! By no means: but the consequence of not doing it, has been the introduction of much false doctrine, superstition, and formality, which gave just occasion for schism; for the word has no hurt in itself, and implies only a separation; which may as well be right as wrong.
But that I may not be taxed with partiality, or upbraided with singularity, there are two men, whose worth, good sense, and true learning, I will at any time engage against an entire convocation of another judgment; viz. Jacobus Acontius, and John Hales of Eton, that are of the same mind; who, though they have not writ much, have writ well and much to the purpose. I will begin with Jacobus Acontius at large, and do heartily beseech my readers to be more than ordinarily intent in reading what I cite of him; their care and patience will be requited by his Christian and very
. It remains that we speak of such causes of the not perceiving that a change of doctrine is introduced, as consist in the persons that are taught. Now they are chiefly two, carelessness and ignorance. Carelessness for the most part ariseth hence, in that the people trust too much to their pastors; and persuade themselves that they will not slip into any error, and that therefore they have small need to have an eye over them; but that they are bound rather to embrace whatsoever they shall hold forth, without any curious examination. Hereunto may be added many other businesses, whereunto men addict themselves; for that saying is of large extent,' "Where men's treasure is, there is their heart;" and that other," "No man can serve two masters." Now how it came to pass, that after a people hath once had a great knowledge of divine truths, the said knowledge may as it were vanish away, besides that cause which hath been even now alleged, we shall in another place make discovery of some other reasons. We shall for the present add only this one, that the people themselves are in a perpetual kind of mutation, some daily dying and departing, others succeeding and growing up in their stead. Whence it comes to pass, that since the change which is made in every age is small, either the people cannot perceive it, or if they do observe it, yet they esteem it not of such moment, as to think fit to move any difference thereabout. This thing also is of very great force to keep the people from taking notice of a change in doctrine, when men shall persuade themselves that they are not able to judge of matters of
religion; as though, it is,—it is not,' and other words used in scripture, do not signify the same which they do in common discourse; or as if nothing could be understood without some great knowledge in the tongues, and arts or sciences, and as if the power of the spirit were of no efficacy without these helps. Whereby it cometh to pass, that whilst they think they understand not even those things which in some sort they do understand, being expressed in most clear and evident words, they do at length arrive to that blockishness, that they cannot understand them indeed; so that, though they have before their eyes a sentence of scripture so clear, that nothing can be more evident, yet if they to whose authority they in all things subject themselves, shall say any thing point-blank opposite thereunto, they will give credit unto them, and imagine themselves not to see that which they see as clear as the light. And by these means verily it comes to pass, that when the doctrine of religion is corrupted, the mutation is not discovered. Furthermore, when the doctrine is once begun to be changed, it must needs be that out of one error another should spring and propagate infinitely; and God, for just reasons of his own, blinding them, men bring upon themselves so great darkness, and slip into such foul errors, that if God of his mercy open a man's eyes, and let him see those errors he lives in, he can scarcely believe himself, or be persuaded that he was ever enveloped with such blind errors. Which thing is as true, and as well to be seen, in men of greatest learning and experience. If thou shalt thoroughly peruse the writings of some of the school-men (as they call them) thou shalt in some places meet with so much acuteness, as will make thee admire thou shalt see them oftentimes cleave a fine thread into many parts, and accurately anatomize a flea, and a little after fall so foully, and avouch such absurdities, that thou canst not sufficiently stand amazed: wherefore we must obey that advice of the poet;
'Principiis obsta, serò medicina paratur, Cum mala per longas invaluere moras. "Resist betimes; that med'cine stays too long,
Which comes when age has made the grief too strong.
'Now there is need of a double caution, viz. that there be no change made in the doctrine, when it is pure and if any change be made, that there be notice taken of it. Now look what change is made in this kind, all the blame is laid upon those whose office it is to instruct the people for though themselves are the authors of the change, yet will the people impute it to the ministers'
sleepiness, and want of care at least. It concerns therefore the pastors and teachers to be eagle-eyed, and to be very well acquainted with those causes whereby the change of doctrine becomes undiscovered, and to have them at their fingers' ends, and to be, wary that on no hand they may miscarry. Now it will be an excellent caution for the keeping of doctrine pure, if they shall avoid all curious and vain controversies: if they shall set before their eyes the scope and end of all religious doctrines, and likewise a series or catalogue of all such things as make to the attainment of that end (of which we formerly spake); if they shall affect not only the matter itself, but also the words and phrases, which the Holy Ghost in scripture makes use of, and exceedingly suspect all different forms of speaking. Not that I would have them speak nothing but Hebraisms; for so their language would not be plain nor intelligible; but I wish that they would shun all such expressions as have been invented by over-nice disputants, beyond what was necessary to express the sense of the Hebrew and Greek; and all those tenets which men by their own wits do collect and infer from the scriptures. Now of what concernment this will be, we may gather by this instance: the papists think it one and the same thing to say, the church cannot err; and to say, in the words of our Lord, "Wheresoever two or three shall be gathered together in my name, there will I be in the midst of them.' Yet is the difference very great; which. may thus appear, forasmuch as in case any one shall conceive the church to be the pope, cardinals, and bishops anointed by the pope; he, hearing the aforesaid sentence, will judge that whatsoever they shall decree, ought to be of force. But if he shall rather mind the words of our Lord, and shall consider that those kind of men do regard nothing but their own commodity, wealth and dominion, he will be so far from so understanding them, that, peradventure, not being able to allow the deeds and practices of these men, he will come to hope from those words, that if himself, with some other good men, loving God with their whole heart, shall come together, and unanimously implore the assistance of God, they shall be better able to determine what it is that ought to be believed and practised for the attainment of salvation, than if they should persist to put their confidence in such pastors. Now this rule, that the words of the scripture ought to be used rather than any other, is then especially to be observed, when any thing is delivered as a certain and tried truth, or as a rule of faith or life, or out of which any other thing is to be inferred. For in expositions and explanations, as there is need haply
of greater liberty, so is there less danger if it be taken. For when-as the word of God, and the exposition thereof, are at one and the same time both together in view, as it were, there no man can be ignorant, that the exposition is the word of man, so that he may reject it, in case it seem impertinent. And look, by what means a man may hinder the doctrine of religion from being changed, by the self-same he may find whether it be changed or no. Now every man ought to compare the doctrine of that age wherein he lives, with no other doctrine than that which was out of question spotless, which is the doctrine of the apostles. Wherefore, notwithstanding that in our age the gospel is as it were revived, yet ought not any man thus to think, that he ought not to examine whether the gospel hath not lost any of that purity whereunto it had at this time arrived; he ought rather to look again and again, whether some corruption do not yet remain, whether it be not in some parts as yet not sufficiently restored to its ancient purity and lustre; and confidently persuade himself, that he cannot be (that I may so speak) sufficiently superstitious in rejecting every word which is not in the scriptures. Forasmuch as man will ever be more wise and wary than the Holy Spirit, and can very hardly forbear to mingle somewhat from his own head: so that whatever comes from man, can never be sufficiently suspected. And because a thing will be so much the better preserved, by how much the greater is the number of those that keep it; the people ought often to be put in mind, that both the reading of the scriptures, and the care of religion, belongs not to the pastors of the church only; but that every one that would be saved ought to make diligent search, whether any corruption be already, or is for the future like to be introduced; and this to do no less carefully, than if he were persuaded that all beside himself were asleep and whatsoever is wont to take the common people off from such studies, care must be taken that that thing be wholly taken away. Concerning which matter we shall more conveniently discourse anon.
'Now, forasmuch as the profit will be small, if some private man shall observe that an error is introduced, unless he discover the said error, and lay it open; there must of necessity be some way how this may conveniently be done. Now there cannot be a more fitting way, than that which the apostle propounds to the Corinthians. "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the rest judge; and if any thing be revealed to him that sits by, let the former be silent. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and Į Cor. xiv.