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Suppose we were by much the fewer. So hath the true church of God often been, without any the least prejudice to the truth of their religion. What think we of the church in Abraham's time, which, for ought we know, was confined to one family, and one small kingdom, that of Melchisedek King of Salem? What think we of it in Moses's time, when it was confined to one people wandering in a wilderness ? What of it in Elijah's time, when, besides the two tribes that worshipped at Jerusalem, there were in the other ten but seven thoufand that had not bowed their knee to Baal? What in our Saviour's time, when the whole Christian church consisted of twelve Apostles, and seventy disciples, and some few followers beside ? How would Bellarmine have despised this little flock, because it wanted one or two of his goodliest marks of the true church, universality and splendor ? And what think we of the Christian church in the height of Arianism and Pelagianism, when a great part of Christendom wis over-run with these errors, and the number of the orthodox was inconsiderable in comparison of the hereticks ? But what need I to urge these instances; as if the truth of a religion were to be estimated and carried by the major vote; which as it can be an argument to none but fools, so, I dare say, no honest and wise man ever made use of it for a solid proof of the truth and goodness of any church or religion ? If multitude be an argument that men are in the right, in vain then hath the scripture faid, Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil: for if this argument be of any force, the greater number never go wrong.
2. As to the point of antiquity. This is not always a certain mark of the true religion. For surely there was a time when Christianity began, and was a new profellion; and then both Judaism and Paganisin had certainly the advantage of it in point of antiquity. But the proper question in this case is, which is the true ancient Christian faith, that of the church of Rome or ours ? And, to make this matter plain, it is to be considered, that a great part of the Roman faith is the same with ours; as, namely, the articles of the Apostles creed, as explained by the first four general councils. And these make up our whole faith, so far as concerns matters of mere
and simple belief, that are of absolute necessity to salvation. And in this faith of ours there is nothing wanting that can be shewn in any ancient creed of the Christian church. And thus far our faith, and theirs of the Roman church, are undoubtedly of equal antiquity; that is, as ancient as Christianity itself.
All the question is as to the matters in difference between us : the principal whereof are, the twelve new articles of the creed of Pope Pius IV. concerning the facrifice of the mass, transubstantiation, the communion in one kind only, purgatory, &c.; not one of which is to be found in any ancient creed or confeslion of faith generally allowed in the Christian church. The antiquity of thefe we deny, and affirm them to be innovations ; and have particularly proved them to be fo, not only to the answering, but almost to the filencing of our adverfaries.
And as for the negative articles of the Protestant religion, in opposition to the errors and corruptions of the Romih faith ; these are by accident become a part of our faith and religion, occasioned by their errors ; as the re. nouncing of the doctrines of Arianism became part of the Catholick religion, after the rise of that herefy.
So that the case is plainly this : We believe and teach all that is contained in the creeds of the ancient Christian church, and was by them esteemed necessary to salvati. on : and this is our religion. But now the church of Rome hath innovated in the Christian religion, and made several additions to it; and greatly corrupted it both in the doctrines and practices of it: and these additions and corruptions are their religion, as it is distinct from ours : and both because they are corruptions and novelties, we have rejected them; and our rejection of these is our reformation ; and our reformation we grant, if this will do them any good, not to be fo ancient
as their cor. ruptions; all reformation necessarily supposing corruptions and errors to have been before it.
And now we are at a little better leisure to answer that captious question of theirs, Where was your religion before Luther ? Where-ever Christianity was ; in some places more pure; in others more corrupted, but especially
in these Western parts of Christendom, overgrown for several ages with manifold errors and corruptions, which the reformation hath happily cut off, and cast away. So that though our reformation was as late as Luther, our religion is as ancient as Christianity itself. For when the additions which the church of Rome hath made to the ancient Christian faith, and their innovations in practice, are pared off, that which remains of their religion is ours. And this they cannot deny to be, every tittle of it, the ancient Christianity.
And what other answer than this could the Jews have given to the like question, if it had been put to them by the ancient idolaters of the world, Where was your religion before Abraham? but the very fame in substance which we now give to the church of Rome, That for many ages the worship of the one true God had been corrupted, and the worship of idols had prevailed, in a great part of the world ; that Abraham was raised up by God to reform religion, and to reduce the worship of God to its first inftitution; in the doing whereof he necessarily separated himself and his family from the communion of those idolaters ? So that though the reformation which Abraham began was new, yet his religion was truly ancient; as old as that of Noah, and Enoch, and Adam : which is the same in substance that we say, and with the fame and equal reason.
And if they will still complain of the newness of our reformation, so do we too ; and are heartily sorry it began no sooner : but, however, better late than never. Besides, it ought to be considered, that this objection of novelty lies against all reformation whatsoever, though never so necessary, and though things be never so much amiss. And it is in effect to say, that if things be once bad, they must never be better, but must always remain as they are : for they cannot be better, without being reformed ; and a reformation must begin some time, and whenever it begins it is certainly new. So that if a real reformation be made, the thing justifies itself; and no objection of novelty ought to take place against that which upon all accounts was so fit and necessary to be done. And if they of the church of Rome would but speak their mind out in this matter, they are not so much
displeased displeased at the reformation which we have made because it is new, as because it is a reformation. It was the humour of Babylon of old, (as the Prophet tells us, Jer. li. 9.), that she would not be healed : and this is still the temper of the church of Rome; they hate to be reformed; and rather than acknowledge themselves to have been once in an error, they will continue in it for ever. And this is that which at first made, and still continues the breach and separation between us; of which we are no ways guilty, who have only reformed what was amiss; but they, who obstinately persist in their errors, and will needs impose them upon us, and will not let us be of their communion, unless we will say they are no
II. The other prejudice against the true religion is, the contrariety of it to the vitious inclinations and practices of men.
It is too heavy a yoke, and lays too great a restraint upon human nature. And this is that which in truth lies at the bottom of all objections against religion, Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.
But this argument will require a discourse by itself, and therefore I shall not now enter upon it; only crave your patience a little longer, whilst I make some reflexions upon what hath been already delivered.
You see what are the exceptions which idolatry and superstition have always made, and do at this day still make against the true religion; and how slight and inlignificant they are.
But do we then charge the church of Rome with idolatry? Our church molt certainly does so; and hath always done it from the beginning of the reformation, in her homilies, and liturgy, and canons, and in the writings of her best and ablest champions. And though I have, as impartially as I could, considered what hath been said on both sides in this controversy; yet I must confess, I could never yet see any tolerable defence made by them against this heavy charge. And they themselves acknowledge themselves to be greatly under the suspicion of it, by saying, as Cardinal Perron and others do, that the primitive Christians for some ages did neither worship images, nor pray to faints, for fear of being thought to
approach approach too near the Heathen idolatry. And, wich is yet more, divers of their most learned men do confes, that if transubstantiation be not true, they are as gross idolaters as any in the world. And I hope they do not expect it from us, that, in compliment to them, and to acquit them from the charge of idolatry, we should presently deny our senses, and believe transubstantiation ; and if we do not believe this, they grant we have reason to charge them with idolatry.
But we own them to be a true church ; which they cannot be, if they be guilty of idolatry. This they often urge us withal; and there seems at first fight to be something in it: and for that reason I shall endeavour to give so clear and satisfactory an answer to it, as that we may never more be troubled with it.
The truth is, we would fain hope, because they still retain the essentials of Christianity, and profess to believe all the articles of the Christian faith, that; notwithstanding their corruptions, they may still retain the true essence of a church: as a man may be truly and really a man, though he have the plague upon him; and for that reason be fit to be avoided by all that wilh well to themselves. But if this will not do, we cannot help it. Therefore, to push the matter home, are they sure that this is a firm and good consequence, that if they be idolaters, they cannot be a true church? Then let them look to it. It is they, I take it, that are concerned to prove themselves a true church, and not we to prove it for them. And, if they will not understand it of themselves, it is fit they should be told, that there is a great difference between concessions of charity and of necessity, and that a very different use ought to be made of them. We are willing to think the best of them: but, if they dislike our charity in this point, nothing against the hair. If they will forgive us this injury, we will not offend them any more: but, rather than have any farther difference with them about this matter, we will for quietness fake compound it thus: That till they can clearly acquit themselves from being idolaters, they shall nover more against their wills be elteemed a true church,
And now, to draw to a conclusion,