OF REFORMATION IN ENGLAND,
AND THE CAUSES THAT HITHERTO HAVE HINDERED IT.
IN TWO BOOKS.
WRITTEN TO A FRIEND.
[FIRST PUBLISHED 1641.]
THE FIRST BOOK.
Sir,—Amidst those deep and retired thoughts, which, with every man Christianly instructed, ought to be most frequent, of God and of his miraculous ways and works amongst men, and of our religion and works, to be performed to him; after the story of our Saviour Christ, suffering to the lowest bent of weakness in the flesh, and presently triumphing to the highest pitch of glory in the spirit, which drew up his body also; till we in both be united to him in the revelation of his kingdom, I do not know of any thing more worthy to take up the whole passion of pity on the one side, and joy on the other, than to consider first the foul and sudden corruption, and then, after many a tedious age, the long deferred, but much more wonderful and happy reformation of the church in these latter days. Sad it is to think how that doctrine of the gospel, planted by teachers divinely inspired, and by them winnowed and sifted from the chaff of overdated ceremonies, and refined to such a spiritual height and temper of purity, and knowledge of the Creator, that the body, with all the circumstances of time and place, were purified by the affections of the regenerate soul, and nothing left impure but sin; faith needing not the weak and fallible office of the senses, to be either the ushers or interpreters of heavenly mysteries, save where our Lord himself in his sacraments ordained; that such a doctrine should, through the grossness and blindness of her professors, and the fraud of deceivable traditions, drag so downwards, as to backslide into the Jewish beggary of old cast rudiments, and stumble forward another way into the new-vomited paganism of sensual idolatry, attributing purity or impurity to things indifferent, that they might bring the inward acts of the spirit to the outward and customary eye-service of the body, as if they could make God earthly and fleshly, because they could not make themselves heavenly and spiritual; they began to draw down all the divine intercourse betwixt God and the soul, yea, the very shape of God himself, into an exterior and bodily form, urgently pretending a necessity and obligement of joining the body in a formal reverence, and worship circumscribed; they hallowed it, they fumed it, they sprinkled it, they bedecked it, not in robes of pure innocency, but of pure linen, with other deformed and fantastic dresses, in palls and mitres, gold and gewgaws fetched from Aaron’s old wardrobe, or the flamins vestry: then was the priest set to con his motions and his postures, his liturgies and his lurries, till the soul by this means of overbodying herself, given up justly to fleshly delights, bated her wing apace downward: and finding the ease she had from her visible and sensuous colleague the body, in performance of religious duties, her pinions now broken, and flagging, shifted off from herself the labour of high soaring any more, forgot her heavenly flight, and left the dull and droiling carcase to plod on in the old road, and drudging trade of outward conformity. And here, out of question, from her perverse conceiting of God and holy things, she had fallen to believe no God at all, had not custom and the worm of conscience nipped her incredulity: hence to all the duties of evangelical grace, instead of the adoptive and cheerful boldness which our new alliance with God requires, came servile and thrallike fear: for in very deed, the superstitious man by his good will is an atheist; but being scared from thence by the pangs and gripes of a boiling conscience, all in a pudder shuffles up to himself such a God and such a worship as is most agreeable to remedy his fear; which fear of his, as also is his hope, fixed only upon the flesh, renders likewise the whole faculty of his apprehension carnal; and all the inward acts of worship, issuing from the native strength of the soul, run out lavishly to the upper skin, and there harden into a crust of formality. Hence men came to scan the Scriptures by the letter, and in the covenant of our redemption, magnified the external signs more than the quickening power of the Spirit; and yet looking on them through their own guiltiness with a servile fear, and finding as little comfort, or rather terror from them again, they knew not how to hide their slavish approach to God’s behests, by them not understood, nor worthily received, but by cloaking their servile crouching to all religious presentments, sometimes lawful, sometimes idolatrous, under the name of humility, and terming the piebald frippery and ostentation of ceremonies, decency.
Then was baptism, changed into a kind of exorcism and water, sanctified by Christ’s institute, thought little enough to wash off the original spot, without the scratch or cross impression of a priest’s forefinger: and that feast of free grace and adoption to which Christ invited his disciples to sit as brethren, and coheirs of the happy covenant, which at that table was to be sealed to them, even that feast of love and heavenly-admitted fellowship, the seal of filial grace, became the subject of horror, and glouting adoration, pageanted about like a dreadful idol; which sometimes deceives well-meaning men, and beguiles them of their reward, by their voluntary humility; which indeed is fleshly pride preferring a foolish sacrifice, and the rudiments of the world, as Saint Paul to the Colossians explaineth, before a savoury obedience to Christ’s example. Such was Peter’s unseasonable humility, as then his knowledge was small, when Christ came to wash his feet; who at an impertinent time would needs strain courtesy with his master, and falling troublesomely upon the lowly, all-wise, and unexaminable intention of Christ, in what he went with resolution to do, so provoked by his interruption the meek Lord, that he threatened to exclude him from his heavenly portion, unless he could be content to be less arrogant and stiffnecked in his humility.
But to dwell no longer in characterizing the depravities of the church, and how they sprung, and how they took increase; when I recall to mind at last, after so many dark ages, wherein the huge overshadowing train of error had almost swept all the stars out of the firmament of the church; how the bright and blissful reformation (by divine power) struck through the black and settled night of ignorance and antichristian tyranny, methinks a sovereign and reviving joy must needs rush into the bosom of him that reads or hears; and the sweet odour of the returning gospel imbathe his soul with the fragrancy of heaven. Then was the sacred Bible sought out of the dusty corners where profane falsehood and neglect had thrown it, the schools opened, divine and human learning raked out of the embers of forgotten tongues, the princes and cities trooping apace to the new-erected banner of salvation; the martyrs, with the unresistible might of weakness shaking the powers of darkness, and scorning the fiery rage of the old red dragon.
The pleasing pursuit of these thoughts hath ofttimes led me into a serious question and debatement with myself, how it should come to pass that England (having had this grace and honour from God, to be the first that should set up a standard for the recovery of lost truth, and blow the first evangelic trumpet to the nations, holding up, as from a hill, the new lamp of saving light to all Christendom) should now be last, and most unsettled in the enjoyment of that peace, whereof she taught the way to others; although indeed our Wickliffe’s preaching, at which all the succeeding reformers more effectually lighted their tapers, was to his countrymen but a short blaze, soon damped and stifled by the pope and prelates for six or seven kings’ reigns; yet methinks the precedency which God gave this island, to be first restorer of buried truth, should have been followed with more happy success, and sooner attained perfection; in which as yet we are amongst the last: for, albeit in purity of doctrine we agree with our brethren; yet in discipline, which is the execution and applying of doctrine home, and laying the salve to the very orifice of the wound, yea, tenting and searching to the core, without which pulpit preaching is but shooting at rovers; in this we are no better than a schism from all the reformation, and a sore scandal to them; for while we hold ordination to belong only to bishops, as our prelates do, we must of necessity hold also their ministers to be no ministers, and shortly after, their church to be no church. Not to speak of those senseless ceremonies which we only retain, as a dangerous earnest of sliding back to Rome, and serving merely, either as a mist to cover nakedness where true grace is extinguished, or as an interlude to set out the pomp of prelatism. Certainly it would be worth the while therefore, and the pains, to inquire more particularly, what, and how many the chief causes have been, that have still hindered our uniform consent to the rest of the churches abroad, at this time especially when the kingdom is in a good propensity thereto, and all men in prayers, in hopes, or in disputes, either for or against it.
Yet I will not insist on that which may seem to be the cause on God’s part; as his judgment on our sins, the trial of his own, the unmasking of hypocrites: nor shall I stay to speak of the continual eagerness and extreme diligence of the pope and papists to stop the furtherance of reformation, which know they have no hold or hope of England their lost darling, longer than the government of bishops bolsters them out; and therefore plot all they can to uphold them, as may be seen by the book of Santa Clara, the popish priest, in defence of bishops, which came out piping hot much about the time that one of our own prelates, out of an ominous fear, had writ on the same argument; as if they had joined their forces, like good confederates, to support one falling Babel.
But I shall chiefly endeavour to declare those causes that hinder the forwarding of true discipline, which are among ourselves. Orderly proceeding will divide our inquiry into our forefathers’ days, and into our times. Henry VIII. was the first that rent this kingdom from the pope’s subjection totally; but his quarrel being more about supremacy, than other faultiness in religion that he regarded, it is no marvel if he stuck where he did. The next default was in the bishops, who though they had renounced the pope, they still hugged the popedom, and shared the authority among themselves, by their six bloody articles, persecuting the protestants no slacker than the pope would have done. And doubtless, whenever the pope shall fall, if his ruin be not like the sudden downcome of a tower, the bishops, when they see him tottering, will leave him, and fall to scrambling, catch who may, he a patriarchdom, and another what comes next hand; as the French cardinal of late and the see of Canterbury hath plainly affected.
In Edward the Sixth’s days, why a complete reformation was not effected, to any considerate man may appear. First, he no sooner entered into his kingdom, but into a war with Scotland; from whence the protector returning with victory, had but newly put his hand to repeal the six articles, and throw the images out of churches, but rebellions on all sides, stirred up by obdurate papists, and other tumults, with a plain war in Norfolk, holding tack against two of the king’s generals, made them of force content themselves with what they had already done. Hereupon followed ambitious contentions among the peers, which ceased not but with the protector’s death, who was the most zealous in this point: and then Northumberland was he that could do most in England; who, little minding religion, (as his apostacy well showed at his death,) bent all his wit how to bring the right of the crown into his own line. And for the bishops, they were so far from any such worthy attempts, as that they suffered themselves to be the common stales, to countenance with their prostitued gravities every politic fetch that was then on foot, as oft as the potent statists pleased to employ them. Never do we read that they made use of their authority and high place of access, to bring the jarring nobility to Christian peace, or to withstand their disloyal projects: but if a toleration for mass were to be begged of the king for his sister Mary, lest Charles the Fifth should be angry; who but the grave prelates, Cranmer and Ridley, must be sent to extort it from the young king? But out of the mouth of that godly and royal child, Christ himself returned such an awful repulse to those halting and time-serving prelates, that after much bold importunity, they went their way not without shame and tears.
Nor was this the first time that they discovered to be followers of this world; for when the protector’s brother, Lord Sudley, the admiral, through private malice and malengine was to lose his life, no man could be found fitter than bishop Latimer (like another Dr. Shaw) to divulge in his sermon the forged accusations laid to his charge, thereby to defame him with the people, who else it was thought would take ill the innocent man’s death, unless the reverend bishop could warrant them there was no foul play. What could be more impious than to debar the children of the king from their right to the crown? To comply with the ambitious usurpation of a traitor, and to make void the last will of Henry VIII., to which the breakers had sworn observance? Yet bishop Cranmer, one of the executors, and the other bishops, none refusing, (lest they should resist the duke of Northumberland,) could find in their consciences to set their hands to the disenabling and defeating not only of Princess Mary the papist, but of Elizabeth the protestant, and (by the bishops’ judgment) the lawful issue of King Henry.
Who then can think (though these prelates had sought a further reformation) that the least wry face of a politician would not have hushed them? But it will be said, these men were martyrs: what then? though every true Christian will be a martyr when he is called to it, not presently does it follow, that every one suffering for religion is, without exception. Saint Paul writes, that “a man may give his body to be burnt, (meaning for religion,) and yet not have charity:” he is not therefore above all possibility of erring, because he burns for some points of truth.
Witness the Arians and Pelagians, which were slain by the heathen for Christ’s sake, yet we take both these for no true friends of Christ. If the martyrs (saith Cyprian in his 30th epistle) decree one thing, and the gospel another, either the martyrs must lose their crown by not observing the gospel for which they are martyrs, or the majesty of the gospel must be broken and lie flat, if it can be overtopped by the novelty of any other decree.
And here withal I invoke the Immortal Deity, revealer and judge of secrets, that wherever I have in this book plainly and roundly (though worthily and truly) laid open the faults and blemishes of fathers, martyrs, or Christian emperors, or have otherwise inveighed against error and superstition with vehement expressions; I have done it neither out of malice, nor list to speak evil, nor any vain glory, but, of mere necessity to vindicate the spotless truth from an ignominious bondage, whose native worth is now become of such a low esteem, that she is like to find small credit with us for what she can say, unless she can bring a ticket from Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley; or prove herself a retainer to Constantine, and wear his badge. More tolerable it were for the church of God, that all these names were utterly abolished like the brazen serpent, than that men’s fond opinion should thus idolize them, and the heavenly truth be thus captivated.
Now to proceed, whatsoever the bishops were, it seems they themselves were unsatisfied in matters of religion as they then stood, by that commission granted to eight bishops, eight other divines, eight civilians, eight common lawyers, to frame ecclesiastical constitutions; which no wonder if it came to nothing, for (as Hayward relates) both their professions and their ends were different. Lastly, we all know by example, that exact reformation is not perfected at the first push, and those unwieldy times of Edward VI. may hold some plea by his excuse. Now let any reasonable man judge whether that king’s reign be a fit time from whence to pattern out the constitution of a church discipline, much less that it should yield occasion from whence to foster and establish the continuance of imperfection, with the commendatory subscriptions of confessors and martyrs, to entitle and engage a glorious name to a gross corruption. It was not episcopacy that wrought in them the heavenly fortitude of martyrdom; as little is it that martyrdom can make good episcopacy; but it was episcopacy that led the good and holy men through the temptation of the enemy, and the snare of this present world, to many blameworthy and opprobrious actions. And it is still episcopacy that before all our eyes worsens and slugs the most learned and seeming religious of our ministers, who no sooner advanced to it, but like a seething pot set to cool, sensibly exhale and reek out the greatest part of that zeal, and those gifts which were formerly in them, settling in a skinny congealment of ease and sloth at the top: and if they keep their learning by some potent sway of nature, it is a rare chance; but their devotion most commonly comes to that queazy temper of lukewarmness, that gives a vomit to God himself.
But what do we suffer misshapen and enormous prelatism, as we do, thus to blanch and varnish her deformities with the fair colours, as before of martyrdom, so now of episcopacy? They are not bishops, God and all good men know they are not, that have filled this land with late confusion and violence; but a tyrannical crew and corporation of impostors, that have blinded and abused the world so long under that name. He that, enabled with gifts from God, and the lawful and primitive choice of the church assembled in convenient number, faithfully from that time forward feeds his parochial flock, has his coequal and compresbyterial power to ordain ministers and deacons by public prayer, and vote of Christ’s congregation in like sort as he himself was ordained, and is a true apostolic bishop. But when he steps up into the chair of pontifical pride, and changes a moderate and exemplary house for a misgoverned and haughty palace, spiritual dignity for carnal precedence, and secular high office and employment for the high negotiations of his heavenly embassage: then he degrades, then he unbishops himself; he that makes him bishop, makes him no bishop. No marvel therefore if St. Martin complained to Sulpitius Severus, that since he was a bishop, he felt inwardly a sensible decay of those virtues and graces that God had given him in great measure before; although the same Sulpitius writes that he was nothing tainted or altered in his habit, diet, or personal demeanour from that simple plainness to which he first betook himself. It was not therefore that thing alone which God took displeasure at in the bishops of those times, but rather an universal rottenness and gangrene in the whole function.
From hence then I pass to Queen Elizabeth, the next protestant princess, in whose days why religion attained not a perfect reducement in the beginning of her reign, I suppose the hindering causes will be found to be common with some formerly alleged for King Edward VI.; the greenness of the times, the weak estate which Queen Mary left the realm in, the great places and offices executed by papists, the judges, the lawyers, the justices of peace for the most part popish, the bishops firm to Rome; from whence was to be expected the furious flashing of excommunications, and absolving the people from their obedience. Next, her private counsellors, whoever they were, persuaded her (as Camden writes) that the altering of ecclesiastical policy would move sedition. Then was the liturgy given to a number of moderate divines, and Sir Thomas Smith, a statesman, to be purged and physicked: and surely they were moderate divines indeed, neither hot nor cold; and Grindal the best of them, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, lost favour in the court, and I think was discharged the government of his see, for favouring the ministers, though Camden seemed willing to find another cause: therefore about her second year, in a parliament, of men and minds some scarce well grounded, others belching the sour crudities of yesterday’s popery, those constitutions of Edward VI., which as you heard before, no way satisfied the men that made them, are now established for best, and not to be mended. From that time followed nothing but imprisonments, troubles, disgraces on all those that found fault with the decrees of the convocation, and straight were they branded with the name of puritans. As for the queen herself, she was made believe that by putting down bishops, her prerogative would be infringed, of which shall be spoken anon as the course of method brings it in: and why the prelates laboured it should be so thought, ask not them, but ask their bellies. They had found a good tabernacle, they sate under a spreading vine, their lot was fallen in a fair inheritance. And these, perhaps, were the chief impeachments of a more sound rectifying the church in the queen’s time.
From this period I count to begin our times, which because they concern us more nearly, and our own eyes and ears can give us the ampler scope to judge, will require a more exact search; and to effect this the speedier, I shall distinguish such as I esteem to be the hinderers of reformation into three sorts, Antiquitarians (for so I had rather call them than antiquaries, whose labours are useful and laudable). 2. Libertines. 3. Politicians.
To the votarists of antiquity, I shall think to have fully answered, if I shall be able to prove out of antiquity, First, that if they will conform our bishops to the purer times, they must mew their feathers, and their pounces, and make but curtailed bishops of them; and we know they hate to be docked and clipped, as much as to be put down outright. Secondly, that those purer times were corrupt, and their books corrupted soon after. Thirdly, that the best of those that then wrote, disclaim that any man should repose on them, and send all to the Scriptures.
First therefore, if those that overaffect antiquity will follow the square thereof, their bishops must be elected by the hands of the whole church. The ancientest of the extant fathers, Ignatius, writing to the Philadelphians, saith, “that it belongs to them as to the church of God to choose a bishop.” Let no man cavil, but take the church of God as meaning the whole consistence of orders and members, as St. Paul’s epistles express, and this likewise being read over: besides this, it is there to be marked, that those Philadelphians are exhorted to choose a bishop of Antioch. Whence it seems by the way that there was not that wary limitation of diocese in those times, which is confirmed even by a fast friend of episcopacy, Camden, who cannot but love bishops as well as old coins, and his much lamented monasteries, for antiquity’s sake. He writes in his description of Scotland, “That over all the world bishops had no certain diocese till pope Dionysius about the year 268 did cut them out; and that the bishops of Scotland executed their function in what place soever they came indifferently, and without distinction, till King Malcolm the Third, about the year 1070.” Whence may be guessed what their function was: was it to go about circled with a band of rooking officials, with cloakbags full of citations, and processes to be served by a corporality of griffonlike promoters and apparitors? Did he go about to pitch down his court, as an empiric does his bank, to inveigle in all the money of the country? No, certainly, it would not have been permitted him to exercise any such function indifferently wherever he came. And verily some such matter it was as want of a fat diocese that kept our Britain bishops so poor in the primitive times, that being called to the council of Ariminum in the year 359, they had not wherewithal to defray the charges of their journey, but were fed and lodged upon the emperor’s cost; which must needs be no accidental but usual poverty in them: for the author, Sulpitius Severus, in his 2d book of Church History, praises them, and avouches it praiseworthy in a bishop to be so poor as to have nothing of his own. But to return to the ancient election of bishops, that it could not lawfully be without the consent of the people is so express in Cyprian, and so often to be met with, that to cite each place at large, were to translate a good part of the volume; therefore touching the chief passages, I refer the rest to whom so list peruse the author himself: in the 24th epistle, “If a bishop,” saith he, “be once made and allowed by the testimony and judgment of his colleagues and the people, no other can be made.” In the 55th, “When a bishop is made by the suffrage of all the people in peace.” In the 68th mark but what he says; “The people chiefly hath power either of choosing worthy ones, or refusing unworthy: this he there proves by authorities out of the Old and New Testament, and with solid reasons: these were his an tiquities.
This voice of the people, to be had ever in episcopal elections, was so well known before Cyprian’s time, even to those that were without the church, that the emperor Alexander Severus desired to have his governors of provinces chosen in the same manner, as Lampridius can tell; so little thought he it offensive to monarchy. And if single authorities persuade not, hearken what the whole general council of Nicæa, the first and famousest of all the rest, determines, writing a synodical epistle to the African churches, to warn them of Arianism; it exhorts them to choose orthodox bishops in the place of the dead, so they be worthy, and the people choose them; whereby they seem to make the people’s assent so necessary, that merit, without their free choice, were not sufficient to make a bishop. What would ye say now, grave fathers, if you should wake and see unworthy bishops, or rather no bishops, but Egyptian taskmasters of ceremonies thrust purposely upon the groaning church, to the affliction and vexation of God’s people? It was not of old that a conspiracy of bishops could frustrate and fob off the right of the people; for we may read how St. Martin, soon after Constantine, was made bishop of Turin in France, by the people’s consent from all places thereabout, maugre all the opposition that the bishops could make. Thus went matters of the church almost 400 years after Christ, and very probably far lower: for Nicephorus Phocas the Greek emperor, whose reign fell near the 1000 year of our Lord, having done many things tyrannically, is said by Cedrenus to have done nothing more grievous and displeasing to the people, than to have enacted that no bishop should be chosen without his will; so long did this right remain to the people in the midst of other palpable corruptions. Now for episcopal dignity, what it was, see out of Ignatius, who in his epistle to those of Trallis, confesseth, “That the presbyters are his fellow-counsellors and fellow-benchers.” And Cyprian in many places, as in the 6th, 41st, 52d epistle, speaking of presbyters, calls them his compresbyters, as if he deemed himself no other, whenas by the same place it appears he was a bishop; he calls them brethren, but that will be thought his meekness: yea, but the presbyters and deacons writing to him think they do him honour enough, when they phrase him no higher than brother Cyprian, and dear Cyprian in the 26th epistle. For their authority it is evident not to have been single, but depending on the counsel of the presbyters as from Ignatius was erewhile alleged; and the same Cyprian acknowledges as much in the 6th epistle, and adds thereto, that he had determined, from his entrance into the office of bishop, to do nothing without the consent of his people, and so in the 31st epistle, for it were tedious to course through all his writings, which are so full of the like assertions, insomuch that even in the womb and center of apostacy, Rome itself, there yet remains a glimpse of this truth; for the pope himself, as a learned English writer notes well, performeth all ecclesiastical jurisdiction as in consistory among his cardinals, which were originally but the parish priests of Rome. Thus then did the spirit of unity and meekness inspire and animate every joint and sinew of the mystical body; but now the gravest and worthiest minister, a true bishop of his fold, shall be reviled and ruffled by an insulting and only canon-wise prelate, as if he were some slight paltry companion: and the people of God, redeemed and washed with Christ’s blood, and dignified with so many glorious titles of saints and sons in the gospel, are now no better reputed than impure ethnics and lay dogs; stones, and pillars, and crucifixes, have now the honour and the alms due to Christ’s living members; the table of communion, now become a table of separation, stands like an exalted platform upon the brow of the quire, fortified with bulwark and barricado, to keep off the profane touch of the laics, whilst the obscene and surfeited priest scruples not to paw and mammoc the sacramental bread, as familarly as his tavern biscuit. And thus the people, vilified and rejected by them, give over the earnest study of virtue and godliness, as a thing of greater purity that they need, and the search of divine knowledge as a mystery too high for their capacities, and only for churchmen to meddle with; which is what the prelates desire, that when they have brought us back to popish blindness, we might commit to their dispose the whole managing of our salvation, for they think it was never fair world with them since that time. But he that will mould a modern bishop into a primitive, must yield him to be elected by the popular voice, undiocesed, unrevenued, unlorded, and leave him nothing but brotherly equality, matchless temperance, frequent fasting, incessant prayer and preaching, continual watchings and labours in his ministry; which what a rich booty it would be, what a plump endowment to the many-benefice-gaping-mouth of a prelate, what a relish it would give to his canary-sucking and swan-eating palate, let old bishop Mountain judge for me.
How little therefore those ancient times make for modern bishops, hath been plainly discoursed; but let them make for them as much as they will, yet why we ought not to stand to their arbitrement, shall now appear by a threefold corruption which will be found upon them. 1. The best times were spreadingly infected. 2. The best men of those times foully tainted. 3. The best writings of those men dangerously adulterated. These positions are to be made good out of those times witnessing of themselves. First, Ignatius in his early days testifies to the churches of Asia, that even then heresies were sprung up, and rise every where, as Eusebius relates in his 3d book, 35th chap. after the Greek number. And Hegesippus, a grave church writer of prime antiquity, affirms in the same book of Eusebius, c. 32: “That while the apostles were on earth, the depravers of doctrine did but lurk; but they once gone, with open forehead they durst preach down the truth with falsities.” Yea, those that are reckoned for orthodox, began to make sad and shameful rents in the church about the trivial celebration of feasts, not agreeing when to keep Easter-day; which controversy grew so hot, that Victor the bishop of Rome excommunicated all the churches of Asia for no other cause, and was worthily thereof reproved by Irenæus. For can any sound theologer think, that these great fathers understood what was gospel, or what was excommunication? Doubtless that which led the good men into fraud and error was, that they attended more to the near tradition of what they heard the appostles some times did, than to what they had left written, not considering that many things which they did were by the apostles themselves professed to be done only for the present, and of mere indulgence to some scrupulous converts of the circumcision; but what they writ was of firm decree to all future ages. Look but a century lower in the 1st cap. of Eusebius 8th book. What a universal tetter of impurity had envenomed every part, order, and degree of the church to omit the lay herd, which will be little regarded, “those that seem to be our pastors,” saith he, “overturning the law of God’s worship, burnt in contentions one towards another, and increasing in hatred and bitterness, outrageously sought to uphold lordship, and command as it were a tyranny.” Stay but a little, magnanimous bishops, suppress your aspiring thoughts, for there is nothing wanting but Constantine to reign, and then tyranny herself shall give up all her citadels into your hands, and count ye thence forward her trustiest agents. Such were these that must be called the ancientest and most virgin times between Christ and Constantine. Nor was this general contagion in their actions, and not in their writings: who is ignorant of the foul errors, the ridiculous wresting of Scripture, the heresies, the vanities thick sown through the volumes of Justin Martyr, Clemens, Origen, Tertullian, and others of eldest time? Who would think him fit to write an apology for Christian faith to the Roman senate, that would tell them “how of the angels,” which he must needs mean those in Genesis called the sons of God, “mixing with women were begotten the devils,” as good Justin Martyr in his Apology told them? But more indignation would it move to any Christian that shall read Tertullian, terming St. Paul a novice, and raw in grace, for reproving St. Peter at Antioch, worthy to be blamed if we believe the epistle to the Galatians: perhaps from this hint the blasphemous Jesuits presumed in Italy to give their judgment of St. Paul, as of a hotheaded person, as Sandys in his relations tells us.
Now besides all this, who knows not how many superstitious works are ingraffed into the legitimate writings of the fathers? And of those books that pass for authentic, who knows what hath been tampered withal, what hath been razed out, what hath been inserted? Besides the late legerdemain of the papists, that which Sulpitius writes concerning Origen’s books, gives us cause vehemently to suspect, there hath been packing of old. In the third chap. of his 1st Dialogue we may read what wrangling the bishops and monks had about the reading or not reading of Origen; some objecting that he was corrupted by heretics; others answering that all such books had been so dealt with. How then shall I trust these times to lead me, that testify so ill of leading themselves? Certainly of their defects their own witness may be best received, but of the rectitude and sincerity of their life and doctrine, to judge rightly, we must judge by that which was to be their rule.
But it will be objected, that this was an unsettled state of the church, wanting the temporal magistrate to suppress the licence of false brethern, and the extravagancy of still new opinions; a time not imitable for church government, where the temporal and spiritual power did not close in one belief, as under Constantine. I am not of opinion to think the church a vine in this respect, because, as they take it, she cannot subsist without clasping about the elm of worldly strength and felicity, as if the heavenly city could not support itself without the props and buttresses of secular authority. They extol Constantine because he extolled them; as our homebred monks in their histories blanch the kings their benefactors, and brand those that went about to be their correctors. If he had curbed the growing pride, avarice, and luxury of the clergy, then every page of his story should have swelled with his faults, and that which Zozimus the heathen writes of him should have come in to boot: we should have heard then in every declamation how he slew his nephew Commodus, a worthy man; his noble and eldest son Crispus, his wife Fausta, besides numbers of his friends; then his cruel exactions, his unsoundness in religion, favouring the Arians that had been condemned in a council, of which himself sat as it were president; his hard measure and banishment of the faithful and invincible Athanasius; his living unbaptised almost to his dying day; these blurs are too apparent in his life. But since he must needs be the loadstar of reformation, as some men clatter, it will be good to see further his knowledge of religion what it was, and by that we may likewise guess at the sincerity of his times in those that were not heretical, it being likely that he would converse with the famousest prelates (for so he had made them) that were to be found for learning.
Of his Arianism we heard, and for the rest a pretty scantling of his knowledge may be taken by his deferring to be baptized so many years, a thing not usual, and repugnant to the tenor of Scripture; Philip knowing nothing that should hinder the eunuch to be baptized after profession of his belief. Next, by the excessive devotion, that I may not say superstition, both of him and his mother Helena, to find out the cross on which Christ suffered, that had long lain under the rubbish of old ruins; (a thing which the disciples and kindred of our Saviour might with more ease have done, if they had thought it a pious duty;) some of the nails whereof he put into his helmet, to bear off blows in battle, others he fastened among the studs of his bridle, to fulfil (as he thought, or his court bishops persuaded him) the prophecy of Zechariah; “And it shall be that which is in the bridle, shall be holy to the Lord.” Part of the cross, in which he thought such virtue to reside, as would prove a kind of Palladium to save the city wherever it remained, he caused to be laid up in a pillar of porphyry by his statue. How he or his teachers could trifle thus with half an eye open upon St. Paul’s principles, I know not how to imagine.
How should then the dim taper of this emperor’s age, that had such need of snuffing, extend any beam to our times, wherewith we might hope to be better lighted, than by those luminaries that God hath set up to shine to us far nearer hand. And what reformation he wrought for his own time, it will not be amiss to consider; he appointed certain times for fasts and feasts, built stately churches, gave large immunities to the clergy, great riches and promotions to bishops, gave and ministered occasion to bring in a deluge of ceremonies, thereby either to draw in the heathen by a resemblance of their rites, or to set a gloss upon the simplicity and plainness of Christianity; which, to the gorgeous solemnities of paganism, and the sense of the world’s children, seemed but a homely and yeomanly religion; for the beauty of inward sanctity was not within their prospect.
So that in this manner the prelates, both then and ever since, coming from a mean and plebeian life on a sudden to be lords of stately palaces, rich furniture, delicious fare, and princely attendance, thought the plain and homespun verity of Christ’s gospel unfit any longer to hold their lordships’ acquaintance, unless the poor threadbare matron were put into better clothes; her chaste and modest vail, surrounded with celestial beams, they overlaid with wanton tresses, and in a staring tire bespeckled her with all the gaudy allurements of a whore.
Thus flourished the church with Constantine’s wealth, and thereafter were the effects that followed; his son Constantius proved a flat Arian, and his nephew Julian an apostate, and there his race ended: the church that before by insensible degrees welked and impaired, now with large steps went down hill decaying: at this time Antichrist began first to put forth his horn, and that saying was common, that former times had wooden chalices and golden priests; but they, golden chalices and wooden priests. “Formerly,” saith Sulpitius, “martyrdom by glorious death was sought more greedily than now bishoprics by vile ambition are hunted after,” speaking of these times: and in another place, “they gape after possessions, they tend lands and livings, they cower over their gold, they buy and sell: and if there be any that neither possess nor traffic, that which is worse, they set still, and expect gifts, and prostitute every endowment of grace, every holy thing, to sale.” And in the end of his history thus he concludes. “All things went to wrack by the faction, wilfulness, and avarice of the bishops; and by this means God’s people, and every good man, was had in scorn and derision;” which St. Martin found truly to be said by his friend Sulpitius; for, being held in admiration of all men, he had only the bishops his enemies, found God less favourable to him after he was bishop than before, and for his last sixteen years would come at no bishop’s meeting. Thus you see sir, what Constantine’s doings in the church brought forth, either in his own or in his son’s reign.
Now, lest it should be thought that something else might ail this author thus to hamper the bishops of those days, I will bring you the opinion of three the famousest men for wit and learning that Italy at this day glories of, whereby it may be concluded for a received opinion, even among men professing the Romish faith, that Constantine marred all in the church. Dante, in his 19th Canto of Inferno, hath thus, as I will render it you in English blank verse:
- Ah Constantine! of how much ill was cause
- Not thy conversion, but those rich domains
- That the first wealthy pope receiv’d of thee!
So, in his 20th Canto of Paradise, he makes the like complaint, and Petrarch seconds him in the same mind in his 108th sonnet, which is wiped out by the inquisitor in some editions; speaking of the Roman Antichrist as merely bred up by Constantine.
- Founded in chaste and humble poverty,
- ’Gainst them that rais’d thee dost thou lift thy horn,
- Impudent whore, where hast thou plac’d thy hope?
- In thy adulterers, or thy ill-got wealth?
- Another Constantine comes not in haste.
Ariosto of Ferrara, after both these in time, but equal in fame, following the scope of his poem in a difficult knot how to restore Orlando his chief hero to his lost senses, brings Astolfo the English knight up into the moon, where St. John, as he feigns, met him. Cant. 34.
- And to be short, at last his guide him brings
- Into a goodly valley, where he sees
- A mighty mass of things strangely confus’d,
- Things that on earth were lost, or were abus’d.
And amongst these so abused things, listen what he met withal, under the conduct of the Evangelist.
- Then past he to a flowery mountain green,
- Which once smelt sweet, now stinks as odiously:
- This was that gift (if you the truth will have)
- That Constantine to good Sylvestro gave.
And this was a truth well known in England before this poet was born, as our Chaucer’s Ploughman shall tell you by and by upon another occasion. By all these circumstances laid together, I do not see how it can be disputed what good this emperor Constantine wrought to the church, but rather whether ever any, though perhaps not wittingly, set open a door to more mischief in Christendom. There is just cause therefore, that when the prelates cry out, Let the church be reformed according to Constantine, it should sound to a judicious ear no otherwise, than if they should say, Make us rich, make us lofty, make us lawless; for if any under him were not so, thanks to those ancient remains of integrity, which were not yet quite worn out, and not to his government.
Thus finally it appears, that those purer times were not such as they are cried up, and not to be followed without suspicion, doubt, and danger. The last point wherein the antiquary is to be dealt with at his own weapon, is, to make it manifest that the ancientest and best of the fathers have disclaimed all sufficiency in themselves that men should rely on, and sent all comers to the Scriptures, as all-sufficient: that this is true, will not be unduly gathered, by showing what esteem they had of antiquity themselves, and what validity they thought in it to prove doctrine or discipline. I must of necessity begin from the second rank of fathers, because till then antiquity could have no plea. Cyprian in his 63d Epistle: “If any,” saith he, “of our ancestors, either ignorantly or out of simplicity, hath not observed that which the Lord taught us by example,” speaking of the Lord’s supper, “his simplicity God may pardon of his mercy; but we cannot be excused for following him, being instructed by the Lord.” And have not we the same instructions; and will not this holy man, with all the whole consistory of saints and martyrs that lived of old, rise up and stop our mouths in judgment, when we shall go about to father our errors and opinions upon their authority? In the 73d Epist. he adds, “In vain do they oppose custom to us, if they be overcome by reason; as if custom were greater than truth, or that in spiritual things that were not to be followed, which is revealed for the better by the Holy Ghost.” In the 74th, “Neither ought custom to hinder that truth should not prevail; for custom without truth is but agedness of error.”
Next Lactantius, he that was preferred to have the bringing up of Constantine’s children, in his second book of Institutions, chap. 7 and 8, disputes against the vain trust in antiquity, as being the chiefest argument of the Heathen against the Christians: “They do not consider,” saith he, “what religion is, but they are confident it is true, because the ancients delivered it; they count it a trespass to examine it.” And in the eighth: “Not because they went before us in time, therefore in wisdom; which being given alike to all ages, cannot be prepossessed by the ancients wherefore, seeing that to seek the truth is inbred to all, they bereave themselves of wisdom, the gift of God, who without judgment follow the ancients, and are led by others like brute beasts.” St. Austin writes to Fortunatian, that “he counts it lawful, in the books of whomsoever, to reject that which he finds otherwise than true; and so he would have others deal by him.” He neither accounted, as it seems, those fathers that went before, nor himself, nor others of his rank, for men of more than ordinary spirit, that might equally deceive, and be deceived: and ofttimes setting our servile humours aside, yea, God so ordering we may find truth with one man, as soon as in a council, as Cyprian agrees, 71st Epist. “Many things,” saith he, “are better revealed to single persons.” At Nicæ, in the first and best-reputed council of all the world, there had gone out a canon to divorce married priests, had not one old man, Paphnutius, stood up and reasoned against it.
Now remains it to show clearly that the fathers refer all decision of controversy to the Scriptures, as all-sufficient to direct, to resolve, and to determine. Ignatius, taking his last leave of the Asian churches, as he went to martyrdom, exhorted them to adhere close to the written doctrine of the apostles, necessarily written for posterity: so far was he from unwritten traditions, as may be read in the 36th chap. of Eusebius, 3d b. In the 74th Epist. of Cyprian against Stefan, bishop of Rome, imposing upon him a tradition; “Whence,” quoth he, “is this tradition? Is it fetched from the authority of Christ in the gospel, or of the apostles in their epistles? for God testifies that those things are to be done which are written.” And then thus, “What obstinacy, what presumption is this, to prefer human tradition before divine ordinance?” And in the same epist. “if we shall return to the head, and beginning of divine tradition, (which we all know he means the Bible,) human error ceases; and the reason of heavenly mysteries unfolded, whatsoever was obscure becomes clear.” And in the 14th distinct of the same epist. directly against our modern fantasies of a still visible church, he teaches, “that succession of truth may fail; to renew which, we must have recourse to the fountains;” using this excellent similitude, “if a channel, or conduit-pipe which brought in water plentifully before, suddenly fail, do we not go to the fountain to know the cause, whether the spring affords no more, or whether the vein be stopped, or turned aside in the midcourse? Thus ought we to do, keeping God’s precepts, that if in aught the truth shall be changed, we may repair to the gospel and to the apostles, that thence may arise the reason of our doings, from whence our order and beginning arose.” In the 75th he inveighs bitterly against pope Stephanus, “for that he could boast his succession from Peter, and yet foist in traditions that were not apostolical.” And in his book of the unity of the church, he compares those that, neglecting God’s word, follow the doctrines of men, to Corah, Dathan, and Abiram. The very first page of Athanasius against the gentiles, avers the scriptures to be sufficient of themselves for the declaration of truth; and that if his friend Macarius read other religious writers, it was but φιλοϰάλος come un vertuoso, (as the Italians say,) as a lover of elegance: and in his second tome, the 39th page, after he hath reckoned up the canonical books, “in these only,” saith he, “is the doctrine of godliness taught; let no man add to these, or take from these.” And in his Synopsis, having again set down all the writers of the Old and New Testament, “these,” saith he, “be the anchors and props of our faith.” Besides these, millions of other books have been written by great and wise men according to rule, and agreement with these, of which I will not now speak, as being of infinite number, and mere dependence on the canonical books. Basil, in his 2d tome, writing of true faith, tells his auditors, he is bound to teach them that which he hath learned out of the Bible: and in the same treatise he saith, “that seeing the commandments of the Lord are faithful, and sure for ever, it is a plain falling from the faith, and a high pride, either to make void any thing therein, or to introduce any thing not there to be found:” and he gives the reason, “for Christ saith, My sheep hear my voice; they will not follow another, but fly from him, because they know not his voice.” But not to be endless in quotations, it may chance to be objected, that there be many opinions in the fathers which have no ground in Scripture; so much the less, may I say, should we follow them, for their own words shall condemn them, and acquit us that lean not on them; otherwise these their words will acquit them, and condemn us. But it will be replied, the Scriptures are difficult to be understood, and therefore require the explanation of the fathers. It is true, there be some books, and especially some places in those books, that remain clouded; yet ever that which is most necessary to be known is most easy; and that which is most difficult, so far expounds itself ever, as to tell us how little it imports our saving knowledge. Hence, to infer a general obscurity over all the text, is a mere suggestion of the devil to dissuade men from reading it, and casts an aspersion of dishonour both upon the mercy, truth, and wisdom of God. We count it no gentleness or fair dealing in a man of power amongst us, to require strict and punctual obedience, and yet give out all his commands ambiguous and obscure; we should think he had a plot upon us; certainly such commands were no commands, but snares. The very essence of truth is plainness and brightness; the darkness and crookedness is our own. The wisdom of God created understanding, fit and proportionable to truth, the object and end of it, as the eye to the thing visible. If our understanding have a film of ignorance over it, or be blear with gazing on other false glisterings, what is that to truth? If we will but purge with sovereign eyesalve that intellectual ray which God hath planted in us, then we would believe the Scriptures protesting their own plainness and perspicuity, calling to them to be instructed, not only the wise and the learned, but the simple, the poor, the babes; foretelling an extraordinary effusion of God’s Spirit upon every age and sex, attributing to all men, and requiring from them the ability of searching, trying, examining all things, and by the spirit discerning that which is good; and as the Scriptures themselves pronounce their own plainness, so do the fathers testify of them.
I will not run into a paroxysm of citations again in this point, only instance Athanasius in his forementioned first page: “The knowledge of truth,” saith he, “wants no human lore, as being evident in itself, and by the preaching of Christ now opens brighter than the sun.” If these doctors, who had scarce half the light that we enjoy, who all, except two or three, were ignorant of the Hebrew tongue, and many of the Greek, blundering upon the dangerous and suspectful translations of the apostate Aquila, the heretical Theodotian, the judaized Symmachus, the erroneous Origen; if these could yet find the Bible so easy, why should we doubt, that have all the helps of learning, and faithful industry, that man in this life can look for, and the assistance of God as near now to us as ever? But let the Scriptures be hard; are they more hard, more crabbed, more abtruse than the fathers? He that cannot understand the sober, plain, and unaffected style of the Scriptures, will be ten times more puzzled with the knotty Africanisms, the pampered metaphors, the intricate and involved sentences of the fathers, besides the fantastic and declamatory flashes, the cross-jingling periods which cannot but disturb, and come thwart a settled devotion, worse than the din of bells and rattles.
Now, sir, for the love of holy Reformation, what can be said more against these importunate clients of antiquity than she herself their patroness hath said? Whether, think ye, would she approve still to doat upon immeasurable, innumerable, and therefore unnecessary and unmerciful volumes, choosing rather to err with the specious name of the fathers, or to take a sound truth at the hand of a plain upright man, that all his days has been diligently reading the holy Scriptures, and thereto imploring God’s grace, while the admirers of antiquity have been beating their brains about their ambones, their dyptichs, and meniaias? Now, he that cannot tell of stations and indictions, nor has wasted his precious hours in the endless conferring of councils and conclaves that demolish one another, (although I know many of those that pretend to be great rabbies in these studies, have scarce saluted them from the strings, and the titlepage; or to give them more, have been but the ferrets and mousehunts of an index:) yet what pastor or minister, how learned, religious, or discreet soever, does not now bring both his cheeks full blown with œcumenical and synodical, shall be counted a lank, shallow, insufficient man, yea a dunce, and not worthy to speak about reformation of church discipline. But I trust they for whom God hath reserved the honour of reforming this church, will easily perceive their adversaries’ drift in thus calling for antiquity: they fear the plain field of the Scriptures; the chase is too hot; they seek the dark, the bushy, the tangled forest, they would imbosk: they feel themselves strook in the transparent streams of divine truth; they would plunge, and tumble, and think to lie hid in the foul weeds and muddy waters where no plummet can reach the bottom. But let them beat themselves like whales, and spend their oil till they be dragged ashore: though wherefore should the ministers give them so much line for shifts and delays? wherefore should they not urge only the gospel, and hold it ever in their faces like a mirror of diamond, till it dazzle and pierce their misty eyeballs? maintaining it the honour of its absolute sufficiency and supremacy inviolable: for if the Scriptures be for reformation, and antiquity to boot, it is but an advantage to the dozen, it is no winning cast: and though antiquity be against it, while the Scriptures be for it, the cause is as good as ought to be wished, antiquity itself sitting judge.
But to draw to an end; the second sort of those that may be justly numbered among the hinderers of reformation, are libertines; these suggest that the discipline sought would be intolerable: for one bishop now in a diocese, we should then have a pope in every parish. It will not be requisite to answer these men, but only to discover them; for reason they have none but lust and licentiousness, and therefore answer can have none. It is not any discipline that they could live under, it is the corruption and remissness of discipline that they seek. Episcopacy duly executed, yea, the Turkish and Jewish rigour against whoring and drinking; the dear and tender discipline of a father, the sociable and loving reproof of a brother, the bosom admonition of a friend, is a presbytery, and a consistory to them. It is only the merry friar in Chaucer can disple them.
- Full sweetly heard he confession,
- And pleasant was his absolution,
- He was an easy man to give penance.
And so I leave them; and refer the political discourse of episcopacy to a second book.
THE SECOND BOOK.
Sir,—It is a work good and prudent to be able to guide one man; of larger extended virtue to order well one house: but to govern a nation piously and justly, which only is to say happily, is for a spirit of the greatest size, and divinest mettle. And certainly of no less a mind, nor of less excellence in another way, were they who by writing laid the solid and true foundations of this science, which being of greatest importance to the life of man, yet there is no art that hath been more cankered in her principles, more soiled, and slubbered with aphorisming pedantry, than the art of policy: and that most, where a man would think should least be, in Christian commonwealths. They teach not, that to govern well, is to train up a nation in true wisdom and virtue, and that which springs from thence, magnanimity, (take heed of that,) and that which is our beginning, regeneration, and happiest end, likeness to God, which in one word we call godliness; and that this is the true flourishing of a land, other things follow as the shadow does the substance; to teach thus were mere pulpitry to them. This is the masterpiece of a modern politician, how to qualify and mould the sufferance and subjection of the people to the length of that foot that is to tread on their necks; how rapine may serve itself with the fair and honourable pretences of public good; how the puny law may be brought under the wardship and control of lust and will: in which attempt if they fall short, then must a superficial colour of reputation by all means, direct or indirect, be gotten to wash over the unsightly bruise of honour. To make men governable in this manner, their precepts mainly tend to break a national spirit and courage, by countenancing open riot, luxury, and ignorance, till having thus disfigured and made men beneath men, as Juno in the fable of Io, they deliver up the poor transformed heifer of the commonwealth to be stung and vexed with the breese and goad of oppression, under the custody of some Argus with a hundred eyes of jealousy. To be plainer, sir, how to sodder, how to stop a leak, how to keep up the floating carcase of a crazy and diseased monarchy or state, betwixt wind and water, swimming still upon her own dead lees, that now is the deep design of a politician. Alas, sir! a commonwealth ought to be but as one huge Christian personage, one mighty growth and stature of an honest man, as big and compact in virtue as in body; for look what the grounds and causes are of single happiness to one man, the same ye shall find them to a whole state, as Aristotle, both in his Ethics and Politics, from the principles of reason lays down: by consequence, therefore, that which is good and agreeable to monarchy, will appear soonest to be so, by being good and agreeable to the true welfare of every Christian; and that which can be justly proved hurtful and offensive to every true Christian, will be evinced to be alike hurtful to monarchy: for God forbid that we should separate and distinguish the end and good of a monarch, from the end and good of the monarchy, or of that from Christianity. How then this third and last sort that hinder reformation, will justify that it stands not with reason of state, I much muse; for certain I am, the Bible is shut against them, as certain that neither Plato nor Aristotle is for their turns. What they can bring us now from the schools of Loyola with his Jesuits, or their Malvezzi, that can cut Tacitus into slivers and steaks, we shall presently hear. They allege, 1. That the church government must be conformable to the civil polity; next, that no form of church-government is agreeable to monarchy, but that of bishops. Must church-government that is appointed in the gospel, and has chief respect to the soul, be conformable and pliant to civil, that is arbitrary, and chiefly conversant about the visible and external part of man? This is the very maxim that moulded the calves of Bethel and of Dan; this was the quintessence of Jeroboam’s policy, he made religion conform to his politic interests; and this was the sin that watched over the Israelites till their final captivity. If this state principle come from the prelates, as they affect to be counted statists, let them look back to Eleutherius bishop of Rome, and see what he thought of the policy of England; being required by Lucius, the first Christian king of this island, to give his counsel for the founding of religious laws, little thought he of this sage caution, but bids him betake himself to the Old and New Testament, and receive direction from them how to administer both church and commonwealth; that he was God’s vicar, and therefore to rule by God’s laws; that the edicts of Cæsar we may at all times disallow, but the statutes of God for no reason we may reject. Now certain, if church-government be taught in the gospel, as the bishops dare not deny, we may well conclude of what late standing this position is, newly calculated for the altitude of bishop-elevation, and lettuce for their lips. But by what example can they show, that the form of church-discipline must be minted and modelled out to secular pretences? The ancient republic of the Jews is evident to have run through all the changes of civil estate, if we survey the story from the giving of the law to the Herods; yet did one manner of priestly government serve without inconvenience to all these temporal mutations; it served the mild aristocracy of elective dukes, and heads of tribes joined with them; the dictatorship of the judges, the easy or hardhanded monarchies, the domestic or foreign tyrannies: lastly, the Roman senate from without, the Jewish senate at home, with the Galilean tetrarch; yet the Levites had some right to deal in civil affairs: but seeing the evangelical precept forbids churchmen to intermeddle with worldly employments, what interweavings or interworkings can knit the minister and the magistrate, in their several functions, to the regard of any precise correspondency? Seeing that the churchman’s office is only to teach men the Christian faith, to exhort all, to encourage the good, to admonish the bad, privately the less offender, publicly the scandalous and stubborn; to censure and separate, from the communion of Christ’s flock, the contagious and incorrigible, to receive with joy and fatherly compassion the penitent: all this must be done, and more than this is beyond any church-authority. What is all this either here or there, to the temporal regiment of weal public, whether it be popular, princely, or monarchical? Where doth it intrench upon the temporal governor? where does it come in his walk? where doth it make inroad upon his jurisdiction? Indeed if the minister’s part be rightly discharged, it renders him the people more conscionable, quiet, and easy to be governed; if otherwise, his life and doctrine will declare him. If, therefore, the constitution of the church be already set down by divine prescript, as all sides confess, then can she not be a handmaid to wait on civil commodities and respects; and if the nature and limits of church-discipline be such, as are either helpful to all political estates indifferently, or have no particular relation to any, then is there no necessity, nor indeed possibility, of linking the one with the other in a special conformation.
Now for their second conclusion, “That no form of church-government is agreeable to monarchy, but that of bishops,” although it fall to pieces of itself by that which hath been said; yet to give them play, front and rear, it shall be my task to prove that episcopacy, with that authority which it challenges in England, is not only not agreeable, but tending to the destruction of monarchy. While the primitive pastors of the church of God laboured faithfully in their ministry, tending only their sheep, and not seeking, but avoiding all worldly matters as clogs, and indeed derogations and debasements to their high calling; little needed the princes and potentates of the earth, which way soever the gospel was spread, to study ways out to make a coherence between the church’s polity and theirs: therefore, when Pilate heard once our Saviour Christ professing that “his kingdom was not of this world,” he thought the man could not stand much in Cæsar’s light, nor much endamage the Roman empire; for if the life of Christ be hid to this world, much more is his sceptre unoperative, but in spiritual things. And thus lived, for two or three ages, the successors of the apostles. But when, through Constantine’s lavish superstition, they forsook their first love, and set themselves up two gods instead, Mammon and their Belly; then taking advantage of the spiritual power which they had on men’s consciences, they began to cast a longing eye to get the body also, and bodily things into their command: upon which their carnal desires, the spirit daily quenching and dying in them, knew no way to keep themselves up from falling to nothing, but by bolstering and supporting their inward rottenness by a carnal and outward strength. For a while they rather privily sought opportunity, than hastily disclosed their project; but when Constantine was dead, and three or four emperors more, their drift became notorious, and offensive to the whole world; for while Theodosius the younger reigned, thus writes Socrates the historian, in his 7th book, chap. 11. “Now began an ill name to stick upon the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, who beyond their priestly bounds now long ago had stepped into principality:” and this was scarce eighty years since their raising from the meanest worldly condition. Of courtesy now let any man tell me, if they draw to themselves a temporal strength and power out of Cæsar’s dominion, is not Cæsar’s empire thereby diminished? But this was a stolen bit; hitherto he was but a caterpillar secretly knawing at monarchy; the next time you shall see him a wolf, a lion, lifting his paw against his raiser, as Petrarch expressed it, and finally an open enemy and subverter of the Greek empire. Philippicus and Leo, with divers other emperors after them, not without the advice of their patriarchs, and at length of a whole eastern council of three hundred and thirty-eight bishops, threw the images out of churches as being decreed idolatrous.
Upon this goodly occasion, the bishop of Rome not only seizes the city, and all the territory about, into his own hands, and makes himself lord thereof, which till then was governed by a Greek magistrate, but absolves all Italy of their tribute and obedience due to the emperor, because he obeyed God’s commandment in abolishing idolatry.
Mark, sir, here, how the pope came by St. Peter’s patrimony, as he feigns it; not the donation of Constantine, but idolatry and rebellion got it him. Ye need but read Sigonius, one of his own sect, to know the story at large. And now to shroud himself against a storm from the Greek continent, and provide a champion to bear him out in these practices, he takes upon him by papal sentence to unthrone Chilpericus the rightful king of France, and gives the kingdom to Pepin, for no other cause, but that he seemed to him the more active man. If he were a friend herein to monarchy, I know not; but to the monarch I need not ask what he was.
Having thus made Pepin his last friend, he calls him into Italy against Aistulphus the Lombard, that warred upon him for his late usurpation of Rome, as belonging to Ravenna which he had newly won. Pepin, not unobedient to the pope’s call, passing into Italy, frees him out of danger, and wins for him the whole exarchate of Ravenna; which though it had been almost immediately before the hereditary possession of that monarchy, which was his chief patron and benefactor, yet he takes and keeps it to himself as lawful prize, and given to St. Peter. What a dangerous fallacy is this, when a spiritual man may snatch to himself any temporal dignity or dominion, under pretence of receiving it for the church’s use? Thus he claims Naples, Sicily, England, and what not? To be short, under show of his zeal against the errors of the Greek church, he never ceased baiting and goring the successors of his best lord Constantine, what by his barking curses and excommunications, what by his hindering the western princes from aiding them against the Sarazens and Turks, unless when they humoured him; so that it may be truly affirmed, he was the subversion and fall of that monarchy, which was the hoisting of him. This, besides Petrarch, whom I have cited, our Chaucer also hath observed, and gives from hence a caution to England, to beware of her bishops in time, for that their ends and aims are no more friendly to monarchy, than the pope’s.
This he begins in the Ploughman speaking, Part ii., Stanz. 28.
- The emperor yafe the pope sometime
- So high lordship him about,
- That at last the silly kime,
- The proud pope put him out;
- So of this realm is no doubt,
- But lords beware and them defend;
- For now these folks be wonders stout,
- The king and lords now this amend.
And in the next Stanza, which begins the third part of the tale, he argues that they ought not to be lords.
- Moses law forbade it tho
- That priests should no lordship welde,
- Christ’s gospel biddeth also
- That they should no lordships held:
- Ne Christ’s apostles were never so bold
- No such lordships to hem embrace,
- But smeren her sheep and keep her fold.
And so forward. Whether the bishops of England have deserved thus to be feared by men so wise as our Chaucer is esteemed; and how agreeable to our monarchy and monarchs their demeanour has been, he that is but meanly read in our chronicles needs not be instructed. Have they not been as the Canaanites, and Philistines, to this kingdom? what treasons, what revolts to the pope? what rebellions, and those the basest and most pretenceless, have they not been chief in? What could monarchy think, when Becket durst challenge the custody of Rochester-castle, and the Tower of London, as appertaining to his signory? To omit his other insolencies and affronts to regal majesty, until the lashes inflicted on the anointed body of the king, washed off the holy unction with his blood drawn by the polluted hands of bishops, abbots, and monks.
What good upholders of royalty were the bishops, when by their rebellious opposition against King John, Normandy was lost, he himself deposed, and this kingdom made over to the pope? When the bishop of Winchester durst tell the nobles, the pillars of the realm, that there were no peers in England, as in France, but that the king might do what he pleased. What could tyranny say more? It would be pretty now if I should insist upon the rendering up of Tournay by Woolsey’s treason, the excommunications, cursings, and interdicts upon the whole land; for haply I shall be cut off short by a reply, that these were the faults of men and their popish errors, not of episcopacy, that hath now renounced the pope, and is a protestant. Yes, sure; as wise and famous men have suspected and feared the protestant episcopacy in England, as those that have feared the papal.
You know, sir, what was the judgment of Padre Paolo, the great Venetian antagonist of the pope, for it is extant in the hands of many men, whereby he declares his fear, that when the hierarchy of England shall light into the hands of busy and audacious men, or shall meet with princes tractable to the prelacy, then much mischief is like to ensue. And can it be nearer hand, than when bishops shall openly affirm that, no bishop no king? A trim paradox, and that ye may know where they have been a begging for it, I will fetch you the twin brother to it out of the Jesuits’ cell: they feeling the axe of God’s reformation, hewing at the old and hollow trunk of papacy, and finding the Spaniard their surest friend, and safest refuge, to sooth him up in his dream of a fifth monarchy, and withal to uphold the decrepit papalty, have invented this superpolitic aphorism, as one terms it, one pope and one king.
Surely, there is not any prince in Christendom, who, hearing this rare sophistry, can choose but smile; and if we be not blind at home, we may as well perceive that this worthy motto, no bishop no king, is of the same batch, and infanted out of the same fears, a mere ague-cake coagulated of a certain fever they have, presaging their time to be but short: and now like those that are sinking, they catch round of that which is likeliest to hold them up; and would persuade regal power, that if they dive, he must after. But what greater debasement can there be to royal dignity, whose towering and stedfast height rests upon the unmovable foundations of justice, and heroic virtue, than to chain it in a dependance of subsisting, or ruining, to the painted battlements and gaudy rottenness of prelatry, which want but one puff of the king’s to blow them down like a pasteboard house built of court-cards? Sir, the little ado which methinks I find in untacking these pleasant sophisms, puts me into the mood to tell you a tale ere I proceed further; and Meneinus Agrippa speed us.
Upon a time the body summoned all the members to meet in the guild for the common good (as Æsop’s chronicles aver many stranger accidents:) the head by right takes the first seat, and next to it a huge and monstrous wen, little less than the head itself, growing to it by a narrow excrescency. The members, amazed, began to ask one another what he was that took place next their chief? none could resolve. Whereat the wen, though unwieldy, with much ado gets up, and bespeaks the assembly to this purpose: that as in place he was second to the head, so by due of merit; that he was to it an ornament, and strength, and of special near relation; and that if the head should fail, none were fitter than himself to step into his place: therefore he thought it for the honour of the body, that such dignities and rich endowments should be decreed him, as did adorn, and set out the noblest members. To this was answered, that it should be consulted. Then was a wise and learned philosopher sent for, that knew all the charters, laws, and tenures of the body. On him it is imposed by all, as chief committee to examine and discuss the claim and petition of right put in by the wen; who soon perceiving the matter, and wondering at the boldness of such a swoln tumor; “Wilt thou (quoth he) that art but a bottle of vicious and hardened excrements, contend with the lawful and free-born members, whose certain number is set by ancient and unrepealable statute? head thou art none, though thou receive this huge substance from it: what office bearest thou? what good canst thou show by thee done to the commonweal?” The wen not easily dashed, replies, that his office was his glory; for so oft as the soul would retire out of the head from over the steaming vapours of the lower parts to divine contemplation, with him she found the purest and quietest retreat, as being most remote from soil and disturbance. Lourdan, quoth the philosopher, thy folly is as great as thy filth: know that all the faculties of the soul are confined of old to their several vessels and ventricles, from which they cannot part without dissolution of the whole body; and that thou containest no good thing in thee, but a heap of hard and loathsome uncleanness, and art to the head a foul disfigurement and burden; when I have cut thee off, and opened thee, as by the help of these implements I will do, all men shall see.
But to return whence was digressed: seeing that the throne of a king, as the wise king Solomon often remembers us, “is established in justice,” which is the universal justice that Aristotle so much praises, containing in it all other virtues, it may assure us that the fall of prelacy, whose actions are so far distant from justice, cannot shake the least fringe that borders the royal canopy; but that their standing doth continually oppose and lay battery to regal safety, shall by that which follows easily appear. Amongst many secondary and accessary causes that support monarchy, these are not of least reckoning, though common to all other states; the love of the subjects, the multitude and valour of the people, and store of treasure. In all these things hath the kingdom been of late sore weakened, and chiefly by the prelates. First, let any man consider, that if any prince shall suffer under him a commission of authority to be exercised, till all the land groan and cry out, as against a whip of scorpions, whether this be not likely to lessen, and keel the affections of the subject. Next, what numbers of faithful and freeborn Englishmen, and good Christians, have been constrained to forsake their dearest home, their friends and kindred, whom nothing but the wide ocean, and the savage deserts of America, could hide and shelter from the fury of the bishops? O sir, if we could but see the shape of our dear mother England, as poets are wont to give a personal form to what they please, how would she appear, think ye, but in a mourning weed, with ashes upon her head, and tears abundantly flowing from her eyes to behold so many of her children exposed at once, and thrust from things of dearest necessity, because their conscience could not assent to things which the bishops thought indifferent? What more binding than conscience? What more free than indifferency? Cruel then must that indifferency needs be, that shall violate the strict necessity of conscience; merciless and inhuman that free choice and liberty that shall break asunder the bonds of religion! Let the astrologer be dismayed at the portentous blaze of comets, and impressions in the air, as foretelling troubles and changes to states: I shall believe there cannot be a more ill-boding sign to a nation (God turn the omen from us!) than when the inhabitants, to avoid insufferable grievances at home, are enforced by heaps to forsake their native country. Now, whereas the only remedy and amends against the depopulation and thinness of a land within, is the borrowed strength of firm alliance from without, these priestly policies of theirs, having thus exhausted our domestic forces, have gone the way also to leave us as naked of our firmest and faithfullest neighbours abroad, by disparaging and alienating from us all protestant princes and commonwealths; who are not ignorant that our prelates, and as many as they can infect, account them no better than a sort of sacrilegious and puritanical rebels, preferring the Spaniard our deadly enemy before them, and set all orthodox writers at nought in comparison with the Jesuits, who are indeed the only corrupters of youth and good learning: and I have heard many wise and learned men in Italy say as much. It cannot be that the strongest knot of confederacy should not daily slacken, when religion, which is the chief engagement of our league, shall be turned to their reproach. Hence it is that the prosperous and prudent states of the United Provinces, (whom we ought to love, if not for themselves, yet for our own good work in them, they having been in a manner planted and erected by us, and having been since to us the faithful watchmen and discoverers of many a popish and Austrian complotted treason, and with us the partners of many a bloody and victorious battle,) whom the similitude of manners and language, the commodity of traffic, which founded the old Burgundian league betwixt us, but chiefly religion, should bind to us immortally; even such friends as these, out of some principles instilled into us by the prelates, have been often dismissed with distasteful answers, and sometimes unfriendly actions: nor is it to be considered to the breach of confederate nations, whose mutual interests is of such consequence, though their merchants bicker in the East Indies; neither is it safe, or wary, or indeed Christianly, that the French king, of a different faith, should afford our nearest allies as good protection as we. Sir, I persuade myself, if our zeal to true religion, and the brotherly usage of our truest friends, were as notorious to the world, as our prelatical schism, and captivity to rochet apophthegms, we had ere this seen our old conquerors, and afterwards liegemen the Normans, together with the Britons our proper colony, and all the Gascoins that are the rightful dowry of our ancient kings, come with cap and knee, desiring the shadow of the English sceptre to defend them from the hot persecutions and taxes of the French. But when they come hither, and see a tympany of Spaniolized bishops swaggering in the foretop of the state, and meddling to turn and dandle the royal ball with unskilful and pedantic palms, no marvel though they think it as unsafe to commit religion and liberty to their arbitrating as to a synagogue of Jesuits.
But what do I stand reckoning upon advantages and gains lost by the misrule and turbulency of the prelates? What do I pick up so thriftly their scatterings and diminishings of the meaner subject, whilst they by their seditious practices have endangered to lose the king one third of his main stock? What have they not done to banish him from his own native country? But to speak of this as it ought, would ask a volume by itself.
Thus as they have unpeopled the kingdom by expulsion of so many thousands, as they have endeavoured to lay the skirts of it bare by disheartening and dishonouring our loyalest confederates abroad, so have they hamstrung the valour of the subject by seeking to effeminate us all at home. Well knows every wise nation, that their liberty consists in manly and honest labours, in sobriety and rigorous honour to the marriage-bed, which in both sexes should be bred up from chaste hopes to loyal enjoyments; and when the people slacken, and fall to looseness and riot, then do they as much as if they laid down their necks for some wild tyrant to get up and ride. Thus learnt Cyrus to tame the Lydians, whom by arms he could not whilst they kept themselves from luxury; with one easy proclamation to set up stews, dancing, feasting, and dicing, he made them soon his slaves. I know not what drift the prelates had, whose brokers they were to prepare, and supple us either for a foreign invasion or domestic oppression: but this I am sure, they took the ready way to despoil us both of manhood and grace at once, and that in the shamefullest and ungodliest manner, upon that day which God’s law, and even our own reason hath consecrated, that we might have one day at least of seven set apart wherein to examine and increase our knowledge of God, to meditate and commune of our faith, our hope, our eternal city in heaven, and to quicken withal the study and exercise of charity; at such a time that men should be plucked from their soberest and saddest thoughts, and by bishops, the pretended fathers of the church, instigated by public edict, and with earnest endeavour pushed forward to gaming, jigging, wassailing, and mixed dancing, is a horror to think! Thus did the reprobate hireling priest Balaam seek to subdue the Israelites to Moab, if not by force, then by this devilish policy, to draw them from the sanctuary of God to the luxurious and ribald feasts of Baal-peor. Thus have they trespassed not only against the monarchy of England, but of heaven also, as others, I doubt not, can prosecute against them.
I proceed within my own bounds to show you next what good agents they are about the revenues and riches of the kingdom, which declare of what moment they are to monarchy, or what avail. Two leeches they have that still suck, and suck the kingdom, their ceremonies and their courts. If any man will contend that ceremonies be lawful under the gospel, he may be answered other where. This doubtless, that they ought to be many and overcostly, no true protestant will affirm. Now I appeal to all wise men, what an excessive waste of treasure hath been within these few years in this land, not in the expedient, but in the idolatrous erection of temples beautified exquisitely to outvie the papists, the costly and dear-bought scandals and snares of images, pictures, rich copes, gorgeous altar-cloths: and by the courses they took, and the opinions they held, it was not likely any stay would be, or any end of their madness, where a pious pretext is so ready at hand to cover their insatiate desires. What can we suppose this will come to? What other materials than these have built up the spiritual Babel to the height of her abominations? Believe it, sir, right truly it may be said, that Antichrist is Mammon’s son. The sour leaven of human traditions, mixed in one putrefied mass with the poisonous dregs of hypocrisy in the hearts of prelates, that lie basking in the sunny warmth of wealth and promotion, is the serpent’s egg that will hatch an Antichrist wheresoever, and engender the same monster as big, or little, as the lump is which breeds him. If the splendour of gold and silver begin to lord it once again in the church of England, we shall see Antichrist shortly wallow here, though his chief kennel be at Rome. If they had one thought upon God’s glory, and the advancement of Christian faith, they would be a means that with these expenses, thus profusely thrown away in trash, rather churches and schools might be built, where they cry out for want; and more added where too few are; a moderate maintenance distributed to every painful minister, that now scarce sustains his family with bread, while the prelates revel like Belshazzar with their full carouses in goblets, and vessels of gold snatched from God’s temple; which (I hope) the worthy men of our land will consider. Now then for their courts. What a mass of money is drawn from the veins into the ulcers of the kingdom this way; their extortions, their open corruptions, the multitude of hungry and ravenous harpies that swarm about their offices, declare sufficiently. And what though all this go not over sea? It were better it did: better a penurious kingdom, than where excessive wealth flows into the graceless and injurious hands of common spunges, to the impoverishing of good and loyal men, and that by such execrable, such irreligious courses.
If the sacred and dreadful works of holy discipline, censure, penance, excommunication, and absolution, where no profane thing ought to have access, nothing to be assistant but sage and Christianly admonition, brotherly love, flaming charity and zeal; and then, according to the effects, paternal sorrow, or paternal joy, mild severity, melting compassion: if such divine ministeries as these, wherein the angel of the church represents the person of Christ Jesus, must lie prostitute to sordid fees, and not pass to and fro between our Saviour, that of free grace redeemed us, and the submissive penitent, without the truckage of perishing coin, and the butcherly execution of tormentors, rooks, and rakeshames sold to lucre; then have the Babylonish merchants of souls just excuse. Hitherto, sir, you have heard how the prelates have weakened and withdrawn the external accomplishments of kingly prosperity, the love of the people, their multitude, their valour, their wealth; mining and sapping the outworks and redoubts of monarchy. Now hear how they strike at the very heart and vitals.
We know that monarchy is made up of two parts, the liberty of the subject, and the supremacy of the king. I begin at the root. See what gentle and benign fathers they have been to our liberty! Their trade being, by the same alchymy that the pope uses to extract heaps of gold and silver out of the drossy bullion of the people’s sins, and justly fearing that the quicksighted protestant eye, cleared in great part from the mist of superstition, may at one time or other look with a good judgment into these their deceitful pedlaries; to gain as many associates of guiltiness as they can, and to infect the temporal magistrate with the like lawless, though not sacrilegious extortion, see awhile what they do; they engage themselves to preach, and persuade an assertion for truth the most false, and to this monarchy the most pernicious and destructive that could be chosen. What more baneful to monarchy than a popular commotion, for the dissolution of monarchy slides aptest into a democracy; and what stirs the Englishmen, as our wisest writers have observed, sooner to rebellion, than violent and heavy hands upon their goods and purses? Yet these devout prelates, spite of our great charter, and the souls of our progenitors that wrested their liberties out of the Norman gripe with their dearest blood and highest prowess, for these many years have not ceased in their pulpits wrenching and spraining the text, to set at naught and trample under foot all the most sacred and lifeblood laws, statutes, and acts of parliament, that are the holy covenant of union and marriage between the king and his realm, by proscribing and confiscating from us all the right we have to our own bodies, goods, and liberties. What is this but to blow a trumpet, and proclaim a firecross to an hereditary and perpetual civil war? Thus much against the subjects’ liberty hath been assaulted by them. Now how they have spared supremacy, or are likely hereafter to submit to it, remains lastly to be considered.
The emulation that under the old law was in the king towards the priest, is now so come about in the gospel, that all the danger is to be feared from the priest to the king. Whilst the priest’s office in the law was set out with an exterior lustre of pomp and glory, kings were ambitious to be priests; now priests, not perceiving the heavenly brightness and inward splendour of their more glorious evangelic ministry, with as great ambition affect to be kings, as in all their courses is easy to be observed. Their eyes ever eminent upon worldly matters, their desires ever thirsting after worldly employments, instead of diligent and fervent study in the Bible, they covet to be expert in canons and decretals, which may enable them to judge and interpose in temporal causes, however pretended ecclesiastical. Do they not hoard up pelf, seek to be potent in secular strength, in state affairs, in lands, lordships, and domains; to sway and carry all before them in high courts and privy councils; to bring into their grasp the high and principal offices of the kingdom? Have they not been told of late to check the common law, to slight and brave the indiminishable majesty of our highest court, the lawgiving and sacred parliament? Do they not plainly labour to exempt churchmen from the magistrate? Yea, so presumptuously as to question and menace officers that represent the king’s person for using their authority against drunken priests? The cause of protecting murderous clergymen was the first heartburning that swelled up the audacious Becket to the pestilent and odious vexation of Henry the Second. Nay, more, have not some of their devoted scholars begun, I need not say to nibble, but openly to argue against the king’s supremacy? Is not the chief of them accused out of his own book, and his late canons, to affect a certain unquestionable patriarchate, independent, and unsubordinate to the crown? From whence having first brought us to a servile state of religion and manhood, and having predisposed his conditions with the pope, that lays claim to this land, or some Pepin of his own creating, it were all as likely for him to aspire to the monarchy among us, as that the pope could find means so on the sudden both to bereave the emperor of the Roman territory with the favour of Italy, and by an unexpected friend out of France, while he was in danger to lose his newgot purchase, beyond hope to leap into the fair exarchate of Ravenna.
A good while the pope subtly acted the lamb, writing to the emperor, “my lord Tiberius, my lord Mauritius;” but no sooner did this his lord pluck at the images and idols, but he threw off his sheep’s clothing, and started up a wolf, laying his paws upon the emperor’s right, as forfeited to Peter. Why may not we as well, having been forewarned at home by our renowned Chaucer, and from abroad by the great and learned Padre Paolo, from the like beginnings, as we see they are, fear the like events? Certainly a wise and provident king ought to suspect a hierarchy in his realm, being ever attended, as it is, with two such greedy purveyors, ambition and usurpation; I say, he ought to suspect a hierarchy to be as dangerous and derogatory from his crown as a tetrachy or a heptarchy. Yet now that the prelates had almost attained to what their insolent and unbridled minds had hurried them; to thrust the laity under the despotical rule of the monarch, that they themselves might confine the monarch to a kind of pupillage under their hierarchy, observe but how their own principles combat one another, and supplant each one his fellow.
Having fitted us only for peace, and that a servile peace, by lessening our numbers, draining our estates, enfeebling our bodies, cowing our free spirits by those ways as you have heard, their impotent actions cannot sustain themselves the least moment, unless they would rouse us up to a war fit for Cain to be the leader of; an abhorred, a cursed, a fraternal war. England and Scotland, dearest brothers both in nature and in Christ, must be set to wade in one another’s blood; and Ireland, our free denizen, upon the back of us both, as occasion should serve: a piece of service that the pope and all his factors have been compassing to do ever since the reformation.
But ever blessed be he, and ever glorified, that from his high watchtower in the heavens, discerning the crooked ways of perverse and cruel men, hath hitherto maimed and infatuated all their damnable inventions, and deluded their great wizards with a delusion fit for fools and children: had God been so minded, he could have sent a spirit of mutiny amongst us, as he did between Abimelech and the Shechemites, to have made our funerals, and slain heaps more in number than the miserable surviving remnant; but he, when we least deserved, sent out a gentle gale and message of peace from the wings of those his cherubims that fan his mercyseat. Nor shall the wisdom, the moderation, the Christian piety, the constancy of our nobility and commons of England, be ever forgotten, whose calm and temperate connivance could sit still and smile out the stormy bluster of men more audacious and precipitant than of solid and deep reach, until their own fury had run itself out of breath, assailing by rash and heady approaches the impregnable situation of our liberty and safety, that laughed such weak enginery to scorn, such poor drifts to make a national war of a surplice brabble, a tippet scuffle, and engage the untainted honour of English knighthood to unfurl the streaming red cross, or to rear the horrid standard of those fatal guly dragons, for so unworthy a purpose as to force upon their fellow-subjects that which themselves are weary of—the skeleton of a mass-book. Nor must the patience, the fortitude, the firm obedience of the nobles and people of Scotland, striving against manifold provocations; nor must their sincere and moderate proceedings hitherto be unremembered, to the shameful conviction of all their detractors.
Go on both hand in hand, O nations, never to be disunited; be the praise and the heroic song of all posterity; merit this, but seek only virtue, not to extend your limits; (for what needs to win a fading triumphant laurel out of the tears of wretched men?) but to settle the pure worship of God in his church, and justice in the state: then shall the hardest difficulties smooth out themselves before ye; envy shall sink to hell, craft and malice be confounded, whether it be homebred mischief or outlandish cunning; yea, other nations will then covet to serve ye, for lordship and victory are but the pages of justice and virtue. Commit securely to true wisdom the vanquishing and uncasing of craft and subtlety, which are but her two runagates: join your invincible might to do worthy and godlike deeds; and then he that seeks to break your union, a cleaving curse be his inheritance to all generations.
Sir, you have now at length this question for the time, and as my memory would best serve me in such a copious and vast theme, fully handled, and you yourself may judge whether prelacy be the only church-government agreeable to monarchy. Seeing therefore the perilous and confused state into which we are fallen, and that to the certain knowledge of all men, through the irreligious pride and hateful tyranny of prelates, (as the innumerable and grievous complaints of every shire cry out,) if we will now resolve to settle affairs either according to pure religion or sound policy, we must first of all begin roundly to cashier and cut away from the public body the noisome and diseased tumour of prelacy, and come from schism to unity with our neighbour reformed sister-churches, which with the blessing of peace and pure doctrine have now long time flourished; and doubtless with all hearty joy and gratulation will meet and welcome our Christian union with them, as they have been all this while grieved at our strangeness, and little better than separation from them. And for the discipline propounded, seeing that it hath been inevitably proved that the natural and fundamental causes of political happiness in all governments are the same, and that this church-discipline is taught in the word of God, and, as we see, agrees according to wish with all such states as have received it; we may infallibly assure ourselves that it will as well agree with monarchy, though all the tribe of Aphorismers and Politicasters would persuade us there be secret and mysterious reasons against it. For upon the settling hereof mark what nourishing and cordial restorements to the state will follow; the ministers of the gospel attending only to the work of salvation, every one within his limited charge, besides the diffusive blessings of God upon all our actions; the king shall sit without an old disturber, a daily incroacher and intruder; shall rid his kingdom of a strong, sequestered, and collateral power, a confronting mitre, whose potent wealth and wakeful ambition he had just cause to hold in jealousy: not to repeat the other present evils which only their removal will remove, and because things simply pure are inconsistent in the mass of nature, nor are the elements or humours in a man’s body exactly homogeneal; and hence the best-founded commonwealths and least barbarous have aimed at a certain mixture and temperament, partaking the several virtues of each other state, that each part drawing to itself may keep up a steady and even uprightness in common.
There is no civil government that hath been known, no not the Spartan, not the Roman, though both for this respect so much praised by the wise Polybius, more divinely and harmoniously tuned, more equally balanced as it were by the hand and scale of justice than is the commonwealth of England; where, under a free and untutored monarch, the noblest, worthiest, and most prudent men, with full approbation and suffrage of the people, have in their power the supreme and final determination of highest affairs. Now if conformity of church-discipline to the civil be so desired, there can be nothing more parallel, more uniform, than when under the sovereign prince, Christ’s vicegerent, using the sceptre of David, according to God’s law, the godliest, the wisest, the learnedest ministers in their several charges have the instructing and disciplining of God’s people, by whose full and free election they are consecrated to that holy and equal aristocracy. And why should not the piety and conscience of Englishmen, as members of the church, be trusted in the election of pastors to functions that nothing concern a monarch, as well as their worldly wisdoms are privileged as members of the state in suffraging their knights and burgesses to matters that concern him nearly? And if in weighing these several offices, their difference in time and quality be cast in, I know they will not turn the beam of equal judgment the moiety of a scruple. We therefore having already a kind of apostolical and ancient church election in our state, what a perverseness would it be in us of all others to retain forcibly a kind of imperious and stately election in our church! And what a blindness to think that what is already evangelical, as it were by a happy chance in our polity, should be repugnant to that which is the same by divine command in the ministry! Thus then we see that our ecclesiastical and political choices may consent and sort as well together without any rupture in the state, as Christians and freeholders. But as for honour, that ought indeed to be different and distinct, as either office looks a several way; the minister whose calling and end is spiritual, ought to be honoured as a father and physician to the soul, (if he be found to be so,) with a son-like and disciple-like reverence, which is indeed the dearest and most affectionate honour, most to be desired by a wise man, and such as will easily command a free and plentiful provision of outward necessaries, without his further care of this world.
The magistrate, whose charge is to see to our persons and estates, is to be honoured with a more elaborate and personal courtship, with large salaries and stipends, that he himself may abound in those things whereof his legal justice and watchful care gives us the quiet enjoyment. And this distinction of honour will bring forth a seemly and graceful uniformity over all the kingdom.
Then shall the nobles possess all the dignities and offices of temporal honour to themselves, sole lords without the improper mixture of scholastic and pusillanimous upstarts; the parliament shall void her upper house of the same annoyances; the common and civil laws shall both be set free, the former from the control, the other from the mere vassalage and copyhold of the clergy.
And whereas temporal laws rather punish men when they have transgressed, than form them to be such as should transgress seldomest, we may conceive great hopes, through the showers of divine benediction watering the unmolested and watchful pains of the ministry, that the whole inheritance of God will grow up so straight and blameless, that the civil magistrate may with far less toil and difficulty, and far more ease and delight, steer the tall and goodly vessel of the commonwealth through all the gusts and tides of the world’s mutability.
Here I might have ended, but that some objections, which I have heard commonly flying about, press me to the endeavour of an answer. We must not run, they say, into sudden extremes. This is a fallacious rule, unless understood only of the actions of virtue about things indifferent: for if it be found that those two extremes be vice and virtue, falsehood and truth, the creater extremity of virtue and superlative truth we run into, the more virtuous and the more wise we become; and he that, flying from degenerate and traditional corrupation, fears to shoot himself too far into the meeting embraces of a divinely warranted reformation, had better not have run at all. And for the suddenness, it cannot be feared. Who should oppose it? The papists? they dare not. The protestants otherwise affected? they were mad. There is nothing will be removed but what to them is professedly indifferent. The long affection which the people have borne to it, what for itself, what for the odiousness of prelates, is evident: from the first year of Queen Elizabeth it hath still been more and more propounded, desired, and beseeched, yea, sometimes favourably forwarded by the parliaments themselves. Yet if it were sudden and swift, provided still it be from worse to better, certainly we ought to hie us from evil like a torrent, and rid ourselves of corrupt discipline, as we would shake fire out of our bosoms.
Speedy and vehement were the reformations of all the good kings of Judah, though the people had been nuzzled in idolatry ever so long before; they feared not the bugbear danger, nor the lion in the way that the sluggish and timorous politician thinks he sees; no more did our brethren of the reformed churches abroad; they ventured (God being their guide) out of rigid popery, into that which we in mockery call precise puritanism, and yet we see no inconvenience befel them.
Let us not dally with God when he offers us a full blessing, to take as much of it as we think will serve our ends, and turn him back the rest upon his hands, lest in his anger he snatch all from us again. Next, they allege the antiquity of episcopacy through all ages. What it was in the apostles’ time, that, questionless, it must be still; and therein I trust the ministers will be able to satisfy the parliament. But if episcopacy be taken for prelacy, all the ages they can deduce it through, will make it no more venerable than papacy.
Most certain it is (as all our stories bear witness) that ever since their coming to the see of Canterbury, for near twelve hundred years, to speak of them in general, they have been in England to our souls a sad and doleful succession of illiterate and blind guides; to our purses and goods a wasteful band of robbers, a perpetual havoc and rapine; to our state a continual hydra of mischief and molestation, the forge of discord and rebellion: this is the trophy of their antiquity, and boasted succession through so many ages. And for those prelate-martyrs they glory of, they are to be judged what they were by the gospel, and not the gospel to be tried by them.
And it is to be noted, that if they were for bishoprics and ceremonies, it was in their prosperity and fulness of bread; but in their persecution, which purified them, and near their death, which was their garland, they plainly disliked and condemned the ceremonies, and threw away those episcopal ornaments wherein they were installed, as foolish and detestable; for so the words of Ridley at his degradement, and his letter to Hooper, expressly show. Neither doth the author of our church-history spare to record sadly the fall (for so he terms it) and infirmities of these martyrs, though we would deify them. And why should their martyrdom more countenance corrupt doctrine or discipline, than their subscriptions justify their treason to the royal blood of this realm, by diverting and entailing the right of the crown from the true heirs, to the houses of Northumberland and Suffolk? which had it took effect, this present king had in all likelihood never sat on this throne, and the happy union of this island had been frustrated.
Lastly, whereas they add that some, the learnedest of the reformed abroad admire our episcopacy; it had been more for the strength of the argument to tell us, that some of the wisest statesmen admire it, for thereby we might guess them weary of the present discipline, as offensive to their state, which is the bug we fear: but being they are churchmen, we may rather suspect them for some prelatizing spirits that admire our bishoprics, not episcopacy.
The next objection vanishes of itself, propounding a doubt, whether a greater inconvenience would not grow from the corruption of any other discipline than from that of episcopacy. This seems an unseasonable foresight, and out of order, to defer and put off the most needful constitution of one right discipline, while we stand balancing the discommodities of two corrupt ones. First constitute that which is right, and of itself it will discover and rectify that which swerves, and easily remedy the pretended fear of having a pope in every parish, unless we call the zealous and meek censure of the church a popedom, which whoso does, let him advise how he can reject the pastorly rod and sheephook of Christ, and those cords of love, and not fear to fall under the iron sceptre of his anger, that will dash him to pieces like a potsherd.
At another doubt of theirs I wonder—whether this discipline which we desire be such as can be put in practice within this kingdom; they say it cannot stand with the common law nor with the king’s safety, the government of episcopacy is now so weaved into the common law. In God’s name let it weave out again; let not human quillets keep back divine authority. It is not the common law, nor the civil, but piety and justice that are our foundresses; they stoop not, neither change colour for aristocracy, democracy, or monarchy, nor yet at all interrupt their just courses; but far above the taking notice of these inferior niceties, with perfect sympathy, wherever they meet, kiss each other. Lastly, they are fearful that the discipline which will succeed cannot stand with the king’s safety. Wherefore? it is but episcopacy reduced to what it should be: were it not that the tyranny of prelates under the name of bishops had made our ears tender and startling, we might call every good minister a bishop, as every bishop, yea, the apostles themselves, are called ministers, and the angels ministering spirits, and the ministers again angels. But wherein is this propounded government so shrewd? Because the government of assemblies will succeed. Did not the apostles govern the church by assemblies? How should it else be catholic? How should it have communion? We count it sacrilege to take from the rich prelates their lands and revenues, which is sacrilege in them to keep, using them as they do; and can we think it safe to defraud the living church of God of that right which God has given her in assemblies? O but the consequence! assemblies draw to them the supremacy of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. No, surely, they draw no supremacy, but that authority which Christ, and St. Paul in his name, confers upon them. The king may still retain the same supremacy in the assemblies, as in the parliament; here he can do nothing alone against the common law, and there neither alone, nor with consent, against the Scriptures. But is this all? No, this ecclesiastical supremacy draws to it the power to excommunicate kings; and then follows the worst that can be imagined. Do they hope to avoid this, by keeping prelates that have so often done it? Not to exemplify the malapert insolence of our own bishops in this kind towards our kings, I shall turn back to the primitive and pure times, which the objectors would have the rule of reformation to us.
Not an assembly, but one bishop alone, Saint Ambrose of Milan, held Theodosius, the most Christian emperor, under excommunication above eight months together, drove him from the church in the presence of his nobles; which the good emperor bore with heroic humility, and never ceased by prayers and tears, till he was absolved; for which coming to the bishop with supplication into the salutatory, some outporch of the church, he was charged by him with tyrannical madness against God, for coming into holy ground. At last, upon conditions absolved, and after great humiliation approaching to the altar to offer, (as those thrice pure times then thought meet,) he had scarce withdrawn his hand, and stood awhile, when a bold archdeacon comes in the bishop’s name, and chases him from within the rails, telling him peremptorily, that the place wherein he stood was for none but the priests to enter, or to touch; and this is another piece of pure primitive divinity! Think ye, then, our bishops will forego the power of excommunication on whomsoever? No, certainly, unless to compass sinister ends, and then revoke when they see their time. And yet this most mild, though withal dreadful and inviolable prerogative of Christ’s diadem, excommunication, serves for nothing with them, but to prog and pander for fees, or to display their pride, and sharpen their revenge, debarring men the protection of the law; and I remember not whether in some cases it bereave not men all right to their worldly goods and inheritances, besides the denial of Christian burial. But in the evangelical and reformed use of this sacred censure, no such prostitution, no such Iscariotical drifts are to be doubted, as that spiritual doom and sentence should invade worldly possession, which is the rightful lot and portion even of the wickedest men, as frankly bestowed upon them by the all-dispensing bounty as rain and sunshine. No, no, it seeks not to bereave or destroy the body; it seeks to save the soul by humbling the body, not by imprisonment, or pecuniary mulct, much less by stripes or bonds, or disinheritance, but by fatherly admonishment and Christian rebuke, to cast it into godly sorrow, whose end is joy and ingenuous bashfulness to sin: if that cannot be wrought, then as a tender mother takes her child and holds it over the pit with scaring words, that it may learn to fear where danger is; so doth excommunication as dearly and as freely, without money, use her wholesome and saving terrors: she is instant, she beseeches; by all the dear and sweet promises of salvation she entices and woos; by all the threatenings and thunders of the law, and rejected gospel, she charges, and adjures: this is all her armory, her munition, her artillery; then she awaits with long-sufferance, and yet ardent zeal. In brief, there is no act in all the errand of God’s ministers to mankind, wherein passes more loverlike contestation between Christ and the soul of a regenerate man lapsing, than before, and in, and after the sentence of excommunication. As for the fogging proctorage of money, with such an eye as struck Gehazi with leprosy, and Simon Magus with a curse; so does she look, and so threaten her fiery whip against that banking den of thieves that dare thus baffle, and buy and sell the awful and majestic wrinkles of her brow. He that is rightly and apostolically sped with her invisible arrow, if he can be at peace in his soul, and not smell within him the brimstone of hell, may have fair leave to tell all his bags over undiminished of the least farthing, may eat his dainties, drink his wine, use his delights, enjoy his lands and liberties, not the least skin raised, not the least hair misplaced, for all that excommunication has done: much more may a king enjoy his rights and prerogatives undeflowered, untouched, and be as absolute and complete a king, as all his royalties and revenues can make him. And therefore little did Theodosius fear a plot upon his empire, when he stood excommunicate by Saint Ambrose, though it were done either with much haughty pride, or ignorant zeal. But let us rather look upon the reformed churches beyond the seas, the Grizons, the Swisses, the Hollanders, the French, that have a supremacy to live under as well as we; where do the churches in all these places strive for supremacy? Where do they clash and justle supremacies with the civil magistrate? In France, a more severe monarchy than ours, the protestants, under this church-government, carry the name of the best subjects the king has; and yet presbytery, if it must be so called, does there all that it desires to do; how easy were it, if there be such great suspicion, to give no more scope to it in England! But let us not, for fear of a scarecrow, or else through hatred to be reformed, stand hankering and politizing, when God with spread hands testifies to us, and points us out the way to our peace.
Let us not be so overcredulous, unless God hath blinded us, as to trust our dear souls into the hands of men that beg so devoutly for the pride and gluttony of their own backs and bellies, that sue and solicit so eagerly, not for the saving of souls, the consideration of which can have here no place at all, but for their bishoprics, deaneries, prebends, and canonries. How can these men not be corrupt, whose very cause is the bribe of their own pleading, whose mouths cannot open without the strong breath and loud stench of avarice, simony, and sacrilege, embezzling the treasury of the church on painted and gilded walls of temples, wherein God hath testified to have no delight, warming their palace kitchens, and from thence their unctuous and epicurean paunches, with the alms of the blind, the lame, the impotent, the aged, the orphan, the widow? for with these the treasury of Christ ought to be—here must be his jewels bestowed, his rich cabinet must be emptied here; as the constant martyr Saint Lawrence taught the Roman prætor. Sir, would you know what the remonstrance of these men would have, what their petition implies? They intreat us that we would not be weary of those insupportable grievances that our shoulders have hitherto cracked under; they beseech us that we would think them fit to be our justices of peace, our lords, our highest offices of state, though they come furnished with no more experience than they learnt between the cook and the manciple, or more profoundly at the college audit, or the regent house, or to come to their deepest insight, at their patron’s table; they would request us to endure still the rustling of their silken cassocs, and that we would burst our midriffs, rather than laugh to see them under sail in all their lawn and sarcenet, their shrouds and tackle, with a geometrical rhomboides upon their heads: they would bear us in hand that we must of duty still appear before them once a year in Jerusalem, like good circumcised males and females, to be taxed by the poll, to be sconced our headmoney, our twopences, in their chandlerly shop-book of Easter. They pray us that it would please us to let them still hale us, and worry us with their bandogs and pursuivants; and that it would please the parliament that they may yet have the whipping, fleecing, and flaying of us in their diabolical courts, to tear the flesh from our bones, and into our wide wounds instead of balm, to pour in the oil of tartar, vitriol, and mercury: surely a right reasonable, innocent, and soft-hearted petition. O the relenting bowels of the fathers! Can this be granted them, unless God have smitten us with frenzy from above, and with a dazzling giddiness at noonday? Should not those men rather be heard that come to plead against their own preferments, their worldly advantages, their own abundance; for honour and obedience to God’s word, the conversion of souls, the Christian peace of the land, and union of the reformed Catholic church, the unappropriating and unmonopolizing the rewards of learning and industry, from the greasy clutch of ignorance and high feeding? We have tried already, and miserably felt what ambition, worldly glory, and immoderate wealth, can do; what the boisterous and contradictional hand of a temporal, earthly, and corporeal spirituality can avail to the edifying of Christ’s holy church; were it such a desperate hazard to put to the venture the universal votes of Christ’s congregation, and fellowly and friendly yoke of a teaching and laborious ministry, the pastorlike and apostolic imitation of meek and unlordly discipline, the gentle and benevolent mediocrity of church-maintenance, without the ignoble hucksterage of piddling tithes? Were it such an incurable mischief to make a little trial, what all this would do to the flourishing and growing up of Christ’s mystical body? as rather to use every poor shift, and if that serve not, to threaten uproar and combustion, and shake the brand of civil discord?
O, sir, I do now feel myself inwrapped on the sudden into those mazes and labyrinths of dreadful and hideous thoughts, that which way to get out, or which way to end, I know not, unless I turn mine eyes, and with your help lift up my hands to that eternal and propitious Throne, where nothing is readier than grace and refuge to the distresses of mortal suppliants: and it were a shame to leave these serious thoughts less piously than the heathen were wont to conclude their graver discourses.
Thou, therefore, that sittest in light and glory unapproachable, Parent of angels and men! next, thee I implore, omnipotent King, Redeemer of that lost remnant whose nature thou didst assume, ineffable and everlasting Love! and thou, the third subsistence of divine infinitude, illumining Spirit, the joy and solace of created things! one Tripersonal godhead! look upon this thy poor and almost spent and expiring church; leave her not thus a prey to these importunate wolves, that wait and think long till they devour thy tender flock; these wild boars that have broke into thy vineyard, and left the print of their polluting hoofs on the souls of thy servants. O let them not bring about their damned designs, that stand now at the entrance of the bottomless pit, expecting the watchword to open and let out those dreadful locusts and scorpions, to reinvolve us in that pitchy cloud of infernal darkness, where we shall never more see the sun of thy truth again, never hope for the cheerful dawn, never more hear the bird of morning sing. Be moved with pity at the afflicted state of this our shaken monarchy, that now lies labouring under her throes, and struggling against the grudges of more dreaded calamities.
O Thou, that, after the impetuous rage of five bloody inundations, and the succeeding sword of intestine war, soaking the land in her own gore, didst pity the sad and ceaseless revolution of our swift and thick-coming sorrows; when we were quite breathless, of thy free grace didst motion peace, and terms of covenant with us; and having first well nigh freed us from antichristian thraldom, didst build up this Britannic empire to a glorious and enviable height, with all her daughter-islands about her; stay us in this felicity, let not the obstinacy of our half-obedience and willworship bring forth that viper of sedition, that for these fourscore years hath been breeding to eat through the entrails of our peace; but let her cast her abortive spawn without the danger of this travailing and throbbing kingdom: that we may still remember in our solemn thanksgivings, how for us, the Northern ocean even to the frozen Thule was scattered with the proud shipwrecks of the Spanish armada, and the very maw of hell ransacked, and made to give up her concealed destruction, ere she could vent it in that horrible and damned blast.
O how much more glorious will those former deliverances appear, when we shall know them not only to have saved us from greatest miseries past, but to have reserved us for greatest happiness to come! Hitherto thou hast but freed us, and that not fully, from the unjust and tyrannous claim of thy foes; now unite us entirely, and appropriate us to thyself; tie us everlastingly in willing homage to the prerogative of thy eternal throne.
And now we know, O thou our most certain hope and defence, that thine enemies have been consulting all the sorceries of the great whore, and have joined their plots with that sad intelligencing tyrant that mischiefs the world with his mines of Ophir, and lies thirsting to revenge his naval ruins that have larded our seas: but let them all take counsel together, and let it come to nought; let them decree, and do thou cancel it; let them gather themselves, and be scattered; let them embattle themselves, and be broken; let them embattle and be broken, for thou art with us.
Then, amidst the hymns and hallelujahs of saints, some one may perhaps be heard offering at high strains in new and lofty measures, to sing and celebrate thy divine mercies and marvellous judgments in this land throughout all ages; whereby this great and warlike nation, instructed and inured to the fervent and continual practice of truth and righteousness, and casting far from her the rags of her old vices, may press on hard to that high and happy emulation to be found the soberest, wisest, and most Christian people at that day, when thou, the eternal and shortly-expected King, shalt open the clouds to judge the several kingdoms of the world, and distributing national honours and rewards to religious and just commonwealths, shalt put an end to all earthly tyrannies, proclaiming thy universal and mild monarchy through heaven and earth; where they undoubtedly, that by their labours, counsels, and prayers, have been earnest for the common good of religion and their country, shall receive above the inferior orders of the blessed, the regal addition of principalities, legions, and thrones into their glorious titles, and in supereminence of beatific vision, progressing the dateless and irrevoluble circle of eternity, shall clasp inseparable hands with joy and bliss, in overmeasure for ever.
But they contrary, that by the impairing and diminution of the true faith, the distresses and servitude of their country, aspire to high dignity, rule, and promotion here, after a shameful end in this life, (which God grant them,) shall be thrown down eternally into the darkest and deepest gulf of hell, where, under the despiteful control, the trample and spurn of all the other damned, that in the anguish of their torture, shall have no other ease than to exercise a raving and bestial tyranny over them as their slaves and negroes, they shall remain in that plight for ever, the basest, the lowermost, the most dejected, most underfoot, and downtrodden vassals of perdition.