Whether Conscionable Christians, and Such as Love the Power and Practice of Piety, can, Without Defiling their Conscience,
OR WITHOUT A DESTRUCTIVE WOUNDING OF THE POWER OF GODLINESS, EMBRACE AND HOLD THE PRINCIPLES OF THOSE WHO CALL THEMSELVES THE GODLY PARTY, OR WHETHER THEY OUGHT NOT RATHER TO AVOID THOSE WHO DO NOW PHARISAICALLY AND DONATISTICALLY APPROPRIATE TO THEMSELVES THE NAME OF THE GODLY PARTY, AS BEING INDEED SUCH WHO, UNDER PRETENCE OF ZEAL FOR THE POWER OF GODLINESS, HOLD DIVERS UNGODLY PRINCIPLES.
To the Assembly of Divines
Let no man here stumble in the threshold, or be scandalized at the case I put. I intend nothing either against piety or truly pious persons, but to vindicate both from those principles of impiety which some maintain and adhere unto under color of piety. The Arians, Ebionites, and Socinians in Poland have pretended to be the godly party there, insomuch that Faustus Socinus wrote a book entitled thus, That the men of the kingdom of Poland, and the great duchy of Lithuania, commonly called Evangelics, who were studious of solid piety, ought altogether to adjoin themselves to the assembly of those who, in the same places, are falsely and undeservedly called Arians and Ebionites.
There is as little truth in that pretense which divers sectaries now make to the way of godliness. Observe but these principles of theirs:—
1. That none ought to be punished for preaching, printing, or maintaining any error in faith or religion, except it be contrary to the very light of nature.—Hence it will follow, that none is to be punished for preaching or publishing these errors: That the Scripture is not the word of God; that Jesus Christ was an impostor or deceiver, for the light of nature will never serve to confute these or such like errors concerning the Scriptures, the truths concerning them being wholly supernatural. Mr. J. Godwin, in his Hagiomastix, sect. 58, holds, that he who will hold that there is no Christ is not so pernicious nor punishable as that man who lives as if there were no Christ; and one of his reasons is this, because, saith he, the sins mentioned, adultery, theft, &c., are clearly and at first sight against the light and law of nature, but the denial of the being of such a person as Christ, who is both God and man, is not contrary to any law or principle in nature. I desire that the reader may here observe the words of Mr. Burroughs, in the epistle dedicatory of his sermon preached before the House of Peers, Nov. 26, 1645, For connivance at blasphemies, or damnable heresies, God forbid any should open his month. Those who are guilty herein against the light of nature should be taken off from the face of the earth, and such as are guilty against supernatural light are to be refrained and kept from the society of men, that they infect not others. The latter part of that which he saith, I accept, and I would to God that so much were put in execution. But why no other heretics or blasphemers should be taken off from the face of the earth but those only who are guilty against the light of nature I find no reason brought for it; and I do not understand how it comes to pass that any who look so much forward to new lights should herein fall so far backward as to the light of nature, or that those who decline the light of nature in matter of church government, subordination, appeals, and the like, should notwithstanding in matters of faith, which are much more sublime, appeal to the light of nature. There is need of some Œdipus here.
2. That in controversies, or questions of religion, we must not argue from the Old Testament, but from the New.—Hence are these exclamations against Old Testament spirits, &c., which might indeed beseem the Manichees, who denied and acknowledged not the Old Testament, but to be heard in a reformed church, among those who acknowledge the Old Testament to be the word of God, as well as the New, it is most strange.
Our orthodox protestant writers condemn as well the Anabaptists who reject and scorn at arguments brought against them from the Old Testament, as the Manichees who did repudiate the Old Testament as having proceeded from an evil God. See P. Martyr in 1 Cor. 10.12, Aret. Probl. Theol. loc. 56.
By this principle they shall not hold it contrary to the will of God under the New Testament, that a man marry his father’s brother’s wife, this not being forbidden in the New Testament, but in the Old. Some indeed of this time have maintained, that it is not unlawful to us to marry within these degrees which are forbidden, Lev. 18. See Mr. Edwards in the third part of Gangræna, p. 3. These hold it is only forbidden to commit fornication with such as are within these degrees, not being married, as if it were not unlawful to commit fornication with any, be they never so far without these degrees. By the same principle which rejecteth Old Testament proofs they must deny the duty of children under the New Testament to marry with their parents’ consent, and this is one of the foul errors of some sectaries now-a-days, that though consent of parents unto children’s marriages was commanded under the law to them that lived then, yet because that was but a ceremony, it is now lawful to marry without their consent, because we live under the gospel. See that same third part of Gangræna, p.14. By the same principle they must deny that an oath (be it never so just and necessary) may be imposed by authority, or that the magistrate ought to put to death a blasphemer, an incestuous person, an adulterer, a witch, or the like (the scriptural warrants which make these crimes capital being in the Old, not in the New Testament). Saith not the Apostle, 2 Tim. 3.16, All scripture (and consequently the lawful examples and laudable precedents of the Old Testament) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; Rom. 15.4, Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning. Is not our justification by faith proved by the example of Abraham’s justification by faith? Rom. 6. Doth not Christ himself defend his disciples’ plucking the ears of corn upon the Sabbath-day by the example of David’s eating the shew-bread, and by the example of the priests’ killing of sacrifices upon the Sabbath-day, Matt. 12. Yea, those that most cry out against proofs from examples of the Old Testament, are as ready as others to borrow proofs from thence, when they think to serve their turn thereby, which Aretius (Probl. Theol., loc. 56) instanceth in the Anabaptists, who would not admit proofs from examples of the Old Testament, yet many of them justified the Boors’ bloody war, by the example of the Israelites’ rising against Pharaoh.
3. That if sectaries and heretics make a breach of peace, disturb the state, or do evil against the commonwealth in civil things, then the magistrate may punish and suppress them; but sectaries and heretics who are otherwise peaceable in the state, and subject to the laws and lawful power of the civil magistrate, ought to be tolerated and forborne. This is their Kodesh hakkodashim their holy of holies, indeed their πρῶτον ψευδος. See The Compassionate Samaritan, p.10; John the Baptist, p. 57; The Bloody Tenent, ch. 52; M.S. to A.S., p. 53,57; The Ancient Bounds, chap. 1. See now how far this principle will reach. A man may deny and cry down the word of God, sacraments, ordinances, all the fundamentals of faith, all religious worship. One may have leave to plead no church, no minister, no ordinances,—yea, to blaspheme Jesus Christ, and God himself, and yet to escape the hand of the magistrate, as being no troubler of the state. This I gather from Mr. Williams himself, in his Bloody Tenent, ch. 6, where he distinguisheth between the spiritual and the civil peace, and clears in the instance of Ephesus: Now suppose (saith he) that God remove the candlestick from Ephesus; yea, though the whole worship of the city of Ephesus should be altered, yet (if men be true and honestly ingenuous to city covenants, combinations, and principles) all this might be without the least impeachment or infringement of the peace of the city of Ephesus. So that by their principles, if the city of London was turning peaceably to Mahometanism or paganism, the parliament ought not to apply their power for reducing them. If this be not to care for men’s own things, not for the things of Christ, what is? And must the magistrate purchase or hold them quit of the state at so dear a rate as the loss of many souls? What saith Mr. Williams himself (Bloody Tenent, chap. 33): It is a truth, the mischief of a blind Pharisee, blind guidance, is greater than if he acted treasons, murders, &c.; and the loss of one soul by his seduction, is a greater mischief than if he blew up parliaments, and cut the throats of kings or emperors, so precious is that invaluable jewel of a soul. I could wish this written in marble, or recorded upon the parliament walls, as the confession of one who hath pleaded most for liberty and toleration from the magistrate, to soul-murdering heretics and deceivers.
But if any magistrates will not have respect to the honor of God and salvation of souls, let them take heed to their own interest. When the church of Christ sink-eth in a state, let not that state think to swim. Religion and righteousness must flourish or fade away, stand or fall together. They who are false to God, shall not be faithful to men. It was a pious saying of Constantine, Quomodo fidem præstabunt imperatori inviolatam, qui Deo sunt perfidi? It is more than paradoxical, and, I fear, no less than atheistical, which Mr. Williams, ch. 70, of The Bloody Tenent, holds, viz., that a false religion and worship will not hurt the civil state, in case the worshippers break no civil law.
4. That Socinian principle doth now pass for good among divers sectaries, That a man is bound to believe no more than by his reason he can comprehend.—Mr. J. Godwin, in his Thirty-eight Queries concerning the ordinance for the Preventing of the Growing and Spreading of Heresies, quest. 29, tells us, that if reason ought not to regulate or limit men about the object or matter of their believing, then are they bound to believe those things concerning which there is no ground or reason at all why they should be believed.
As if this (being understood of human or natural reason) were an absurdity. Divine revelation in Scripture, or, thus saith the Lord, is the ground or reason of believing; or, as schoolmen speak, the objectum formale fidei. But we are bound to believe, because of thus saith the Lord, some things which we are not able to comprehend by our reason; for instance the trinity of persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the Son of God; his conception of a virgin; the union of two natures, of God and man in one person. It is therefore a question tending of itself to the subversion of the Christian faith, and so of piety, which that querist there propoundeth, viz.: Whether ought any man (at least in sensu comfito) to believe the deepest or highest mystery in religion, any farther, or any otherwise than as, and as far as, he hath reason to judge it to be a truth? The same writer in his Hagiomastix, sect. 90, tells us, that this is sound divinity, that reason ought to be every man’s leader, guide and director, in his faith, or about what he is or ought to believe; and that no man ought to leap with his faith, till he hath looked with his reason, and discover what is meet to be believed, what not. If this be good divinity, then Paul’s divinity is not good, Rom. 8.7; 1 Cor. 2.14; 2 Cor. 10.5.
5. That the only right reformation under the gospel, is the mortifying, destroying, and utter abolishing, out of the faithful and elect, all that sin, corruption, lust, evil, that did flow in upon them through the fall of Adam; this is true gospel reformation (saith Mr. Dell, Sermon on Heb. 9.10), and besides this I know no other. And after, p.11: Christ dying for us is our redemption; Christ dwelling and living in us is our reformation. Again, p.12: For the taking away transgression for us, and from us, which is the only reformation of the New Testament, is a work agreeable to none but the Son of God, as it is written, His name shall be called JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins; whereupon all along he speaks much against ecclesiastical reformation. And, p.14, he adviseth the Parliament to lay aside their intentions (how pious soever) of the work of church reformation, because they are men of war; and the care of this work belongs only to Christ the Prince of peace.
This doctrine, (1.) Is destructive to the solemn league and covenant of the three kingdoms, obliging them to endeavor the reformation of religion in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government. (2.) It is destructive to the reformation begun by Luther, continued and prosecuted by all the reformed churches, and by the independent churches as well as others. (3.) It is contrary to the example of the apostles themselves, and condemneth them as well as us; for they did not only teach and commend to the churches that reformation which Mr. Dell calls the mortifying or destroying of corruption and lust, or Christ dwelling and living in us, but likewise an external ecclesiastical reformation, and several canons concerning the reformation of external abuses and scandals in the church; as, for instance, that the churches should abstain from blood and things strangled; that two or three at most should prophesy in the church at one meeting; that the men should pray with their heads uncovered, the women covered, that young widows should be no longer admitted to serve the church in attending the sick, and that such widows must be at least sixty years old, and the like. (4.) This doctrine puts Jesus Christ himself in the wrong, because he challenged the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira for suffering and having amongst them those that taught the doctrine of Balaam. (5.) Mr. Dell’s doctrine openeth a wide door to the toleration of the grossest and most horrid idolatries, blasphemies, abominations. If thousands in the kingdom should set up the mass and bread worship, or should worship the sun, or should publicly maintain that there is no God, nor any judgment to come, nor heaven, nor hell, the Parliament ought not, may not (by his doctrine) endeavor the reducing and reforming of such people, or the suppressing of such abominations. These offenders must be let alone till Christ reform them, and mortify sin in them, which is to him the only reformation now under the gospel. (6.) And while he appropriateth this reformation to the time of the gospel since Christ came in the flesh, he doth, by necessary consequence, hold that there was no godly or mortified person in the Old Testament, and that we must not take Abraham, Moses, David, Job, &c., for examples of a personal reformation, or of true holiness and mortification. As this doth necessarily follow from this doctrine, so it seems to have been not far from his meaning and intention; for, p. 3,4, speaking of the time of the Old Testament, he saith,—There was no true reformation, but under all that outward religion men were inwardly as corrupt and wicked as the very heathen, and without any true reformation before God, till Christ, who was God in the flesh, came with the ministration of the Spirit, and then indeed was the time of reformation. Then he comes to explain what this true reformation is, viz., the taking away and destroying of the body of sin out of the faithful, &c. Whence it cannot but follow, that there was no such thing, before the coming of Christ, as the taking away and destroying the body of sin out of the faithful.
6. There are divers Arminian and Antinomian tenets which very much strengthen the hands of the wicked in his wickedness, yet such tenets are maintained by many of those who call themselves the godly party; for instance, that of universal atonement, and Christ dying for all men, mark but the title of Mr. Moore’s book: The Universality of God’s Free Grace in Christ to Mankind proclaimed and displayed, &c., that all might be Comforted, Encouraged, every one Confirmed and Assured of the Propitiation and Death of Christ for the Whole Race of Mankind, and so for Himself in Particular.
Hereby the same sweetness of gospel comforts, and the same assurance of an interest in Jesus Christ and his death, is imparted and extended to the humbled and the unhumbled; to the convinced and to the unconvinced; to the wounded and to the unwounded; to believers and to the unbelievers; to the converted and to the unconverted; as if all and every one were fit to be comforted, and capable of an assurance that Jesus Christ hath redeemed them, and made satisfaction to the divine justice in their behalf. If this be not to sew pillows which sinners may securely lie down and sleep upon, what is?
The like I say of that position which Mr. Samuel Lane, in his Vindication of Free Grace, hath oppugned as an Arminian position, preached and asserted by Mr. J. Godwin, Natural men may do such things as whereunto God hath, by way of promise, annexed grace and acceptation; which takes away the necessity of preventing grace, and the impotency of nature unto, yea, its averseness from, any true spiritual good which can be acceptable unto God. Every such exalting of nature is a depressing of grace, and ministereth occasion to unregenerate persons to please themselves too much with their present natural estate.
7. Other tenets are current among many of that party, which are apt to weaken the hearts and hands of the godly in the exercises of humiliation, repentance, mortification, and fruits of sanctification, by holding that God doth not chastise his children for sin; that there is not so much as a fatherly displeasure or anger in God against the faults of his children; that God seeth no sin in Israel, so much as to afflict them for it in this world; that believers are not bound to live according to the rule of the moral law; that believers are not to be terrified, or at all wrought upon by any threatenings, or by danger and punishment of sin; that believers ought not to try their spiritual estate, or seek assurance of their interest in Jesus Christ and the covenant of grace, by any gracious signs or qualifications, or by any fruits of sanctification in themselves, but only by the inward testimony of the Spirit, and light of faith; which (say they) are of sufficient credit by themselves, without the help of any marks of grace. It is informed, that among some of the sectaries of this time are found these tenets, That adultery is no sin, and that drunkenness is none either, but a help to see Christ the better; that there is no resurrection of the dead, nor no hell. See Mr. Edwards, in the third part of Gangræa, p. 14,107.