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A Letter Addressed to the Commonalty of Scotland. M.D.LVIII.

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A Letter Addressed to the Commonalty of Scotland. M.D.LVIII.

James Dodson

To his Beloved Brethren the Commonalty of Scotland, John Knox wishes GRACE, Mercy, and Peace, with the spirit of righteous judgment.

 

What I have required of the Queen Regent, Estates, and Nobility, as of the chief heads (for this present) of the realm, I cannot cease to require of you, dearly beloved Brethren, which be the Commonalty and body of the same; to wit, that it (notwithstanding that false and cruel Sentence which your disguised Bishops have pronounced against me) would please you to be so favorable unto me, as to be indifferent auditors of my just purgation. Which to do, if God earnestly move your hearts, as I nothing doubt but that your enterprise shall redound to the praise of his holy name, so am I assured that ye and your posterity shall by that means receive most singular comfort, edification, and profit. For when ye shall hear the matter debated, ye shall easily perceive and understand upon what ground and foundation is built that religion, which amongst you is this day defended by fire and sword. As for my own conscience, I am most assuredly persuaded, that whatever is used in the Papistical Church is altogether opposed to Christ’s blessed ordinance, and is nothing but mortal venom, of which whoever drinketh, I am assuredly persuaded, that therewith he drinketh death and damnation, except, by true conversion unto God, he be purged from the same. But because that long silence of God’s Word hath begotten ignorance almost in all sorts of men, and ignorance, joined with long custom, hath confirmed superstition in the hearts of many; I therefore, in the name of the Lord Jesus, desire audience, as well of you the Commonality, my Brethren, as of the Estates and Nobility of the realm, that in public preaching I may have place amongst you at large to utter my mind in all matters of controversy this day in religion. And further I desire, that ye, concurring with your Nobility, would compel your Bishops and Clergy to cease their tyranny; and also that, for the better assurance and instruction of your conscience, ye would compel your said Bishops and false teachers to answer by the Scriptures of God to such objections and crimes as shall be laid against their vain religion, false doctrine, wicked life, and slanderous conversation. Here I know, that it shall be objected, that I require of you a thing most unreasonable; to wit, that ye should call your Religion in doubt, which hath been approved and established by so long continuance, and by the consent of so many men before you. But I shortly answer, that neither is the long process of time, neither yet the multitude of men, a sufficient approbation which God will allow for our religion. For as some of the most ancient writers do witness, neither can long process of time justify an error, neither can the multitude of such as follow it change the nature of the same. But if it was an error in the beginning, so is it in the end, and the longer that it be followed, and the more that do receive it, it is the more pestilent, and more to be avoided. For if antiquity or multitude of men could justify any religion, than was the idolatry of the Gentiles, and now is the abomination of the Turks, good religion. For antiquity approved the one, and a multitude hath received and doth defend the other. But otherwise to answer, godly men may wonder from what fountain such a sentence doth flow, that no man ought to try his faith and religion by God’s Word, but that he safely may believe and follow everything which antiquity and a multitude have approved. The Spirit of God doth otherwise teach us. For the wisdom of God, Christ Jesus himself, remitted his adversaries to Moses and the Scriptures, to try by them whether his doctrine was of God or not. The Apostles Paul and Peter command men to try the religion which they profess, by God’s plain Scriptures, and do praise men for so doing. St. John strictly commandeth that we believe not every spirit, but willeth us to try the spirits whether they be of God or not. Now seeing that these evident testimonies of the Holy Ghost will us [i.e., require us] to try our faith and religion by the plain Word of God, wonder it is that the Papists will not be content that their religion and doctrine come under the trial of the same. If this sentence of Christ be true, (as it is most true, seeing it springeth from the verity itself), “Who so evil doeth, hateth the light, neither will he come to the light lest that his evil works be manifested and rebuked;” than do our Papists by their own sentence condemn themselves and their religion. For in so far as they refuse examination and trial, they declare that they know some fault which the light will utter: which is a cause of their fear, and why they [lay] claim to that privilege, that no man dispute of their religion. The verity and truth, being of the nature of fine purified gold, doth not fear the trial of the furnace, but the stubble and chaff of man’s inventions (such is their religion) may not abide the flame of the fire. True it is, that Mahomet pronounced this sentence, that no man should, in pain of death, dispute or reason of the ground of his religion. Which law, to this day, by the art of Satan, is yet observed amongst the Turks, to their mortal blindness and horrible blaspheming of Christ Jesus, and of his true religion. And from Mahomet (or rather from Satan, father of all lies,) hath the Pope and his rabble learned this former lesson, to wit, that their Religion should not be disputed upon; but what the fathers have believed, that ought and must the children approve. And in so devising, Satan lacked not his foresight: For no one thing hath more established the kingdom of that Roman Antichrist than this most wicked Decree, to wit, That no man was permitted to reason of his power, or to call his laws in doubt. This thing is most assured, that whenever the Papistical religion shall come to examination, it shall be found to have no other ground than hath the religion of Mahomet, to wit, man’s invention, devise, and dreams, overshadowed with some colour of God’s Word. And therefore, Brethren, seeing that the Religion is as the stomach is to the body, which, if it be corrupted, doth infect the whole members, it is necessary that the same be examined, and if it be found replenished with pestilent humours (I mean with the fantasies of men), then of necessity it is that those be purged, else shall your bodies and souls perish forever. For of this I would ye were most certainly persuaded, that a corrupt religion defileth the whole life of man, appear it never so holy. Neither would I that ye should esteem the Reformation and care of Religion less to appertain to you, because ye are no Kings, Rulers, Judges, Nobles, nor in authority. Beloved Brethren, ye are God’s creatures, created and formed to his own image and similitude, for whose redemption was shed the most precious blood of the only beloved Son of God, to whom he hath commanded his gospel and glad-tidings to be preached, and for whom he hath prepared the heavenly inheritance, so that ye will not obstinately refuse and disdainfully condemn the means, which he hath appointed to obtain the same, to wit, his blessed Evangel, which now he offereth unto you, to the end that ye may be saved. For the gospel and glad-tidings of the kingdom truly preached, is the power of God to the salvation of every believer, which to credit and receive, you, the Commonalty, are no less indebted than be your Rulers and Princes. For albeit God hath put and ordained distinction and difference betwixt the King and subjects, betwixt the Rulers and the common people, in the regiment and administration of Civil policies, yet in the hope of the life to come he hath made all equal. For as in Christ Jesus, the Jew hath no greater prerogative than hath the Gentile, the man than hath the woman, the learned than the unlearned, the Lord than the servant, but all are one in him, so is there but one way and means to attain to the participation of his benefits and spiritual graces, which is a lively faith working by charity. And therefore I say, that it doth no less pertain to you, beloved Brethren, to be assured that your faith and religion be grounded and established upon the true and undoubted Word of God, than to your Princes or Rulers. For as your bodies can not escape corporal death, if with your Princes ye eat or drink deadly poison (although it be by ignorance or negligence), so shall ye not escape the death everlasting, if with them ye profess a corrupt religion. Yea, except in heart ye believe, and with mouth ye confess, the Lord Jesus to be the only Savior of the world (which ye cannot do, except ye embrace his Evangel offered), ye cannot escape death and damnation. For as the just liveth by his own faith, so doth the unfaithful perish by his infidelity. And as true faith is engendered, nourished, and maintained in the hearts of God’s elect by Christ’s Evangel truly preached, so is infidelity and unbelief fostered by concealing and repressing the same. And thus if ye look for the life everlasting, ye must try if ye stand in faith; and if ye would be assured of a true and lively faith, ye must needs have Christ Jesus truly preached unto you. And this is the cause, dear Brethren, that so often I repeat, and so constantly I affirm, that to you it doth no less pertain, than to your King or Princes, to provide that Christ Jesus be truly preached amongst you, seeing that without his true knowledge can neither of you both attain to salvation. And this is the point wherein, I say, all men [i.e., every man] is equal:

“That as all be descended from Adam, by whose sin and inobedience did death enter into the world, so it behooved all that shall obtain life to be engrafted in one, that is, in the Lord Jesus, who, being the just servant, doth by his knowledge justify many; to wit, all that unfeignedly believe in him.

Of this equality, and that God requireth no less of the subject, be he never so poor, than of the Prince and rich man, in matters of religion, he hath given an evident declaration in the law of Moses. For when the Tabernacle was built, erected, and set in order, God did provide how it and the things appertaining to the same should be sustained, so that they should not fall in decay. And this provision (albeit heaven and earth obey his empire) would he not take from the secret and hidden treasures which lie dispersed in the veins of the earth, neither yet would he take it from the rich and potent of his people; but he did command, that every man of the sons of Israel (were he rich or were he poor), that came in account from twenty years and upward, should yearly pay half a shekel for an oblation to the Lord in the remembrance of their redemption, and for an expiation or cleansing to their souls; which money God commanded should be bestowed upon the ornaments and necessities of the tabernacle of testimony. He furthermore added a precept, that the rich should give no more for that use, and in that behalf, then should the poor; neither yet that the poor should give any less than should the rich in that consideration. This law, to man’s reason and judgment, may appear very unreasonable. For some rich man might have given a thousand shekels with less hurt of his substance, than some poor man might have paid the half shekel. And yet God maketh all equal, and will that the one shall pay no more than the other, neither yet the poor any less than the rich. This law, I say, may appear very unequal. But if the cause which God addeth be observed, we shall find in the same the great mercy and inestimable wisdom of God to appear, which cause is expressed in these words:

“This money received from the children of Israel, thou shall give in the service of the Tabernacle, that it may be to the children of Israel for a remembrance before the Lord, that he may be merciful to your souls.;

This cause, I say, doth evidently declare, that as the whole multitude was delivered from the bondage of Egypt by the mighty power of God alone, so was every member of the same, without respect of person, sanctified by his grace, the rich in that behalf nothing preferred to the poorest. For by no merit nor worthiness of man was he moved to choose and to establish his habitation and dwelling amongst them. But their felicity, prerogative, and honor, which they had above all other nations, proceeded only from the fountain of his eternal goodness, who loved them freely, as that he freely had chosen them to be his priestly kingdom and holy people from all nations of the earth. Thus to honor them, that he would dwell in the midst of them, he neither was moved, I say, by the wisdom of the wise, by the riches of the potent, neither yet by the virtue and holiness of any estate amongst them; but of mere goodness did he love them, and with his presence did he honor that whole people; and therefore to paint out the same, his common love to the whole multitude, and to cut of occasions of contention and doubts of conscience, he would receive no more from the rich than from the poor, for the maintenance of that his Tabernacle, by the which was represented his presence and habitation amongst them. If the rich had been preferred to the poor, then as the one should have been puffed up with pride, as that he had been more acceptable to God, by reason of his greater gift, so should the conscience of the other have been troubled and wounded, thinking that his poverty was an impediment, that he could not stand in so perfect favor with God as did the other, because he was not able to give so much as did the rich, to the maintenance of his Tabernacle. But He who of mercy (as said is) did choose his habitation amongst them, and also that best knoweth what lies within man, did provide the remedy for the one and for the other, making them equal in that behalf, who in other things were most unequal. If the poor should have found himself grieved by reason of that tax, and that as much was imposed upon him as upon the rich, yet had he no small cause of joy that God himself would please to compare him, and to make him equal in the maintenance of his Tabernacle, to the most rich and potent in Israel. If this equality was commanded by God for maintenance of that transitory Tabernacle, which was but a shadow of a better to come, is not the same required of us who now hath the verity, which is Christ Jesus? who being clad with our nature is made Immanuel, that is, God with us. “Whose natural body, albeit it be received in the heavens, where he must abide till all be complete that is foretold by the Prophets; yet hath he promised to be present with us to the end of the world.”

And for that purpose, and for the more assurance of his promise, he hath erected amongst us here in earth the signs of his own presence with us, his Spiritual tabernacle, the true preaching of his Word, and right administration of his Sacraments: to the maintenance whereof is no less bound the subject than the Prince, the poor than the rich. For as the price which was given for man’s redemption is one; so requireth God, of all that shall be partakers of the benefits of the same, a like duty, which is a plain confession that by Christ Jesus alone we have received whatever was lost in Adam. Of the Prince doth God require, that he refuse [i.e., deny] himself, and that he follow Christ Jesus; of the subject he requireth the same. Of the Kings and Judges it is required, that they kiss the Son, that is, give honor, subjection, and obedience to him. And from such reverence doth not God exempt the subject that shall be saved. And this is that equality which is betwixt the Kings and subjects, the most rich or noble, and betwixt the poorest and men of lowest estate; to wit, that as the one is obliged to believe in heart, and with mouth to confess, the Lord Jesus to be the only Savior of the world, so also is the other. Neither is there any of God’s children (who hath attained to the years of discretion) so poor, but that he hath thus much to bestow upon the ornaments and maintenance of their Spiritual tabernacle, when necessity requireth; neither yet is there any so rich, of whose hand God requireth anymore. For albeit that David gathered great substance for the building of the Temple; that Solomon with earnest diligence and incredible expenses erected and finished the same; that Hezekiah and Josiah purged the religion which before was corrupted; yet to them was God no further debtor in that respect, than he was to the most simple of the faithful posterity of faithful Abraham. For their diligence, zeal, and works, gave rather testimony and confession before men, what honor they did bear to God, what love to his word and reverence to his religion, than that any work proceeding from them did either establish or yet increase God’s favor towards them, who freely did love them in Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world was laid. So that these forenamed by their notable works gave testimony of their unfeigned faith, and the same doth the poorest, that unfeignedly and openly professeth Christ Jesus, that doth embrace his glad tidings offered, that doth abhor superstition, and fly from idolatry. The poorest, I say, and most simple that this day in earth, in the days of this cruel persecution, firmly believeth in Christ, and boldly doth confess him before this wicked generation, is no less acceptable before God, neither is judged in his presence to have done any less in promoting Christ his cause, then is the King, that, by the sword and power which he hath received of God, roots out idolatry, and so advances Christ’s glory. But to return to our former purpose, it is no less required, I say, of the subject to believe in Christ, and to profess his true religion, then of the Prince and King. And therefore I affirm, that in God’s presence it shall not excuse you to allege that ye were no chief rulers, and therefore that the care and reformation of Religion did not pertain unto you.

Ye, dear Brethren, (as before is said,) are the creatures of God, created to his own image and similitude, to whom it is commanded to hear the voice of your heavenly Father, to embrace his Son Christ Jesus, to fly from all doctrine and religion which he hath not approved by his own will revealed to us in his most blessed Word. To which precepts and charges, if ye be found inobedient, ye shall perish in your iniquity, as rebels and stubborn servants, that have no pleasure to obey the good will of their sovereign Lord, who most lovingly doth call for your obedience: And therefore, Brethren, in this behalf it is your part to be careful and diligent. For the question is not of things temporal, which although they be endangered, yet by diligence and process of time may after be redressed, but it is of the damnation of your bodies and souls, and of the loss of the life everlasting, which once lost can never be recovered. And therefore, I say, that it behooveth you to be careful and diligent in this so weighty a matter, lest that ye, condemning this occasion, which God now offereth, find not the like, although that after with groaning and sobs, ye languish for the same. And that ye be not ignorant of what occasion I mean, in few words I shall express it.

Not only I, but with me also diverse other godly and learned men do offer unto you our labors, faithfully to instruct you in the ways of the Eternal our God, and in the sincerity of Christ’s Evangel, which this day, by the pestilent generation of Antichrist, (I mean, by the Pope, and by his most ungodly Clergy,) are almost hidden from the eyes of men. We offer to jeopard our lives for the salvation of your souls, and by manifest Scriptures to prove that Religion, which amongst you is maintained by fire and sword, to be vain, false, and diabolical. We require nothing of you, but that patiently ye will hear our doctrine, which is not ours, but is the doctrine of salvation revealed to the world by the only Son of God; and that ye will examine our reasons, by the which we offer to prove the Papistical religion to be abominable before God. And last we require, that by your power the tyranny of those cruel beasts, (I mean of Priests and Friars) may be bridled, till we have uttered our minds in all matters this day debatable in Religion. If these things, in the fear of God, ye grant to me and unto others, that unfeignedly for your salvation and for God’s glory require the same, I am assured, that of God ye shall be blessed, whatever Satan shall devise against you. But and if ye condemn or refuse God, who thus lovingly offereth unto you salvation and life, ye shall neither escape plagues temporal, which shortly shall apprehend you, neither yet the torment prepared for the Devil, and for his angels, except by speedy repentance ye return to the Lord, whom now ye refuse, if that ye refuse the Messengers of his word.

But yet I think ye doubt, what ye ought and may do in this so weighty a matter. In few words, I will declare my conscience in the one and in the other. Ye ought to prefer the glory of God, the promoting of Christ his Evangel, and the salvation of your souls, to all things that be in earth: and ye, although ye be but subjects, may lawfully require of your superiors, be it of your King, be it of your Lords, rulers, and powers, that they provide for you true Preachers, and that they expel such as, under the name of Pastors, devour and destroy the flock, not feeding the same as Christ Jesus hath commanded. And if in this point your superiors be negligent, or yet pretend to maintain tyrants in their tyranny, most justly ye may provide true teachers for yourselves, be it in your cities, towns, or villages: them ye may maintain and defend against all that shall persecute them, and by that means shall labour to defraud you of that most comfortable food of your souls, Christ’s Evangel truly preached. Ye may, moreover, withhold the fruits and profits which your false Bishops and Clergy most unjustly receive of you, unto such time as they be compelled faithfully to do their charge and duties, which is to preach unto you Christ Jesus truly, rightly to minister his Sacraments according to his own institution, and so to watch for the salvation of your souls, as is commanded by Christ Jesus himself, and by his Apostles Paul and Peter. If God shall move your hearts in his true fear to begin to practice these things, and to demand and crave the same of your superiors, which most lawfully ye may do, then I doubt not, but of his great mercy and free grace, he shall illuminate the eyes of your minds, that his undoubted verity shall be a lantern to your feet to guide and lead you in all the ways which his godly wisdom doth approve. He shall make your enemies tremble before your faces; he shall establish his blessed Evangel amongst you, to the salvation and perpetual comfort of yourselves, and of your posterity after you. But and if (as God forbid) the love of friends, the fear of your Princes, and the wisdom of the world, draw you back from God and from his Son Christ Jesus, be ye certainly persuaded, that ye shall drink the cup of his vengeance; so many, I mean, as shall condemn and despise this loving calling of your heavenly Father. It will not excuse you, dear Brethren, in the presence of God, neither yet will it avail you in the day of his visitation, to say, We were but simple subjects, we could not redress the faults and crimes of our rulers, bishops, and clergy: we called for Reformation, and wished for the same; but Lords brethren were Bishops, their sons were Abbots, and the friends of great men had the possession of the Church, and so were we compelled to give obedience to all that they demanded. These vain excuses, I say, will nothing avail you in the presence of God, who requireth no less of the subjects than of the rulers, that they decline from evil, and that they do good; that they abstain from idolatry, superstition, blasphemy, murder, and other such horrible crimes which his law forbiddeth, and yet not the less are openly committed and maliciously defended in that miserable Realm. And if ye think that ye are innocent, because ye are not the chief authors of such iniquity, ye are utterly deceived. For God doth not only punish the chief offenders, but with them doth he damn the consenters to iniquity: and all are judged to consent, that, knowing impiety committed, give no testimony that the same displeaseth them. To speak this matter more plain, as your Princes and Rulers are criminal with your Bishops of all idolatry committed, and of all the innocent blood that is shed for the testimony of Christ’s truth, and that because they maintain them in their tyranny, so are you, (I mean, so many of you as give no plain confession to the contrary,) criminal and guilty, with your Princes and Rulers, of the same crimes, because ye assist and maintain your Princes in their blind rage, and give no declaration that their tyranny displeaseth you.

This doctrine, I know, is strange to the blind world, but the verity of it hath been declared in all notable punishments from the beginning. When the original world perished by water, when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed by fire, and finally, when Jerusalem was horribly destroyed, doth any man think, that all were alike wicked before the world? Evident it is that they were not, if they shall be judged according to their external facts. For some were young, and could not be oppressors, neither yet could defile themselves with unnatural and beastly lusts; some were pitiful and gentle of nature, and did not thirst for the blood of Christ, nor of his Apostles. But did any escape the plagues and vengeance which did apprehend the multitude? Let the Scriptures witness, and the histories be considered, which plainly do testify, that by the waters all flesh in the Earth at that time did perish, Noah and his family reserved; that none escaped in Sodom and in the other cities adjacent, except Lot and his two daughters. And evident it is, that in that famous city Jerusalem, in that last and horrible destruction of the same, none escaped God’s vengeance except so many as before were dispersed. And what is the cause of this severity, seeing that all were not alike offenders? Let flesh cease to dispute with God, and let all men, by these examples, learn at once to fly and avoid the society and company of the proud condemners of God, if that they wish not to be partakers of their plagues. The cause is evident: if we can be subject, without grudging, to God’s judgments, which in themselves are most holy and just. For in the original World none was found that either did resist tyranny and oppression, that universally was used, either yet that earnestly reprehended the same. In Sodom was none found that did against and that furious and beastly multitude, that did compass about and besiege the house of Lot: none would believe Lot, that the city should be destroyed. And finally, in Jerusalem was none found that studied to repress the tyranny of the Priests, who were conjured against Christ and his Evangel; but all fainted, (I except ever such as gave witness with their blood or their flying, that such impiety displeased them,) all kept silence; by the which all approved iniquity, and joined hands with the tyrants, and so were all arrayed and set, as it had been, in one battle, against the Omnipotent, and against his Son Christ Jesus. For whoever gathereth not with Christ in the day of his harvest, is judged to scatter. And therefore of one vengeance temporal were they all partakers. Which thing, as before I have touched, ought to move you to the deep consideration of your duties in these last and most perilous times. The iniquity of your Bishops is more than manifest; their filthy lives infect the air; the innocent blood which they shed cries vengeance in the ears of our God; the idolatry and abomination which openly they commit, and without punishment maintain, doth corrupt and defile the whole land; and none amongst you doth unfeignedly study for any redress of such enormities. Will God, in this behalf, hold you as innocents? Be not deceived, dear Brethren. God hath punished not only the proud tyrants, filthy persons, and cruel murderers, but also such as with them did draw the yoke of iniquity, was it by flattering their offenses, obeying their unjust commandments, or in winking at their manifest iniquity. All such, I say, hath God once punished with the chief offenders. Be ye assured, Brethren, that as he is immutable of nature, so will he not pardon in you that which so severely he hath punished in others; and now the less, because he hath plainly admonished you of the dangers to come, and hath offered you his mercy, before he pour forth his wrath and displeasure upon the inobedient.

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is Father of glory, and God of all consolation, give you the Spirit of wisdom, and open unto you the knowledge of himself by the means of his dear Son, by the which ye may attain to the hope and hope, that after the troubles of this transitory life, ye may be partakers of the riches of that glorious inheritance which is prepared for such as refuse themselves, and fight under the banner of Christ Jesus in the day of this his battle; that in deep consideration of the same, ye may learn to prefer the invisible and eternal joys to the vain pleasures that are present. God further grant you his Holy Spirit, righteously to consider what I, in his name, have required of your Nobility, and of you the Subjects; and move you all together so to answer, that my Petition be not a testimony of your just condemnation, when the Lord Jesus shall appear to revenge the blood of his Saints, and the contempt of his most Holy Word.

 

Amen.

 

Sleep not in sin, for vengeance is prepared against all inobedient. Fly from Babylon, if ye will not be partakers of her plagues.

Be witness to my Appellation. Grace be with you. From Geneva, the 14. of July 1558.

Your Brother to command in godliness,

John Knox.