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Letter XXXI. To His Sisters in Edinburgh.


Letter XXXI. To His Sisters in Edinburgh.

James Dodson

The Answer to your Scripture, touching the Apparel of Women, commanded by the Apostles Saint Paul and Peter to be used of such as profess godliness, is very difficult and dangerous to appoint any certainty, lest in so doing we either restrain Christian liberty, or else loose the bridle too far to the foolish fantasy of facile flesh. For if we shall condemn such vain apparel as most commonly now is used among women, we shall be called rigorous and severe, and be accused as too much inclining to superstition. And if we shall say that to the clean all is clean, and that the external apparel doth not defile the inward conscience, then I fear that we shall be patrons to such as be their vanity doth witness and declare that they little understand what is Christian purity, which doth not only study to keep the self clean in God’s presence, but is also most careful to give good example to others, and to avoid all occasion of offense and slander. There be some which will not be seen altogether ignorant of God’s Word, and yet, nevertheless, armed as it were with the example of the multitude in apparel, are more like to courtesans than to grave matrons. Let such know and perfectly understand that their knowledge within the Scriptures of God shall turn to their condemnation, except that be their speedy repentance they prevent God’s judgments. For in vain it is not that in so many and diverse places of Scriptures he hath given advice in that case, and that his Majesty’s Spirit hath chided against the superfluous apparel and stinking pride of women.

But yet I say, to determine any certain thing in this behalf is dangerous, for the consideration aforesaid. For even as a certain date and quantity or quality of meat and drink cannot be prescribed to man, for the variety of their natures, complexion, and age, so can not a certain habit or fashion of garment be appointed neither to man nor woman. the Word of God condemneth drunkenness, excess, delicacy, banqueting, with stuffing of the belly, yet doth it not appoint, neither measure a kind of meat to be used, but assureth the godly, that the beasts of the earth, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, be appointed for man’s sustentation, and that to the faithful all things be clean and sanctified by the Word of God, and by prayer, that is, that God’s Word does assure, that in meats by themselves there is no uncleanness. And by that, that we ask of God in an unfeigned manner, that we may use the gifts of God to his glory, our consciences are assured that to us they are sanctified and made clean. But yet if any man will for an use and consuetude say daily Grace (as they call it), and yet, nevertheless, haunt the tavern, surfeit, and banquet, and say all is clean, I cannot trust that his conscience is pure, because I see him use the place, fashion, and manners of unclean persons, that is, of drunkards and riots. Even so is it to be judged of the other; for in cloth, silks, velvet, gold, and other such, there is no uncleanness, but because that unclean persons do abuse the same to ostentation; some to allure the eyes of men, some for pride, and some because they will not be unlike to their fellows. I cannot praise the common superfluity which now is used among women in their apparel. For where the Apostle forbiddeth the embroidering and wresting of the hair, the attiring with gold and other such, he condemneth all affectation and appetite, of trimness, fairness, beauty, and decking, other than nature hath given and simple honesty doth require; and therefore such as either labour and study continually to correct natural beauty, or yet that be led away with every new guise of garment, do greatly offend against that precept of the Apostle in my judgment; for he will, not only that the faithful abstain from evil, but also from all appearance of evil. If the embroidering of the hair be evil, as it is pronounced to be, assuredly the anointing and colouring of it cannot be good. If such things as Isaiah the Prophet reproved in the women of his time be damnable, verdingale [i.e., hooped petticoat], and such other fond fantasies that were known in these days, cannot be justified.

But that I should not appear more severe nor others are, I have taken upon me to translate a Sermon of the man of God, John Calvin, to the end that in that matter ye may know the judgment of more than one; which Sermon ye shall receive in a several treatises by the self. The place of Moses forbidding women to be appareled in the clothing of men, and men likewise to be appareled in the garments of women, doth teach us, that the order which God hath set in nature ought not to be inverted or changed, but ought most carefully to be observed; or else God, who hath put a distinction betwixt man and woman in garments, wisdom, strength, and office, is condemned. But here man I admonish you, that the Hebrew text saith, “Let not the instruments or weapons of man be upon the woman,” that is, let not the woman presume to bear the weapons of man, neither let the man be clad in a women garment. Whereof it is plain, that the Holy Ghost doth appoint a certain garment to the one kind, and a certain sort of weapons to the other. The garments of women do declare their weakness and inability to execute the office of men. The instruments and weapons which men do commonly bear, do admonish what God shall require at their hands, to wit, prudence, regiment, strength, constancy, administration of justice, and defense of such as be committed to their charge; with the bearing of office and authority in Commonwealths and in his Church. These be the weapons, as I have said, of men, which God, by his statutes, laws, and ordinances, hath put into their hands, of which gift they shall spoil themselves, and put on the apparel of women, then are they abominable before God; as by the contrary, if women, forgetting their own weakness and inability to rule, do presume to take upon them to bear and use the vestments and weapons of men, that is, the offices which God hath assigned to mankind only, they shall not escape the malediction of Him who must declare himself enemy, and a severe punisher of all those that by malicious perverters of the order established by his wisdom. But because this matter appertaineth not to you, I omit further declaration of the same for this present.

The place of Scripture, written in the Second to the Corinthians, touching our clothing with our mansion from heaven, is easy to be understood, if that the mind of the Apostle be rightly marked, which is, to animate and encourage men to suffer the cross of Christ patiently; which is a thing most repugnant to our nature, and impossible to be done, except that our minds be lifted up from the earth to the heaven; and therefore the Apostle, after that, in the former chapter, he had concluded that a momentary trouble bringeth an eternal joy, in the beginning of this chapter declareth, that in this earth there is no felicity to the elect of God of any long continuance, but that our very felicity is reserved for the life to come. And to make this matter more plain, he compareth the body which now liveth unto a cottage or a tent, as Job also calleth it a house of clay, because it is always falling in decay, and never doth abide in any permanent state; and that body that shall be given to us in the resurrection he calleth eternal, not made with hands, but an edification or building which we shall have from God, because the state and condition thereof shall be immovable. The difference of these two bodies being laid, he declareth that thirst and desire which we ought to have to be clad with our heavenly building, which cannot be before that this earthly house be broken down, but because that the bodies of all men do turn to corruption, and yet shall not have a like resurrection, he declareth the cause in these words, “If we be found clad and not naked.” the cause why the reprobate shall rise in judgment to condemnation, is that they are found naked, that is to say, void of Christ’s justice, which only is the wedding garment to all his Elect, with which so many as shall be found clad, shall be clad also with immortality and glory. And so the Apostle meaneth, that God’s elect in this life are clad with Christ’s justice by faith, and with the sanctification of his Holy Spirit, and after, therefore, shall they be clad with immortally and honor. But the reprobate, because in God’s presence they bring nothing except their own filthy nakedness, therefore must they be clad with confusion and shame. God illuminate our hearts to understand the comfort of the one, and the danger of the other! Amen.

TOUCHING things dedicate to Idols, whereof mention is made in the 8. and 10. chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, if the mind of Saint Paul be rightly understood, there shall remain no such doubt as ye find. Where that ye write, in the end of your letter, that ye believed Saint Paul had altogether forbidden men to be participant with idolaters, and yet he appeareth to give them leave to eat things offered to idols, except that another man admonish the eater, ye shall understand that there is two sorts of participation with idolaters; one, in the act of their idolatry, whereof mention is made in the 8. chapter, and that is never lawful; another, without the act of their idolatry, which may be in their private houses, and that in some cassis may be lawful. And that this division must be observed, the text itself shall declare, for in the aformentioned 8. chapter, the general conclusion of the Apostle is, That nothing could excuse them to be partakers with devils, adding the reason in the 10. chapter, in these words: “The things which the Gentiles do sacrifice, they sacrifice them to devils, and not to God: And I would not have you partakers with the devils: for ye may not both drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot both communicate with the table of the Lord, and the table of devils.” Whereof it is plain, that the Apostle condemneth all participation with idolaters in their public conventions and in the act of their idolatry; neither will he admit any kind of excuse in that behalf, as by his strong reasons do appear. For when the Corinthians alleging their knowledge, affirming that they knew what the idol was, to wit, that it was no thing, and that it had no power; and where further they boasted and bragged of Christian liberty, he repels both with one reason, that is, that science and knowledge without charity is but damnable pride, and that the liberty of all things ought to be retained within the bounds and limits of edification, so that a Christian may not look only what he may do without offense of his own conscience, but also he is bound to abstain from everything which may offend the weak conscience of another professing Christ; for else in wounding the conscience of the weak, which is, when by the example of such as profess knowledge they are encouraged to do against their own conscience, we do injury and contumely to Christ; and so by the rule of charity will he that all liberty shall be measured. And lest that the Corinthians should have alleged, amongst us there is none weak, for all know well enough that in idols there is no power, the Apostle answereth, “Yet notwithstanding ye may not be partakers with them in their public conventions, because their oblations and offerings are made to devils, and I would not have you partakers with devils.”

First, let us mark and ponder the words of the former part, where he affirmeth that the offerings of the Gentiles were made to devils. It appeareth to be a bold affirmation, and such a thing as none of his time would have suddenly believed, for it is not to be thought that the Gentiles were so brutish and beastly, as that of set purpose they would have honored or served the devil; no, they served those whom they judged to be God’s, being so taught and instructed from their antecessors. And the most part of the Christians, albeit they understood the vanity of the thing, yet they judged it not so abominable as that it should be honouring of devils, but that it was a thing indifferent, and did not greatly offend God. But the Apostle doth plainly affirm it to be service of devils, because it was an honor and service in matters of religion, invented by the brain of man, without the express Word of God; and all such service and honor is service of devils, albeit it be offered to the very true and living God. As David after Moses did affirm, both the Canaanites and the Jews to have offered their sons and daughters to devils and not to God; and yet their purpose and intent was to offer unto God a most acceptable sacrifice, in that they did not spare for his sake the fruits of their own bosom and loins.

But vain be all the cogitations of men, so soon as they in the least a jot decline from God’s Word. in religion there is no midst: either it is the religion of God, and that in everything that is done it must have the assurance of his own Word, and then is his Majesty truly honored, or else it is the religion of the Devil, which is, when men will erect and set up to God such religion as pleaseth them; and no doubt is the Devil honored, and all that decrees or assisteth such religion with their presence, or maintains it with their substance, are honorers of the Devil (as the Apostle plainly affirmeth), for their presence, and their daily support for maintenance of such religion, is a declaration of their consent with them in opinion. And so will the Apostle, that in any case they abstain from the society of idolaters in the act of their idolatry, which except (if we look to be partakers with Christ), we must also observe; but this I defer unto more opportunity.

There was another participation with idolaters, the which the Apostle doth not altogether condemn, which appeareth to be this: After their solemn sacrifices, commonly they made banquets, to the which they called their familiars, not in public assemblies, but in their private houses, which thing of the text is plain to be collected. For where the Apostle saith, “If any of those that sit with you admonish you that the things which ye eat were dedicate to idols, then ought ye to abstain.” Hereof I say, it is plain that this was done in their private houses, and not in the action of idolatry in the common assembly. For what needed any to have given advice that meats had been offered to idols if they had been in the act of idolatry, where all things were offered and presented before idols, and to their service. to those particular assemblies, I say in private houses, where no idolatry was openly used, Paul permitteth them to go, if they have pleasure, and will so to do. And yet in giving his permission, he appeareth to show his mind rather to be that they should not go, nor that they should keep company with them. For in these words that he saith, “If ye will do,” he obscurely meaneth, that he rather would approve the mind of those that altogether did absent from all company of idolaters, not of those that used familiarity with them. But yet because it was a thing pertaining to the common society of men, he would not altogether forbid it.

But now let us consider what precept he giveth to such as go to feast or banquet with infidels; first, he saith, “Whatever is put before you eat, disputing nothing for conscience’s sake.” in which words the Apostle declareth the liberty of a Christian as touching meat and drink, to wit, that no meat received with sobriety and thanks giving unto God can defile the conscience of man, howbeit that it hath been profaned, in that it hath been offered to idols. And in this apparently he would remove such doubts as because were raised amongst the Corinthians, that is, Whether meets offered to idols did contract by the oblation any filthiness? Or if they did not defile by themselves the conscience of Christians eating the same? Neither is it to be wondered at, albeit weak consciences did find in such cases a doubt, considering that some which pretended great learning and knowledge in God’s Word many years after, did affirm, that things offered to idols could never be used amongst Christians without danger of conscience; yea, some feared not to say, that they had rather die of famine and hunger than to eat of that which was profaned in the sacrifice of idols. And in very deed, God appeareth in his Law to have had in great detestation all that (how precious and necessary) which anis [once] had made service to the Devil in idolatry. For the Lord commanded the whole city of Jericho to be destroyed, and no part of the substance of the same to be reserved; which sentence he also pronounced against every city that shall revolt from God back to idolatry. And further, commandeth his people to break down the altars, to destroy groves, to stamp to powder and to scatter in the wind, the gold, silver, and metal whereof the idols and vessels appertaining to their service was made. Whereby, as before is said, God declareth that he holdeth in abomination not only the idolaters, but also the idols and all that appertain to them. But hear the Holy Ghost, by the Apostle of Jesus Christ, removes from us all such doubts as did trouble the Corinthians and some of the ancient Writers, [telling] them, saying, “Whatever is sold in the market, eat of it; yea, whatever is put before you, even in the houses of the unfaithful, eat of it, fearing nothing the defiling of your conscience; for the earth is the Lord’s, and the plenitude of the same:” as the Apostle would say, the benediction which God hath given to his creatures to nourish and feed the bodies of men, and this free liberty that he hath granted to his children to use the same, can never be profaned, nor yet restrained by the iniquity of men, or by their wicked fact. True it is, that in so far as in them lies, they, that is the blind and wicked idolaters, bring upon the creatures which they abuse the curse and malediction of God, in so much as they cause them serve against his glory and honor; but this curse doth the benediction which we receive by Christ Jesus quench, utterly abolish, and take away; even as it doth the curse and malediction of the whole Law, so that our conscience is set at freedom in the liberty of the Gospel, which pronounceth all things to be clean to the clean, and herein have we great comfort and quietness to our conscience; for if we should stand in doubt whether that the creatures may contract any filthiness be the abuse of them in the hands of other men, there should nothing be clean to us in earth; for what creature doth not the wicked abuse, and compelleth the same to serve the Devil and all iniquity; but the former abuse cannot make it unclean unto us, if that our hearts be cleansed and purged by faith. And herein have we great cause to praise the bounteous liberality of our God, who so abundantly provides for his children, and so mercifully deals with them, that the same creatures which the ungodly do abuse to their condemnation, doth his Majesty sanctify and bless to the holy use and necessary sustentation of his dear children.

But now let us consider the exception of Saint Paul, saying, “But if any man say unto you, That it was offered unto idols, eat not for him that hath showed it, and for his conscience: not for thy conscience, I say, but for the conscience of the other,” that is, of him that hath given the advice. in which words the Apostle meaneth, that I ought not only to have respect to my own conscience in the presence of God, but also unto that which may hurt and offend my weak brother; so that if my brother judge me to offend in such cassis as he giveth to me advice, I am obliged to abstain from the same, for the rule of charity doth bind me to that obedience, and will in no wise suffer that I offend my brother. If without offense of God I may avoid it, as in abstaining from a small portion of meat, I easily may, for as the same Apostle saith in another place, Neither am I the better if I eat, neither the worse if I abstain; and this, I trust, be the mind of the Apostle, how far, and in what cassis we may accompany infidels and idolaters, and how not. in the action and time of their idolatry we never may accompany them; but in so doing we approve their abomination, and so blaspheme we God and disprove his true religion. in their private houses we may be with them at table and mutual communication, so that in our life, conversation, reasoning, and talk, (if any question of religion chance to be proponed,) we declare that we are professors of Christ’s truth, and enemies to all superstition. For if God require the same obedience in us that his Spirit, speaking in Saint Paul, did require of the Corinthians, we will not only abstain from the common assemblies of idolaters in the time and place of their idolatry, but also if we chance to convene in their private houses, and there the idolaters set before us the remnants of their idolatry, that is to say, do pra[ise], defend, and advance their damnable superstition; and if there be in company with us such as do not perfectly understand the truth, we are bound and obliged to declare ourselves not to be maintainers of such abominations, for that requireth Saint Paul when he commandeth the Christian to abstain from eating of meat for the cause of Him that hath admonished him.

Now, Sisters, judge ye if this text giveth us any liberty to pollute ourselves with idolatry, or to be present with idolaters what time they are at their idolatry; no, rather it doth condemn us because we cry not out in the common streets against idolaters, when we see our weak brethren led in blindness for lack of instruction: this much for this time. Now, Sisters, rejoice in the Lord and eschew iniquity; be not ashamed of Christ Jesus in the midst of this wicked generation; strive with violence against the assaults of your enemies; give no place to flatteries, for the visitation of the Lord approacheth. As I am zealous over you, so stand I in great fear lest ye faint in the day of this your battle. But, dearly beloved in the bowels of Christ Jesus, remember the shortness, yea, the vain vanity of all that is here in the earth, and if ye have slidden by infirmity, delay not to rise again. O, Sisters, to sleep in sin, and especially in abnegation of Christ Jesus, is the way to perdition, and therefore arise at once and renew the battle, and strength, with patience, shall be granted unto you; yea, victory and triumph by Him that hath overcome. If any would persuade you that ye may have fellowship with Christ, and yet notwithstanding that we may do in external things as the blind of the world doth, believe them not, for liars they are and blinded by the father of liars, the Devil, not only to their own destruction, but also to the destruction of all such as shall believe and follow their deceitful persuasions.

Love maketh me fervent, and lack of time and opportunity short and imperfect. the grace of our Lord Jesus rest with you, now and ever. Amen.

Yours known,

John Knox.