« PreviousContinue »
sidering the general apostacy that was foretold, and the church's flight into the wilderness. Nor is this enough; instead of showing the reason of their lowly condition from divine example and command, they seek to prove their high pre-eminence from human consent and authority. But let them chant while they will of prerogatives, we shall tell them of scripture; of custom, we of scripture; of acts and statutes, still of scripture; till the quick and piercing word enter to the dividing of their souls, and the mighty weakness of the gospel throw down the weak mightiness of man's reasoning. Now for their demeanour within the church, how have they disfigured and defaced that more than angelic brightness, the unclouded serenity of Christian religion, with the dark overcasting of superstitious copes and flaminical vestures, wearing on their backs, and, I abhor to think, perhaps in some worse place, the inexpressible image of God the Father? Tell me, ye priests, wherefore this gold, wherefore these robes and surplices over the gospel? Is our religion guilty of the first trespass, and hath need of clothing to cover her nakedness? What does this else but cast an ignominy upon the perfection of Christ's ministry, by seeking to adorn it with that which was the poor remedy of our shame? Believe it, wondrous doctors, all corporeal resemblances of inward holiness and beauty are now past; he that will clothe the gospel now, intimates plainly that the gospel is naked, uncomely, that I may not say reproachful. Do not, ye church maskers, while Christ is clothing upon our barrenness with his righteous garment to make us acceptable in his Father's sight; do not, as ye do, cover and hide his righteous verity with the polluted clothing of your ceremonies, to make it seem more decent in your own eyes. "How beautiful," saith Isaiah," are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth salvation!" Are the feet so beautiful, and is the very bringing of these tidings so decent of itself? What new decency can then be added to this by your spinstry? Ye think by these gaudy glisterings to stir up the devotion of the rude multitude; ye think so, because ye forsake the heavenly teaching of St. Paul for the hellish sophistry of papism. If the multitude be rude, the lips of the preacher must give knowledge, and not ceremonies. And although some Christians be
new-born babes comparatively to some that are stronger, yet in respect of ceremony, which is but a rudiment of the law, the weakest Christian hath thrown off the robes of his minority, and is a perfect man, as to legal rites. What children's food there is in the gospel we know to be no other than the "sincerity of the word, that they may grow thereby." But is here the utmost of your outbraving the service of God? No. Ye have been bold, not to set your threshold by his threshold, or your posts by his posts; but your sacrament, your sign, call it what you will, by his sacrament, baptizing the Christian infant with a solemn sprinkle, and unbaptizing for your own part with a profane and impious forefinger; as if when ye had laid the purifying element upon his forehead, ye meant to cancel and cross it out again with a character not of God's bidding. O but the innocence of these ceremonies! O rather the sottish absurdity of this excuse. What could be more innocent than the washing of a cup, a glass, or hands, before meat, and that under the law, when so many washings were commanded, and by long tradition? yet our Saviour detested their customs, though never so seeming harmless, and charges them severely, that they had transgressed the commandments of God by their traditions, and worshipped him in vain. How much more then must these, and much grosser ceremonies now in force, delude the end of Christ's coming in the flesh against the flesh, and stifle the sincerity of our new covenant, which hath bound us to forsake all carnal pride and wisdom, especially in mat ters of religion? Thus we see again how prelaty, failing in opposition to the main end and power of the gospel, doth not join in that mysterious work of Christ, by lowliness to confound height; by simplicity of doctrine, the wisdom of the world; but contrariwise hath made itself high in the world and the flesh, to vanquish things by the world accounted low, and made itself wise in tradition and fleshy ceremony, to confound the purity of doctrine which is the wisdom of God.
That prelatical Jurisdiction opposeth the Reason and End of the Gospel and of State.
THE third and last consideration remains, whether the prelates in their function do work according to the gospel, practising to subdue the mighty things of this world by things weak, which St. Paul hath set forth to be the power and excellence of the gospel; or whether in more likelihood they band themselves with the prevalent things of this world, to overrun the weak things which Christ hath made choice to work by and this will soonest be discerned by the course of their jurisdiction. But here again I find my thoughts almost in suspense betwixt yea and no, and am nigh turning mine eye which way I may best retire, and not proceed in this subject, blaming the ardency of my mind that fixed me too attentively to come thus far. For truth, I know not how, hath this unhappiness fatal to her, ere she can come to the trial and inspection of the understanding; being to pass through many little wards and limits of the several affections and desires, she cannot shift it, but must put on such colours and attire as those pathetic handmaids of the soul please to lead her in to their queen: and if she find so much favour with them, they let her pass in her own likeness; if not, they bring her into the presence habited and coloured like a notorious falsehood. And contrary, when any falsehood comes that way, if they like the errand she brings, they are so artful to counterfeit the very shape and visage of truth, that the understanding not being able to discern the fucus which these enchantresses with such cunning have laid upon the feature sometimes of truth, sometimes of falsehood interchangeably, sentences for the most part one for the other at the first blush, according to the subtle imposture of these sensual mistresses, that keep the ports and passages between her and the object. So that were it not for leaving imperfect that which is already said, I should go near to relinquish that which is to follow. And because I see that most men, as it happens in this world, either weakly or falsely principled, what through ignorance, and what through custom of licence, both in discourse and writ ing, by what hath been of late written in vulgar, have not seemed to attain the decision of this point: I shall likewise assay those
wily arbitresses who in most men have, as was heard, the sole ushering of truth and falsehood between the sense and the soul, with what loyalty they will use me in convoying this truth to my understanding; the rather for that, by as much acquaintance as I can obtain with them, I do not find them engaged either one way or other. Concerning therefore ecclesiastical jurisdiction, I find still more controversy, who should administer it, than diligent inquiry made to learn what it is: for had the pains been taken to search out that, it had been long ago enrolled to be nothing else but a pure tyrannical forgery of the prelates; and that jurisdictive power in the church there ought to be none at all. It cannot be conceived that what men now call jurisdiction in the church, should be other thing than a Christian censorship; and therefore it is most commonly and truly named ecclesiastical censure. Now if the Roman censor, a civil function, to that severe assize of surveying and controlling the privatest and slyest manners of all men and all degrees, had no jurisdiction, no courts of plea or indictment, no punitive force annexed; whether it were that to this manner of correction the entanglement of suits was improper, or that the notice of those upright inquisitors extended to such the most covert and spirituous vices as would slip easily between the wider and more material grasp of the law or that it stood more with the majesty of that office to have no other sergeants or maces about them but those invisible ones of terror and shame; or, lastly, were it their fear, lest the greatness of this authority and honour, armed with jurisdiction, might step with ease into a tyranny: in all these respects, with much more reason undoubtedly ought the censure of the church be quite divested and disentailed of all jurisdiction whatsoever. For if the course of judicature to a political censorship seem either too tedious, or too contentious, much more may it to the discipline of the church, whose definitive decrees are to be speedy, but the execution of rigour slow, contrary to what in legal proceedings is most usual; and by how much the less contentious it is, by so much will it be the more Christian. And if the Censor, in his moral episcopy being to judge most in matters not answerable by writ or action, could not use an instrument so gross and bodily as jurisdiction is, how can the minister of the gospel manage the corpulent and secular trial of bill and process in things
merely spiritual? Or could that Roman office, without this juridical sword or saw, strike such a reverence of itself into the most undaunted hearts, as with one single dash of ignominy to put all the senate and knighthood of Rome into a tremble? Surely much rather might the heavenly ministry of the evangel bind herself about with far more piercing beams of majesty and awe, by wanting the beggarly help of halings and amercements in the use of her powerful keys. For when the church without temporal support is able to do her great works upon the unforced obedience of men, it argues a divinity about her. But when she thinks to credit and better her spiritual efficacy, and to win herself respect and dread by strutting in the false vizard of worldly authority, it is evident that God is not there, but that her apostolic virtue is departed from her, and hath left her keycold; which she perceiving as in a decayed nature, seeks to the outward fomentations and chafings of worldly help, and external flourishes, to fetch, if it be possible, some motion into her extreme parts, or to hatch a counterfeit life with the crafty and artificial heat of jurisdiction. But it is observable, that so long as the church, in true imitation of Christ, can be content to ride upon an ass, carrying herself and her government along in a mean and simple guise, she may be, as he is, a lion of the tribe of Judah; and in her humility all men with loud hosannas will confess her greatness. But when, despising the mighty operation of the Spirit by the weak things of this world, she thinks to make herself bigger and more considerable, by using the way of civil force and jurisdiction, as she sits upon this lion she changes into an ass, and instead of hosannas every man pelts her with stones and dirt. Lastly, if the wisdom of the Romans feared to commit jurisdiction to an office of so high esteem and dread as was the censor's, we may see what a solecism in the art of policy it hath been, all this while through Christendom to give jurisdiction to ecclesiastical censure. For that strength, joined with religion, abused and pretended to ambitious ends, must of necessity breed the heaviest and most quelling tyranny not only upon the necks, but even to the souls of men: which if Christian Rome had been so cautelous to prevent in her church, as pagan Rome was in her state, we had not such a lamentable experience thereof as now we have from thence upon all Christendom. For although I said before, that the church coveting