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longer presume to supplicate for the pardon of their sins? so that if they offend against the Lord, they can obtain no mercy? What would this be but to affirm, that Christ came for the destruction of his people, and not for their salvation; if the loving-kindness of God in the pardon of sins, which was continually ready to be exercised to the saints under the Old Testament, be maintained to be now entirely withdrawn? But if we give any credit to the Scriptures, which proclaim, that in Christ the grace and philanthropy of God have at length been fully manifested, that his mercy has been abundantly diffused, and reconciliation between God and man accomplished; (2) we ought not to doubt that the clemency of our heavenly Father is displayed to us in greater abundance, rather than restricted or diminished. Examples to prove this are not wanting. Peter, who had been warned that he who would not confess the name of Christ before men would be denied by him before angels, denied him three times in one night, and accompanied the denial with execrations; yet he was not refused pardon. (a) Those of the Thessalonians who led disorderly lives, are reprehended by the Apostle, in order to be invited to repentance. (6) Nor does Peter drive Simon himself to despair, but rather directs him to cherish a favourable hope, when he persuades him to pray for forgiveness. (c)
XXVII. What are we to say of cases in which the most enormous sins have sometimes seized whole Churches? From this situation Paul rather mercifully reclaimed them, than abandoned them to the curse. The defection of the Galatians was no trivial offence. (d) The Corinthians were still less excusable, their crimes being more numerous and equally enormous. (C) Yet neither are excluded from the mercy of the Lord: on the contrary, the very persons who had gone beyond all others in impurity, unchastity, and fornication, are, expressly invited repentance.
(z) 2 Tim. i. 9, 10. Tit. ii. 11. iii.4-7. (a) Matt. x. 33. Mark viii. 38. Matt. xxvi. 69, &c. (6) 2 Thess.üi. 6, 11, 12.
(c) Acts viii. 22. (d) Gal. i. 6. ii. 1. iv. 9.
For the covenant of the Lord will ever remain eternal and inviolable which he hath made with Christ, the antitype of Solomon, and with all his members, in these words; “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him.” (f) Finally, the order of the Creed teaches us that pardon of sins ever continues in the Church of Christ; because after having mentioned the Church, it immediately adds the forgiveness of sins.
XXVIII. Some persons who are a little more judicious, perceiving ihe notion of Novatus to be so explicitly contradicted by the Scripture, do not represent every sin as unpardonable, but only voluntary transgression, into which a person may have fallen with the full exercise of his knowledge and will. These persons admit of no pardon' for any sins, but such as may have been the mere errors of ignorance. But as the Lord, in the law, commanded some sacrifices to be offered to expiate the voluntary sins of the faithful, and others to atone for sins of ignorance; what extreme presumption is it to deny that there is any pardon for voluntary transgression! I maintain, that there is nothing more evident, than that the one sacrifice of Christ is available for the remission of the voluntary sins of the saints, since the Lord hath testified the same by the legal victims, as by so many types. Besides, who can plead ignorance as an excuse for David, who was evidently so well acquainted with the law? Did not David know that adultery and murder were great crimes, which he daily punished in others? Did the patriarchs consider fratricide as lawful? Had the Corinthians learned so little that they could imagine impurity, incontinence, fornication, animosities, and contentions, to be pleasing to God? Could Peter, who had been so carefully warned, be ignorant how great a crime it was to abjure his Master? Let us not therefore, by our
(f) Psalm lxxxix. 30–33.
cruelty, shut the gate of mercy which God has so liberally opened.
XXIX. I am fully aware that the old writers have explained those sins, which are daily forgiven to the faithful, to be the smaller faults, which are inadvertently committed through the infirmity of the flesh; but solemn repentance, which was then required for greater offences, they thought, was no more to be repeated than baptism. This sentiment is not to be understood as indicating their design, either to drive into despair such persons as had relapsed after their first repentance, or to extenuate those errors as if they were small in the sight of God. For they knew that the saints frequently stagger through unbelief, that they sometimes utter unnecessary oaths, that they occasionally swell into anger, and even break out into open reproaches, and that they are likewise chargeable with other faults which the Lord holds in the greatest abomination. They expressed themselves in this manner, to distinguish between private offences and those public crimes which were attended with great scandal in the Church. But the difficulty, which they made, of forgiving those who had committed any thing deserving of ecclesiastical censure, did not arise from an opinion that it was difficult for them to obtain pardon from the Lord; they only intended by this severity to deter others from rashly running into crimes, which would justly be followed by their exclusion from the communion of the Church. The word of the Lord, however, which onght to be our only rule in this case, certainly prescribes greater moderation. For it teaches, that the rigour of discipline ought not to be carried to such an extent, as to overwhelm with sorrow the person whose benefit we are required to regard as its principal object; as we have before shewn more at large.
The True and False Church compared. We have already stated the importance which we ought to attach to the ministry of the word and sacraments, and the extent to which our reverence for it ought to be carried, so as to account it a perpetual mark and characteristic of the Church. That is to say, that wherever that exists entire and uncorrupted, no errors and irregularities of conduct form a sufficient reason for refusing the name of a Church. In the next place, that the ministry itself is not so far vitiated by smaller errors, as to be considered on that account less legitimate. It has farther been shewn, that the errors which are entitled to this forgiveness are those, by which the grand doctrine of religion is not injured, which do not suppress the points in which all the faithful ought to agree as articles of faith, and which, in regard to the sacraments, neither abolish nor subvert the legitimate institution of their Author. But as soon as falsehood has made a breach in the fundamentals of religion, and the system of necessary doctrine is subverted, and the use of the sacraments, fails, the certain consequence is the ruin of the Church, as there is an end of a man's life when his throat is cut, or his heart is mortally wounded. And this is evident from the language of Paul, when he declares the Church to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” (h) If the foundation of the Church be the doctrine of the prophets, and apostles, which enjoins the faithful to place their salvation in Christ alone, how can the edifice stand any longer, when that doctrine is taken away? The Church therefore must of necessity fall, where that system of religion is subverted, which alone is able to sustain it. Besides, if the true Church be “the pillar and ground of truth," (i) that certainly can be no Church where delusion and falsehood have usurped the dominion.
II. As this is the state of things under the Papacy, it is easy to judge how much of the Church remains there. Instead of the ministry of the word, there reigns a corrupt government, composed of falsehoods, by which the pure light is suppressed or extinguished. An execrable sacrilege has been substituted for the supper of the Lord. The worship of God is deformed by a multifarious and intolerable mass of superstitions. The doctrine, without which Christianity cannot exist, has been entirely forgotten or exploded. The public assemblies have become schools of idolatry and impiety. In withdrawing ourselves, therefore, from the pernicious participation of so many enormities, there is no danger of separating ourselves from the Church of Christ. The communion of the Church was not instituted as a bond to confine us in idolatry, impiety, ignorance of God, and other evils; but rather as a mean to preserve us in the fear of God, and obedience of the truth. I know that the Papists give us the most magnificent commendations of their Church, to make us believe that there is no other in the world; and then, as if they had gained their point, they conclude all who dare to withdraw themselves from that Church which they describe, to be schismatics, and pronounce all to be heretics who venture to open their mouths in opposition to its doctrine. But by what reasons do they prove theirs to be the true Church? They allege from ancient records what formerly occurred in Italy, in France, in Spain; that they are descended from those holy men, who by sound doctrine founded and raised the Churches in these countries, and confirmed their doctrine and the edification of the Church by their blood; and that the Church, thus consecrated among them, both by spiritual gifts, and by the blood of martyrs, has been preserved by a perpetual succession of bishops, so that it was never lost. They allege the importance attached to this succession by Irenæus, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and others. To those who are willing to attend me in a brief examination of these allegations, I will clearly show that they are frivolous, and manifestly ludicrous. I would likewise exhort those who advance them, to pay a serious attention to the subject, if I thought my arguments could produce any effect upon them; but as VOL. III.