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OF THE ENGLISH REFORMATION.
THE REFORMATION VINDICATED ON ACCOUNT OF THE
NECESSITY OF IT.
A DISCOURSE CONCERNING THE NECESSITY OF A REFORMA
MATION WITH RESPECT TO THE ERRORS AND CORRUPTIONS OF THE CHURCH OF ROME.
AMONG the many errors of the Church of Rome, there is one especially that puts a bar, not only to the reformation of herself, but of all other churches which depend upon her; and that is, the doctrine of her infallibility: if she cannot err, neither she, nor any other Church that follows her conduct, can stand in need of being reformed; for where there can be no error, there can be nothing amiss; and where there can be nothing amiss, there can be no need of reformation.
It is therefore needful to remove this prejudice, in order to the clearing of the way to the ensuing discourse.
When the Romanists assert that their Church is infallible, and theirs only, we may in reason expect, that they should produce good proof that their Church is so highly privileged above all other churches. This they say they do, and their proofs, they tell us, are so convincing, that they may pass for no less than demonstrations : but, alas, when we come to examine them, we find ourselves strangely disappointed; instead of demonstrations, we meet with nothing that amounts to so much as probability.
Their pretended proofs are taken from Scripture, from reason, and from the authority of the ancient church.
I. Those from Scripture are many, but all of them as impertinent as that of their angelical doctor, to prove that all men are not equally bound to have an explicit faith, because it is said “That the oxen were ploughing, and the asses were feeding beside them."* For
* Job i. 14.
First, They do not prove that any Church now in being is infallible.
Secondly, Much less that the Church of Rome is.
Church now in being is infallible. I say now in being, because we grant that there was a time when even particular churches were in their guides infallible, viz. while the Apostles lived, and took upon them the government of particular churches : and many of those Scriptures which the Romanists produce for the infallibility of their present church, peculiarly relate to that time, and to those persons. For instance, these promises, “The Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my Name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
»* “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now; howbeit when he the Spirit of Truth is come, he shall guide you into all Truth: for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak; and he shall show you things to come.”+
It is plain that these promises are to be limited to the Apostles, and those disciples only who personally conversed with our Saviour ; because they were made to those to whom he himself had spoken, and to whose remembrance the Holy Ghost was to bring those things he had before told them; to those to whom he had many more things to say, which they were not yet able to bear; to those who had been with Christ from the beginning; to those from whom Christ was now going away, and whom he had before told of his departure; to those to whom the Holy Ghost was to shew things to come; a privilege which the present Roman church does not, I think, so much as pretend to.
And for those other Scriptures, which extend to succeeding ages; though they do, for the most part, concern the Catholic only, and not any particular church; yet they neither assert, nor promise any such thing as absolute infallibility.
Let it be supposed that St. Paul calls the Church “ The pillar and ground of the Truth ”I (for these words may as well be connected with, and applied to that summary of Christian doctrine, which follows) must the meaning needs be, that the Church cannot err? May it not justly lay claim to this title ;
* John xiv. 26.
of John xvi, 12, 13. I 1 Tim. iii, 15.
1. If it do not actually err, though it is fallible, and may err ? If nothing may be called a pillar that is capable of any defect, St. Peter's Church in Rome will have no pillar left to support it. Or, 2. If it doth not err in things necessary to salvation : that may be truly called a pillar, that upholds all that is needful to the being of the house, though it do not support every little part, but suffers here and there a tile or a stone to fall to the ground. Or, 3. If, together with all necessary truths, it gives support to some errors: as we frequently see those pillars that uphold the building ; together with it, they also support other things that are laid upon it, and are no better than a nuisance and incumbrance to it. And such a pillar of truth, the Romanists must be forced to grant, the Universal Church hath sometimes been ; for has it not for some ages maintained those doctrines
which the present Church of Rome condemns as erroneous ? Though the truth is, the Church here spoken of, was that in which Timothy was directed how to behave himself; and that was the Church of Ephesus (or, in the largest sense, that of Asia, of which Ephesus was the metropolis), and that this Church hath fundamentally erred, must needs be granted, there being not one family of Christians now to be found in Ephesus.*
From that promise of our Saviour, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church,”† they can by no means infer infallibility, till they have first proved that the gates of hell prevail against every society; yea, against every person, that is not infallible: and when that shall be once proved, the gates of hell will be so largely extended, and those who enter in at them so numerous, that it is to be feared St. Peter will never more be put to the trouble of opening the gates of heaven for any man.
It is true Christ hath promised to “be with his Church always, even to the end of the world.”I But if all those with whom Christ is present are infallible, then every sincere Christian in the world is so; and then what will become of the Pope's prerogative? When the poorest mechanic, in case he be but an honest Christian, will be as infallible a guide of controversies, as he is now by his flatterers pretended to be.
And as little to this purpose is that other promise of our
* Mr. Rycaut's present State of the Greek Church , chap. ii.
+ Matth. xvi. 18.
# Matth. xxviii, 20.