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And not only so, but if a council determine in direct opposition to the Scriptures, it will still be called an interpretation of it. Christ commands all to drink of the cup which he presents to them in the sacred Supper. (c) The council of Constance prohibited it to be given to the laity, and determined that none but the priest should drink of it. Yet this, which is so diametrically repugnant to the institution of Christ, they wish us to receive as an interpretation of it. Paul calls forbidding to marry" a " doctrine of devils;” (d) and the Holy Spirit in another place pronounces that “marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled." (e) The prohibition, which they have since denounced, of the marriage of priests, they wish us to consider as the true and natural interpretation of the Scriptures, though nothing can be imagined more repugnant to it. If any one dare to open his mouth to the contrary, he is condemned as a heretic, because the determination of the Church is without appeal, and the truth of its interpretation cannot be doubted without impiety. What further requires to be urged against such consummate effrontery? The mere exhibition of it is a sufficient refutation. Their pretensions to confirm the Scripture by the authority of the Church, I purposely pass over. To subject the oracles of God to the authority of men, so as to make their validity dependent on human approbation, is a blasphemy unworthy of being mentioned; beside which, I have touched on this subject already. I will only ask them one question; If the authority of the Scripture be founded on the approbation of the Church, what decree of any conncil can they allege to this point? I believe, none at all. Why then did Arius suffer himself to be vanquished at Nice by testimonies adduced from the Gospel of John? According to the argument of our opponents, he was at liberty to reject them, as not having yet received the approbation of any general council. They allege an ancient Catalogue, which is called the Canon of Scripture, and which they say proceeded from the decision of the Church. I ask them again, in what council that canon was composed. To
(1) 1 Tim. iv. 1, 3.
(e) Heb. xiii. 4.
this they can make no reply. Yet I would wish to be further informed, what kind of a canon they suppose it to be. For I see that the ancient writers were not fully agreed respecting it. And if any weight be attached to the testimony of Jerome, the two books of the Maccabees, the history of Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, and other books, will be considered as apocryphal; to which our opponents will by no means consent.
The Power of Legislation, in which the Pope and his Ad
herents have most cruelly tyrannized over the Minds, and
tortured the Bodies of Men. We now proceed to the second branch of the power of the Church, which the Romanists represent as consisting in legislation; a source from which have issued innumerable human traditions, the most pestilent and fatal to wretched souls. For they have made no more scruple than the Scribes and Pharisees to “lay on other men's shoulders burdens which they themselves would not touch with one of their fingers.” (f) I have shewn in another place the extreme cruelty of their injunctions concerning auricular confession. None of their other laws discover such enormous violence; but those which appear the most tolerable of them all, are tyrannically oppressive to the conscience. I forbear to remark how they adulterate the worship of God, and despoil God himself, who is the sole Legislator, of the right which belongs to him. This power is now to be examined; whether the Church has authority to make laws which shall bind the consciences of men. This question has nothing to do with political order; the only objects of our present attention are, that God may be rightly worshipped according to the rule he hath prescribed, and that our spiritual liberty which
( ) Matt. xxii. 4. Luke xi. 46.
relates to God may be preserved entire. Whatever edicts have been issued by men respecting the worship of God, independently of his word, it has been customary to call human traditions. Against such laws we contend, and not against the holy and useful constitutions of the Church, which contribute to the preservation of discipline, or integrity, or peace. The object for which we contend, is, to restrain that overgrown and barbarous empire, which is usurped over men's souls by those who wish to be accounted the pastors of the Church, but who in reality are its most savage butchers. For they say that the laws which they make are spiritual, pertaining to the soul, and they affirm them to be necessary to eternal life. Thus, as I have lately hinted, the kingdom of Christ is invaded; thus the liberty given by him to the consciences of the faithful is altogether subverted and destroyed. I forbear to remark at present with what great impiety they enforce the observance of their laws, while they teach men to seek the pardon of their sins and righteousness and salvation from it, and while they make the whole of religion and piety to consist in it. I only contend for this one point, that no necessity ought to be imposed upon consciences in things in which they have been set at liberty by Christ, and without this liberty, as I have before observed, they can have no peace with God. They must acknowledge Christ their Deliverer as their only King, and must be governed by one law of liberty, even the sacred word of the gospel, if they wish to retain the grace which they have once obtained in Christ: they must submit to no slavery; they must be fettered by no bonds.
II. These sapient legislators indeed pretend that their constitutions are laws of liberty, an easy yoke, a light burden. But who does not see that these are gross falsehoods? The hardship of their laws is not at all felt by themselves, who have rejected the fear of God, and securely and boldly disregard all laws, human and divine. But persons who are impressed with any concern for their salvation, are far from considering themselves at liberty as long as they are entangled in these snares. We see what great caution Paul
used in this respect, to avoid “ casting a snare upon” men in a single instance; (3) and that not without cause; for he saw what a deep wound would be made in their consciences, by the imposition of any necessity upon them in those things in which the Lord had left them at liberty. On the contrary, it is scarcely possible to enumerate the constitutions, which these men have most rigorously enforced with the denunciation of eternal death, and which they require to be most minutely observed as necessary to salvation. Among these, there are many exceedingly difficult to be fulfilled; but when they are all collected together in one body, so immense is the accumulation, the observance of the whole is utterly impracticable. How then can it be possible for those who are loaded with such a vast weight of difficulty, not to be perplexed and tortured with extreme anxiety and terror?. My design at present then is to oppose constitutions of this kind, which tend to bind souls internally before God, and to fill them with scruples, as if they enjoined things necessary to salvation.
III. The generality of men therefore are embarrassed with this question, for want of distinguishing with sufficient exactness between the outward judgment of men and the court of conscience. The difficulty is increased by the injunction of Paul, that the magistrate is to be obeyed, “ not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake:" (1) whence it follows, that consciences are bound by political laws. If this were the case, all that we said in the last Chapter, and are about to say in this, on the subject of spiritual government, would fall to the ground. To solve this difficulty, it is first of all necessary to understand what is conscience. The definition may be derived from the etymology of the word. Science or knowledge, is the apprehension which men have of things in their mind and understanding. So when they have an apprehension of the judgment of God, as a witness that suffers them not to conceal their sins, but forces them as criminals before the tribunal of the judge, this apprehension is called conscience. For it is something between God and
man, which permits not a man to suppress what he knows within himself, but pursues him till it brings him to a sense of his guilt. This is what Paul means, when he speaks of men's “conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another" (0) before God. A simple knowledge might remain in man as it were in a state of concealment. Therefore this sentiment, which places men before the tribunal of God, is like a keeper appointed over man to watch and observe all his secrets, that nothing may remain buried in darkness. Hence that old proverb, that conscience is equal to a thousand witnesses. For the same reason, Peter speaks of the answer of a good conscience towards God,” (k) to denote our tranquillity of mind, when, persuaded of the grace of Christ, we presen ourselves before God without fear. And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of persons “having no more conscience of sins," (1) to signify their being liberated, or absolved, so as to feel no more remorse or compunction for sin.
IV. Therefore as works have respect to man, so the conscience is referred to God. A good conscience is no other than an internal purity of heart. In this sense Paul says that “the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” (m) In a subsequent part of the same chapter, he shews how widely it differs from simple knowledge, when he says, that "some having put away a good conscience, concerning faith have made shipwreck.” (n) For in these words he implies that it is a lively zeal for the worship of God, and a sincere desire and endeavour to live a pious and holy life. Sometimes indeed it is likewise extended to men, as when Luke states Paul to have made this declaration, “ I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." ) The apostle expressed himself in this manner, because the benefits proceeding from a good conscience do reach eyen to man. But strictly speaking, the
(i) Rom. ï. 15.
() 1 Peter ii. 21.
(1) Heb. x. 2.