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God of all mercies? Can they possibly believe their salvation depends on a faith like this?
No; none but the most stupid or abandoned among them have recourse to hopes so strangely founded. There are. millions of sensible and worthy men in that communion, who have indeed a mere speculative faith in these things, or rather think they believe them, though in reality they do not, as is manifest from the goodness of their lives, whereby it appears, that they lay little or no stress on them. There are also many of them, who, like Erasmus, Cassander, and father Paul, have knowledge enough to see the folly, and goodness enough to detest the wickedness, of such principles; and yet judge it better to continue as they are, than to break with a church, wherein, notwithstanding their objections to her, they think they may be saved. You see these men going to mass, you see them on their knees before a crucifix, or an image of the blessed Virgin ; you ask them, whether they think it possible for one, who dies in a great measure impenitent and unreformed, to be saved by the help of posthumous masses ; or whether the commands of the pope and the church can sanctify the private murder, or public massacre, of Protestants; and they answer, perhaps, with their church, they believe they may. But, if you consider them in their lives and conversations, you will find this was all pure speculation, which they dare by no means, nor in any measure, trust to; for the men live as if they thought it impossible to be saved, without a good life, or a thorough reformation. And such is their innate humanity, and truly Christian charity, that ten thousand commands of the pope and church could not prevail on them to stain their hands in blood. This they owe to natural good dispositions, and the sounder principles of their religion. They swallow their religion as a healthy man does food, consisting of wholesome and noxious ingredients, too indiscriminately, but so however, as to be nourished by that which is good, and to pass off that which is bad without taking it into the habit. Quite contrary is the effect in a mind naturally unsound, or predisposed to superstition and vice. In this the wholesome food goes off undigested, while the mental poison, entering the circulation of thought and opinion, corrupts and assimilates the affections to itself.
In this I represent the church of Rome without prejudice. She was, for three centuries and a half, the glory of all churches. She even yet retains the belief of one God, in a trinity of person. She believes in the satisfaction made for the sins of men by the death of Christ. She trusts in the assistances of God's Holy Spirit. She regards the sanctions of the Christian law as eternal. In these things she seems to have an immense advantage over many, who call themselves Protestants and Christians. But how miserably does she defeat her own sounder principles, by adopting others, in a great measure, subversive of these! She believes in one God; but she worships creatures and images. She trusts in the merits and intercessions of Christ; but she enfeebles and dishonours this dependance, by trusting in the merits and intercessions of saints. She relies on the grace of the Holy Ghost; but leans also on her own strength, and boasts a sort of independent holiness. She believes in the eternity of future rewards and punishments; but subverts the effects of her own hopes and fears in futurity, by an illusory prospect of reformation in another world, by works of supererogation and indulgences. Thus she adheres to the true religion in speculation ; but in practice destroys its power. Besides, she turns devotion into superstition, and buries the spirit of Christian piety under such a load of human ordinances, or rather Pagan ceremonies, that the ordinances of Christ can hardly be found in the motley heap. When we look at her, we see little else than an ostentatious pageant of outward pomp and power, of human inventions, and of human traditions, which render the commandments of God of none effect.' And, that all her corruptions may become incurable, she looks on herself as infallible. But whether she brings as strong proofs to support her title to this high attribute, as I have alleged to evince the contrary, let the knowing and the candid judge. Her direct opposition to the word of God hath been here so glaringly made out, by seven flagrant instances, that either that word, or she, must stand convicted of error. And as the arguments I have used have nothing subtle or evasive in them, so they cannot be refuted by subtleties or evasions. Common sense can sufficiently judge of them, and can judge but one way of them.
To conclude now, let us of this truly reformed church, with hearts full of gratitude, bless the good God for the wisdom and resolution of those holy men and martyrs, whom he sent to bring us into the glorious liberty and light of his gospel. Perhaps had we been born and bred up under the influence of bad principles, and a corrupt church, we should not have had sense and resolution enough, either to cut out so good a system for ourselves, or to come over to this, had it been prepared to our hands. And let us, in the next place, in a spirit of true Christian charity, pitying our brethren, sunk in darkness and error, do all we can to reclaim them. Let us forget and forgive the blood which, in the blindness of their zeal, they have drawn from us, and in a spirit of love and candour endeavour to convince them of their errors, by reason and Scripture, and not by unchristian retaliations; that they may at length learn to admire in us the lovely exemplification of our principles by the return of good for evil. Let us also earnestly endeavour to coalesce in that
unity of the Spirit,' as an effect of right reason and genuine piety, which they vainly boast of, to justify oppression and terror. But, above all, let us use our utmost endeavours to prove our church a true church, and ourselves true Christians, by purity of manners, by a life spent in the rational service of God; that is, in the ardours of heavenly devotion, and in doing good. This is that only powerful, that only convincing argument, which no jusuitical arts can resist, no sophistical subtleties evade. This argument will give dignity and force to all our other reasonings, and will plead when we do not speak. With this the most illiterate peasant may easily baffle all the learning of his opponent; without it, the knowledge of angels hath no right either to speak or be heard. If our cause is the cause of God, and our lives such as may be justified by his holy religion, they will speak for themselves, and God will second them in such a manner, that they who argue and fight against us, must appear, in the judgment of all other men, to argue and fight against God. But if, on a fair comparison, the members of the church of Rome do actually demonstrate more piety in their devotions, and more purity and integrity in their actions, let us then for shame hold our peace. Let us prate no more about reformation of churches, nor impudently quote Scripture, when we will neither suffer ourselves to be reformed, nor God's word to sink farther into us than our lips. God, in this case, will be on the side of our adversaries, and will thus answer all we can say,' What have ye to do, to declare my statutes, or that ye should take my covenant in your mouth; seeing ye hate instruction, and cast my words behind you?
God, of his infinite mercy, enable us to live up to the principles of that religion we profess, lest it rise in judgment against us, and condemn us for sinning against the light. Grant this, we beseech thee, blessed Lord, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Saviour; to whom, with Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.