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his priests, to be charitable to the poor : but to make resti-
tution he found impossible to him, and he hoped the com-
mandment would not require it of him, and desired to be re-
lieved by an easy and a favourable interpretation ; for it is ten
thousand pities so many good actions and good purposes
should be in vain, but it is worse, .infinitely worse, if the man
should perish. What should the confessor do in this case?
shall not the man be relieved, and his piety be accepted ?


or shall the rigour and severity of the confessor, and his scru-
pulous fears and impertinent niceness, cast away a soul either
into future misery, or present discomfort? Neither one nor
other was to be done; and the good man was only to con-
sider what God had made necessary, not what the vices of his
penitent and his present follies should make so. Well, the
priest insists upon his first resolution, " Non dimittitur pec-
catum, nisi restituatur ablatum :" the sick man could have
no ease by the loss of a duty. The poor clinic desires the
confessor to deal with his son, and try if he could be made
willing that his father might go to heaven at the charge of
his son ; which, when he had attempted, he was answered with
extreme rudenesses and injurious language ; which caused
great trouble to the priest and to the dying father. At last
the religious man found out this device, telling his penitent,
that unless by corporal penances there could be made satis-
faction in exchange for restitution, he knew no hopes; but
because the profit of the estate which was obliged to restitu-
tion, was to descend upon the son, he thought something
might be hoped, if, by way of commutation, the son would
hold his finger in a burning candle for a quarter of an hour.
The glad father being overjoyed at this loop-hole of eternity,
this glimpse of heaven, and the certain retaining of the whole
estate, called to his son, told him the condition and the
advantages to them both, making no question but he would
gladly undertake the penance. But the son with indignation
replied, ' he would not endure so much torture to save the
whole estate.' To which the priest espying his advantage,
made this quick return to the old man, * Sir, if your son will
not, for a quarter of an hour, endure the pains of a burning
finger to save your soul, will you, to save a portion of the
estate for him, endure the flames of hell to eternal ages ?' The
unreasonableness of the odds, and the ungratefulness of the
son, and the importunity of the priest, and the fear of hell,
and the indispensable necessity of restitution, awakened the
old man from his lethargy, and he bowed himself to the
rule, made restitution, and had hopes of pardon and present

9. (2.) The other case in which the law is to be expound-
ed to the sense of ease and liberty, is, when the question is
concerning outward actions, or the crusts and outsides of


religion. For the Christian religion being \vholly spiritual,
and being ministered to by bodily exercises, and they being
but significations of the inward, not at all pleasing to God
for themselves, but as they edify, instruct, or do advantages
to men, they are in all cases to be exacted, but in such pro-
portions as can consist with charity, which is the life of reli-
gion ; and therefore if a soul be in danger to be tempted, or
overburdened with a bodily exercise, if there be hazard that
all religion will be hated, and that the man will break the
yoke, if he be pinched in his skin, it is better to secure the
great and internal principle of obedience, than the external
instance and expression. The caution of use in the injunc-
tion of fasting-days, and external acts of modification, which
are indeed effects of the laws of Christ, but the measures of
these laws are to be such as consist with the great end of the
laws, that is, mercy and internal religion. And the great
reason of this is, because all external actions are really such
as without our fault they may be hindered ; there may be
some accidents and causes by which they shall not be at all,
and there may be many more by which they may be eased
and lessened. An external accident, or a corporal infirmity,
is to be complied withal in the matter of external ministries ;
that is, when there is mercy in it : and so must every virtue
and inward grace, because it is for the interest of religion.
Now what must be permitted in the action, ought to be so in
the sentence; and that is the meaning of the law, which is
either commanded to the strong or indulged to the weak.
Add to this, that outward actions of religion are for the
weak, not for the strong ; they are to minister to weakness
and infirmities, and by bodily expressions to invite forward,
to entertain, to ferment, to endear the spirit of a man to
the purposes of God ; but even the body itself shall be
spiritual, and it is intended that it shall wholly minister to
God in spiritual services hereafter. In the meantime, by
outward acts it does something symbolical, or at least expres-
sive of the inward duty. But, therefore, if the external do
disserve the Spirit of God by oppressing the spirit of the
man ; that whose nature and institution are wholly instru-
mental, must be made to comply with the end ; and there-
fore must stand there when it is apt to minister to it, but
must go away if it hinders it.


10. (3.) In the interpretation of the laws of Christ to a
sense of ease and liberty, there must be no limits and lessen-
ings described beforehand, or in general; because any such
proceeding would not only be destitute of that reason which
warrants it in some cases, but would evacuate the great pur-
pose of the law in all ; that is, it would be more than what
is necessary to comply with new and accidental necessities ;
and to others it would be less than what is intended in the
law, it would either tie the weak to impossibilities, or give
leave to the strong to be negligent and unprofitable ; it would
command too much or permit too much ; it would either hold
the bridle too hard, or break it all in pieces. But the inter-
pretation and ease must be as accidental as the cause that
enforces it, or the need that invites it ; that is, every law of
Christ intends that we should obey it in the perfection, that
we should do it in the best way we can ; and every man must
do so ; but because all cannot do alike, every man's best is
alike in the event, but not in the action ; and therefore the
law which is made for man, must mean no more than every
man can do ; but because no man is to be supposed to be in
disorder and weakness, till he be found to be so, therefore
beforehand no compliance or easy interpretation is to be
made of the degrees of duty.

11. (4.) No laws of Christ are to suffer diminution of
interpretation in the degrees to persons that make themselves
weak, that they may bear but a little burden : but the gen-
tler sentence and sense of laws are to be applied to ease the
weary and the afflicted, him that desires much and can do
but little ; to him that loves God and loves religion ; to him
that endeavours heartily, and inquires diligently, and means
honestly ; to him that hath every thing but strength, and
wants nothing but growth, and time, and good circumstances,
and the prosperities of piety. The best indications of which
state of persons are these :

Who are truly and innocently weak, and to be complied with.

12. (1 .) They are to be complied with who are new begin-
ners in religion, or the uninstructed ; they who want strengths
not by reason of any habitual sin, but by the nature of
beginnings and new changes ; for none can more inno-
cently pretend to a forbearance and sufferance, than those


who have the weakness of infancy. But I added also that
the uninstructed have the same pretension, for according as
their degrees of ignorance are, so are the degrees of their
excusable infirmity. But then by ' uninstructed ' is only meant
such who have not heard, or could not learn ; not such who
are ever learning and never sufficiently taught ; that is, such
who love to hear but not to be doers of the word, such who
are perverse and immorigerous, such who serve a humour
or an interest, an opinion or a peevish sect in their learn-
ing. For there are some who have spent much time in the
inquiries of religion, whom if you call ignorant, they suppose
themselves injured ; and yet will require the privileges and
compliances of the weak: these men trouble others, and
therefore are not to be eased themselves ; their weakness of
state is the impotency of passion, and therefore they must
not rejoice in that by which they make others grieved.

13. (2.) They are to be complied with according to the
foregoing measures, who in all things where they know and
can, do their hearty endeavours, and make no abatement to
themselves, but with diligence and sincerity prosecute their
duty. For this diligence and sincerity are a competent testi-
mony that the principle of their necessity is not evil, but inno-
cent and unavoidable. Whatsoever is not an effect of idle-
ness or peevishness, may come in upon a fair, but always
comes in upon a pitiable account ; and therefore is that sub-
ject which is capable of all that ease, and rigour, and severity
which the wise masters of assemblies and interpreters of the
Divine laws do allow to any persons in any cases.

14. (3.) The last sign of subjects capable of ease, is in-
firmity of body ; and that is a certain disposition to all the
mercies and remissions of the law in such cases as relate to
the body, and are instanced in external ministries. To which
also is to be referred disability of estate in duties of exterior
charity ; which are to be exacted according to the proportions
of men's civil power, taking in the needs of their persons and
of their relations, their calling and their quality. And that
God intends it should be so appears in this ; because all out-
ward duties are so enjoined that they can be supplied, and
the internal grace instanced in other actions, of which there
are so many kinds that some or other can be done by every
one ; and yet there is so great variety that no man, or but


very few men, can do all. I instance in the several ways of
mortification, viz. by fastings, by watchings, and pernocta-
tions in prayer, lyings on the ground, by toleration and pa-
tience, laborious gestures of the body in prayer, standing with
arms extended, long kneelings on the bare ground, suffering
contradiction and affronts, lessenings and undervaluings,
peevish and cross accidents, denying ourselves lawful plea-
sures, refusing a pleasant morsel, leaving society and meet-
ings of friends, and very many things of the like nature ; by
any of which the body may be mortified and the soul disci-
plined : or the outward act may be supplied by an active
and intense love which can do every thing of duty : so also
it is in alms, which some do by giving money to the poor,
some by comforting the afflicted, some by giving silver and
gold ; others, which have it not, do yet do greater things ; but
since it matters not what it is we are able to do, so that we
do but what we are able, it matters not how the grace be
instanced, so that by all the instances we can, we do minis-
ter to the grace, it follows, that the law can be made to bend
in any thing of the external instance, so that the inward
grace be not neglected ; but therefore it is certain that be-
cause every thing of matter can by matter be hindered, and
a string or a chain of iron can hinder all the duty of the hand
and foot, God, who imposes and exacts nothing that is impos-
sible, is contented that the obedience of the spirit be secured,
and the body must obey the law as well as it can.

But there are some other considerations to be added to
the main rule.

15. (5.) When the action is already done, and that there
is no further deliberation concerning the dii'ect duty, yet the
law is not at all to be eased and lessened, if there be a deli-
beration concerning the collateral and accidental duty of
repentance ; and this is upon the same reasons as the first
limitation of the rule : for when a duty is to be done, and a
deliberation to be had, we are in perfect choice, and there-
fore we are to answer for God and for religion : and this is all
one, whether the inquiry be made in the matter of innocence
or repentance ; that is, in the preventing of a sin or curing
of it. For we are in all things tied to as great a care of our
duty after we have once broken it, as before ; and in some
things to a greater ; and repentance is nothing but a new


beginning of our duty, a going from our error, and a recovery
of our loss, and a restitution of our health, and a being put
into the same estate from whence we were fallen : so that at
least all the same severities are to be used in repentance, as
great a rigour of sentence, as strict a caution, as careful a
walking, as humble and universal an obedience, besides the
sorrow and the relative parts of duty, which come in upon
the account of our sin.

16. (6.) But if the inquiry be made after the sin is done,
and that there is no deliberation concerning any present or
future duty, but concerning the hopes or state of pardon, then
we may hope that God will be easy to give us pardon, accord-
ing to the gentlest sense and measures of the law. For this,
provided it be not brought into evil example in the measures
of duty afterward, can have in it no danger : it is matter of
hope, and therefore keeps a man from despair ; but because
it is but matter of hope, therefore it is not apt to abuse him
into presumption, and if it be mistaken in the measures of the
law, yet it makes it up upon the account of God's mercy,
and it will be all one ; either it is God's mercy in making an
easy sense of the law, or God's mercy in giving an easy sen-
tence on the man, or God's mercy in easing and taking off
the punishment, and that will be all one as to the event, and
therefore will be a sufficient warrant for our hope, because
it will some way or other come to pass as we hope. It is all
alike whether we be saved because God will exact no more
of us, or because though he did exact more by his law, yet
he will pardon so much the more in the sentence : but this
is of use only to them who are tempted to despair, or op-
pressed by too violent fears ; and it relies upon all the lines
of the Divine mercy, and upon all the arguments of comfort,
by which declining hopes use to be supported : and since
we ourselves, by observing our incurable infirmities, espy
some necessities of having the law read in the easier sense,
we do, in the event of things, find that we have a need of
pardon greater than we could think we should in the heats of
our first conversion, and thejfervours of our newly returning
piety ; and therefore God does not only see much more rea-
son to pity us upon the same account ; but upon divers
others, some whereof we know, and some we know not; but
therefore we can hope for more than we yet see in the lines


of revelation, and possibly we may receive in many cases
better measure than we yet hope for : but whoever makes
this hope to lessen his duty, will find himself ashamed in his
hope ; for no hope is reasonable but that which quickens our
piety, and hastens and perfects our repentance, and purifies
the soul, and engages all the powers of action, and ends in
the love of God, and in a holy life.

17. (7.) There are many other things to be added by way
of assistance to them who are pressed with the burden of a
law severely apprehended, or unequally applied, or not rightly
understood ; but the sum of them is this :

1. If the sense be hidden or dubious, do nothing till the
cloud be off, and the doubt be removed.

2. If the law be indifferent to two senses, take that which
is most pious and most holy.

3. If it be between two, but not perfectly indifferent, fol-
low that which is most probable.

4. Do after the custom and common usages of the best
and wisest men.

5. Do with the most, and speak with the least.

6. Ever bend thy determination to comply with the ana-
logy of faith, and the common measures of good life, and
the glorifications and honour of God, and the utility of our

7. Then choose thy part of obedience, and do it cheer-
fully and confidently, with a great industry and a full per-

8. After the action is done, enter into no new disputes,
whether it was lawful or no, unless it be upon new instances
and new arguments, relating to what is to come, and not
troubling thyself with that which with prudence and deli-
beration thou didst (as things were then represented) well and
wisely choose.



The positive Laws of Jesus Christ cannot be dispensed with
by any human Power.

1. I HAVE already in this book 3 given account of the indis-
pensability of the natural laws, which are the main consti-
tuent parts of the evangelical ; but there are some positive
laws whose reason is not natural nor eternal, which yet
Christ hath superinduced ; concerning which there is great
question made whether they be dispensable by human power.
Now concerning these I say, that all laws given by Christ
are now made for ever to be obligatory, and he is the King
of heaven and earth, the head and prince of the catholic
Church, and therefore hath supreme power ; and he is the
" wonderful Counsellor, the everlasting Father, the Prince
of Peace ;" and his wisdom is supreme, he is the wisdom of
the Father, and therefore he hath made his laws so wisely, so
agreeably to the powers and accidents of mankind, that they
can be observed by all men and all ways, where he hath
passed an obligation. Now because every dispensation of
laws must needs suppose an infirmity or imperfection in the
law, or an infirmity in the man, that is, that either the law
did infer inconvenience which was not foreseen, or was
unavoidable ; or else the law meets with the changes of man-
kind with which it is not made in the sanction to comply,
and therefore must be forced to yield to the needs of the
man, and stand aside till that necessity be passed : it follows
that in the laws of the holy Jesus there is no dispensation ;
because there is in the law no infirmity, and no incapacity
in the man : for every man can always obey all that which
Christ commanded and exacted : I mean, he hath no natural
impotency to do any act that Christ hath required, and he
can never be hindered from doing of his duty.

2. (1 .) And this appears in this ; because God hath appointed
a harbour whither every vessel can put in, when he meets
with storms and contrary winds abroad : and when we are
commanded by a persecutor not to obey God, we cannot be
forced to comply with the evil man; for we can be secure
against him by suffering what he pleases, and therefore

Chap. i. rule 10.


disobedience to a law of Christ cannot be made necessary by
any external violence : I mean, every internal act is not in
itself impedible by outward violence : and the external act
which is made necessary, can be secured by a resolution to
obey God rather than men.

3. (2.) But there are some external actions and instances
of a commandment, which may, accidentally, become impos-
sible by subtraction of the material part ; so for want of
water a child cannot be baptized ; for want of wine or bread
we cannot communicate ; which indeed is true ; but do not
infer, that therefore there is a power of dispensing left in any
man or company of men ; because in such cases there is no
law, and therefore no need of dispensation ; for affirmative
precepts, in which only there can be an external impediment,
do not oblige but in their proper circumstances and possi-
bilities : and thus it is even in human laws. No law obliges
beyond our power ; and although it be necessary sometimes
to get a dispensation even in such cases, to rescue ourselves
from the malice or the carelessness, the ignorance or the con-
trary interests, of the ministers of justice, who go by the
words of the law, and are not competent or not instructed
judges in the matter of necessity or excuse, yet there is no
such need in the laws of God. For God is always just and
always wise, he knows when we can, and when we cannot ;
and therefore as he cannot be deceived by ignorance, so nei-
ther can he oppress any man by injustice, and we need not
have leave to let a thing alone, which we cannot do if we
would never so fain ; and if we cannot obey, we need not
require of God a warrant under his hand, or an act of in-
demnity, for which his justice and his goodness, his wisdom
and his very nature, are infinite security : and therefore it
cannot be necessary to the Church, that a power of dispens-
ing should be intrusted to men, in such cases where we can-
not suppose the law of God to bind. That is our best secu-
rity, that we need no dispensation.

4. (3.) In external actions and instances of virtue, or of
obedience to a commandment of Jesus Christ, wherever
there can be a hinderance, ifthe obligation does remain,
the instance that is hindered can be supplied with another
of the same kind. Thus relieving the poor hungry man, can
be hindered by my own poverty and present need, but I can
visit him that is sick, though I cannot feed the hungry, or I


can give him bread when I cannot give him a cloak ; and
therefore there can need no dispensation when the com-
mandment, if it be hindered in one instance, can as perfectly,
and to all the intentions of our lawgiver, be performed in

5. (4.) In external actions which can be hindered and
which cannot be supplied by the variety of the instances in
the same kind, yet if the obligation remains, they may be
supplied with the internal act, and with the spiritual. Thus
if we cannot receive actual baptism, the desire of it is ac-
cepted ; and he that communicates spiritually, that is, by
faith and charity, by inward devotion and hearty desire, is
not guilty of the breach of the commandment, if he does not
communicate sacramentally, being unavoidably and inculpa-
bly hindered. For whatsoever is not in our power, cannot be
under a law ; and where we do not consent to the breach of
a commandment, we cannot be exposed to the punishment.
This is the voice of all the world, and this is natural reason,
and the ground of justice, without which there can be no
government but what is tyrannical and unreasonable. These
things being notorious and confessed, the consequents are
these :

6. (1.) That there is no necessity that a power of dispens-
ing in the positive laws of Christ should be intrusted to any
man, or to any society. Because" the law needs it not, and
the subjects need it not : and he that dispenses, must either
do it when there is cause, or when there is none. If he dis-
penses when there is no cause, he makes himself superior to
the power of God by exercising dominion over his laws : if
he dispenses when there is cause, he dispenses when there
is no need. For if the subject can obey, he must obey, and
man cannot untie what God hath bound : but if he cannot
obey, he is not bound, and therefore needs not to be untied :
he may as well go about to unbend a straight line, or to num-
ber that which is not, as to dispense in a law to which in
such cases God exacts no obedience.

7. Panormitan b affirms that " the pope hath power to
dispense in all the laws of God, except in the articles of faith ;''
and to this purpose he cites Innocentius, "in cap. Cum ad
Monasterium, de Statu Monachorum." Felinus c affirms that

b Cap. Proposuit. de Concesa. Praepend. n. 20.
c In cap. Qua ia Eocles. Inconst. n. 19, 20.


" the pope can change the form of baptism, and that he can
with one word, and without all solemnity, consecrate a priest,
and that he can by his word alone make a bishop;" and
though these pretences are insolent and strange, yet in fact
he does as much as this comes to : for the pope gives leave
sometimes to a mere priest to give confirmation, which by
Divine right is only belonging to bishops by their own con-
fession. That the blessed eucharist is to be consecrated in
both kinds, is certainly of Divine right ; and so confessed by
the Church of Rome: but the pope hath actually dispensed

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