Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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of the catholic is to go into the Roman.

3. Moreover, it is taken for granted, '* That the Roman church is
every way what it was when firat planted." Indeed, if it were so, it
would deserve as much particular respect as any church of any city
in the world; and that would be all: as it is, the case is altered. But
its unaUerednesa being added to the former supposition of its oneli-
ness and Catholicism, it is easy to see what sweet work a witty man,
as our author is, may make with this church among good company.
Many and many a time have the Romanists attempted to prove these
things; but, failing in their attempt, they think it now reasonable to
take them for granted. The religion they now profess must be that
which first entered England. '' And there,'' saith our author, '' it con-
tinued in peace for a thousand years;" when the truth is, after the en-
trance of their religion, — that is, the corruption of Christianity by papal
usurpations, — ^these nations never passed one age without tumult%

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turmoils, contentions, disorders; nor many without wars, blood, and
devastations; — and those arising from the principles of their religion.

4. To this is added, " That the Bible is the pope's own book, which
none can lay daim to but by and from him.'' This will be found to
be a doubtful assertion, and it will be difficult to conclude aright con-
cerning it He that shall consider what a worthy person the pope
is represented to be by our author, especially in his just dealing and
mercifulness, so that '' he never did any man wrong/' and ehaH take
notice how many he hath caused to be burned to death for having
and using the Bible without his consent, must need suppose that it
is his book ; for surely his heavenly mind would not have admitted
of a provocation to such severity unless they had stolen his goods out
of his possession. But, on the other side, he that shall weigh aright
his vilifyii)g and undervaluing of it, his preferring himself and church
before and above it, — seeing we are all apt to set a high price upon
that which is our own, — ^may be ready to question whether indeed he
have such a property in it as is pretended Having somewhat else
to do, I shall not interpose myself in this difference, nor attempt to
determine this difficulty, but leave it as I find it, firee for every man
to think as he seeth cause.

5. But that which is the chief iugredient of these sections is the
plea, " That we know not the Scriptiure to be the word of God but
by the church, — that is, the present church of Rome;" which he
manageth by urging sundry objections against it, and difficulties which
men meet withal in their inquiry whether it be so or no. Nor con-
tent with that plea alone, he interweaves in his discourse many ex-
pressions and comparisons, tending directly to the slighting and con-
tempt both of its penmen and matter; which is said to be '^ laws,
poems, sermons, histories, letters, visions, several fancies, in a diver-
sity of composure ; the whole a book whereby men may as well prove
their negative in denying the immortality of the soul, heaven, or
hell, or any other thing, which, by reason of many intricacies, are
very difficult, if not impossible at all to be understood," See pp.
190-192, eta Concerning all which I desire to know whether our
author be in good earnest or no? or whether he thinks as he writes?
or whether he would only have others to believe >^hat he writes, that
he may serve his turn upon their credulity ? If he be in good earnest,
indeed, he calls us to an easy, welcome employment, — ^namely, to de-
fend the holy word of God, and the wisdom of God in it, from such
slight and trivial exceptions as those he lays against them. This
path is so trodden for us by the ancients, in their answers to the
more weighty objections of his predecessors in this work, the Pagans,
that we cannot well err or figdnt in it If we are called to this task, —
namely, to prove that we can know and believe the Scripture to be

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the word of God without any respect to the authority or testimony
of the present church of Rome; ihat no man can beUeve it to be so,
with £uth divine and supernatural, upon that testimony alone; that
the whole counsel of God, in all things to be believed or done, in order
to our last end, is clearly delivered in it, and that the composure of
it is a work of infinite wisdom, suited to the end designed to be ac-
complished by it; that no di£Biculties in the interpretation of parti-
cular places hinder the whole from being a complete and perfect
rule of faith and obedience, — we shall most willingly undertake it, as
knowing it to be as honourable a service and employment as any of
the sons of men can in this world be called unto. If, indeed, him-
self be otherwise minded, and believe not what he says, but only
intend to entangle men by his sophistry, so as to render them pliable
unto his &rther intention, I must yet once more persuade him to
desist from this course. It doth not become an ingenuous man,
much less a Christian, and one that boasts of so much mortification
as he doth, to juggle thus with the things of God. In the mean-
time, his reader may take notice, that so long as he is able to defend
the authority, excellency, and usefulness of the Scripture, this man
had nothing to say to him, as to the change of his religion from Pro-
testancy to Popery; and when men will be persuaded to let that
go, as a thing uncertain, dubious, useless, it matters not much where
they go themselvea And for our author, methinks, if not for reve-
rence to Christ, whose book we know the Scriptures to be, yet for
the devotion he bears the pope, whose book he says it is, he might
learn to treat it with a little more respect, or at least prevail with
him to send out a book not Uable to so many exceptions as this is
pretended to be. However, this I know, that though his pretence be
to make men Papists, the course he takes is the readiest in the world
to make them atheists; and whether that will serve his turn or no
as well as the other, I know not •

6. We have not yet done with the Scripture. " That the taking
it for the only rule of faith, the only determiner of differences, ia the
only cause of all our differences, and which keeps us in a condition
of having them endless,'' is also pretended and pleaded. But how
shall we know this to be so? Christ and his apostles were absolutely
of another mind; and so were Moses and the prophets before them.
The ancient fathers of the primitive diurch walked in their steps,
and umpired all differences in religion by the Scriptures, — opposing,
confuting, and condemning errors and heresies by them; preserving
through their guidance the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peaca
In these latter days of the world, which surely are none of the best,
we have a few unknown persons, come from Rome, would persuade
us that the Scripture and the use of it is the cause of all our differ-

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ences, aud the means of making them endless. But why so, I prayt
Doth it teach us to differ and contend ? Doth it speak contradictions,
and set us at variance? Is there any spirit of dissendon breathing
in it? Doth it not deliver what it commands us to understand so as
it may be understood? Is there any thing needAil for us to know in
the things of God but what it reveals? Who can tell us what that is?
" But do we not see, ^ de facto,' what differences there are amongst
you who pretend all of you to be guided by Scripture?" Yea, and we
see also what surfeitings and drunkenness there are in the world, but
yet do not think bread, meat, and drink to be the causes of them;
and yet they are to the full as much so as the Scriptures are of our
differences. Pray, sir, do not think that sob^ men will cast away
their food and starve themselves, because you tell them that some
continually abuse and surfeit on that very kind of food which they
use. Nor will some m^i's abuse of it prevail with others to cast away
the food of their souls, if they have any design to live eternally.

7. The great " safety and security that there is in committing our-
selves, as to all the concernments of religion, unto the guidance, rule,
and conduct of the pope,'' ia another great principle of this discourse.
And here our author falls into a deep admiration of the pope's " dex-
terity in keeping all his subjects in peace and unity and subjection
to him, there being no danger to any one for forsaking him but only
that of excommunication." The contest is between the Scripture
and the pope. Protestants say, the safest way for men, in reference
to their eternal condition, is to believe the Scripture and rest therein ;
the Romanists say the same of the pope. Which will prove the best
course, methinks, should not be hard to determina All Christians
in the world ever did agree that the Scripture is the certain, infallible
word of God, given by him on purpose to reveal his mind and will unto
us. About the pope there were great contests ever since he was first
taken notice of in the world. Nothing, I confess, little or low is
spoken of him. Some say he is the head and q)0U8e of the church,
the vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter, the supreme moderator of
Christians, the infallible judge of controversies, and the like; others,
again, that he is antichrist, the man of sin, a cruel tyrant and perse-
cutor, the evil servant characterized, Matt xxiv. 48-51. But all, as
far as I can gather, agree that he is a man : I mean, that almost all
popes have been so; for about every individual there is not the like
consent Now, the question is, whether we shall rest in the autho-
rity and word of Qod, or in the authority and word of a man, as the
pope is confessed to be? and whether is like to yield us more security
in our affiance? This being such another difficult matter and case
as that before mentioned, about the Bible being the pope's book, shall
not be by me decided, but left to the judgment of wiser men. In

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the Tneantime, for his feat of government, it is partly known what
it is; as also what an influence into the effects of peace mentioned
that gentle means of excommunication hath had. I know one that
used, in the late times, to say of the excommunication in Scotland,
" he would toot' care for their devil, were it not for his horn '" and I
suppose had not papal excommunication been always attended with
wars, biood, seditions, conspiracies, depoations and murders of kings,
fire and fiagot, according to the extent of their power^ it would have
been less effectual than our author pretends it to have been. Sir,
do but give Christians the liberty that Christ hath purchased* for
them, — lay down your carnal weapons, your whips, racks, prisons,
halters, swords, fagots, with your unchristian subtleties, slanders, and
fleshly machinations, — and we and you shall quickly see what will
become of your papal peace and power.

These are the goodly principles, the hcAest suppositions, of the dis-
course which our author ends his third book withal. It could not
but have been a tedious thing to take them up by pieces, as they
lay scattered up and down, like the limbs of Medeia's brother, cast
in the way to retard her pursuers. The reader may now take a view
of them together, and thence of all that is offered to persuade him
to a relinquishment of his present profession and religion. For the
stories, comparisons, jests, sarcasms, that are intermixed with them,
I suppose he will know how to turn them to another use.

Some very few particulars need only to be remarked; as, —

1. " No man can say what ill Popery did in the world until Henry
the Eighth's days.'' Strange ! when it is not only openly accused,
but proved guilty of almost all the evil that was in the Christian
world in those days; particularly of corrupting the doctrine and wor-
ship of the gospel, and debauching the lives of Christiana

2. "With the Roman CathoUcs unity ever dwelt" Never! the
very name of Roman Catholic, appropriating Catholicism to Roman-
ism, is destructive of all gospel unity.

3. " Some Protestants say they love the persons of the Romanists,
' but hate their religion; the reason is plain, — they know the one and

not the other." No, they know them both; and the pretence that
people ai«e kept with, as from [not] knowing whsUj the religion of the
Romanists is, is vain, untrue; and as to what colour can possibly be
given unto it, such an in&.nt in comparison of that vast giant which
of the same kind lives in the Romish territories, that it deserves not
to be mentioned

4 ^ Protestants are beholden to the Catholics" (that is, Romanists)
"for their universities, benefices, books, pulpits, gospel" For some of
them, not all; for the rest, as the Israelites were to the Egyptians
for the tabernacle they built in the wilderness.

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5. '^ The pope was anciently believed sole judge and general pastor
over alL'' Prove it; ask the ancient Others and councils whethar
they ever heard of any such thing? They will universally return their
answer in the negative.

6. " The Scripture you received fix)m the pope.'' Not at all, as
hath been proved; but from Christ himself^ by tiie ministiy of the
first planters of Christianity.

7. **You cannot believe the Scriptures to be the word of God
but upon the authority of the church/' We can and do upon the
authority of God himself; and the influence of the church's ministry
or authority into our believing concerns not the church of Rome.

8. " You account them that brought you the Scriptures as liars."
No otherwise than as the Scripture affirms every man to be so; not
in their ministiy wherein they brought the word unto us.

9. " The gospel, separate firom the church, can prove nothing." Yes,
itself to be sent of God ; and so doing is the foimdation of the church.

Sundry other passages of the like nature might be remarked, if I
could imagine any man would judge them worthy of consideration.


Story of religion.

The fourth and last part of oiur author's discourse is spent in two
stories, — one of religion, the other of himself His first, of religion,
is but a summary of what was diffused through the other parts of his
treatise, being insinuated piecemeal, as he thought he could make
any advantage of it to his purpose. Two things he aims to make his
readers believe by it: — ^first. That we in these nations had our religion
from Rome; and, secondly. That it was the same which is there
now professed. Those whom he tells his tale unto are, as he pro-
fesseth, such as are ^' ignorant of the coming in and progress of
religion amongst us;" wherein he deals wisely and as became him,
seeing he might easily assure himself that those who are acquainted
before his information with the true state of these things, would give
little credit to what he nakedly avers upon his own authority. For
my part, I shall readily acknowledge, that for aught appears in this
book, he is a better historian than a disputant; and hath more reason
to trust to his fsiculty of telling a tale than managing of an argument
I confess, also, that a slight and superficial view of antiquity, especially
as flourished over by some Roman legendaries, is the best advantage

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our adversaries have to work on, as a thoroagh, judicious search of it
is fatal to their pretensions. He that^ from the Scriptures and the
writings extant of the first centuries, shall hrame a true idea of the
state and doctrine of the first churches^ and then observe the adven-
titious accessions made to religion in the following ages, partly by
men's own inventions, but chiefly by their borrowing from or imita-
tion of the Jews and Pagans, will need very little light or help from
artificial arguments to discover the defections of the Roman party,
and the true means whereby that churdi arrived imto its present
condition. To pursue this at large is not a work to be undertaken
in this scambling chasa It hath been done by others ; and those who
are not unwilling to be at the cost and pains in the disquisition of
the truth, which it is really worth, may easily know where to find
it Our present task is but to observe our author's motions, and to
consider whether what he offers hath any efficacy towards that he
aims at.

A triple conversion he assigns to this nation. The first by Joseph
of Arimathea; about which, as to matter of fact, we have no conte^^

1 It was snfEKsient for our author's pnipose to show that if, aooording to th« statanent
ia ** Fiat Lux," Britain was indebted, in the first instance, to Jo0q)h of Arimathea for
a knowledge of the gospel, it is not Borne, but Palestine, that is entitled on such a
ground to urge any claim to supremacy oyer the British churdie& Subsequent inquiry
has proved that no such degree of certainty attaches to the tradition as Dr Owen seems
willing to concede to his opponent The tradition is, that when the churdi at Jerusalem
was dispersed by the persecution in which Stephen suffered martyrdom, Laxarus, Mary
Magdalene, Martha, with her servant Marcella, a disciple of the name of Mazimin, and
Jooeph. of Arimathea, were placed on board of a vessel without sails, and that it was
miraculously impelled and directed till it reached the haven of Marseilles in France.
From Gaul Joee]^ is said to have been despatched by Philip on a mission to Britain, a.]>.
68. He succeeded in converting many of its inhabitants to Christianity, obtained by
royal grant land to the extoit which could be included within twelve hides at Glaston-
bury, in Somersetshire, and built a wattled church, — ^the first erected for Christian wor-
ship in Britain. His staff; when stuck into the earth, took root, it is alleged, and grew
into a species of thorn, which blossoms in winter, and still exists in the neighbourhood
— an enduring memorial of the first evangelist who brought the gospd into this island.
A famous abbey was afterwards erected, and, in virtue of its reputed antiquity, was
held to prove the early origin of the British church; and precedence was therefore ac-
corded to the Knglish clergy over those of some other churches in the Council of Basle^
A.D. 1484. The details of the legend on which this daim to high antiquity is found-
ed are given by William of Malmesbury, who wrote in the twelfth century. It is re-
pudiated and exposed as a monkish fiction by Bishop Stillingfleet, in his " Origines Bri-
tannicsB." Mosheim attributes it to the eagerness with which different nations vie with
each other in magnifying the antiquity of their req)ective churches: the Gauls con-
founding a bishop of the same name, who lived at Paris during the second century, vrith
Dionysius the Areopagite; and the Germans affirming that Eucharius, Valerius, and
Matemus, of the third and fourth centuries, were contemporaries uid companions of the
apostle Peter; while the Britons, because the name was identical, would fain insist that
the first Christian missionary who reached this>country was Joseph of Arimathea.

The honour of having been the first to introduce the Christian faith into our island
has also been claimed for James the son of Zebedee, who was killed by Herod, Acts
xiL 2 ; and for Aristobulus, to whom, vrith his household, a salutation is addressed by
Paul, Bom. xvi. 10. On the ground of some statements which occur in the martyrolo-
gical calendar of the Greek church. Bishop Taybr and Dr Cave are inclined to believe
that Simon Zelotes mnst have been in Britain. '* But at last)" it is said, ^ having

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with him. That the gospel was preached here in the apostles' days,
either by him or some other evaagelist, is certain, and taken &r
granted on all hands; nor can our author pretend that it came hither
from Borne, but grants it to have come immediately from Palestine.
Whether this doth not overthrow the main of his plea in his whole
discourse, concerning our dependence upon Rome for our religion, I
leave to prudent men to judge. Thus fai*, then, we are equsd. As
the gospel came to Borne, so it came to England; to both from the
same place, and by the same authority, the same ministry. All the
question is, Whether religion they brought with them? that now

come to Britain, and enlightened many by the word of the gospd, being crucified and
put to death by the unbelievers, he lies buried there." — Menologia Ors^ ad diem 10
Mail AooordUig to the Roman martyrology, howeyer, he suffered martyrdom in Persia.
No definite conclusion seems likely to emerge from the sifting of authorities so vague
and contradictory, unl^s it be the utter uncertainty of all sudi traditions.

Simon Metaphrastes, a writer of the tenth century, would ha^e us to bdieye that
Peter visited Britain. Baronius, perhaps fh>m the wish, so natural to a Romanist, that
every tradition tending to enhance the reputation of Peter, and to prove his connection
with the western church, should be found true, ettends credit to the story of Meta-
phrastes. It is acoompanied, however, with details grossly inoonsistent with authentio
history, and is not supported by the testimony of any previous writer.

There is, however, some amount of historical evid^ce, which, if not craclusiv^ is
at least entitled to respeotfVil consideration, in fsvour of the notion that the Christiaa
church was first planted in Britain by the apostle Paul Four aiitiiorities are gene-
rally cited in order to justify this opinion, — Clemens Romanus, Eusebius, Jerome, and
Theodoret. Clbmsks (" Epist. ad Corinth.," epist. i. cap. 5) speaks of Paul as *' having
preadied the gospel in the ea^t and the west, having come to the bounds of the west,
— I*-) ri rifftM Tfit WtMf, — and having testified before the rulers;" and immediately
adds, " Thus he departed out of the world,'* etc. The question as to the precise import
of this statement very much hinges on the interpretation to be affixed to the Greek
words which we have just quoted. Dr Davidson (see his ** Introduction to the New Tes-
tament," voL ii. p. 98) sifts them very careftiUy, and doubts if they can be held to im-
^y more than that Paul had reached Rome; while Neander founds upon than in proof
that he must have visited Spain. In relation to the Corinthians, Home might be the
west intended by Clement ; and had a region more to the west than Rome been intended
by him, it is probable he would have spoken of Pdul as having gcne^ not having eome^ to
the " bounds of the west." Moreover, the statement of the apostoHo father, in its scope
and continuity, appears to identify the place where Paul bore his testimony before the
rulers, and departed from this world, with '* the boundary of the west," to which, by
the preceding clause, he is represented as having come. These reasonings are of great
weight in favour of the view which Dr Davidson adopts ; but the strength of the phrase,
r» rif/Au rSr iunm, IS hardly exhausted if we understand it to embrace a longitude not
more distant ft^m Corinth than Italy ; and the intercourse of eastern nations with Spain
was by no means so scanty and limited that the Corinthians, on perusiBg the letter of
Clement, would naturally think of Rome as the extreme verge of the western world.
The use of Ixli^y may be explained in relation to the point from which the apostle might
have been viewed by Clement as commencing his journey. Ecskbits simply informs
us, in his *< Evangelical Demonstration" (Hb. iil cap. 7), that some of the apostolic body
had crossed the seas W) rks »mX»vftimf B^rr«w»«f ynVtvf) — " to what are called the
British islands." However valuable this testimony may be in proof of the early intro-
duction of Christianity into Britain, it sheds no li^t oa the question whether Paul
was the founder of the British church. Jeromb, too, commenting on Amos v., employs
language far too indefinite to supply us with evidence on the point : ** St Paul having
been in Spain, went from one ocean to another." Then follows a comparisim of Paul s
labours to the Sun of Righteousness, " of whom it is said, that * his going forth is fh)m
the end of the earth, and his oirouit unto the ends of it.' " Thbosorkt gives the most
distinct testimony whi<^ can be quoted ftorn andent writers on this subject : << St Paoly"

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Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 12 of 67)