Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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that you draw out the monarchy of your pope^ direct and absolute in
ecclesiastical things over the whole church; indirect at least, and " in
ordine ad spiritualia^" over the whole world. This is the Diana, in
making of shrines for whom your occupation consists; and it brings
no small gams unto you. Hence you wire-draw his cathedral infalli-
bility, legislative authority, fireedom from the judgment of any;
whereby you hope to secure him and yourselves from all opposition,
endeavouring to terrify them with this Medusa's head that approach
unto you. Hence are his titles, " The Vicar of Christ, Head and
Spouse of his Church, Yice-Deus, Deus alter in Terris,'' and the like,
whereby you keep up popular veneration, and preserve his majestic
distance from the poor disciples of Christ Hence you warrant his
practices, suited unto these pretensions and titles, in the deposing of
kings, transposing of titles unto dominion and rule, giving away of
kingdoms, stirring up and waging mighty wars, causing and com-
manding them that dissent from him, or refuse to yield obedience
unto him, to be destroyed with fire and sword. And who can now
question but that you have veiy wisely stated your succession ?

This is the way, this the progress^ whereby you pretend to bring
us unto the unity of faitL If we will submit unto the pope, and
acquiesce in his determinations (whereunto to induce us we have the
cogent reasons now considered), the work will be effected. This is
the way that God hath, as you pretend, appointed to bring us unto
settlement in religion. These things you have told us so often, and
with so much confidence, that you take it ill we should question the
truth of any thing you aver in the whole matter, and look upon us
as very ignorant or unreasonable for our so doing. Yea^ he that be-
lieves it safer for him to trust the everlasting concernments of his
soul unto the goodness, grace, and faithfulness of God in his word,
than unto these principles of yours, is rejected by you out of the
limits of the catholic church, — that is, of Christianity, for they are the
sama To make good your judgment and censure, then, you vent
endless cavils against the authority, perfection, and perspicuity of the
Scriptures, pretending to despise and scorn whatever is offered in
their vindication. This rope of sand, composed of £sdse suppositions,
groimdless presumptions, inconsequent inferences, in all which there
is not one word of infallible truth, at least that you can any way make
appear so to be, is the great bond you used to gird men withal into
the uniiy of Mih In brief, you tell us that if we will all submit to



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298 A VINDICATION OF THE ANIMADVEBSIONS ON FIAT LUX.

the pope, we shall be sore all to agree. But this is no more but, as I
have before told you, what every party of men in the world tender us,
upon the same or the like condition. It is not a mere agreement
we aim at, but an agreement in the truth; not a mere unity, but a
unity of &ith ; — ^and faith must be built on principles infallible, or it
will prove in the close to have been fancy, not faith ; carnal imagi-
nation, not Christian belief: otherwise we may agree in Turdsm, or
Judaism, or Paganism, as well as in Christianity, and to as good pur-
pose. Now, what of this kind do you tender unto us? Would you
have us to leave the sure word of prophecy, more sure than a voice
from heaven ; the light shining in the dark places of this world, which
we are commanded to attend unto by God himself; the holy Scrip-
ture given by inspiration, which is able to make us wise unto sal-
vation; the word that is perfect, sure, right, converting the soul,
enlightening the eyes, making wise the simple, — ^whose observi^on
is attended with great reward, — to give heed, yea, to give up all our
spiritual and eternal concernments, to the credit ot old, groundless,
uncertain stories, inevident presumptions, &bles invented for and
openly improved unto carnal, secular, and wicked ends ? Is your
request reasonable? Would we could prevail with you to cease your
importunity in this matter; especially considering the dangerous con-
sequence of the admission of tiiese your principles unto Christianity
in general For if it be so that St Peter had such an episcopacy as
you talk of, and that a continuance of it in a succession by the bishops
of Home be of that indispensable necessity unto the preservation of
Christian religion as is pretended, many men, considering the nature
and quality of that succession, — ^how the means of its continuation
have been arbitrarily and occasionally changed, — ^what place formerly
popular suffirage and the imperial authority have had in it, — ^how it
came to be devolved on a conclave of cardinals, — ^what violence and
tumults have attended one way, what briberies and filthy respects
unto the lusts of unclean persons, the other, — ^what interruptions the
succession itself hath had, by vacancies, schisms, and contests for the
place, and imcertainty of the person that had the best right unto the
popedom, according to the customs of the days wherein he lived, — ^and
that many of the persons who have had a place in the pretended
succession have been plainly men of the world, sudi as cannot receive
the Spirit of Christ, yea, open enemies unto his cross, — would find
just cause to suspect that Christianity were utterly fisdled many ages
ago in the world ; which certainly would not much promote the settle-
ment in t^ruth and unity of faith that we are inquiring afbar. And
this is the first way that you propose to supply that defect which you
chai'ge upon the Scripture, that it is insufiSdent to reconcile men that
are at variance about religion, and settle them in the truth. And if



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PRINCIPLES OF PAPISTS ON THE UNITT OF FAITH. 299

you are able, by so many uncertainties and untruths, to bring men
unto a certainty and settlement in the truth, you need not despair of
compassing any thing that you shall have a mind to attempt

But you have yet another plea, which you make no less use of
than of the former; which must therefore be also (now you have en-
gaged us in this work) a little examined. This is the CHUBCH, its
authority and tn/allibility. The truth is, when you come to make
a practicEd application of this plea unto your own use, you resolve it
into and confound it with that foregoing of the pope, in whom solely
many'of you would have this authority and infedlibility of the church
to reside. Tet because, in your management of it, you proceed on
other principles than those before mentioned, this pretence also shall
be apart considered. And here you tell us, —

I. ^ That the church was before the Scripture, and giveth authcNrity
unto it'' By the Scriptures you know that we understand the word
of Qod, with this one adjunct, of its being written by his command
and appointment We do not say that it belongs unto the essence
of the word of God that it be written: whatever is spoken by God we
admit as his word, when we are infallibly assured that by him it was
spoken; and that we should do so before, himself doth not require at
our hands, for he would have us use our utmost diligence not to be
imposed upon by any in his nama Therefore we grant that the word
of God was given out for the rule of men in his worship two thousand
y ears before it was written ; but it was so given forth as that they
unto whom it came had infallible assurance that from him it came,
and his word it was. And if you, or any man else, can give us euch
assurance that any thing is or hath been spoken by him besides what
we have fww written in the Scripture, we shall receive it with the
same faith and obedience wherewith we receive the Scripture itself
Whereas, therefore, you say " that the church was before the Scrip-
ture," — ^if you intend no more but that there was a church in the
world before the word of God was written, we grant it true, but not
at all to your purpose. If you intend that " the church is before the
word of God," which at an appointed time was written, it may possibly
be wrested unto your purpose, but is far from being true, seeing the
church is a society of men called to the knowledge and worship of
God by his word. They become a church by the call of that word
which, it seems, you would have not given until they are a church :
so effects produce their causes, children beget their parents, light
brings forth the sun, and heat the fire; so are the prophets and
apostles built upon the foundation of the church, whereof the pope
is the comer-stone; so was the Judaical church before the law of its
constitution, and the Christian before the word of promise whereon
it was founded, and the word of command by which it was edified.



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800 A VINDICATION OF THE ANIMADVERSIONS ON FIAT LUX.

In brief, from the day wherein man was first created upon the earth,
to the days wherein we live, never did a person or church yield any
obedience, or perform any acceptable worship unto God, but whsi
was founded on and regulated by his word, given unto them ante-
cedently unto their obedience and worship, to be the sole foundation
and rule of it. That you have no concernment in what is or may be
truly spoken of the church, we shall afterward show ; but it is not for
the interest of truth that we should suffer you, without control, to
impose such absurd notions on the minds of men, especially when you
pretend to direct them unto a settlement in religion. Alike tms is
it that "the church gives authority unto the Scriptura" Every true
church, indeed, gives witness or testimony unto it; and it is its duty
so to do. It holds it forth, declares and manifests it, so that it may
be considered and taken notice of by all; which is one main end of
the institution of the church in this world. But the church no more
gives authority to the Scripture than it gives authority to Ood him-
self. He requires of men the discbarge of that duty which he hath
assigned unto them, but stands not in need of their suffrage to con-
firm his authority. It was not so, indeed, with the idols of old, of
whom TertuUian said rightly, " Si deus homini non placuerit, deus
non erit" The reputation of their deity depended on the testimony
of men, as you say that of Christ's doth on tiie authority of the pope.
But I shall not farther insist upon the disprovement of this vanity,
having showed already that the Scripture hath all its authority, both
in itself and in reference imto us, firom him whose word it is; and we
have also made it appear that your assertions to the contraiy are
meet for nothing but to open a door unto all irreligiousness, profane-
ness, and atheism; so that there is cUtv by tig, — "nothing sound or
savoury," — ^nothing which a heart carefiil to preserve its loyalty unto
God will not nauseate at, — ^nothing not suited to oppugn the funda-
mentals of Christian religion in this your position. This ground well
fixed, you tell us, —

II. "That the church is infisdlible, or cannot err in what she
teacheth to be believed." And we ask you what church you mean,
and how far you intend that it is in£sdlible? The only known church
which was then In the world was in the wilderness, when Moses was
in the mount Was it infallible when it m^de the golden calf, and
danced about it, proclaiming a feast unto Jehovah before the calf?
Was the same church afterward infallible in the days of the judges,
when it worshipped BaaXim and Ashtaroth? or in the days of Jero-
boam, when it sacrificed before the calves at Dan and Bethel? or in
the other branch of it in the days of Ahaz, when the high priest set
up an altar in the temple for the king to offer sacrifice unto the gods
of Damascus f or in the days of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, when the



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PBINCIPLBS OF PAPISTS ON THE UNITY OF FAITH. 301

high priest, with the rest of the priests, imprisoned and would have
dain Jeremiah for preaching the word of God? or when they pre-
ferred the worship of the queen of heaven before that of the God of
Abraham? Or was it infedlible when the high priest, with the whole
council or sanhedrim of the church, judicially condemned, as far as
in them lay, their own Messiah, and rejected the gospel that was
preached unto them? Tou must inform us what other church was
then in the world, or you will quickly perceive how ungrounded your
general maxim is of the church's absolute infallibility. As far, in-
deed, as it attends unto the infallible rule given imto it it is so, but
not one jot fiEurther. Moreover, we desire to know what church you
mean in your assertion, or, rather, what is it you mean by the church f
Do you intend the mystical church, or the whole number of God's
elect in all ages, or in any age, militant on the earth, which princi-
pally is the church of God? Eph. v. 25 ; or do you intend the whole
diffused body of the disciples of Christ in the world, separated to
God by baptism and the profession of saving truth, which is the
church ccUholic visible t or do you mean any particular church,
as the Roman or ConstantinopoUtan, the French, Dutch, or English
church? If you intend the first of these, or the church in the first
sense, we acknowledge that it is thus far infallible, — that no true
member of it shall ever totally and finally renounce, lose, or forsake
that £Edth without which they cannot please God and be saved : this
the Scripture teacheth, this Austin confirmeth in a hundred places.
If you intend the church in the second sense, we grant that also so
tar unerring and infallible, as that there ever was and ever shall be
in the world a number of men making profession of the saving truth
of the gospel, and yielding professed subjection unto our Lord Jesus
Christ according imto it; wherein consists his visible kingdom in this
world, that never was, that never can be, utterly overthrown. If you
speak of a church in the last sense, then we tell you that no such
church is, by virtue of any promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, fireed
fix>m erring, yea, so far as to deny the fundamentals of Christi-
anity, and thereby to lose the very being of a church. Whilst it
continues a church it cannot err fundamentally, because such errors
destroy the very being of a church; but those who were once a
church, by their failing in the truth, may cease to be so any longer.
And a church as sudi may so &il, though eveiy person in it do not
so; for the individual members of it, that are so also of the mystical
church, shall be preserved in its iq)ostasy. And so the mystical
church and the catholic church of professors may be continued,
though all particular churches should fail So that no person, the
church in no sense, is absolutely freed in this world from the danger
of all errors : that is the condition we shall attain in heaven; here.



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302 A VINDICATION OF THE ANIMADVERSIONS ON FIAT LUX.

where we know but in part> we are incapable of it Tlie church of
the elect, and every member of it, shall eventually be preserved by
the power of the Holy Ghost fix>m any such error as would utterly
destroy their communion with Christ in grace here, or prevent their
fruition of him in glory hereafter; or, as the apostle speaks, they
shall assuredly be " kept by the power of God through fisdth imto
salvation/' The general church of visible professors shall be always
so far preserved in the world, as that there shall never ¥rant some, in
some place or other of it, that shall profess all needful saving truths
of the gospel, in the belief whereof and obedience whereunto, a man
may be saved; but for particular churches, as such, they have no
security but what lies in their diligent attendance imto that infallible
rule, which will preserve them from all hurtful errors, i^ through
their own default, they neglect not to keep close unto it And
your flattering yourselves with an imagination of any other privi-
lege is that which hath wrought your ruin. You are deceived if,
in tliis matter, you are of Menander's mind, who said, AMfiMra rSt
wpdyfiar M rh (Tufifpepov fit %&v xa6iudfi<fp, — " All will, of its own
accord, fall out well vdth you though you sleep securely." As for
all other churches in the world besides your own, we have your con-
cession not only that they were and are £eJlible, but that they have
actually erred long since; and the same hath been proved against
yours a thousand times; and your best reserve against particular
charges of error lies in this impertinent general pretence, that you
cannot err. It may be you will ask, for you use so to do, and it is
the design of your " Fiat" to promote the inquiry, — " If the church
be fallible (that is, to propose unto us the things and doctrines that
we are to believe), how can we with faith infallible believe her pro-
posals?" And I tell you truly, I know not how we can, if we believe
them only upon her authority, or she propose them to be believed
solely upon that account; but when she proposeth them unto us to be
believed on the authority of (Jod speaking in the Scriptures, we both
can and do believe what she teacheth and proposeth, and that with
faith infallible, resolved into the veracity of God in his word. And we
grant every church to be so far infallible as it attends unto the only
infallible rule amongst men. When you prove that any one church
is, by any promise of Christ, any grant of privil^e expressed or inti-
mated in the Scripture, placed in an imerring condition, any fiEurther
than as, in the use of the means appointed, she attends unto the only
rule of her preservation; or that any church shall be necessitated to
attend unto that rule whether she will or no, whereby she may be
preserved ; or can give us an instance of any church, since the foun-
dation of the world, that hath been actuidly preserved, and abso-
lutely^ from all eiror (other than that of your own, which you know



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PRINCIPLES OP PAPISTS ON THE UNITY OF FAITH. 303

we cannot admit of), — as you will do iMya xa) ^ptZCnrof ipyov, " a
great and memorable work," so we shall grant as much as you can
reasonably desire of us, upon the account of the assertion under
consideration. But until you do some one or all of these, your
crying out, " The church, the diurch, the church cannot err," makes
no other noise in our ears than that of the Jews, " The temple of
the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the law shall not fail," did in
the ears of the prophets of old. Neither do we speak this of the
church, or any church, as though we were concerned to question
or deny any just privileges belonging unto it, thereby to secure
ourselves from any pretensions of yours, but merely for the sake
of trutL For we shall manifest anon unte you that you are as
little concerned in the privileges of tiie church, be they what they
will, more or less, as any society of the professors of Christianity in
the world, if so be that you are concerned in them at all. So that
if the truth would permit us to agree with you in all things that you
assign unto the church, yet the difference between you and us were
never the nearer to an end; for we should still differ with you about
your share and interest therein, and for ever abhor your frowardness
in appropriating of them all unto yourselves. And herein, as I said,
hath lain a gr^ part of your ruin: whilst you have been 'sweetly
dreaming of an infallibility, you have really plunged yourselves into
errcHS innumerable; and when any one hath jogged you to awake
you out of your fatal sleep, by minding you of your particular errors,
your dream hath left such an impression upon your imagination as
that you think them no errors, upon this only ground, because you
cannot err, I am persuaded, had it not been for this one error, you
had been freed from many othera But this perfectiy disenables you
for any candid inquisition after the truth; for why should he once
look about him, or, indeed, so much as take care to keep his eyes
open, who is sure that he can never be out of his way? Hence you
inquire not at all whether what you profess be truth or not; but to
learn what your dmrch teacheth, and defend it, is all that you have
to do about religion in this world. And whatevei^ absurdities or
inoonveniencies you find yourselves driv^i unto in the handling of
particular points, all is one; they must be right, though you cannot
defend them, because your diurch, which cannot err, hath so declared
them to bel And if you should chance to be convinced of any truth
in particular that is contrary to the determination of your chuisdi, you
knownot how to embrace it^ but must shut your eyes against its light
and eddence, and cast it out of your minds, or wander up and down
with a various assent between contradictions. Well said he of old, —

EM/i«i( f*4t fminrmt hiX4iffiini

Ti fHif fih Im )i^ ^ fidUhwrAw t Mhf,



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304 A VINDICATION OF THE ANIMADVEBSIONS ON FIAT LUX*

This is flat folly, — namely, for a man to live iu rebellion unto his
own light But you add, —

III. " That yourselves, — ^that is, the pope, with those who in mat-
ters of reUgion adhere unto him, and live m subjection unto him, —
are this church, in an assent unto whose infallible teachings and de-
terminations the unity of faith doth consist" Could you prove this
assertion, I confess it would stand you in good stead. But before
we inquire after that, we shall endeavour a little to come unto a right
understanding of what you say. When you affirm that the Roman
chim^h is the church of Christ, you intend either that it is the only
church of Christ, — all the church of Christ, — and so, consequently,
the catholic church; or you mean that it is a church of Christ, which
hath an especial prerogative, enabling it to require obedience of all
the disciples of Christ

1. If you say the former, we desire to know. First, When it became
so to be. It was not so when all the church was together at Jeru-
salem, and no foimdation of any church at all kdd at Rome, Acts
i 1-5. It was not so when the first church of the Gentiles was ga-
thered at Antioch, and the disciples first began to be called Christians;
for as yet we have no tidings of any church at Rome. It was not so
when Paul wrote his epistles, for he makes express mention of many
other churches in other places, which had no relation unto any churdi
at Rome more than they had one to another, in their common profes-
sion of the same fiedth, and therein enjoyed equal gifts and privileges
with it It was not so in the days of the primitive fathers of tiie
first three hundred years, who all of them, not one excepted, took
the Roman to be a local particular church, and the bishop of Rome to
be such a bishop as they esteemed of all other churches and bishop&
Their persuasion in this matter is expressed in the beginning of the
Epistle of Clemens, or church of Rome, unto the church of Corinth:
*H fxxXiftf/a roD 0foD i ^apoixovtfa 'Pufifiv, rp ixxXjjtf/^ roD 0foD vapoixol^
K6piv6or — "The church [of God] that is at Rome to the church [of
God] that is at Corinth;" both local churches, both equal And such
is the language of all the writers of those times. It was not so in the
days of the fathers and councils of the next three centuries, who still
accounted it a particular church, — diocesan or patriarchal, but all of
them particular; never calling it catholic but upon the account of its
holding the catholic faith, as they called all other churches that did
so, in opposition to the errors, heresies, and schisms of any in their daya
We desure, then, to know when it became the only or absolutely ca^-
tholic church of Christ; as also, secondly, by what means it became
so to be. It did not do so by virtue of any institution, warrant, or
command of Christ You were never able to produce the least inti-
mation of any such wairant out of any writing of. divine inspiration,



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. PRlNOrPtBS OF PAPISTS ON THE TJNitr OF FAITH: 365

nor approved cathoKc writer of tlie first ages after Christ, tliougi H
hugely concern you so to do, if it were possible to be done; but they
all expressly teach that which is' inconsistent with such pretences. It
did nbt do so by any decree of* the first general councils, which are'
all of them silent as to any such thing; and some of them, as those
of Nice, Ephesus, and Chaloedon, expressly declare and determine the
oontntfy, — at least thait i^^liich is contrary thereunto. We can find no '
oUier way or means whereby it can pretend unto this vast privilege,



Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 37 of 67)