Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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trary to the unity of faith, would not be long-lived after them. But
whilst these things are far from us, let us not flatter om^lves as
though a windy flourish of words had any efficacy in it to bring us to
moderation and unity. At variance we are, and at variance we must
be content to be ; that being but one of the evils that at this day
triumph in the world over conquered Christianity. This being sup-
posed, —

II. Whereas the doctrine of Qod is a mystery, in the knowledge
whereof men attain unto wisdom according to that measure of light
and grace which the Spirit, who divides unto every man as he will,
is pleased to oommimicate unto them, if men would not frame dny
other rule or standard unto that wisdom, and the various degrees of
it, but only that which Qod himself hath assigned thereunto, the
fuel would, upon the matter, be wholly taken away from the fire of
our contentions. All men have not, nor, let men pretend what they
please to the contrary, ever had, nor ever will have, the same Ught^
the same knowledge, the same spiritual wisdom and understanding.

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the same degree of assurance, the same measure of comprehension, in
the things of God. But whilst they have the same rule, the same
objective revelation^ the use of the same means to grow spiritually
wise in the knowledge of it, they have all the agreement that God
hath appointed for them, or calls them unta To frame for them all,
in rigid confessions, or systems of supposed credible propositions, a
Procrustes' bed to stretdi them upon, or crop them unto the size of,
so to reduce them to the same opinion in all things, is a vam and
fruitless attempt, that men have for many generations wearied them-
selves about, and yet continue so to do. Remove out of the way
anathemas upon propositions arbitrarily composed and expressed,
philosophical conclusions, rules of faith of a mere himian com-
posure, or use them no otherwise but only to testify the voluntaiy
consent of men's minds in expressing to their own satisfaction the
things which they do believe, and let men be esteemed to believe
and to have attamed degrees in the fSuth according as they are
taught of God, with an allowance for every one's measure of means^
light, grace, gifts, which are not things in our own power, and we
shall be nearer unto quietness than most men imagina When Chris-
tians had any unity in the world, the Bible alone was thought to
contain their religion, and every one endeavoured to leam the mind
of God out of it, both by their own endeavours and as they were
instructed therein by their guides; neither did they pursue this work
with any other end but only that they might be strengthened in
their fSuth and hope, and leam to serve God and obey him, that so
they might come to the blessed enjoyment of him. Nor will there
ever, I fear, be again any unity among them until things are re-
duced to the same state and condition. But among all the vanities
that the minds of men are exerdsed with in this world, there is none
to be compared unto that of their hoping and endeavouring to bring
all persons that profess the religion of Jesus Christ, to acquiesce in
the same opinions about all pcuidculars which are any way deter-
mined to belong thereunto, especially considering how endle^y they
are multiplied and branched into instances; such, for aught ap-
pears, the first churches took little or no notice of, nay, neither knew
nor imderstood any thing of them, in the sense and terms wherein
they are now proposed as a " tessera" of communion among Chris-
tians. In a word, leave Christian religion unto its primitive liberty,
wherein it was believed to be revealed of God, and that revelation of
it to be contained in the Scripture, which men searched and studied^
to become themselves, and to teach others to be, wise in the know-
ledge of God and living unto him, and the most of the contests that
are in the world will quickly vanish and disappear. But whilst eveiy
one hath a confession, a way, a church, and its authority, which

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must be imposed on all others^ or else he cries to his nearest rela.

tionSy —

«Liip8 ei ftgnifl quanta sortito obtigii
Teoun mihi diaoordift eet;"

we may look for peace, moderation, and miity, when we are here no
more, and not sooner. So that, — .

TIL If those theological determinations that make up at this day
amongst some men the greatest part of those assertions, positions, or
propositions, which are called articles of faith or truth, — ^which are
not delivered in the words that the Spirit of Qod teacheth, but in terms
of art, and in answer unto rules and notions which the world might
haply, without any great disadvantage, [have] been unacquainted
withal unto this day had not Aristotle found them out or stumbled
on them, — ^might be eliminated from the city of Qod and communion
of CSsristians, and left for men to exercise tiieir wits about who have
nothing else to do, and the doctrine of truth which is according unto
godliness left unto that noble, heavenly, spiritual, generous ampli-
tude, wherein it was delivered in the Scripture and believed in the
first churches, innumerable causes of strife and contentions woidd be
taken away: but, " ferri video mea gaudia ventis,'' small hopes have
I to see any such impression and consent to befall the minds of con-
cerned men; and ye^ I must confess, I have not one jot more of the
reuniting the disciples of Christ in love and concord. But most men
that profess any thing of divinity have learned it as an art or human
science, out of the road, compass, and track whereof they know no-
thing of the mind of Qod; nay, many scarce know the things in
themselves, and as they are to be believed, which they are passing
skilful in as they are expressed in their arbitraiy terms of art, which
none almost imderstand but themselves. And is it likely that such
men, who are not a few in the world, will let go their skill and know-
ledge, and with them their reputation and advantage, and sacrifice
them all to the peace and agreement that we are seeking after?
Some learn their divinity out of the late and modem schools, both
in the Reformed and Papal church; in both which a science is pro-
posed imder that name, consisting in a farrago of credible proposi-
tions, asserted in terms suited unto that philosophy that is variously
predominant in them. What a kind of theology this hath produced
in the Papacy, Agricola^ Erasmus, Yives, Jansenius, with innumerable
other learned men of your own, have su£Sciently declared. And
that it hath any better success in the Reformed churches, many
things, which I shall not now instance in, give me cause to doubt
Some boast themselves to learn their divinity firom the fathers, and
say they depart not firom their sense and idiom of expression in what
they believe and profess. But we find by experience that, what for

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want of wisdom and judgment in themselves, what for such reasofs
taken from the writings which they make their oracles, which I shall
not insist upon, much of the divinity of some of these men consists
in that which, to avoid provocation, I shall not express. Whilst men
are thus pre-engaged, it will be very hard io prevail with them to
think that the greatest part of their divinity is sudi that Christian
religion, either as to the matter, or at least as to that mode wherein
alone they have imbibed it, is little or not at all concerned in : nor
will it be easy to persuade them that it is a mystery laid up ini;he
Scripture, and all true divinity a wisdom in the knowledge of tibttt
mysteiy, and skill to liveimto God aooordingty; without which, as I
said before, we shall have no peace or agreement in this world.
^' Nobis curiositate opus non est post Jesum Christum, nee inquisi-
tione post evangelium," says TertuUian; - -" Curiosity aftw the doc-
trine of Christ, and philosophical inquisitions" (in religion) " afW
the gospel, belong not imto us.'* As we are,—

lY. It were well if Christians would but seriousfy consider what
and how many things they wre wherein their present apprehensums
of the mind and will of Qod do centre and agree^ — I mean as to
the substance of them, their nature and importance, and how far they
will lead men in the ways of pleasing God, and coming to the enjoy-
ment of him. Were not an endeavour to ihis puipose impeded by
;mapy men's importunate cries of "J. H or none," ^'As good nothing at
all as not every thing,^ and that in thk or that way, mode, or fashion,
it might not a little conduce to ithe peace of Christendom. And I
must acknowledge unto you that I tliink it is prejudice, carnal iur
terest, love of power, and present enjoyments, witih other secular
advantages, joined with pride, self-will, and contempt of others, that
keep the professors of Christianity from conspiring to improve this
consideration. But, God help us, we are all for parties, and our own
exact bemg in the right, and therein the only church of Christ in the
earth, — at least, that others are so only so far as they a^ree with us,
we being ourselves the rule and standard of all gospel church state,
laying weight upon what we differ frx)m others in, for the most part
-exceedingly above what it doth deserve. Wvcsre ** the same mind in
tis that was in Christ Jesus," the same frame of spirit that was in his
blessed apostles, we should be willing to try the effects of his love
and care towards aU that profess his name, by a sedate consideration,
at least, how &r he hath instructed them in the knowledge of his
will, and what effidcts this learning of him may produca And to
tell you truly, I do not think there is a more horrid monster in the
earth than that opinion is^ which, in the great diversity that there is
among Christians in the world, includes happiness and salvation
within the limits and precincts of any party of them, as though

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Christ and the gospel, their own faith, obedience, and suflbrings,
could not possibly do them any good in their station and condition.
This is that Alecto,.


Irtqne^ inmdiffique, e( crimina iMoia oordL

OdU et ipee pater Fluton; od^re sororar

TartaresD monsfcmm : Tot seee Tortit in ora»

Tftxn mrm faciee, tot pallnlat atis colubris." Virg. JEn. tIL 825.

Wherever this opinion takes plaoe, which indeed bids defiance to the
goodness of Qod and the blood of Christ with a gigantic boldness,
fi)r men to talk of moderation, unity, and peace, is to mock others,
and to befool themsdyes in things of the greatest importance in the
world. '^ Altera manu ostentant panem, altera lapidem temnt" For
my own pait, I have not any firmer persuasion in and about these
things, nor that yields more satisfaction and contentment unto my
mind in rejections upon it, than this, — that if a man sinoerely believe
all that, and only that, wherein all Christiai^ in the world agree, and
yield obedience unto Godf aeoording to the guidance of what he doth
so believe, not neglecting or refusing the knowledge of any one truth
that he hath sufficient means to be instructed in, he need not go unto
any church in the wodd to secure his salvation* " Hie mums aheneus
esto,"' Hor. Ep. i 1, 60. It is true it is the duty of such a man to join
hims^unto some church of Christ or other, wfaidi walks in professed
subjection unto his institutions, and in the observation of his appoint-
ments; but to think that his not being of, or jc»ning with, this or
that society^ should cut him off from all hopes of a blessed eternity,
ia but to entertain a. viper in our minds, or to act suitably to the
principles of the M serpent, and to put forth the venom of his poison.
Some of the ancients^ indeed, tell us that out of the catholic church
there is no salvation; and so say I also, but, withal^ that the belief
mentioned of the truths generally embraced by Christians in their
present divisions in the world (I' still speak of the most famous and
numerous societies of them), and its profession, do so constitute a
man a member of the catholic church, that whilst he walks answer-
ably to his profession, it is not in the power of this or that, no, not of
all the churdbes in the world, to divest him of that privilege. Nor
can all these cries that are in the world, " We are the church, and
wo are the church; you are not the church, and you are not the
church," persuade me but that as eveiy assembly in the general
notion of it is a church, so every assembly of Christians that ordinarily
meet to worship < God in Christ according to. his appointment is a
church of Christ, —

" Haec, mi pater,

Te dioere ewpiom Mt, et id defendere." Ter. AdeL ir. 5, 40.

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When you talked of moderation and unity, such principles as these
had better become you than those which you either privatdy^couched
in your discourse or openly insisted on. Men that think of reducing
unity among Christians, upon the precise terms of that truth which
they suppose themselves ''in splidum" possessors of, '' ipsi sibi somnia
fingunt/' do but entertain themselves with pleasant dreams, which a
little consideration may awake them from. Charity, condescension,
a retrenchment of opinions, wiih a rejection of secular interests, and
a design for the pursuit of general obedience, — ^without any such re-
spect to the paridcular enclosures which diversity of opinions, and
different measures of light and knowledge, have made in the field of
the Lord, as should confine the effects of any duty towards the dis-
ciples of Christ unto those within them, — with the like actings of
minds suited unto the example of Jesus Christ, must introduce the
desired unity, or we shall expect it in vain.

These are some of my hasty thoughts upon the principles of Pro-
testants before mentioned, which you and others may make use of
as you and they please. In the meantime, I shall pray that we may,
amidst all our differences, love one another, pray for one another,
wait patiently for the communication of fiuliher Ught unto one another,
leave evil surmises, and much more the condemning and seeking the
ruin of those that dissent from us, which men usually do on various
pretences, most of them frdse and coined for the present purpose.
And when we can arrive thereunto, I shall hope that from such
general principles as before mentioned somewhat may be advanced
towards the peace of Christians; and that there will be so when the
whole concernment of religion shall, in the providence of Qod, be un-
ravelled from that worldly and secular interest wherewith it hath
been wound up and entangled for sundry ages; and when men shall
not be engaged, from their cradles to their graves, in a precipitate
zeal for any church or way of profession, by outward advantages in-
separably mixed and blended with it before they came mto the world.
In the meantime, to expect unity in profession, by the reduction of
all men to a precise agreement in all the doctrines that have been
and are ventilated among Christians, and in all acts and ways of
worship, is to refer the supreme and last determination of things
evangelical to the sword of secular power and violence, and to inscribe
" Vox ultima Christi" upon great guns and other engines of war,
seeing otherwise it will not be effected; — and what may be done this
way I know not

••Spontetonat; coeont ipesd dne flamin* nvbeft**

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Farther vindicatioii of the second chapter of the ^ Animadversions"—
The remaining principles of " Fiat Lux'' considered*

It is time to return and put an end unto our review of those prin-
ciples which I observed your discourse to be built upon. The next^
as laid down in the " Animadversions," p. 103,* is^ " That the pope
is a good man, one that seeks nothing but our good, that never did
us harm, but hath the care and inq)ection of us committed unto him
by Chrisf In the repetition hereof you leave out all the last part^
and express no more but " The pope is a good man, and seeks nothing
but our good;" and therein aim at a double advantage unto yourself,
— first. That you may, with some colour of truth, thoi^h reaUy with-
out it^ deny the assertion to be yours, when the latter part of it^
which, upon the matter, is that which gives the sense and determines
the meaning of the whole, is expressly contended for by you, and
that firequently and at large; secondly, That you may vent an empty
cavil against that expression, *' Seeks nothing but our good," whereas
had you added the next words^ " And never did us harm," every one
would have perceived in what sense the former were spoken, and so
have prevented the frivolous exception. Tour words are, " This also
I nowhere aver, for I never saw hun, nor have any such acquaintance
with him as to know whether he be a good man or no; though, in
charity, I do not use to judge hardly of any body, much less could
say that he whom I know to have a general solicitude for all churches
seeks nothing but our good. Sir, if I had pondered my words in
* Fiat Lux ' no better than you heed yours in your * Animadver-
sions ' upon it, they might even go together, both of them, to lay up
pepper and spices, or some yet more vile employment"

For what you have said of the pope, I desire the reader to consult
your paragraph so entitled; and if he find not that you have said
ten times more in the commendation of him than I intimated in the
words laid down for your principle, I am content to be esteemed to
have done you wrong. You have, indeed, not only set him out as a
good mun, but have made him much more than a m^n, and have
ascribed that unto him which is not lawful to be ascribed unto any
man whatever. Some of your expressions I have agsdn reminded
you 0^ and many others of the same nature might be instanced in;
and what you can say more of him than you have done, imless you
would '' exalt him above all that is called Qod, and is worshipped,"
unless you should set him " in the temple of Qod, and show him that
> See p. 42 of the present volume.

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he is God/' I know not Let the reader, if he please, consult your
expressions where you have placed them; I shall stain paper with
them no more. And you do but trifle with us, when you tell us that
" you know not the pope, nor have any such acquaintance with him
as to know whether he* be a good man or no," — as though your per-
sonal acquaintance with this or that pope belonged at all to our ques-
tion; although I must needs say that it seems veiy strange unto
me that you-shotdd hang the weight of refigion and the salvation of
your own soul upon one of whom you know not so much as whethet
he be a good man or no. For my part, I am persuaded there is no
such hardship in Christian religion, as that we should be bonnd to
believe that all the safety of our faith and salvation depends on a
man, and he such a one as concerning, whom we know not whether
he be a good man or no. The apostle lays the foundation of our hope
on better /ground, Heb. L 1-3. And yet, whatever opinion you may
have of your present pope, you are forced to be at this indifferency
about his honesty, because you are not able to deny but that very
many of his predecessors, on whose shoulders the weight of all your
religion lay, no less than you suppose it doth on his who now sways
the papal sceptre, were very brutes, — so far fix)m being good men as
that they may be reckoned amongst the worst in the world. Pro-
testants, as I said, are persuaded that their faith is laid up in better
handa With the latter part of my words, as by you set down, you
play sophistically, that you might say something to them (as to my
knowledge, I never observed any man so hard put to it to say some-
what, were it right or wrong); ^ich seems to be the utmost of your
diesign. You feign the sense of my words to be, " That the pope doth
no other thing in the worid but seek our good;" and confute me by
saying, " That he hath a general solicitude for all churchea" But,
sir, I said not, "He doth nothing but seek our good ;" but only, " He
seeks nothing but our good, and never did us harm." And you may
quickly see how causelessly you Ml into a contemplation of your
accuracy in your " Fiat," and of the looseness of my expressions in
the " Animadversions;" for although I acknowledge that discourse
to have been written in greater haste than perhaps the severer judg-
ments of learned men might well allow of, as is also this return unto
your epistle, being both of them proportioned rather unto the mierits
of your discourse than that of the cause in agitation between us, yet
I cannot see that you or any man else hath any just cause to except
against this expression of my intention, which yet is the only one
that in that kind falls under your censura For whereas I say that
the pope seeks nothing but our good, and that he never did us harm,
would any man living but yourself understand these words any other-
wise but with reference unto them of whom I speak? — that is, as to

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US, be seeks sotfaing bat onr good, whatever he doth in the world
b^idesL And k it not a wild interpretatioB that joo make of my
words, whilst you suppose me to intimate that ^ absototely the pope
doth nothing in the world," or hath no other business at all that he
concerns himsdf in, but only the seeking of our good in particular?
If yoo cannot allow the books that you read the common civility
cS interpreting things indefinitely expressed in them with the limi-
tatiotts that the subjeet-matter whereof they treat requires, you had
better employ your time in any thing than study, as being not able
to understand many lines in any author yoo shall read. Nor are
such expressions to be avoided m our common disooursa If a man,
talking of your ** Fiat," should say that you do nothing but seek the
good cf yom* countrymen, would you interpret his words as though
he denied that you say mass, and hear oonfesrions^ or to intimate
that you do nothing but write ** Fiats?" And you know with whom
lies both ^ jus et norma loquendi''

The tenth imd last principle is^ '"That the devotion of Catholics
far transcends that of Protestants." So you now ex{«e8B it; what yoa
mention being but one part of three that the ** Animadversions" speak
unto. Hereonto you reply, ** But^ siT;, I never made in ' Fiat Lux'
any comparisons betwe^i your devotions; nor can I say how much the
one is, or how little the other. But you are the maddest commentator
that I ha?e ever seen: you first mi^e the text, and then animadver*
sions upon it'* Pray, sir, have a liUU patience^ and learn from this
instance not to be too confident upon your memory for the future. I
diall rather think that iitils you at presait than your conscience: bni
a failure I am sure there is^ and you shall take the liberty to charge
it where you please ; which is more than eveiy one would allow jwl
I wcmld, indeed, desiroady free myself from the labour of tn^iseribing
aught that you have written to this purpose in your ^ Fiat," and only
leter you to the plaoesy which you seem to have forgotten; but b^
cause this is the last instance of tiits kind that we are to treat about^
and you have by degrees raised your confidence in denying your
own words, to that height as to accuse them of madness who do b«i
remind you of them, I shall represeni unto you once again what yoo
have written to this purpose: and I am persuaded, up<m your review
of it, you will like it so well as to be sony that ever you disowned ii
I (ediall instance only in one place, whidi is sect xxii., pp^ 270, 271,
where your words are these: — ** When I beheld" (in the Catholie
countries) *' the deep rsverenee and earnest devotion of the people^
the migest^ of their service, the gravity of their altars, the decencgr
of their priests, * Certainly,' said I within myself, * rtiis is the house rf
God, the gate of heaven.' AlasF our churches in England, as they be
now, be as short of those^ either for decency, use, or piety, as steles

VOL. XIV. 21

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to a princely palace! There they be Upon their knees all the week

Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 39 of 67)