Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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self in your epistle, I shall only mind you that those words of mine,
" That your assertions were notoriously false, and that you coidd not
produce so much as one testimony of any such thing," were not by
me used at all in reference unto tiie Pagans' charge upon the Chris-
tians for worshipping an ass's head, but unto what you said about the
use of the picture of Christ on the altars of Christians, with the rise
of the charge mentioned from thence. This you know to be so, for
my words must needs lie before you in your attempt for a reply unto
them; and finding them to be true, and that you were not able to
^ produce one testimony, no not one," in the confirmation of what you
had written, you pretend them now to be spoken in reference unto
that whereunto you know they did not at all relate, the thing itself
being acknowledged by ma This dealing becomes not any man
pretending to ingenuity or professing Christianity.

What remains of your epistle is personal. Men are busy, and not
so &r concerned, I am sure, in me, nor (I am almost persuaded) in
you, as to trouble themselves with the perusal of what belongs unto
us personally. For my part, I know it is my duty in aU things,
especially in those that are of such near concernment unto his glory
as are all his truths and worship, to commend my conscience unto
God, and to be conversant in them in simplicity and godly sincerity,
and not in fleshly wisdom, not corrupting the word of truth, nor

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lying in wait with any subtle sleights to deoeiva And this, through
his grace, I shall attend unto, whatever reward I may meet withal in
this world; for "I know in whom I have believed, who is able to
keep that which I desire to oonunit unto him." And for your part,
I desire your prosperity as my own, I rejoice in your quiet, and shall
never envy you your Uberty, and do pray that you may receive grace,
truth, and peace from Him who alone is able to bestow them on

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"nvtytnollB lyhui worda, mjbut, Th» ttmpbor tht Loed, TIm tampi* of tb* L«aD, Tbc temple of the Lobd,
wen theee. Win }e tteeil, murder, aiMi eonitnlt adalteiY, and amtmr tklatiy, mad ban isoanee uoto Baal, and
«alk:a(lOT otbtr goda whom |« iBuw Kit , airt «UBM auA itaad bete»flM Id this lwate» whWk to «^
MUM ?'*-aBa. TlL 4»». la


March 6, 1679.

VOL. XIT. 31

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Wbih Dr Owen pablialied the three fbllowiiig pemphleto, the nation was in % state of
great alarm lest Popeiy should be re-established in Britain. Paiiiament had become
suspicions, so early as 1678, that some project of this nature was entertained; and ac-
oordingly it passed the Test Act, condemned the marrisge of the Doke of Toik with
the Priuoessof Modena, and lesolTed to grsnt no sapplks tiU security was obtained
against the restoration of Popery. The same Jealous mood contimied tiU the Pop^
plot of 1678 produced an outburst of excitement and horror throu{^out the oountiy.
The House of Commons, haying passed a resolution affirming that such a plot had been
oontriTed by Popish reoussots for the subTersion of the goremment, and the destruction
of the Protestant religion as by law established, adopted stringent measures in defence
of the threatened liberties of the nation. The Roman Catholic Lords were excluded
fhmi Parliament; a Secretary of State was imprisoned for commissioning gentlemen
whose Protestantism was suq)ected; the Duke of York was expelled trom the Privy
Council; and the Lord Treamirer riuiby was impeached of high treason. In the midrt
of these proceedings, the House of Commons was suddenly dissolTed. The fears of the
nation were increased ; a Parliament was vetumed eren more lealous for the interests of
Protestantism; and as soon as it met, the bill to exclude the Duke of York fhnn succes-
sion to the crown was proposed.

£yen were it conceded that the stories of Titus Gates were altogether unworthy of
credit, it was no groundless panic that now agitated the nation. Charles, however desti-
tute of any fixed principles, had betrayed leanings in the direction of Rome. He was under
the influence of the Fraidi monarch, who was doing his utmost at the time, by means
of an atrocious persecution, to fulfil his marriage-contract with the Lifiuita of Spain, in
which it was stipulated that the Huguenots should be rooted out of France. A great
multitude, as we learn ftrom the following pamphlet, influenced by the court or by the
reigning fashion of the day, had passed into Uie conmiunion of the Romish ChundL
The Di^e of York was publidy committed to the interests of the Papacy; and it was
natural to expect, from the bigoted obstinacy of his character, that he would stake even
his crown itself in an effort to make his creed again the religion of the State.

Accordingly, both in the Established Church and among the Nonconformists, every
exertion was made to rouse a spirit adequate to the emeigency, by exposing the enors
of Popery, and fostering a healthful antipathy to its despotism and superstition. Seve-
ral treatises appeared, marked by the brief-spoken earnestness of men in actual conflict
The divines of the Church of England contributed to the discussion in works which leave
nothing to be desired in dose logic and vigorous statement Most of these works ran
to no great length, and irere chiefly such tracts and pamphlets as Bishop Gibson has.
treasured up in his ** Preservative against Popery." lliere was no time to indite sndi
bulky treatises as *' Barrow on the Supremacy of the Pope." There would have been lees
time to read them. The vessel vras boarded, and, quitting the heavier ordnance, the
crew had to fight hand to hand f<Mr the possession of the deck.

The Nonconformists delivered and published their ** Morning Exercises against
Popery." Their leading divines all took part in the controversy, in productions not so
remarkable for the acumen, deamees, and vivadty which adorn the pages of sudi
vrriters as Stillingfleet,Tillotson, and Tenison ; — equal, however, in the resources of learn-
ing, real strength of argument, and Imowledge of human nature, and superior perhaps
in the skill irith which divine tnrth was made to bear on the consdence.

Dr Owen in this crisis vrrote several sermons and treatises. Li the tract vdiich fd-
lows, his aim is to show that the Chureh of Rome is no safe guide to the enjoyment of
implicit certainty in rdigious convictions; and that the Scriptones, vnth the promised
aid of the Holy Spirit, Aimish the sole guidance upon which the awakened soul, in its
pursuit of truth and salvation, must depend. He assigns as a reason for diflonssing Uie pre-
tended in&llibility of Rome, that its vrary advocates, accounting this dogma their strong,
hold, '* declined all particular controversies, and betook themMlves to this alone." He
revievrs the causes by which Popery gains accessions to its ranks : — ^ignorance of spiritual
religion, loose morals, secular interest, strong ddusion sent on men that th^ should bdieve
a lie, and the terrors of persecution. The main part of the treatise is occupied with nine
different grounds on account of whidi the guiduice of the Church of Rome is to be dis-
trusted and rejected. All of them deserve serious consideration. A peculiar direwdness
distinguishes Uie treatise, occasionally the diction rises into an animation rare vnth our
author, and eveiywhere the spiritual sagacity is apparent, which gives a crowning \
io his views on such a topic as he now hamUes. — En.

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The ensuing discotme was the subject and substance of two sermons preached
unto a priYate congregation. The author of them had no design or purpose ever
to have made them public. The importunity of many, who judged they might be
of use unto others, because they found them so unto themselves, gave occasion
imto this publication of them; — ^yet had they not so prevailed, but that he judged
it was neither unmeet for him nor unseasonable for others. ** In publico discri-
mine omnis homo miles est;" — no man is to be forbidden to bring his bucket to
help to allay the flames of a raging fire. And it is the pretence of the church of
Bome to be the only guide of all Christians in religion which is here examined, — a
work which a concurrence of all sorts of circumstances renders seasonable. For
as this pretence is the sole foundation of the whole Papacy, with all the power and
secular advantages that it hath obtained unto itself, so it is that alone which gives
countenance and warranty unto the factors and agents of that church to design
and perpetrate such things as are destructive of all that is praiseworthy or desir-
able among mankind, and unspeakably scandalous unto Christian religion. Remove
the sand or rubbish hereof, and the whole fabric will dissolve of itself and fall to
the g^und. This small discourse is an attempt unto that end, whose success is
humbly reconmiended unto the care of Qod over his church. If there seem to be
any severities of expression used towards some of the church of Rome, the reader
is to consider that hard things cannot well be represented in soft and pliant words.
And if there be nothing of this nature found, but what hath the appearance of
severity from the things themselves which are expressed, there is no blamable
excess. However, the author is one who heartily desires and prays for the out-
ward peace and tranquillity of all men in this world, whose principles will allow
them to live peaceably with others.

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The foundation of the small ensuing discourse shall be laid in a
position wherein^ as I suppose, persons of all sorts who are concerned
in the things tareated about are agreed, — ^namely, that it is the duty
of eveiy man who takeih care of his own eternal salvation, to betake
himself unto some guide or conduct that may safely lead him unto
the knowledge of the truth, and the practice of Christian obedience.
The nature of religion, the state of our own minds in this world, with
the eternal importance of a safe, unerring guidance in things spiritual
and supernatural, do require that the utmost of our diligence and
prudence be used in the discharge of this duty, in the choice of this
guide. No man of himself is sufficient, by his ovm reason alone, to be
his own guide. They who, thinking themselves wise, have attempted
so to be, " have waxed vain in their imaginations, and their foolish
hearts have been darkened,"' Bom. L 21. The warning and instruc-
tion given by Solomon do principally respect this case: " He that
trusteth in his own heart is a fool; but whoso walketh wisely, he shall
be delivered," Prov. zxviiL 26. But the knowledge of and adherence
imto such a guide are eminently necessary when there are great
differences and divisions amongst men about religion, especially if
they are managed in ways and by means not only scandalous unto
religion itself, Uit pernicious unto human society in their consequence.
When mai not only say and contend that ^' Here is Christ, and lo,
there is Christ," Matt xxiv. 23, but also, on the account of these
differences, engage into ways and practices ruinous unto the souls of
men, and destructive unto all that is praiseworthy in this world, those
who are not careful to choose and adhere unto a £euthful guide and
conduct are no less defective in wisdom than negligent in their duty.
Were a man in a wilderness where are a multitude of cross paths
all pretending to lead unto an inhabited city, whither he must go or
penish; if he see men not only contending some for one way, some
for another, but killing and destroying one another about the prefer-
ence of the several ways they esteem best and safest^ he deserves to

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"wander and perish if he refuse a guide that is tendered unto him
with sufficient evidence of his truth and faithfuhiess. That there is
such a one ready in our present case shall be immediately evinced.

The differences in religion that are at present among us are of
two sorts: — First, Such as, compaicatively, are of small moment as
unto the principal ends of the life of Qod. The measure of these
differences is, tiiat which way soever they are determined in the
minds of men, they neither overthrow the foundation nor obstnict
the due exercise of faith and love; for this is our great duty, with
respect unto doctrines in religion, that we " hold fast the form of
sound words, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus,'' 2 Tim. L 13.
And if any of them are so small as that it cannot be pretended that
they overthrow the foundations of fedth and love, yet if they hinder
them in their operations and due exercise according unto the rule of
the gospel, they are pernicious unto the souls of them in whom they
have that effect But such differences which comply with this mea-
sure tend unto nothing in themselves that is obstructive unto the
glory or power of religion, whatever they may be pressed and wrested
unto by the lusts, prejudices, and carnal interests of men; for there
is no ground to be taken from them for severe thoughts concemiDg
the state and condition of them who so differ, as unto their interest
in present grace and future glory. To live in a neglect of love, in
all the effects and fruits of it, towards such on any pretences, to de-
sign their hurt and evil, is to live in open contradiction unto all the
rules of the gospel

Such severe thoughts are the principal causes and occasion of all
pernicious evils in religion, especially those which are most scandar
lous unto it, and most inconsistent with that good of mankind which
Christian religion is designed to promote; for things are come to that
pass among the generality of Christians, that when once persons be-
gin to damn others in their minds for their dissent from them, they
judge themselves at liberty, and count that it is their duty, to do them
all the mischief they can in this world. They first make themselves
their judges that tliey must go to hell, and then would be their
executioners, to send them thither as fiast as they can. Whether this
be a representation of Christ or of the devil is not hard to determina
Sure I am, it is not compliant with the advice given unto all guides
of the church, of an attendance whereunto they must give an account,
2 Tim, ii 24-26: " And the servant of the Lord must not strive;
but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness in-
structing those that oppose themselves; if Qod peradventure will
give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that
they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are
taken captive by him at his will"

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Causes of bifference in reugiok. 4S7

Hence it is, that those who have a strong indination to oppress
and destroy other men, which their interest prompts them unto, do
endeavour to make every the least dissent from themselves, on one
pretence or other, by sophistical arguments and strained conse-
quences, to be a Amdamental error, and such as makes them in-
capable of life eternal But no men can ^ve a greater evidence of
their disinterest in Christian religion, of their imacquaintedness with
the virtues and powers of it, wherein the glories of it do consist, and
what is of real price with God, than those who are so minded.
Blessed be Qod, that Christ will not leave his seat of judgment unto
such persons, neither here nor hereafter I

But such differences as those mentioned will probably continue
among Christians so long as they continue in this world ; for although
all those among whom these differences are do choose the same guide,
yet they do not in all things equally hear and understand his voice.
Perfection in light and knowledge are required imto a perfect agree-
ment in all the conceptions of our minds about spiritual things;
wherefwe it is reserved for heaven, where every thmg that is im-
perfect shall be done away. Here we have different measure& " We
know but in part,'' and tiierefore " prophesy in part," 1 Cor. xiii. 9.
It is love or charity alone that supplies this defect, and gives such a
harmony unto the different parts of the mystical body of Christ,
which is the church, as renders them all useful, and the whole
beautiful, 1 Cor. xiii.; Col. iil 14.

But these are not the differences which at present I intend There
are those which in their nature are of greater importance; such as
are about the fundamentals of Christian faith, worship, and obe-
dience; such as upon whose determination the eternal welfare and
misery of the souls of men do depend. And not only so, but they
are such also which, on that wretched management of religious con-
cerns that late ages have embraced, have an influence into the peace
or disturbance of human society, the tranquillity, the liberty, and
lives of men. Yea, they are by some promoted and pursued by all
ways of fraud and violence, with that height of imjnety as is utterly
destructive of all religion. Many we have who plead themselves to
be Christians; which might be allowed them, if they pleased them-
selves, would they not do such things as Christian religion abhorreth.
But this is the least part of their daim: they will also be the only
Christians; all others who differ from them, however fidsely so called,
being only a drove of unbelievers, hasting unto beE Now, although
this be intolerable presumption, yet, because they hurt none by it
but themselves, if they will not be awakened from this pleasing
dream, they may be suffered to sleep on. But they rest not here.
These Christians, who only are so, and so alone know truly what is in

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Christian religion, will do such things under a pretence of it, will
perpetrate such execrable crimes, avowing them to be the dictates
and commands of that religion, that if men were not sure that thdr
former pretences are presumptuously faJse, it would be a suffici^t
warranty for them whereon to question the whole truth of the gospel
And these things are done in the pursuit of these differences in leli-
gion which abound among ua Wherefore, if we would not contri-
bute unto that intolerable scandal against the goq)el, that the reli-
gion it teacheth is pernicious to the peace of mankind and all l^is
praiseworthy in the world, which must be accounted fw; if we have
any care about our own eternal salvation, — ^we ought to use our utmost
diligence to arrive unto a safe conduct through all these difficultie&

This being our present case, th^re being such diff»:ence8 in, and
divisions about religion among us, the management of th^n being
grown incurably scandalous and perilous, our inquiry is, What guide
or conduct a man that takes care of his own salvation, that would
know the truth, and have the benefit of it, that •would please God
here, and come unto the eternal enjoyment of him heresdfter, ought
to betake himself^ and firmly adhere unto, as that which will safely
lead and direct him unto all these endsl for " if the blind lead tl^
blind, both will fall into the ditcL"

Two things are pleaded to be this safe cmd infaUible guide, to have
that conduct committed unto them, which every one who takes caie
of his salvation is obliged to betake himself unto.

The first is the ckwrch of Rome. She it'is who at this time ]xp
a most vehement claim to be the only authoritative, infallible guide
of all Christians, as unto their fedth, worship, and obedience. We
inquire not after a ministerial guide, and the benefit which we may
receive thereby. This they regard not, as that which leaves men the
exercise of their own imderstandings, and use of all divine aids and
assistances, as unto the information, direction, and determination of
their minds in all that they are to believe and practise in religion.
But such a guidance as whereunto, by virtue of its autJiority and
inMlibility, we sue entirely and absolutely to resign our understand-
ings and consciences, whatever it leads us unto, is that whidi this
church daimeth, and without which she is nothing, nor can stand one
moment This is that which those who plead the cause of that
church at present do wholly betake themselves unto the promotion
of; declining, what lies in them, all other differences and controversies
between them and ua Such a guide, they say, there must be of all
Christians ; and this guide is their church. And they do wisely con-
sult their own interest therein; for if they can once gain this point,
all other things which they aim at will follow of their own accord, and
they may satisfy the desires of their hearts on the consciences of men.

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Wherefore, this claim of theirs consists of these three parts, or may
s be reduced mito these three heads: —

1. That iheyy and {hey ahne, are the church <^ Christ; all others
c who are called Christians in the world are heretics and schismatics,

9 who belong not unto it, nor have any interest in it Howbeit, if the

i> description given us of the church of Christ in the Scriptm^ be right

I and good, it is almost impossible there should be any sodety or com-

n binatio& of men, on a reli^ous account, more unlike it than that which

s is called the Church of Boma This, therefore, must be taken i^n

their own credit and vehement affirmation by them who have a
z mind so to da

^ 2. That this church, which they alone are^ is intrusted with autho-

L. rity over the souls and consciences of all Christians, and all that

would be so, to be their atUyi guide in all that they are to know, be-
lieve, and do in religicm; so that whoever gives not themselves up
, unto their conduct must perish eternally. It were no hard task to

manifest that a supposition hereof is destructive unto the nature of
evangelical futh and obedience, as also oi all the directions and pre-
^ cepts given by Christ and his apostles for the discharge of our duty

^ with respect unto them. But this they must obtain, or the whole

present papal interest falls unto the ground. Yet neither will a sup-
position that there is such a church secure them, th^ own pretences
to be this church being openly contradictory to the Scripture. Nor
is the power claimed herein derived from the i^>ostle8^ who professed
themselves not to be lords of the faith of bdievers, 2 Cor. L 24;
1 Pet V. 3.

3. They plead that h^i-eon no more is required o! any man who
takes care of his salvation, but that he give up himself absokitdy amd
entirely unto the conduct of their church, beUeviog what it proposeth,
and that on this ground alone, that it is proposed by it, and obeying
all its commands ; whereby they seem to set this pr^;ended guide " in
the temple of God, showing him that he is God."

This is the daim of the church of Borne, — these are the prindples
whereinto it is resolved; which whether they have any thing in them
of truth or modesty, will immediately be made to appear.

Secondly, The holy Scriptv/re^ with the divine aids and assistanoes
for the understanding thereof which God hath promised unto all that
diligently seek him, is pleaded to be the ordy rule and guide that
men ought to betake themselves unto, in case <^ those important
differences in religion which are under consideration. And the plea
on the behalf thereof is reducible unto these five heads: —

1. That this Scripture is a divine^ supernatural revelation of God,
his mind and his will This foundation is unquestionable, and will
never fEul them that build upon it Those of the Boman religion will

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propose ensnaring questions about it unto them on whom thejr design.
They will be asking how they know the Scripture to be the word of
God, labouring to disprove the evidences they produce to prove it so
to be. But this bold artifice is of no use in this case, for themselves
confess it so to be: only, they prefer the authority of their chordi
testifying it so to be, as more safely to be rested in and trusted unto
than that of Qod himself; which cannot be unto the advantage of
their cause with any considerate persons.

Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 59 of 67)