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opinions this, that they hoped to make God some part of amends for their sins, by the voluntary punishment which they laid upon themselves; because by a consequent it may follow hereupon, that they were injurious unto Christ, shall we therefore make such deadly epitaphs, and set them upon their graves, “They denied the foundation of Faith directly, they are damned, there is no salvation for them P’’ Saint Austin saith of himself, Errare possum, Haereticus esse nolo. And except we put a difference between them that err, and them that obstinately persist in error, how is it possible that ever any man should hope to be saved? Surely, in this case, I have no respect of any person, either alive or dead. Give me a man, of what estate or condition soever, yea, a Cardinal or a Pope, whom in the extreme point of his life affliction hath made to know himself; whose heart God hath touched with true sorrow for all his sins, and filled with love towards the Gospel of Christ, whose eyes are opened to see the truth, and his mouth to renounce all heresy and error any wise opposite thereunto, this one opinion of merits excepted; he thinketh God will require at his hands, and because he wanteth, therefore trembleth, and is discouraged; it may be I am forgetful, and unskilful, not furnished with things new and old, as a wise and learned Scribe should be, nor able to allege that, whereunto, if it were alleged, he doth bear a mind most willing to yield, and so to be recalled, as well from this, as from other errors: and shall I think, because of this only error, that such a man toucheth not so much as the hem of Christ's garment; If he do, wherefore should not I have hope, that virtue might proceed from Christ to save him P_Because his error doth by consequent overthrow his Faith, shall I therefore cast him off, as one that hath utterly cast of Christ P one that holdeth not so much as by a slender thread P No, I will not be afraid to say unto a Pope or Cardinal in this plight; Be of good comfort, we have to do with a merciful God, ready to make the best of a little which we hold well, and not with a captious sophister, which gathereth the worst out of every thing wherein we err. Is there any reason that I should be suspected, or you offended for this speech P Is it a dangerous thing to imagine that such men may find mercy P. The hour may come, when we shall think it a blessed thing to hear, that if our sins were the sins of the Pope and Cardinals, the bowels of the mercy of God are larger. I do not propose unto you a Pope with the neck of an Emperor under his feet; a Cardinal riding his horse to the bridle in the blood of Saints; but a Pope or a Cardinal sorrowful, penitent, disrobed, stripped, not only of usurped power, but also delivered and recalled from error and Antichrist, converted and lying prostrate at the foot of Christ; and shall I think that Christ will spurn at him P and shall I cross and gainsay the merciful promises of God, generally made unto penitent sinners, by opposing the name of a Pope or a Cardinal? What difference is there in the world between a Pope and a Cardinal, and John a Style in this case? If we think it impossible for them, if they be once come within that rank, to be afterwards touched with any such remorse, let that be granted. The Apostle saith, “If I, or an Angel from Heaven, preach unto,” &c. Let it be as likely that St. Paul, or an Angel from Heaven, should preach heresy, as that a Pope or a Cardinal should be brought so far forth to acknowledge the truth; yet if a Pope or Cardinal should, what find we in their persons why they might not be saved 2 It is not the persons, you will say, but the error wherein I suppose them to die, which excludeth them from the hope of mercy; the opinion of merits doth take away all possibility of salvation from them. What if they hold it only as an error? although they hold the truth truly and sincerely in all other parts of Christian Faith? although they have in some measure all the virtues and graces of the Spirit, all other tokens of Gods elect children in them P although they be far from having any proud presumptuous opinion, that they shall be saved by the worthiness of their deeds 2 although the only thing which troubleth and molesteth them, be but a little too much dejection, somewhat too great a fear, rising from an erroneous conceit that God would require a worthiness in them, which they are grieved to find wanting in themselves? although they be not obstinate in this persuasion? although they be willing, and would be glad to forsake it, if any one reason were brought sufficient to disprove it? although the only let, why they do not forsake it ere they die, be the ignorance of the means by which it might be disproved? although the cause why the ignorance in this point is not removed, be the want of knowledge in such as should be able, and are not, to remove it P Let me die, if ever it be proved, that simply an error doth exclude a Pope or a Cardinal in such a case, utterly from hope of life. Surely, I must confess unto you, if it be an error, that God may be merciful to save men even when they err, my greatest comfort is my error; were it not for the love I bear unto this error, I would never wish to speak, nor to live.
A SERMON ON HABAK. i. 4.
“Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to winnow thee as wheat;” here is our toil: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not;” this is our safety. No man's condition so sure as ours: the prayer of Christ is more than sufficient both to strengthen us, be we never so weak; and to overthrow all adversary power, be it never so strong and potent, . His prayer must not exclude our labour: their thoughts are vain, who think that their watching can preserve the city, which God himself is not willing to keep. And are not theirs as vain, who think that God will keep the city, for which they themselves are not careful to watch? The husbandman may not therefore burn his plough, nor the merchant forsake his trade, because God hath promised, “I will not forsake thee.” And do the promises of God concerning our stability, think you, make it a matter indifferent for us, to use or not to use the means whereby to attend or not to attend to reading 2 to pray, or not to pray, “that we fall not into temptations F* Surely, if we look to stand in the faith of the sons of God, we must hourly, continually be providing and setting ourselves to strive. It was not the meaning of our Lord and Saviour in saying, “Father, keep them in thy name,” that we should be careless to keep ourselves. To our own safety, our own sedulity is required. And then blessed for ever and ever be that mother's child, whose faith hath made him the child of God. The earth may shake, the pillars of the world may tremble under us, the countenance of the heaven may be appalled, the sun may lose his light, the moon her beauty, the stars their glory ; but concerning the man that trusted in God, if the fire have proclaimed itself unable as much as to singe a hair of his head, if lions, beasts ravenous by nature, and keen with hunger, being set to devour, have as it were religiously adored the very flesh of the faithful man; what is there in the world that shall change his heart, overthrow his faith, alter his affection towards God, or the affection of God to him? If I be of this note, who shall make a separation between me and my God? “shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No; I am persuaded that neither tribulation, nor anguish, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,” shall ever prevail so far over me. “I know in whom I have believed;” I am not ignorant whose precious blood hath been shed for me; I have a shepherd full of kindness, full of care, and full of power; unto him I commit myself; his own finger hath engraven this sentence in the tables of my heart, “Satan hath desired to winnow thee as wheat, but I have prayed that thy faith fail not :” Therefore the assurance of my hope I will labour to keep, as a jewel, unto the end; and by labour, through the gracious mediation of his prayer, I shall keep it.
PART I. Book I. CHAP. I. § 1. That the invisible God is seen in his Creatures.
God, whom the wisest men acknowledge to be a power ineffable, and virtue infinite, a light by abundant clarity invisible; an understanding which itself can only comprehend; an essence eternal and spiritual, of absolute pureness and simplicity; was, and is pleased to make himself known by the work of the world: In the wonderful magnitude whereof, all which he embraceth, filleth and sustaineth, we behold the image of that glory which cannot be measured; and withal, that one, and yet universal nature, which cannot be defined. In the glorious lights of heaven we perceive a shadow of his divine countenance; in his merciful provision for all that live, his manifold goodness: And lastly, In creating and making existent the world universal, by the absolute art of his own word, his power and almightiness; which power, light, virtue, wisdom, and goodness, being all but attributes of one simple essence, and one God, we in all admire, and in part discern per speculum creaturarum. that is, in the disposition, order, and variety of celestial and terrestrial bodies: terrestrial, in their strange and manifold diversities; celestial, in their beauty and magnitude; which in their continual and contrary motions, are neither repugnant, intermixt, nor confounded. By these potent effects, we approach to the knowledge of the omnipotent Cause, and by these motions, their Almighty Maker.