Page images

ators now as in the former ages; and I suppose that neither the common people, nor all the priests, are men of such extraordinary understanding and learning, as to be altogether free from the like temptation. Nay, the caution which is given seems only to concern imagines falsi dogmatis, et rudibus periculosi erroris occasionem præbentes: but there is not one word concerning the abuse which may be made of the image of Christ, or of a true saint: there is no provision made that men be warned not to perform too much devotion in their minds to a good image.

And by what this council says, the priest understands well enough what it intends; and therefore scarcely ever dare preach against the excess and abuse of images, relics, &c., though they cannot but see it actually committed every day.

And now if there should happen to be any idolatrous worship paid to an image, though the bishop hath power indeed to set the image up, yet he hath not power to pull it down, or to correct any abuse concerning it, without the leave of the archbishop and other bishops of the province, and even of the pope himself. So unwilling do they seem that any provision should be made for redressing abuses in so great and common a case as the excess in worship of images must needs be. V. Concil. Trid. Sess. 25.

Lastly, As we have seen how deficient and very faulty the church of Rome is, in her pretences to devotion, we will now consider what provision is made for the due exercise of devotion among ourselves; that we may thank God for our being settled in the communion of the church of England, and may learn to be conscientiously strict and regular in our own, as well as to despise the Romish devotions: and in order hereunto, I reckon that these four things are especially to be regarded.

First, That among us none but the true object of devotion is proposed to be worshipped, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, none of the most blessed angels or saints in heaven being ever invoked or adored by us. For we look on them only as our brethren, and members of the same church with us, triumphing indeed whilst we are here below still in our warfare. We thank God for them, and keep feasts in memory of them, at the same time praising God for his goodness and

grace bestowed on them, and shining forth in them, and also stirring up ourselves by such commemorations to follow their good example; and this we think is as much as is due from us to our fellow-creatures, and believe that neither God allows, nor do they expect, more from us.

Secondly, Only proper expressions of devotion are commanded or allowed by our church. For the matter of them, they are such as God himself hath required to be served by, are significant of that disposition of mind which we know God accepts, and have an aptness to the producing of that temper in us, which God intends to work us up to by them. We use all the instances of devotion which they of the church of Rome use, if they be either necessary or fit, though indeed often to other and better purposes. We pray constantly, but only for the living; for we look on the dead as past the means of grace, and consequently past the benefit of our prayers. We praise God for his excellencies in himself, and thank him for his goodness to others, as well as to ourselves. We practise confession of sins to God in public and in private, and advise it to be made also to the ministers of God's word, when it is necessary for ghostly counsel and advice, for the satisfying of men's consciences, and the removal of scruple and doubtfulness; but we cannot say it is necessary to be made to men, in order to the pardon of God. We reckon it rather as a privilege or advantage, than a duty: and if men will not make use of this privilege as often as there is occasion, unless we tell a lie to advance the credit of it, we cannot help that. We enjoin fastings, and disallow not of penances, but advise people to take an holy revenge on themselves when they have sinned; but not as the papists do, to satisfy for their sins or merit at God's hand, but to shew the sincerity of their repentance, and to strengthen their resolutions of amendment; for it is our amendment, and not our punishment, which God is pleased with. And we take care that all these things be performed in a due measure, proportionably to the strength of the person, and the nature and design of the duty; but are afraid of straining them too high, lest men should be altogether deterred from them, or acquiesce only in the outward action, or render ourselves and our cause ridiculous by any imprudent management. We have the sacraments duly administered, as our Saviour commanded

them: we reckon our baptism with water perfect without oil or spittle we grudge not the cup to the laity, nor celebrate solitary communions, nor admire whispering to God in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ; but as we have received from Christ, so we teach and administer, without addition or diminution of any thing essential or material. In short, in the holy Offices themselves, and the behaviour which our church requires they be celebrated with, there is always a great propriety observable, agreeable to the command of God in scripture, and the practice of the apostles and first ages of the church, proper to the several parts of Divine worship, expressive of our sense, consonant to reason and the use of the world, especial respect being always had to the exciting of piety and devotion in the minds and carriage of our people.

Thirdly, All useful helps, motives, and occasions are here plentifully afforded and pressed on men. For we not only have all our service in a language which the meanest people understand, but have it so contrived by frequent responses, that every person bears a part in that worship which he is so much concerned in; and doth not only hear the priest speak to God Almighty, but prays for himself, and is required to join his assent to every short prayer by a distinct Amen. With us the same service and rules of life are enjoined to all, all men having the same concern in another life, however different their circumstances and concerns are in this life. We have constant prayers in every parish, weekly at least, in many daily, with the blessed sacrament of the body and blood of Christ frequently administered, nay, every Sunday, not only in cathedrals, but in several colleges and private parish churches. And we appeal to all men, whether there be any where more practical sermons, fitted to the cases of men, without vanity and superstition, than among us: whether good and free learning be any where more encouraged, or where better care is taken for the due instruction of the people; the scriptures being in every one's hands with us, and other excellent books made according to the doctrine of the holy scriptures, instead of legends and lives of saints, St. Bonaventure's Psalter, and other such books, which are really libels against Christianity, and yet are the principal books which the priests of the church of Rome commend to their people: for as for the Bible, if any

one of them hath happened to read in it, who is not licensed to that purpose, he must own it as a sin to his priest at his next confession.

And as there are such blessed opportunities afforded so constantly, and such prudent provision made for all cases ordinary and extraordinary; so I thank God we can say that our people are generally very diligent in the use of these means; (or would be more so, were it not for the divisions which they of the church of Rome especially raise among us;) for they may easily perceive that we urge no more on them than their own good and the commands of God require of them: though our church knows her power very well, yet she makes use of it only to enforce the laws of God, to explain, illustrate, and apply them to particular cases, but never to set up her own commands in opposition to them, as the church of Rome doth; and therefore though we teach our people to dread an excommunication, it being summum futuri judicii præjudicium, as Tertullian calls it, "a foretaste or forestalling of the last judgment," and not for a world to lie under it, though it were inflicted only for contempt; yet we warn them, in the first place, to avoid the cause and occasion of excommunication, and therefore not to value what censures of the church of Rome we are under, they being so very unjust and groundless.

Fourthly and lastly, As only the true object of devotion is here worshipped, only proper expressions allowed, all useful helps afforded; so also the greatest stress is laid on the practice of it, agreeable to the true nature, end, and design of it. The principal ends of devotion are to pay a homage to God our Creator and Benefactor, to get his blessing, and to work ourselves up to a better temper of mind: and to this end, we are in our service importunate without vanity or impertinency, long, without tediousness or idle repetitions; (only we use the Lord's Prayer often, that no part of our service may be without that perfect form, and also in consideration of the great comprehensiveness of it, and of the distraction of men's minds, which seldom can attend to the full sense of it all at one time.) And we teach our people, that every man must work for himself; for he that prays only by a proxy, it is very just that he should be rewarded only by a proxy too. We put our people in mind, that an unfeigned repentance is absolutely necessary,

and not a verbal one only; that it is out of our power, and of any man's in the world, to turn attrition into contrition. We pretend not to dispense with any for not obeying the command of God: we have no taxa camera, by which the papists are shewn how all sins are fined in their church; for in that book men see at what charge they may kill a father, or commit incest with their sisters: but we assure all, that the wages of sin is death, death eternal, if indulged, and not most earnestly repented of: and we tell all, that devotion is necessary for all, though the church of Rome hath ways of gratifying every inclination; so as they that will not lead a strict life, need not, and yet may have hopes of salvation: we own their policy in this contrivance, but do not so much admire their religious regard to the salvation of men's souls.

And to conclude, though we thus forcibly press all Christian duties on all men, yet at the same time we warn them not to pretend to merit heaven at God's hand; but after they have done their best, to confess they are unprofitable servants. We say of our charity, or whatever else we do in obedience to God, that of his own we give to him, and we are bound to thank him both for the will and the ability to give. The most that we pretend to is only to make a small acknowledgment by way of sacrifice for what we have received: we beg of God to accept it as a testimony of a grateful mind; and we know that his goodness is so great, that he will abundantly reward an honest and sincere servant, though he hath done no more than was his duty: and we hope that what we offer, though mingled with many imperfections, he will be pleased to accept for the sake of Christ, as if it were perfect.

These are the grounds that we go on in our devotions, and whatever we do for the honour of God; and thus designing, and thus acting and persisting, we need not doubt but the good providence of God, which watcheth over his whole church, will, in an especial manner, watch over this, which is so pure a member of it, that he will accept of the devotions which are offered to him in it, and hear the prayers that are made unto him for it, and defend it against all its enemies on every side; which God of his infinite mercy grant, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

« PreviousContinue »