Page images




1 COR. iii. 15.

-But he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

THE context is thus: According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

In these words the apostle speaks of a sort of persons who held indeed the foundation of Christianity, but built upon it such doctrines or practices as would not bear the trial; which he expresses to us by wood, hay, and stubble, which are not proof against the fire. Such a person, the apostle tells us, hath brought himself into a very dangerous state, though he would not deny the possibility of his salvation: he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

That by fire here is not meant the fire of purgatory, as some pretend, (who would be glad of any shadow of a text of scripture to countenance their own dreams,) I shall neither trouble you nor myself to manifest; since the particle of similitude, &s, plainly shews that the apostle did not intend an

escape out of the fire literally, but like to that which men make out of a house or town that is on fire. Especially since very learned persons of the church of Rome do acknowledge that purgatory cannot be concluded from this text; nay, all that Estius contends for in this place is, that it cannot be concluded from hence that there is no purgatory; which we never pretended, but only that this text doth not prove it.

It is very well known that this is a proverbial phrase, used not only in scripture, but in profane authors, to signify a narrow escape out of a great danger. He shall be saved, yet so as by fire, dià Tupòs, out of the fire. Just as di daros is used, 1 Peter iii. 20, where the apostle, speaking of the eight persons of Noah's family who escaped the flood, dieσúlnoav di údatos, they escaped out of the water. So here this phrase is to be rendered in the text, he himself shall escape, yet so as out of the fire. The like expression you have, Amos iv. 11, I have plucked them as a firebrand out of the fire: and Jude 23. Others save with fear, plucking them out of the fire. All which expressions signify the greatness of the danger, and the difficulty of escaping it, as one who when his house at midnight is set on fire, and being suddenly waked, leaps out of his bed, and runs naked out of the doors, taking nothing that is within along with him, but employing his whole care to save his body from the flames, as St. Chrysostom upon another occasion expresseth it. And so the Roman oratora (who it is likely did not think of purgatory) used this phrase; Quo ex judicio, velut ex incendio, nudus effugit: "from which judgment or sentence he escaped naked, as it were out of a burning." And one of the Greek orators tells usb, that "to save a man out of the fire was a common proverbial speech."

From the words thus explained, the observation that naturally ariseth is this, that men may hold all the fundamentals of Christian religion, and yet may superadd other things whereby they may greatly endanger their salvation. What those things were which some among the Corinthians built upon the foundation of Christianity, whereby they endangered their salvation, we may probably conjecture by what the apostle reproves in this epistle, as, the tolerating of incestuous marriages, communicating in idol feasts, &c. And especially a Tully.

b Aristides.

by the doctrine of the false apostles, who at that time did so much disturb the peace of most Christian churches, and who are so often and so severely reflected on in this epistle. And what their doctrine was we have an account, Acts xv, viz. that they imposed upon the Gentile Christians circumcision, and the observation of the Jewish law, teaching, that unless they were circumcised, and kept the law of Moses, they could not be saved. So that they did not only build these doctrines upon Christianity, but they made them equal with the foundation, saying, that unless men believed and practised such things they could not be saved.

In speaking to this observation, I shall reduce my discourse to these two heads:

1. I shall present to you some doctrines and practices which have been built upon the foundation of Christianity, to the great hazard and danger of men's salvation. And to be plain, I mean particularly the church of Rome.

2. I shall inquire, whether our granting a possibility of salvation (though with great hazard) to those in the communion of the Roman church, and their denying it to us, be a reasonable argument and encouragement to any man to betake himself to that church.

And there is the more reason to consider these things, when so many seducing spirits are so active and busy to pervert men from the truth; and when we see every day so many men and their religion so easily parted. For this reason these two consideratious shall be the subject of the following


I. First, We will consider some doctrines and practices which the church of Rome hath built upon the foundation of Christianity, to the great hazard and danger of men's salvation. It is not denied by the most judicious protestants, but that the church of Rome do hold all the articles of the Christian faith which are necessary to salvation. But that which we charge upon them, as a just ground of our separation from them, is the imposing of new doctrines and practices upon Christians as necessary to salvation, which were never taught by our Saviour or his apostles, and which are either directly contrary to the doctrine of Christianity, or too apparently destructive of a good life. And I begin,

1. With their doctrines. And because I have no mind to aggravate lesser matters, I will single out four or five points of doctrine which they have added to the Christian religion, and which were neither taught by our Saviour and his apostles, nor owned in the first ages of Christianity. And the

First which I shall mention, and which being once admitted, makes way for as many errors as they please to bring in, is their doctrine of infallibility; and this they are very stiff and peremptory in, though they are not agreed among themselves where this infallibility is seated; whether in the pope alone, or a council alone, or in both together, or in the diffusive body of Christians. But they are sure they have it,

though they know not where it is.

And is this no prejudice against it? Can any man think that this privilege was at first conferred upon the church of Rome, and that Christians in all ages did believe it, and had constant recourse to it for determining their differences, and yet that very church which hath enjoyed and used it so long, should now be at a loss where to find it? Nothing could have fallen out more unluckily than that there should be such differences among them about that which they pretend to be the only means of ending all differences.

There is not the least intimation in scripture of this privilege conferred upon the Roman church, nor do the apostles, in all their epistles, ever so much as give the least directions to Christians to appeal to the bishop of Rome for a determination of the many differences which even in those times happened among them. And it is strange they should be so silent in this matter, when there were so many occasions to speak of it, if our Saviour had plainly appointed such an infallible judge of controversies, for this very end, to decide the differences that should happen among Christians. It is strange that the ancient fathers, in their disputes with heretics, should never appeal to this judge; nay, it is strange they should not constantly do it in all cases, it being so short and expedite a way for the ending of controversies. And this very consideration to a wise man, is instead of a thousand arguments to satisfy him, that in those times no such thing was believed in the world.

Now this doctrine of infallibility, if it be not true, is of so

much the more pernicious consequence to Christianity, because the conceit of it does confirm them that think they have it, in all their errors, and gives them a pretence of assuming an authority to themselves to impose their own fancies and mistakes upon the whole Christian world.

2. Their doctrine about repentance, which consists in confessing their sins to the priest; which if it be but accompanied with any degree of contrition, does upon absolution received from the priest put them into a state of salvation, though they have lived the most lewd and debauched lives that can be imagined; than which nothing can be more plainly destructive of a good life. For if this be true, all the hazard that the most wicked man runs of his salvation, is only the danger of so sudden a death as gives him no space for confession and absolution. A case that happens so rarely, that any man that is strongly addicted to his lusts will be content to venture his salvation upon this hazard; and all the arguments to a good life will be very insignificant to a man that hath a mind to be wicked, when remission of sins may be had upon such cheap terms.

3. The doctrine of purgatory; by which they mean an estate of temporary punishments after this life, from which men may be released and translated into heaven by the prayers of the living, and the sacrifice of the mass. That this doctrine was not known in the primitive church, nor can be proved from scripture, we have the free acknowledgment of as learned and eminent men as any of that church; which is to acknowledge that it is a superstructure upon the Christian religiou. And though in one sense it be indeed a building of gold and silver upon the foundation of Christianity, considering the vast revenues which this doctrine (and that of indulgences, which depends upon it) brings into that church; yet I doubt not, but in the apostle's sense, it will be found to be hay and stubble. But how groundless soever it be, it is too gainful a doctrine to be easily parted withal.

A hard word, but I

4. The doctrine of transubstantiation. would to God that were the worst of it; the thing is much more difficult. I have taken some pains to consider other religions that have been in the world, and I must freely declare that I never yet in any of them met with any article or proposition, imposed upon the belief of men, half so unreasonable

« PreviousContinue »