Page images

than to go round about a difficult and troublesome passage, and at last get no farther, but return to the place from whence he first set out. And there is one note amongst the rest, holiness of doctrine, that is, so as to have nothing false either in doctrina fidei' or 'morum' (for so Bellarmine explicates it), which supposes all your controversies judged before they can be tried by the authority of the church; and when we have found out all true doctrine (for that is necessary to judge of the church by, that, as St. Austin's counsel is," Ecclesiam in verbis Christi investigemus"), then we are bound to follow, because we judge it true, not because the church hath said it: and this is to judge of the church by her doctrine, not of the doctrine by the church. And indeed it is the best and only way: but then how to judge of that doctrine will be afterward inquired into. In the meantime the church, that is, the governors of the churches, are to judge for themselves, and for all those who cannot judge for themselves. For others, they must know that their governors judge for them too, so as to keep them in peace and obedience, though not for the determination of their private persuasions. For the economy of the church requires, that her authority be received by all her children. Now this authority is Divine in its original, for it derives immediately from Christ; but it is human in its ministration. We are to be led like men, not like beasts. A rule is prescribed for the guides themselves to follow, as we are to follow the guides and although, in matters indeterminable or ambiguous, the presumption lies on behalf of the governors (for we do nothing for authority, if we suffer it not to weigh that part down of an indifferency and a question which she chooses); yet if there be error manifestus,' as it often happens; or if the church-governors themselves be rent into innumerable sects, as it is this day in Christendom;-then we are to be as wise as we can in choosing our guides, and then to follow so long as that reason remains, for which we first chose them. And even in that government, which was an immediate sanction of God, I mean the ecclesiastical government of the synagogue (where God had consigned the high-priest's authority with a menace of death to them that should disobey, that all the world might know the meaning and extent of such precepts, and that there is a limit beyond which

they cannot command, and we ought not to obey), it came once to that pass, that if the priest had been obeyed in his conciliar decrees, the whole nation had been bound to believe the condemnation of our blessed Saviour to have been just; and at another time the apostles must no more have preached in the name of JESUS. But here was manifest error. And the case is the same to every man, that invincibly, and therefore innocently, believes it so. "Deo potiùs quàm hominibus," is our rule in such cases. For although every man is bound to follow his guide, unless he believes his guide to mislead him; yet when he sees reason against his guide, it is best to follow his reason: for though in this he may fall into error, yet he will escape the sin; he may do violence to truth, but never to his own conscience; and an honest error is better than an hypocritical profession of truth, or a violent luxation of the understanding; since if he retains his honesty and simplicity, he cannot err in a matter of faith or absolute necessity: God's goodness hath secured all honest and careful persons from that; for other things, he must follow the best guides he can; and he cannot be obliged to follow better than God hath given him.

3. And there is yet another way pretended of infallible expositions of Scripture, and that is, by the Spirit. But of this I shall say no more, but that it is impertinent as to this question. For put the case, the Spirit is given to some men, enabling them to expound infallibly; yet because this is but a private assistance, and cannot be proved to others,—this infallible assistance may determine my own assent, but shall not enable me to prescribe to others; because it were unreasonable I should, unless I could prove to him that I have the Spirit, and so can secure him from being deceived if he relies upon me. In this case I may say, as St. Paul in the case of praying with the Spirit; "He verily giveth thanks well, but the other is not edified." So that let this pretence be as true as it will, it is sufficient that it cannot be of consideration in this question.

4. The result of all is this: since it is not reasonable to limit and prescribe to all men's understandings by any external rule in the interpretation of difficult places of Scrip. ture, which is our rule;-since no man nor company of men

is secure from error, or can secure us that they are free from malice, interest, and design;-and since all the ways by which we usually are taught, as tradition, councils, decretals, &c. are very uncertain in the matter, in their authority, in their being legitimate and natural, and many of them certainly false, and nothing certain but the divine authority of Scripture, in which all that is necessary is plain, and much of that that is not necessary, is very obscure, intricate, and involved :—either we must set up our rest only upon articles of faith and plain places, and be incurious of other obscurer revelations (which is a duty for persons of private understandings, and of no public function); or if we will search farther (to which in some measure the guides of others are obliged), it remains we inquire how men may determine themselves, so as to do their duty to God, and not to disserve the church, that every such man may do what he is bound to in his personal capacity, and as he relates to the public as a public minister.


Of the Authority of Reason; and that it, proceeding upon best Grounds, is the best Judge.

1. HERE then I consider, that although no man may be trusted to judge for all others, unless this person were infallible and authorized so to do, which no man nor no company of men is; yet every man may be trusted to judge for himself, I say, every man that can judge at all; as for others, they are to be saved as it pleaseth God: but others that can judge at all, must either choose their guides who shall judge for them, and then they oftentimes do the wisest, and always save themselves a labour, but then they choose too; or if they be persons of greater understanding, then they are to choose for themselves in particular what the others do in general, and by choosing their guide: and for this any man may be better trusted for himself, than any man can be for another. For in this case, his own interest is most concerned; and ability is not so necessary as honesty, which certainly every man will best preserve in his own case, and to himself,-and if he

does not, it is he that must smart for it; and it is not required of us not to be in error, but that we may endeavour to avoid it.

2. He that follows his guide so far as his reason goes along with him, or, which is all one, he that follows his own reason, not guided only by natural arguments, but by divine revelation, and all other good means,-hath great advantages over him that gives himself wholly to follow any human guide whatsoever, because he follows all their reasons and his own too: he follows them till reason leaves them, or till it seems so to him, which is all one to his particular; for, by the confession of all sides, an erroneous conscience binds him, when a right guide does not bind him. But he that gives himself up wholly to a guide, is oftentimes (I mean, if he be a discerning person) forced to do violence to his own understanding, and to lose all the benefit of his own discretion, that he may reconcile his reason to his guide. And of this we see infinite inconveniences in the church of Rome: for we find persons of great understanding oftentimes so amused with the authority of their church, that it is pity to see them sweat in answering some objections, which they know not how to do, but yet believe they must, because the church hath said it. So that if they read, study, pray, search records, and use all the means of art and industry, in the pursuit of truth, it is not with a resolution to follow that which shall seem truth to them, but to confirm what before they did believe and if any argument shall seem unanswerable against any article of their church, they are to take it for a temptation, not for an illumination, and they are to use it accordingly: which makes them make the devil to be the author of that, which God's Spirit hath assisted them to find in the use of lawful means and the search of truth. And when the devil of falsehood is like to be cast out by God's Spirit, they say that it is through Beelzebub which was one of the worst things that ever the Pharisees said or did. And was it not a plain stifling of the just and reasonable demands made by the emperor, by the kings of France and Spain, and by the ablest divines among them, which was used in the council of Trent, when they demanded the restitution of priests to their li-, berty of marriage, the use of the chalice, the service in the vulgar tongue; and these things not only in pursuance of


truth, but for other great and good ends, even to take away an infinite scandal and a great schism? and yet, when they themselves did profess it, and all the world knew these reasonable demands were denied merely upon a politic consideration, yet that these things should be framed into articles and decrees of faith, and they for ever after bound, not only not to desire the same things, but to think the contrary to be divine truths; never was reason made more a slave or more useless. Must not all the world say, either they must be great hypocrites, or do great violence to their understanding, when they not only cease from their claim, but must also believe it to be unjust? If the use of their reason had not been restrained by the tyranny and imperiousness of their guide, what the emperor and the kings and their thealogues would have done, they can best judge who consider the reasonableness of the demand, and the unreasonableness of the denial. But we see many wise men who with their optandum esse ut ecclesia licentiam daret," &c. proclaim to all the world, that in some things they consent and do not consent, and do not heartily believe what they are bound publicly to profess; and they themselves would clearly see a difference, if a contrary decree should be framed by the church; they would with an infinitely greater confidence rest themselves in other propositions than what they must believe as the case now stands; and they would find that the autho rity of a church is a prejudice, as often as a free and modest use of reason is a temptation.

[ocr errors]

3. God will have no man pressed with another's inconveniences in matters spiritual and intellectual, no man's salvation to depend upon another; and every tooth that eats sour grapes, shall be set on edge for itself, and for none else: and this is remarkable in that saying of God by the Prophet; "If the prophet ceases to tell my people of their sins, and leads them into error, the people shall die in their sins, and the blood of them I.will require at the hands of that prophet;" meaning, that God hath so set the prophets to guide us, that we also are to follow them by a voluntary assent, by an act of choice and election. For although accidentally and occasionally the sheep may perish by the shepherd's fault; yet that which hath the chiefest influence upon

4 Ezek. xxxiii.

« PreviousContinue »