« PreviousContinue »
men of Lyons": and in Flanders at this day, "le Gueus," which is to say, beggars. Therefore are the Scriptures translated into every vulgar tongue, as being held in main matters of belief and salvation plain and easy to the poorest and such no less than their teachers have the spirit to guide them in all truth, John xiv. 26, and xvi. 13. Hence we may conclude, if men be not all their lifetime under a teacher to learn logic, natural philosophy, ethics, or mathematics, which are more difficult, that certainly it is not necessary to the attainment of Christian knowledge, that men should sit all their life long at the feet of a pulpited divine; while he, indeed a lollard over his elbowcushion, in almost the seventh part of forty or fifty years teaches them scarce half the principles of religion; and his sheep ofttimes sit the while to as little purpose of benefiting, as the sheep in their pews at Smithfield; and for the most part by some simony or other bought and sold like them: or, if this comparison be too low, like those women, 1 Tim. iii. 7, “ Ever learning and never attaining"; yet not so much through their own fault, as through the unskilful and immethodical teaching of their pastor, teaching here and there at random out of this or that text, as his ease or fancy, and ofttimes as his stealth guides him. Seeing then that Christian religion may be so easily attained, and by meanest capacities, it cannot be much difficult to find ways, both how the poor, yea, all men, may
be soon taught what is to be known of Christianity, and they who teach them, recompensed. First, if ministers of their own accord, who pretend that they are called and sent to preach the Gospel, those especially who have no particular flock, would imitate our Saviour and his disciples, who went preaching through the villages, not only through the cities, and there preached to the poor as well as to the rich, looking for no recompense but in heaven.
But they will soon reply, We ourselves have not wherewithal; who shall bear the charges of our journey? To whom it may as soon be answered, that in likelihood they are not poorer than they who did thus; and if they have not the same faith which those disciples had to trust in God and the promise of Christ for their maintenance as they did, and yet intrude into the ministry without any livelihood of their own, they cast themselves into miserable hazard or temptation, and ofttimes into a more miserable necessity, either to starve, or to please their paymasters rather than God; and give men just cause to suspect, that they came, neither called nor sent from above to preach the word, but from below, by the instinct of their own hunger, to feed upon the Church. Yet grant it needful to allow them both the charges of their journey and the hire of their labor, it will belong next to the charity of richer congregations, where
most commonly they abound with teachers, to send some of their number to the villages round, as the Apostles from Jerusalem sent Peter and John to the city and villages of Samaria, Acts viii. 14, 25; or as the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch, chap. xi. 22, and other churches joining sent Luke to travel with Paul, 2 Cor. viii. 19: though whether they had their charges borne by the church or no, it be not recorded. If it be objected, that this itinerary preaching will not serve to plant the Gospel in those places, unless they who are sent abide there some competent time; I answer, that if they stay there a year or two, which was the longest time usually stayed by the apostles in one place, it may suffice to teach them who will attend and learn all the points of religion necessary to salvation; then sorting them into several congregations of a moderate number, out of the ablest and zealousest among them to create elders, who, exercising and requiring from themselves what they have learned, (for no learning is retained without constant exercise and methodical repetition,) may teach and govern the rest and so exhorted to continue faithful and steadfast, they may securely be committed to the providence of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit, till God may offer some opportunity to visit them again, and to confirm them: which when they have done, they have done as much as the Apostles were wont to do in propagating the Gospel.
To these I might add other helps, which we enjoy now, to make more easy the attainment of Christian religion by the meanest: the entire Scripture translated into English with plenty of notes; and somewhere or other, I trust, may be found some wholesome body of divinity, as they call it, without school-terms and metaphysical notions, which have obscured rather than explained our religion, and made it seem difficult without cause. Thus taught once for all, and thus now and then visited and confirmed, in the most destitute and poorest places of the land, under the government of their own elders performing all ministerial offices among them, they may be trusted to meet and edify one another, whether in church or chapel, or to save them the trudging of many miles thither, nearer home, though in a house or barn. For notwithstanding the gaudy superstition of some devoted still ignorantly to temples, we may be well assured, that he who disdained not to be laid in a manger, disdains not to be preached in a barn; and that by such meetings as these, being indeed most apostolical and primitive, they will in a short time advance more in Christian knowledge and reformation of life, than by the many years' preaching of such an incumbent, I may say, such an incubus ofttimes, as will be meanly hired to abide long in those places. They have this left perhaps to object further; that to send thus, and to maintain, though but for a year or two, ministers and teach
ers in several places, would prove chargeable to the churches, though in towns and cities roundabout. To whom again I answer, that it was not thought so by them who first thus propagated the Gospel, though but few in number to us, and much less able to sustain the expense. Yet this expense would be much less than to hire incumbents, or rather incumbrances, for lifetime; and a great means (which is the subject of this discourse) to diminish hirelings.
But that the magistrate either out of that Church revenue which remains yet in his hand, or establishing any other maintenance instead of tithe, should take into his own power the stipendiary maintenance of church-ministers, or compel it by law, can stand neither with the people's right, nor with Christian liberty, but would suspend the Church wholly upon the state, and turn her ministers into state pensioners. And for the magistrate in person of a nursing father to make the Church his mere ward, as always in minority, the Church to whom he ought as a magistrate, Isa. xlix. 23, "to bow down with his face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of her feet"; her to subject to his political drifts or conceived opinions, by mastering her revenue; and so by his examinant committees to circumscribe her free election of ministers, is neither just nor pious; no honor done to the Church, but a plain dishonor: and upon her whose only head is in heaven, yea, upon him, who