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TWO LETTE R S,
To a Gentlewoman seduced to the Church of Rome. M. B.
I was desirous of an opportunity in London to have discoursed with you concerning something of nearest concernment to you; but the multitude of my little affairs hindered me, and have brought upon you this trouble to read a long letter; which yet I hope you will be more willing to do, because it comes from one, who hath a great respect to your person, and a very great charity to your soul. I must confess I was on your behalf troubled, when I heard you were fallen from the communion of the church of England, and entered into a voluntary, unnecessary schism, and departure from the laws of the king, and the communion of those with whom you have always lived in charity; going against those laws, in the defence and profession of which your husband died; going from the religion in which you were baptized, in which for so many years you lived piously and hoped for heaven; and all this without any sufficient reason, without necessity or just scandal ministered to you: and to aggravate all this, you did it in a time when the church of England was persecuted, when she was marked with the characterisms of her Lord, the marks of the cross of Jesus, that is, when she suffered for a holy cause and a holy conscience, when the church of England was more glorious than at any time before; even when she could shew more martyrs and confessors than any church this day in Christendom; even then when a king died in the profession of her religion, and thousands of priests, learned and pious men, suffered the spoiling of their goods rather than they would forsake one article of so excellent a religion; so that seriously it is
not easily to be imagined that any thing should move you, unless it be that which troubled the perverse Jews, and the heathen Greek, scandalum crucis,' the scandal of the cross.' You stumbled at that rock of offence; you left us because we were afflicted, lessened in outward circumstances, and wrapped in a cloud: but give me leave only to remind you of that sad saying of the Scripture, that you may avoid the consequent of it; "They that fall on this stone, shall be broken in pieces; but they on whom it shall fall, shall be grinded to powder." And if we should consider things but prudently, it is a great argument that the sons of our church are very conscientious and just in their persuasions, when it is evident, that we have no temporal end to serve, nothing but the great end of our souls; all our hopes of preferment are gone, all secular regards; only we still have truth on our sides, and we are not willing, with the loss of truth, to change from a persecuted to a prosperous church, from a reformed to a church that will not be reformed; lest we give scandal to good people that suffer for a holy conscience, and weaken the hands of the afflicted; of which if you had been more careful, you would have remained much more innocent.
But I pray, give me leave to consider for you, because you, in your change, considered so little for yourself. What fault, what false doctrine, what wicked and dangerous proposition, what defect, what amiss, did you find in the doctrine and liturgy and discipline of the church of England?
For its doctrine, it is certain it professes the belief of all that is written in the Old and New Testament, all that which is in the three creeds, the apostolical, the Nicene, and that of Athanasius, and whatsoever was decreed in the four general councils, or in any other truly such; and whatsoever was condemned in these, our church hath legally declared it to be heresy. And upon these accounts, above four whole ages of the church went to heaven; they baptized all their catechumens into this faith, their hopes of heaven were upon this and a good life, their saints and martyrs lived and died in this alone, they denied communion to none that professed this faith. This is the catholic faith,' so saith the creed of Athanasius; and unless a company of men have power to alter the faith of God, whosoever live and die in this faith, are entirely catholic and Christian. So that the church of
England hath the same faith without dispute that the church had for four or five hundred years; and therefore there could be nothing wanting here to saving faith, if we live according to our belief.
For the liturgy of the church of England, I shall not need to say much, because the case will be very evident; 1. Because the disputers of the church of Rome have not been very forward to object any thing against it, they cannot charge it with any evil: 2. Because for all the time of King Edward the Sixth, and till the eleventh year of Queen Elizabeth, your people came to our churches, and prayed with us, till the bull of Pius the Fifth came out upon tempo. ral regards, and made a schism by forbidding the Queen's subjects to pray as by law was here appointed, though the prayers were good and holy, as themselves did believe. That bull enjoined recusancy, and made that, which was an act of rebellion, and disobedience, and schism, to be the character of your Roman Catholics. And after this, what can be supposed wanting in order to salvation? We have the word of God, the faith of the apostles, the creeds of the primitive church, the articles of the four first general councils, a holy liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect sacraments, faith and repentance, the ten commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospel. We teach the necessity of good works, and require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life; we live in obedience to God, and are ready to die for him, and do so when he requires us so to do; we speak honourably of his most holy name, we worship him at the mention of his name, we confess his attributes, we love his servants, we pray for all men, we love all Christians, even our most erring brethren: we confess our sins to God and to our brethren whom we have offended, and to God's ministers in cases of scandal or of a troubled conscience: we communicate often, we are enjoined to receive the holy sacrament thrice every year at least: our priests absolve the penitent, our bishops ordain priests, and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them; and what could here be wanting to salvation? what necessity forced you from us? I dare not suspect it was a temporal regard that drew you away, but I am sure it could be no spiritual,
But now that I have told you, and made you to consider from whence you went; give me leave to represent to you, and tell you whither you are gone, that you may understand the nature and conditions of your change: for do not think yourself safe, because they tell you that you are come to the church; you are indeed gone from one church to another, from a better to a worse, as will appear in the induction, the particulars of which before I reckon, give me leave to give you this advice: if you mean in this affair to understand what you do, it were better you inquired what your religion is, than what your church is; for that which is a true religion to-day, will be so to-morrow and for ever; but that which is a holy church to-day, may be heretical at the next change, or may betray her trust, or obtrude new articles in contradictions to the old, or by new interpretations may elude ancient truths, or may change your creed, or may pretend to be the spouse of Christ when she is idolatrous, that is, adulterous to God: your religion is that which you must, and therefore may, competently understand; you must live in it, and grow in it, and govern all the actions of your life by it; and in all questions concerning the church, you are to choose your church by the religion, and therefore this ought first and last to be inquired after.
Whether the Roman church be the catholic church, must depend upon so many uncertain inquiries,is offered to be proved by so long, so tedious a method, hath in it so many intrigues and labyrinths of question,-and is, like a long line, so impossible to be perfectly straight, and to have no declination in it when it is held up by such a hand as yours; that unless it be by material inquiries into the articles of the religion, you can never hope to have just grounds of confidence. In the meantime you can consider this; if the Roman church were the catholic, that is, so as to exclude all that are not of her communion, then the Greek churches had as good turn Turks as remain damned Christians; and all that are in the communion of all the other patriarchal churches in Christendom, must also perish like heathens; which thing before any man can believe, he must have put off all reason, and all modesty, and all charity. And who can with any probability think that 'the communion of saints' in the Creed is nothing but the communion of Roman subjects,' and the
article of the catholic church' was made up to dispark the enclosures of Jerusalem, but to turn them into the pale of Rome; and the church is as limited as ever it was, save only that the synagogue is translated to Rome, which I think you will easily believe was a proposition the apostles understood not. But though it be hard to trust to it, it is also so hard to prove it, that you shall never be able to understand the measures of that question, and therefore your salvation can never depend upon it. For no good or wise person can believe that God hath tied our salvation to impossible measures, or bound us to an article that is not by us cognoscible, or intends to have us conducted by that which we cannot understand.
And when you shall know that learned men, even of the Roman party, are not agreed concerning the catholic church that is infallibly to guide you; some saying that it is the virtual church, that is, the Pope; some, that it is the representative church, that is, a council; some, that it is the Pope and the council, the virtual church and the representative church together; some, that neither of these, nor both to gether are infallible; but only, the essential church, or the diffusive church, is the catholic, from whom we must at no hand dissent; you will quickly find yourself in a wood, and uncertain whether you have more than a word in exchange for your soul, when you are told you are in the catholic
But I will tell you what you may understand, and see and feel something, that yourself can tell whether I say true or 'no concerning it. You are now gone to a church that protects itself by arts of subtilty and arms, by violence and persecuting all that are not of their minds,-to a church in which you are to be a subject of the king so long as it pleases the Pope in which you may be absolved from your vows made to God, your oaths to the king, your promises to men, your duty to your parents in some cases: a church in which men pray to God, and to saints in the same form of words in which they pray to God, as you may see in the offices of saints, and particularly of our lady: a church in which men are taught by most of the principal leaders to worship images with the same worship with which they worship God and Christ, or him or her whose image it is, and in which