Book: THE OBEDIENCE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN & How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern

I have described unto you the obedience of children, servants, wives, and subjects. These four orders are of God’s making, and the rules thereof are God’s word. He that keepeth them shall be blessed, yea, is blessed already; and he that breaketh them shall be cursed. If any person of impatiency, or of a stubborn and rebellious mind, withdraw himself from any of these, and get him to any other order, let him not think thereby to avoid the vengeance of God in obeying rules and traditions of man’s imagination. If thou pollest thine head in the worship of thy father, and brcakest his commandments, shouldest thou so escape? Or if thou paintest thy master’s image on a wall, and stickest up a candle before it, shouldest thou therewith make satisfaction for the breaking of his commandments? Or if thou wearest a blue coat in the worship of the king, and breakest his laws, shouldest thou so go quit? Let a man’s wife make herself a sister of the Charterhouse, and answer her husband, when he biddeth her hold her peace, ‘My brethren keep silence for me;’ and see whether she shall so escape. And be thou sure God is more jealous over his commandments than man is over his, or than any man is over his wife.

Because we be blind, God hath appointed in the scripture how we should serve him and please him. As pertaining unto his own person, he is abundantly pleased when we believe his promises and holy testament, which he hath made unto us in Christ; and, for the mercy which he there shewed us, love his commandments. All bodily service must be done to man in God’s stead. We must give obedience, honor, toll, tribute, custom, and rent unto whom they belong. Then if thou have ought more to bestow, give unto the poor, which are left here in Christ’s stead, that we shew mercy on them. If we keep the commandments of love, then are we sure that we fulfill the law in the sight of God, and that our blessing shall be everlasting life. Now when we obey patiently, and without grudging, evil princes that oppress us and persecute us, and be kind and merciful to them that are merciless to us and do the worst they can to us, and so take all fortune patiently, and kiss whatsoever cross God layeth on our backs; then are we sure that we keep the commandments of love.

I declared that God hath taken all vengeance into his own hands, and will avenge all unright himself; either by the powers or officers which are appointed thereto, or else, if they be negligent, he will send his curses upon the transgressors, and destroy them with his secret judgments. I shewed also, that whosoever avengeth himself is damned in the deed-doing, and falleth into the hands of the temporal sword, because he taketh the office of God upon him, and robbeth God of his most high honor, in that he will not patiently abide his judgment. I shewed you of the authority of princes, how they are in God’s stead, and how they may not be resisted: do they never so evil, they must be reserved unto the wrath of God. Neverthelater, if they command to do evil, we must then disobey, and say, ‘We are otherwise commanded of God;’ but not to rise against them. ‘They will kill us then,’ sayest thou. Therefore, I say, is a Christian called to suffer even the bitter death for his hope’s sake, and because he will do no evil. I shewed also that the kings and rulers (be they never so evil) are yet a great gift of the goodness of God, and defend us from a thousand things that we see not.

I proved also that all men without exception are under the temporal sword, whatsoever names they give themselves. Because the priest is chosen out of the laymen to teach this obedience, is that a lawful cause for him to disobey? Because he preacheth that the layman should not steal, is it therefore lawful for him to steal unpunished? Because thou teachest me that I may not kill, or if I do, the king must kill me again, is it therefore lawful for thee to kill, and go free? Either whether is it rather meet that thou, which art my guide to teach me the right way, shouldest walk therein before me? The priests of the old law with their high bishop Aaron, and all his successors, though they were anointed by God’s commandment, and appointed to serve God in his temple, and exempt from all offices and ministering of worldly matters, were yet nevertheless under the temporal sword, if they brake the laws. Christ saith to Peter, “All that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” Here is none exception. Paul saith, “All souls must obey.” Here is none exception. Paul himself is here not exempt. God saith, “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed again.” Here is none exception.

Moreover, Christ became poor to make other men rich, and bound to make other free. He left also with his disciples the law of love. Now love seeketh not her own profit, but her neighbor’s: love seeketh not her own freedom, but becometh surety and bond to make her neighbor free. Damned, therefore, are the spiritualty by all the laws of God; which through falsehead and disguised hypocrisy have sought so great profit, so great riches, so great authority, and so great liberties, and have so beggared the lay, and so brought them in subjection and bondage, and so despised them, that they have set up franchises in all towns and villages for whosoever robbeth, murdereth or slayeth them, and even for traitors unto the king’s person also.

I proved also that no king hath power to grant them such liberty; but are as well damned for their giving, as they for their false purchasing. For as God giveth the father power over his children, even so giveth he him a commandment to execute it, and not to suffer them to do wickedly unpunished, but unto his damnation, as thou mayest see by Eli, the high priest, etc. And as the master hath authority over his servants, even so hath he a commandment to govern them. And as the husband is head over his wife, even so hath he commandment to rule her appetites; and is damned, if he suffer her to be an whore and a mis-liver, or submit himself to her, and make her his head. And even in like manner as God maketh the king head over his realm, even so giveth he him commandment to execute the laws upon all men indifferently. For the law is God’s, and not the king’s. The king is but a servant, to execute the law of God, and not to rule after his own imagination.

I shewed also that the law and the king are to be feared, as things that were given in fire, and in thunder, and lightning, and terrible signs. I shewed the cause why rulers are evil, and by what means we might obtain better. I shewed also how wholesome those bitter medicines, evil princes, are to right christian men.

I declared how they, which God hath made governors in the world, ought to rule, if they be Christians. They ought to remember that they are heads and arms, to defend the body, to minister peace, health, and wealth, and even to save the body; and that they have received their offices of God, to minister and to do service unto their brethren. King, subject, master, servant, are names in the world, but not in Christ. In Christ we are all one, and even brethren. No man is his own; but we are all Christ’s servants, bought with Christ’s blood. Therefore ought no man to seek himself, or his own profit, but Christ and his will. In Christ no man ruleth as a king his subjects, or a master his servants; but serveth, as one hand doth to another, and as the hands do unto the feet, and the feet to the hands, as thou seest Corinthians 12. We also serve, not as servants unto masters; but as they which are bought with Christ’s blood serve Christ himself. We be here all servants unto Christ. For whatsoever we do one to another in Christ’s name, that do we unto Christ, and the reward of that shall we receive of Christ. The king counteth his commons Christ himself; and therefore doth them service willingly, seeking no more of them than is sufficient to maintain peace and unity, and to defend the realm. And they obey again willingly and lovingly, as unto Christ. And of Christ every man seeketh his reward.

I warned the judges that they take not an ensample, how to minister their offices, of our spiritualty, which are bought and sold to do the will of Satan; but of the scripture, whence they have their authority. Let that which is secret abide secret till God open it, which is the judge of secrets.

For it is more than a cruel thing to break up into a man’s heart, and to compel him to put either soul or body in jeopardy, or to shame himself. If Peter, that great pillar, for fear of death forsook his master, ought we not to spare weak consciences?

I declared how the king ought to rid his realm from the wily tyranny of the hypocrites, and to bring the hypocrites under his laws: yea, and how he ought to be learned, and to hear, and to look upon the causes himself, which he will punish; and not to believe the hypocrites, and to give them his sword to kill whom they will.

The king ought to count what he hath spent in the pope’s quarrel, since he was king. The first voyage cost upon fourteen hundred thousand pounds. 

Reckon since what hath been spent by sea and land between us and Frenchmen and Scots, and then in triumphs, and in embassies, and what hath been sent out of the realm secretly, and all to maintain our holy father; and I doubt not but that will surmount the sum of forty or fifty hundred thousand pounds: for we had no cause to spend one penny, but for our holy father. The king therefore ought to make them pay this money every farthing, and fet it out of their mitres, crosses, shrines, and all manner treasure of the church, and pay it to his commons again: not that only which the cardinal and his bishops compelled the commons to lend, and made them swear, with such an ensample of tyranny as was never before thought on; but also all that he hath gathered of them: or else by the consent of the commons to keep it in store for the defense of the realm.

Yea, the king ought to look in the chronicles, what the popes have done to kings in time past, and make them restore it also; and ought to take away from them their lands which they have gotten with their false prayers, and restore it unto the right heirs again; or with consent and advisement turn them unto the maintaining of the poor, and bringing up of youth virtuously, and to maintain necessary officers and ministers for to defend the commonwealth.

If he will not do it, then ought the commons to take patience, and to take it for God’s scourge; and to think that God hath blinded the king for their sins’ sake, and commit their cause to God: and then shall God make a scourge for them, and drive them out of his temple, after his wonderful judgment.

On the other side, I have also uttered the wickedness of the spiritualty, the falsehead of the bishops, and juggling of the pope, and how they have disguised themselves, borrowing some of their pomp of the Jews, and some of the gentiles, and have with subtle wiles turned the obedience, that should be given to God’s ordinance, unto themselves; and how they have put out God’s testament and God’s truth, and set up their own traditions and lies, in which they have taught the people to believe, and thereby sit in their consciences as God; and have by that means robbed the world of lands and goods, of peace and unity, and of all temporal authority, and have brought the people into the ignorance of God, and have heaped the wrath of God upon all realms, and namely upon the kings: whom they have robbed (I speak not of worldly things only, but) even of their very natural wits. They make them believe that they are most christian, when they live most abominably, and will suffer no man in their realms that believeth on Christ; and that they are “defenders of the faith,” when they burn the gospel and promises of God, out of which all faith springeth.

I shewed how they have ministered Christ, king and emperor out of their rooms; and how they have made them a several kingdom, which they got at the first in deceiving of princes, and now pervert the whole scripture, to prove that they have such authority of God. And lest the lay-men should see how falsely they allege the places of the scripture, is the greatest cause of this persecution.

They have feigned confession for the same purpose, to stablish their kingdom withal. All secrets know they thereby.

The bishop knoweth the confession of whom he lusteth [desires] throughout all his diocese: yea, and his chancellor commandeth the ghostly father to deliver it written. The pope, his cardinals and bishops, know the confession of the emperor, kings, and of all lords: and by confession they know all their captives. If any believe in Christ, by confession they know him. Shrive thyself where thou wilt, whether at Sion, Charterhouse, or at the Observants, thy confession is known well enough. And thou, if thou believe in Christ, art waited upon. Wonderful are the things that thereby are wrought. The wife is feared, and compelled to utter not her own only, but also the secrets of her husband; and the servant the secrets of his master. Besides that through confession they quench the faith of all the promises of God, and take away the effect and virtue of all the sacraments of Christ.

They have also corrupted the saints’ lives with lies and reigned miracles, and have put many things out of the sentence or great curse, as raising of rent and fines, and hiring men out of their houses, and whatsoever wickedness they themselves do; and have put a great part of the stories and chronicles out of the way, lest their falsehead should be seen. :For there is no mischief or disorder, whether it be in the temporal regiment, or else in the spiritual, whereof they are not the chief causes, and even the very fountain and springs, and, as we say, the well-head: so that it is impossible to preach against any mischief, except thou begin at them; or to set any reformation in the world, except thou reform them first. Now are they indurate and tough as Pharao, and will not bow unto any right way or order. And therefore persecute they God’s word and the preachers thereof; and on the other side lie await unto all princes, and stir up all mischief in the world, and send them to war, and occupy their minds therewith, or with other voluptuousness, lest they should have leisure to hear the word of God, and to set an order in their realms.

By them is all thing ministered, and by them are all kings ruled. Yea, in every king’s conscience sit they, ere he be king, and persuade every king what they lust [desire]; and make them both to believe what they will, and to do what they will. Neither can any king or any realm have rest for their businesses. Behold king Henry the Vth, whom they sent out for such a purpose as they sent out our king that now is. See how the realm is inhabited. Ask where the goodly towns and their walls, and the people that was wont [known] to be in them, are become; and where the blood royal of the realm is become also? Turn thine eyes whither thou wilt, and thou shalt see nothing prosperous but their subtle polling. With that it is flowing water: yea, and I trust it will be shortly a full sea.

In all their doings, though they pretend outwardly the honor of God or a commonwealth, their intent and secret counsel is only to bring all under their power, and to take out of the way whosoever letteth them, or is too mighty for them. As when they send the princes to Jerusalem, to conquer the holy land, and to fight against the Turks, whatsoever they pretend outwardly, their secret intent is, while the princes there conquer them more bishopricks, to conquer their lands in the mean season with their false hypocrisy, and to bring all under them; which thou mayest easily perceive by that they will not let us know the faith of Christ. And when they are once on high, then are they tyrants above all tyrants, whether they be Turks or Saracens. How minister they proving of testaments? how causes of wedlock? or if any man die intestate? If a poor man die, and leave his wife and half a dozen young children, and but one cow to find them, that will they have for a mortuary mercilessly; let come of wife and children what will. Yea, let any thing be done against their pleasure, and they will interdict the whole realm, sparing no person.

Read the chronicles of England, (out of which yet they have put a great part of their wickedness,) and thou shalt find them always both rebellious and disobedient to the kings, and also churlish and unthankful; so that when all the realm gave the king somewhat to maintain him in his right, they would not give a mite. Consider the story of king John, where I doubt not but they have put the best and fairest for themselves, and the worst of king John: for I suppose they make the chronicles themselves. Compare the doings of their holy church (as they ever call it) unto the learning of Christ and of his apostles. Did not the legate of Rome assoil all the lords of the realm of their due obedience, which they ought to the king by the ordinance of God? Would he not have cursed the king with his solemn pomp, because he would have done that office which God commandeth every king to do, and wherefore God hath put the sword in every king’s hand? that is to wit, because king John would have punished a wicked clerk that had coined false money. The laymen that had not done half so great faults must die, but the clerk must go escape free! Sent not the pope also unto the king of France remission of his sins, to go and conquer king John’s realm? So now remission of sins cometh not by faith in the testament that God hath made in Christ’s blood, but by fighting and murdering for the pope’s pleasure. Last of all, was not king John fain to deliver his crown unto the legate, and to yield up his realm unto the pope, wherefore we pay Peterpence? They might be called the polling-pence of false prophets well enough. They care not by what mischief they come by their purpose. War and conquering of lands is their harvest. The wickeder the people are, the more they have the hypocrites in reverence, the more they fear them, and the more they believe in them. And they that conquer other men’s lands, when they die, make them their heirs, to be prayed for for ever. Let there come one conquest more in the realm, and thou shalt see them get yet as much more as they have, (if they can keep down God’s word, that their juggling come not to light ;) yea, thou shalt see them take the realm whole into their hands, and crown one of themselves king thereof. And verily, I see no other likelihood, but that the land shall be shortly conquered. The stars of the scripture promise us none other fortune, inasmuch as we deny Christ with the wicked Jews, and will not have him reign over us; but will be still children of darkness under antichrist, and antichrist’s possession; burning the gospel of Christ, and defending a faith that may not stand with his holy testament.

If any man shed blood in the church, it shall be interdicted, till he have paid for the hallowing. If he be not able, the parish must pay, or else shall it stand always interdicted. They will be avenged on them that never offended. Full well prophesied of them Paul, in the 2nd epistle to Timothy; chapter 3. Some man will say, ‘Wouldest thou that men should fight in the church unpunished?’ Nay, but let the king ordain a punishment for them, as he doth for them that fight in his palace; and let not all the parish be troubled for one’s fault. And as for their hallowing, it is the juggling of antichrist. A christian man is the temple of God and of theHoly Ghost, and hallowed in Christ’s blood. A christian man is holy in himself, by reason of the Spirit that dwelleth in him; and the place, wherein he is, is holy by reason of him, whether he be in the field or town. A christian husband sanctifieth an unchristian wife, and a christian wife an unchristian husband, (as concerning the use of matrimony,) saith Paul to the Corinthians. If now, while we seek to be hallowed in Christ, we are found unholy, and must be hallowed by the ground, or place, or walls, then died Christ in vain. Howbeit, antichrist must have wherewith to sit in men’s consciences, and to make them fear where is no fear, and to rob them of their faith, and to make them trust in that cannot help them, and to seek holiness of that which is not holy in itself.

After that the old king of France was brought down out of Italy, mark what pageants have been played, and what are yet a playing, to separate us from the emperor, lest by the help or aid of us he should be able to recover his right of the pope, and to couple us to the Frenchmen, whose might the pope ever abuseth to keep the emperor from Italy. What prevaileth it for any king to marry his daughter or his son, or to make any peace or good ordinance for the wealth of his realm? For it shall no longer last than it is .profitable to them. Their treason is so secret that the world cannot perceive it. They dissimule those things which they are only cause of, and simule discord among themselves when they are most agreed. One shall hold this, and another shall dispute the contrary: but the conclusion shall be that most maintaineth their falsehead, though God’s word be never so contrary. What have they wrought in our days, yea, and what work they yet, to the perpetual dishonor of the king, and rebuke of the realm, and shame of all the nation, in whatsoever realms they go!

I uttered unto you partly the malicious blindness of the bishop of Rochester, his juggling, his conveying, his foxy .wiliness, his bo-peep, his wresting, renting, and shameful abusing of the scripture; his oratory and alleging of heretics, and how he would make the apostles authors of blind ceremonies without signification, contrary to their own doctrine; and have set him for an ensample to judge all other by. Whatsoever thou art that readest this, I exhort thee in Christ to compare his sermon and that which I have written, and the scripture together, and judge. There shalt thou find of our holy father’s authority, and what it is to be great, and how to know the greatest.

Then followeth the cause why laymen cannot rule temporal offices, which is the falsehead of the bishops. There shalt thou find of miracles and ceremonies without signification; of false anointing, and lying signs, and false names; and how the spiritualty are disguised in falsehead; and how they roll the people in darkness, and do all thing in the Latin tongue; and of their petty pillage. Their polling is like a soking consumption, wherein a man complaineth of feebleness and of faintness, and wotteth [knows] not whence his disease cometh: it is like a pock that fretteth inward, and consumeth the very marrow of the bones.

There seest thou the cause why it is impossible for kings to come to the knowledge of the truth. For the sprites lay await for them, and serve their appetites at all points; and through confession buy and sell and betray both them and all their true friends, and lay baits for them, and never leave them, till they have blinded them with their sophistry, and have brought them into their nets. And then, when the king is captive, they compel all the rest with violence of his sword. For if any man will not obey them, be it right or wrong, they cite him, suspend him, and curse or excommunicate him. If he then obey not, they deliver him to Pilate, that is to say, unto the temporal officers, to destroy them. Last of all, there findest thou the very cause of all persecution, which is the preaching against hypocrisy.

Then come we to the sacraments, where thou seest that the work of the sacrament sayeth not; but the faith in the promise, which the sacrament signifieth, justifieth us only. There hast thou that a priest is but a servant, to teach only; and whatsoever he taketh upon him more than to preach and to minister the sacraments of Christ (which is also preaching) is falsehead.

Then cometh how they juggle through dumb ceremonies, and how they make merchandise with reigned words; penance, a poena eta culpa , satisfaction, attrition, character, purgatory-pick-purse; and how through confession they make the sacraments and all the promise of none effect or value. There seest thou that absolving is but preaching the promises; and cursing or excommunicating, preaching the law; and of their power, and of their keys, of false miracles, and praying to saints. There seest thou that ceremonies did not the miracles, but faith: even as it was not Moses’ rod that did the miracles, but Moses’ faith in the promises of God. Thou seest also that to have a faith, where God hath not a promise, is idolatry.

And there also seest thou how the pope exalteth himself above God, and commandeth him to obey his tyranny. Last of all, thou hast there that no man ought to preach but he that is called.

Then followeth the belly-brotherhead of monks and friars. For Christ hath deserved nought with them: for his sake gettest thou no favor. Thou must offer unto their bellies, and then they pray bitterly for thee. There seest thou that Christ is the only cause, yea, and all the cause, why God doth aught for us, and heareth our complaint. And there hast thou doctrine how to know, and to be sure, that thou art elect and hast God’s Spirit in thee.

And hast there learning to try the doctrine of our spirits.

Then follow the four senses of the scripture, of which three are no senses; and the fourth, that is to wit the literal sense, which is the very sense, hath the pope taken to himself. It may have no other meaning than as it pleaseth his fatherhood. We must abide his interpretation. And as his bellies think, so must we think; though it be impossible to gather any such meaning of the scripture. Then hast thou the very use of allegories, and how they are nothing but ensamples borrowed of the scripture, to express a text or an open conclusion of the scripture, and as it were to paint it before thine eyes, that thou mayest feel the meaning and the power of the scripture in thine heart. Then cometh the use of worldly similitudes, and how they are false prophets, which bring a worldly similitude for any other purpose, save to express more plainly that which is contained in an open text. And so are they also which draw the scripture contrary to the open places, and contrary to the ensample, living, and practicing of Christ, the apostles, and of the holy prophets. And then, finally, hast thou of our holy father’s power, and of his keys, and of his binding and excommunicating, and of his cursing and blessing, with ensamples of every thing.