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

LAST of all cometh the anoiling, without promise, and therefore without the Spirit, and without profit; but altogether unfruitful and superstitious. The sacraments, which they have imagined, are all without promise, and therefore help not. For “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Romans 14.

Now without a promise can there be no faith. The sacraments which Christ himself ordained, which have also promises, and would save us if we knew them and believed them, them minister they in the Latin tongue. So are they also become as unfruitful as the other. Yea, they make us believe that the work itself, without the promise, sayeth us; which doctrine they learned of Aristotle. And thus are we become an hundred times worse than the wicked Jews; which believed that the very work of their sacrifice justified them: against which Paul fighteth in every epistle, proving that nothing helpeth save the promises which God hath sworn in Christ. Ask the people what they understand by their baptism or washing? And thou shalt see, that they believe how that the very plunging into the water saveth them: of the promises they know not, nor what is signified thereby. Baptism is called volowing in many places of England; because the priest saith, ‘Volo [I wish it] say ye.’ ‘The child was well volowed’ (say they); ‘yea, and our vicar is as fair a volower as ever a priest within this twenty miles.’ Behold how narrowly the people look on the ceremony. If aught be left out, or if the child be not altogether dipt in the water, or if, because the child is sick, the priest dare not plunge him into the water, but pour water on his head, how tremble they! how quake they! ‘How say ye, sir John, (say they,) is this child christened enough? Hath it his full christendom?’

They believe verily that the child is not christened; yea, I have known priests, that have gone unto the orders again, supposing that they were not priests, because that the bishop left one of his ceremonies undone. That they call confirmation, the people call bishoping. They think that if the bishop butter the child in the forehead, that it is safe. They think that the work maketh safe, and likewise suppose they of anoiling. Now is this false doctrine, verily. For James saith, in the first chapter of his epistle: “Of his good will begat he us with the word of life;” that is, with the word of promise: in which we are made God’s sons, and heirs of the goodness of God, before any good works. For we cannot work God’s will, till we be his sons, and know his will, and have his Spirit to teach us. And St Paul saith, in the fifth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians: “Christ cleansed the congregation in the fountain of water through the word.” And Peter saith, in the first of his first epistle: “Ye are born anew, not of mortal seed, but of immortal seed, by the word of God, which liveth and lasteth ever.” Paul in every epistle warneth us, that we put no trust in works, and to beware of persuasions or arguments of man’s wisdom, of superstitiousness, of ceremonies, of pope-holiness, and of all manner disguising; and exhorteth us to cleave fast unto the naked and pure word of God. The promise of God is the anchor that sayeth [saves] us in all temptations. If all the world be against us, God’s word is stronger than the world. If the world kill us, that shall make us alive again. If it be possible for the world to cast us into hell, from thence yet shall God’s word bring us again. Hereby seest thou that it is not the work, but the promise that justifieth us through faith. Now where no promise is, there can no faith be, and therefore no justifying, though there be never so glorious works. The sacrament of Christ’s body after thiswise preach they. Thou must believe that it is no more bread, but the very body of Christ, flesh, blood and bone, even as he went here on earth, save his coat: for that is here yet; I wet [know] not in how many places. I pray thee, what helpeth all this? Here is no promise. The devils know that Christ died on a Friday, and the Jews also. What are they help thereby? We have a promise that Christ, and his body, and his blood, and all that he did, and suffered, is a sacrifice, a ransom, and a full satisfaction for our sins; that God for his sake will think no more on them, if we have power to repent and believe.

Holy-work men think that God rejoiceth in the deed self, without any farther respect. They think also that God, as a cruel tyrant, rejoiceth and hath delectation in our pain-taking, without any farther respect. And therefore many of them martyr themselves without cause, after the ensample of Baal’s priests, which (3 Reg.18) cut themselves to please their god withal, and as the old heathen pagans sacrificed their children in the fire unto their gods. The monks of the Charterhouse think that the very eating of fish in itself pleaseth God, and refer not the eating to the chastening of the body: for when they have slain their bodies with cold phlegm, of fish-eating, yet then will they eat no flesh, and slay themselves before their days. We also, when we offer our sons or daughters, and compel or persuade them to vow and profess chastity, think that the very pain, and that rage and burning which they suffer in abstaining from a make [a match, partner], pleaseth God; and so refer not our chastity to our neighbor’s profit. For when we see thousands fall to innumerable diseases thereby, and to die before their days; yea, though we see them break the commandments of God daily, and also of very impatiency work abominations against nature, too shameful to be spoken of; yet will we not let them marry, but compel them to continue still with violence. And thus teach our divines, as it appeareth by their arguments. He that taketh most pain, say they, is greatest; and so forth.

The people are throughly brought in belief, that the deed in itself, without any farther respect, sayeth them; if they be so long at church; or say so many paternosters; and read so much in a tongue which they understand not; or go so much a pilgrimage; and take so much pain; or fast such a superstitious fast; or observe such a superstitious observance, neither profitable to himself nor to his neighbor, but done of a good intent only, say they, to please God withal. Yea, to kiss the pax, they think it a meritorious deed; when to love their neighbor, and to forgive him, (which thing is signified thereby,) they study not to do, nor have power to do, nor think that they are bound to do it, if they be offended by him. So sore have our false prophets brought the people out of their wits, and have wrapped them in darkness, and have rocked them asleep in blindness and ignorance.

Now is all such doctrine false doctrine, and all such faith false faith. For the deed pleaseth not, but as far forth as it is applied to our neighbor’s profit, or the taming of our bodies to keep the commandment.

Now must the body be tamed only, and that with the remedies that God hath ordained, and not killed. Thou must not forswear the natural remedy which God hath ordained, and bring thyself into such case that thou shouldest either break God’s commandment, or kill thyself, or burn night and day without rest, so that thou canst not once think a godly thought.

Neither is it lawful to forsake thy neighbor, and to withdraw thyself from serving him, and to get thee into a den, and live idly, profitable to no man, but robbing all men, first of faith, and then of goods and land, and of all he hath, with making him believe in the hypocrisy of thy superstitious prayers and pope-holy deeds. The prayer of faith, and the deeds thereof that spring of love, are accepted before God. The prayer is good, according to the proportion of faith; and the deed, according to the measure of love. Now he that bideth in the world, as monks call it, hath more faith than the cloisterer; for he hangeth on God in all things. He must trust God to send him good speed, good luck, favor, help, a good master, a good neighbor, a good servant, a good wife, a good chapman-merchant, to send his merchandise safe to land, and a thousand like. He loveth also more; which appeareth in that he doth service always unto his neighbor. To pray one for another are we equally bound, and to pray is a thing that we may always do, whatsoever we have in hand; and that to do may no man hire another.

Christ’s blood hath hired us already. Thus in the deed delighteth God, as far forth as we do it, either to serve our neighbor withal (as I have said), or to tame the flesh, that we may fulfill the commandment from the bottom of the heart.

And as for our pain-taking, God rejoiceth not therein as a tyrant; but pitieth us, and as it were mourneth with us, and is alway ready and at hand to help us, if we call, as a merciful father and a kind mother. Neverthelater he suffereth us to fall into many temptations and much adversity: yea, himself layeth the cross of tribulation on our backs, not that he rejoiceth in our sorrow, but to drive sin out of the flesh, which can none otherwise be cured: as the physician and surgeon do many things, which are painful to the sick, not that they rejoice in the pains of the poor wretches, but to persecute and to drive out the diseases which can not otherwise be healed. When the people believe therefore, if they do so much work, or suffer so much pain, or go so much a pilgrimage, that they are safe, [it] is a false faith. For a Christian man is not saved by works, but by faith in the promises before all good works; though that the works (when we work God’s commandment with a good will, and not works of our own imagination) declare that we are safe, and that the Spirit of him that hath made us safe is in us: yea, and as God, through preaching of faith, doth purge and justify the heart, even so through working of deeds doth he purge and justify the members, making us perfect both in body and soul, after the likeness of Christ.

Neither needeth a Christian man to run hither or thither, to Rome, to Jerusalem, or St James, or any other pilgrimage far or near, to be saved thereby, or to purchase forgiveness, of his sins. For a Christian man’s health and salvation is within him, even in his mouth. Romans 10. “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thine heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach,” saith Paul. If we believe the promises with our hearts, and confess them with our mouths, we are safe. This is our health within us. “But how shall they believe that they hear not? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” saith Paul, Romans 10. For look on the promises of God, and so are all our preachers dumb: or if they preach them, they so sauce them and leaven them, that no stomach can brook them, nor find any savor in them. For they paint us such an ear-confession, as is impossible to be kept, and more impossible that it should stand with the promises and testament of God. And they join [enjoin] them penance, as they call it, to fast, to go pilgrimages, and give so much to make satisfaction withal. They preach their masses, their merits, their pardons, their ceremonies, and put the promise clean out of possession. The word of health and salvation “is nigh thee, in thy mouth and thine heart,” saith Paul.

Nay, say they, thy salvation is in our faithful ear. This is their hold; thereby know they all secrets; thereby mock they all men, and all men’s wives; and beguile knight and squire, lord and king, and betray all realms. The bishops, with the pope, have a certain conspiration and secret treason against the whole world: and by confession know they what kings and emperors think. If aught be against them, do they never so evil, then move they their captives to war and to fight, and give them pardons to slay whom they will have taken out of the way. They have with falsehood taken from all kings and emperors their right and duties, which now they call their freedoms, liberties, and privileges; and have perverted the ordinances that God left in the world; and have made every king swear to defend their falsehood against their ownselves: so that now, if any man preach God’s word truly, and shew the freedom and liberty of the soul which we have in Christ, or intend to restore the kings again unto their duties and right, and to the room and authority which they have of God, and of shadows to make them kings in deed, and to put the world in his order again; then the kings deliver their swords and authority unto the hypocrites, to slay him.

So drunken are they with the wine of the whore.

The text that followeth in Paul will they happily lay to my charge and others. “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” saith Paul in the said 10th to the Romans. ‘We,’ will they say, ‘are the pope, cardinals and bishops: all authority is ours. The scripture pertaineth unto us, and is our possession. And we have a law, that whosoever presume to preach without the authority of the bishops, is excommunicate in the deed-doing. Whence, therefore, hast thou thine authority?’ will they say. The old Pharisees had the scripture in captivity likewise, and asked Christ, “By what authority doest thou these things?” As who should say, We are Pharisees, and thou art none of our order, nor hast authority of us. Christ asked them another question, and so will I do our hypocrites. ‘Who sent you? God? Nay, he that is sent of God speaketh God’s word. Now speak ye not God’s word, nor any thing save your own laws, made clean contrary unto God’s word.

Christ’s apostles preached Christ, and not themselves. He that is of the truth preacheth the truth. Now ye preach nothing but lies, and therefore are of the devil, the father of all lies, and of him are ye sent. And as for mine authority, or who sent me, I report me unto my works, as Christ, John 5 and 10, If God’s word bear record that I say truth, why should any man doubt, but that God, the Father of truth and of light, hath sent me; as the father of lies and of darkness hath sent you; and that the Spirit of truth and of light is with me, as the spirit of lies and of darkness is with you?’ ‘By this means thou wilt that every man be a preacher,’ will they say. Nay, verily. For God will that not, and therefore will I it not; no more than I would that every man of London were mayor of London, or every man of the realm king thereof. God is not the author of dissension and strife, but of unity and peace, and of good order. I will therefore, that where a congregation is gathered together in Christ, one be chosen after the rule of Paul, and that he only preach, and else no man openly; but that every man teach his household after the same doctrine. But if the preacher preach false; then whosoever’s heart God moveth, to the same it shall be lawful to rebuke and improve the false teacher with the clear and manifest scripture; and that same is no doubt a true prophet, sent of God. For the scripture is God’s, and theirs that believe, and not the false prophet’s. 

Sacrament is then as much to say as an holy sign. And the sacraments which Christ ordained preach God’s word unto us, and therefore justify, and minister the Spirit to them that believe; as Paul through preaching the gospel was a minister of righteousness, and of the Spirit, unto all that believed his preaching. Dumb ceremonies are no sacraments, but superstitiousness. Christ’s sacraments preach the faith of Christ, as his apostles did, and thereby justify. Antichrist’s dumb ceremonies preach not the faith that is in Christ; as his apostles, our bishops and cardinals, do not.

But as antichrist’s bishops are ordained to kill whosoever preach the true faith of Christ; so are his ceremonies ordained to quench the faith, which Christ’s sacraments preach. And hereby mayest thou know the difference between Christ’s signs or sacraments, and antichrist’s signs or ceremonies; that Christ’s signs speak, and antichrist’s be dumb.

Hereby seest thou what is to be thought of all other ceremonies; as hallowed water, bread, salt, boughs, bells, wax, ashes, and so forth; and all other disguisings and apes’-play; and of all manner conjurations, as the conjuring of church and church-yards, and of altar-stones, and such like.

Where no promise of God is, there can be no faith, nor justifying, nor forgiveness of sins: for it is more than madness to look for any thing of God, save that he hath promised. How far he hath promised, so far is he bound to them that believe; and further not. To have a faith, therefore, or a trust in any thing, where God hath not promised, is plain idolatry, and a worshipping of thine own imagination instead of God. Let us see the pith of a ceremony or two, to judge the rest by. In conjuring of holy water, they pray that whosoever be sprinkled therewith may receive health as well of body as of soul: and likewise in making holy bread, and so forth in the conjurations of other ceremonies. Now we see by daily experience, that half their prayer is unheard. For no man receiveth health of body thereby.

No more, of likelihood, do they of soul. Yea, we see also by experience, that no man receiveth health of soul thereby. For no man by sprinkling himself with holy water, and with eating holy bread, is more merciful than before, or forgiveth wrong, or becometh at one with his enemy, or is more patient, and less covetous, and so forth; which are the sure tokens of the soul-health.

They preach also, that the wagging of the bishop’s hand over us blesseth us, and putteth away our sins. Are these works not against Christ? How can they do more shame unto Christ’s blood? For if the wagging of the bishop’s hand over me be so precious a thing in the sight of God that I am thereby blessed, how then am I full “blessed with all spiritual blessing in Christ?” as Paul saith, Ephesians 1. Or if my sins be full done away in Christ, how remaineth there any to be done away by such fantasies? The apostles knew no ways to put away sin, or to bless us, but by preaching Christ. Paul saith, Galatians 2, “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ died in vain.” So dispute I here: If blessing come by the wagging of the bishop’s hand, then died Christ in vain, and his death blesseth us not.

And a little afore saith Paul, “If while we seek to be justified by Christ, we be yet found sinners,” (so that we must be justified by the law or ceremonies,) “is not Christ then a minister of sin?” So dispute I here: If while we seek to be blessed in Christ we are yet unblessed, and must be blessed by the wagging of the bishop’s hand, what have we then of Christ but curse? Thou wilt say: When we come first to the faith, then Christ forgiveth us and blesseth us; but the sins, which we afterward commit, are forgiven us through such things. I answer, if any man repent truly, and come to the faith, and put his trust in Christ, then as oft as he sinneth of frailty, at the sigh of the heart is his sin put away in Christ’s blood. For Christ’s blood purgeth ever and blesseth ever. For John saith in the second of his first epistle, “This I write unto you that ye sin not. And though any man sin” (meaning of frailty, and so repent) “yet have we an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ which is righteous, and he it is that obtaineth grace for our sins.” And, Hebrews 7, it is written, “But this man” (meaning Christ), “because he lasteth or abideth ever, hath an everlasting priesthood.

Therefore is he able also ever to save them that come to God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us.” The bishops therefore ought to bless us in preaching Christ, and not to deceive us and to bring the curse of God upon us with wagging their hands over us. To preach is their duty only, and not to offer their feet to be kissed . We feel also by experience that after the pope’s, bishop’s, or cardinal’s blessing, we are no otherwise disposed in our souls than before.

Let this be sufficient as concerning the sacraments and ceremonies, with this protestation: that if any can say better, or improve this with God’s word, no man shall be better content therewith than I. For I seek nothing but the truth, and to walk in the light. I submit therefore this work and all other that I have made or shall make (if God will that I shall more make) unto the judgments, not of them that furiously burn all truth, but of them which are ready with God’s word to correct, if any tiling be said amiss, and to further God’s word.I will talk a word or two after the worldly wisdom with them, and make an end of this matter. If the sacraments justify, as they say, (I understand by justifying, forgiveness of sins,) then do they wrong unto the sacraments, inasmuch as they rob the most part of them, through confession, of their effect, and of the cause wherefore they were ordained. For no man may receive the body of Christ, no man may marry, no man may be oiled or anoiled as they call it, no man may receive orders, except he be first shriven. Now when the sins be forgiven by shrift aforehand, there is nought left for the sacraments to do. They will answer that at the leastway they increase grace; and not the, sacraments only, but also hearing of mass, matins, and even-song, and receiving of holy water, holy bread, and of the bishop’s blessing, and so forth by all ceremonies. By grace I understand the favor of God, and also the gifts and working of his Spirit in us; as love, kindness, patience, obedience, mercifulness, despising of worldly things, peace, concord, and such like. If after thou hast heard so many masses, matins, and evensongs, and after thou hast received holy bread, holy water, and the bishop’s blessing, or a cardinal’s or the pope’s, if thou wilt be more kind to thy neighbor, and love him better than before; if thou be more obedient unto thy superiors; more merciful, more ready to forgive wrong; done unto thee, more despisest the world, and more athirst after spiritual things; if after that a priest hath taken orders he be less covetous than before; if a wife, after so many and oft pilgrimages, be more chaste, more obedient unto her husband, more kind to her maids and other servants; if gentlemen, knights, lords, and kings and emperors, after they have said so often daily service with their chaplains, know more of Christ than before, and can better skill to rule their tenants, subjects, and realms christianly than before, and be content with their duties; then do such things increase grace. If not, it is a lie. Whether it be so or no, I report me to experience. If they have any other interpretations of justifying or grace, I pray them to teach it me; for I would gladly learn it. Now let us go to our purpose again.