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

OF prayer and good deeds, and of the order of love, or charity, I have abundantly written in my book of the Justifying of Faith. Neverthelater, that thou mayest see what the prayers and good works of our monks and friars, and of other ghostly people, are worth, I will speak a word or two, and make an end. Paul saith, “All ye are the sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ; for all ye that are baptized have put Christ on you; ” (Galatians 3) that is, ye are become Christ himself. “There is no Jew,” (saith he,) “neither Greek, neither bond nor free, neither man nor woman, but ye are all one thing in Christ Jesus.” In Christ there is neither French nor English; but the Frenchman is the Englishman’s own self, and the English the Frenchman’s own self. In Christ there is neither father nor son, neither master nor servant, neither husband nor wife, neither king nor subject: but the father is the son’s self, and the son the father’s own self; and the king is the subject’s own self, and the subject is the king’s own self; and so forth. I am thou thyself, and thou art I myself, and can be no nearer of kin. We are all the sons of God, all Christ’s servants bought with his blood; and every man to other Christ his own self. And Colossians 3 “Ye have put on the new man, which is renewed in the knowledge of God, after the image of him that made him (that is to say, Christ;) “where is” (saith he) “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarous or Scythian, bond or free; but Christ is all in all things.” I love thee not now because thou art my father, and hast done so much for me; or my mother, and hast borne me, and given me suck of thy breasts, (for so do Jews and Saracens,) but because of the great love that Christ hath shewed me. I serve thee, not because thou art my master, or my king, for hope of reward, or fear of pain, but for the love of Christ; for the children of faith are under no law (as thou seest in the epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, in the first to Timothy), but are free. The Spirit of Christ hath written the lively law of love in their hearts; which driveth them to work of their own accord freely and willingly, for the great love’s sake only which they see in Christ, and therefore need they no law to compel them. Christ is all in all things to them that believe, and the cause of all love. Paul saith, “Servants, obey unto your carnal or fleshly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of your hearts, as unto Christ: not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, even as though ye served the Lord, and not men. And remember, that whatsoever good thing any man doth, that shall he receive again of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” (Ephesians 6) Christ thus is all in all things, and cause of all, to a Christian man. And Christ saith, Matthew 25, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to any the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me. And inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these, ye have not done it to me.” Here seest thou that we are Christ’s brethren, and even Christ himself; and whatsoever we do one to another, that do we to Christ. If we be in Christ, we work for no worldly purpose, but of love: as Paul saith, Corinthians 5, “The love of Christ compelleth us:” (as who should say, We work not of a fleshly purpose :) “for” (saith he) “we know henceforth no man fleshly; no, though we once knew Christ fleshly, we do so now no more.” We are otherwise minded than when Peter drew his sword to fight for Christ. We are now ready to suffer with Christ, and to lose life and all for our very enemies, to bring them unto Christ. If we be in Christ, we are minded like unto Christ; which knew nothing fleshly, or after the will of the flesh, as thou seest Matthew 12,when one said to him, “Lo, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. He answered, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? And stretched his hand over his disciples, saying, See, my mother and my brethren: for whosoever doth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, my sister, and my mother.” He knew not his mother in that she bare him, but in that she did the will of his Father in heaven. So now, as God the Father’s will and commandment is all to Christ, even so Christ is all to a Christian man.

Christ is the cause why I love thee, why I am ready to do the uttermost of my power for thee, and why I pray for thee. And as long as the cause abideth, so long lasteth the effect: even as it is always day so long as the sun shineth. Do therefore the worst thou canst unto me, take away my goods, take away my good name; yet as long as Christ remaineth in my heart, so long I love thee not a whit the less, and so long art thou as dear unto me as mine own soul, and so long am I ready to do thee good for thine evil, and so long I pray for thee with all my heart: for Christ desireth it of me, and hath deserved it of me. Thine unkindness compared unto his kindness is nothing at all; yea, it is swallowed up as a little smoke of a mighty wind, and is no more seen or thought upon. Moreover that evil which thou didst to me, I receive not of thy hand, but of the hand of God, and as God’s scourge to teach me patience, and to nurture me: and therefore have no cause to be angry with thee, more than the child hath to be angry with his father’s rod; or a sick man with a sour or bitter medicine that healeth him, or a prisoner with his fetters, or he that is punished lawfully with the officer that punisheth him. Thus is Christ all, and the whole cause why I love thee. And to all can nought be added. Therefore cannot a little money make me love thee better, or more bound to pray for thee, nor make God’s commandment greater. Last of all, if I be in Christ, then “the love of Christ compelleth me.” And therefore I am ready to give thee mine, and not to take thine from thee. If I be able, I will do thee service freely: if not, then if thou minister to me again, that receive I of the hand of God, which ministereth it to me by thee. For God careth for his, and ministereth all things unto them, and moveth Turks, and Saracens, and all manner infidels to do them good: as thou seest in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and how God went with Joseph into Egypt, and gat him favor in the prison, and in every place; which favor Joseph received of the hand of God, and to God gave the thanks. Thus is God and Christ all in all; good and bad receive I of God. Them that are good I love, because they are in Christ; and the evil, to bring them to Christ. When any man doth well, I rejoice that God is honored; and when any man doth evil, I sorrow because that God is dishonored. Finally, inasmuch as God hath created all, and Christ bought all with his blood, therefore ought all to seek God and Christ in all, and else nothing.

But contrariwise unto monks, friars, and to the other of our holy spiritualty, the belly is all in all, and cause of all love. Offer thereto; so art thou father, mother, sister, and brother unto them. Offerest thou not? so know they thee not; thou art neither father, mother, sister, brother, nor any kin at all to them. ‘She is a sister of ours, he is a brother of ours,’ say they; ‘he is verily a good man, for he doth much for our religion: she is a mother to our convent; we be greatly bound to pray for them. And as for such and such, (say they,) we know not whether they be good or bad, or whether they be fish or flesh, for they do nought for us: we be more bound to pray for our benefactors (say they) and for them that give us, than for them that give us not.’ For them that give little are they little bound, and them they love little: and for them that give much they are much bound, and them they love much: and for them that give nought are they nought bound, and them they love not at all. And as they love thee when thou givest, so hate they thee when thou takest away from them, and run all under a stool, and curse thee as black as pitch. So is cloister-love belly-love; cloister-prayer, belly-prayer; and cloister-brotherhood, belly-brotherhood. Moreover, love that springeth of Christ seeketh not her own self, 1 Corinthians 13, but forgetteth herself, and be-stoweth her upon her neighbor’s profit, as Christ sought our profit, and not his own. He sought not the favor of God for himself, but for us; yea, he took the wrath and vengeance of God from us unto himself, and bare it on his own back, to bring us unto favor. Likewise doth a Christian man give to his brethren, and robbeth them not, as friars and monks do; but, as Paul commandeth, Ephesians 4, laboureth with his hands some good work to have wherewith to help the needy. They give not, but receive only. They labor not, but live idly of the sweat of the poor.

There is none so poor a widow, though she have not to find herself and her children, nor any money to give, yet shall the friar snatch a cheese, or somewhat. They preach, sayest thou, and labor in the word. First, I say, they are not called, and therefore ought not: for it is the curate’s office.

The curate cannot, sayest thou. What doth the thief there then?

Secondarily, a true preacher preacheth Christ’s testament only; and maketh Christ the cause and reward of all our deeds; and teacheth every man to bear his cross willingly for Christ’s sake. But these are enemies unto the cross of Christ, and preach their belly, which is their god, Ephesians [Phil.] 3, and they think that lucre is the serving of God, 1 Timothy 6, that is, they think them Christian only, which offer unto their bellies, which when thou hast filled, then spue they out prayers for thee, to be thy reward, and yet wot not what prayer meaneth. Prayer is the longing for God’s promises; which promises, as they preach them not, so long they not for them, nor wish them unto any man. Their longing is to fill their paunch, whom they serve, and not Christ; and through sweet preaching, and flattering words, deceive the hearts of the simple and unlearned. 

Finally, as Christ is the whole cause why we do all thing for our neighbor, even so is he the cause why God doth all thing for us, why he receiveth us into his holy testament, and maketh us heirs of all his promises, and poureth his Spirit into us, and maketh us his sons, and fashioneth us like unto Christ, and maketh us such as he would have us to be. The assurance that we are sons, beloved, and heirs with Christ, and have God’s Spirit in us, is the consent of our hearts unto the law of God. Which law is all perfection, and the mark whereat all we ought to shoot. And he that hitteth that mark, so that he fulfilleth the law with all his heart, soul, and might, and with full love and lust [desire], without all let or resistance, is pure gold, and needeth not to be put any more in the fire: he is straight and right, and needeth to be no more shaven: he is full fashioned like Christ, and can have no more added unto him.

Nevertheless there is none so perfect in this life, that findeth not let and resistance by the reason of original sin, or birth-poison, that remaineth in him, as thou mayest see in the lives of all the saints throughout all the scripture, and in Paul, Romans 7. “The will is present (saith he), but I find no means to perform that which is good. I do not that good thing which I would: but that evil do I, which I would not. I find by the law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. I delight in the law, as concerning the inner man; but I find another law in my members, rebelling against the law of my mind, and subduing me unto the law of sin.” Which law of sin is nothing but a corrupt and a poisoned nature, which breaketh into evil lusts [desires], and from evil lusts [desires] into wicked deeds, and must be purged with the true purgatory of the cross of Christ: that is, thou must hate it with all thine heart, and desire God to take it from thee. And then, whatsoever cross God putteth on thy back, bear it patiently, whether it be poverty, sickness, or persecution, or whatsoever it be, and take it for the right purgatory, and think that God hath nailed thee fast to it, to purge thee thereby. For he that loveth not the law and hateth his sin, and hath not professed in his heart to fight against it, and mourneth not to God to take it away and to purge him of it, the same hath no part with Christ. If thou love the law, and findest that thou hast yet sin hanging on thee, whereof thou sorrowest to be delivered and purged; as for an ensample, thou hast a covetous mind, and mistrustest God, and therefore art moved to beguile thy neighbor, and art unto him merciless, not caring whether he sink or swim, so thou mayest win by him, or get from him that he hath; then get thee to the Observant, which is so purged from that sin, that he will not once handle a penny, and with that wile doth the subtle fox make the goose come flying into his hole, ready prepared for his mouth, without his labor or sweat: and buy of his merits, which he hath in store; and give thy money, not into his holy hands, but to offer him that he hath hired, either with part of his prayers or part of his prey, to take the sin upon him and to handle his money for him. In like manner, if any person that is under obedience unto God’s ordinance (whether it be son, or daughter, servant, wife or subject) consent unto the ordinance, and yet find contrary motions, let him go also to them that have professed an obedience of their own making, and buy part of their merits. If thy wife give thee nine words for three, go to the Charterhouse, and buy of their silence : and so, if the abstaining of the Observant from handling money heal thine heart from desiring money, and the obedience of them that will obey nothing but their own ordinance heal thy disobedience to God’s ordinance, and the silence of the Charterhouse monk tame thy wife’s tongue; then believe that their prayers shall deliver thy soul from the pains of that terrible and fearful purgatory, which they have reigned to purge thy purse withal.

The spiritualty increaseth daily. More prelates, more priests, more monks, friars, canons, nuns, and more heretics, (I would say heremites,) with like draft. Set before thee the increase of St Francis’s disciples in so few years.

Reckon how many thousands, yea, how many twenty thousands, not disciples only, but whole cloisters, are sprung out of hell of them in so little space. Pattering of prayers increaseth daily. Their service, as they call it, waxeth longer and longer, and the labor of their lips greater; new saints, new service, new feasts, and new holidays. What take all these away? Sin?

Nay; for we see the contrary by experience, and that sin groweth as they grow. But they take away first God’s word, with faith, hope, peace, unity, love and concord; then house and land, rent and fee, tower and town, goods and cattle, and the very meat out of men’s mouths. All these live by purgatory. When other weep for their friends, they sing merrily; when other lose their friends, they get friends. The pope, with all his pardons, is grounded on purgatory. Priests, monks, canons, friars, with all other swarms of hypocrites, do but empty purgatory, and fill hell. Every mass, say they, delivereth one soul out of purgatory. If that were true, yea, if ten masses were enough for one soul, yet were the parish priests and curates of every parish sufficient to scour purgatory: all the other costly workmen might be well spared.