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TITUS i. 1.

The acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.

3. THAT doctrine that asserts, that it is in men’s power to supererogate, and to do works of perfection over and above what is required of them by way of precept, tends to the undermining and hinderance of a godly life. Works of evangelical perfection or supererogation are defined, such as a man may without sin not do, but, if he does them, they entitle him to a greater reward. Which assertion carries along with it this visible impiety, that a man is not obliged to do the utmost, in the way of holiness, that he can; for the law is the measure of men’s obligation, and no man is obliged to any thing as his duty, but what the law obliges him to: but if it is in his power to do some sublime works of holiness, over and above what the law exacts of him, it clearly follows, that without sin he may omit the doing of them; for where there is no law there is no sin: and here we suppose the obligation of the law not to extend thus far.

Now surely there can be no greater a stop to an active endeavour, than to state the proportions of men’s duty less than the proportions of their strength and ability; and to assure them, that they do all that is necessary for them to do, though they do 94 much less than they are able. It seems by this, that God does not call for all their strength and all their souls, but they have great reserves of both left entirely in their own disposal; nay, and those of much greater worth and excellence than what the law demands from them; since the doing of these advances them to an higher perfection, and prepares for them a greater and a brighter crown than all the rest of their obedience.

But if this were so, how shall we make out the sense of those precepts that command us to strive to enter in at the strait gate; and to press forward to the mark of the prize of the high calling; and to use our utmost diligence to make our calling and election sure; that having done all, we may be able to stand; and the like. Certainly these are expressions that stretch endeavours to the highest, and determine in no less compass than the whole that a man by all the powers and faculties of his soul can perform.

Nor can it avail the persons that we contend with to reply, that God vouchsafes us those assistances of grace, that are able to bear men beyond the lines of mere duty; for the dispensations of grace would, upon these terms, put us into the same condition of perfection, that we are to expect only in a state of glory. Grace indeed extinguishes the reign of sin, but it does not wholly extirpate the inherence of it as to all the remainders. It makes a man that he will not devote and give himself over to the practice of sin, but it does not wholly rescue him from the surprise of many infirmities.

And were not these men fuller of pride than perfection, and more Pharisees than Christians, they would acknowledge so much, and let down those 95gaudy plumes of their high pretences of a double refined sanctity, upon the sight of their black feet and polluted goings. For surely they have not yet convinced the world of the feasibleness and truth of their propositions, by any manifest transcriptions of them upon their lives. But can these doctors style them selves angelical from any thing that they do, what soever they are pleased to teach? I cannot see but that a friar or a Jesuit is subject to the same passions and irregular motions that other men are. Nor can I perceive that their lives proceed in such a super natural strictness, and transcendency of piety, above the rest of the world. They should do well to prove their doctrines of perfection by instance and example; and to demonstrate that a thing may be done, by shewing that actually it has been done: but if they cannot, they should first acquit themselves in point of duty, before they flourish it with their supererogations; and think of paying their debts, before they go about to purchase.

Besides, to assert that the perfection, commanded by the law, is less than the perfection that the power of man can raise itself to, seems an high imputation upon God’s wisdom and holiness, as he is a legislator; the design of which must needs be to work up the creature to the highest conformity to himself, that a created nature is capable of. But he that, in stead of stretching himself to the latitude of the law, contracts the law to his own measures, will find that God, when he comes to deal with him, will have recourse to his own rule, and not correct a true original by a false copy.

4. That doctrine that places it in the power of any mere mortal man to dispense with the laws of Christ, 96 so as to discharge any man, in any case, from being obliged by them, is highly destructive of holy living: but so does the doctrine of the church of Rome, that vests such a dispensing power in the pope; by which they raise the pretended chair of St. Peter above the throne of Christ himself: for the sovereign power resides not so much in him that makes the law, as in him that is able to do with the law what he pleases when it is made, by either continuing or suspending the obligation of it. Christ indeed has given laws to his church; but when it is at the pope’s pleasure, whether those laws shall oblige or not oblige, I leave it to the judgment of the meanest reason, who, in this case, must be accounted superior.

The laws of men are dispensable, because the nature of them subjects them to the reason of dispensation; that is, because no human lawgiver is of that wisdom, as to provide against all future inconveniences in the constitution of laws, but that the observation of them may sometimes run men upon greater mischiefs, than the making of them was designed to prevent: but Christ was of that infinite wisdom and knowledge, as to enact laws of that universal compliance with all the conditions of man, that there can be no new, emergent inconvenience unforeseen by him, that should at any time make the obligation of them to cease.

It is possible indeed, that the law may cease to oblige, upon the removal or want of the matter of the obligation. As it is every man’s duty to give alms; but if a man has nothing, he can give nothing: and to communicate is a duty, but if the materials of the sacrament, bread and wine, cannot be had, to communicate is impossible, and so no man can be 97obliged to it: but still, in all this, there is no dispensation with either of these laws; for the impossibility of their performance makes them, to such persons, under such circumstances, cease to be laws. But a law is then properly dispensed with, when it is capable of being obeyed; and the person capable of yielding such obedience to it is yet, by an intervenient power, discharged from his obligation to obey: the former case is like fire’s not burning, when it has no fuel, or matter, to fasten or prey upon; the latter is like the fire’s not burning the three children in the furnace, when both the fire was in full force, and also a proper combustible subject offered to it; but, by the interposal of a divine power, it was hindered from exerting that burning quality upon that subject. So here, the law is in full force, and the person under it in a capacity to do the thing commanded by it; but the pope tells him, that he shall not be obliged to it, he will dispense with him; and so the labour of obeying is saved.

But since bold encroachments seldom venture themselves without pretences, it concerns us to see what reason the pope assigns for his exercising such a power over the laws of Christ. Why his spiritual janizaries, the schoolmen and casuists, tell us, that where the observation of any command is impeditiva majoris boni, a stop and hinderance of a greater good than the non-observance of it would occasion, there the pope has power to dispense with the observation of that command, and to discharge men from it.

As for instance: a man has bound himself with a lawful vow or oath, and accordingly proceeds to the execution of it; but the priest finds, that the greatness of their church would be considerably advantaged 98 by this person’s not observing his vow or oath, and accordingly persuades him to break it; but the man’s conscience is solicitous and tender, and asks who shall warrant him in the breach of a lawful oath: hereupon the pope says that he will; and though the law of God and nature ties a man to the keeping of his oath, yet because the not keeping of it will minister to a greater good, namely, the advantage of the church, this is a sufficient reason for him to dispense with his oath: for answer to which, I would inquire, whether the command of keeping oaths and vows is not clear and express; and whether there can be any greater good, than to obey an express command of God. I demand also, supposing that the advancement of their church be indeed a greater good, yet, whether the intending of such a good can legitimate an action in its nature sinful? and whether the breach of a clear command be not such an one? When these questions receive a full and a satisfactory resolution, then may the conscience acquiesce in the pope’s dispensation; but till then, it is safer to obey God in the precept, than man in the interpretation of it.

And now, who is there that deserves the name of a Christian, whose heart does not rise against such horrid and impious usurpations upon the prerogative of Christ? such gross and open methods of promoting the course of sin? If a command of Christ thwart that which the pope, in the behalf of his own inter est, will judge a greater good, the command must stand back, and his dispensation take place. All such bands upon the conscience are like the withes, or the cords, upon Samson; they fly asunder like flax burnt with fire; they are of no force or efficacy at 99all. For as it is in the pope’s power to dispense with a command, so it is also solely in his power to judge of the reason upon which he is to dispense with it; and we know that he is seldom the poorer for such dispensations.

The truth is, he exposes the precepts of Christ to sale, and he that will bid most for the breach of a command shall carry it: which is such an intrenching upon all the offices of Christ, such an impudent defiance of that supremacy of which he pretends to be the vicar and substitute, that it is apparent that St. Peter’s pretended successor sells Christ’s power, as much as ever Judas did his person. Here is the making merchandise of religion, and with that of souls: here is the groundwork of indulgences, the quick market for pardons, by which the gospel, from the law of liberty, is turned into the instrument of licence; and the sure asylum for such as would live sinners, and yet die saints.

And thus much for the doctrines that tend to the undermining of a pious life, by perverting the great rule of living, the law of Christ. I come now to the third sort, which,

III. Are those that relate to repentance.

This follows in order of nature; for after a law is broke, there is no recovery but by repentance; so that the depravation of the nature of this, is a sin against our last remedy; and he that, having transgressed the divine law, abuses his conscience with false rules of repentance, does like a man, that first by his intemperance brings himself into a disease, and then puts poison into his physic.

Now the doctrine about repentance may be perverted in a double respect.


1. In respect of the time of it.

2. In respect of the measure.

1. And first for the doctrine that states the time of repentance destructively to a pious life. And for this, it cannot but be very grievous and offensive to persons possessed with a real piety and sense of religion, to consider the assertions and positions of the Romish casuists touching this particular. Their answer to this question, When shall a sinner repent? is, in general, At any time whatsoever. Which indefinite assertion has by some been drawn out into particular determinate periods of time. As some affirm, that it is a man’s duty to act repentance on the grand holydays, as Christmas, Whitsuntide, but especially at Easter. But others except against this as too severe, and say, that since God has not determined the time of repentance, we are to presume that the church also is so favourable as to leave it undetermined too: and therefore some blush not to state the matter thus; That the time in which a sinner is bound to repent, or to have contrition for his sins, is the article of imminent death, whether natural or violent. In a word, they say a man is bound to repent of his sins once; but when that once shall be, he may determine as he shall think fit.

Before I come to examine these profane assertions, I shall carefully premise this observation; that in this whole matter we are by no means to confound the duty of repentance with the success or issue of repentance. For although it is not to be denied, that a man, having sinned, and afterwards defers his repentance for a long time, may yet, by the grace of God, repent savingly and effectually at last; yet this makes nothing for the proving that it was not that 101man’s duty to have repented immediately upon the commission of his sin; and that every minute of such delay was not sinful. No man is to make the event of what he has done, the measure of what he ought to do. It is possible that a sinner may be converted, and turned to God, in the last year, or month, or perhaps day of his life; but, notwithstanding this, he sinned, in not being converted to God before.

This premised by way of answer to the Romish casuists, I reply, that that sentence of the church, “At what time soever a sinner repenteth him of his sins, God will blot out his iniquities from before him,” speaks only of the consequent event and success of a true repentance, but determines nothing antecedently of the time in which that repentance is to be gin; which, in opposition to the foregoing blasphemies, we are undoubtedly to hold to be the very next instant after the commission of the sin: then is the time in which it is the duty of a sinner to repent; from that very moment there is an obligation upon him to recover himself by an hearty contrition and humiliation; and that I prove by this argument: Either a man is bound immediately to repent after he has sinned, or the impenitence remaining upon him in that subsequent portion of time is no sin; and if so, then, in case he should die in that time, he could not be chargeable before God for that impenitence. Chargeable indeed he would be for the sin he had committed; but for not repenting of that sin no charge could lie upon him. But this is an assertion of such barefaced, intolerable impiety, so directly contrary to the whole tenor of the gospel, that it can need no confutation.

However, it is worth considering, to see upon 102 what ground our adversaries have built their assertion. And it is briefly this, that God obliges a sinner to repentance, not properly as to a duty, but as to a punishment; and being so, from the strength of this maxim, that nobody is bound in conscience to undergo a punishment till he is condemned; and adding withal, that the day of danger, or approaching death, seems to be this arraignment and condemnation of a sinner; then they conclude, that, for his own security, it is incumbent upon him to submit to the penalty of repentance.

But to this I answer, first, that this supposition, that repentance is properly a punishment, is, in a great measure, false. For repentance is properly the amendment of a man’s life, and a passing from a state of sin to a state of holiness; but this is not a punishment, but a perfection and a privilege. It is indeed accompanied with afflictive actions, such as sorrow and remorse for past sins; but this is only by accident; because a man cannot recover himself to newness of life, without such sorrowful reflections upon what is past; otherwise, if amendment of life could be compassed without them, we should find that sorrow for sin was not the thing directly and chiefly intended in the precept of repentance.

It is clear therefore, that repentance is not properly a punishment; but whether it were so or no, that which was argued before from the nature of it, and the sinfulness of impenitence, sufficiently evinces that the practice of it is to be immediate: no man can without sin defer it till the morrow, any more than to the year after, or to that, than to his death. For the words being indefinite, respect not one time more than another, and therefore the determination 103of the time must be fetched from the nature of the duty commanded in these words; which, since it determines for the present, it ought presently to be put in practice.

Add to this, that every moment passing without repentance adds to the guilt and strength of sin unrepented of; which lies not idle or unactive, but fixes its possession deeper and deeper; the mind, by reflecting upon it with relish and complacency, grows into more intimate unions with it; so that, in effect, by the internal actions and approbations of the will, it is repeated and reacted without any external commission. There is nothing more absolutely destructive of the very designs of religion, than to stop a sinner in his return to God, by persuading his corrupt heart that he may prorogue that return with safety, and without any prejudice to his eternal concernments. Upon the best issue of things, it amounts to an exhortation to him to reap the pleasures of sin as long as he can; and then, at last, that he may not also reap the fruits of sin, to submit to repentance as a less evil, but not to choose it as a good. But whether he that has these notions of repentance is ever like to arrive to the truth of repentance, he alone knows, who knows whether he will give such an one another heart or no. The doctrine therefore of a deferred repentance is a mischievous and a devilish doctrine, and like to bring those that trust in it to the Devil.

2. The next pernicious error about repentance relates to the measure of it. And here we will sup pose the Romish casuists to recede from the former error, and to be fully orthodox as to the time of repentance, and to enjoin it immediately. But then, 104 what is the repentance that they enjoin? Is it such an one as changes the life and renews the heart? such an one as breaks the power and dominion of sin, and works an alteration in all the faculties and inclinations of the soul? No, this is too troublesome a task; they have a much shorter way: for unless they can put off their sins as easily as a man does his cloak, they had rather have them stay on. And therefore, placing the nature of repentance only in sorrow for sin, they distinguish this sorrow into two sorts: the first is contrition, which is a sorrow for sin conceived from the apprehension of its natural filth and contrariety to the pure nature of God; the other is attrition, which is any sorrow or remorse of the mind for sin conceived from the apprehension of the danger and misery like to be consequent upon it.

Now, though they enjoin the former, and recommend it, yet not as absolutely necessary to the forgiveness of sins: for they hold, that a man dying with attrition, that is, a less sorrow, and commenced upon lower motives than the love of God, if attended with confession to the priest, and absolution from him, shall undoubtedly be saved. An assertion of such high venom and malignity, that it even opens the floodgates to all wickedness, and confirms men in a resolved pursuit of their sin, by securing them a passport to heaven and happiness upon those easy terms, that it is scarce possible for the vilest of sinners but they must come up to.

For imagine a man, after threescore years’ debauchery, laid at length upon his deathbed, without any hope of recovery, and then for the priest to ask him, whether he is not troubled for his sins, and whether 105he wishes not, that he had not committed those things that are like to pay him home with the wages of eternal death; the man, no doubt, under his present weariness of appetite and decay of body, can not be so much a stock, and unconcerned for himself, but that he can wish these things undone, of which he tastes no present pleasure, and for which he fears a future vengeance. Now if this, joined with their customary confession, shall be accounted by the priest a sufficient ground upon which to absolve him, and, upon his absolution, to warrant his salvation, I cannot see but that, upon this way of procedure, it is more difficult for a man to be damned than to be saved. For this whole act of attrition is not properly the sinner’s being troubled that he has sinned, but that he is like to be damned for his sin; which for a man not to be troubled at, that carries human nature and sense about him, is impossible.

This therefore is short of that which is itself short of repentance; that is, it is short of real sorrow for sin: and sorrow for sin (whatsoever some may imagine) is not repentance. It is indeed a part, or rather an adjunct of it, there being no true repentance without sorrow. But repentance is properly a man’s engaging in a new course of life; not a weeping for sins past, but a vigorous resistance and mortification of sin for the future. The contrary opinion has undoubtedly deceived many, and betrayed them into that place, where they are repenting too late of the errors of their former repentance. Let no man account himself to have repented, who has not changed his life. And as the apostle says of circumcision and uncircumcision, so say I here, that neither mourning 106 for sin, or confession of it, avail any thing, but a new creature. And truly, he that will hope for life upon other terms, must do it by a new gospel.

And thus I have traversed those pestilential doctrines, that, like worms, He gnawing at the root of all godliness; doctrines, that only purvey for licentiousness. And I dare avouch, that, if these carry in them the true sense of Christian religion, a man may, with full and perfect compliance with the rules of Christianity, make as plentiful a provision for the gratification of his corrupt desires, as if he were a mere atheist or epicure. And therefore I wonder not that many pass from our church to the church of Rome; for being sick in conscience, and yet impatient to undergo the rigours of a thorough cure, they are willing to make up all with a skinning plaster, and to relieve their minds upon as easy terms as they can. And of this they cannot fail in the church of Rome, which has contrived her doctrine to a perfect agreement with all interests and dispositions: so that to frame and bend all discourses of divinity to the humours and corruptions of men, is with them religion, as with us it is, for the most part, accounted prudence.

I have now finished the third and last conclusion drawn from the words; namely, That whatsoever does in itself or its direct consequences undermine the motives of a good life, is contrary to and destructive of Christian religion.

The improvement of all that has been delivered shall lie in these two things.

1. To convince us how highly it concerns all, but especially the most knowing, to try the doctrines that they believe, and to let inquiry usher in faith.


It is noted of the Bereans, Acts xvii. 11, as a sign of a generous and noble spirit, that they would search and sift the nature of the things that were delivered to them; for it is sifting that separates the flour from the bran, the precious from the vile. Error is a thing that does not always discover itself to the first view; it is often fair as well as deceitful; and therefore that understanding that will sell its assent to first appearances is in danger of the snare, and to mistake an imposture for an oracle. An error may look speciously in a principle, which will betray ugliness enough in the consequences. It may be honey in the mouth, and wormwood in the belly; delicious to the first apprehensions, but found destructive upon after inquiry and experiment.

He that embraces and believes a truth, if he does it without trial, owes the Tightness of his judgment not to understanding, but chance. But truth is too great a prize to be the reward of laziness. God never made it but for the trophy of a laborious and a searching intellect. No man can rationally build upon an implicit faith, that is, upon another’s knowledge, but he that has given his name to that church, which allows a man to be saved by other men’s righteousness. We are commanded to try all things; and therefore certainly that thing that is worth all the rest. In a word, since truth is the way to happiness, and since there is no promise of finding but to him that seeks; he that will not be at the trouble to seek out the way, does not deserve to attain the end.

2. As what has been delivered convinces us of the necessity of trying all doctrines; so it suggests also the sure marks by which we may try them.

1. As first negatively; it is not the pleasingness 108 or suitableness of a doctrine to our tempers or interests, that can vouch it to be true. Men often times believe things to be so, because they would have them so; and the judgment is strangely induced to yield its assent to any assertion that shall gratify the affections. But my profit or my pleasure are very incompetent guides of my conscience; very unfit casuists to resolve questions. Truth is a thing that usually carries with it too great a severity to correspond with our pleasures. It lies in the rough paths of duty and difficulty, things wonderfully opposite to the delights of pleasure and sensuality, and made to please, not in themselves, but in their effects and consequences. No man thinks a thing too pleasant or too profitable; but many will hereafter find that some things are too true.

2. The commonness, and the general or long reception of a doctrine, is not a sufficient argument of the truth of it. This relies upon the former consideration, that the suitableness of any doctrine does not evince it to be true; but it is certain, that doctrines are oftentimes generally received, because they are suitable, and serve an interest: witness most of those that are held in the church of Rome; they were introduced by fraud, and continued by force: for there is something of pleasure or profit in the bottom of almost every one of them.

But falsity does not cease to be falsity, by having the good fortune to be generally believed a truth; any more than a plague ceases to be a plague, by spreading itself over all places. It is indeed the more dangerous and formidable, and so may be more hardly conquered, but for the very same cause it is to be the more earnestly opposed.


Neither does long continuance sufficiently commend a doctrine; for it is possible that it may be no more than agedness of error, and no gray hairs can make that venerable. The impostures of Mahomet have lasted now a thousand years; and should they last a thousand more, they would be as false as they were at their first beginning. Age alters the circumstance, but not the nature of things.

3. It is not the godliness or virtue of the preacher or asserter of any doctrine, that is a sure mark of the truth of it; for godliness makes no man infallible. It is possible that a man may think a principle true or pious, which, in its consequences, may be false or impious; because he has not force of reason enough to discern all the conclusions into which a proposition may be improved.

It is the infelicity of truth, and the great hinderance both of science and religion, that the greatness or goodness of some persons should imprint the same authority upon their words. And error has never such an advantage to prevail and insinuate, as when it is propagated by a person of reputation for wisdom or piety. It has been observed, that most heretics have been such; by virtue whereof they have conveyed their poison to the world success fully. And our own schismatics took the same course; for had they not gained such an opinion for sanctity with the rout, they could not have countenanced and christened all those black villainies that were acted in the late rebellion.

But a doctrine is to be tried by its consequences; as a way is to be chosen or shunned, according as the end is to which it leads. It concerns every man to preserve his reason from fallacy and deception; 110 and it makes no alteration of his case, that he was deceived by an authentic hand, any more than it is a comfort to a man dying by an infection, that he caught it of a great and honourable person.

But if a doctrine naturally tends to promote the fear of God in men’s hearts, to engage them in the prosecution of virtuous courses, to persuade them to be sober, pious, temperate, charitable, and the like; it carries with it the mark and impress of the great eternal truth; and so is no more capable of being a lie, than a He is capable of being good; or than God, the fountain of truth and goodness, is capable of being contrary to himself.

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