« AnteriorContinuar »
wastes away, so neither will those doctrines be able to abide the test of examination. Now it is well known, that such an examination proceeds from the Spirit of God. Therefore, to pursue the thread of the metaphor, and to adapt the parts by a proper relation to each other, he gives the Holy Spirit's examination the appellation of fire. For as gold and silver afford a more certain proof of their goodness and purity, in proportion to their proximity to the fire; so Divine truth receives the stronger confirmation of its authority, in proportion to the strictness of spiritual examination by which it is investigated. As wood, hay, and stubble, brought into contact with fire, are speedily consumed; so the inventions of men, unsupported by the word of God, cannot bear the examination of the Holy Spirit, but must immediately fall to the ground. Finally, if false doctrines are compared to wood, hay, and stubble, because, like wood, hay, and stubble, they are consumed by fire and entirely destroyed, and if they are overcome only by the Spirit of the Lord; it follows, that the Spirit is that fire by which they will be proved. This trial Paul calls the day, or the day of the Lord, according to the common phraseology of Scripture. For that is called the day of the Lord, whenever he manifests his presence to men. Now we enjoy most of the light of his countenance, when we are favoured with the radiance of his truth. It has been evinced that Paul means no other fire than the examination of the Holy Spirit. But how are they saved by the fire, who suffer the loss of their work? This it will not be difficult to comprehend, if we consider of what class of men he is speaking. For he characterizes them as builders of the Church, who retain their legitimate foundation, but raise the superstructure of unequal materials; they are such, as do not deviate from the principal and essential articles of the faith, but err in inferior and less important ones, mixing their own inventions with the word of God. Such, I say, must suffer the loss of their work, by their inventions being destroyed: but they are themselves saved, yet so as by fire; that is, not because their ignorance and error can be approved by the Lord, but because they are purified from them by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore, whoever have corrupted the pure gold of the Divine word with this filth of purgatory, must nea cessarily suffer the loss of their work.
X. Our opponents will reply, that it has been a very ancient opinion in the Church. Paul removes this objection when he comprehends even his own age in this sentence, where he denounces, that all must suffer the loss of their work, who in the structure of the Church should place any thing not corresponding to the foundation. When our adversaries therefore object to me, that to offer prayers for the dead has been the practice of more than thirteen hundred years; I inquire of them, on the contrary, by what word of God, by what revelation, by what example, it is sanctioned. For they are not only destitute of any testimonies of Scripture in favour of it, but none of the examples of the saints there recorded exhibit any thing like it. Respecting mourning and funeral offices, it contains many and sometimes long accounts; but of prayers for persons deceased, you cannot discover the smallest hint. But the greater the importance of the subject, so much the rather ought it to have been particularly mentioned. Even the Fathers themselves, who offered up prayers for the dead, saw that they had neither a Divine command, nor a legitimate example, to justify the practice. Why then did they presume to adopt it? In this, I say, they discovered themselves to be but men; and therefore I contend, that what they did ought not to be enforced for the imitation of others. For since the faithful ought not to undertake any thing, without an assurance of conscience, according to the direction of Paul, (1) this assurance is chiefly requisite in prayer. Yet it will be urged, It is probable that they were impelled to it by some reason. I reply, Perhaps they sought some consolation to alleviate their sorrow, and it might appear inhuman not to give some testimony of their love towards the dead in the presence of God. The propensity of the human mind to this affection, all men know by experience. The custom also, when received, was like a flame, kindling ardour in the minds of multitudes. We know that funeral rites have been performed to the dead among all nations, and in every age, and that lustrations have been annually made for their departed spirits. For though Satan has deluded foolish mortals with these fallacies, yet he has borrowed the occasion of the deception from a
(1) Rom. xiv. 23.
true principle; that death is not an annihilation, but a transition from this life into another. Nor can it be doubted, but that even superstition itself convicts the heathens before the tribunal of God, for neglecting all the concerns of a future life, which they professed to believe. Now Christians, because they would not be inferior to heathens, were ashamed to perform no services for the dead, as though they had wholly ceased to exist. Hence that inconsiderate officiousness; because if they were negligent in attending to funerals, feasts, and oblations, they were afraid they should expose themselves to great disgrace. What first proceeded from a perverse emulation, has been so repeatedly augmented by novel additions, that the principal sanctity of Popery consists in relieving the distresses of the dead. But the Scripture administers another consolation, far better and more substantial, when it declares that “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;” and adds as a reason, “that they may rest from their labours." (u) Now we ought not to indulge our own affection so far as to introduce a corrupt method of praying into the Church. Certainly, he that has but a moderate share of penetration, will easily discover all that we find on this subject in the Fathers to have been in compliance with general practice and vulgar ignorance. I con fess, they were also involved in the error themselves, from an inconsiderate credulity, which frequently deprives the human mind of its judgment. But in the mean time, the mere reading of them demonstrates with what hesitation they recommend prayers for the dead. Augustine, in his Book of Confessions, relates, that Monica, his mother, had vehemently entreated to be remembered in the celebration of the mysteries at the altar. This was the wish of an old woman, which her son did not examine by the standard of Scripture; but from his natural affection for her, wished it to gain the approbation of others. But the treatise composed by him, on care for the dead, contains so many hesitations, that it ought by its coolness to extinguish the heat of imprudent zeal: if any one desires to be an intercessor for the dead, this treatise, with its frigid probabilities, will certainly remove all the solicitude he may have
(1) Rev. xiv. 13.
previously experienced. For this is its only support, that since it has been customary to pray for the dead, it is a duty not to be despised. But though I concede, that the ancient writers of the Church esteemed it a pious act to pray for the dead, yet we must always remember a rule, which can never deceive, that it is not right for us in our prayers to introduce any thing of our own, but that our desires must be submitted to the word of God; because he chooses to prescribe what he designs we should ask. Now since there is not a syllable in all the law or the gospel, which allows us to pray for the dead, it is a profane abuse of the name of God, to attempt more than he enjoins. But that our adversaries may not glory, as though the ancient Church were associated with them in their error, I assert that there is a considerable difference between them. The ancients preserved the memory of the dead, that they might not seem to have cast off all concern for them; but they at the same time confessed their uncertainty concerning their state. Respecting purgatory they asserted nothing, but considered it as quite uncertain. The moderns expect their reveries concerning purgatory to be admitted as unquestionable articles of faith. The Fathers, in the communion of the sacred supper, merely recommended their deceased friends to the mercy of God. The Papists are incessantly urging a concern for the dead; and by their importunate declamations, cause it to be preferred to all the duties of charity. Besides, it would not be dithcult for us to produce some testimonies from the Fathers, which manifestly overthrow all those prayers for the dead which were then used. Such is this of Augustine; when he teaches that all men expect the resurrection of the body and eternal glory, and that every individual enters on the fruition of that rest which follows after death, if he is worthy of it when he dies. Therefore, he declares that all the pious, as well as the prophets, apostles, and martyrs, enjoy a blessed repose immediately after death. If such be their condition, what advantage will our prayers confer on them? I pass over those grosser superstitions, with which they have fascinated the minds of the simple: which nevertheless are so innumerable, and for the most part so monstrous, that they cannot be varnished over by any honest pretext. I omit also that most disgraceful traffic, which
they licentiously carried on while the world was in such a state of stupidity. For, not only should I never arrive at a conclusion, but I have already furnished the pious reader with sufficient to establish his conscience.
The Life of a Christian. Scriptural Arguments and Exhorta-'
tions to it. W E have said, that the end of regeneration is, that the life of the faithful may exhibit a symmetry and agreement between the righteousness of God and their obedience; and that thus they may confirm the adoption by which they are accepted as his children. But though this law of God comprehends that newness of life by which his image is restored in us; yet since our tardiness needs much stimulation and assistance, it will be useful to collect from various places of Scripture, a rule for the reformation of the life, that they who cordially repent may not be bewildered in their pursuits. Now, when I undertake the regulation of a Christian's life, I know that I am entering on an argument various and copious, and the magnitude of which might fill a large volume, if I designed a complete discussion of every part of it. For we see to what great prolixity the Fathers have extended the exhortations composed by them only on single virtues; and that without any excessive loquacity: for whatever virtue it is intended to recommend in an oration, the copiousness of the matter naturally produces such a diffusiveness of style, that unless you have spoken largely, you seem not to have done justice to the subject. But my design is not to extend the plan of life, which I am now about to deliver, so far as particularly to discourse on each distinct virtue and expatiate into exhortations. These things may be sought in the writings of others, especially in the homilies of the Fathers. It will be sufficient for me if I point out a method, by which a pious man may be conducted to the right end in the regulation