And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
There had been, two sundry days before, Sermons concerning the positive outward worship of God, out of this Text, consisting of four parts:
1. The Apostles' doctrine; 2. their society or fellowship; 3. breaking of bread; 4. prayers.
The effect of this last was to acquaint the auditory with sundry imaginations by divers erected, which many unstable persons do run after and worship instead of those four, the Apostles' doctrine, &c. The order was to begin with the doctrine first, and so after through the rest as they stand.
1. That such imaginations there are, Solomon complaineth of ratiocinia plurima, whereby men were withdrawn from the simplicity of their creation. And under the gospel, St. Paul likewise of venti doctrinarum, whereby Christian people [54/55] began to be blown and carried about from the steadfastness of the truth.
But especially under the Gospel. For that, as St. Augustine saith Videns diabolus templa dæmonum deseri, et in nomen Christi currere genus humanum, &c. Seeing idolatrous images would down, he bent his whole device in place of them to erect and set up divers imaginations, that the people instead of the former might bow down to these and worship them. Since which it hath been and is daily practice, either to broach doctrinas novas et peregrinas, 'new imaginations never heard of before,' or to revive the old and new dress them. And these--for that by themselves they will not utter--to mingle and to card with 'the Apostles' doctrine,'&c., that at the least yet he may so vent them.
And this indeed is the disease of our age, and the just complain we make of it: that there hath been good riddance made of images; but for imaginations, they be daily stamped in great number, and instead of the old images set up, deified and worshipped, carrying the names and credit of 'the Apostles' doctrine,' government, &c.
Touching these imaginations then, to find some heads of them. They be, in respect of the devil who inspireth them, called 'doctrinæ dæmoniorum.' In respect of the instruments, by whom he breathes them out, doctrinæ hominum; as 'the doctrine of the Pharisees, the doctrine of the Nicolaintes.'
These men were of two sorts, as St. Paul sorteth them: 1. 'wolves' which from without entered into the Church; 2. 'men arising from among themselves,' teaching 'perverse things.'
1. Those which from without entered, were philosophers from the Gentiles, Pharisees from the Jews. Both which bred many imaginations in Christian religion.
Against them both St. Paul giveth a double caveat: not to be seduced by 'philosophy,' meaning , as he sheweth, the 'vain deceit' of that profession--that is the former; 2. nor with human traditions and rudiments of the Pharisees--that is the latter. To avoid 'opposition of science falsely so called'--there is the first. To avoid 'Jewish fables' and traditions--there is the second. For from these two forges came a great part of the imaginations which ensued. Each of these sects [55/56] esteeming his 'old wine' good, and consequently brewing it with the 'new wine' of the gospel.
Imaginations by philosophy. First, by the course of the ecclesiastical history it appeareth that Simon Magus --who of a heathen philosopher became a Christian, and was baptized--after, through 'the gall of bitterness' wherein he was, fell away again, and proved the first of all heretics. He first, and after, Valentine; and then Basilides devised many strange speculative fancies. And indeed, whosoever they be that dote about unprofitable curious speculations, from this kind they sprung first.
After these, those two main heresies that so mightily troubles the Church: first, that of the Manichee, who brought a necessity upon all things by means of his duo principia, making men secure how they lived, because it was ordained what should become of them; secondly, the other of the Pelagian, who ascribed to man's free will and ability to keep God's law, and thereby made void the grace of Christ. Both these were nut two bastard slips of corrupt philosophy: the former, an imagination issuing from the sect of the Stoics and their fatal destiny; the latter, from the sect of the Peripatetics, and their pure naturals.
Imagination by Judaism. As the curious speculations came from the philosophers of the Gentiles, so whatsoever superstitious observations were imagined, came from the Pharisees and sects of the Jews. As Simon Magus is reckoned the first heretic, so Ebion the Jew is the second. And from him sprang the opinion of the necessity of Jewish observances, which was the occasion of the council in Acts the fifteenth chapter; and the opinion of 'worshipping angels' as mediators, as Theoderet testifieth upon the second chapter of Colossians, the eighteenth verse. And for those ceremonies, as at the first they desired to retain those very same that were Judaical, so when it was withstood by the Apostles they did after but turn them, and new varnish them over into others like, and with them so clogged the Church as the Jews' estate was much more tolerable than the Christians'--St. Augustine's complaint.
Now from these two sorts of persons proceeded those twoseveral means whereby, as it were in two moulds, all imaginations [56/57] have been cast, and the truth of God's word ever perverted. 1. From the Pharisee, that piecing out the new garment with old rags of traditions, that is, adding to and eking out God's truth with men's fancies, with the phylacteries and fringes of the Pharisees, who took upon them to observe many things beside it. 2. From the philosopher, that wresting and tentering of the Scriptures, which St. Peter complaineth of, with expositions and glosses newly coined to make them peace that they never meant; giving such new and strange senses to places of Scripture, as the Church of Christ never heard of. And what words are there or can there be, that--being helped out with the Pharisees' addition of a truth unwritten, or tuned with the philosopher's wrest of a devised sense--may not be made to give colour to a new imagination? Therefore the ancient Fathers thought it meet that they that would take upon them to interpret 'the Apostles' doctrine,' should put in sureties that their sense they gave were no other than the Church in former time hath acknowledged. It is true the Apostles, indeed spake from the Spirit, and every affection of theirs was an oracle; but that, I take it, was their peculiar privilege. But all that are after them speak not be revelation, but by labouring in the word and learning; are not to utter their own fancies, and to desire to be believed upon their bare word--if this be not dominari fidei, 'to be lords of their auditors' faith,' I know not what it is--but only on condition that the sense they now give by not a feigned sense, as St. Peter termeth it, but such a one as hath been before given by our fathers and forerunners in the Christian faith. 'Say I this of myself,' saith the Apostle, 'saith not the law too?' Give I this sense of mine own head? hath not Christ's Church heretofore given the like? Which one course, if it were straitly holden, would rid our Church of many fond imaginations which now are stamped daily, because every man upon his own single bond is trusted to deliver the meaning of any Scripture, which is many times nought else but his own imagination. This is the disease of our age. Not the Pharisee's addition, which is well left; but, as bad as it, the philosopher's gloss, which too much aboundeth. And I see no way but this to help it.
Imagination from the Christians. Secondly, from among [57/58] the Christians themselves arose men 'speaking perverse things,' whom St. Paul well calleth fratres subintroductis; who also by their imaginations mainly corrupted the Apostles' doctrine, which we heretofore divided into
1. matter, in which the 2. manner
1. The substance and therein
2. The ceremony
1. the foundation
2. the building upon it.
concerning all which imaginations have arisen.
Imaginations touching the foundations. Which are 2--so called by the names of foundations, first laid by our Saviour Christ, and after kept by the Apostles--even 'repentance' and 'faith.'
Imaginations touching 'repentance' Nicolas, one of the seven, as Eusebius testifieth, became a man of imaginations, and began the sect of the Nicolaitanes, whom God hateth. After whom arose Carpocrates in the same, of whom came the sect of the Gnostics--a sect that blew up that part of 'the foundation' which is called 'repentance from dead works.' For, as Epiphanius testifieth, they held that all other things besides 'faith' were indifferent , 'repentance' and all; and that so a man knew and embraced certain dictates and positions, they would deliver him; live how he list, he could not choose but be saved. And of these high points of knowledge they entitled themselves Gnostics, that is, men of knowledge. And all other Christians that could not talk like them, simplices, 'good simple souls.' Such is the imagination in our days of carnal Gospellers; that so he forget not his creed, he cannot miscarry. These be the gnostics of our age.
Imagination touching 'faith.' On the other side against the other part of the 'foundation,' 'faith,' Latinus a Christian and a great learned man cast him mine, of whom was the sect of the Encratites, who offended at the licentious lives of the Gnostics fell into the other extreme, that Non est curandum quid quisque credat, id tantum curandum est quid quisque faciat,' that the Creed might be cancelled well enough, for an upright and straight course of life.' God only regarded, and in every sect a man might be saved that lived well. These, for their soever and temperate kind of life, termed [58/59] themselves Encratites, that is, strict livers; and all other Christians that lived not in the like austerity Psychicos, that is, carnal men. Such is in our days the imagination of the civil Christian; who, so his conversation be blamless and honest careth not for religion and faith at all, but for the most part lives and dies in brutish ignorance. We may call these the Encratites of our age.
Imaginations touching the building; a secondary part of the Apostles' doctrine, and not of like necessity with the former. Epiphanus writeth, they were a sect, a branch of the old Cathari or Puritans, as he saith, which called themselves Apostolici, propter exactum disciplinæ studium, &c. 'For an extraordinary desire they had above other men to have discipline and all things to exact pattern of the Apostles' days; which is itself an imagination.'
For it were cacozelia, an apish imitation, to retain all in use then, see in divers things even then were but temporaria. For beside their canon in matters of knowledge, they had their dogmata or decreta, not of equal importance; as was that of eating 'things strangles, and blood;' which no man now thinketh himself bound to abstain from. And, besides, their epitaxes, 'commandments' in matters of practice, they had their diataxes, 'injunctions,' not of equal regard with the former. Such were their agapæ,' love-feasts' after the Sacrament; and their celebrating the Sacrament after supper, which no Church as this day doth imitate. Therefore to press all that was in that time, is an imagination.
And as to press all, so of these things that remain to press all alike, or think an equal necessity of them, which was a parcel of the imagination of the Donatists. For some things the Apostles peremptorily commanded; some things they had no commandment for, but only gave counsel; some things they commanded and taught; some things they taught and exhorted, whereof each was to be esteemed in his own value and worthiness; neither to dispense with the commandment, nor to make a matter of necessity of the counsel. Both which have not a little harmed the Church.
Lastly, for these matters of counsel, which for the most part are things indifferent, they also fall upon two imaginations. 1. some say, Omnia mihi licent, and so it be not [59/60] condemned as unlawful, make no bones of it; which tendeth to all profaneness. Others say, 'Touch not, taste not, handle not;' which speak of things indifferent as merely unlawful, which imagination ends in superstition. A mean way would be holden between them both, that neither 'a snare be cast' on men's consciences, by turning Non expedit into Non licet, nor our 'liberty' in Christ be made an 'occasion to the flesh, 'by casting Non expedit out of doors. For the Spirit of Christ is the spirit of ingenuity, which will freely submit itself to that which is expedient, even in things of their own nature lawful. The not observing whereof with good heed and discretion, hath in old time filled the world with many a superstitious imagination; and in our days hath healed the imagination and superstition and hypocrisy with another of riot and licentious liberty, as bad as the former, yea a great deal worse.
Imaginations touching the ceremony. First, I take it to be a fancy to imagine there needs none; for without them neither comeliness or orderly uniformity will be in the Church. Women will 'pray uncovered' (an uncomely sight) unless the Apostle enjoin the contrary: therefore, 'Let every thing be done decently and in order.' Now, to advise what is comely and orderly in each age and place, is left in the power and discretion of the governors of each Church: Visum est Spiritui Sancto et nobis. And the custom of each Church is peaceably to be observed by the members of it. In a matter ceremonial, touching the veiling of women--after some reasons alleged, which yet a troublesome body might quarrel with--thus doth St. Paul determine the matter definitively: 'If any list to be contentious,' Nos non habemus talem consuetudinem, nec Ecclesiæ Dei. As if he should say, In matters of that quality each Church's custom is to overrule; as from that place St. Hierome and St. Augustine do both resolve.
It hash been ever thought meet, saith St. Gregory, that there should be in unitate fidei consuetudo diversa; that is, the diversity of customs should be in divers Churches, all in the unity of one faith, to shew the Church's liberty in those matters. And therefore the 'eating of things offered to idols,' wholly restrained the Church of Syria and Cilicia, seemeth in some sort permitted the Church of Corinth, in case no man did challenge it.
[60/61] And as for divers Churches this hath been judged requisite, so hath it likewise been deemed no less requisite that every person should inviolably observe the rites and customs of his own Church. Therefore those former ordinances which were not urged upon the Corinthians--upon the Galatians within the compass of the regions where they took place as we see they were urged (as the Fathers interpret those places) under the pains of Anathema, which censure is due to all those that trouble the Church; as those do who for setting light by the customs and orders of the Church are by St. Paul concluded within the number of persons 'contentious' and troublesome.
Imagination touching the manner of delivery. For even in it also, for failing, men must imagine something, that when they can take no exception to the matter yet they may itch after a new manner, and hear it after such and such a sort delivered, or they will not hear at all, and therefore after their own liking 'get them a heap of teachers.' 1. They must hear no Latin, nor Greek; no, though it be interpreted. A mere imagination. For the Apostle writing to the Corinthians, which were Grecians, hath not feared to use terms as strange to them, as Latin or Greek is to us--'Maranatha,' 'Belial,' 'Abba.' All which he might easily enough have expressed in their vulgar, but that it like him to retain his liberty in this point.
2. Nor none of the Apocrypha cited. Another imagination; for St. Jude in his Epistle hath not feared to allege out of the book of Enoch, which book hath ever been reckoned Apocrypha. And by this example all the ancient writers are full of allegations from them; ever to these writings yielding the next place after the Canon of the Scriptures, and preferring them before all foreign writers whatsoever.
3. Nor anything alleged out of the Jews' Talmud; a third imagination. For, from their records, St. Paul is judged to have set down the names of the sorcerers that 'withstood Moses' to be 'Jannes and Jambres;' which in Exodus, or the whole canon of Scriptures, are not named. As may other things in the New Testament from them receive great light. And the Jews themselves are therein clearly confuted.
4. But especially no heathen example or authority--for [61/62] with allegations of the ancient Fathers I have often dealt--a matter which the Primitive Church never imagined unlawful. For Clemens Alexandrinus, by allusion to Sarah and Agar, teacheth the contrary. So doth Basil, in a set treatise; and Gregory Nyssen, out of the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy, by the rites touching the marrying of heathen women taken captive: and last of all, St. Augustine most plainly. And these all reckoned of the contrary, as a very imagination. Which they did the rather, for that besides divers other places not so apparent, they find St. Paul in matter of doctrine alleging Aratus a heathen writer, in his Sermon at Athens. And again, in matter of life, alleging Menander, a writer of Comedies, in his Epistle; and thirdly, in matter of report only without any urgent necessity, alleging Epimenides, or, as some think, Callimachus.
And surely, if it be lawful to reason from that which nature teacheth , as St. Paul doth against men's wearing long hair, it is not unlawful neither to reason from the wisest and most pithy sayings of natural men. Especially, with the Apostle, using them--as in a manner they only are used--thereby to provoke Christian men to emulation, by shewing them their own blindness in matters of knowledge, that see not so much as the heathen did by the light of nature; or their slackness in matter of conversation, that cannot be got so far forward by God's law, as the poor pagan can by his philosophy. That if grace will not move, shame may.
II. Imagination touching 'The Apostles' fellowship.' For this doctrine received doth incorporate the receivers of it into a fellowship or society, which is called the fellowship or corporation of the Gospel; and they that 'bring not this doctrine,' are no ways to be received thereto. Which fellowship is not to be forsaken, 'as the manner of some is'--men of imaginations--in our days, either because there be heresies, for oportet esse; or, for that many at communions, 'come together, not for the better, but for the worse,' for so did they in Corinth; or lastly, for that many and many 'Christians walk' -which St. Paul wrote with tears--'as enemies to the cross of Christ;' for so it was in the Church of Philippi.
Now it is plain, there can no society endue without government, and therefore God hath appointed in it governors and [62/63] assistants which seeing they have power from God to reject or 'receive accusations,' and to 'judge those that are within' and of the fellowship, it is an idle imagination that some have imagined, to hold 'the Church' hath not her judgment-seat, and power to censure her disobedient children. It hath ever been holden good divinity that the Church from Christ received power to censure and separate wilful offenders. Both, with the heathen man's separation, who might not so much as enter into the Church door, (which is the greater censure); and with the publican's separation, (which is the less) who might enter and pray in 'the temple' but was avoided in common conversation, and in the fellowship of the private table, and therefore much more of the altar. Of which twain, the former the Apostle calleth 'cutting off;' the latter, 'abstaining from.' The Primitive Church calleth the former excommunicatos, the latter abstentos. So that, to fancy no government, is an imagination. A government there is.
Touching the form of which government many imaginations have lately been bred, in these our days especially. At the writing of this verse, it is certain that the government of Christian people consisted in two degrees only--of both which our Saviour Christ Himself was the Author. 1. of the Twelve 2, of the Seventy; both which were over the people, in things pertaining to God.
These two were, one superior to another, and not equal. And that the Apostles established an equality in the Clergy is, I take it, an imagination. No man could perish in the 'gainsaying of Korah' under the Gospel, which St. Jude saith they may, if there were not a superiority in the Clergy; for Korah's mutiny was, because he might not be equal to Aaron, appointed his superior by God. Which very humour, observe it who will, hath brought forth most part of the heresies since the time of the Gospel; that Korah might not be Aaron's equal. Now of these two orders, the Apostles have ever been reckoned the superior to the other, till our times; as having, even under our Saviour Christ, a power to forbid others. And after, exercising the same power; Silas one of the Seventy, receiving a commandment, utol_n, from St. Paul an Apostle to come unto him. As the auditory had [63/64] their 'room' by themselves, so among the persons ecclesiastical the Apostles had a higher seat, as may be gathered; and in the very place itself were distinguished. Now in the place of the Twelve, succeeded Bishops; and in the place of the Seventy, Prebyteri, Priests or Ministers, and that by the judgment of Irenæus, who lived immediately upon the Apostles' age, of Tertullian, of St. Augustine. And this, till of late, was thought the form of fellowship, and never other imagined.
But not long since, some have fancied another, that should consist of Lay-Elders, Pastors and Doctors, and whether of Deacons too is not full agreed yet. Which device is pressed now upon our Church, not as a form of more convenience than that it hath, but as one absolutely necessary, and of our Saviour Christ's own only institution, which maketh it the less sufferable. I know that by virtue of St. Peter's wrench before mentioned some places may be brought which may seem give it colour, but that is if we allow those new glossed senses. But if we seek what senses the Primitive Church gave of them, not one of them but will suffer it to fall to the ground. And finding it a stranger to them, I know not how to term it but an imagination. To touch it briefly in a word.
If we ask Scripture for it, and where we may find it, they pass by the two most evident places in appearance, the twelfth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, the twenty-eighth verse, because there are no Pastors; and the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the eleventh verse, because there are no Lay-Elders; and lay it upon the twelfth chapter of Romans, the sixth, seventh, and eighth verses. And there, by a strange and unheard of exposition, they will find them all four; but not except that exposition be allowed them, nor if the ancient writers may be heard, what the true sense of it is. There is no Epistle on which so many of them have written. Six only I will name: Origen, Chyrsostom, Theoderet, Ambrose, Hierome cumenius; all which have entreated of it. Let their commentaries be looked on upon that place. Not one of them applieth it to the Church government--which by any likelihood cannot be imagined but they would, if it were the main place for it--or findeth those offices in those words, which they in good earnest tell us of, as that Di£kanon [64/65] in the seventh verse he is not the deacon, but the distributer in the eighth verse is he; or that qui miseretur is Latin for a widow, or such like.
But if jointly they find them not, let us see how severally they warrant their offices. Elders, some both preach and govern, some govern only; and there they imagine they have found their Lay-elder, by implication that there are Presbyteri that labour not in preaching. Hear St. Chrysostom on the first epistle of the Corinthians, the first chapter and seventeenth verse. You shall find a far other sense :Evangelizare, saith he, perpaucorum est; baptizare autem cujuslibet, modo fungatur Sacerdotio. And a little later after: Siquidem Presbyteris quidem qui simpliciores sunt hoc munus tradimus ut baptizent, verbum autem ut doceant non nisi Sapientioribus, hic sapienta est [et] labor. Quamobrem et alibi inquit: Qui bene præsunt Presbyteri, duplici honore digni sunt, maxime qui laborant in verbo. Whereby it is plain that in St. Chrysostom's time it was not reckoned meet that every one that ministered the Sacrament, should also preach. That the meaner sort dealt with the Baptizing, and they only that were of the more wise sort with the word. And to prove it should thus be, he citeth this their Scripture, as if in the Apostles' days the like had been thought wisdom. But as for Lay-elders, he nor any that writeth on it can find in this verse; nor any such in all antiquity ever understood by the name of Presbyter.
The elders preachers they divide into pastors and doctors, and these they sever in function, limiting the one to his exhortation only, the other to point of doctrine only. An imagination which none of the Fathers would ever acknowledge; search their writings. St. Chrysostom upon this verse (Ephesians 4.11) taketh them both for one, and maketh no difference. So St. Hierome in both his Commentaries upon that Epistle: Omnis enim pastor doctor est. But St. Augustine may serve for all, to shew how unknown this was then. Who being purposely written to by Paulinus to assign a difference between them, thus answereth: Pastortes autem et Doctores, quos maxime ut discerneremus voluisti, eosdem puto esse, sicut et tibi visum est, ut non alios Pastores, alios Doctores intelligeremus, &c. Hos enim sicut unum aliquid duobus nominibus complexus est.
[65/66] Lastly, for their deacons too: that they should be men of occupation and trade to deal with the Church-stock and care of the poor only, is also I doubt not an imagination; seeing all antiquity hath ever reckoned of that calling as of a step or degree to the ministry, out of the first of Timothy, the third chapter and thirteenth verse. And that the Church's practice hath been always to employ them in other parts and functions besides that, is plain by Justin Martyr who lived in the Apostles' days, namely, to distribute the Communion; by Tertullian, to baptize; by Cyprian and divers others. So that to conclude, these are imaginations touching 'the Apostles' fellowship,' howsoever a great number of deceived people bow down to them and worship them.
III. Imaginations touching the 'breaking of bread;' which is joined to that 'fellowship' as the chiefest badge of that 'fellowship.' For by it is gathered the Communion, as may be gathered by conference with the twentieth chapter of the Acts, the seventh verse, and as the Syrian text translateth it. For that as by the other Sacrament in the verse immediately going before they are 'received into the body of the Church,' so by this they are made 'to drink of the Spirit,' and so perfected in the highest mystery of this society.
Concerning which, as the Church of Rome hath her imagination; first, in that she many times celebrateth this mystery sine fractione, 'without any breaking' at all. Whereas, as heretofore hath been shewed out of the tenth chapter of the first of Corinthians, the eighteenth verse, it is of the nature of an Eucharist or peace-offering; which was never offered but if was eaten, that both there might be a representation of the memory of that sacrifice, and together an application to each person partaking it. And secondly, in that she hath indeed no 'breaking of bread' at all. For it being broken ever after it is consecrated, there is with them no bread remaining to break; and the body of Christ is now impassible, and cannot be broken; so that they are fain to say they break accidents, and indeed they well know not what. Contrary to St. Luke's here, who calleth it fractionem panis, and to St. Paul who saith, Panis quem frangimus. As these are their imaginations, so we want not ours. For many among us fancy only a Sacrament in this action, and look strange at the mention of a sacrifice. [66/67] whereas we not only use it as a nourishment spiritual, as that it is too, but as a mean also to renew as 'covenant' with God by virtue of that 'sacrifice' as the Psalmist speaketh. So our Savour Christ in the institution telleth us, in the twenty-second chapter of Luke and twentieth verse, and the Apostle in the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews and tenth verse. And the old writers use no less the word sacrifice than Sacrament, altar than table, offer than eat; but both indifferently, to shew there is both.
And again too, that to a many with us indeed so fractio panis, as it is that only and nothing beside; whereas 'the bread which we break is the partaking of Christ's' true 'body'--and not a sign, figure, or remembrance of it. For the Church hath ever believed a true fruition of the true body of Christ in that Sacrament.
Further, as heretofore hath been made plain, it is an imagination to think that this 'breaking of bread' can be severed from the other, which is Esay's breaking 'bread to the needy.' Whereby as in the former Christ comunicateth Himself with us, so we in this latter communicate ourselves with our poor brethren, that so there may be a perfect communion. For both in the sacrifice which was the figure of it it was a matter of commandment, insomuch as the poorest were not exempt from God's offering; and our Saviour Christ's practice was, at this feast, to command somewhat 'to be given to the poor.' And last of all the agapæ or love-feasts of the Christians for relief of the poor, do most plainly express that I mean. In place of which, when they after proved inconvenient, succeeded the Christian offertory.
And lastly, whereas we continue in the doctrine and prayers of the Church, we do many time discontinue this action a whole year together. These long intermissions -so that if it be panus annus, once a year received, we think our duty discharged--are also, no doubt, a second imagination in our common practice. For sure we should continue also in this part and the frequenting of it, if not so often as the Primitive Church did--which either thrice in the week, or at the furthest once, did communicate--yet as often as the Church doth celebrate; which, I think, should do better to celebrate more often. And those exception which commonly we allege to [67/68] disturb ourselves for that action, make us no less meet for prayers than for it. For except a man abandon the purpose of sin, and except he be in charity, he is no more fit to pray than to communicate, and therefore should abstain from the one as well as from the other; or, to say the truth, should by renewing himself in both these points, make himself meet for both, continuing no less in 'the breaking of the bread' than in 'prayers' and 'doctrine.'
IV. Imaginations touching 'prayers.' As the former was the most special exercise of a Christian and chiefest in dignity, so this is the most general and chiefest in use. Therefore he puts it in the plural number; as if both in preaching, censuring, and communicating, it had his use (as indeed it hath) 'before all things,' 'in all things,' after all things. And in this also we want no fancies; in this age especially, wherein an idle conceit is taken up that never came into the heads of any age of the old heretics (though never so brain-sick) once to imagine. Our Saviour Christ thus willeth us: 'when ye pray say, Our Father.' &c.. A most fond imagination is started up in our times, never once dreamed of before, that telleth us in no case we must say 'Our Father,' &c. with which form, if St. Augustine be to be believed as a witness of antiquity, the universal Church of Christ hath ever used to begin and end all her prayers, as striving indeed by divers other forms more largely to express the sense of that prayer; but not being able to come near the high art and most excellent spirit of perfection in that pattern, they always conclude with it, as being sure, howsoever they may for divers defects not attain to the depth of it, and by it they shall be sure to beg all things necessary at God's hands. This I named first because it is appropriate to our times.
Besides, as the Church of Rome hath her imaginations touching prayers; first against St. Paul's Orabo et mente in setting the people to pray they wot not what, and so making their 'understanding unfruitful.' And again, against our Saviour Christ's caveat, in setting them to go over whole rosaries and Psalters, as if much babbling after the heathen manner were acceptable to God. So likewise do others also among us err in their image no less, and that even against the same places. First, against, Ortabo spiritu, in the same verse, [68/69] by finding fault with a set Liturgy, which they call stinted prayers, and giving themselves to imagine prayers at the same instant; whereby, it is plain, they so occupy their minds with devising still what to say next, their spirit is 'unfruitful,' no less than the others' 'understanding' and both these. 1. the understanding of the mind, 2. and the affection of the spirit, are there necessarily required. And again, that instead of a rosaries and a number of prayers, they bring in the Pharisee's imagination of 'long prayers,' that is, a prayer as long as a whole rosary. And this they take to be a great part of holiness, but indeed it is nothing but the former superstition drawn in backwards. In which whoso marks them, shall find they commit both faults: that of the Pharisee, in tedious length, procuring many times nauseam spiritûs, a dangerous passion; and the other of the heathen, in fond repetitions, tautologies, inconsequences, and all the absurdities that may fall into such manner of speech. St. Cyprian saith, It was ever in Christ's church counted an absurd thing, which some count their glory, ventilare preces inconditis vocibus. The absurdity whereof would better appear if--seeing under prayers here Psalms and spiritual songs are contained, both being parts of invocation--they would have no stinted Psalms, but conceive their songs too upon the present out of the Spirit, and so sing them. For to say truth, there is no more reason for the one than for the other. But God's Church hath ever had, as a form of Doctrine, both of faith in the Creed, and of the life in the Decalogue, so of prayer too. Which, from the thirteenth chapter of Acts, the second verse, the Fathers in all ages have called a Liturgy or service of God.
These are of many imaginations, some set up and magnified by some, and by others adored and worshipped, under the names of 1. Apostles' doctrine, 2. Government, 3. Sacraments, and 4 Prayers.
St. Stephen telleth us, out of the fifth of Amos, that if we do thus make to ourselves tabernacles and figures to worship them, our punishment shall 'be to be carried away beyond Babylon.' And good reason, for these idle fancies are not from Christ's Church, from Sion, but from Babylon they came, and if we delight in them thither shall we be carried.
And sure we are in a good way thitherward, for of Babel [69/70] St. Augustine saith, Civitas illa confusionis indiferenter habuit philosophes inter se diversa et adversa sentients; 'In God's city it was never so, there was ever correction for coiners, but in Babel, the city of confusion, every philosopher might set up, as now every sect-master may broach any imagination that taketh him in the head without punishment. For in Babel it is reckoned but an indifferent matter.' Sure the Prophets tell us that if Babylon's confusion go thus before, the captivity of Babylon is not far behind. From which Almighty God deliver us, and make us careful, as to continue 'The Apostles' doctrine,' &c., so neither to engrave nor to bow down and worship any of these imaginations. Amen.