Three propositions we set forth, as naturally arising out of this precept. The first out of the word habebis, that we must have a God, have Him in honour and regard, have Him in account and estimation far above ourselves, and above all things that we have besides. This the duty commanded, opposed to the sin forbidden, the sin of atheism and profaneness, whereby every one becomes a God to himself, and will be tied to do no more than what seems good in his own eyes along. And thus far are we gone already, neither love we to go backwards, nec repetere gradum.
We go on therefore to the second proposition, out of the word Me. That it is not enough to have, unless we have the true one; that instead of the right we set not up a wrong god; and where we should betake us to the verity of religion, we fasten not upon a false worship, and a fond religion, that God never taught us. This the duty that we are to learn to-day, wherein we shall have somewhat to say of the heathenish, and somewhat of the Romish superstition and impiety abroad, somewhat also of our own impiety and superstition here at home. Against all which this precept goeth forth. Against their idolatry, (so I will be bold to call it now, and prove it afterwards,) their idolatry, I say, in deifying men; in believing, trusting, honouring, invocating, some of them more than they do God himself. And then [143/144] against the relics of our own impiety; for some relics we have among us, (it cannot he denied,) as well of the heathenish as of the Romish superstition, left still in our corrupt and depraved affections, specially in the affections of the common people, such as some of you are, who be most rude and ignorant, and, as ye say, will needs do as your fore-elders did, though they deified their own fancies, and made more account of an old beldame's charm and a wizard's diving of things to come, than of all the oracles and laws of God whatsoever. And here we shall have somewhat to say against your custom of seeking after soothsayers and witches, with other fond and superstitious observations among you whereby ye transfer that power and honour to another thing which properly belongs unto God; and therefore shall stand indicted as open offenders against this statute, the first commandment of the law. Of these we are to say. But to the end that what we, say may be to the honour of God, and to the amendment of our own faults, I shall, &c. &c.
Non habebis deos adios præter Me. The meaning is, that any God, or any religion, will not serve us. The duty is, that we seek out the true one; that we set not up a false God to worship, nor a wrong religion to follow. For there be many religions, and many gods abroad in the world; and yet among them all, there is but one God, and one faith, and one religion to hold by.
(1.) And first, I shall not need to say much about the heathenish impiety, the gross and brutish idolatry that the nations of old, and many of them at this day, commit against this first commandment. It is strange to see and fearful, how the devil blinded them, through ignorance mill madness together. They set up every one his own god, nay and every one his several gods too, for all the purposes he had under heaven. One god for his country, and another for his house; one for his purse, and another for his paunch; they never had gods enough; and any thing that would do them good, or that they thought might do them any hurt, whether it [144/145] were man or beast, the stars above, or the very creeping worms and herbs below, to that would they offer sacrifice, and pray as devoutly to it, as if all their woe and welfare had depended upon it. An idle and an ignorant, and yet a covetous and a base people were they, from whence all this impiety proceeded.
The relics of which impiety are not yet rooted out: to gar trefou me said he in Euripides, and by this we get our living, as said they in the Acts, are two rules that square men's religion still; and any thing that will do them good, they are ready yet to offer it what sacrifice you please.
But one thing I would have you heed; it was for want of knowledge that this impiety got head; they were not diligent to find out the true God, and the right way to worship Him, and therefore they were content with any, the next that came to hand.
In hac fide natus sum, in hac moriar, as Auxentius was wont to say, so did his elders before him, and there was all the care he took. This was their case, and it is to be feared lest the devil should make some of your cases alike, while they among you that are ignorant will be ignorant still, and take no thought (so they may live and like) either what god they serve, or what religion they profess.
(2.) We come to another impiety, that hath been the offspring and issue of this; the impiety of some Christians (I mean the Papists) that are ready to persuade some of you to their own errors, and say that this is none of God's commandments; and that, I know not what or how many saints may be worshipped and prayed to, as well as He. Wherein that ye may conceive the vanity of that part of their religion the better, I will take the pains to compare it with this kind of superstition, which of old time was used among the heathens, against whom this precept of God went forth.
The variety and multitude of the heathen gods was great, (above whom, notwithstanding, they acknowledged one supreme lord, as the Papists do,) but for their inferior gods, that, as they said, were better at leisure than he, would be sooner spoken to, were his favourites, would take care of what [145/146] they wanted here below, of these, saith St. Austin, thirty thousand may he numbered; and his author was Varro. Some of these were to teach them the secrets of nature, they dwelt in an upper mansion (they say) above the sun; and others to expound them their dreams and fancies, these they placed a rank lower, and said they had not so great a power
as the rest had. So some they called dii majores, the ancient and the great gods, they that were over many nations and countries together; others but dii minuti, and ascriptitii, that were but lately let into the number, and had but the care of men's persons, or their families, and towns at the most. So that among them all, distribution was made of the whole world to govern it; some to help men by sea, and some to have a care over them at land; some to dwell within their woods, and others to be placed over their cities; some for regions and provinces, and others for families and private houses; one for their corn, and another for their cattle; the rich, the poor, the artificer, every one had his god.
For all the world as the practice is in Popery, where for every region, city, and family, for every man, and every state and profession of men; for every fruit of the earth, every beast of the field, every disease of the body, they have appointed a peculiar saint, to whom they pray as devoutly, and from whom they expect help and defence as securely, as from God himself.
So the Spaniards call upon St. James, and the French upon St. Denis; the Germans they call upon St. Martin, and the Hungars upon St. Lewis, as of old the Scots did upon St. Andrew, and the English here upon St. George. These for countries; in cities, at Milan, St. Ambrose is their patron, and at Colon the Three Kings; at Auspurg St. Hulderic; and otherwhere St. Quintine, St.Valentine, St. Thomas, St. John; here at home, St. Brandon and St. Cuthbert have been deified.
The mariners they call upon St. Nicholas, and St. Christopher; the physicians upon St. Luke; the lawyers upon [146/147] Ivo, the gentlemen upon St. George, the tradesmen upon St. Loy, St. Crispin, St. Gutman, St. Eustace, and a hundred more besides.
The care of their vineyards they commend to St. Urban, of their horse to St. Loy, of their hogs to St. Antony, of their oxen to Pelagius, and of their pullaine (poultry) to Wendelin.
When they would not have their corn hurt by tempest they hold up and fall down to St. John the Evangelist; when they fear burning by fire, St. Agatha is their goddess; and when they fear the plague, they run to St. Sebastian for mercy and pity to be shown upon them; when they are troubled with a fever, they call upon St. Petronelle; and wheat their teeth pain them, they bemoan themselves to St. Apoline. St. Felicitie is called upon for children, St. Margaret for a safe delivery, and St. Barbarie for a good departure out of the world. It were infinite to number up all. But I trow this is sufficient to shew their vanity, their impiety, their manifest contempt and breach of this precept, when they have so many gods to run to, so many helpers to trust to besides One; and let no man deceive you, they that hold of this religion, they hold of a wrong one, and one that will deceive them all at last.
Neither shall their distinction of 'oblique' and 'relative,' of indirect and transitory, of secondary and mediate prayers serve their turn, for the world can never be got to believe that oblique and relative prayers (such as we would use to holy men here upon earth) is all that is sought for, seeing it is most evident, both by their practice abroad, and their con-tinual use here at home, to pray directly, absolutely, and finally to their saints, as to them that had as much power as God Himself, to give and forgive them what they will ask. [147/148] They say to the blessed Virgin, 'O holy Mother of God, vouchsafe to keep us, we worship thy name, and that world without end; let thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in thee.' And again, 'In thee only (and what can be said more to God?) 'In thee only have I trusted, let me never he confounded'. This to her; and to others, Tu dona coelum, Tu perdue ad gloriam, pestam fuge, solve a peccatis in direct and plain terms, so absolute that I know not what can he more; and sure I am, that we have no more for God, and for Christ Himself. Insomuch that we may he bold to conclude and to assure you all, that whoever they be that practise themselves, or persuade any other to use this kind of religion, they do it by some other precept, for precept of God have they none. Nay this precept, this command of his, is directly set up against then; and though the memory of the saints b precious among us, and ought so to be, though we honour their glorified persons, though we sing, and praise, and magnify their virtues, though we teach all generations to call them blessed, yet for all this, the commandment of God, and the glory of God, of their God and ours, is precious to us above them all, and so let it be for ever; and let all the people say Amen.
I have done with the impiety, the breach of this commandment abroad, and now I am loath, nay I am sorry to find any at home; but even amongst ourselves this precept is also torn in pieces, and religion suffers violence from many of our people, as well as it does from others, even in this very point of Me and non alium; for what shall we say other, what shall we otherwise conceive of them, who, when they have neither faith, hope, nor trust in God, know not His power, know not [148/149] His providence, nor have any care to learn them neither, Ex. 7. 11. (as it was Pharaoh's case and Saul's after him,) run to the soothsayers, and the woman witch of Endor, to ask help of the devil and so make a god of him. I trow this is as bad as popery, if it be not worse; and yet, as if it were good lawful Christianity among us, we run to a wizard, that they may ask the devil counsel for us, as readily, nay and a great deal more readily too, many of us, than we run hither to God.
Two sorts of miscreant and wicked people we have; the first challenging and taking to themselves, the second attributing and giving unto others, that power which only appertaineth unto God.
For there are, who if any grief or sickness befalls them, if they happen to have any loss of children, or corn, or cattle, or outer goods whatsoever, are by and by exclaiming and crying out that they are bewitched, that such a woman has done them harm, that such another can do them good; therefore to the one they seek for help, of the other they seek revenge. And all this while God's commandment is not so much as thought of, but to other helpers they run, as if there were no God in Israel, That ordereth all things according to His will, in Whose hands are life and death, sickness and health, wealth and woe, and Who hath therefore commanded us in all our necessities to resort unto him.
And what a scandal is it to the Gospel of Christ, to the profession of our faith, that the glory and power of God should be so abridged and abated, as to be thrust into the hands or lips, or medicines, or charms of a lewd old woman, woman or man, or whosoever; that the power of the Creator should be attributed unto any creature at all; that there should be such gross and reckless presumption, either in the one or the other, as to take Christ's office from him, as to take upon them to heal and cure diseases, to foretell things to come, to tell the secrets of the mind, whereby He was specially known, and made known to be God; that if any happen to be somewhat strangely afflicted with diseases or torments, or losses, such as are described in the New Testament, we fly front trusting in the Son and power of' God, to trusting in a witch, and believe in a charm, to rely upon the power of a beldame, and the cunning of the devil. And if [149/150] any thing happen well, presently it must be attributed to that kind of skill, but if all fail, they are yet ready to think they came rather an hour too late than went a mile too far; and truly if this be not to go a whoring after strange gods, I know not what is.
Sure I am it is the cunning and illusion of the devil, thus to infatuate and besot the minds of gross and ignorant people to the distrust of God, and to the destruction of their souls; for give it that by his wicked means, otherwhiles ye receive help, either for body or goods, what comfort shall ye have in them, what good get ye by it, to have your goods safe, and your souls in danger of eternal perdition arid torment ?
And let no mail make excuse, that they thick no hurt, that they do it for no ill, and that they would be glad to have help by any means they can procure; for in such cases as these, be it hurt, or loss, or danger, or whatever it be, from which they would be freed, they ought ever to consider and enquire of the means, whether they be good and lawful, or no, to be used; whether it be not against the will and honour of God, against the rule of Christ's religion, against this first commandment, against faith and a good conscience, and what other good means and remedies there be to help them, that are appointed of God and prescribed by His
Of which remedies I shall give you the best. If any man be afflicted, let him pray, saith St. James; let him give alms, let him fast, saith Christ, and though it be the devil that afflicts him, fasting and prayer will cast him out. If this moans succeeds not, let him submit himself under the mighty hand of God, saith St. Peter; let him bewail his own sins, that hath justly brought God's punishments upon him; let him come hither and learn what God's will and pleasure is; let him study to amend his life, to reform his wickedness, to love, to honour, to trust in God; and at last he shall find that these are the only remedies he can use. For what great [150/151] marvel is it, if when men be blasphemers of God, take no care of His service, give themselves over to ungodliness and profane living, to adultery and fornication, to drunkenness and excess, to envy and malice, to deceit and cunning, to fierceness and wrath, to idleness and stealth, to frowardness and disobedience, (which are the common and usual sins that run among ye,) what marvel if after all this, besides the neglect of God's word, the abuse of His Sacraments, many of you provoke him to plague you in your corn, and in your cattle, in your bodies, and in your goods, with divers diseases and sundry kinds of mischief. Therefore, as by the abuse of God's word and Sacraments (when ye will not be reformed and grow better by them) the devil is permitted sometimes by himself, and sometimes by his instruments, to bring griefs and calamities upon you; so by the good and holy use of them, it will ever be the best way to rid and remedy yourselves again. But for other fond and wicked means, whereof we have spoken, let it be accursed for ever, and sent back to hell, from whence it came.
Now besides this wicked distrust in God, and seeking after other remedies, there be other vain and silly observations whereby men also transgress this first commandment, and forget the power and providence of him That made it.
Those they be, that by casting of fortunes, by chattering of birds, by viewing the lines of the hands, and other such unlawful and superstitious observations, take upon them to judge of men's acts and lives, and of other things to come ; for what is this, saith the prophet Isaiah, but to make more gods than one; Annunciate nobis quæ ventura sunt in futurum, et sciemus quia dii estis, "Take upon you to tell us beforehand, what things shall come after, amid we shall say ye be gods." It is God's office to do this, and none of yours.
And though it be common, yet it is a common sin among the rest of them that are transgressors against thus commandment, to be superstitious and fearful, or distrustful of God, upon fond and idle observations, as at the crossing of the [151/152] hare and the stumbling at the threshold, to turn back and give over their journey. A number of such other vanities there are, which argue men's fear and distrust in God's providence, and therefore their contempt and breach of this law, whatever they say their forelders have taught them to the contrary. For they that trust to their own fancies, to old and foolish fables, more than they trust to God and his sayings, sure I am they are out here at habebis Me, they have Him not as they should have Him. I might now go on to divinations and astrology, but the stars are too high for your reach. I will therefore end this matter with God's own saying in Deuteronomy at the eighteenth chapter. Let no man ask counsel of them that use false divinations, or such as give heed to dreams, and to the chattering of birds; let there be no witch among you, nor any that asketh counsel of them that pretend to have spirits; for God abhorreth all these things.
And if there be any among you that are given this way, God give them grace to repent and amend; for both they that use it, and they that seek after it, or resort unto it, will in the end find themselves where they would be full loath to be found, even in the power of Him upon whose power they depended here. Whereas they that trust not in Him here, shall stand in no fear of him hereafter; but having God for their strength, and relying upon his will and providence alone, according to this His precept, shall at last be satisfied with the abundance of His mercies and goodness in His eternal kingdom of glory, which Christ, the King of glory, grant unto us; to Whom, with the Father, &c. &c.