Remedies against unbelief

Certain remedies against incredulity or unbelief.

But because the devil and man’s wisdom evermore goeth about to spoil us of this most holy faith, by which we believe that in Christ all our sins are chastened, and that through his most precious blood we are reconciled and made at one with God, it is needful that the Christian have always his armour ready to defend himself from this most evil temptation, which goeth about to deprive the soul of her life. Amongst these armours we judge prayers, often use of the most holy communion, the remembrance of baptism and of predestination, to be most mighty. In our prayers let us say with the father of the lunatic, Lord, help our unbelief; and let us say with the Apostle, Lord, increase our faith; and if we will that there shall reign in us a continual desire to increase in faith, hope, and charity, forthwith let us pray as Saint Paul ordained, for prayer is none other thing than a fervent desire founded and fixed in God. With the remembrance of baptism we shall assure ourselves to be in peace with God; for Saint Peter saith, that the ark of Noe was a figure of baptism; then as Noe, believing the promises of God, saved himself in the ark from the flood, even so we, through faith, save ourselves in baptism from the wrath of God; the which faith is founded in and upon the word of Christ, who said, He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, (and with good reason), for in baptism we apparel and clothe ourselves with Christ, as Saint Paul affirmeth, and consequently we are made partakers of his righteousness and all his goods. And under this most precious garment the sins that our frail nature doth commit are covered, and are not imputed to us of God; and, as Saint Paul saith, the blessing of the psalm appertaineth to us which saith, Blessed are they whose unrighteousnesses are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not sin. But let [the] Christian man beware that he take not through these words license to sin, for this doctrine appertaineth not to them who, when they are honoured with the name of a Christian, do with words confess Christ, and with works deny him; but it pertaineth to the true Christians which, although they fight manfully with the flesh, the world, and the devil, yet they fall every day, and are constrained to say continually, Forgive us our debts. To those we speak to comfort and hold them up, to the intent they fall not into desperation as though the blood of Christ did not cleanse them from all sin, and as [though] he were not the Advocate and propitiation or sacrifice for all his members. Then when we shall be moved to doubt of the remission of sins, and our conscience shall be given to be troubled, let us, being apparelled with faith, run straightway to the precious blood of Jesus Christ which was shed for us on the altar of the cross, and to the faithful distributed in the last supper, under the cover of the most holy sacrament; which was by Christ instituted because we should celebrate the remembrance of his death, and with this visible sacrament should make our afflicted conscience certain of our reconciliation and atonement with God.

Blessed Christ made his testament when he said, This is my body which is given for you: and, This is my blood of the new testament, that shall be shed for many for the remission of sins. We know that the testament (as saith Saint Paul), though it be but a man’s testament, yet no man despiseth it or addeth anything thereto when it is once allowed; and no man’s testament is vailable before his death, but after his death it is most vailable. Then the testament of Christ in the which he promiseth the remission of sins, grace, the benevolence of him and his Father, and promiseth mercy and eternal life,–this testament (I say), to the intent it should be vailable, he hath confirmed with is precious blood and his own death. Whereof Saint Paul saith, that Christ for this cause is the Mediator of the new testament, that through death which chanced for the redemption of those transgressions that were in the first testament, they which were called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance; for wheresoever is a testament there must also be [the] death of him that maketh [it: seeing that a testament is then only of] authority when men are dead; for it is of no value as long as he that made it is alive. Then by the death of Christ we are sure and most certain that the testament is vailable in which are remitted all our iniquities, and we are made inheritors of eternal life; and in token and witness hereof he hath left in place of a seal this most godly sacrament, the which not only giveth an assured belief to our souls of eternal life, but also maketh us certain of the immortality of our flesh; for in the same hour our flesh is vivificate and made alive by that immortal flesh, and in a certain manner becometh partaker of immortality by it.

He that is partaker of this divine flesh through this faith shall not perish for ever, but he that is partaker without this faith [it] turneth to him as deadly poison; for even as the corporal meat, when it findeth the stomach filled with evil humours doth also corrupt and hurt, so likewise this spiritual meat, if it find a soul corrupted with malice and infidelity, then thrusteth it that soul into greater danger and peril; not through the fault of itself, but because to the unclean and unfaithful nothing is clean, although it be sanctified by the blessing of the Lord. For, as Saint Paul saith, Whosoever shall eat of this bread, or drink of the cup unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, and eateth and drinketh his own damnation, because he maketh no difference of the Lord’s body, the which without faith and charity usurpeth the supper of the Lord; and, because he believeth not that that body is his life and the cleansing of all his sins, therefore he maketh Christ a liar, treadeth under his feet the Son of God, and counteth the blood of the testament as a profane thing, by the which he is sanctified, and doth injury to the Spirit of Grace, and shall be punished most sharply of God for this infidelity and hypocritical wickedness, because he hath not trusted to be justified by the passion of Christ, and, nevertheless, receiving this most holy sacrament, he maketh profession not to put his trust in any other thing. Wherefore he accuseth himself, and is witness of his own wickedness, and condemneth himself to eternal death, and refuseth eternal life, the which God promiseth him in this most holy sacrament.

Then, when the Christian perceiveth that his enemies would overthrow him, that is to say, when he doubteth lest he have not obtained remission of his sins by Christ, and lest he be not able to withstand the devil with his temptations, and when the accusation of his doubtful conscience prevaileth against him in such manner that he beginneth to fear that hell should swallow him, and that death (through the wrath of God) should overcome and slay him eternally: when (I say) he feeleth these vexations of mind, let him then go with a good courage and sure trust and belief to this most holy sacrament, and let him receive it devoutly, saying in his heart, and answering to his enemies, I confess that I have deserved a thousand hells and everlasting death for my sins, but this most godly sacrament which presently I receive, maketh me assured and certain of the remission of all my sins, and of my reconciliation and atonement with God. If I look to my works, there is no doubt I shall find myself a sinner and condemned, and my conscience shall be never quieted if I shall believe that through the works which I do my sins are forgiven me; but if I look to the promises and covenant of God, who promiseth by the blood of Christ the remission of my sins, I am as certainly assured that I have obtained and gotten his grace, as I am most sure and certain that he that promised and made this covenant cannot lie nor beguile: and by this constant faith I become righteous, and this is the righteousness of Christ by which I am saved, and my conscience is made quiet. Hath not he given his most innocent body into the hands of sinners for my sins? Hath not he shed his blood to cleanse all mine iniquities? Then why art thou so heavy, O my soul, and why art thou so disquieted within me? Put thy trust in the Lord, who beareth so great love toward thee, that to deliver thee from eternal death, he hath willed that his only-begotten Son should die, who hath taken to himself our poverty to give us his riches, he hath taken upon him our infirmity to strengthen us with his strongness, and became mortal to make us immortal, and descended into the earth that we should ascend into heaven, and became son of man together with us to make us with him the children of God. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s chosen? it is God that justifieth. Who shall then condemn? it is Christ which is dead, yea, rather which is risen again, which is also on the right hand of God, and maketh intercession for us. Let alone then (O my soul) thy mourning and sighing. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, which forgiveth all thy sins, and healeth all thine infirmities; which saveth thy life from destruction, and crowneth thee with mercy and loving-kindness. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering, and of great goodness: he will not always be chiding, neither will he keep his anger for ever: he hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. For look, how high the heaven is in comparison of the earth, so great is his mercy also toward them that fear him. Look how wide the east is from the west, so far hath he set our sins from us. Yea, like as a father pitieth his own children, even so the Lord hath been merciful to us, giving us his only-begotten Son. With this faith, with these thanks, with these and such like thoughts and meditations, we ought to receive the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. In this manner it casteth away the fear of the soul, augmenteth charity, confirmeth faith, maketh clear the conscience, and the tongue is never found weary in praising God, and rendering unto him infinite thanks for so great a benefit. This is the virtue, the efficacy, and the only trust of our soul: this is the stone upon the which the conscience builded feareth not any tempest, neither the gates of hell, neither [the] wrath of God, neither the law, neither sin, neither death, neither the devil, nor any other thing. And because all the substance of this matter consisteth in this most divine sacrament, when the Christian man is there present he ought to hold always the eyes of his mind fixed on the passion of this our most benign Lord, beholding on the one side him on the cross laden with all our sins, and on the other side God that chastened him, punishing, instead of us, his most dearlybeloved Son. O happy is he that shutteth his eyes from all other sight, and will see and understand no other thing than Jesus Christ crucified, in whom all the grace and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are laid up! Happy (I say) is he that always feedeth his mind with so divine a meat, and with so sweet and healthsome liquor maketh his soul drunk as with the love of God!

But before I make an end of this matter, I will advertise the Christian that Saint Augustine accustometh to call this most divine sacrament a bond of charity, and a mystery of unity, and saith, He that receiveth the mystery of unity, and keepeth not the bond of peace, doth not receive that mystery for his soul’s health, but a witness against himself. Then we ought to know that the Lord ordained this sacrament, not only to ascertain us of the forgiveness of sins, but also to inflame us to peace, to agreement, and to brotherly love. Wherefore the Lord, in this sacrament, maketh us in such sort partakers of his body that he becometh one self thing with us and we with him. Then he having no more than one body, of the which he maketh us all partakers, it is necessary that also all we by such like participation become one body; the which unity the bread of the sacrament representeth, which even as it is made of many grains being mingled together, and so confused that the one cannot be discerned from the other, so ought we to be joined together and united with so much concord of mind, that there cannot come among us any never so little division. That sheweth Saint Paul when he saith, Is not the cup of blessing, which we bless, partaking of the blood of Christ? Is not the bread, which we break, partaking of the body of Christ? because that we (though we be many) yet are one bread and one body, inasmuch as we are all partakers of one bread. Then, receiving of the holy communion we ought to consider, that all we be incorporate and made one body in Christ, and that all we be members of one self body, members (I say) of Christ, in such manner that we cannot offend, slander, nor despise any of our brethren; but also in him we offend, slander, and despise Jesus Christ. We cannot have discord with our brethren, but in like case we have the same with Christ; we cannot love Christ, but that we love him in our brethren. Look how much care and regard we have to our own body, and so much we ought to have to our brethren which be the members of our body. Like as no part of our body feeleth any pain, the which doth not pass forth into all the other parts, even so we ought not to suffer that our brethren should feel any evil that should not move us also to compassion. With these thoughts we ought to prepare ourselves to so great a sacrament, establishing in our mind an ardent love toward our neighbour, for what prick can more stir us to mutual love than to see that Christ, giving himself to us, not only commandeth us to give ourselves one to another, but (insomuch as he maketh himself common to all us) he causeth also that all we in him be one self thing. Wherefore, we ought to desire and diligently endeavour that in all us may be one only mind, one only heart, and one only tongue, being concordant and united in our thoughts, in our words, and in our works.

And let every Christian man mark, that as often as we receive this most holy sacrament, we bind ourselves to all the offices of charity in such manner that we may not offend our brethren in anything, nor leave to do anything whereby we may help and succour them in their necessity. And if any come to this celestial table of the Lord, being divided and alienated, or strange from their brethren, let those account for certain that they eat it unworthily, and are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating and drinking their own damnation, since it is so that there lacketh no will in them to divide and rend the body of Christ, so long as they be divided through hatred from their brethren, that is to say, the members of Christ. Such, albeit they have no part in Christ, nevertheless, receiving the most holy sacrament they make semblance to believe that their whole health consisteth in the participation and union that they have with Christ. Let us then go to receive this heavenly bread, to celebrate the remembrance of the passion of the Lord, and to hold up and strengthen with this remembrance the faith and the certainty of the forgiveness of our sins, and to stir up our minds and tongues to praise and publish the infinite bountifulness of our Lord God and finally to nourish the mutual charity, and to testify the same one to another, through the most strait bond and uniting together that all we have in the body of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Besides prayer, the remembrance of baptism, and the often using of the most holy communion, there is a very good remedy against incredulity and bond or servile fear, which is not [a] friend to Christian charity: that remedy is, the remembrance of our predestination and election to eternal life, founded and grounded in God’s word, the which is the word of the Holy Ghost, with the which we may slay our enemies. Rejoice (saith the Lord) because your names are written in heaven. There is no greater joyfulness of heart in this present life, and that comforteth more the Christian man afflicted, tempted, or fallen into any sin, than to remember that he is predestinate, and to be sure that he is one of those whose names are written in the book of life, and that they were elected of God, to be made like to the image or likeness of Christ. O ineffable, and unable to be spoken of, is the consolation of him that hath this faith, and that revolveth continually in his heart this most pleasant predestination, by the which it cometh to pass that how much soever he hath fallen, yet God his Father who hath predestinate him to eternal life, always holdeth him up by the hand; this man saith always in his heart, If God hath chosen and predestinate me to the glory of his sons, who can let me from it? If God be on our side (as Saint Paul saith) who can be against us? And to the intent that our predestination might be fulfilled in us he hath sent his most dearly-beloved Son, who is a most sure gage that we (who have received the grace of the gospel) are even now the sons of God chosen to eternal life. This holy predestination keepeth the true Christian in a continual mirth and joyfulness of spirit, increaseth in him a desire to go good works, inflameth him with love towards God, and maketh him [the] enemy of the world and of sin. Who ever shall be so mad and hard-hearted, that knowing God through his mercy to have made him from the beginning his son, will not burn wholly in love again towards God? Who shall be so vile and weak-spirited, that will not judge all the pleasures and all the honours and riches of the world to be as a very vile mire, knowing himself now to be become by God a citizen of heaven? these are those that prayeth in spirit and verity, receiving all things prosperous, and adverse, from the hands of God their Father; always praising and thanking him as a meek, just, and holy Father, in all his doings. These being enamoured and in love with God, and armed of the knowledge of their predestination, feareth not death, sin, the devil, nor hell; they know not what thing the wrath of God is, for in God they see none other thing but love, and that very fatherly love towards them. And if they have tribulations they receive them as favours and good gifts of God, and cry (with Saint Paul), Who shall separate us from the love of God, shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, either hunger, either nakedness, either peril, either sword? as is written, For thy sake are we killed all day long, and are counted as sheep to be slain; nevertheless, in all these things, we overcome strongly, through his help that loved us. Then, not without cause saith Saint John, that the true Christians know themselves to be saved and glorious, and that by faith they become holy as Christ is holy; and when Saint Paul exhorteth his disciples to a godly and holy life or conversation, he useth to put them in remembrance of their election and predestination, as a most effectual thing to stir up the minds of true Christians to the love of God, and to desire of good works. And blessed Christ for the same causes spake openly of this holy predestination; for he knew how much the knowledge of it was to the edifying of the elect.

But peradventure thou wilt say to me, I know that those whose names are written in heaven, hath cause to live in perpetual mirth and joyfulness of mind, and to glorify God with their words and deeds, but I know not if I be in this number, wherefore I live in perpetual dread, especially knowing myself very weak and frail unto sin, from whose violence I cannot defend me so much, but that every day I am overcome. And to this is to be added, that oftentimes seeing myself afflicted and vexed with diverse tribulations, I see, almost as with mine eyes, the wrath of God that scourgeth me. Answering to these doubts (most dearly-beloved brother), I say that thou mayest reckon assuredly that these are the temptations of the devil, who, by all manner of ways, seeketh to spoil us of faith, and of that sure trust which springeth of faith, and maketh us sure of the favour of Almighty God towards us. Of this precious garment the devil goeth about to spoil the soul of the Christian man, because he knoweth that no man doth truly believe if he believe not the word of God, who promiseth remission of all sins, and his peace to all those that receive his grace and favour, [and] offereth them in the gospel: I say, that whosoever by these promises of God doth not persuade himself assuredly that God is his most merciful and above all other most loving Father, at whose hands he with a firm faith looketh for the inheritance of the celestial kingdom, that man doth not rightly believe, but maketh himself utterly unworthy of the grace of God. Wherefore Saint Paul saith, that we are the house of God, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of that hope unto the end: and another time exhorteth us not to cast away our confidence which hath great reward of recompense. Then, most dearly-beloved brother, let us earnestly apply ourselves, and endeavour to do the will of God as good children, and let us beware of sin as much as we can possibly; and if by chance we sin through our frailty, yet let us not believe therefore that we be vessels of wrath, or that we be utterly forsaken of the Holy Ghost; for we have still our advocate before God the Father, Jesus Christ, who is righteousness, who is the sacrifice for our sins. Let us remember, brother, this sentence of Saint Augustine, who saith, that no holy or righteous man is without sin, yet notwithstanding he ceaseth not to remain righteous and holy still, so that he have a mind and desire to be holy and righteous. And therefore if we be afflicted and troubled, let us not believe that God sendeth us tribulations because he is our enemy, but rather because he is our most merciful Father; for whom the Lord loveth, him he chasteneth, and scourgeth every child that he receiveth.

Forsomuch, then, as we have received the grace of the Gospel, by the which man is accepted and taken of God as his son, we ought not to doubt of the grace and good-will of Almighty God towards us, and knowing that the word of God, and the imitating and following of Christ’s life and conversation delighteth us, we ought to think and believe assuredly that we are the sons of God, and temple of the Holy Ghost; because these things cannot be done by the working of man’s wisdom, but they are the gifts of the Holy Ghost, who by faith dwelleth in us, and is a seal that assureth us, and sealeth in our hearts those godly promises, the certainty of which he hath before graven or printed in our hearts, and to stablish and confirm the same he is given to us of God in the stead of an earnest penny. As Saint Paul saith, Afterward that ye heard the word of truth, I mean the gospel of our salvation wherein ye believed, [ye] were sealed with the holy spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance. Behold how he sheweth that the hearts of the faithful are graven or printed with the Holy Ghost as with a seal, so that he calleth the Holy Ghost the spirit of promise, because he assureth us of the promise of the gospel; the which, as we have often said, is happy news promising remission of sins and eternal life to those that believeth that in Christ all their sins were chastened. All that believe in Christ Jesus are the sons of God, as saith Saint Paul, and because we are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, which crieth Abba, Father. And to the Romans he saith, As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God; for ye have not received the spirit of bondage to fear any more, but ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The same Spirit certifieth our spirit that we are the sons of God, [and] if we be sons we are also heirs. And it is to be noted, that in these two places Saint Paul most clearly speaketh of no spiritual revelation, but of the witness that the Holy Ghost beareth to all those that receive the grace of the Gospel; then if the Holy Ghost maketh us sure that we are the sons and the inheritors of God, why should we doubt of our predestination? The same Paul saith in the same epistle, Those which [he] appointed before, them also he called: and which he called, them also he justified: [and] which [he] justified, them he also glorified. What shall we say then to these things? If God be on our side who can be against us? If then I know clearly that God hath called me, giving me faith and the effects of faith, that is to say, quietness of conscience, mortification, and killing of the flesh, and the vivification and quickening of the spirit, either altogether or else partly, wherefore should I doubt not to be predestinate? Moreover we say with Saint Paul, that all true Christians (that is to say those that believeth the Gospel) have not received the spirit of the world; but the Spirit which cometh of God, by whose inspiration they know the things that are given to them of God. What marvel is it, then, if we know that God from the beginning hath given us eternal life?

But some say that no man ought to be so arrogant, to glory and rejoice that he hath the Spirit of Christ. Such men speak as though a Christian man might glory to have gotten by his own merits the Spirit of God, and not by God’s mere mercy; and as though to confess that a man is a Christian man were arrogancy, and that a man might be a Christian man were arrogancy, and that a man might be a Christian man though he have not the Spirit of Christ, and that without very hypocrisy we might call Christ our Lord, or God our Father, though the Holy Ghost do not move our heart and tongue to speak so sweet words. And yet for all that those that count us arrogant because that we say that God with faith giveth us the Holy Spirit, not only do not forbid us to say daily the Lord’s Prayer, commonly called the Pater Noster, but they command us to say it. But tell me how is it possible to separate faith from the Holy Ghost, the same faith being the proper work of the Holy Spirit, if it be arrogancy to believe that the Spirit of Christ be in us? Wherefore commandeth Saint Paul the Corinthians to prove if they have faith, affirming that they are reprobate or cast away if they know not that Christ is in them? But truly it is great blindness to blame of arrogancy such Christians as dare rejoice and glory of the presence of the Holy Ghost, without the which rejoicing there is no true Christianity at all; but Christ cannot lie, who saith that his Spirit is unknown to the world, and is only known to them with whom he abideth.

Let those become then true Christians, let them put away their Jewish hearts, let them embrace (as they are bound to do) the grace and mercy of God offered unto them in the Gospel, and they shall know that the Christians have the Holy Ghost and are assured thereof. But some man perchance might say that the Christian man without a special revelation cannot know that he is in the favour of God, and consequently cannot know that he is predestinate, and might allege principally these words of Solomon, Man knoweth not if he be worthy of hatred or love; and these words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, I know not myself culpable in anything, yet am I not thereby justified. It appeareth to me that I have shewed above plainly by sundry places of Holy Scripture, that that opinion is false. Now therefore remaineth only briefly to shew that these two authorities (upon the which principally it is founded) ought not to be understanded to that sense. As touching the sentence of Solomon, although it be not truly translated in the common translation; nevertheless there is no man so foolish, that reading all the discourse of Solomon seeth not plainly that he meaneth thus: If any man, by such outward things as happen unto a man in this present life, would judge that he is loved or hated of God, he travaileth in vain, since it is so that the selfsame things happen oftentimes both to the righteous and to the unrighteous, to him that sacrificeth and to him that doth not sacrifice, to the good and to the sinner. Whereupon it may be easily gathered, that God sheweth not always his love to them to whom he giveth outward or worldly prosperity, nor sheweth always hatred towards them whom he afflicteth. Appeareth it to thee then, (most dearly-beloved brother), that it ought to be concluded that a man cannot be certain of the grace of God, because this certainty may not be perceived by such sundry chances as happen in things transitory and temporal? The selfsame Solomon a little before saith, that it cannot be discerned wherein the soul of man differeth from the soul of a beast, for the man is seen die and the beast in one self manner. Will we then by this thing that happeneth outwardly conclude, that the persuasion which we have conceived of the immortality of souls is founded only upon a conjecture? But it is superfluous in a thing so clear and well known to every man.

And as touching the words of Saint Paul, I say that he, speaking of the administration of the Gospel, saith that he knoweth not that he hath at any time erred in it, but that through that he is not certain that he hath done his duty amongst them, nor that thereby he hath obtained before God the praise of righteousness as a person that hath done all that which is righteous, and that appertaineth to a faithful steward; in like manner as a just and discreet steward of an household, speaking of his office and duty dareth not justify himself, [nor] affirm that he hath truly in all things and at all times done his duty and the will of his lord, but referreth that to his judgment. That this is the sense of the words of Saint Paul, no man will doubt that readeth and considereth with any judgment the words going before and coming after. i know that some, expounding the words of Saint Paul, say, that although he knew not in himself any sin, yet for all that he thought not himself righteous before God, forsomuch as no man (as affirmeth David) may know perfectly his sins. But those men consider not that Saint Paul counteth not righteousness to come by works but by faith, and that he refuseth all his own righteousness, sticking only unto the righteousness that God giveth for Christ’s sake; neither consider they that he was most certain that he was justified in that he kept the entire and pure Christian faith, and knew that in heaven was prepared for him a crown of righteousness, and was certain that no creature, celestial, terrestrial, nor infernal, was able to separate him from the love of God; and was very desirous to die, knowing assuredly that he should be with Christ, which thing should all be false, if he had not been sure that he was righteous (I say) by faith and not by works. Let us cease then (most dearly-beloved brethren) to say that Saint Paul saith that which he never thought, or rather that which he always oppugned, and spake against, most sharply reproving those that measured righteousness by works, and not by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But besides these two authorities of Solomon and Saint Paul, they may allege some other places of the Holy Scripture which exhort men to fear, which places appear to be contrary to our certainty of our predestination; if I should declare particularly all those places, I should be too tedious to you, but I say in general that such fear as dreadeth punishment belongeth properly to the Old Testament, and childly love properly belongeth to the New Testament, as Saint Paul testifieth, when he saith to the Romans, Ye have not received the spirit of bondage to fear any more; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby ye cry, Abba, Father. And to Timothy he saith, That God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power and of love: who, according to the promise made by the mouth of his prophets, hath given us Christ, and hath brought to pass that we without fear (delivered from the hands of our enemies) do serve him in holiness and righteousness, even in his presence, all [the] days of our life.

Of this and of many other like places of Holy Scripture is gathered plainly, that the penal and servile fear, or such fear as riseth of doubt, either of bondage or pain, pertaineth not to a Christian man; and this we also do confirm, because that this fear is contrary to spiritual rejoicing or rejoicing in the Spirit, which thing properly appertaineth to a Christian man, as Saint Paul sheweth plainly to the Romans, saying, The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost. That is to say, whosoever entereth into the kingdom of the grace, favour, and mercy, that is offered to man in the Gospel, he is justified by faith, and consequently hath fruition of the quietness of his conscience, the which produceth a perfect, spiritual, and holy joyfulness and rejoicing; so that the said Saint Paul many times exhorteth Christians to live always merrily and joyfully. And Saint Peter saith that whoso believe in Christ, although they be afflicted with divers temptations, yet they rejoice with a glorious and inenarrable joyfulness. Then, when the Holy Scripture threateneth and feareth the Christians, they ought to understand that it speaketh to such Christians as live sensually; the which, not keeping the worthiness that is required to be in the sons of God, ought to be entreated and ordered as servants, and holden in awe till they taste how sweet the Lord is, and till faith work in them her effects, and that they have so much childly love that it be sufficient to keep them in the worthiness or beautifulness of Christian godliness, and in the imitation and following of Christ. When the same Scripture exhorteth true Christians to fear, understand not that they ought to fear the judgment and wrath of God, as though they should be condemned thereby; for as we have already said, by the testimony or witness that the Holy Ghost beareth unto their spirit, they know that God hath called and elected them, yea, and that through his mere mercy, and not for their merits’ sake. Wherefore let not them doubt aught but that by the same mercy he is able to maintain them in the same felicity, wherein he hath placed them. So that the Scripture exhorteth not those to a bond or servile fear, but to a childly fear; that is to say, that as good children we should beware lest we lose Christian godliness, and commit anything unseemly to be done of the sons of God, and so to grieve the Holy Ghost that abideth in us, and that knowing the corruption and wickedness of this our nature, we should stand always attentive and watching, and that we should never trust in ourselves, because that in our flesh and in our minds there do dwell appetites and affections, the which (as mortal enemies of the spirit) use always deceits, and devise to make us proud, ambitious, covetous, and sensual; this is the fear to the which the Scripture exhorteth the true Christians, who have already tasted how sweet the Lord is, and give their whole study and diligence to follow the steps of Christ’s life and conversation. And through this holy fear they go and spoil themselves, even so much as they spoil themselves of the old man; but the true Christians should not spoil themselves wholly of this childly fear, the which greatly nourisheth Christian charity, (even as the servile fear is [an] enemy,) and cannot stand without it.

By the things before spoken of may clearly be understanded that a good Christian ought in no wise to doubt of the remission of sins, nor of the favour and grace of God towards him. Notwithstanding for the more satisfying of the reader, I will write beneath some authorities of holy doctors who confirm this verity. Saint Hilary, upon Saint Matthew in the fifth canon, saith, that God will that without any doubt of unconstant will, we do believe; for otherwise justification through faith is not obtained if the selfsame faith be doubtful. Behold, that (after Saint Hilary) a man obtaineth not remission of his sins, if he believe not undoubtedly to obtain the same: and worthily, for he that doubteth (as Saint James saith) is like the waves of the sea, which are driven and moved by the winds. Wherefore let not that man think to receive anything of God.

Let us give ear then to Saint Augustine, who, in his Manual, teacheth us to cast away the foolish opinion that would deprive us of this holy and godly certainty and assurance. Murmur (saith he) as much as thou wilt then, [thou] foolish cogitation or thought, saying, ‘What art thou? and how great is this thy glory and rejoicing? With what merits hopest thou to obtain it?’ I answer thee boldly, ‘I know in whom I have believed. O know that he (through his great love) hath made me his son. I know that he is true in his promise, able to give that he promiseth, and can do what he will. The multitude of my sins cannot make me fear if I think on the death of the Lord. All my hope is in his death. His death is my merits, my refuge, my health, life, and resurrection. My merit is the mercy of the Lord. I am not poor in merits whiles the Lord lacketh not mercy. And if the merits of the Lord be many, I am abundantly rich in merits. How much the more he is able to save, so much the more am I sure to be saved.’ The same Saint Augustine, in another place, speaking with God, saith that he might indeed have despaired for his great sins and for his infinite negligences, if the Word had not become incarnate. And after addeth these words, All my hope and all the certainty of my belief is put in his precious blood, which was shed for us and for our salvation. In him I rest, in him believing I desire to come to thee, O Father; not having mine own righteousness, but that which cometh by thy Son Christ Jesus. Saint Augustine, in these two places, sheweth clearly that a Christian ought not to fear, but to be assured of his justification, grounding it not upon his own works, but on the precious blood of Christ, the which cleanseth us of all our sins, and maketh our peace with God.

Saint Bernard, in his first sermon of the Annunciation of the Lord, sheweth most plainly that it sufficeth not to believe that thou canst not have remission of thy sins but by the mercy of God: neither sufficeth it to believe that thou canst not have any good desire nor any good works, if he give thee not the same: neither sufficeth it to believe that thou canst not merit or deserve eternal life without thy good works, if the same be not given thee by mere gift. But, besides these things, (saith Saint Bernard,) which are rather to be judged an uncertain beginning and foundation of faith, it is necessary that thou believe that by him also thy sins be forgiven thee. Behold, how this holy man confesseth, that it sufficeth not to believe in the general remission of sins, but it is needful that thou believe particularly that to thee are forgiven thine iniquities by Christ. And the cause or reason is apparent; for God promising justification by Christ’s merits, if thou believe not that thou art righteous by them thou makest God a liar, and consequently makest thyself most unworthy of his grace and liberality. Thou wilt say to me, I believe well that there is remission of sins, and I know that God is true, but I doubt lest I be not worthy of so great a gift. I answer thee, that the remission of sins should not be a gift and grace, or favour, but a reward, if God hath given it thee through the worthiness of thy works; but I reply to thee and affirm, that God accepteth thee as righteous and imputeth not to thee thy sin through the merits of Christ, the which are given thee and become thine through faith. Then, following the holy counsel of Saint Bernard, believe not only the general remission of sins, but apply belief to thyself, believing undoubtedly that through Christ all thine iniquities are forgiven, and in this manner thou shalt give glory to God, confessing him merciful and true, and shalt become righteous and holy in the sight of God, being partaker, through this faith and confession, of the righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ.

Now, returning to reason somewhat of predestination, I say that by the things above said, a man may clearly understand and see that the certainty of predestination hurteth not the true Christians, but helpeth them very greatly; and I cannot see that it can hurt the reprobate and false Christians; for how much soever those men which be reprobate do force themselves to believe that they be in the number of them that are predestinate, yet they can never persuade their conscience thereunto, which always will reply and testify the contrary.

But it appeareth at the first show that the doctrine of predestination might hurt them, because they use to say thus: If I be of the number of those that be reprobates and castaways, then what helpeth my good works? and again, If I be of the number of them that are predestinate I shall be saved without wearying of myself in doing good works. I will in few words answer thee, that with those their devilish arguments they procure and increase against themselves the wrath of God, who hath opened to Christians the knowledge of predestination, to the intent to make them fervent and not cold in the love of God, ready and not slow in good works. Whereupon the true Christian, on the one side, believeth undoubtedly that he is predestinate unto eternal life, and to be saved, not by his own merits, but by the election of God, who, not through our works, but to shew his mercy, hath predestinate us; and again, on the other side, he wholly giveth himself to do good works and to follow Christ, even as though his salvation did depend and consist in his own industry and diligence. But he who through the doctrine or teaching of predestination ceaseth or abstaineth from doing good works, saying, If I be predestinate I shall be saved without taking pains to do good works; he, I say, sheweth plainly that [he] wrought not for the love he bare to God, but for the love he bare to himself. Wherefore, peradventure, in the sight of man his works were good and holy, but in the sight of God (who considereth chiefly for what intent they were done) they were nought and abominable. Whereupon it may be easily gathered that the doctrine or teaching of predestination rather helpeth than hurteth even the false Christians, for it discovereth their hypocrisy, the which cannot be healed so long as it is hidden under the cloak of outward works.

But I would that those which say, I will do no good works, for if I be predestinate, though I weary not myself I shall be saved, I would (I say) that they said to me when they are sick, I will have neither physician nor medicine, for that which God hath determined of me cannot fail. Wherefore eat they? wherefore drink they? Wherefore till they the earth, plant the vines, and do with so great diligence the things convenient for the sustentation of the body? Wherefore say they not, All our pains and diligence are superfluous; because that which God hath afore seen and determined, touching our life and death, it is not possible but to come to pass? Then, if the providence of God maketh them not negligent nor idle in the things that pertaineth to the body, why should it make them slothful or idle in those things that pertain to the Christian perfection, the which, without comparison is more noble than the body. But, insomuch as we see that neither Jesus Christ nor Saint Paul do let for the slander of the reprobate to preach the verity which is needful and convenient to edify the elect withal, for whose sakes the natural Son of God became man and died on the cross, we likewise ought not to leave off for the slander of the false Christians to preach predestination to the true Christians, since we see that it doth so greatly edify.

We are now come to the end of our reasoning, in the which our principal intent was to magnify and praise (to our small power) the marvellous high benefit that a Christian receiveth by the death of Jesus Christ, and to shew that faith by itself justifieth: that is to say, that God accepteth and taketh for righteous all those that truly believe that Christ Jesus hath made satisfaction for their sins; yet, like as light cannot be separated from the flame which by itself burneth, and so doth not the light: even so good works cannot be separate from faith which by itself justifieth, and so do not good works. This most holy doctrine, which exalteth Christ Jesus and maketh low the pride of man, hath been and always shall be oppugned of those Christians who have Jewish minds; but happy is he who, following Saint Paul, spoileth himself of all his own righteousness [other] than that which cometh by Jesus Christ, with the which he being apparelled or clothed, he may appear most safely in the sight of God the Father, and receive of him the blessing and the inheritance of heaven and heart with his only natural Son Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Note

  1. Don Benedetto & Jonson, R. W. (1855). The Benefits of Christ: Remedies against Unbelief, trans. by Edward Courtenay. Mantova, Sicilily: Montova de Benedetto, 1544.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt 7:20).

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