PROLOG TO GENESIS
W. T. To The Reader
When I had translated the New Testament, I added a pistle unto the latter end, in which I desired them that were learned to amend if ought were found amiss. But our malicious and wily hypocrites which are so stubborn and hardhearted in their wicked abominations that it is not possible for them to amend anything at all (as we see by daily experience, when their both livings and doings are rebuked with the truth) say, some of them that it is impossible to translate the scripture into English, some that it is not lawful for the lay people to have it in their mother tongue, some, that it would make them all heretics, as it would no doubt from many things which they of long time have falsely taught, and that is the whole cause wherefore they forbid it, though they other cloaks pretend. And some or rather every one, say that it would make them rise against the king, whom they themselves (unto their damnation) never yet obeyed. And lest the temporal rulers should see their falsehood, if the scripture came to light, causeth them so to lie.
And as for my translation in which they affirm unto the lay people (as I have heard say to be I wot not how many thousand heresies, so that it cannot be mended or correct, they have yet taken so great pain to examine it, & to compare it unto that they would fain have it and to their own imaginations and juggling terms, and to have somewhat to rail at, and under that cloak to blaspheme the truth, that they might with as little labour (as I suppose) have translated the most part of the Bible. For they which in times past were wont to look on no more scripture than they found in their duns or such like devilish doctrine, have yet now so narrowly looked on my translation, that there is not so much as one “i” therein if it lack a tittle over his head, but they have noted it, and number it unto the ignorant people for an heresy. Finally in this they be all agreed, to drive you from the knowledge of the scripture, & that ye shall not have the text thereof in the mother tongue, and to keep the world still in darkness, to the intent they might sit in the consciences of the people, through vain superstition and false doctrine, to satisfy their filthy lusts, their proud ambition, and insatiable covetousness, and to exalt their own honour above king & emperor, yea & above God himself.
A thousand books had they lever to be put forth against their abominable doings and doctrine, than that the scripture should come to light. For as long as they may keep that down, they will so darken the right way with the mist of their sophistry, and so tangle them that either rebuke or despise their abominations with arguments of philosophy & with worldly similitudes and apparent reasons of natural wisdom. And with wresting the scripture unto their own purpose clean contrary unto the process, order and meaning of the text, and so delude them in descanting upon it with allegories, and amass them expounding it in many senses before the unlearned lay people, (when it hath but one simple literal sense whose light the owls cannot abide) that though you feel in your heart and are sure how that all is false that they say, yet could you not solve their subtle riddles.
Which thing only moved me to translate the New Testament. Because I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order and meaning of the text: for else whatsoever truth is taught them, these enemies of all truth quench it again, partly with the smoke of their bottomless pit whereof you read Apocalypse .ix. that is, with apparent reasons of sophistry & traditions of their own making, founded without ground of scripture, and partly in juggling with the text, expounding it in such a sense as is impossible to gather of the text, if you see the process order and meaning thereof.
And even in the bishop of London’s house I intended to have done it. For when I was so turmoiled in the country where I was that I could no longer there dwell (the process whereof were to long here to rehearse) I this wise thought in myself, this I suffer because the priests of the country be unlearned, as God it knoweth there are a full ignorant sort which have seen no more Latin than that they read in their portesses and missals which yet many of them can scacely read, (except it be Albertus de secretis mulierum in which yet, though they be never so sorrily learned, they pore day and night and make notes therein and all to teach the midwives as they say, and linwod a book of constitutions to gather tithes, mortuaries, offerings, customs, and other pillage, which they call, not theirs, but God’s part and the duty of holy church, to discharge their consciences withal: for they are bound that they shall not diminish, but increase all thing unto the utmost of their powers) and therefor (because they are thus unlearned thought I) when they come together to the ale house, which is their preaching place, they affirm that my sayings are heresy. And besides that they add to of their own heads which I never spoke, as the manner is to prolong the tale too short the time withal, and accuse me secretly to the chancellor and other the bishop’s officers. And indeed, when I came before the chancellor, he threatened me grievously, and reviled me and rated me as though I had been a dog, and laid to my charge whereof there could be none accuser brought forth, (as their manner is not to bring forth the accuser) and yet all the priests of the country were that same day there. As I this thought the bishop of London came to my remembrance whom Erasmus (whose tongue makes of little gnats great elephants and lifts up above the stars whosoever gives him a little exhibition) praises exceedingly among others in his annotations on the New Testament for his great learning. Then thought I, if I might come to this man’s service, I were happy. And so I gat me to London, & through the acquaintance of my master came to Sir Harry Gilford the kings graces’ controller, and brought him an oration of Isocrates which I had translated out of Greek into English, and desired him to speak unto my Lord of London for me, which he also did as he shewed me, and willed me to write a pistle to my lord, and to go to him myself which I also did, and delivered my pistle to a servant of his own, one William Hebilthwayte, a man of mine old acquaintance. But God which knows what is within hypocrites, saw that I was beguiled, and that that counsel was not the next way unto my purpose. And therefor he gat me no favour in my lord’s sight. Whereupon my lord answered me, his house was full, he had mo then he could well find, and advised me to seek in London, where he said I could not lack a service, And so in London I abode almost an year, and marked the course of the world, and heard our praetors, I would say our preachers how they boasted themselves and their high authority, and beheld the pomp of our prelates and how busied they were as they yet are, to set peace and unity in the world (though it be not possible for them that walk in darkness to continue long in peace, for they cannot but either stumble or dash themselves at one thing or another that shall clean unquiet altogether) & saw things whereof I defer to speak at this time and understood at the last not only that there was no room in my Lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England, as experience doth now openly declare.
Under what manner therefor should I now submit this book to be corrected and amended of them, which can suffer nothing to be well? Or what protestation should I make in such a matter unto our prelates those stubborn Nimrothes which so mightily fight against God and resist his Holy Spirit, enforcing with all craft and subtlety to quench the light of the everlasting testament, promises, and appointment made between God & us: and heaping the fierce wrath of God upon all princes and rulers, mocking them with false feigned names of hypocrisy, and serving their lusts at all points, & dispensing with them even of the very laws of God, of which Christ himself testifies Matthew .v. that not so much as one tittle thereof may perish, or be broken. And of which the prophet saith Psalm .cxviii. You have commanded your laws to be kept meod, that is in Hebrew exceedingly, with all diligence, might & power, and have made them so mad with their juggling charms and crafty persuasions that they think it full satisfaction for all their wicked living, to torment such as tell them truth, & to burn the word of their soul’s health, & slay whosoever believe thereon.
Notwithstanding yet I submit this book and all others that I have either made or translated, or shall in time to come, (if it be God’s will that I shall further labour in his harvest) unto all them that submit themselves unto the word of God, to be corrected of them, yea and moreover to be disallowed & also burnt, if it seem worthy when they have examined it with the Hebrew, so that they first put forth of their own translating another that is more correct.
A prolog shewing the use of the scripture
Though a man had a precious jewel and a rich, yet if he wist not the value thereof nor wherefore it served, he were neither the better nor richer of a straw. Even so though we read the scripture & babel of it never so much, yet if we know not the use of it, and wherefore it was given, and what is therein to be sought, it profiteth us nothing at all. It is not enough therefor to read and talk of it only, but we must also desire God day and night instantly to open our eyes, and to make us understand and feel wherefore the scripture was given, that we may apply the medicine of the scripture, every man to his own sores, unless then we intend to be idle disputers, and brawlers about vain words, ever gnawing upon the bitter bark without and never attaining unto the sweet pith within, and persecuting one another for defending of lewd imaginations and fantasies of our own invention.
Paul, in the third of the second epistle to Timothy says, that the scripture is good to teach (for that ought men to teach & not dreams of their own making, as the pope does) & also to improve, for the scripture is the touchstone that tries all doctrines, and by that we know the false from the true. And in the sixth to the Ephesians he calls it the sword of the Spirit, by cause it kills hypocrites, and utters and improves their false inventions. And in the fifteenth to the Romans he says all that are written, are written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scripture might have hope. That is, the ensamples that are in the scripture comfort us in all our tribulations, and make us to put our trust in God, and patiently to abide his leisure.
And in the tenth of the first to the Corinthians he brings in examples of the scripture to fear us and to bridle the flesh, that we cast not the yoke of the law of God from off our necks, and fall to lusting and doing of evil.
So now the scripture is a light and shews us the true way, both what to do, and what to hope. And a defense from all error, and a comfort in adversity that we despair not, and fears us in prosperity that we sin not. Seek therefor in the scripture as you read it first the law, what God commands us to do. And secondarily the promises, which God promises us again, namely in Christ Jesus our Lord. Then seek ensamples, first of comfort, how God purges all them that submit themselves to walk in his ways, in the purgatory of tribulation, delivering them yet at the latter end, and never suffering any of them to perish, that cleave fast to his promises.
And finally, note the ensamples which are written to fear the flesh that we sin not. That is, how God suffers the ungodly and wicked sinners that resist God and refuse to follow him, to continue in their wickedness, ever waxing worse and worse until their sin be so sore increased and so abominable, that if they should longer endure they would corrupt the very elect. But for the elect’s sake God sends them preachers. Nevertheless they harden their hearts against the truth, and God destroys them utterly and begins the world anew.
This comfort shall you ever more find in the plain text and literal sense. Neither is there any story so homely, so rude, yea or so vile (as it seems outward) wherein is not exceeding great comfort. And when some which seem to themselves great clarkes say: they wot not what more profit is in many gists of the scripture if they be read without an allegory, than in a tale of Robin Hood, say you: that they were written for our consolation and comfort, that we despair not, if such like happen unto us. We be not holier than Noah, though he were once drunk. Neither better beloved then Jacob, though his own son defiled his bed. We be not holier than Lot, though his daughters through ignorance deceived him, nor peradventure holier than David, though he broke wedlock and upon the same committed abominable murder. All those men have witness of the scripture that they pleased God and were good men both before that those things chanced them and also after. Nevertheless such things happened them for our ensample: not that we should counterfeit their evil, but if while we fight with ourselves enforcing to walk in the law of God (as they did) we yet fall likewise, that we despair not, but come again to the laws of God and take better hold.
We read since the time of Christ’s death of virgins that have been brought unto the common stues, and there defiled, and of martyrs that have been bound and whores have abused their bodies. Why? The judgments of God are bottomless. Such things chanced partly for ensamples, partly God through sin heals sin. Pride can nether be healed nor yet appear but through such horrible deeds. Peradventure they were of the pope’s sect and rejoiced fleshly, thinking that heaven came by deeds and not by Christ, and that the outward deed justified them & made them holy and not the inward spirit received by faith and the consent of the heart unto the law of God.
As you read therefor think that every syllable pertains to your own self, and suck out the pith of the scripture, and arm yourself against all assaults. First note with strong faith the power of God in creating all of naught. Then mark the grievous fall of Adam and of us all in him, through the light regarding of the commandment of God. In the fourth chapter God turns him unto Abel and then to his offering, but not to Cain and his offering. Where you see that though the deeds of the evil appear outwardly as glorious as the deeds of the good: yet in the sight of God which looks on the heart, the deed is good because of the man, and not the man good because of his deed. In the sixth God sends Noah to preach to the wicked and gives them space to repent: they wax hardhearted, God brings them to naught. And yet saves Noah: even by the same water by which he destroyed them. Mark also what followed the pride of the building of the tower of Babel.
Consider how God sends forth Abraham out of his own country into a strange land full of wicked people, and gave him but a bare promise with him that he would bless him and defend him. Abraham believed: and that word saved and delivered him in all perils: so that we see, how that man’s life is not maintained by bread only (as Christ says) but much rather by believing the promises of God. Behold how soberly and how circumspectly both Abraham and also Isaac behave themselves among the infidels. Abraham buys that which might have been given him for naught, to cut off occasions. Isaac when his wells which he had digged were taken from him, gives room and resists not. Moreover they ear and sow and feed their cattle, and make confederations, and take perpetual truce, and do all outward things: Even as they do which have no faith, for God hath not made us to be idle in this world. Every man must work godly and truly to the utmost of the power that God hath given him: and yet not trust therein: but in God’s word or promise: and God will work with us and bring that we do to good effect. And then when our power will extend no further, God’s promises will work all alone.
How many things also resisted the promises of God to Jacob? And yet Jacob conjures God with his own promises saying? O God of my father Abraham: and God of my father Isaac, O Lord which said unto me return unto thine own country, and unto the place where you were born and I will do you good. I am not worthy of the least of those mercies, nor of that truth which you have done to your servant I went out but with a staff, and come home with two droves, deliver me out of the hands of my brother Esau, for I fear him greatly &c. And God delivered him, and will likewise all that call unto his promises with a repenting heart, were they never so great sinners. Mark also the weak infirmities of the man. He loves one wife more than another, one son more than another. And see how God purges him. Esau threatens him: Laban beguiles him. The beloved wife is long barren: his daughter is ravished: his wife is defiled, and that of his own son. Rachel dies, Joseph is taken away, yea and as he supposed rent of wild beasts. And yet how glorious was his end? Note the weakness of his children, yea and the sin of them, and how God through their own wickedness saved them. These ensamples teach us that a man is not at perfect the first day he begins to live well. They that be strong therefor must suffer with the weak, and help to keep them in unity & peace one with another until they be stronger.
Note what the brethren said when they were tached in Egypt, we have verily sinned (said they) against our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and would not hear him: and therefor is this tribulation come upon us. By which ensample you see, how that conscience of evil doings finds men out at the last. But namely in tribulation and adversity: there temptation and also desperation: yea and the very pains of hell find us out: there the soul feels the fierce wrath of God and wishes mountains to fall on her and to hide her (if it were possible) from the angry face of God.
Mark also how great evils follow of how little an occasion. Dinah goes but forth alone to see the daughters of the country, and how great mischief and trouble followed? Jacob loved but one son more than another, and how grievous murder followed in their hearts? These are ensamples for our learning to teach us to walk warily and circumspectly in the world of weak people, that we give no man occasions of evil.
Finally, see what God promised Joseph in his dreams. Those promises accompanied him always, and went down with him even into the deep dungeon, And brought him up again, And never forsook him till all that was promised was fulfilled. These are ensamples written for our learning (as Paul says) to teach us to trust in God in the strong fire of tribulation and purgatory of our flesh. And that they which submit themselves to follow God should note and mark such things, for their learning and comfort, is the fruit of the scripture and cause why it was written: And with such a purpose to read it, is the way to everlasting life, and to those joyful blessings that are promised unto all nations in the seed of Abraham, which seed is Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be honour and praise forever and unto God our Father through him.
PROLOG TO EXODUS
Of the preface upon Genesis mayst thou understand how to behave thyself in this book also and in all other books of the scripture. Cleave unto the text and plain story and endeavor thyself to search out the meaning of all that is described therein and the true sense of all manner of speakings of the scripture, of proverbs, similitudes and borrowed speech, whereof I entreated in the end of the obedience, and beware of subtle allegories. And note everything earnestly as things pertaining unto thine own heart and soul. For as God used himself unto them of the Old Testament, even so shall he unto the world’s end use himself unto us which have received his holy scripture and the testimony of his son Jesus. As God doeth all things here for them that believe his promises and hearken unto his commandments and with patience cleave unto him and walk with him: even so shall he do for us, if we receive the witness of Christ with a strong faith and endure patiently following his steps. And on the other side, as they that fell from the promises of God through unbelief and from his law and ordinances through impatience of their own lusts, were forsaken of God and so perished: even so shall we as many as do likewise and as many as mock with the doctrine of Christ and make a cloak of it to live fleshly and to follow our lusts.
Note thereto how God is found true at the last, and how when all is past remedy and brought into desperation, he then fulfilleth his promises, and that by an abject and a castaway, a despised and a refused person: yea and by a way impossible to believe.
The cause of all captivity of God’s people is this. The world ever hateth them for their faith and trust which they have in God: but in vain until they fall from the faith of the promises and love of the law and ordinances of God, and put their trust in holy deeds of their own finding and live altogether at their own lust and pleasure without regard of God or respect of their neighbor. Then God forsaketh us and sendeth us into captivity for our dishonoring of his name and despising of our neighbor. But the world persecuteth us for our faith in Christ only (as the pope now doeth) and not for our wicked living. For in his kingdom thou mayest quietly and with license and under a protection do whatsoever abomination thy heart lusteth: but God persecuteth us because we abuse his holy testament, and because that when we know the truth we follow it not.
Note also the mighty hand of the Lord, how he playeth with his adversaries and provoketh them and stirreth them up a little and a little, and delivereth not his people in an hour: that both the patience of his elect and also the worldly wit and wily policy of the wicked wherewith they fight against God, might appear.
Mark the longsuffering and soft patience of Moses and how he loveth the people and is ever between the wrath of God and them and is ready to live and die with them and to be put out of the book that God had written for their sakes (as Paul for his brethren Rom. ix.) and how he taketh his own wrongs patiently and never avengeth himself. And make not Moses a figure of Christ with Rochester: but an ensample unto all princes and to all that are in authority, how to rule unto God’s pleasure and unto their neighbor’s profit. For there is not a perfecter life in this world both to the honour of God and profit of his neighbor nor yet a greater cross, than to rule Christianly. And of Aaron also see that thou make no figure of Christ until he come unto his sacrificing, but an ensample unto all preachers of God’s word, that they add nothing unto God’s word or take aught therefrom.
Note also how God sendeth his promise to the people and Moses confirmeth it with miracles and the people believe. But when temptation cometh they fall into unbelief and few bide standing. Where thou seest that all be not Christian that will be so called, and that the cross trieth the true from the feigned: for if the cross were not Christ should have disciples enough. Whereof also thou seest what an excellent gift of God true faith is, and impossible to be had without the Spirit of God. For it is above all natural power that a man in time of temptation when God scourgeth him should believe then steadfastly how that God loveth him and careth for him and hath prepared all good things for him, and that that scourging is as earnest that God hath elect and chose him.
Note how oft Moses stirreth them up to believe and to trust in God, putting them in remembrance always in time of temptation of the miracles and wonders which God had wrought before time in their eyesight. How diligently also forbiddeth he all that might withdraw their hearts from God? to put naught to God’s word: to take naught therefrom: to do only that which is right in the sight of the Lord: that they should make no manner image to kneel down before it: yea that they should make none altar of hewed stone for fear of images: to slay the heathen Idolaters utterly and to destroy their Idols and cut down their groves where they worshipped: And that they should not take the daughters of them unto their sons, nor give their daughters to the sons of them. And that whosoever moved any of them to worship false gods, howsoever nigh of kin he were, they must accuse him and bring him to death, yea and wheresoever they heard of man, woman or city that worshipped false gods, they must slay them and destroy the city for ever and not build it again. And all because they should worship nothing but God, nor put confidence in anything save in his word. Yea and how warneth he to beware of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, necromancy and all crafts of the devil, and of dreamers, soothsayers and of miracle doers to destroy his word, and that they should suffer none such to live.
Thou wilt haply say, They tell a man the truth. What then? God will that we care not to know what shall come. He will have us care only to keep his commandments and to commit all chances unto him. He hath promised to care for us and to keep us from all evil. All things are in his hand, he can remedy all things and will for his truth’s sake, if we pray him. In his promises only will he have us trust and there rest and to seek no farther.
How also doth he provoke them to love, ever rehearsing the benefits of God done to them already and the godly promises that were to come? And how goodly laws of love giveth he? to help one another: and that a man should not hate his neighbor in his heart, but love him as himself, Levitici .xix. And what a charge giveth he in every place over the poor and needy: over the stranger, friendless and widow? And when he desireth to shew mercy, he rehearseth withal, the benefits of God done to them at their need, that they might see a cause at the least way in God to shew mercy of very love unto their neighbors at their need. Also there is no law so simple in appearance throughout all the five books of Moses, but that there is a great reason of the making thereof if a man search diligently. As that a man is forbid to seethe a kid in his mother’s milk, moveth us unto compassion and to be pitiful. As doth also that a man shall not offer the sire of dame and the young both in one day Levitici .xxii. For it might seem a cruel thing inasmuch as his mother’s milk is as it were his blood, wherefore God will not have him sod therein: but will have a man shew courtesy upon the very beasts: As in another place he commandeth that we mussel not the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn (which manner of threshing is used in hot countries) and that because we should much rather not grudge to be liberal and kind unto men that do us service. Or haply God would have no such wanton meat used among his people. For the kid of itself is nourishing and the goats milk is restorative, and both together might be too rank and therefore forbidden or some other like cause there was.
Of the ceremonies, sacrifices and tabernacle with all his glory and pomp understand, that they were not permitted only, but also commanded of God to lead the people in the shadows of Moses and night of the old testament, until the light of Christ and day of the new testament were come: As children are led in the phantasies of youth, until the discretion of man’s age be come upon them. And all was done to keep them from idolatry. The tabernacle was ordained to the intent they might have a place appointed them to do their sacrifices openly in the sight of the people and namely of the priests which waited thereon: that it might be seen that they did all things according to God’s word, and not after the Idolatry of their own imagination. And the costliness of the tabernacle and the beauty also pertained thereunto, that they should see nothing so beautiful among the heathen, but that they should see more beautiful and wonderful at home: because they should not be moved to follow them. And in like manner the divers fashions of the sacrifices and ceremonies was to occupy their minds that they should have no lust to follow the heathen: and the multitude of them was, that they should have so much to do in keeping them that they should have no leisure to imagine other of their own: yea and that God’s word might be by in all that they did, that they might have their faith and trust in God, which he cannot have, that either followeth his own inventions, or traditions of men’s making without God’s word.
Finally God hath two testaments: the old and the new. The old testament is those temporal promises which God made the children of Israel of a good land and that he would defend them, and of wealth and prosperity and of temporal blessings of which thou readest over all the law of Moses, but namely Levitici xxvi. and Deuteronomii .xxviii. and the avoiding of all threatenings and curses of which thou readest likewise everywhere, but specially in the two places above rehearsed, and the avoiding of all punishment ordained for the transgressors of the law.
And the Old Testament was built all together upon the keeping of the law and ceremonies and was the reward of keeping of them in this life only, and reached no further that this life and this world, as thou readest Lev. xviii. a man that doth them shall live therein which text Paul rehearseth Rom. x. and Gala. iii. That is, he that keepeth them shall have this life glorious according to all the promises and blessings of the law, and shall avoid both all temporal punishment of the law, with all the threatenings and cursings also. For neither the law, even of the Ten Commandments nor yet the ceremonies justified in the heart before God, or purified unto the life to come. Insomuch that Moses at his death even forty year after the law and ceremonies were given complaineth saying: God hath not given you an heart to understand, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear unto this day. As who should say, God hath given you ceremonies, but ye know not the use of them, and hath given you a law, but hath not written it in your hearts.
Wherefore serveth the law then, if it give us no power to do the law? Paul answereth thee, that it was given to utter sin only and to make it appear. As a corrosive is laid unto an old sore, not to heal it, but to stir it up and to make the disease alive, that a man might feel in what jeopardy he is and how nigh death and not aware, and to make a way unto the healing plaster. Even so saith Paul Gala. iii. The law was given because of transgression (that is, to make the sin alive that it might be felt and seen) until the seed came unto whom it was promised: that is to say, until the children of faith came, or until Christ that seed in whom God promised Abraham that all nations of the world should be blessed, came. That is, the law was given to utter sin, death damnation and curse, and to drive unto Christ in whom forgiveness, life, justifying and blessings where promised, that we might see so great love of God to us ward in Christ, that we henceforth overcome with kindness might love again and of love keep the commandments. So now he that goeth about to quiet his conscience and to justify himself with the law, doth but heal his wounds with fretting corrosives. And he that goeth about to purchase grace with ceremonies, doth but suck the alepope to quench his thirst, inasmuch as the ceremonies were not given to justify the heart, but to signify the justifying: and forgiveness that is in Christ’s blood.
Of the ceremonies that they justify not, thou readest. Hebrews .x. It is impossible that sin should be done away with the blood of oxen and goats. And of the law thou readest Gala. iii. If there had been a law given that could have quickened or given life, then had righteousness or justifying come by the law indeed. Now the law not only quickeneth not the heart, but also woundeth it with conscience of sin and ministreth death and damnation unto her: ii. Corin. iii. so that she must needs die and be damned except she find other remedy, so far it is of that she is justified or helped by the law.
The new testament is those everlasting promises which are made us in Christ the Lord throughout all the scripture. And that testament is built on faith and not on works. For it is not said of that testament he that worketh shall live: But he that believeth shall live, as thou readest John iii. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that none which believe in him should perish but have everlasting life.
And when this testament is preached and believed, the Spirit entereth the heart and quickeneth it, and giveth her life and justifieth her. The Spirit also maketh the law a lively thing in the heart, so that a man bringeth forth good works of his own accord without compulsion of the law, without fear of threatenings or cursings: yea and without all manner respect or love unto any temporal pleasure, But of the very power of the Spirit received through faith, As thou readest John .i. He gave them power to be the sons of God in that they believed on his name. And of that power they work: so that he which hath the Spirit of Christ is now no more a child: he neither learneth or worketh now any longer for pain of the rod or for fear of boogies or pleasure of apples, but doth all things of his own courage as Christ sayeth John .vii. He that believeth on me shall have rivers of living water flowing out of his belly. That is, all good works and all gifts of grace spring out of him naturally and by their own accord. Thou needest not to wrest good works out of him as a man would wring verjuice out of crabs: Nay they flow naturally out of him as springs out of hills or rocks.
The new testament was ever, even from the beginning of the world. For there were always promises of Christ to come by faith in which promises the elect were then justified inwardly before God, as outwardly before the world by keeping of the law and ceremonies.
And in conclusion as thou seest blessings or cursings follow the keeping or breaking of the law of Moses: even so naturally do blessings or cursings follow the breaking or keeping of the law of nature, out of which spring all our temporal laws. So that when the people keep the temporal laws of their land temporal prosperity and all manner of such temporal blessing as thou readest of in Moses do accompany them and fall upon them.
And contrariwise when they sin unpunished, and when the rulers have no respect unto natural equity or honesty, then God sendeth his curses among them, as hunger, dearth, moren banynge, pestilence, war, oppression with strange and wonderful diseases and new kinds of misfortune and evil luck.
If any man ask me, seeing that faith justifieth me why I work? I answer love compelleth me. For as long as my soul feeleth what love God hath shewed me in Christ, I cannot but love God again and his will and commandments and of love work them, nor can they seem hard unto me. I think not myself better for my working, nor seek heaven nor an higher place in heaven because of it. For a Christian worketh to make his weak brother perfecter, and not to seek an higher place in heaven. I compare not myself unto him that worketh not: No, he that worketh not today shall have grace to turn and to work tomorrow, and in the mean season I pity him and pray for him. If I had wrought the will of God these thousand years, and another had wrought the will of the devil as long and this day turn and be as well willing to suffer with Christ as I, he hath this day overtaken me and is as far come as I, and shall have as much reward as I. And I envy him not, but rejoice most of all as of lost treasure found. For if I be of God, I have this thousand year suffered to win him for to come and praise the name of God with me: this thousand years I have prayed sorrowed, longed, sighed and sought for that which I have this day found, and therefore rejoice with all my might and praise God for his grace and mercy.
A prologue in to the third book of Moses, called Leviticus.
The ceremonies which are described in the book following, were chiefly ordained of God (as I said in the end of the prologue upon Exodi.) to occupy the minds of that people the Israelites, and to keep them from serving of God after the imagination of their blind zeal and good intent: that their consciences might be established and they sure that they pleased God therein, which were impossible, if a man did of his own head that which was not commanded of God nor depended of any appointment made between him and God.
Such ceremonies were unto them as an A. B. C. to learn to spell and read, and as a nurse to feed them with milk and pap, and to speak unto them after their own capacity and to lisp the words unto them according as the babes and children of that age might sound them again. For all that were before Christ were in the infancy and childhood of the world and saw that sun which we see openly, but through a cloud and had but feeble and weak imaginations of Christ, as children have of men’s deeds, a few prophets excepted, which yet described him unto others in sacrifices and ceremonies, likenesses, riddles, proverbs, and dark and strange speaking until the full age were come that God would shew him openly unto the whole world and deliver them from their shadows and cloudlight and the heathen out of their dead sleep of stark blind ignorance. And as the shadow vanishes away at the coming of the light, even so do the ceremonies and sacrifices at the coming of Christ, and are henceforth no more necessary than a token left in remembrance of a bargain is necessary when the bargain is fulfilled. And though they seem plain childish, yet they be not altogether fruitless: as the puppets and twenty manner of trifles which mothers permit unto their young children be not all in vain. For albeit that such phantasies be permitted to satisfy the children’s lusts, yet in that they are the mother’s gift and be done in place and time at her commandment, they keep the children in awe and make them know the mother and also make them more apt against a more stronger age to obey in things of greater earnest.
And moreover though sacrifices and ceremonies can be no ground or foundation to build upon: that is, though we can prove naught with them: yet when we have once found out Christ and his mysteries, then we may borrow figures, that is to say allegories, similitudes or examples to open Christ and the secrets of God hid in Christ even unto the quick, and to declare them more lively and sensibly with them than with all the words of the world. For similitudes have more virtue and power with them than bare words, and lead a man’s wits further into the pith and marrow and spiritual understanding of the thing, than all the words that can be imagined. And though also that all the ceremonies and sacrifices have as it were a starlight of Christ, yet some there be that have as it were the light of the broad day a little before the sun rising, and express him, and the circumstances and virtue of his death so plainly as if we should play his passion on a scaffold or in a stage play openly before the eyes of the people. As the scape goat, the brazen serpent, the ox burnt without the host, the Passover lamb &c. Insomuch that I am fully persuaded and cannot but believe that God had shewed Moses the secrets of Christ and the very manner of his death beforehand, and commanded him to ordain them for the confirmation of our faiths which are now in the clear day light. And I believe also that the prophets which followed Moses to confirm his prophesies and to maintain his doctrine unto Christ’s coming, were moved by such things to search further of Christ’s secrets. And though God would not have the secrets of Christ generally known, save unto a few familiar friends which in that infancy he made of man’s wit to help the other babes: yet as they had a general promise that one of the seed of Abraham should come and bless them, even so they had a general faith that God would by the same man save them, though they wist not by what means as the very apostles when it was oft told them yet they could never comprehend it, till it was fulfilled in deed.
And beyond all this their sacrifices and ceremonies as farforth as the promises annexed unto them extend, so farforth they saved them and justified them and stood them in the same stead as our sacraments do us: not by the power of the sacrifice or deed itself, but by the virtue of the faith in the promise which the sacrifice or ceremony preached and whereof it was a token or sign. For the ceremonies and sacrifices were left with them and commanded them to keep the promise in remembrance and to wake up their faith. As it is not enough to send many on errands and to tell them what they shall do: but they must have a remembrance with them, and it be but a ring of a rush about one of their fingers. And as it is not enough to make a bargain with words only, but we must put thereto an oath and give earnest to confirm the faith of the person with whom it is made. And in like manner if a man promise, whatsoever trifle it be, it is not believed except he hold up his finger also, such is the weakness of the world. And therefore Christ himself used oft times diverse ceremonies in curing the sick, to stir up their faith withal. As for an ensample it was not the blood of the lamb that saved them in Egypt, when the angel smote the Egyptians: but the mercy of God and his truth whereof that blood was a token and remembrance to stir up their faiths withal. For though God make a promise, yet it saves none finally but them that long for it and pray God with a strong faith to fulfill it for his mercy and truth only and acknowledge their unworthiness. And even so our sacraments (if they be truly ministered) preach Christ unto us and lead our faiths unto Christ, by which faith our sins are done away and not by the deed or work of the sacrament. For as it was impossible that the blood of calves should put away sin: even so is it impossible that the water of the river should wash our hearts. Nevertheless the sacraments cleanse us and absolve us of our sins as the priests do, in preaching of repentance and faith, for which cause either other of them were ordained, but if they preach not, whether it be the priest or the sacrament, so profit they not.
And if a man allege Christ John in the third chapter saying: Except a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot see the kingdom of God, and will therefore that the Holy Ghost is present in the water and therefore the very deed or work doth put away sin: then I will send him unto Paul which asks his Galatians whether they received the Holy Ghost by the deed of the law or by preaching of faith, and there concludes that the Holy Ghost accompanies the preaching of faith, and with the word of faith, enters the heart and purges it, which you may also understand by saint Paul saying: you are born anew out of the water through the word. So now if baptism preach me the washing in Christ’s blood, so does the Holy Ghost accompany it and that deed of preaching through faith doth put away my sins. For the Holy Ghost is no dumb god nor no god that goes a mumming. If a man say of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood that it is a sacrifice as well for the dead as for the quick and therefore the very deed itself justifies and puts away sin. I answer that a sacrifice is the slaying of the body of a beast or a man: wherefore if it be a sacrifice, then is Christ’s body there slain and his blood there shed: but that is not so. And therefore it is properly no sacrifice but a sacrament and a memorial of that everlasting sacrifice once for all which he offered upon the cross now upon a fifteen hundred years ago and preacheth only unto them that are alive. And as for them that be dead, it is as profitable unto them as is a candle in a lantern without light unto them that walk by the way in a dark night, and as the gospel song in Latin is unto them that understand none at all, and as a sermon preached to him that is dead and hears it not. It preaches unto them that are alive only, for they that be dead, if they died in the faith which that sacrament preaches, they be safe and are past all jeopardy. For when they were alive their hearts loved the law of God and therefore sinned not, and were sorry that their members sinned and ever moved to sin, and therefore through faith it was forgiven them. And now their sinful members be dead, so that they can now sin no more, wherefore it is unto them that be dead neither sacrament nor sacrifice: But under the pretense of their soul health it is a servant unto our spiritualties’ holy covetousness and an extortioner and a builder of Abbeys, Colleges, Chantries and cathedral churches with false gotten good, a pick purse, a pollar, and a bottomless bag.
Some man would happily say, that the prayers of the mass help much: not the living only, but also the dead. Of the hot fire of their fervent prayer which consumes faster than all the world is able to bring sacrifice, I have said sufficiently in other places. Howbeit it is not possible to bring me in belief that the prayer which helps her own master unto no virtue, should purchase me the forgiveness of my sins. If I saw that their prayers had obtained them grace to live such a life as God’s word did not rebuke, then could I soon be borne in hand that whatsoever they asked of God their prayers should not be in vain. But now what good can he wish me in his prayers that envies me Christ the food and the life of my soul? What good can he wish me whose heart cleaves asunder for pain when I am taught to repent of my evil?
Furthermore because that few know the use of the Old Testament, and the most part think it nothing necessary but to make allegories, which they fain every man after his own brain at all while adventure without any certain rule: therefore (though I have spoken of them in another place) yet lest the book come not to all men’s hands that shall read this, I will speak of them here also a word or twain.
We had need to take heed everywhere that we be not beguiled with false allegories, whether they be drawn out of the New Testament, or the old, either out of any other story or of the creatures of the world, but namely in this book. Here a man had need to put on all his spectacles and to arm himself against invisible spirits.
First allegories prove nothing (and by allegories understand examples or similitudes borrowed of strange matters and of another thing than that thou entreatest of.) As though circumcision be a figure of baptism, yet thou canst not prove baptism by circumcision.
For this argument were very feeble, the Israelites were circumcised therefore we must be baptized. And in like manner though the offering of Isaac were a figure or ensample of the resurrection, yet is this argument naught, Abraham would have offered Isaac, but God delivered him from death, therefore we shall rise again, and so forth in all other.
But the very use of allegories is to declare and open a text that it may be the better perceived and understood. As when I have a clear text of Christ and of the apostles, that I must be baptized, then I may borrow an ensample of circumcision to express the nature power and fruit or effect of baptism. For as circumcision was unto them a common badge signifying that they were all soldiers of God to war his war and separating them from all other nations disobedient unto God: even so baptism is our common badge and sure earnest and perpetual memorial that we pertain unto Christ and are separated from all that are not Christ’s. And as circumcision was a token certifying them that they were received unto the favour of God and their sins forgiven them: even so baptism certifies us that we are washed in the blood of Christ and received to favour for his sake. And as circumcision signified unto them the cutting away of their own lusts and slaying of their free will, as they call it, to follow the will of God even so baptism signifies unto us repentance and the mortifying of our unruly members and body of sin, to walk in a new life and so forth.
And likewise though that the saving of Noah and of them that were with him in the ship, through water, is a figure, that is to say an ensample and likeness of baptism, as Peter maketh it I Petri. 3 yet I cannot prove baptism therewith, save describe it only. For as the ship saved them in the water through faith, in that they believed God and as the others that would not believe Noah perished: even so baptism saves us through the word of faith which it preaches when all the world of the unbelieving perish. And Paul I Corin. 10 makes the sea and the cloud a figure of baptism, by which and a thousand more I might declare it but not prove it. Paul also in the said place makes the rock out of which Moses brought water unto the children of Israel a figure or ensample of Christ not to prove Christ (for that were impossible) but to describe Christ only: even as Christ himself John 3 borrows a similitude or figure of the brazen serpent to lead Nicodemus from his earthly imagination into the spiritual understanding of Christ saying: As Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that none that believe in him perish but have everlasting life. By which similitude the virtue of Christ’s death is better described than you could declare it with a thousand words. For as those murmurers against God as soon as they repented were healed of their deadly wounds through looking on the brazen serpent only without medicine or any other help, yea and without any other reason but that God hath said it should be so, and not to murmur again, but to leave their murmuring: even so all that repent and believe in Christ are saved from everlasting death, of pure grace without and before their good works, and not to sin again, but to fight against sin and henceforth to sin no more.
Even so with the ceremonies of this book thou canst prove nothing save describe and declare only the putting away of our sins through the death of Christ. For Christ is Aaron and Aaron’s sons and all that offer the sacrifice to purge sin. And Christ is all manner offering that is offered: he is the ox, the sheep, the goat, the kid and lamb: he is the ox that is burnt without the host and the scapegoat that carried all the sin of the people away into the wilderness. For as they purged the people from their worldly uncleanesses through blood of the sacrifices, even so doth Christ purge us from the uncleanesses of everlasting death with his own blood. And as their worldly sins could no otherwise be purged than by blood of sacrifice, even so can our sins be no otherwise forgiven than through the blood of Christ. All the deeds in the world, save the blood of Christ, can purchase no forgiveness of sins: for our deeds do but help our neighbor and mortify the flesh and help that we sin no more, but and if we have sinned, it must be freely forgiven through the blood of Christ or remain ever.
And in like manner of the lepers thou canst prove nothing: thou canst never conjure out confession thence, howbeit thou hast an handsome example there to open the binding and loosing of our priests with the key of God’s word. For as they made no man a leper even so ours have no power to command any man to be in sin or to go to purgatory or hell. And therefore (inasmuch as binding and loosing is one power.) As those priests healed no man, even so ours cannot of their invisible and dumb power drive any man’s sins away or deliver him from hell or fained purgatory. howbeit if they preached God’s word purely which is the authority that Christ gave them, then they should bind and loose, kill and make alive again, make unclean and clean again, and send to hell and set thence again, so mighty is God’s word. For if they preached the law of God, they should bind the consciences of sinners with the bonds of the pains of hell and bring them unto repentance. And then if they preached them the mercy that is in Christ, they should loose them and quiet their raging consciences and certify them of the favour of God and that their sins be forgiven.
Finally beware of allegories, for there is not a more handsome or apt a thing to beguile withal than an allegory, nor a more subtle and pestilent thing in the world to persuade a false matter than an allegory. And contrariwise there is not a better, vehementer or mightier thing to make a man understand withal than an allegory. For allegories make a man quick witted and print wisdom in him and makes it to abide, where bare words go but in at the one ear and out at the other. As this with such like sayings: put salt to all your sacrifices, instead of this sentence, do all your deeds with discretion, greets and bites (if it be understood) more than plain words. And when I say instead of these words boast not yourself of your good deeds, eat not the blood nor the fat of your sacrifice, there is as great difference between them as there is distance between heaven and earth. For the life and beauty of all good deeds is of God and we are but the carrion lean, we are only the instrument whereby God worketh only, but the power is his. As God created Paul anew, poured his wisdom into him gave him might and promised him that his grace should never fail him &c. and all without deservings, except that murdering the saints and making them curse and rail on Christ be meritorious. Now as it is death to eat the blood or fat of
any sacrifice, is it not (think ye) damnable to rob God
of his honor and to glorify myself
A prolog into the fourth book of Moses, called Numeri.
In the second and third book they received the law. And in this fourth they begin to work and to practice. Of which practicing ye see many good ensamples of unbelief & what freewill does, when she takes in hand to keep the law of her own power without help of faith in the promises of God: how she leaves her master’s carcasses by the way in the wilderness and brings them not into the land of rest. Why could they not enter in? Because of their unbelief Hebre. iii. For had they believed, so had they been under grace, and their old sins had been forgiven them, and power should have been given them to have fulfilled the law thenceforth & they should have been kept from all temptations that had been too strong for them. For it is written John i. He gave them power to be the sons of God, through believing in his name. Now to be the son of God is to love God and his commandments and to walk in his way after the ensample of his son Christ. But these people took upon them to work without faith as you see in the xiiii. of this book, where they would fight and also did, without the word of promise: even when they were warned that they should not. And in the xvi. again they would please God with their holy faithless works (for where God’s word is not there can be no faith) but the fire of God consumed their holy works, as it did Nadab and Abihu Levi. x. And from these unbelievers turn thine eyes unto the Pharisees which before the coming of Christ in his flesh, had laid the foundation of freewill after the same ensample. Whereon they built holy works after their own imagination without faith of the word, so fervently that for the great zeal of them they slew the King of all holy works and the Lord of freewill which only through his grace maketh the will free and looseth her from bondage of sin, and giveth her love and lust unto the laws of God, and power to fulfill them. And so through their holy works done by the power of freewill, they excluded themselves out of the holy rest of forgiveness of sins by faith in the blood of Christ.
And then look on our hypocrites which in like manner following the doctrine of Aristotle and other heathen pagans, have against all the scripture set up freewill again, unto whose power they ascribe the keeping of the commandments of God. For they have set up willful poverty of another manner than any is commanded of God. And the chastity of matrimony utterly defied, they have set up another willful chastity not required of God, which they swear, vow & profess to give God, whether he will give it them or no, and compel all their disciples thereunto, saying that it is in the power of every man’s freewill to observe it, contrary to Christ and his apostle Paul.
And the obedience of God and man excluded they have vowed another willful obedience condemned of all the scripture which they will yet give God whether he will or will not.
And what is become of their willful poverty? hath it not robbed the whole world & brought all under them? Can there be either king or emperor or of whatsoever degree it be, except he will hold of them and be sworn unto them to be their servant, to go and come at their lust and to defend their quarrels be they false or true? Their willful poverty hath already eaten up the whole world & is yet still greedier than ever it was insomuch that ten worlds more were not enough to satisfy the hunger thereof.
Moreover besides daily corrupting of other men’s wives and open whoredom, unto what abominations too filthy to be spoken of hath their voluntary chastity brought them?
And as for their willful obedience what is it but the disobedience & the defiance both of all the laws of God & man: insomuch that if any prince begin to execute any law of man upon them, they curse him unto the bottom of hell & proclaim him no right king & that his lords ought no longer to obey him, and interdict his common people as they were heathen Turks or Saracens. And if any man preach them God’s law, him they make an heretic and burn him to ashes. And instead of God’s law and man’s, they have set up one of their own imagination which they observe with dispensations.
And yet in these works they have so great confidence that they not only trust to be saved thereby, and to be higher in heaven than they that be saved through Christ: but also promise to all other forgiveness of their sins through the merits of the same. Wherein they rest and teach others to rest also, excluding the whole world from the rest of forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ’s blood.
And now seeing that faith only letteth a man in unto rest & unbelief excludes him, what is the cause of this unbelief? verily no sin that the world sees, but a pope holiness & a righteousness of their own imagination as Paul says Roma. x. They be ignorant of the righteousness wherewith God justifies & have set up a righteousness of their own making through which they be disobedient unto the righteousness of God. And Christ rebukes not the Pharisees for gross sins which the world saw, but for those holy deeds which so blurred the eyes of the world that they were taken as gods: even for long prayers, for fasting, for tithing so diligently that they left not so much as their herbs untithed, for their cleanness in washing before meat and for washing of cups, dishes, and all manner vessels, for building the prophets’ sepulchers, and for keeping the holy day, and for turning the heathen unto the faith, and for giving of alms. For unto such holy deeds they ascribed righteousness and therefore when the righteousness of God was preached unto them they could not but persecute it, the devil was so strong in them. Which thing Christ well describes Luke xi. saying that after the devil is cast out he comes again and finds his house swept and made gay and then takes seven worse than himself and dwells therein, and so is the end of that man worse than the beginning. That is, when they be a little cleansed from gross sins which the world sees and then made gay in their own sight with the righteousness of traditions, then comes seven, that is to say the whole power of the devil, for seven with the Hebrews signifies a multitude without number & the extremity of a thing & is a speech borrowed (I suppose) out of Leviticus where is so oft mention made of seven. Where I would say: I will punish thee that all the world shall take an ensample of thee, there the Jew would say, I will circumcise thee or baptize thee seven times. And so here by seven is meant all the devils of hell & all the might & power of the devil. For unto what further blindness could all the devils in hell bring them, than to make them believe that they were justified through their own good works. For when they once believed that they were purged from their sins & made righteous through their own holy works, what room was there left for the righteousness that is in Christ’s blood shedding? And therefore when they be fallen into this blindness they cannot but hate & persecute the light. And the more clear & evidently their deeds be rebuked the furiousser & maliciousser blind are they until they break out into open blasphemy & sinning against the Holy Ghost, which is the malicious persecuting of the clear truth so manifestly proved that they cannot once hiss against it. As the Pharisees persecuted Christ because he rebuked their holy deeds. And when he proved his doctrine with the scripture & miracles, yet though they could not improve him nor reason against him they thought that the scripture must have some other meaning because his interpretation undermined their foundation & plucked up by the roots the sects which they had planted, & they ascribed also his miracles to the devil. And in like manner though our hypocrites cannot deny but this is scripture, yet because there can be no other sense gathered thereof, but that overthrows their buildings, therefore they ever think that it hath some other meaning than as the words sound and that no man understands it or understood it since the time of the Apostles. Or if they think that some that wrote upon it since the Apostles understood it: they yet think that we in like manner as we understand not the text itself, so we understand not the meaning of the words of that doctor.
For when you lay the justifying of holy works and deny the justifying of faith, how can you understand Saint Paul, Peter, John and the Acts of the Apostles or any scripture at all, seeing the justifying of faith is almost all that they intend to prove.
Finally, concerning vows whereof you read chapter .xxx. there may be many questions, whereunto I answer shortly that we ought to put salt to all our offerings: that is, we ought to minister knowledge in all our works and to do nothing whereof we could not give a reason out of God’s words. We be now in the daylight, and all the secrets of God and all his counsel and will is opened unto us, and he that was promised should come and bless us, is come already and has shed his blood for us and has blessed us with all manner blessings and has obtained all grace for us, and in him we have all. Wherefore God henceforth will receive no more sacrifices of beasts of us as thou readest Hebre. x. If you burn unto God the blood or fat of beasts, to obtain forgiveness of sins thereby or that God should the better hear your request, then you do wrong unto the blood of Christ, and Christ unto you is dead in vain. For in him God has promised not forgiveness of sins only, but also whatsoever we ask to keep us from sin and temptation withal. And what if thou burn frankincense unto him, what if thou burn a candle, what if thou burn thy chastity or virginity unto him for the same purpose, do you not like rebuke unto Christ’s blood?
Moreover if you offer gold silver or any other good for the same intent, is there any difference? And even so if you go in pilgrimage or fast or go wool ward or sprinkle yourself with holy water or else whatsoever deed it is, or observe whatsoever ceremony it be for like meaning, then it is like abomination. We must therefore bring the salt of the knowledge of God’s word with all our sacrifices, or else we shall make no sweet savor unto God thereof. You will ask me, shall I vow nothing at all? Yes, God’s commandment which you have vowed in your baptism. For what intent? verily for the love of Christ which has bought you with his blood & made you son & heir of God with him, that you should wait on his will & commandments and purify your members according to the same doctrine that has purified your heart, for if the knowledge of God’s word have not purified your heart, so that you consent unto the law of God that it is righteous & good and sorrowest, that thy members move thee unto the contrary, so have you no part with Christ.
For if you repent not of your sin, so it is impossible that you should believe that Christ had delivered you from the danger thereof. If you believe not that Christ has delivered you, so is it impossible that you should love God’s commandments. If you love not the commandments, so is Christ’s Spirit not in you which is the earnest of forgiveness of sin and of salvation.
For scripture teaches, first repentance then faith in Christ, that for his sake sin is forgiven to them that repent: then good works, which are nothing save the commandment of God only. And the commandments are nothing else save the helping of our neighbors at their need & the taming of our members that they might be pure also as the heart is pure through hate of vice and love of virtue as God’s word teaches us which works must proceed out of faith: that is, I must do them for the love which I have to God for that great mercy which he has shewed me in Christ, or else I do them not in the sight of God. And that I faint not in the pain of the slaying of the sin that is in my flesh, mine help is the promise of the assistance of the power of God and the comfort of the reward to come which reward I ascribe unto the goodness, mercy and truth of the promiser that has chosen me, called me, taught me and given me the earnest thereof, and not unto the merits of my doings or sufferings. For all that I do & suffer is but the way to the reward and not the deserving thereof. As if the king’s grace should promise me to defend me at home in mine own realm yet the way thither is through the sea wherein I might haply suffer no little trouble. And yet for all that, if I might live in rest when I come thither, I would think & so would others say, that my pains were well rewarded: which reward & benefit I would not proudly ascribe unto the merits of my painstaking by the way: but unto the goodness, mercifulness and constant truth of the king’s grace whose gift it is and to whom the praise and thank thereof belongs of duty and right. So now a reward is a gift given freely of the goodness of the giver and not of the deservings of the receiver. Thus it appears, that if I vow whatsoever it be, for any other purpose than to tame my members and to be an ensample of virtue and edifying unto my neighbor, my sacrifice is unsavory and clean without salt and my lamp without oil and I one of the foolish virgins and shall be shut out from the feast of the bridegroom when I think myself most sure to enter in.
If I vow voluntary poverty, this must be my purpose, that I will be content with a competent living which comes unto me either by succession of mine elders or which I get truly; with my labor in ministering and doing service unto the common wealth in one office or in another or in one occupation or other, because that riches and honor shall not corrupt my mind and draw mine heart from God, and to give an ensample of virtue and edifying unto others and that my neighbor may have a living by me as well as I, if I make a cloak of dissimulation of my vow, laying a net of feigned beggary to catch superfluous abundance of riches and high degree and authority & through the estimation of false holiness to feed and maintain my slothful idleness with the sweat, labor, lands, & rents of other men (after the ensample of our spiritualty) robbing them of their faiths and God of his honor turning unto mine hypocrisy that confidence, which should be given unto the promises of God only, am I not a wily fox & a ravening wolf in a lamb’s skin & a painted sepulcher fair without and filthy within? In like manner though I seek no worldly promotion thereby, yet if I do it to be justified therewith and to get an higher place in heaven, thinking that I do it of mine own natural strength & of the natural power of my freewill & that every man hath might even so to do and that they do it not is their fault & negligence and so with the proud Pharisee in comparison of myself despise the sinful publicans: what other thing do I than eat the blood & fat of my sacrifice devouring that myself which should be offered unto God alone and his Christ. And shortly whatsoever a man does of his natural gifts, of his natural wit, wisdom, understanding, reason, will, & good intent before he be otherwise & clean contrary taught of God’s Spirit & have received other wit and understanding, reason and will, is flesh, worldly and wrought in abominable blindness, with which a man can but seek himself, his own profit, glory & honor, even in very spiritual matters. As if I were alone in a wilderness where no man were to seek profit or praise of yet if I would seek heaven of God there, I could of mine own natural gifts seek it no other ways than for the merits and deservings of my good works and to enter therein by another way than by the door Christ, which were very theft, for Christ is Lord over all and whatsoever any man will have of God, he must have it given him freely for Christ’s sake. Now to have heaven for mine own deserving, is mine own praise and not Christ’s. For I cannot have it by favor & grace in Christ and by mine own merits also: For free giving and deserving cannot stand together.
If you will vow of your goods unto God you must put salt unto this sacrifice: that is you must minister knowledge in this deed as Peter teaches, 2 Pet. i. You must put oil of God’s word in your lamp & do it according to knowledge, if you wait for the coming of the bridegroom to enter in with him into his rest. You will hang it about the image to move men to devotion. Devotion is a fervent love unto God’s commandments and a desire to be with God and with his everlasting promises. Now shall the sight of such riches as are shewed at saint Thomas shrine or at Walsingham move a man to love the commandments of God better and to desire to be loosed from his flesh and to be with God, or shall it not rather make his poor heart sigh because he has no such at home and to wish part of it in another place?
The priest shall have it in God’s stead. Shall the priest have it? If the priest be bought with Christ’s blood, then he is Christ’s servant & not his own & ought therefore to feed Christ’s flock with Christ’s doctrine & to minister Christ’s sacraments unto them purely for very love & not for filthy lucre’s sake or to be lord over them as Peter teaches I Pet. v. & Paul Acts .xx. Besides this Christ is ours and is a gift given us, & we be heirs of Christ & of all that is Christ’s. Wherefore the priest’s doctrine is ours & we heirs of it, it is the food of our souls. Therefore if he minister it not truly and freely unto us without selling, he is a thief & a soul murderer: and even so is he if he take upon him to feed us & have not wherewith. And for a like conclusion because we also with all that we have be Christ’s, therefore is the priest heir with us also of all that we have received of God, wherefore inasmuch as the priest waits on the word of God and is our servant therein, therefore of right we are his debtors & owe him a sufficient living of our goods, and even thereto a wife of our daughters owe we unto him if he require her. And now when we have appointed him a sufficient living, whether in tithes rents or in yearly wages, he ought to be content & to require no more nor yet to receive anymore, but to be an ensample of soberness & of despising worldly things unto the ensample of his parishioners.
Will you vow to offer unto the poor people? that is pleasant in the sight of God, for they be left here to do our alms upon in Christ’s stead & they be the right heirs of all our abundance & overplus. Moreover we must have a school to teach God’s word in (though it needed not to be so costly) & therefore it is lawful to vow unto the building or maintenance thereof & unto helping of all good works. And we ought to vow to pay custom, toll, rent & all manner duties and whatsoever we owe: for that is God’s commandment.
If you will vow pilgrimage, you must put salt thereto in like manner if it shall be accepted, if you vow to go and visit the poor or to hear God’s word or whatsoever edifies your soul unto love & good works after knowledge or whatsoever God commands, it is well done and a sacrifice that savors well you will happily say, that you will go to this or that place because God hath chosen one place more than another and will hear your petition more in one place than another. As for your prayer it must be according to God’s word. You may not desire God to take vengeance on him whom God’s word teaches you to pity & to pray for. And as for the other gloss, that God will hear you more in one place than in another, I suppose it _sal infatuatum,_ salt unsavory, for if it were wisdom how could we excuse the death of Steven Acts .vii. which died for that article that God dwells not in temples made with hands. We that believe in God are the temple of God says Paul, if a man love God & keep his word he is the temple of God & hath God presently dwelling in him, as witnesses Christ John .xiiii. saying: If a man love me he will keep my word, & then my father will love him & we will come unto him and dwell with him. And in the xv. he says: If you abide in me and my words also abide in you, then ask what you will & you shall have it. If you believe in Christ & have the promises which God has made you in your heart, then go on pilgrimage unto your own heart and there pray & God will hear you for his mercy and truth’s sake and for his Son Christ’s sake and not for a few stones’ sakes. What cares God for the temple? The very beasts in that they have life in them be much better than an heap of stones couched together.
To speak of chastity, it is a gift not given unto all persons testifies both Christ and also his apostle Paul, wherefore all persons may not vow it. Moreover there be cause wherefore many persons may better live chaste at one time than at another. Many may live chaste at twenty and thirty for certain cold diseases following them, which at forty when their health is come cannot do so. Many be occupied with wild phantasies in their youth that they care not for marriage which same when they be waxen sad shall be greatly desirous, it is a dangerous thing to make sin where none is and to forswear the benefit of God & to bind yourself under pain of damnation of your soul that you would not use the remedy that God has created if need required. Another thing is this, beware that thou get thee not a false feigned chastity made with the ungodly persuasions of saint Jerome or Ovid in his filthy book of the remedy against love, lest when through such imaginations you have utterly despised, defied and abhorred all womankind, you come into such case through the fierce wrath of God, that you can neither live chaste nor find in your heart to marry and so be compelled to fall into the abomination of the pope against nature and kind.
Moreover God is a wise Father & knows all the infirmities of his children & also merciful, and therefore has created a remedy without sin and given thereto his favor and blessing.
Let us not be wiser than God with our imaginations nor tempt him, for as godly chastity is not every man’s gift: even so he that hath it today hath not power to continue it at his own pleasure, neither hath God promised to give it him still & to cure his infirmities without his natural remedy no more than he hath promised to slake his hunger without meat or thirst without drink.
Wherefore either let all things bide free as wise God has created them & neither vow that which God requires not nor forswear that which God permits you with his favor and blessing also: or else if you will needs vow, then vow godly & under a condition, that you will continue chaste, so long as God gives you that gift and as long as neither your own necessity neither charity toward your neighbor nor the authority of them under whose power you are drive you unto the contrary.
The purpose of your vow must be salted also with the wisdom of God. You may not vow to be justified thereby or to make satisfaction for your sins or to win heaven nor an higher place: for then did you wrong unto the blood of Christ & your vow were plain idolatry & abominable in the sight of God. Your vow must be only unto the furtherance of the commandments of God, which are as I have said nothing but the taming of your members & the service of your neighbor: that is if you think your back too weak for the burthen of wedlock & that you cannot rule your wife, children servants and make provision for them godly & without overmuch busying and unquieting yourself and drowning yourself in worldly business unchristianly or that you can serve your neighbor in some office better being chaste than married. And then the vow is good & lawful. And even so must you vow abstinence of meats & drinks so far forth as it is profitable unto your neighbors & unto the taming of your flesh: But you may vow neither of them unto the slaying of your body. As Paul commands Timothy to drink wine & no more water because of his diseases. You will say that Timothy had not haply forsworn wine. I think the same and that the apostles forswore not wedlock though many of them lived chaste neither yet any meat or drink, though they abstained from them, & that it were good for us to follow their ensample. Howbeit though I vow & swear and think on none exception, yet is the breaking of God’s commandments excepted & all chances that hang of God. As if I swear to be in a certain place at a certain hour to make a love day without exception, yet if the king in the meantime command me another way, I must go by God’s commandment and yet break not mine oath. And in like case if my father and mother be sick and require my presence, or if my wife, children or household be visited that my assistance be required, or if my neighbor’s house be afire at the same hour and a thousand such chances: in which all I break mine oath and am not forsworn and so forth. Read God’s word diligently and with a good heart and it shall teach thee all things.
A PROLOGE INTO THE fifth book of Moses, called Deuteronomy.
This is a book worthy to be read in day and night and never to be out of hands. For it is the most excellent of all the books of Moses. It is easy also and light and a very pure gospel that is to wit, a preaching of faith and love: deducing the love to God out of faith, and the love of a man’s neighbor out of the love of God. Herein also thou mayst learn right meditation or contemplation, which is nothing else save the calling to mind and a repeating in the heart of the glorious and wonderful deeds of God, and of his terrible handling of his enemies and merciful entreating of them that come when he calleth them which thing this book doth and almost nothing else.
In the four first chapters he rehearses the benefits of God done unto them, to provoke them to love, and his mighty deeds done above all natural power and beyond all natural capacity of faith, that they might believe God and trust in him and in his strength. And thirdly he rehearses the fierce plagues of God upon his enemies and on them which through impatience and unbelief fell from him: partly to tame and abate the appetites of the flesh which always fight against the spirit, and partly to bridle the wild raging lusts of them in whom was no spirit: that though they had no power to do good of love, yet at the least way they should abstain from outward evil for fear of wrath and cruel vengeance which should fall upon them and shortly find them out, if they cast up God’s nurture and run at riot beyond his laws and ordinances. Moreover he charges them to put naught to nor take aught away from God’s words, but to be diligent only to keep them in remembrance and in the heart and to teach their children, for fear of forgetting. And to beware either of making imagery or of bowing themselves unto images saying: Ye saw no image when God spoke unto you, but heard a voice only and that voice keep and thereunto cleave, for it is your life and it shall save you. And finally if as the frailty of all flesh is they shall have fallen from God and he have brought them into trouble, adversity, and cumbrance and all necessity: yet if they repent and turn, he promises them that God shall remember his mercy and receive them to grace again.
In the fifth he repeats the ten commandments and that they might see a cause to do them of love, he bids them remember that they were bound in Egypt and how God delivered them with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm, to serve him and to keep his commandments: as Paul saith that we are bought with Christ’s blood and therefore are his servants and not our own, and ought to seek his will and honour only and to love and serve one another for his sake.
In the sixth he sets out the fountain of all commandments: that is, that they believe how that there is but one God that does all, and therefore ought only to be loved with all the heart, all the soul and all the might. For love only is the fulfilling of the commandments, as Paul also says unto the Romans and Galatians likewise. He warns them also that they forget not the commandments, but teach them their children and to shew their children also how God delivered them out of the bondage of the Egyptians to serve him and his commandments, that the children might see a cause to work of love, likewise.
The seventh is altogether of faith: he removes all occasions that might withdraw them from the faith, and pulls them also from all confidence in themselves, and stirs them up to trust in God boldly and only.
Of the eighth chapter you see how that the cause of all temptation is, that a man might see his own heart. For when I am brought into that extremity that I must either suffer or forsake God, then I shall feel how much I believe and trust in him, and how much I love him. In like manner, if my brother do me evil for my good, then if I love him when there is no cause in him, I see that my love was of God, and even so if I then hate him, I feel and perceive that my love was but worldly, And finally he stirs them to the faith and love of God, and drives them from all confidence of their own selves.
In the ninth also he moves them unto faith and to put their trust in God, and draws them from confidence of themselves by rehearsing all the wickedness which they had wrought from the first day he knew them unto that same day. And in the end he repeats how he conjured God in Horeb and overcame him with prayer, where you may learn the right manner to pray.
In the tenth he reckons up the pith of all laws and the keeping of the law in the heart: which is to fear God love him and serve him with all their heart soul and might and keep his commandments of love. And he shews a reason why they should that do: even because God is Lord of heaven and earth and hath also done all for them of his own goodness without their deserving. And then out of the love unto God he brings the love unto a man’s neighbor saying: God is Lord above all lords and loveth all his servants indifferently, as well the poor and feeble and the stranger, as the rich and mighty, and therefore will that we love the poor and the stranger. And he adds a cause, for you were strangers and God delivered you and has brought you unto a land where you be at home. Love the stranger therefore for his sake.
In the eleventh he exhorts them to love and fear God, and rehearses the terrible deeds of God upon his enemies, and on them that rebelled against him. And he testifies unto them both what will follow if they love and fear God, and what also if they despise him and break his commandment.
In the twelfth he commands to put out of the way all that might be an occasion to hurt the faith and forbids to do aught after their own minds, or to alter the word of God.
In the thirteenth he forbids to hearken unto aught save unto God’s word: no though he which counsels contrary should come with miracles, as Paul does unto the Galatians.
In the fourteenth the beasts are forbidden, partly for the uncleanness of them, and partly to cause hate between the heathen and them, that they have no conversation together, in that one abhors what the other eats. Unto this fifteenth chapter all pertain unto faith and love chiefly. And in this fifteenth he begins to entreat more specially of things pertaining unto the common wealth and equity and exhorts unto the love of man’s neighbor. And in the sixteenth among other he forgets not the same. And in the seventeenth he entreats of right and equity chiefly, insomuch that when he looks unto faith, and unto the punishment of idolaters, he yet ends in a law of love and equity: forbidding to condemn any man under less than two witnesses at the least and commands to bring the trespassers unto the open gate of the city where all men go in and out, that all men might hear the cause and see that he had but right. But the pope has found a better way, even to oppose him without any accuser and that secretly, that no man know whether he have right or no, either hear his articles or answer: for fear lest the people should search whether it were so or no.
In the eighteenth he forbids all false and devilish crafts that hurt true faith. Moreover because the people could not hear the voice of the law spoken to them in fire, he promises them another prophet to bring them better tidings which was spoken of Christ our Saviour.
The nineteenth and so forth unto the end of the twenty seventh is almost altogether of love unto our neighbor’s and of laws of equity and honesty with now and then a respect unto faith.
The twenty eighth is a terrible chapter and to be trembled at: A Christian man’s heart might well bleed for sorrow at the reading of it, for fear of the wrath that is like to come upon us according unto all the curses which thou there readest.
For according unto these curses hath God dealt with all nations, after they were fallen into the abominations of blindness.
The twenty ninth is like terrible with a godly lesson in the end that we should leave searching of God’s secrets and give diligence to walk according to that he has opened unto us. For the keeping of the commandments of God teaches wisdom as you may see in the same chapter, where Moses says, keep the commandments, that ye may understand what you ought to do. But to search God’s secrets blinds a man as it is well proved by the swarms of our sophisters, whose wise books are now when we look in the scripture, found but full of foolishness.
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