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be such a one as should cover and overwhelm the face of the visible Church. For the great defection was to be a general and solemn one, such a one as should stain the whole body with the foul naine of WHORE OF BABYLON. (Rev. xvii. 5.) Such a one as whereby the Court of the Temple of God should not only be ophaned, but even trodden down by Gentilism, (Rev. xi. 2.) Such a one as the world is said to wonder after the beast, and worship him, (Rev. xiii. 3, 4.) Such a one as should not only make war with the true saints, but overcome them, (Rev. xiii. 7.) Otherwise, if St. John and St. Paul should mean no more but the errors of particular men, and their trouble to the Church ; they should make no prophecy at all, or a needless one. For who knows not that in St. Paul's, St. John's, and the Apostles' own times, were divers heresies and heretics, here and there dispersed and grown up as weeds in the wheat-field of Christ? But the wheat yet overtopped them, and the known body of the visible Church disclaimed them. Of such as these, therefore, they could not mean, when they foretell of a corruption to come in after-times, or (as Paul speaks, 1 Tim. iv. 1.) in the latter times; for no man uses to foretell of things which are already, as if they were to come. Nor would the Apostles foretell of heresies, as it were special to the after and latter times, if they were but such and in such manner as was but usual, and no novelty, in their own time. The corruption and defection, therefore, so much prophesied of, was another manner of one, such a kind of one as before neither had been in the Church, nor was to be-namely, such a one as should not be disclaimed by the body of the Church, but should surprise, eclipse, and overwhelm, and, as it were, overcloud the visible Church itself—which should be as when the heavens are overcast, so that the bright firinament with the stars and lights therein can no more be seen.
If this be so, then may we hence observe how vain and idle that challenge of our adversaries is, when they bid us show our Church to have been always visible, and to give them the names of those who have been of our belief, in all ages since Christ and his Apostles' time. What! may they not have been, although we cannot name them? This is as unreasonable a demand as to require a man to shew him and point him where the sun is, when the whole face of heaven is overcast with clouds. Would you not believe the sun were in the firmament and risen in a cloudy day, though no man could point and shew you with his finger where she is ? Yes, I am sure you would, and say too, that there may be other signs thereof, though a man cannot see her—as, namely,day-light, which never is without the sun; yea, and now and then we may have a glimpse of her through a thinner cloud, which assures us thereof. Even so when the great defection as a cloud overspread the face of the Christian firmament, the visible Church of Christ, for divers ages together, though the cloud be for a great part so thick as it will not suffer us to discern the company of those who still kept entire the true and unstained faith of the Gospel ; yet we rest assured that it was under the cloud, because some day-light of Christianity still appeared; which argued the sun was in the firmament, though the great cloud overshadowed her : yea, and now and then we can shew and spy some glimpse of her, as often as any breach happened in the cloud which overcast her.
I might also make use of that parable of our Saviour where the Church or kingdom of God (for both is one) is compared to a field, where the master sowed good seed : but while men slept, the enemy, that wicked one, came and sowed tares among the wheat. If the tares once grow so many and so high that they quite overshadow the wheat, whereof there is but little left, can a man who stands a good way off shew the wheat from the tares with his finger? I think not; though, if the wheat overmasters the tares, he easily might. This is the very case with the true Churcb, so long as the APOSTASY prevailed ; and we who live now are something far off; if we had been nearer, as those were who lived then, we might have discerned the wheat a great deal better.
you would yet be more fully informed how the true company of believers could live under this woeful state of the visible body, and not be extinguished, and by what signs and arguments we may fully conclude it was there all that time; though I have given some taste of this last already, yet you shall hear more of them both anon, as my text will give me occasion.
In the mean time I must tell you, that there needed not all this stir about visibility, if our adversaries were ingenuous : for the difference between them and us is not so much about the point of visibility, as about the point of time. They hold the glorious visibility of the true Church to have continued from the beginning until this present; and the overshadowing of the light, and eclipsing of the glory thereof under Antichrist, to be a thing yet to come; and when it comes, they and the fathers ton say as much of the eclipsing of the Church as we do for our hearts. For then they say the use of the sacraments should cease; no eucharist, no mass, no public assemblies—yea, all ecclesiastical jurisdiction should be extinguished. Is not here enough ? Now, on the contrary, we hold the clouding of the Church's visibility to have been already, and a great part of the glory thereof to be yet to come. Both agreeing in this, that in that fatal APOSTASY, the Church's visibility and glory should cease. But we say, that time hath been already; they say, it is yet to come. We say, that that time was to last many ages; they say, when it comes, it shall be but three single years and a half.
Why, then, are they not ashamed to offer to choke us with this argument of visibility and glory, when themselves confess there is a time to come when the same argument would be as well used against their supposed Catholic Church, as it is now alleged against ours ? This is too great partiality. Seeing, therefore, the whole controversy lies in this, whether the Church's fatal APOSTASY be already past, or yet to come, it is a great deal the quicker course for them and us not to wrangle about visibility, but to examine the condition and quality of both religions by the Scripture; where we have (as St. Peter speaks in the foregoing chapter,) "a most sure word of prophecy; whereunto we shall do well if we take heed, as to a light shining in a dark place.” And this shall suffice, to have observed concerning the matter in general-a general defection or corruption of the Church by false teachers and damnable heresies.
Now I come to the circumstance of this general description of the Church's APOSTASY, namely the manner how these false Doctors should bring in these damnable heresies; which is, not openly, but privily. For so the word here used for bringing in signifies, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies : not so that it should be observed and espied at the first; but so by degrees, and with such a mask of plausible pretences and good meaning, that the Church was overwhelmed before he knew what it ailed. Even as some diseases steal so upon a man, that he never knew he was sick until he see himself past recovery; and then, perhaps, he will begin to call to mind, though too late, at what time and by what means this sickness grew upon him.
This observation, therefore, will furnish us with an answer to another objection of our adversaries. For if (say they) the Catholic visible Church altered so much from the primitive sincerity of faith and Christian worship as we say it did ; how comes it then to pass that it was no more observed and opposed by those who then lived ? For it is strange so great an alteration should find admittance with the general consent of all
. I answer out of my text, that it came in privily, and so was not observed nor opposed till it was too late, and that the APOSTATE faction was grown too strong for the sound. A fire, we know, if it be espied at the first, may be easily smothered and quenched; but if the cry rise not till all be on a flame, no man then dare come near to help it: so was the case here.
And yet in some corruptions somewhat sooner espied than the rest, as worshipping of images, transubstantiation, the Pope's God-like supremacy : the establishing of these was not without great opposition, even to the changing of states and kingdoms. But here also the opposers came too late ; for these heresies also were at the first brought in so privily, that the faction was not espied till it was grown too strong to be overmastered by opposition.
Thus having seen the general part of this description, both for the matter, false teachers, and damnable heresies, and also for the manner, they should be privily brought into the visible Church ; I come now to the special part of the prophecy, which tells us in particular what kind of heresies these should be, of what sort, which should so generally overcloud the Church of Christ. And this our Apostle here sets forth by a twofold mark. First, they should be such as we read to have been amongst the Jewish people under the Old Testament: there were (saith he) false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you. This is a good earmark, having so infallible history as is the story of the Bible to know it by. For if this of Christendom were of the same stamp with that of Israel, it cannot be long hid from us; which that it may not, let us confine our discovery to these two heads. First, let us learn what heresies were those which the false prophets of Israel brought in amongst them, as we find it recorded in the Scripture; for thither our Apostle sends us. In the second place, we will examine whether the heresies of Christendom, brought in by the false Doctors of Babylon, be not exactly like them. To begin with the first, I cannot find in the Old Testa
other heresies there recorded as brought in by false prophets, but only idolatry and the worshipping of other gods besides the true and living God. I doubt not but the Jews had other errors, but this is that which so great a part of the Bible is taken up in forewarning of, in relating of, and in declaiming against it. This is that we are sure the false prophets had a hand in; of the rest nothing that way is it recorded. This is that Moses fore