HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.
HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.

READ ONLINE: Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory - Hail and Fire


QUOTE: "How necessary it is, that the Word of God, which is the only food of the soul, and that most excellent light that we must walk by, in this our most dangerous pilgrimage, should at all convenient times be preached unto the people"

1562 Preface

Click to Read Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue by William Tyndale - Hail and Fire Book Library

READ ONLINE: The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship by Isaac Watts (hymns and christians songs)

"The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship"

by Isaac Watts

"Who shall inhabit in thy hill, O God of holiness? Whom will the Lord admit to dwell, So near his throne of grace? The man that walks in pious ways, And works with righteous hands; That trusts his Maker's promises, And follows his commands." Psalm 15 (Puritan Hymn)

Click to Read Richard Baxter On Lamentations of the Lost - Hail and Fire Exhortations

Hail & Fire Book Queue - see what works are currently underway to be added to the H&F Online Library - click here

Hail & Fire's Book Queue is a running list of the Christian, Puritan, Reformed and Protestant exhortational works, Catholic and Protestant polemical and apologetical works, bibles, histories, and martyrologies, which are currently being digitized for the Hail & Fire Library. These books will be added to Hail & Fire's free online library and/or as paperback reprints as they become available.

View the Book Queue.

Click to Read Joseph Alleine's An Alarm to the Unconverted Sinners prefixed by an epistle Richard Baxter - Hail and Fire Book Library

ONLINE LIBRARY: Sermons on the Card and Other Discourses by Hugh Latimer, martyr 1555

Click to Read About the life of William Tyndale - Hail and Fire Book Library
"One circumstance appears plain from the Registers of their persecutors, and is well worthy of being noted: that these martyrs do not appear to have held a variety of doctrines and opinions, as the Roman Catholics contend is always the consequence of leaving that communion; their doctrines were uniform; and scarcely one that is not now held by every true Protestant."





"What does the Lord require of you? Is it to make your own peace? He would as soon require you to make a new heaven and a new earth. Is it to keep your own soul? No more than he requires you to keep the sun in its course. His own arm has wrought salvation, and he will secure it. He requires none of your help here; nay, he disdains the thought: you might as well offer to help him to govern the world. But this he requires of you, 'to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God;' and the methods of his grace will enable you to do so."


Click to Read History of England from the fall of Wosley to the death of Elizabeth by James Anthony Froude - Hail and Fire Book Library

Illustration of the Burning of English Bible Translations in 15th century England. READ LOLLARD WRITINGS online


"When they burned the New Testament they pretended a zeal very fervent to maintain only God’s honor, which they said with protestation, was obscured by translation in English, causing much error. But the truth plainly to be said, this was the cause why they were afraid, least laymen should know their iniquity."

A Lollard (1450ad)

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A Proper Dialogue between a Gentleman and Husbandman each complaining to other their miserable calamite, through the ambition of the clergy.

A 15th century Apology written by an English Lollard.


Illustration of the Burning of English Bible Translations in 15th century England. READ LOLLARD WRITINGS online

Click to Read Doctrine on the Scripture by St. John Chrysostom - Hail and Fire

St. John Chrysostom: ON SCRIPTURE

"But some one will say, 'it is to the priests that these charges are given' ... But that the apostle gives the same charge to the laity, hear what he says in another epistle to other than the priesthood: 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.'"


READ William Tynale on the Authority of Scripture.


"God careth for his elect; and therefore hath provided them of scripture, to try all things, and to defend them from all false prophets."


READ William Tynale on the Authority of Scripture.


"For we love not God first, to compel him to love again; but he loved us first, and gave his Son for us, that we might see love and love again, saith St John in his first epistle"


Read Martin Luther's Hymn, Lord God Thy Praise We Sing

READ ONLINE: The Marriage Ring: or How to Make a Happy Home, by John Angell James (Christian Marriage Sermon)

READ ONLINE: (1842 Sermon/Book on Christian Marriage)

"The Marriage Ring:
  or READ ONLINE: The Marriage Ring: or How to Make a Happy Home, by John Angell James (Christian Marriage Book) How to Make a Happy Home"

John Angell James

"Intended as a manual for those just entering the marriage state."


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On Godly Marriage:

"The secret of happiness lies folded up in the leaves of the Bible, and is carried in the bosom of Religion. Let the two parties in wedded life be believers in Christ Jesus, and partake themselves of the peace that passeth understanding ... united by love, and sanctified by grace."

READ ONLINE: The Marriage Ring: or How to Make a Happy Home, by John Angell James (Christian Marriage Book)

"To pretend to preach the truth without offending carnal men, is to pretend to be able to do what Jesus Christ could not do."

Thomas Wilson

HOME > Library > Books > The Duty of Maintaining the Christian Faith (Sermon) by Bishop Sherlock


"The Duty of Maintaining the Christian Faith"

by Bishop Sherlock

1780 Edition from
"The Protestant Preacher, Sermons and Discources"


J U D E, verse 3.

"It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you, that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."

"But it is to little purpose to exhort men to be zealous for the Christian faith, unless you can give them some sure and certain mark to know what the right faith is. If you enquire of particular churches or societies of Christians, which is the true faith, each of them will answer, that the faith professed by them is the true one, and that other societies have fallen into errors and mistakes. In this divided state of things, therefore, no church has a right to be believed on its own word merely, without giving a reason of the faith which is in them: and yet this pretence of authority is the only thing that can be said, and therefore it always is said, to justify the dominion which the Church of Rome has usurped over the faith of Christians. With how much better grace might St. Jude have dictated to the Christians of his time, and told them upon his own authority, what the true faith was, in opposition to corrupt teachers? But does he so? By no means: so far from it, that he gives them another rule to examine the faith by, and sends them to enquire, what the faith was, which was once, or from the beginning, delivered to Christians."
It is at all times the duty of the pastors and ministers of the Christian church to call upon the people to be zealous to maintain, and by proper methods to propagate the faith of the Gospel; but there are seasons in which it is more especially necessary for them to discharge this duty; seasons which require that the pastors should be vigilant to prevent, and the people careful to avoid, the danger of growing errors and superstitions.

Such was the season, and such the occasion of this epistle. Some very dangerous errors, and some abominable practices, began to show themselves among the members of the church, and there was great reason to apprehend the infection would spread. Certain men, it seems, had crept in unawares – ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. This it was that made it needful for the apostle to exhort Christians everywhere to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.

If it was needful in the apostle's time, when the mischief first began to show itself, what must it be in ours, when this evil seems to be at its full growth, and to surround us in different shapes on every side? Superstition on one hand, and irreligion on the other, have left true Christians a narrow path to walk in: and though reason and reflection will make men sometimes sick of the extremes, yet the transition from one extreme to another is much easier than from either to the truth that lies between them. From popery to no religion, and from no religion to popery, is a ready step; and when a man is tired of either extreme, it requires only a resolution to run away from it as fast as he can, to get soon to the other; whereas it requires a serious and steady mind to stop at the right place.

Another difficulty there is, which distinguishes our times from that of the apostles: St. Jude complains, that some corrupt men, teaching perverse doctrines, had mixed with Christian societies; but it was by stealth and unawares they had crept in: the churches themselves were pure and uncorrupt, and professed and taught the true faith of the Gospel of Christ. But our case is far otherwise. There are indeed, in all churches, corrupt members, a calamity common to all times: but in these latter days the infection has spread so far, and so wide, that whole churches are tainted with it. The errors we have to contend with are not such as creep in silently and unawares, but such as are taught by authority and insisted on as necessary conditions of Christian communion: they are by pressed upon men by an application of all the promises of the Gospel to those who receive them gladly, and of all the threats of the Gospel to such as embrace them not. Is it not then now, more than ever, needful to exhort men to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints?

But it is to little purpose to exhort men to be zealous for the Christian faith, unless you can give them some sure and certain mark to know what the right faith is. If you enquire of particular churches or societies of Christians, which is the true faith, each of them will answer, that the faith professed by them is the true one, and that other societies have fallen into errors and mistakes. In this divided state of things, therefore, no church has a right to be believed on its own word merely, without giving a. reason of the faith which is in them: and yet this pretence of authority is the only thing that can be said, and therefore it always is said, to justify the dominion which the Church of Rome has usurped over the faith of Christians. With how much better grace might St. Jude have dictated to the Christians of his time, and told them upon his own authority, what the true faith was, in opposition to corrupt teachers? But does he so? By no means: so far from it, that he gives them another rule to examine the faith by, and sends them to enquire, what the faith was, which was once, or from the beginning, delivered to Christians.

Church authority is one of those unhappy subjects which is seldom seen but from one of its extremes: in some places, and with some persons, it can do everything; in others, it can do nothing. I cannot propose to confider justly so copious a subject in the compass of a sermon; and therefore I shall content myself with laying before you some observations on the apostolic rule in the text, which may be of use if duly considered. And -

First, since an apostle of Christ, in early days of the church, sent Christians to enquire after the faith delivered from the beginning, it follows manifestly that the apostles themselves were but teachers and witnesses of the faith, and had no authority or commission to make new articles of faith. Had it been otherwise, how absurd was it in St. Jude to send Christians to an enquiry after the faith “once delivered,” when he and they could not but know that there was a standing authority to make articles of faith, and that no such inquiry was wanting.

The truth of this conclusion may be abundantly proved, by considering the commission and authority the apostles received from Christ, and their conduct in the execution of them: “Go ye,” says our blessed Lord, “into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature,” Mark 16:15. The Gospel then was the thing committed to them to be taught to the world, and not to be made or to be altered by them; which sense is delivered in terms more express in St. Matthew, for there the words are, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” ch, 28:20. The promise annexed, “And lo I am with you to the end of the world,” must be relative to t heir commission, and they could depend on it no longer than whilst they kept within the limits of their commission, which was to teach what Christ had commanded.

When the time of our Savior's leaving the world drew near, he told his apostles he would not “leave them comfortless but pray the Father to find them another comforter, to abide with them forever,” John 14:16. The office of this comforter is described, ver., 26: “The comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” If then the office of the Spirit was to bring to their remembrance what Christ had said to them, their office, as teachers, could only be to publish the doctrine of Christ. The Spirit was likewise to teach them all things, that is, to teach them to understand rightly all things, and to preserve them from mistaking the meaning of what our Lord said to them, which was frequently their case, whilst they conversed with him on earth.

Let us consider, in the next place, the conduct of the apostles, and how they executed the commission with which they were in trusted.

One of the first things they did was to elect an apostle into the place of Judas. When they were to choose an apostle, without doubt they considered the qualifications necessary to the office; and for that reason St. Peter declared that the choice was necessarily confined to such as had “companied with them all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John unto the same day that he was taken up from us;” so that no man was capable of being an apostle, who was not capable of being a witness of the doctrines and works of our blessed Lord: a plain evidence that their business was to report the doctrines of Christ, and not to deliver doctrines of their own. Accordingly the four Gospels, published to instruct the world in the Christian faith, are an history of what our Savior did, taught, and suffered: and St. Luke particularly tells us, that he wrote his Gospel, “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first.” So that St. Luke, in writing his Gospel, followed the rule prescribed by St. Jude, and reported the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

St. John, in his first epistle general, refers like wise to the beginning and first revelation of the Gospel to show the authority of the doctrines which he delivered. Hear his own words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of the Word of Life – that which we have seen and heard, declared we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us.” St. John's referring in this manner to what he had heard and seen to establish his authority as a preacher of the Gospel, plainly shows that he thought himself bound to preach only what he had heard and seen, and that he had no authority to preach any other doctrine. It is observable that St. John, in the passage before us, says expressly, that he wrote the things he had heard and seen from the beginning, that those to whom his epistle came, might have fellowship with the apostles: a plain proof that a right of fellowship with the apostles, or, in other words, a right to church communion, depends upon receiving and embracing the “faith once delivered to the saints,” and not upon any other doctrines of later date, by what authority soever published or declared.

St. Paul's case was a singular one: he was not called in our Savior's lifetime, and consequently had not the qualification required in the first of the Acts, when a new apostle was to be chosen: he was not one of those who had “companied with the apostles during the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them.” But if we consider how this defect was supplied in his case, it will justify the observation we are upon in the strongest manner imaginable.

As St. Paul conversed not with Christ in the flesh, so neither did he receive the Gospel from any of the apostles, who did; but had it by immediate revelation from Christ himself: so that his preaching had this apostolical character, that he taught the things which he had seen and heard of Christ. When he was miraculously called to be an apostle, to qualify him for the office Christ promised to be his instructor: “I have appeared unto thee,” says our Lord, “for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee,” Acts 26:16. Accordingly St. Paul, speaking to the Galatians of his own authority as an apostle, tells them that he was “an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead,” Gal. 1:1. And again in the 11th and 12th verses, “I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man; for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

This revelation to St . Paul extended not merely to points of doctrine, but conveyed to him likewise the knowledge of historical facts; as is plain from 1 Cor. 11:23, where speaking of the institution of the sacrament of the Lord's supper, he says, “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks he brake it;” and so goes on to give an historical account of what was said and done at the last supper; agreeing with the account given by those apostles who were present at the transaction.

From these things laid together it is evident, that the apostles were witnesses and teachers of the faith, and had no authority to add anything to the doctrine of Christ, or to declare new articles of faith.

Now if the apostles commissioned directly by Christ himself, and supported by the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, had not this power, can any of their successors in the government of the church, without great impiety, pretend to it? Did the bishops and clergy of the ninth and tenth centuries know the articles of the faith better than the apostles did? Or were they more powerfully assisted by the Holy Spirit? No Christian can think it or say it. Whence is it then the Church of Rome has received the power they pretend to, of making new articles of faith, and dooming all to eternal destruction who receive them not? Can any sober serious Christian trust himself to such guides, and not tremble when he reads the woe denounced by St. Paul; “Though we or an angel from Heaven preach any other Gospel – let him be accursed?

When the corruptions of the Church of Rome were generally felt and complained of, and no applications whatever could prevail to obtain any alteration; the fear of owning an error, and thereby weakening the authority claimed, being more powerful to continue the old errors, than the force of truth or even of conviction, was to reform them; what had serious Christians left to do, but to seek after, if happily they could find, “the faith once delivered to the saints;” to separate between the old doctrines of the Gospel, and the new inventions of men; and to build up a church “upon the foundation of the apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the head cornerstone?”

What has hitherto been said relates merely to the doctrines of the Gospel; to points of Christian faith: in these, neither the apostles of Christ, nor the church after them, had any authority, but to preach and publish to the world what they had received. If we extend this further and say that the apostles, and church after them, had no more authority in anything else than they had in articles of the faith, we run into an extreme that can produce nothing but disorder and confusion: which must be the destruction of all Christian societies, an end in making every man a church by himself.

It may be worth our while to consider the grounds of this distinction, as they are to be found in Holy Scripture.

In the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew in the fifteenth and following verses, we have this direction from our Savior: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother: but if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. But if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an Heathen and a Publican.”

In cases which fall under this direction, and some there are without doubt, or there would have been no direction about them, the church has a judicial authority, and a right to inflict the punishment mentioned. This power may be, and often has been, mast flagrantly abused: but to say the church has no authority in cases which come under this direction is to deny not only the authority of the church, but the authority of Christ likewise, who gave the direction.

This authority of the church is taken notice of by St. Paul; and he rebukes the church of Corinth for not making use of it, to separate from them the incestuous person who had given offence not to one, bur to all Christians.

But there is another power which the apostles had and exercised, and which they committed to those who succeeded them; I mean the authority of settling churches, and prescribing rules of order and decency to them.

If we consider St. Paul's conduct in the disputes which happened in the church of Corinth, we shall see how carefully he distinguishes between his duty to preach the Gospel of Christ just as he had received it, and his authority in matters of order and decency. The Corinthians had been guilty of great misbehavior in eating the Lord's supper, as if they had forgot the end and the use of it. St. Paul, to set them right, gives them an account of this institution; and here he expressly says, that he delivered to them “what he had received of the Lord:” but in directing some circumstances of their behavior at this supper, he speaks in his own name: “When ye come together to eat,” says he, “tarry for one another; and if any man hunger, let him eat at home:” and concludes with reserving to himself the giving farther directions at a proper time: “The rest” says he, “will I set in order when I come.”

As he exercised this authority himself, so he committed the like authority to those who succeeded him in the pastoral care. The epistles to Timothy and T'itus are full of rules or canons for the government of the respective churches under their care; which were to be supplied, as occasion required, by orders of their own: “For this cause,” says St. Paul to Titus, “I left thee in Crete, that thou should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.”

Which particulars laid together manifestly show that there was a power or authority in particular churches to settle matters of discipline, order, and decency for themselves: and that there were no rules of this kind of universal obligation to all churches.

As the apostles, considered singly as commissioned and inspired teachers, had no authority over the faith, neither had they when met together in council: for the doctrine and Gospel of Christ could no more be altered by his twelve apostles, than it could be by one of them. We have but one instance of an apostolic council, which was held at Jerusalem; and proceedings of it are recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The matter here controverted, and settled by decree of the council, was plainly a matter of government and discipline; and not of the substance of faith; and it was determined by prudential considerations, arising from the circumstances of the Christian church at that time. The case was this: St. Paul had converted many among the Gentiles, and settled several churches in Asia. The Jewish Christians insisted that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, and observe the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas, apostles of the Gentiles, withstood this demand of the Jews, and had, as the words of the text are, “no small dissension and disputation with them.” They agreed to refer the question to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem; and thither they went. The council being assembled, the case was opened with much disputing on both sides: then St. Peter rose up and declared his opinion, and the reasons of it: he reminds them that he himself was the person chosen by God to be the first preacher of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and that God had given a token of his accepting the Gentiles, by giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he had given it to the Jewish Christians, and “put,” as his own words are, “no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith;” and then concludes against laying the burden or yoke of the law of Moses upon the Gentile converts.

St. Peter's argument is drawn from the case of Cornelius, to whom he was sent, by express revelation, to preach the Gospel. Cornelius was a Gentile, no observer of the law of Moses; nor was St. Peter, when sent to preach to him, instructed to require of him obedience to the law of Moses: and yet in this state God accepted Cornelius and his household, and the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured on them. And St. Peter's conclusion is, that since God accepted Cornelius and his family, without calling them to the observance of the Mosaic law, the observance of the Mosaic law was not a condition to be imposed on the Gentile converts.

After St. Peter, Barnabas, and Paul gave an account what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them; which was strengthening St. Peter's argument, by showing that what had happened in the case of Cornelius had also happened in many instances during their ministry among the Gentiles.

St. James, bishop of Jerusalem, speaks next: he approves the reasoning of St. Peter, and shows from the ancient prophecies, that the call of the Gentiles into the church of Christ was, from the beginning, the design of Providence: “Wherefore,” says he, “my opinion is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.”

It is manifest that this reasoning extends to every part of the ceremonial law, and that the Gentiles were bound no more by one point of that law than by another: and yet we shall find that in the conclusion of the council some points of the law of Moses were required to be observed in the Gentile churches.

It is one thing to be bound to observe the law of Moses, as matter of necessary duty, it is another to comply with some parts of that law, upon motives of Christian charity and prudence. It was lawful for the Gentile converts to live without observing any part of the law of Moses; but though “all things are lawful,” yet, as St. Paul says, “all things are not expedient - all things edify not;” and again, “Meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse,” 1 Cor. 8:8.

This being the reason of the case, the circumstances of the Christian church of that time weighed with this apostolical council to require of the Gentile converts a compliance with some particulars of the Mosaic law. St. James, who opens this advice, gives the reason of it; he considered that in all the cities where Gentile churches had been planted, there were Jewish converts likewise, who were zealous of the law, and would hold no communication with the Gentiles who eat blood, things strangled, and the like: and therefore unless the Gentile Christians complied in such particulars, there must be an irreconcilable division in the church of Christ, to the loss of that charity, on which the Gospel sets so great a price.

St. James therefore, after declaring his opinion that the Gentile converts were not bound by the law of Moses, proposes however to write to them to “abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood:” the reason he gives in these words; “For Moses of old time hath in every city,” i.e. in the cities where Gentile churches were planted, “them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” From whence it is evident, that the injunctions of the council to the Gentile converts were founded upon prudential considerations with respect to the Jews; and the matters ordained by the council were matters of discipline and government only. The passage understood in this sense contains a very strong argument to justify the decree of the council; for the Jews having been born and bred under the law of Moses could not be easily persuaded to depart from it: and therefore, unless the Gentile Christians could be brought to avoid giving them any offence, there could be no hope of peace in the Christian church.

The reason upon which the decree of the council is founded, accounts for the conduct of St. Paul in like cases. When he circumcised Timothy it was because of the Jews which were in those quarters: and when he came to Jerusalem, St. James prevailed with him to purify himself according to the usage of the Jews. The argument made use of by St. James was the very same with that used by the council; “Thou seest brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe, and they are all zealous of the law; do therefore this which we say to thee, that all may know that thou walkest orderly and keepest the law.” This was going a greater length than the council had gone with respect to the Gentiles, “as touching whom,” St. James says, “we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from meat offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strang1ed, and from fornication.”

There is a question that arises from this case, to know why the particulars mentioned are singled out, when the Jews were strongly attached to other points of the law.

But, if you consider the case, the reason for this distinction will evidently appear: for as the concern was to prevent the giving offence to the Jews, and thereby to preserve peace and charity in the church of Christ, it was necessary to guard against the practices which open to everybody's view in the common occurrences of life. A Jew could never be present at the table of a Christian without having some security that he should not meet with things offered to idols, nor with blood, nor things strangled; otherwise all intercourse between them would be cut off: and though St. James, upon the principle of the council, persuaded St. Paul to purify himself, yet that had relation to St. Paul's particular circumstances; and the same advice would not have been given to any other Christian who was a Gentile believer; for it was not the intention of the council to recommend the rites and ceremonies of the law to the Gentile Christians.

But the great difficulty in this case is, to know what is meant by fornication, which seems to be an offence of a moral kind, and in which the Jews had no particular concern: how therefore it fell under the direction of the council is hard to say.

It is certain that if we understood fornication in the common sense of the word, and as it is vulgarly used with us, it can have no meaning in this place, it expressing a thing that had no relation to the matter under consideration of the council.

In respect to things offered to idols, and blood, the Jews were not only forbidden the use of them, but were forbidden likewise all communication with those that did use them; though they were strangers and not bound by the law of Moses; “I said unto the children of Israel, no soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood,” Lev. 17:12. It is no wonder therefore that the Jews, who were zealous for the law, thought all communication forbidden with those who allowed themselves the eating of blood.

They had the same ground for treating in like manner those who partook of meats offered to idols, which I need not spend your time in proving.

The Greek word, which we translate fornication, has a great latitude, and includes in it all carnal impurity: and whoever considers the abominable lewdness which made-up part of the worship paid to the Heathen idols, will not think it strange to find the worship of idols and whoredom joined together in the decree of the council. Nor is this peculiar to the council; for if you look into the writings of the New Testament you will see them joined together in like manner. Thus in the first epistle to the Corinthians: “Be not deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters shall inherit the kingdom of God,” ch, 6, ver. 9. And in the Revelations of St. John, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication,” ch. 2, ver. 14. And thus, ver. 20, “Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” Agreeable to this notion, idolatry is styled whoredom in the Old Testament, and the great powers which spread idolatry in the world were characterized under the image of a great whore: in which manner of speaking the writers of the Old Testament had led the way; and nobody is at a loss to understand their meaning, when they charged the people with going a whoring after other gods: and there is as little reason to misunderstand the council; for what more have they done than to forbid idolatry, and all the impurities that attended it?

What has been said in few words, very few, the importance of the subject considered, may show us the foundation and proper bounds of church authority in Holy Scripture; and they show us at the same time the true foundation upon which our Reformation from the Church of Rome stands. If the Church of Rome asks us, why we have departed from some articles, which they account articles of faith; our answer is, because they are no part of “the faith once delivered to the Saints.” If they urge us with the authority of the Church which has received them; our answer is, no church has, nor have all churches together, any authority to make articles of faith; that “Christ Jesus was the author and finisher of the faith,” to which nothing can be added, from which nothing can be taken. If they ask us, why we have discarded much of their ceremony and discipline; we may, without entering into the merit of particular cases, answer, that the Church of England has as much authority to appoint rules of order and discipline for their members, as the Church of Rome has for theirs; that these rules have been settled upon prudential considerations of the circumstances of England, of which the Church of England was far better judge than the Church of Rome. But -

Secondly, if, according to the apostolical rule in the text, we are to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints,” the question will be, where are we to find this faith, and how to distinguish it from the addition of later ages?

When our Savior came into the world, the case of the Jewish church was in this respect the same with ours: the evil had been long growing, and the ancient prophets had taken notice of it. In the prophet Isaiah, God reproves the nation for this crime, that “their fear towards him was taught by the precept of men,” ch. 29, ver. 13. But yet, notwithstanding these admonitions, in our Savior's time the traditions were in such esteem, that they were appealed to in every case as a decisive authority; and the Scribes and Pharisees were so secure in this point, that they challenge our Lord to answer this question, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” Mat. 15:2. The very question this is which is daily put to us by the Church of Rome, and the darling point insisted on by their emissaries, by which they, through fear, bring ignorant people into a blind submission to their authority. But hear our Savior's answer to the question, when put to him: “Why do you also transgress the commandments of God by your tradition?” A question hard to be answered, and which the rulers of the Church of Rome should consider well; for they are much concerned in it.

If the Church of Rome pretends to have received by oral tradition doctrines derived originally from the apostles, the Jewish doctors had the same plea, and referred their traditions up to Moses, from whom, as they suppose, they received them, by an uninterrupted succession continued to their own times.

The Jews had the writings of Moses and the prophets, and the Church of Rome has the writings of the apostles and evangelists: but neither did the Jews allow their Scriptures, nor does the Church of Rome allow theirs to be a complete rule; but both recur to tradition to supply what they suppose to be wanting in their sacred writings. But now consider how our blessed Savior treated this pretence of the Jewish church, and it will be a very good direction to us how to behave in a case which is so very much the same: he speaks of them as human inventions; as doctrines of their own, and not doctrines of God: “Laying aside the commandment of God,” says he, “ye hold the tradition of men,” Mark 7:8. And again, ver. 9, “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” In the following verses he shows them how their tradition contradicted the law of Moles, and then tells them, “You make Word of God of none effect through your tradition which ye have delivered;” manifestly considering the written law of Moses as the commandment of God, and the traditions of the elders as the law of men, and of their own making.

Moses and the prophets make the Scripture of the Jews and to them our Lord constantly appeals: he bids the Jews “search the Scriptures;” tells them, “they err, not knowing the Scriptures:” and when the Pharisees put a question to him concerning divorce, tempting him, his answer is, “What did Moses command you?” And when he told the Pharisees that on the two commandments, of loving God and our neighbor, “hang all the law and the prophets,” he plainly told them that the law and the prophets contained the whole of their religion, and that they had no other rule to go by: for had he considered the traditions of the elders as a rule of religion, he must have reduced them to his general precepts likewise.

In the well-known parable of the rich man and Lazarus, our Savior has in the person of Abraham fully determined this point. The rich man desires that Lazarus may be sent from the dead to warn his brethren that they come not to that place of torment: Abraham refuses this request for this reason, because his brethren wanted no means to instruct them in the right way. What was their rule then? Abraham tells him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”

The application of this case is so easily made to our own, that there is hardly any reason to insist on it particularly. The Jewish church had Moses and the prophets, and abounded with traditions of their own, taught and received as essential to their religion. What our Savior thought of their traditions, what of the law and the prophets, you have heard. The Christian church likewise has the apostles and evangelists; they have also too many traditionary doctrines, which have no foundation in Holy Writ: what are we to do then? Do we need better authority than that of our Savior to reject the traditions of men, and to hold fast the doctrine of the apostles and prophets of the Gospel; that is, as St. Jude exhorts us, to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints?”

Read other sermons by Samuel Clarke, Daniel Brevint, John Farquhar, John Flavel, and more.

"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." Mar 7:6-9 KJV
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