The Lantern of Light. Chapter Twelve: of the Fiend’s Contrivances, by Which, in His Members, He Pursues the Keepers of God’s Commands.
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10 min read
The evil part of this church shall never cease to pursue good livers with what malice they may. But, for his chosen children, God shall abridge the days of their madness, and that shall men well know, as St. John saith to the church, and giveth it good comfort (Revelation 2). Dread thou not those things that thou art to suffer. Lo, the devil is to send some of you into the prison, and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I shall give to thee a crown of life. He that hath ears of hearing, hear he what the Spirit saith to the churches. Whoso hath overcome, shall not be hurt of the second death. By this devil, understand all the evil people that shall pursue good livers unto the world’s end, sometimes more, sometimes less, with divers pains of tormenting. And understand by these ten days the ten commandments; for they are light to man’s understanding in the darkness of this world. And here it seems good to tell the fiend’s contrivances that he uses in his members, against God’s commands, and as clouds obscure the day, so he marreth men’s understanding.
[The author then proceeds to explain the ten commandments, stating the errors of the church of Rome in regard to each. This occupies more than a fourth part of his whole work, but only an abstract is here given.]
Against this command, the fiend lays two snares; the first is the obedience that he claims to himself or his lieutenants. Under the latter appellation is included the Romish prelates and priests, who claim obedience to their will, rather than to the word of God. Obedience to superiors is enforced, excepting when their commands are opposed to the divine will. “The second trap of the fiend is called pilgrimage.” “The painter maketh an image, forged with divers colours, till it seem to fools’ eyes a living creature. This is set in the church in a solemn place, fast bound with bonds that it should not fall. Priests of the temple beguile the people with the foul sin of Balaam in their open preaching. They say that God’s power in working of his miracles, abides in one image more than in another, and therefore, Come and offer to this, for here is showed much power. How dare these fiends for dread, thus blaspheme their God, and use the sin of Balaam which God’s law hath condemned, since Christ and his disciples forsook this world’s wealth, and lived a poor life? Why gather ye priests, by your painted images, to make yourselves worldly rich by spoiling the people? And yet ye do much worse, for both ye and your consenters, doing thus, are mere idolaters.”
[Several appropriate passages from scripture, and the fathers, are then quoted against this idolatry.]
“Thou shalt not vow to these images, thou shalt not swear by them, neither kneel to them, nor kiss them, nor put faith, hope, or trust, in one image more than another. And thus meaneth God, when he saith, thou shalt not bow down to them nor worship them.”
Six manners of true pilgrimage are then described.
Here reference is made to the course then pursued relative to the Lollards. The fiend and his members ” constrain men to swear and lay their hands on books, and then put them to open shame; and if they leave his bidding, he saith by law they are relapsed, and then they shall be burned. And this is a hideous cloud upon the shining day, to pain men for keeping God’s commandments.” Unnecessary oaths are then condemned by the authority of the fathers. “Thou shalt not swear but with three conditions. 1. Truth in the conscience of him that sweareth, without any guile. 2. That it be in doom, to exclude all idle and vain swearing. 3. That it be in righteousness, (or justice,) and in no manner of deceit.” Swearing by saints, and all profane oaths are then condemned.
“Against this commandment, the fiend and his members give leave to chapmen to buy and sell, yea within the sanctuary, on the holy Sunday; and victuallers of the country hold common markets. Yet see more against this command of God. The great fairs of the year, for the most part, are set on the sabbath day, by the fiend’s counsel.” The conduct of Nehemiah in repressing the like evils at Jerusalem is then referred to, and the greater perfection of the christian dispensation is described as enforcing more perfect and spiritual obedience to God’s will in this respect. Many passages of scripture are quoted.
The reciprocal duties of parents and children are enforced. The state of the ecclesiastics who had assumed temporal authority is animadverted upon, and their grasping of worldly possessions is shown to be contrary to the word of God. The wide difference between the lives of many of the Romish saints and of St. Peter and St. Paul is then noticed.
“Thou shalt not slay. Neither in malice with pursuing; neither in word with backbiting; neither with deed in unlawful shedding of blood.” Passages of scripture are quoted in explanation, showing also how far it is lawful “to smite for the cause of righteousness.”
“Against this commandment the fiend and his members watch, and busily spy where they may find any people that will read, in private or openly, God’s law in English, that is our mother tongue. And he shall be summoned to come before his judges, to answer what is said to him, and to bring his book with him; and he must forsake his book and reading of English, and forswear ever to speak of holy writ. They say. Live as thy father did, that is enough for thee, or else thou shalt to prison, as if thou wert a heretic, and suffer pains many and strange; and full likely be put to death, unless thou wilt revoke thy word, and make an open wonderment (penance or flogging in procession) at thy parish church, or in public place. And with this they prison many a hungry soul, whereof groweth in this realm a grievous spiritual murrain. For who dare now, in these days, talk of Christ and the doom? And assuredly the body may not live without bodily food, no more may the seelyt soul without God’s word. As St. Augustine saith, The soul dieth for hunger, unless it be fed with heavenly bread, and this bread is God’s word, as Christ saith in his gospel, (Matthew 4. Deuteronomy 8. Luke 4.) A man liveth not only in bodily bread, but he liveth a better life after the soul, of each word that passeth from the mouth of God. God told long before, of this hunger to come; that untaught men should ask this bread, and no man should give it to them, as he saith by the prophet Amos, viii. For though there are many preachers, there are few true preachers; and if any preach the truth, the multitude shall gainsay him, and thus men abide still in their spiritual hunger, for they know not whom to follow, their preaching is so wonderful, joining in their curious words the truth to the falsehood. Who that goeth to this bread to slake his hunger, though he were as holy as ever was St. John the Baptist, he should not fail to be slandered for a cursed Lollard, or pursued as a heretic, of those cruel enemies.” The writer then strongly urges that “priests are much to blame who take from the people the law that God hath written in their heart.”
The application of this command to sight, thought, and deed is enforced from scripture. The conduct of the Romish ecclesiastics in suffering those who have been cited for these evils, to continue therein upon payment of money from their purse to my lord’s alms, while a pretence is made in their weekly courts to treat them with severity, is minutely described, and that, ” Now they set ordinaries for their worldly profit, that heap their purse with many sold sins.”
“Thou shalt not do theft: neither knights by tyranny; nor priests by hypocrisy; nor commons by stealth and robbery.” Examples from scripture are then given. The conduct of the ecclesiastics in obtaininglarge donations to expend in their buildings and monastic endowments is severely censured. ” Whoso clothes himself with such goods, or feeds him with such goods, or rears up buildings with such gotten goods, is clad, is fed, and grounds his buildings in poor men’s blood. Some men say. It is no sin to take what men will give them. Some men say they will spend their goods where they have most devotion. Some leave house, land, water, and wood to dead hands.* To you we ask, What profiteth the hand without fingers, or the fingers without hand? If either of them may work his work to men’s profit without the other, then may ye say, that devotion may profit without discretion, or else not.” The system of monastic life is then censured.
“Thou shalt not speak false witness against thy neighbour. Neither for gifts taking, nor for man’s stirring, nor thyself in sin excusing.” Several passages of scripture against these sins are then cited. Jurors who take bribes, and false witnesses, are severely censured. The painful state of society at that time is thus described. ” There is no officer, temporal or spiritual, but is ready when he may, to take gifts of the poor commons, and pill them continually. Else they shall have no peace from grievous oppressions, as the taking of their beasts, corn, and other victuals; and other payment get they none but a white stick,t till they have lost one half with much more labour.” The examples of Jehoshaphat, (2 Chronicles 19) and others are referred to.
“In this command God refraineth the inordinate appetite of man’s desire, in all things that are immovable.” The evils of covetousness are exposed in strong colours. “Some feed their covetousness with lust and delectation in thought, in word, in work, and this most abominable. All these three are against the commandment of God, and are worthy of endless pain; unless God, through his gracious mercy, move them to virtue and to true penance, that are dead in these foul covetings, that is to say, in covetousness of heart, of deed, and of custom. How should he keep himself from a vicious deed, that doth not put out of his heart the coveting thereof? Certainly it is as impossible as to save the house from burning that thou settest on fire with thine own hands. A weed may not be destroyed unless it be drawn up by the roots. No more may sin be left unless the delectable coveting of sin be pulled out of the heart. For if there abide any part of this foul coveting undrawn up in heart, anon there springeth up thereof, theft, false purchase, and such other.” It is then shown that “Covetousness is cause of much blood-shedding.” The conduct of the ecclesiastics, who say, “that they may purchase out of the secular hand, yea, all their livelihood, if they might win it by one way or another, while what they win into their power no man may reclaim into the hands of seculars,” is commented upon severely. The circumstances attending Eve’s temptation are allegorically applied to this sin, also many examples from scripture are mentioned.
This command is especially applied to evil desires, the inward sin of the heart, in those things that are movable. ” When the strength of our will is set to do righteousness, then we are conformed to do the Father’s bidding; and when the wisdom of our will is turned to mercy, both to ourselves and to others, then we follow Christ’s steps. But when the love of our will speedeth in due order, both in heaven and in earth, as we have said before, then dwelleth tlie Holy Ghost in our inward man. If this knot be truly knit in the will of our soul, there is no entry from the devil can trouble us from unity. As St. Jerome saith, “The devil fighteth not against us with open face, but with guile; for he uses against us our own will; he takes strength by our own consent, and he makes war against us with our own sword. He may never overcome us but through our own will, therefore, far be desperation.” ” Remedy against this devil is study in holy writ. God’s commandments are a lantern and the law is light, and the way of life, Provers 6″
In applying this command to the conduct of the Romish ecclesiastics, the practice of their courts respecting divorces is described and severely censured — he that “goeth to the masters that sit on their seats with furred hoods, and fond (foolish) heads, and giveth them money great plenty, and prayeth them to be his advocates, that his divorce were made,” alleging some precontract. “Then the judge, sir Simon, giveth his doom to dissolve true wedlock, and authorizes both parties to live evil life from that day forward.” Examples and counsels from scripture are dwelt upon, and “thinking of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ” is recommended. “This is a special remedy to withhold wicked thoughts, desires, and wills, that they flow not too deeply within, nor fly too far without, and such travails thrive those that God hath chosen.”
The observations on the commandments conclude as follows.
St. Hilary saith, “This property hath Christ’s church; when it is pursued, it flourisheth; when it is bruised down, it groweth; when it is despised, it profiteth; when it is hurt, it overcometh; when it is blamed, it understandeth; and it standeth most strongly when it seems to man’s eye to be overcome.” This church is a true soul, as we have said before. Some that are tender and feeble to suffer, cry with the prophet Habakkuk, Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou shalt not hear me? Lord, till when shall I call upon thee thus suffering strong tribulation, and thou shalt not make me safe? Why hast thou showed me wickedness and travail, and sufferest theft and unrighteousness against me? Why beholdest thou despisers, and art still — the wicked man defouling the juster than he? St. Jerome, in his prologue, saith, that these are words of man’s impatience, and he setteth an example of a sick man swelling in a fever, who asketh cold water, saying to his physician, “I suffer wo, and am all tormented; I am full nigh dead; how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear me ?” The wise and the most merciful physician answers him, “I know at what time it behoves me to give thee what thou askest. I have no pity on thee now, for that mercy were cruelty, and thine own will asketh against thyself. Also our Lord God, knowing the weight and the measure of his mercy, sometimes hears not speedily him that crieth, that he may prove and more stir him to pray; and as examined by the fire, that lie may make his servant both juster and purer to receive grace and meed.”