The Lamentation Of A Sinner, made by the most virtuous Lady Queen Katherine, bewailing the ignorance of her blind life, set forth and put in print at the instant desire of the right gracious Lady Katherine Duchess of Suffolk, and the earnest request of the right honourable Lord William Parr, Marquess of Northampton.
William Cecil, having taken much profit by the reading of this treatise following, wisheth unto every Christian, by the reading thereof, like profit with increase from God. Most gentle and Christian reader, if matters should be rather confirmed by their reporters than the reports warranted by the matters, I might justly bewail our time, wherein evil deeds be well worded, and good acts evil cleped. But since truth is that things be not good for their praises, but be praised for their goodness, I do not move thee to like this Christian treatise, because I have mind to praise it, but I exhort thee to mind it, and for the goodness, thou shalt allow it, for whose liking I labour not to obtain, only moved by my example, their judgement I regard chiefly confirmed by the matter. Truly, our time is so disposed to grant good names to evil fruits and excellent terms to mean works, that neither can good deeds enjoy their due names, being defrauded by the evil, neither excellent works can possess their worthy terms, being forestalled by the mean. Insomuch that men seek rather how much they can than how much they ought to say, inclining more to their pleasure than to their judgement, and to show themselves rather eloquent than the matter good: so that neither the goodness of the cause can move them to say more, neither the evilness less.
For if the excellency of this Christian contemplation, either for the goodness herein to marvel appearing, either for the profit hereupon to the reader ensuing, should be with due commendation followed, I of necessity should either travail to find out new words, the old being anticipated by evil matters, or wish that the common speech of praising were spared until convenient matters were found to spend it; such is the plenty of praising, and scarceness of deserving.
Wherefore lacking the manner in words, and not the matter indeed of high commendation, I am compelled to keep in my judgement with silence; trusting whom my report could not have moved to like this present treatise, the worthiness of the matter shall compel to give it honour.
Any earthly man would soon be stirred to see some mystery of magic, or practise of alchemy, or perchance some enchantment of Elements; but thou which art christened hast here a wonderful mystery of the mercy of God, a heavenly practise of regeneration, a spiritual Enchantment of the grace of God. If joy and triumphs be shown when a king’s child is born to the world, what joy is sufficient when God’s child is regenerated from heaven? The one is flesh which is born of flesh; the other is spirit which is born of Spirit. The one also shall wither like the grass of the earth in short time, the other shall live in heaven beyond all time.
If the finding of one lost sheep be more joyful than the having of ninety-nine, what joy is it to consider the return of a stray child of Almighty God, whose return teacheth the ninety-nine to come to their fold? Even such cause of joy is this, that the angels in heaven take comfort herein; be thou therefore joyful where a noble child is newly born, show thyself glad where the lost sheep hath won the whole flock; be thou not sad wherein angels rejoice. Here mayst thou see one (if the kind may move thee, a woman; if degree may provoke thee, a woman of high estate; by birth made noble; by marriage, most noble; by wisdom, godly; by a mighty king, an excellent Queen; by a famous Henry, a renowned Katherine, a wife to him that was a king to realms) refusing the world wherein she was lost, to obtain heaven wherein she may be saved; abhorring sin, which made her bound, to receive grace, whereby she may be free; despising flesh, the cause of corruption, to put on the Spirit, the cause of sanctification; forsaking ignorance wherein she was blind, to come to knowledge, whereby she may see; removing superstition, wherewith she was smothered, to embrace true religion, wherewith she may revive.
The fruit of this treatise (good Reader) is thy amendment; this only had, the writer is satisfied. This good Lady thought no shame to detect her sin to obtain remission; no vileness to become nothing to be a member of him which is all things in all; no folly to forget the wisdom of the world to learn the simplicity of the gospel; at the last, no displeasantness to submit herself to the school of the cross, the learning of the crucifix, the book of our redemption, the very absolute library of God’s mercy and wisdom. This way, thought she, her honour increased, and her state permanent, to make her earthly honour heavenly, and neglect the transitory for the everlasting. Of this I would thee warned that the profit may ensue.
These great mysteries and graces be not well perceived except they be surely studied; neither be they perfectly studied except they be diligently practised; neither profitably practised without amendment. See and learn hereby what she hath done, then mayst thou practise and amend that thou canst do; so shalt thou practise with ease having a guide, and amend with profit, having a zeal. It is easier to see these than to learn. Begin at the easiest to come to the harder. See thou her confession, that thou mayst learn her repentance; practise her perseverance, that thou mayst have like amendment. Displease thyself, in eschewing vice, that thou mayst please God in asking grace. Let not shame hinder thy confession, which hindered not the offence. Be thou sure: if we knowledge our sins, God is faithful to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Obey the Prophet’s saying: declare thy ways to the Lord.
Thus far thou mayst learn to know thyself, next this: be thou as diligent to relieve thyself in God’s mercy as thou hast been to reveal thyself in thine own repentance. For God hath concluded all things under sin because he would have mercy upon all; who hath also borne our sins in his body, upon the tree, that we should be delivered from sin and should live unto righteousness; by whose stripe we be healed. Here is our anchor, here is our Shepherd, here we be made whole; here is our life, our redemption, our salvation and our bliss: let us therefore now feed by this gracious Queen’s example, and be not ashamed to become in confession publicans, since this noble Lady will be no Pharisee. And to all ladies of estate I wish as earnest mind to follow our Queen in virtue as in honour, that they might once appear to prefer God before the world; and be honourable in religion, which now be honourable in vanities. So shall they (as in some virtuous ladies of right high estate it is with great comfort seen) taste of this freedom of remission, of this everlasting bliss, which exceedeth all thoughts and understandings, and is prepared for the holy in spirit. For the which let us, with our intercession, in holiness and pureness of life, offer ourselves to the heavenly Father an undefiled host; to whom be eternal praise and glory through all the earth, without end. Amen.
A Lamentation or Complaint of a Sinner.
When I consider, in the bethinking of mine evil and wretched former life, mine obstinate, stony and untractable heart to have so much exceeded in evilness that it hath not only neglected, yea contemned and despised God’s holy precepts and commandments, but also embraced, received and esteemed vain, foolish and feigned trifles: I am─partly by the hate I owe to sin, who hath reigned in me, partly by the love I owe to all Christians, whom I am content to edify even with the example of mine own shame─forced and constrained with my heart and words, to confess and declare to the world how ingrate, negligent, unkind and stubborn I have been to God my Creator, and how beneficial, merciful and gentle he hath been always to me his creature, being such a miserable, wretched sinner. Truly I have taken no little small thing upon me: first, to set forth my whole stubbornness and contempt in words, the which is incomprehensible in thought (as it is in the Psalm), “who understandeth his faults?” (Psalm 12); next this, to declare the excellent beneficence, mercy and goodness of God, which is infinite, unmeasurable, neither can all the words of angels and men make relation thereof, as appertaineth to his most high goodness.
Who is he that is not forced to confess the same, if he consider what he hath received of God and doth daily receive? Yea, if men would not acknowledge and confess the same, (Luke 19) the stones would cry it out. Truly I am constrained and forced to speak and write thereof, to mine own confusion and shame but to the great glory and praise of God. For he, as a loving father of most abundant and high goodness, hath heaped upon me innumerable benefits; and I, contrary, have heaped manifold sins, despising that which was good, holy, pleasant and acceptable in his sight, and choosing that which was delicious, pleasant and acceptable in my sight.
And no marvel it was that I so did, for I would not learn to know the Lord and his ways, but loved darkness better than light: (John 3) yea, darkness seemed to me light. I embraced ignorance as perfect knowledge, and knowledge seemed to me superfluous and vain. I regarded little God’s word, but gave myself to vanities and shadows of the world. I forsook him in whom is all truth, and followed the vain, foolish imaginations of my heart. I would have covered my sins with the pretence of holiness. I called superstition, godly meaning; and true holiness, error. The Lord did speak many pleasant and sweet words unto me, and I would not hear: he called me diversely, but through frowardness I would not answer.
Mine evils and miseries be so many and great that they accuse me even to my face. Oh how miserably and wretchedly am I confounded when, for the multitude and greatness of my sins, I am compelled to accuse myself! Was it not a marvellous unkindness, when God did speak to me, and also call me, that I would not answer him? What man, so-called, would not have heard? Or what man, hearing, would not have answered? If an earthly prince had spoken, either called him, I suppose there be none but would willingly have done both. Now, therefore, what a wretch and caitiff am I, that when the Prince of Princes, the King of Kings, did speak many pleasant and gentle words unto me, and also called me so many and sundry times that they cannot be numbered; and yet, notwithstanding these great signs and tokens of love, I would not come unto him, but hid myself out of his sight, seeking many crooked and byways; wherein I walked so long that I had clean lost his sight.
And no marvel or wonder, for I had a blind guide called Ignorance, who dimmed so mine eyes, that I could never perfectly get any sight of the fair, goodly, straight and right ways of his doctrine, but continually travailed uncomfortably in the foul, wicked, crooked, and perverse ways. Yea, and because they were so much haunted of many, I could not think; but I walked in the perfect and right way, having more regard to the number of the walkers than to the order of the walking, believing also, most surely, with company to have walked to heaven; whereas I am most sure they would have brought me down to hell.
I forsook the spiritual honouring of the true living God, and worshipped visible idols and images made of men’s hands, believing by them to have gotten heaven; yea, to say the truth, I made a great idol of myself: for I loved myself better than God. And certainly, look how many things are loved or preferred in our hearts before God: so many are taken and esteemed for idols and false gods.
Alas, how have I violated this holy, pure and most high precept and commandment of the love of God; which precept bindeth me to love him with my whole heart, (Deuteronomy 6) mind, force, strength and understanding.
And I, like unto an evil, wicked, disobedient child, have given my will, power and senses to the contrary: making almost of every earthly and carnal thing, a god. Furthermore, the blood of Christ was not reputed by me sufficient for to wash me from the filth of my sins, neither such ways as he hath appointed by his Word. But I sought for such riff-raff as the Bishop of Rome hath planted in his tyranny and kingdom, trusting with great confidence by the virtue and holiness of them, to receive full remission of my sins. And so I did as much as was in me to obfuscate and darken the great benefit of Christ’s passion, than the which no thought can conceive anything of more value. There cannot be done so great an injury and displeasure to Almighty God our Father, as to tread under foot Christ, (Hebrews 10) his only begotten and well-beloved Son. All other sins in the world gathered together in one be not so heinous and detestable in the sight of God. And no wonder, for in Christ crucified God doth show himself most noble and glorious; even an almighty God, and most loving Father, (Hebrews 1) in his only dear and chosen blessed Son. And therefore I count myself one of the most wicked and miserable sinners, because I have been so much contrary to Christ my saviour.
St Paul desired to know nothing but Christ crucified, (1 Corinthians 2. To know Christ crucified is the cunningest lesson in divinity) after he had been rapt into the third heaven, where he heard such secrets as were not convenient and meet to utter to men, but counted all his works (Philippians 3) and doings as nothing, to win Christ. And I, most presumptuously thinking nothing of Christ crucified, went about to set forth mine own righteousness, (Luke 18) saying with the proud Pharisee: “Good Lord, I thank thee, I am not like other men. I am none adulterer, nor fornicator” and so forth with such like words of vainglory, extolling myself and despising others, working as an hired servant, for wages, or else for reward, and not as a loving child, only for very love, without respect of wages or reward, as I ought to have done.
Neither did I consider how beneficial a Father I had, who did show me his charity and mercy of his own mere grace and goodness: that when I was most his enemy, (Romans 5) he sent his only begotten and well-beloved Son into this world of wretchedness and misery, to suffer most cruel and sharp death for my redemption. But my heart was so stony and hard that this great benefit was never truly and lively printed in my heart, although with my words it was often rehearsed; thinking myself to be sufficiently instructed in the same ─ and being, indeed, in blind ignorance ─ and yet I stood so well in mine own judgement and opinion that I thought it vain to seek the increase of my knowledge therein. Paul calleth Christ “the wisdom of God,” (1 Corinthians 2) and even the same Christ was to me foolishness: my pride and blindness deceived me, and the hardness of my heart withstood the growing of truth within it.
Such were the fruits of my carnal and human reasons, to have rotten ignorance in price for ripe and seasonable knowledge. Such also is the malice and wickedness that possesseth the hearts of men: such is the wisdom and pleasing of the flesh.
I professed Christ in my baptism, when I began to live, but I swerved from him after baptism, in continuance of my living, even as the heathen which never had begun. (Christ innocent. Isaiah 53. Man sinful.) Christ was innocent and void of all sin, and I wallowed in filthy sin and was free from no sin. (Philippians 2. Christ obedient. Man stubborn. Christ humble. Man proud. John 8. Matthew 3.) Christ was obedient unto his Father even to the death of the cross, and I disobedient, and most stubborn, even to the confusion of truth. Christ was meek and humble in heart, and I most proud and vainglorious. Christ despised the world, with all the vanities thereof, (Christ heavenly. Man worldly. John 13. John 6. Matthew 18. Matthew 7. 2 Corinthians 8.) and I made it my god because of the vanities. Christ came to serve his brethren, and I coveted to rule over them. Christ despised worldly honour, and I much delighted to attain the same. Christ loved the base and simple things of the world, and I esteemed the most fair and pleasant things. Christ loved poverty, and I wealth. Christ was gentle (Christ poor. Man rich. Luke 14. Luke 23.) and merciful to the poor, and I hard-hearted and ungentle. Christ prayed for his enemies, (John 8. Matthew 9.) and I hated mine. Christ rejoiced in the conversion of sinners, and I was not grieved to see their reversion to sin. By this declaration, all creatures may perceive how far I was from Christ and without Christ; yea, how contrary to Christ, although I bore the name of a Christian. Insomuch that if any man had said I had been without Christ, I would have stiffly withstood the same. And yet I neither knew Christ nor wherefore he came. As concerning the effect and purpose of his coming, (Without the cause, nothing is rightly known. Romans 2.) I had a certain vain, blind knowledge, both cold and dead, which may be had with all sin: as it doth plainly appear by this my confession and open declaration.
What cause now have I to lament, mourn, sigh and weep for my life and time so evil spent! With how much humility and lowliness ought I to come and knowledge my sins to God, giving him thanks that it hath pleased him, of his abundant goodness, to give me time of repentance: for I know my sins, in the consideration of them, to be so grievous, and in the number so exceeding, that I have deserved very often eternal damnation. And for the deserving of God’s wrath, so manifoldly due, I must uncessantly give thanks to the mercy of God, beseeching also that the same delay of punishment cause not his plague to be the sorer, since mine own conscience condemneth my former doings. But his mercy exceedeth all iniquity. (Psalm 103) And if I should not thus hope: alas, what should I seek for refuge and comfort? (Psalm 108) No mortal man is of power to help me, and, for the multitude of my sins, I dare not lift up mine eyes to heaven, where the seat of judgement is ─ (Luke 18) I have so much offended God.
What, shall I fall in desperation? Nay, I will call upon Christ, the light of the world, (1 John 1) the fountain of life, the relief of all careful, (John 4) and the peacemaker between God and man, (1 John 2) and the only health and comfort of all true repentant sinners. (John 3) He can, by his almighty power, (Matthew 28. The power and will of God) save me and deliver me out of this miserable state, and hath will by his mercy to save even the whole sin of the world. (John 3. No saviour but one. Luke 19) I have no hope nor confidence in any creature, neither in heaven nor earth, but in Christ my whole and only Saviour. He came into the world to save sinners and to heal them that are sick, (Matthew 2) for he saith: “the whole have no need of a physician.”
Behold, Lord, how I come to thee: a sinner, sick and grievously wounded. I ask not bread, but the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. (Matthew 15) Cast me not out of thy sight, although I have deserved to be cast into hell fire.
If I should look upon my sins, and not upon thy mercy, I should despair: for in myself I find nothing to save me, but a dunghill of wickedness to condemn me. If I should hope by mine own strength and power to come out of this maze of iniquity and wickedness, wherein I have walked so long, I should be deceived: for I am so ignorant, blind, weak and feeble, that I cannot bring myself out of this entangled and wayward maze. But the more I seek means and ways to wind myself out, the more I am wrapped and tangled therein; so that I perceive my striving therein to be hindrance, my travail to be labour spent in going back.
It is the hand of the Lord (Psalm 18) that can and will bring me out of this endless maze of death: (Philippians 2. 2 Corinthians 3) for without I be prevented by the grace of the Lord I cannot ask forgiveness, nor be repentant or sorry for them. There is no man can avow that Christ is the only saviour of the world (Matthew 16) but by the Holy Ghost; yea, as St Paul saith, “no man can say ‘the Lord Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 12. Romans 8) but by the Holy Ghost”. The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and maketh continual intercession for us with such sorrowful groanings as cannot be expressed.
Therefore, I will first require and pray the Lord to give me his Holy Spirit, to teach me to avow that Christ is the saviour of the world, and to utter these words, ‘the Lord Jesus’, and finally to help mine infirmities and to intercede for me. For I am most certain and sure that no creature in heaven nor earth, is of power, (Acts 4) or can by any mean help me, but God: who is omnipotent, almighty, beneficial and merciful, well-willing and loving to all those that call and put their whole confidence and trust in him. And therefore I will seek none other means nor advocate, (1 John 2) but Christ’s Holy Spirit ─ who is, only, the advocate and mediator between God and man ─ to help and relieve me.
But now, what maketh me so bold and hardy, to presume to come to the Lord with such audacity and boldness, being so great a sinner? Truly, nothing but his own Word: for he saith: “Come to me all ye that labour, and are burdened, and I shall refresh you.” What gentle, (Matthew 11) merciful and comfortable words are these to all sinners! Were he not a frantic, mad, beastly and foolish man, that would run for aid, help or refuge to any other creature? What a most gracious, comfortable, and gentle saying was this, with such pleasant and sweet words to allure his enemies to come unto him! Is there any worldly prince or magistrate that would show such clemency and mercy to their disobedient and rebellious subjects having offended them? I suppose they would not with such words allure them; except it were to call them whom they cannot take, and punish them being taken. But even as Christ is Prince of Princes (Revelation 17) and Lord of Lords, so his charity and mercy exceedeth and surmounteth all others.
Christ saith (Matthew 7) “if carnal fathers do give good gifts to their children when they ask them, how much more shall your Heavenly Father, being in substance all holy and most highly good, give good gifts to all them that ask him?” It is no small nor little gift that I require, neither think I myself worthy to receive such a noble gift, being so ingrate, unkind and wicked a child. But when I behold the benignity, liberality, mercy and goodness of the Lord, I am encouraged, boldened and stirred to ask such a noble gift. The Lord is so bountiful (Zechariah 10) and liberal that he will not have us satisfied and contented with one gift, neither to ask simple and small gifts. And therefore he promiseth and bindeth himself by his Word to give good and beneficial gifts (John §6) to all them that ask him with true faith; without which nothing can be done acceptable or pleasing to God. (Romans 13)
For faith is the foundation and ground of all other gifts, (Romans 3) virtues and graces; and therefore I will say: Lord increase my faith. For this is the life everlasting, Lord: (1 John 4. Learn what true faith doth in man. Hosea 2. Ephesians 2. Romans 5) that I must believe thee to be the true God, and, whom thou didst send, Jesus Christ. By this faith I am assured, and by this assurance I feel the remission of my sins. (Galatians 3) This is it that maketh me bold, this is it that comforteth me, this is it that quencheth all despair.
I know, O my Lord, thy eyes look upon my faith. St Paul saith “we be justified by the faith in Christ, and not by the deeds of the law,” for “if righteousness come by the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Romans 3. Galatians 2) St Paul meaneth not, here, a dead, human, historical faith, gotten by human industry; but a supernal lively faith, which worketh by charity, as he himself plainly expresseth. (Galatians 5) This dignity of faith is no derogation to good works, for out of this faith springeth all good works. Yet we may not impute to the worthiness of faith or works our justification before God, but ascribe and give the worthiness of it wholly to the merits of Christ’s passion; (Romans 2) and refer and attribute the knowledge and perceiving thereof only to faith, whose very true only property is to take, (Romans 5) apprehend and hold fast the promises of God’s mercy, the which maketh us righteous; and to cause me continually to hope for the same mercy; and in love to work all manner of ways allowed in the Scripture, that I may be thankful for the same.
Thus I feel myself to come, as it were, in a new garment before God, and now, by his mercy, to be taken just and righteous; which of late, without his mercy, was sinful and wicked; and by faith to obtain his mercy, the which the unfaithful cannot enjoy. (John 3) And although Saint John extolleth charity in his Epistle, saying that “God is charity, (1 John 2) and he that dwelleth in charity, dwelleth in God”: truly, charity maketh men live like angels, and of the most furious, unbridled, carnal men, maketh meek lambs. Yea, with how fervent a spirit ought I to call, cry and pray to the Lord to make his great charity to burn and flame in my heart ─ being so stony and evil affected that it never would conceive, nor regard, the great inestimable charity and love of God in sending his only begotten and dear beloved Son into this vale of misery, to suffer the most cruel and sharp death of the cross for my redemption! Yet I never had this unspeakable and most high charity and abundant love of God printed and fixed in my heart duly, ‘til it pleased God of his mere grace, mercy and pity to open mine eyes, making me to see and behold, with the eye of lively faith, Christ crucified to be mine only saviour and redeemer. For then I began (and not before) to perceive and see mine own ignorance and blindness. The cause, thereof, was that I would not learn to know Christ, my saviour and redeemer. But when God, of his mere goodness, had thus opened mine eyes and made me see and behold Christ ─ (1 Corinthians 1) the wisdom of God, (John 1) the light of the world ─ with a supernatural sight of faith; all pleasures, vanities, honour, riches, wealth and aids of the world began to wax bitter unto me. Then I knew it was no illusion of the devil, nor false nor human doctrine I had received, when such success came thereof: that I had in detestation and horror, that which I erste so much loved and esteemed, being of God forbidden, that we should love the world or the vain pleasures and shadows in the same. (1 John 2) Then began I to perceive that Christ was my only saviour and redeemer, and the same doctrine to be all divine, holy and heavenly, infused by grace into the hearts of the faithful; which never can be attained by human doctrine, wit, nor reason, although they should travail and labour for the same to the end of the world. (John 14) Then began I to dwell in God by charity, knowing, by the loving charity of God in the remission of my sins, that God is charity, as Saint John saith; so that of my faith (whereby I came to know God, and whereby it pleased God even because I trusted in him, to justify me) sprang this excellent charity in my heart.
I think no less but many will wonder and marvel at this, my saying that I never knew Christ for my saviour and redeemer, until this time; for many have this opinion, saying ‘Who knoweth not there is a Christ? Who, being a Christian, doth not confess him his saviour?’ And thus, believing their dead, human, historical faith and knowledge (which they have learned in their scholastical books) to be the true infused faith and knowledge of Christ ─ which may be had (as I said before) with all sin ─ they use to say by their own experience of themselves that their faith doth not justify them. And true it is, except they have this faith, the which I have declared here before: they shall never be justified. And yet it is not false that by faith only I am sure to be justified. Even this is the cause that so many impugn this office and duty of true faith: because so many lack the true faith. And even as the faithful are forced to allow true faith, so the unfaithful can in no wise probably entreat thereof: the one feeling in himself that he saith, the other having not in him for to say.
I have certainly no curious learning to defend this matter withal, but a simple zeal and earnest love to the truth, inspired of God, who promiseth to pour his Spirit upon all flesh; which I have by the grace of God (whom I most humbly honour) felt in myself to be true. Let us therefore now, I pray you, by faith, behold and consider the great charity and goodness of God in sending his Son to suffer death for our redemption when we were his mortal enemies, and after what sort and manner he sent him.
First it is to be considered ─ yea, to be undoubtedly, with a perfect faith believed ─ that God sent him to us freely, for he did give him, and sold him not. A more noble and rich gift (John 3) he could not have given. He sent not a servant or a friend, but his only Son, so dearly beloved; not in delights, riches and honours, but in crosses, poverties and slanders; not as a lord, but as a servant. Yea, (Philippians 2) and in most vile and painful passions to wash us: not with water, (1 John 1) but with his own precious blood; not from mire, but from the puddle and filth of our iniquities. He hath given him not to make us poor, but to enrich us with his divine virtues, merit, (Romans 8) and graces; yea, and in him he hath given us all good things; and, finally, himself; and that with such great charity as cannot be expressed.
Was it not a most high and abundant charity of God, to send Christ to shed his blood, to lose honour, life and all for his enemies? Even in the time when we had done him most injury, (Romans 5) he first showed his charity to us; with such flames of love that greater could not be showed. God in Christ hath opened unto us (although we be weak and blind of ourselves), that we may behold in this miserable state the great wisdom, goodness and truth, with all the other godly perfections, which be in Christ. Therefore, inwardly to behold Christ crucified upon the cross is the best and godliest meditation that can be.
We may see also, in Christ crucified, the beauty of the soul, better than in all the books of the world. For who that with lively faith seeth and feelth in spirit that Christ the Son of God is dead for the satisfying and the purifying of the soul shall see that his soul is appointed for the very tabernacle and mansion of the inestimable and incomprehensible majesty and honour of God. (John 14) We see also in Christ crucified how vain and foolish the world is, and how that Christ, being most wise, despised the same. We see also how blind it is, because the same knoweth not Christ, but persecuteth him. We see also how unkind the world is: by the killing of Christ in the time he did show it most favour. How hard and obstinate was it that would not be mollified with so many tears? Such sweat, and so much blood, shed of the Son of God, suffering with so great and high charity!
Therefore, he is now very blind that seeth not how vain, foolish, false, ingrate, cruel, hard, wicked, and evil the world is. We may also in Christ crucified, weigh our sins, as in a divine balance. How grievous and how weighty they be, seeing they have crucified Christ: for they would never have been counterpoised but with the great and precious weight of the blood of the Son of God. And therefore God, of his high goodness, determined that his blessed Son should rather suffer bloodshed than our sins should have condemned us. We shall never know our own misery and wretchedness but with the light of Christ crucified. Then we shall see our own cruelty, when we feel his mercy; our own unrighteousness and iniquity, when we see his righteousness and holiness. Therefore, to learn to know truly our own sins is to study in the book of the crucifix, by continual conversation in faith; and to have perfect and plentiful charity is to learn first by faith the charity that is in God towards us.
We may see also, in Christ upon the cross, how great the pains of hell, and how blessed the joys of heaven be; and what a sharp, painful thing it shall be to them that from that sweet, happy and glorious joy, Christ, shall be deprived. Then this crucifix is the book (1 Corinthians 2) wherein God hath included all things, and hath most compendiously written, therein, all truth profitable and necessary for our salvation. Therefore let us endeavour ourselves to study this book, that we (being lightened with the Spirit of God) may give him thanks for so great a benefit.
If we look further in this book, we shall see Christ’s great victory upon the cross, which was so noble and mighty that there never was, neither shall be, such. If the victory and glory of worldly princes were great because they did overcome great hosts of men, how much more was Christ’s greater; which vanquished not only the prince of the world, but all the enemies of God, triumphing over persecution, (Colossians 2) injuries, villainies, slanders; yea, death, the world, sin and the devil; and brought to confusion all carnal prudence?
The princes of the world never did fight without the strength of the world. Christ, contrary, went to war even against all the strength of the world. He would fight as David did with Goliath, (Wisdom of Solomon 17) unarmed of all human wisdom and policy, and without all worldly power and strength. Nevertheless he was fully replenished and armed with the whole armour of the Spirit, and in this one battle he overcame forever all his enemies. There was never so glorious a spoil, neither a more rich and noble, than Christ was upon the cross: which delivered all his elect from such a sharp, miserable captivity. He had in this battle many stripes ─ yea, and lost his life ─ but his victory was so much the greater. Therefore, when I look upon the Son of God with a supernatural faith and light ─ so unarmed, naked, given up and alone; with humility, patience, liberality, modesty, gentleness, and with all other his divine virtues beating down to the ground all God’s enemies, (Ephesians 6) and making the soul of man so fair and beautiful ─ I am forced to say that his victory and triumph was marvellous. And therefore Christ deserved to have this noble title: (Matthew 27) ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’.
But if we will particularly unfold and see his great victories, let us first behold how he overcame sin with his innocency, and confounded pride with his humility, quenched all worldly love with his charity, appeased the wrath of his Father with his meekness, turned hatred into love with his so many benefits and godly zeal.
Christ hath not only overcome sin, (Victory over sin. Colossians 1) but rather he hath killed the same: inasmuch as he hath satisfied for it himself, with the most holy sacrifice and oblation of his precious body, (Acts 7) in suffering most bitter and cruel death. Also, after another sort: that is, he giveth to all those that love him so much spirit, grace, virtue and strength, (Romans 6, 7)) that they may resist, impugn, and overcome sin, and not consent neither suffer it to reign in them. He hath also vanquished sin, because he hath taken away the force of the same: that is, he hath cancelled the law, (Colossians 2) which was in evil men the occasion of sin. Therefore sin hath no power against them that are with the holy ghost united to Christ; in them there is nothing worthy of damnation. And although the dregs of Adam do remain ─ that is our concupiscences, which indeed be sins ─ nevertheless they be not imputed for sin, if we be truly planted in Christ. It is true that Christ might have taken away all our immoderate affections, (Romans 8) but he hath left them for the greater glory of his Father and for his own greater triumph.
As for an example: when a prince, fighting with his enemies which sometime had the sovereignty over his people, and subdewing them, may kill them if he will, yet he preserveth and saveth them; and whereas they were lords over his people, he maketh them after to serve, whom they before had ruled. Now, in such a case the prince doth show himself a greater conqueror ─ in that he hath made them which were rulers to obey, and the subjects to be lords over them to whom they served ─ than if he had utterly destroyed them upon the conquest. For now he leaveth continual victory to them, whom he redeemed, whereas otherwise the occasion of victory was taken away, where none were left to be the subjects.
Even so, in like case, Christ hath left in us these concupiscences; to the intent they should serve us to the exercise of our virtues, where first they did reign over us to the exercise of our sin. And it may be plainly seen that, whereas first they were such impediments to us that we could not move ourselves towards God, now by Christ we have so much strength that, notwithstanding the force of them, we may assuredly walk to heaven. And although the children of God sometime do fall by frailty into some sin, yet that falling maketh them to humble themselves, and to reknowledge the goodness of God, and to come to him for refuge and help.
Likewise Christ, with his death, hath overcome the prince of devils with all his host, (Colossians 2) and hath destroyed them all. For, as Paule sayeth, this is verified that Christ should break the serpent’s head, (Genesis 3) prophesied by God. And although the devil tempt us; yet, if by faith we be planted in Christ, we shall not perish: but rather by his temptation take great force and might. So it is evident that the triumph, victory and glory of Christ is the greater, having in such sort subdued the devil; that, whereas he was prince and lord of the world, holding all creatures in captivity, now Christ useth him as an instrument to punish the wicked and to exercise and make strong the elect of God in Christian warfare.
Christ, likewise, hath overcome death in a more glorious manner (if it be possible); because he hath not taken it away, but, leaving universally all subject to the same, he hath given so much virtue and spirit that, whereas afore we passed thereto with great fear, now we be bold through the Spirit, for the sure hope of resurrection, that we receive it with joy. It is now no more bitter, but sweet; no more feared, but desired; it is no death, but life. And also it hath pleased God that the infirmities and adversities do remain to the sight of the world, but the children of God are by Christ made so strong, (Philippians 4. 2 Corinthians 1) righteous, whole and sound, that the troubles of the world be comforts of the Spirit; the passions of the flesh are medicines of the soul. For all manner things worketh to their commodity and profit; for they in spirit feel (Romans 8) that God, their Father, doth govern them and disposeth all things for their benefit ─ therefore they feel themselves sure. In persecution they are quiet and peaceful; in time of trouble they are without weariness, fears, anxieties, suspicions, miseries; and, finally, all the good and evil of the world worketh to their commodity.
Moreover, they see that the triumph of Christ hath been so great that not only he hath subdued and vanquished all our enemies, and the power of them, but he hath overthrown and vanquished them after such a sort that all things serve to our health. He might, and could, have taken them all away, but where then should have been our victory, palm and crown? For we daily have fights in the flesh, and, by the succour of grace, have continual victories over sin; whereby we have cause to glorify God: that by his Son hath weakened our enemy the devil, and by his Spirit giveth us strength to vanquish his offsprings. So do we knowledge daily the great triumph of our Saviour, and rejoice in our own fights; the which we can no wise impute to any wisdom of this world, seeing sin to increase by it. And where worldly wisdom most governeth, there most sin ruleth: for as the world is enemy to God, so also the wisdom thereof is adverse to God. And therefore Christ hath declared and discovered the same for foolishness. And although he could have taken away all worldly wisdom, yet he hath left it for his greater glory and triumph of his chosen vessels. For before, whereas it was our ruler against God, now by Christ we are served of it for God, as of a slave in worldly things; albeit in supernatural things the same is not to be understand. And further, if any time men would impugn and gainsay us with the wisdom of the world, yet we have by Christ so much supernatural light of the truth that we make a mock of all those that repugn the truth. Christ, also upon the cross, hath triumphed over the world. First, because he hath discovered the same to be naught, (John 14) that whereas it was covered with the veil of hypocrisy and the vesture of moral virtues, Christ hath showed that in God’s sight the righteousness of the world is wickedness; and he hath yielded witness that the works of men not regenerated by him in faith are evil. (John 3. Romans 14) And so Christ hath judged and condemned the world for naught. Furthermore he hath given, to all his, so much light and spirit that they know it, and dispraise the same; yea, and tread it under their feet, with all vain honours, dignities and pleasures, not taking the fair promises, neither the offers, which it doth present. Nay, they rather make a scorn of them. And as for the threatenings and force of the world, they nothing fear.
Now, therefore, we may see how great the victory and triumph of Christ is; who hath delivered all those the Father gave him (John 17) from the power of the devil, (Colossians 2) cancelling upon the cross the writing of our debts. For he hath delivered us from the condemnation of sin, from the bondage of the law, from the fear of death, from the danger of the world and from all evils ─ in this life, and in the other to come. And he hath enriched us, made us noble and most highly happy after such a glorious and triumphant way as cannot with tongue be expressed. And therefore we are forced to say: his triumph is marvellous.
It is also seen and known that Christ is the true Messiah: for he hath delivered man from all evils, and by him man hath all goodness, so that he is the true Messiah. Therefore all other helpers be but vain and counterfeited saviours, seeing that by this, our Messiah Christ, wholly and only, we be delivered from all evils, and by him we have all goodness. And that this is true it is evident and clear, because the very true Christian, is a Christian by Christ. And the true Christian feeleth inwardly, by Christ, so much goodness of God that even troublous life and death be sweet unto him, (2 Corinthians 4) and miseries happy. The true Christian by Christ (Romans 7) is disburdened from the servitude of the law, having the law of grace (graven by the Spirit) inhabiting his heart ─ and from sin that reigned in him, from the power of the infernal spirits, from damnation and from every evil ─ and is made a son of God, a brother of Christ, heir of heaven and lord of the world. So that in Christ, and by Christ, (Romans 8) he possesseth all good things.
But let us know that Christ yet fighteth in spirit in his elect vessel, and shall fight even to the day of judgement. At which day shall that great enemy, death, be wholly destroyed and shall be no more. Then shall the children of God rejoice on him, saying: ‘O death where is thy victory & sting?’ (Hosea 13) There shall be, then, no more trouble, nor sin, nay rather none evil; but heaven for the good and hell for the wicked. Then shall wholly be discovered the victory and triumph of Christ, (1 Corinthians 15) who (after Paul) shall present unto his Father the kingdom together with his chosen, saved by him.
It was no little favour towards his children that Christ was chosen of God to save us, his elect, so highly ─ by the way of the cross. Paul calleth it a grace ─ and a most singular grace. We may well think that he, having been to the world so valiant a captain of God, was full of light, grace, virtue and spirit. Therefore he might justly say: ‘Consummatum est.’ We, seeing then that the triumph and victory of our captain, Christ, (John 19) is so marvellous, glorious and noble; to the which war we be appointed, let us force ourselves to follow him, with bearing our cross, that we may have fellowship with him in his kingdom. (Romans 8)
Truly, it may be most justly verified that to behold Christ crucified, in spirit, is the best meditation that can be. I certainly never knew mine own miseries and wretchedness so well ─ by book, admonition or learning ─ as I have done by looking into the spiritual book of the crucifix. I lament much I have passed so many years not regarding that divine book, but I judged and thought myself to be well instructed in the same; whereas now I am of this opinion: that if God would suffer me to live here a thousand years, and should study continually in the same divine book, I should not be filled with the contemplation thereof, neither hold I myself contented, but always have a great desire to learn and study more therein. I never knew mine own wickedness, neither lamented for my sins truly, until the time God inspired me with his grace that I looked in this book. Then I began to see perfectly that mine own power and strength could not help me, and that I was in the Lord’s hand, even as the clay is in the potter’s hand. Then I began to cry, and say: “Alas, Lord, that ever I have so wickedly offended thee; being to me from the beginning so gracious and so good a father, and most specially now hast declared and showed thy goodness unto me, when in the time I have done the most injury; to call me, and also to make me know and take thee for my saviour and redeemer.”
Such be the wonderful works of God: to call sinners to repentance, and to make them to take Christ, his well-beloved Son, (Matthew 9) for their saviour: this is the gift of God and of all Christians to be required (Romans 6) and desired. For, except this great benefit of Christ crucified be felt and fixed surely in man’s heart, (John 15) there can be no good work done acceptable before God. For in Christ is all fullness of the Godhead, and in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; even he is the water of life, whereof whosoever shall drink shall never more thirst, but it shall be in him a well of water (John 4) springing up into everlasting life. Saint Paul saith ‘there is no damnation to them that are in Christ, (Romans 8) which walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’. Moreover, he saith: ‘If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God (Paul’s argument. Romans 5) by the death of his Son, much more, seeing we are reconciled, we shall be preserved by his death’.
It is no little or small benefit we have received by Christ, if we consider what he hath done for us ─ as I have perfectly declared heretofore. Wherefore I pray the Lord that this great benefit of Christ crucified may be steadfastly fixed and printed in all Christian hearts, that they may be true lovers of God and work as children, for love; and not as servants, compelled with threatenings (1 Peter 1) or provoked with hire. The sincere and pure lovers of God do embrace Christ with such fervency of spirit that they rejoice in hope, (Romans 12) be bold in danger, suffer in adversity, continue in prayer, bless their persecutors; further they be not wise in their own opinion, neither high minded in their prosperity, neither abashed in their adversity: but humble and gentle always, to all men. For they know by their faith they are members all of one body, (1 Corinthians 12) and that they have possessed all one God, one faith, (Ephesians 4) one baptism, one joy, and one salvation. If these pure and sincere lovers of God were thick sown there should not be so much contention and strife growing on the fields of our religion, as there is. Well, I shall pray to the Lord to take all contention and strife away, and that the sowers of sedition may have mind to cease their labour, or to sow it amongst the stones, and to have grace to sow gracious virtues where they may both root and bring forth fruit; with sending also a godly unity and concord amongst all Christians, that we may serve the Lord (Luke 1) in true holiness of life.
The example of good living is required of all Christians, but especially in the ecclesiastical pastors and shepherds: for they be called in Scripture workmen with God, disbursers of God’s secrets, (1 Corinthians 3) the light of the world, (1 Corinthians 4. Matthew 5) the salt of the earth; at whose hands all other should take comfort, in working knowledge of God’s will and sight, to become children of the light, and taste of seasonable wisdom. They have, or should have, the Holy Spirit abundantly to pronounce and set forth the Word of God in verity and truth. If ignorance and blindness reign among us, they should with the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4) instruct and set us in the truth, and direct us in the way of the Lord. But thanks be given unto the Lord that hath now sent us such a godly and learned King, in these latter days, to reign over us; that with the virtue and force of God’s Word hath taken away the veils and mists of errors, and brought us to the knowledge of the truth by the light of God’s Word, which was so long hidden and kept under that the people were nigh famished and hungered for lack of spiritual food ─ such was the charity of the spiritual curates and shepherds. But our Moses and most godly, wise governor, and King hath delivered us out of the captivity and bondage of Pharaoh. I mean by this Moses, King Henry VIII, my most sovereign, favourable lord & husband ─ one (if Moses had figured any more than Christ) through the excellent grace of God meet to be another expressed verity of Moses’ conquest over Pharaoh. And I mean by this Pharaoh, the Bishop of Rome, who hath been, and is, a greater persecutor of all true Christians than ever was Pharaoh of the children of Israel. For he is a persecutor of the gospel and grace, a setter forth of all superstition and counterfeit holiness; bringing many souls to hell with his alchemy and counterfeit money, deceiving the poor souls under the pretence of holiness; but so much the greater shall be his damnation, because he deceiveth and robbeth under Christ’s mantle. The Lord keep and defend all men from his jugglings and sleights, but specially the poor, simple, unlearned souls. And this lesson I would all men had of him: that when they begin to mislike his doing, then only begin they to like God ─ and certainly not before. As for the spiritual pastors and shepherds, I think they will cleave and stick fast to the Word of God even to the death to vanquish all God’s enemies, if need shall require; all respects of honour, dignity, riches, wealth and their private commodities laid apart; following also the examples of Christ and his chosen apostles in preaching and teaching sincere, pure and wholesome doctrine, and such things as make for peace, with godly lessons, wherewith they may edify others, that every man may walk after his vocation in holiness of life, in unity and concord, which unity is to be desired of all true Christians. (1 Timothy 2)
It is much to be lamented, the schisms, varieties, contentions and disputations that have been, and are, in the world about Christian religion ─ and no agreement nor concord of the same amongst the learned men. Truly, the devil hath been the sower of the seed of sedition, and shall be the maintainer of it, even ‘til God’s will be fulfilled. There is no war so cruel and evil as this: for the war with the sword killeth but the bodies, and this slayeth many souls: for the poor, unlearned persons remain confused, and almost every one believeth and worketh (2 Corinthians 3. One truth) after his own way. And yet there is but one truth of God’s Word, by the which we shall be saved. (Psalm 1) Happy be they that receive it, and most unhappy are they which neglect and persecute the same. (Persecutors of the Word. Matthew 10) For it shall be more easier for Sodom and Gommor at the day of judgement than for them; and not without just cause, if we consider the benevolence, goodness, and mercy of God, who hath declared his charity towards us greater and more inestimable than ever he did to the Hebrews. (Hebrews 10) For they lived under shadows and figures and were bound to the law. And Christ (we being his greatest enemies) hath delivered us from the bondage of the law, (Galatians 4) and hath fulfilled all that was figured in their law (Matthew 11) and also in their prophecies, shedding his own precious blood to make us the children of his Father and his brethren; and hath made us free, (2 Corinthians 3) setting us in a godly liberty. I mean not license to sin, as many be glad to interpret the same when Christian liberty is godly entreated of.
Truly, it is no good spirit that moveth men to find fault at everything, and when things may be well taken, to pervert them into an evil sense and meaning. There be in the world many speakers of holiness and good works, but very rare and seldom is declared which be the good and holy works. The works of the Spirit be never, almost, spoken of. And therefore very few know what they are. I am able to justify the ignorance of the people to be great, not in this matter alone, but in many other which were most necessary for Christians to know. Because I have had just proof of the same, it maketh me thus much to say with no little sorrow and grief in my heart, for such a miserable ignorance and blindness amongst the people. (Matthew 12) I doubt not but we can say, all ‘Lord, Lord’, but I fear God may say unto us ‘this people honoureth me with their lips, but their hearts be far from me’. (Matthew 15) God desireth nothing but the heart, and saith he will be worshipped ‘in spirit and truth’. Christ condemned all hypocrisy and feigned holiness, (John 4) and taught sincere, pure and true godliness; but we, worse than frantic, or blind, will not follow Christ’s doctrine, but trust to men’s doctrines, judgements and sayings, which dimmeth our eyes: and so the blind leadeth the blind, (Matthew 15) and both fall into the ditch. Truly, in my simple and unlearned judgement, no man’s doctrine is to be esteemed or preferred like unto Christ’s and the Apostles’, nor to be taught as a perfect and true doctrine but even as it doth accord and agree with the doctrine of the gospel.
But yet those that he called spiritual pastors ─ although they be most carnal, as it doth very evidently and plainly appear by their fruits ─ are so blinded with the love of themselves and the world that they extol men’s inventions and doctrines before the doctrine of the gospel. And when they be not able to maintain their own inventions and doctrine with any jot of the Scripture, then they most cruelly persecute them that be contrary to the same. Be such the lovers of Christ? Nay, nay: they be the lovers of the wicked Mammon, neither regarding God nor his honour. For filthy lucre hath made them almost mad, but frantic they be, doubtless.
Is not this miserable state of spiritual men in the world much to be lamented of all good Christians? But yet I cannot allow, neither praise, all kind of lamentation; but such as may stand with Christian charity. Charity suffereth long, and is gentle, envieth not, upbraideth no man, (1 Corinthians 13) casteth frowardly no faults in men’s teeth, but referreth all things to God; being angry without sin, reforming others without their slanders, (Ephesians 4) carrying ever a storehouse of mild words to pierce the stony-hearted men. I would all Christians that like as they have professed Christ would so endeavour themselves to follow him in godly living. For we have not put on Christ to live any more to ourselves, (Ephesians 4) in the vanities, delights and pleasures of the world and the flesh, suffering the concupiscence and carnality of the flesh to have his full swing. For we must walk after the Spirit, (Galatians 5) and not after the flesh; for the Spirit is spiritual and coveteth spiritual things, (Romans 8) and the flesh carnal, and desireth carnal things.
The men regenerate by Christ despise the world and all the vanities and pleasures thereof. They be no lovers of themselves, for they feel how evil and infirm they be, not being able to do any good thing without the help of God ─ from whom they knowledge all goodness to proceed. (James 1) They flatter not themselves with thinking everything which shineth to the world to be good and holy, for they know all external and outward works ─ be they never so glorious and fair to the world ─ may be done of the evil as well as of the good: and therefore they have in very little estimation the outward show of holiness, because they be all spiritual, casting up their eyes upon heavenly things; neither looking nor regarding the earthly things, for they be to them vile and abject. They have also the simplicity of the dove and the policy of the serpent: for by simplicity, they have a desire to do good to all men, (Matthew 10) and to hurt no man; no, though they have occasion given; and by policy, they give not nor minister any just cause to any man, whereby their doctrine might be reproved. They be not also as a reed shaken with every wind: (Christian constantness. Matthew 11) when they be blasted with the tempests and storms of the world, then remain they most firm, stable and quiet, feeling in spirit that God (as their best Father) doth send and suffer all things for their benefit (2 Corinthians 4) and commodity. (1 Peter 2) Christ is to them a rule, a line, an example of Christian life. They be never offended at anything, although occasion be ministered unto them: for like as Christ, when Peter would have withdrawn him from death, answered and said ‘Go back from me Satan, for thou offendest me’, (Matthew 16) that is: ‘as much as lieth in thee, thou givest me occasion with thy words to make me withdraw myself from death, although I yielded not thereto, for this thy procurement cannot extinguish the burning desire I have to shed my blood for my chosen’: even so the perfect men are never offended at anything: for although the world were full of sin, they would not withdraw themselves from doing of good, nor wax cold in the love of the Lord.
And much less they would be moved to be evil: yea, rather they be so much the more moved to do good. The regenerated by Christ are never offended at the works of God, because they know by faith that God doeth all things well, and that he cannot err: neither for want of power, nor by ignorance nor malice; for they know him to be almighty, (Hebrews 4) and that he seeth all things, and is most abundantly good. They see and feel in spirit that of that will, most highly perfect, cannot but proceed most perfect works. Likewise they be not offended at the works of men: for if they be good, they are moved by them to take occasion to follow them, and to reknowledge the goodness of God with giving of thanks and praising his name daily the more; but if they be indifferent and such as may be done with good and evil intents, they judge the best part, (Matthew 7) thinking they may be done to a good purpose, and so they be edified; but if they be so evil that they cannot be taken in good part by any means, yet they be not offended ─ although occasion be given ─ nay, rather they be edified, inasmuch as they take occasion to be better, although the contrary be ministered unto them. (Ephesians 5) Then begin they to think and say thus: ‘If God had not preserved me with his grace, I should have committed this sin, and worse. O how much am I bound to confess (Psalm 145) and knowledge the goodness of God!’ They go also thinking and saying further. ‘He that hath sinned may be one of God’s elect; peradventure the Lord hath suffered him to fall, to the intent he may the better know himself.’ ‘I know he is one of them that Christ hath shed his blood for, and one of my Christian brethren. Truly I will admonish and rebuke him, and, in case I find him desperate, I will comfort him and show him the great goodness and mercy of God in Christ; and with godly consolations I will see if I can lift him up.’ And thus ye may see how the men regenerated by Christ of everything win and receive fruit.
And, contrary, the younglings and unperfect are offended at small trifles: taking everything in evil part, grudging and murmuring against their neighbour; and, so much the more as they show themselves fervent in their so doing, (Acts 13) they are judged, of the blind world and of themselves, great zeal bearers to God. If this were the greatest evil of these younglings, it were not the most evil; but I fear they be so blind and ignorant that they are offended also at good things, and judge nothing good but such as they embrace and esteem to be good ─ with murmuring against all such as follow not their ways.
If there be any of this sort, the Lord give them light of his truth that they may increase and grow in godly strength. I suppose if such younglings and unperfect had seen Christ and his disciples eat meat with unwashed hands, (Matthew 15) or not to have fasted with the Pharisees, (Matthew 9) they would have been offended; seeing him a breaker of men’s traditions. Their affections dispose their eyes to see through other men, and they see nothing in themselves; where charity (although it be most fullest of eyes to see the faults of others, whom it coveteth to amend) thinketh none evil, (1 Corinthians 13) but discreetly and rightly interpreteth all things, by the which more justly and truly everything is taken.
Now these superstitious weaklings, if they had been conversant with Christ and seen him lead his life sometime with women, sometime with Samaritans, with publicans, sinners and with the Pharisees, they would have murmured at him. Also, if they had seen Mary pour upon Christ the precious ointment, they would have said with Judas (Matthew 26) ‘this ointment might have been sold and given to the poor’. If they also had seen Christ with whips drive out of the temple  those that bought and sold, they would forthwith have judged Christ to have been troubled and moved with anger, and not by zeal of charity. How would they have been offended, (John 7) if they had seen him, going to the Jews’ feast, (Matthew 12) heal a sick man upon the Sabbath day, (John 4) practice with the woman of Samaria, ye, and shew unto her of his most divine doctrine and life? They would have taken occasion to have hated and persecuted him, as the scribes and Pharisees did. And even so should Christ the saviour of the world, have been to them an offence and ruin. (Romans 9)
There be another kind of little ones, unperfect, which are offended after this sort and manner: as when they see one that is reputed and esteemed holy to commit sin, forthwith they learn to do that, and worse, and wax cold in doing of good, and confirm themselves in evil; and then they excuse their wicked life, publishing the same with the slander of their neighbour. If any man reprove them, they say ‘such a man did this, and worse’. So it is evident that such persons would deny Christ if they saw other men do the same. If they went to Rome and saw the enormities of the prelates which is said to reign there among them, I doubt not, if they saw one of them sin which were reputed and taken for holy, their faith should be lost; but not the faith of Christ, which they never possessed: but they should lose that human opinion, which they had of the goodness of prelates. For if they had the faith of Christ the Holy Ghost should be a witness unto them, (Ephesians 1) which should be mighty in them; that in case all the world would deny Christ, they would remain firm and stable in the true faith. The Pharisees also took occasion of the evil of others to wax haughty and proud, taking themselves to be men of greater perfection than any other because of their virtue, even as the Pharisee did when he saw the publican’s submission; (Luke 18) and so they be offended with every little thing ─ judging evil, murmuring against their neighbour ─ and for the same, they are of many reputed and taken for the more holy and good: whereas, indeed, they be the more wicked.
The most wicked persons are offended even at themselves: for at their little stability in goodness and of their detestable and evil life they take occasion to despair, where they ought the more to commit themselves to God, asking mercy for their offences, and forthwith to give thanks that it hath pleased him of his goodness to suffer them so long a time. But what needeth it any more to say: the evil men are offended even at the works of God. They see God suffer sinners, therefore, think they, sin displeaseth him not; and because they see not the good rewarded with riches, oftentimes they imagine that God loveth them not. It seemeth to them God is partial, (Psalm 37) because he hath elected some and some reproved; and therefore they say that the elected be sure of salvation, (Romans 9. Romans 11) taking by that occasion to do evil enough, saying: whatsoever God hath determined (Psalm 33) shall be performed. If also they see the good men oppressed and the evil men exalted, they judge God unjust, taking occasion to live evilly, saying ‘inasmuch as God favoureth the naughty men, let us do evil enough, to the intent he do us good’. If then the wicked be offended even at God, (Romans 3) it is no wonder if they be offended at those that follow and walk in his paths and ways.
Now I will speak, with great dolour and heaviness in my heart, of a sort of people which be in the world that be called professors of the gospel, and by their words do declare and show they be much affected to the same, but I am afraid some of them do build upon the sand, as Simon Magus did, (Acts 13) making a weak foundation. I mean: they make not Christ their chiefest foundation, professing his doctrine of a sincere, pure, and zealous mind, but, either for because they would be called gospellers to procure some credit and good opinions of the true and very favourers of Christ’s doctrine; either to find out some carnal liberty; (Galatians 5) either to be contentious disputers, finders or rebukers of other men’s faults, or else finally to please and flatter the world: such gospellers are an offence, (Romans 2) and a slander to the Word of God, and make the wicked to rejoice and laugh at them, saying ‘behold, I pray you, their fair fruits: what charity? What discretion? What godliness, holiness, or purity of life is amongst them? Be they not great avengers, foul gluttons, slanderers, backbiters, adulterers, fornicators, swearers and blasphemers? Yea, and wallow and tumble in all sins: these be the fruits of their doctrine.’
And thus it may be seen how the Word of God is evil spoken of, through licentious and evil living: and yet the Word of God is all-holy, pure, sincere (Psalm 12) and godly, being the doctrine and occasion of all holy and pure living. It is the wicked that perverteth all good things into evil, (Matthew 7. A similitude. Matthew 13) for an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, and when good seed is sown in a barren and evil ground, it yieldeth no good corn. And so it fareth by the Word of God: for when it is heard and known of wicked men it bringeth forth no good fruit; but when it is sown in good ground, I mean the hearts of good people, it bringeth forth good fruit abundantly, so that the want and fault is in men and not in the Word of God. I pray, God, all men and women may have grace to become meet tillage for the fruits of the gospel, and to leave only the jangling of it: for only speaking of the gospel (John 1) maketh not men good Christians, but good talkers ─ except their facts and works agree with the same, so then their speech is good (Matthew 12) because their hearts be good. And even as much talk of the Word of God without practising the same in our living is evil and detestable in the sight of God, (Psalm 1) so it is a lamentable thing to hear how there be many in the world that do not well digest the reading of Scripture, and do commend and praise ignorance, and say that much knowledge of God’s Word is the original of all dissension, schisms and contention, and maketh men haughty, proud and presumptuous by reading of the same.
This manner of saying is no less than a plain blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. For the Spirit of God is the author of his Word, and so the Holy Ghost is made the author of evil, (John 16) which is a most great blasphemy and (as the scripture saith) a sin that shall not be forgiven in this world, neither in the other to come. It were all our parts and duties (Matthew 12) to procure and seek all the ways and means possible to have more knowledge of God’s words, set forth abroad in the world, and not allow ignorance, and discommend knowledge of God’s Word, stopping the mouths of the unlearned with subtle and crafty persuasions of philosophy and sophistry, whereof cometh no fruit, but a great perturbation of the mind to the simple and ignorant, not knowing which way to turn them.
For how is it not extreme wickedness, to charge the holy sanctified word of God with the offences of man? To allege the Scriptures to be perilous learning because certain readers thereof fall into heresies! These men might be forced by this kind of argument to forsake the use of fire, because fire burned their neighbours house, or to abstain from meat or drink, because they see many surfeit. O blind hate, they slander God for man’s offence, and excuse the man whom they see offend, and blame the Scripture, which they cannot improve.
Yea, I have heard of some, that have very well understand the Latin tongue, that when they have heard learned men persuade to the credit and beliefs of certain unwritten verities (as they call them) ─ which be not in Scripture expressed and yet taught as doctrine apostolic and necessary to be believed ─ they have been of this opinion: that the learned men have more Epistles written by the Apostles of Christ than we have abroad in the canon of the Old and New Testament, or known of any, but only to them of the clergy. Which belief I did not a little lament in my heart, to hear that any creature should have such a blind ignorant opinion. Some kind of simplicity is to be praised, but this simplicity without the verity I can neither praise nor allow. And thus it may be seen how we that be unlettered remain confused without God, of his grace, lighten our hearts with a heavenly light and knowledge of his will; for we be given of ourselves to believe men better than God. I pray, God, send all learned men the Spirit of God abundantly, that their doctrine may bring forth the fruits thereof.
I suppose there was never more need of good doctrine to be set forth in the world than now in this age: for the carnal children of Adam be so wise in their generation that, if it were possible, they would deceive the children of light. (Matthew 24) The world loveth his own, and therefore their facts and doings be highly esteemed of the world; but the children of God are hated, (John 17. God’s children. 2 Corinthians 5) because they be not of the world ─ for their habitation is in heaven, and they do despise the world as a most vile slave. The fleshly children of Adam be so politic, subtle, crafty and wise in their kind that the elect should be illuded if it were possible; for they are clothed with Christ’s garment in utter appearance, with a fair show of all godliness and holiness in their words, but they have so shorn, nopped and turned Christ’s garment, and have so disguised themselves that the children of light, beholding them with a spiritual eye, account and take them for men which have sold their master’s garment, and have stolen a piece of every man’s garment; yet by their subtle art and crafty wits they have so set those patches and pieces together that they do make the blind world and carnal men to believe it is Christ’s very mantle; but the children of light know the contrary, for they are led by the Spirit of God to the knowledge of the truth, and therefore they discern and judge all things right, and know from whence they come: even from the Bishop of Rome and his members, the headspring of all pride, vainglory, ambition, hypocrisy and feigned holiness.
The children of God be not abashed: although the world hate them, they believe they are in the grace and favour of God, and that he, as a best Father, doth govern them in all things, putting away from them all vain confidence and trust in their own doings. For they know they can do nothing but sin, of themselves. (Romans 7) They be not so foolish and childish not to give God thanks for their election, which was before the beginning of the world; (Ephesians 1. Sure faith) for they believe ─ most surely ─ they be of the chosen, for the Holy Ghost doth witness to their Spirit (Romans 8) that they be the children of God, and therefore they believe God better than man. They say with St Paul:
“who shall separate us from the love of God? (Romans 8) Shall tribulation, anguish, persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril or sword? As it is written:
“For thy sake are we killed all day long, and are counted as sheep appointed to be slain.”
Nevertheless, in all these things we overcome, through him that loveth us. For I am sure that neither death, neither life, neither angels nor rule, neither power, neither things present, neither things to come, neither quantity or quality, neither any creature shall be able to depart us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
They are not by this godly faith presumptuously inflamed, nor by the same become they loose, idol or slow in doing of godly works, as carnal men dream of them: so much the more fervent they be in doing most holy and pure works, which God hath commanded them to walk in. They wander not in men’s traditions and inventions ─ leaving the most holy and pure precepts of God undone, which they know they be bound to observe and keep. (Matthew 15) Also, they work not like hirelings, for meed, wages or reward; but as loving children, without respect of lucre, (1 Peter 1) gain or hire. They be in such liberty of spirit, and joy so much in God, that their inward consolation cannot be expressed with tongue. All fear of damnation is gone from them, for they have put their whole hope of salvation in his hands that will and can perform it. Neither have they any post or pillar to lean to, but God and his smooth and unwrinkled Church.
For he is to them all in all things, and to him they lean: as a most sure square pillar in prosperity and adversity, nothing doubting of his promises and covenants, for they believe most surely they shall be fulfilled. Also, the children of God be not curious in searching the high mysteries of God, (Ecclesiastes 3) which be not meet for them to know; neither do go about with human and carnal reasons to interpret Scripture, persuading men ─ by their subtle wits and carnal doctrine ─ that much knowledge of Scripture maketh men heretics without they temper it with human doctrine, sophistry, philosophy and logic; wherewith to be seduced according to the traditions of men, (Colossians 2) after the ordinances of the world, and not after Christ. (1 Timothy 6) St Paul doth most diligently admonish us which arts are not convenient & meet to be made checkmate with Scripture, for the Scriptures be so pure and holy that no perfection can be added unto them.
For even as fine gold doth excel all other metals, so doth the Word of God all men’s doctrines. I beseech the Lord to send the learned and unlearned such abundance of his Holy Spirit that they may obey and observe the most sincere and holy Word of God, and show the fruits thereof, which consisteth chiefly in charity and godly unity; that as we have professed one God, one faith and one baptism, so we may be all of one mind, and one accord, putting away all biting and gnawing; for in backbiting, slandering, and misreporting our Christian brethren we show not ourselves the disciples of Christ, whom we profess. In him was most high charity, humility and patience; suffering ─ most patiently ─ all ignominy, rebukes and slanders; praying to his eternal Father for his enemies with most fervent charity, and in all things did remit his will to his Father’s, as the Scripture doth witness, when he prayed in the mount: (Matthew 26) a goodly example and lesson for us to follow at all times and seasons, as well in prosperity as in adversity: (Psalm 37) to have no will but God’s will, committing and leaving to him all our cares and griefs, and to abandon all our policies and inventions, for they be most vain, and foolish, and indeed very shadows and dreams. But we be yet so carnal and fleshly that we come headlong, like unbridled colts without snaffle or bit.
If we had the love of God printed in our hearts it would keep us back from running astray. And until such time as it please God to send us this bit to hold us in, we shall never run the right way, although we speak and talk never so much of God and his Word.
The true followers of Christ’s doctrine hath always a respect and an eye to their vocation. If they be called to the ministry of God’s Word, they preach and teach it sincerely, (2 Corinthians 4) to the edifying of others, and show themselves in their living (Lay men. Ephesians 6) followers of the same. If they be married men, having children and family, they nourish and bring them up ─ without all bitterness and fierceness ─ in the doctrine of the Lord, in all godliness and virtue; committing the instruction of others, which appertaineth not to their charge, to the reformation of God and his ministers, which chiefly be kings and princes, bearing the sword even for that purpose ─ to punish evildoers. If they be children, they honour their father and mother, (Romans 13. Children) knowing it to be God’s commandment, and that he hath thereto annexed a promise of long life. If they be servants, they obey and serve their masters with all fear and reverence, (Deuteronomy 5. Servants) even for the Lord’s sake, neither with murmuring nor grudging, (Ephesians 6. Husbands) but with a free heart and mind. If they be husbands, they love their wives (Ephesians 5) as their own bodies, after the example as Christ loved the congregation, and gave himself for it, to make it to him a spouse without spot or wrinkle. If they be women married, they learn of St Paul to be obedient to their husbands, and to keep silence in the congregation, (1 Timothy 2. Silence) and to learn of their husbands at home. Also they wear such apparel as becometh holiness (Apparel. 2 Timothy 2. 1 Peter 3) and comely usage, with soberness: not being accusers, or detractors; not given to much eating of delicate meats and drinking of wine; but they teach honest things, to make the young women sober-minded, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discrete, chaste, house-wifely, good, obedient unto their husbands ─ that the Word of God be not evil spoken of.
Verily, if all sorts of people would look to their own vocation, and ordain the same according to Christ’s doctrine, we should not have so many eyes and ears to other men’s faults as we have. For we be so busy and glad to find and espy out other men’s doings that we forget and can have no time to weigh and ponder our own, which after the Word of God (Matthew 7) we ought first to reform, and then we shall the better help another with the straw out of his eyes. But alas, we be so much given to love and to flatter ourselves, and so blinded with carnal affections, that we can see and perceive no fault in ourselves. And therefore it is a thing very requisite and necessary for us to pray all with one heart and mind to God, to give us an heavenly light and knowledge of our own miseries and calamities that we may see them and acknowledge them truly before him.
If any man shall be offended at this, my lamenting the faults of men which be in the world, fantasizing with themselves that I do it either of hatred or of malice to any sort or kind of people; verily in so doing they shall do me great wrong, for I thank God by his grace: I hate no creature; yea, I would say more, to give witness of my conscience, that neither life, honour, riches; neither whatsoever I possess here which appertaineth unto mine own private commodity ─ be it never so dearly beloved of me: but most willingly and gladly I would leave it to win any man to Christ, of what degree or sort soever he were. And yet is this nothing in comparison to the charity that God hath shewed me in sending Christ to die for me; no, if I had all the charity of angels and apostles, it should be but like a spark of fire compared to a great heap of burning coals. God knoweth of what intent and mind I have lamented mine own sins and faults to the world. I trust nobody will judge I have done it for praise or thank of any creature, since rather I might be ashamed than rejoice in rehearsal thereof. For if they know how little I esteem and weigh the praise of the world, that opinion were soon removed and taken away: for I thank God (by his grace), I know the world to be a blind judge, and the praises thereof vain and of little moment.
And therefore I seek not the praises of the same, neither to satisfy it, none otherwise than I am taught by Christ to do according to Christian charity. I would to God we would all (when occasion doth serve) confess our faults to the world, all respects to our own commodity laid apart. But alas, self-love doth so much reign amongst us that, as I have said before, we cannot espy our own faults.
And although sometime we find our own guilt, either we be favourable to interpret it no sin, or else we be ashamed to confess ourselves thereof. Yea, and we be sore offended and grieved to hear our faults charitably and godly told us of other, putting no difference between charitable warning and malicious accusing. Truly, if we sought God’s glory, (1 Corinthians 6) as we should do in all things, we should not be ashamed to confess ourselves to digress from God’s precepts and ordinances, when it is manifest we have done and daily do. I pray God our own faults and deeds condemn us not at the last day, when every man shall be rewarded according to his doings.
Truly, if we do not redress and amend our living according to the doctrine of the gospel we shall receive a terrible sentence of Christ the Son of God. When he shall come to judge and condemn all transgressors and breakers of his precepts and commandments, and to reward all his obedient and loving children, we shall have no man of law to make our plea for us; neither can we have the day deferred; neither will the just judge be corrupted with affection, bribes or reward; neither will he hear any excuse or delay; neither shall this saint or that martyr help us, be they never so holy; neither shall our ignorance save us from damnation. But yet wilful blindness and obstinate ignorance shall receive greater punishment, and not without just cause. Then shall it be known who hath walked in the dark, for all things shall appear manifest before him. No man’s deedes shall be hidden; no, (Revelation 22) neither words, nor thoughts. The poor and simple observers of God’s commandments shall be rewarded with everlasting life, as obedient children to the heavenly Father; and the transgressors, adders and diminishers of the law of God shall receive eternal damnation for their just reward.
I beseech God we may escape this fearful sentence, and be found such faithful servants and loving children that we may hear the happy, comfortable and most joyful sentence, ordained for the children of God, which is: ‘Come hither, ye blessed of my Father, (Matthew 25) and receive the kingdom of heaven, prepared for you before the beginning of the world’.
Unto the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.