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To all afflicted and troubled consciences of believers in Christ. BEING to write this apology concerning Free Justification by Christ, the more I consider the cause that I have undertaken, the more I am inclined to proceed. And again, when I call to mind these times, and how the manners of men are corrupted, there arises in my mind a doubtful wavering, which distracts me several ways, not without some fear joined therewith. That which causes me to waver, is this — lest the greatest part of our people, as the minds of men are apt to catch at the smallest occasions, should contract some licentiousness from this mild and peaceable doctrine of evangelical Justification, to grow the more bold in sinning. From whence I therefore partly apprehend, what the silent thoughts of some men may object against me; who, though they will not deny the things which we say of Christ to be true, yet they will judge them unseasonable for the times and manners of men now-a-days, being so corrupted and infected. Nay, that they are rather hurtful, and open a door to greater boldness and security in sinning.
Therefore, that I may answer those men, and give some account of my undertaking, I have thought fit to speak a few things by way of preface.
First; That I am not at all ignorant what monsters of prodigious uncleanness do abound every where at this day; and also I do no less lament the things that I see. And I wish it were as much in my power to procure the healing of these evils, as I am seriously grieved at so great a torrent of all wickedness prevailing daily more and more.
But some will say, Then draw forth and thunder out something from the severe law of God, which may terrify the minds of the people with the healthful fear of God, and the dreadfulness of divine vengeance — which may take away the raging lusts of life, and restrain unbridled boldness, and reduce men into a course of more severe discipline, and reclaim them from wickedness to serious repentance, and drive all men forward, by all means, to endeavor the best things. But what else do I drive at in these treatises throughout? though not with the same dexterity of speech, and excellency of wit as many men, yet aiming altogether at the same end. For, if we look at the end of things with a right judgment, what is the design of all the doctrine of the sacred gospel, concerning faith, Christ the Mediator, and free Justification by him, but, that by setting before men the great benefits bestowed upon us by Christ, and by considering his special favor, the minds of believers being so much more easily inflamed with the admiration of heavenly things, may be won over to a contempt of this world? Though in the mean time I am not insensible, that there are some perhaps of a contrary opinion, namely, that no other way or medicine for rooting out vices, and reforming manners should be used, but to stupify the ears of simple men, by perpetually inculcating of laws and precepts, and dreadful threatenings to stir up terror. Unto whose opinion, as I would not oppose myself, so also I cannot but greatly commend their labor.
But again, neither should they be blamed who teach Christ, nor should the promulgation of the gospel be neglected, because many abuse it. Before the Father sent his Son into the world, he was not ignorant that the world would not receive him, and yet he sent him nevertheless — though he knew that there were many that loved darkness more than light, notwithstanding the true Light shined from heaven, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world, John 1.
There never has been a generation so happy, but the worser part has exceeded the rest in number, and always the fewest were pleased with the best things. But I doubt whether such abominable impudence in sinning ever came to so great a height in any age as at this day. Wherefore, I confess, that so much the more their endeavors should be encouraged, who give all diligence for this purpose, and rebuke with sharpness, that wickedness may be purged away out of the christian commonwealth. For what can they do better? But yet Christ should not therefore be expelled from the church. Yea, if I may be allowed to speak freely, I know not whereunto this so great depravation and overflowing of all most abominable iniquities should be imputed, but that Christ, the best instructor of life, doth not so reign in the minds of men, as in right he ought. This world hath its adorers. But Christ also hath his own miserable and afflicted elect in the world, the care of whom should not be neglected. Therefore, they that are angry at the filthy manners of this life, do well therein; but yet they do not ill, that are angry at the corrupt errors of doctrine, about which, according to my opinion, no less care should be taken than about manners. The prophet is commanded to declare unto his people their sins.
True indeed. But again, the same prophet is commanded to comfort his people. Also the voice of the prophet is commanded to prophesy with a loud cry to the cities of Judah concerning the Savior their King, and his reward, and the saving grace and glory of God, which was to be revealed in that people.
So then, the church hath her prophets — I know and acknowledge it. And again, the divine bounty so dispenses its gifts, that the church has also its evangelists. But now, where is there one of all the prophets that came before Christ’s time, but he is found frequently to evangelize something respecting Christ very sweetly, with joyful proclamations? We hear the same testified by Peter; To him, saith he, all the prophets bear witness, that as many as believe in him shall receive remission of sins, Acts 10.
Wherefore, as those are not to be defrauded of their own praise, who do all they can to bring the brutish minds of the people to a detestation of their own evil deeds, so again it should be inquired into, Whether this is all that must be done? Thou tallest them back to repentance, who are running on headlong into their sins, and thou doest well, for it is a great thing. But what will this so much avail, unless Christ also, being received by faith, come together with thy repentance? For thou art not pardoned only upon the account of thy remorse at the remembrance of thy bypast life, but\parBECAUSE Christ, who never sinned, died for thee.
Yet neither doth he forgive any, but him that repents truly, and from his heart. Therefore, these two must be joined together, and always retained in the church: but so that salvation and justification should be understood to consist principally, not in the life of men, if it were ever so holy, but in the doctrine of faith, rightly taught.
In which matter this whole generation of papists seem to me not a little deceived, who look upon this our christian religion, to be nothing else but a moral doctrine of framing the life, according to the right rules of living.
Which, when a man has strictly observed, and thereby gained the reputation of virtue, and external honesty, they think nothing further is wanting to the complete perfection of christian philosophy; which, if it be true, I scarcely discern what difference there is between us and the ancient philosophers. For what sect of philosophers was ever so grossly absurd, but that they esteemed it honorable to contemn those things, with the admiration and desire whereof we christians are so much transported, that we are in the next degree to madness? As that money never makes any man happy. That the end of good, should by no means be placed in honors or pleasures. The Stoics were not ignorant, that no man is wise, but a good man. They saw that nothing was good and honorable, but true virtue, and nothing should be accounted evil but only filthiness. Socrates, in Plato, argues that an injury should not be revenged by an injury; and that the soul should by all means be drawn away from the affections of the body.
Moreover that, the soul being immortal, they are not in a deplorable condition, who after having passed their life honestly, depart hence into more blessed habitations. What shall I say of Plato, or of Aristotle, who in his politics, denies that any thing’ eau be pleasant unto men in life, except virtue, in which alone pleasure consists. How holily does Cicero write of offices or duties. Yea those men did not only teach such things, but not a few of them, did also perform great part of their doctrine, both amongst the Greeks and the Latins, especially Socrates, Aristides, Diogenes, Epictetus, the Curii, the Fabii, the Fabricii, and the Scipio’s. Whose life, virtues, and famous acts, if we look into, and compare them with the Catacatholics F54 in our days, O how ashamed may they be at so great a difference as is between them!
And yet, as all these things, so very excellent, profited them nothing to salvation without Christ, so also we should suppose, that in all our virtue, and good deeds, there is nothing that distinguishes us before God from their paganism, unless, besides the condition of life, there be added another doctrine, and profession of religion, which doth not, as the philosophers of old, dispute about virtues only and moral duties, or about placing the chief good in the excellency of virtue or charity, nor makes inquiry about legal righteousness, and civil judgments. But it calls us forth unto deeper mysteries, and instructs the minds of believers soundly and solidly, concerning the heavenly judgment of God, his will, his engagement by covenant, concerning the Son of God, and our eternal redemption by Christ, peace, justification, faith, the hope of our calling, the largeness of the mercy and grace of God, salvation and the crown of immortality.
These seem to me to be the principal heads, in which all the strength and nature of our religion, all our peace and tranquillity, and all the way of our salvation and doctrine is contained. I think all means should be used, that this manner of doctrine may be retained in the church, sound and entire.
And this was the chief cause that stirred me up to undertake this defense, wherein I am now engaged. Not that I might open a door of licentiousness to men of unclean dispositions; but that I might lay open unto all godly brethren, and especially to those that are afflicted, the boundless and eternal riches of the grace of God in Christ purchased for us, the glory of the king(tom, the firm and undoubted good pleasure of his reconciled favor.
What if some are of such a perverse mind, that they design to abuse this our peaceable and healthful debate, about faith and the grace of justification, for a defense of their own unrighteousness, and carnal licentiousness? I give them notice, now, before hand, that these things were neither written, nor thought upon by me for them, but only for the godly, whose consciences in this world are burdened and afflicted, to whom I would peculiarly dedicate this work, such as it is, that I might ease and refresh them in Christ, in the great straits of their agonies, with some lenitive of evangelical doctrine, against the ensnaring assault of Satan.
And likewise, that I might strengthen and preserve them, as with an antidote against the malignity of the pseudo-catholic F55 adversaries, and the subtle deceits of sophisters; who by an infinite number of books already published, and by hurrying new ones daily into public view, keep no measure, and make no end of writing, that they may subvert the right ways of the Lord.
Now I pray the Lord Jesus, who was crucified for our sins, that according to the unspeakable greatness of his power, whereby he can do all things with his Father in heaven and in earth, and according to his great lovingkindness towards us, that he would fructify our minds daily more and more, by the Spirit or’ his grace, nourish them by his presence, and confirm them by his power. That he would defend the afflicted cause of the gospel, against the plagues of error, disappoint the attempts of malicious persons endeavoring our destruction, and still disorderly tumults and vain janglings in the church. That he may grant peace to our times, pardon to our sins, strength and victory to our faith, skillful workmen to the church, and dexterity in working and teaching to the workmen; and especially that he would refresh and comfort with the gracious favor of his divine Majesty, the pious and perplexed consciences of believers, combating with death and Satan, or exercised with sharp affliction, for the glory of his own name, to whom with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, all glory is due for ever and ever. Amen. JOHN FOX.
A. D. 1583.