The second particular in the description of the great apostasy, viz.,
the persons apostatizing expressed by —The great apostasy was to be a general one.
—The word doth not always imply a few, or a small
number, proved by several passages in Scripture. —The true
Now I come unto the second point expressed in this description of the Great Apostasy, namely, the persons revolting. They should not be all, but some. * —“Some shall apostatize.†” Not, as we in our English do often use it, a few; but some, that is, not all. Yet some, that is, not all. Yet some, that is, so many, as that the whole visible Church should be therefore said to be apostatized; so many as should like a cloud overspread the face of the Christian firmament, in such sort as the stars and lights therein should not be easily discerned. For the great defection so much prophesied of was to be a solemn and general one; such a one as wherein the chiefest of the Churches, honored as a mother in Israel, should become a Babylonish whore, a mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth (Revelation 17.): such a one as
whereby the outmost court of the
knows not that in
We must take notice, therefore, that the apostasy and corruption of faith so much prophesied of was another manner of one than that which was so frequent in those first times; such a kind of one as should not be disclaimed by the visible body of the Church, but should surprise, eclipse, and overcloud the beautiful face thereof; which manner of defection never had been before, nor should the like be after it.
Now that the word, some, useth in Scripture to imply no small number, but only serves to intimate an exception of some particulars, though there were but two or three to be expected, I will make manifest by a few examples, lest our English use might deceive us.
John 6: 60, Many of his disciples, saith
the text, when they heard this, said,
This is an hard saying; and verse 66, “Many
of his disciples from that time went back, and walked no more with him.
Nevertheless, concerning these many, Christ
himself saith, verse 64,* “But there are some
of you which believe not.” Here we see that some is a great many. So Romans 2:
in general, “and
The observation, therefore, which is, some, affords us is, That the true Church of Christ was never wholly extinguished, nor the light of his Gospel ever quite put out; no, not in the greatest darkness that ever was to overwhelm it.
By the true Church of Christ I understand —That holy Society and Company of Believers, which as they accord and are joined together in one common Faith of all Divine truths needful to salvation, so are they also free from the fellowship
of such enormous abominations, and mortal errors as
destroy and overturn it. This is that Society whereof, by the grace of Almighty
God, we glory to be members; this that Society which in the primitive times
grew and flourished; this that Society which, when the times foretold of the
Church’s eclipse came, and the Great Apostasy had overspread the face thereof,
was indeed much impaired, endangered, and obscured, but never was totally
extinguished, but continued even under the jurisdiction of the Man of Sin, yea in Babylon itself where
he had this Throne: for doth not Christ at length say, Revelation 18: 4, Come out of her, my people? How could
they come out thence, unless they had been there? or
how should Antichrist sit in the
adversaries will say, this is not sufficient to make
you the true
but it must have been a society visibly known unto the world, and not as embers in the ashes, but as a burning and shining flame.
But this objection deserves no answering; because our adversaries, howsoever they would dissemble it, do but play upon the present advantage which they think their own Church hath in this point above ours. Otherwise, when they forget the contention they have with us, and are in a calmer mood, they can be pleased to deliver other doctrine; which if they would be so ingenuous as always to remember, we needed not such a stir about the point of the Church’s visibility. For the difference between them and us hereabout is not so great as they would make it seem. They themselves, and the Fathers also, teach, that when Antichrist cometh, the visibility of the Church shall be eclipsed: nay, they affirm more than we usually in that case require; for then, they say, the use of the sacraments shall cease; no eucharist, no mass, no public assemblies —yea, all ecclesiastical jurisdiction shall b extinguished. But here lies all the difference: they hold the glorious visibility of the true Church to have continued from the beginning unto this present, and the overshadowing of the light and eclipse of the glory thereof under Antichrist to be yet to come. We on the contrary maintain the clouding of the Church’s visibility under the Man of Sin to have been already, and some part of the visible splendor thereof to be yet to come: both agreeing in this, that in the fatal Apostasy the Church’s visibility and glory
should cease; but we say, That time hath been already; they say, It is yet to come. We say, That time of darkness was to continue many ages; They say, When it comes, it shall last but three single years and a half. Seeing, therefore, the whole controversy lies in the point of time, whether the Church’s fatal Apostasy be already past or yet to come; it would be much the shorter and quicker course for both them and us to decide this controversy, to examine the condition and quality of both religions by the Holy Scripture, where we have also, as St. Peter speaks, amore sure word of prophecy, whereunto we shall do well if we take heed as to a light shining in a dark place.
Now, though this answer be sufficient enough for the objection of our adversaries; yet, for the better understanding and clearer insight into the matter questioned, we will further consider, Whether and in what manner or measure our Church may be said to have been visible during the prevailing Apostasy, and in what respect again it was not visible; and in both agreeable to the state of the true Church under the frequent Apostasies of Israel.
First, therefore, we must know that by a visible Christian society in this question is meant a society or company of Christian believers joined together in one external fellowship and communion of the same public profession and rule of faith, use of sacraments, and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. For these make the outward form and (as it were) shape of the Church, whereby
this society is discernable from other societies of men. So that a society by this outside, severed and distinguished from other societies, is a society visible, and conspicuous to other societies of men.
The question, therefore is, Whether that holy society of believers before mentioned, who accorded together in “one common faith with us of all divine truths needful to salvation,” and kept themselves free from such enormous abominations and mortal errors, which we now disclaim, as utterly annihilating that common faith; whether such a society as this has been in all ages, joined and distinguished by such a common outside from other companies, either of men in general, or Christians in special? Or in shorter, and perhaps plainer terms thus, Whether the society of men of our Christian belief hath in all ages been for the outside, a distinct ecclesiastical corporation from other societies of men?
My answer is, that for the first ages it was so; not only thus visible, but easily discernable from all other societies of men whatsoever; but afterward, when the Great Apostasy we speak of surprised and deformed the beautiful Spouse of Christ, then was not that Virgin-company of saints, our Mother, a distinct external society from the rest of Christendom; but a part, yea and the only sound part, of that external and visible body whereof our adversaries boast their predecessors to have been members. For howsoever this our Virgin Mother, for the inward and invisible communion of her sincere and
unstained faith, were a distinct and severed Company from the rest, with whom she lived; yet, for the common principles of the Christian faith still acknowledged in that corrupt body of Christendom, she retained communion with them, and for the most part of that time of darkness continued and external part of the same visible body with the rest in gross called Christians; as being begotten by the same sacrament of baptism (as Israelites in the like case of circumcision), taught in some part by the same word and pastors still continued amongst them, and submitting to the same jurisdiction and government, so far as these or any of these had yet some soundness remaining in them. But for the rest which was not compatible with her sincere and unstained faith, and which annihilated, in those it surprised, even those common grounds of Christianity otherwise outwardly professed; she with her children either wisely avoided all communion with it; or if they could not, then patiently suffered for their conscience sake under the hands of tyrants, called Christians; until that tyranny growing unsupportable, and that mortal contagion unavoidable, it pleased God, lest we might have been as Sodom and Gomorrah, to begin to call us thence, at the time appointed, unto a greater liberty, as we see this day.
As, therefore, when a little gold is mixed with a great quantity of base and counterfeit metal, so that of both is made but one mass or lump; each metal, we know, still retains its nature diverse from the other, and yet outwardly and
visibly is not discerned the one from the other; but both are seen together as they are outwardly one, but cannot be distinguished by the eye as they are diverse and several; the gold is visible as it one mass, and under the same outside and figure with the rest, yet it is truly invisible, as it is diverse from the rest: but when the refiner comes and severs them, then will each metal appear in its own colors, and put on its own outside, and so become visible apart from the rest: such is the case here, and such was the state and condition of the Church in the prevailing and Great Apostasy. The purer metal of the visible Christian body was not outwardly discernible from the base and counterfeit, while one outside covered them; and so much the rather, because the Apostate part in a great proportion exceeding the sound, made it imperceptible. But when the time of refining came, then was our Church not first founded in the true faith. God forbid; but a part of the Christian body newly refined from such corruptions as time hath gathered; even as gold refined begins not then first to be gold, though it begin but then to be refined gold.
we have hitherto spoken of the state of the true believers under the Apostasy
of Antichrist, is the same which befell the true
Israelites in the Apostasy of Israel. And doth not St. Peter intimate that the
Apostasy which should betide Christians would be like to that which we read to
the people (i.e. Israelites), even AS there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. If the Apostasy of Christians were to be of the same stamp with that of Israel, and the heresies brought into Christendom by the false doctors of Babylon, like unto those wherewith the false prophets of Israel infected and poisoned the ancient people of God; surely we cannot find a better pattern whereby to know what was the state and condition of the unstained Christian believers under the Apostasy of the Man of Sin, than that which was of the true Israelites under the Apostasy of Israel.
For the right understanding whereof, we must always remember that the Israelitish Church did at no time altogether renounce the true and living God, not in their worst times; but in their own conceit and profession they acknowledged him still and were called his people, and he their God, though they worshipped others beside him. So Christians, in their Apostasy, neither did nor were to make an absolute Apostasy from God the Father and Christ their Redeemer, but in an outward profession still to acknowledge him, and to be called Christians; though by their idolatry and spiritual whoredoms they indeed denied the Lord that bought them —i.e. whom they professed to be their Redeemer; just as Israel for the like is said to have forsaken the Lord their God that brought them out of the land of Egypt. Here, therefore, the case of both is alike; let us also see the rest.
You ask, where was the true Church we speak of in Antichrist’s
time? I ask likewise, where was the company of true worshippers in Ahab’s time?
Was it not so covered and scattered under Apostate Israelites, that Elias
himself, who was one of it, could scarce find it? I have been very jealous, saith he, for the Lord God of Hosts; because the children of
will object that the true and unstained Church in
the Lord had
said, In this house, and in
yet young, in the eighth year of his reign, he began to seek after the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year to make a public and powerful reformation, such as the like was never done before him. Could all this have been done so soon, and by a King so young in years, and to carry all before it like a torrent, unless there had been a strong party, which now having a King for them, began quickly to shew themselves and to sway the State, though before they were hardly to be seen?
When, therefore, our adversaries ask us where our Church was before Luther, we see by this what we have to answer.