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And how far, as unto particular instances of miscarriage, this rule may extend, he only knows; and of men, whatever they pretend, not one. And where any do worship God in Christ, with an evidence of holy fear and sincerity, and walk in a conversation answerable unto the rule of the gospel, though they have manifold corruptions in the way of their worship, I shall never judge severely either of their present acceptance with God, or of their future eternal condition. This is a safe rule with respect unto others; our own is, to attend with all diligence unto what God hath revealed concerning his worship, and absolutely comply therewith, without which we can neither please him, nor come to the enjoyment of him.
I do acknowledge also, that the general prevalency of the use of set forms of prayer of human invention in Christian assemblies, for many ages (more than any other argument that is urged for their necessity), requires a tenderness in judgment as unto the whole nature of them, and the acceptance of their persons in the duty of prayer by whom they are used. Yet no consideration of this usage, seeing it is not warranted by the Scriptures, nor is of apostolical example, nor is countenanced by the practice of the primitive churches, ought to hinder us from discerning and judging of the evils and inconveniences that have ensued thereon; nor from discovering how far they are unwarrantable as unto their imposition. And these evils may be here a little considered.
The beginnings of the introduction of the use of set forms of prayer of human composition, into the worship of the church, are altogether uncertain. But that the reception of them was progressive by new additions from time to time, is known to all. For neither Rome, nor the present Roman Missal, were built in a day. In that and the breviaries did the whole
worship of the church issue, at least in these parts of the world. No man is so fond as to suppose that they were of one entire composition, the work of one age, of one man, or any assembly of men, at the same time; unless they be so brutishly devout as to suppose that the Mass-book was brought from heaven unto the Pope by an angel, as the Alcoran was to Mahomet. It is evident, indeed, that common people, at least of the communion of the Papal church, do believe it to be as much of a divine original, as the Scripture; and that on the same grounds of the proposal of it unto them, as the only means of divine worship, by their church. Hence is it unto them an idol. But it is well enough known how from small beginnings, by various accessions, it increased unto its present form and station. And this progress, in the reception of devised forms of prayer in the worship of the church, carried along with it sundry pernicious concomitants, which we may briefly consider.
1. In and by the additions made unto the first received forms, the superstitious and corrupt doctrines of the apostacy in several ages, were insinuated into the worship of the church. That such superstitious and corrupt doctrines were gradually introduced into the church, is acknowledged by all Protestants, and is sufficiently known; the supposition of it is the sole foundation of the Reformation. And by this artifice of new additions to received forms, they were from time to time admitted into, and stated in, the worship of the church, by which principally to this very day, they preserve their station in the minds of men. Were that foundation of them taken away, they would quickly fall to the ground. By this means did those abominations of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, both leaven and poison the whole worship of the public assemblies, and imposed themselves on the
credulity of the people. The disputes of speculative men, superstitious and subtle, about these things, had never infected the minds of the common people of Christians, nor ever been the means of that idolatry, which at length spread itself over the whole visible church of these parts of the world, had not this device of prescribed forms of prayer, wherein those abominations were not only expressed, but graphically represented and acted (so violently affecting the carnal minds of men superstitious and ignorant), imposed them on their practice; which gradually hardened them with an obdurate credulity. For, although they saw no ground or reason doctrinally to believe what was proposed unto them about transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, and might easily have seen that they were contradictory unto all the conductive principles of men and Christians, namely, faith, reason, and sense; yet they deceived themselves into an obstinate pretence of believing in the notion of truth, of what they had admitted in practice. Men, I say, of corrupt minds, might have disputed long enough about vagrant forms, accidents without subjects, transmutation of substances without accidents, sacrifices bloody and unbloody, before they had vitiated the whole worship of the church with gross idolatry, had not this engine been made use of for its introduction; and the minds of men by this means inveigled with the practice of it. But when the whole matter and means of it was gradually insinuated into, and at length comprised in, those forms of prayer, which they were obliged continually to use in divine service, their whole souls became leavened and tainted with a confidence in, and love unto, these abominations.
Hence it was, that the doctrines concerning the sacraments, and the whole worship of God in the church, as they became gradually corrupted, were not at once
objectively and doctrinally proposed to the minds and considerations of men, to be received or rejected according to the evidence they had of their truth or error (a method due to the constitution of our natures), but gradually insinuated into their practice by additional forms of prayer, which they esteemed themselves obliged to use and observe. This was the gilding of the poisonous pill, whose operation, when it was swallowed, was to bereave men of their sense, reason, and faith, and make them madly avow that to be true, which was contrary unto them all.
Besides, as was before intimated, the things themselves that were the groundwork of idolatry, namely, transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, were so acted and represented in those forms of worship, as to take great impression on the minds of carnal men until they were mad on their idols. For when all religion and devotion is let into the soul by fancy, and imagination excited by outward spectacles, they will make mad work in the world, as they have done, and yet continue to do. But hereof I shall speak in the next place.
It had, therefore, been utterly impossible that an idolatrous worship should have been introduced into the church in general, had not the opinion of the necessity of devised forms of prayer been first universally received. At least it had not been so introduced and so established, as to procure and cause the shedding of the blood of thousands of holy persons for not complying with it. By this means alone was brought in that fatal engine of the church's ruin, from whose murderous efficacy few escaped with their lives or souls. Had all churches continued in the liberty wherein they were placed and left by our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, it is possible that many irregularities might have prevailed in some of them, and many mistakes
been admitted in their practice; yet this monster of the Mass, devouring the souls of the most, and drinking the blood of many, had never been conceived nor brought forth, at least not nourished into that terrible form and power wherein it appeared and acted for many ages in the world. And upon the account thereof it is not without cause that the Jews say that the Christians received their Tephilloth, or Prayerbooks, from Armillus, that is, Antichrist.
It is true, that when the doctrine of religion is determined and established by civil laws, the laws of the nation where it is professed, as the rule of all outward advantages, liturgies composed in compliance therewithal, are not so subject to this mischief: but this ariseth from that external cause alone. Otherwise, wherever those who have the ordering of these things do deviate from the truth once received, as it is common for the most so to do, forms of prayers answerable unto those deviations would quickly be insinuated. And the present various liturgies that are amongst the several sorts of Christians in the world, are of little other use than to establish their minds in their peculiar errors, which by this means they adhere unto as articles of their faith.
And hereby did God suffer contempt to be cast upon the supposed wisdom of men about his worship and the ways of it. They would not trust unto his institutions and his care of them; but did first put the ark into a cart, and then like Uzzah put forth a hand of force to hold it when it seemed to shake. For it is certain that, if not the first invention, yet the first public recommendation and prescription, of devised forms of prayer unto the practice of the churches, were designed to prevent the insinuation of false opinions and corrupt modes of worship into the public administrations. This was feared from persons infected with he