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bers of places in the Old Testament. Neither, indeed, is it so much as pretended that any one text of Scripture can be produced to authorize such liberty; and this very circumstance alone is its greatest condemnation; while we see such numbers of the most clear and evident texts forbidding it, and not so much as the shadow of one text to favour it. The constant practice of the Church also shews, that any attempt to authorize or excuse such liberty, falls under the curse pronounced by St. Paul on all novelty in religion, and is contrary to the Gospel which has been preached from the beginning, and handed down from the holy apostles.
Q. 17. But is it not allowed in some countries to go to hear the sermons of those who are separated from the Church; and, if in some, why not in others?
A. It is not allowed in any country; for no power on earth can make that allowable which the law of God forbids; and to say, that, because several actually do it in some countries without being censured, and therefore it is allowable, is the same as to say several, yea great numbers, if you please, curse and swear, and lie, and get drunk in every country, without being censured, therefore these crimes are every where allowed. Wherever any number of men are, many will be found who transgress the most sacred laws both of God and his Church, and in many cases it is impossible always to censure and punish those who do so; yet this by no means alters the nature of the law, which will stand at the great day as a testimony against them, and though here they escape the censure of men, they will not escape the just punishment of their transgression at the tribunal of God.
Q. 18. May it be said, that the above texts of
Scripture only forbid communicating with those out of the Church, but not the going out of curiosity to hear and see what passes among them at their religious meetings, without any joining along with them?
A. Whatever is a sin to do, is a sin to appear to do; and it is evident, that whoever goes to such places appears to join with what is done there, whatever be in his own mind; and Jesus Christ not only condemns those who deny him in their hearts, but also all those who deny him before men, whatever be the inward dispositions of their hearts. Besides, the very going to such places is commonly looked upon, in the eyes of the world, and in some countries, in the eye of the law itself, as a joining that communion. Hence it never fails to give great offence and scandal to the faithful wherever it is known; all these are real evils, and render every action criminal which is accompanied with them. But if we consider the texts of Scripture themselves, we shall find that they forbid the very going to such places at all; for do not these texts command us to avoid them? and can one be said to avoid them who goes to them, whatever be his intention? Does not the Scripture say, that there is no fellowship, no participation, no concord, no part, no agreement between the faithful and the unbeliever? and can this be said of one who goes to their religious meetings, is present at their service, and hears their preachings? Does not the Scripture expressly affirm, that he who says God speed them, communicateth in their wicked works? how much more he who honours their meetings with his presence? Lastly, does not the Scripture say, Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness? and does not this include all kind of union with them in their evil ways? As for the motive of curiosity to
see and hear what they do and say, it is certainly a disgrace to a Christian, or even for a reasonable person, to fly to such an excuse for doing a thing forbidden by any lawful authority, but much more for doing what is so frequently, so severely, and for such important reasons, forbidden by the law of God, and of his Church. Whatever useful purposes curiosity may serve for in the acquisition of knowledge, however blameless it may be when employed about innocent objects, yet curiosity is, without doubt, a very great sin in itself, when to gratify it, a person either does what is criminal, or prohibited by lawful authority, or exposes himself to the danger of doing so.
Q. 19. But, if a person be properly instructed, and thoroughly grounded in his religion, does not this take away the danger of being seduced from the faith? and may not such a one go to see and hear what passes among them?
A. In answer to this, we must observe, (1.) That allowing such a person would run no hazard himself of losing his faith, yet this would only be avoiding one of those reasons for which the going to such places is forbidden; but it would not hinder his going there to be a communication, at least in the eyes of the world, with a false religion, a seeming approbation of it, and a transgression of an express command of God and his Church, not to go to such places, and a very grievous scandal to all the faithful. Nay, the scandal arising from the example of such learned people must be much greater than from others, because every one of the faithful well knows that it is a sin to go to such places, and therefore all must be much more offended to see a person who ought to know his duty better than others, acting so contrary to his duty; and the weaker sort among them will be much more influenced to do the same, from the example of such a person, than if less learned, and less instructed in his religion. But,
(2.) If we consider what our holy religion teaches, we will see, that even the most learned cannot answer for themselves, when, contrary to their duty, they culpably expose themselves to the danger. St. Paul assures us, that, "by grace we are saved. through faith, and that not of ourselves, for it is the gift of God," Epb. ii. 8. Our faith, then, being a gift of God, our perseverance in it is no less so. If, therefore, a person, though ever so learned, shall offend Almighty God in doing what is dishonourable to his holy faith; is not this provoking God to withdraw that gift from him, of which, by his disobedience, he renders himself unworthy? And do not examples of the most learned men, who have lost themselves by this means, effectually prove, that this is often the case? In the primitive ages, Tertullian and Tatian were most learned men, and great champions of the Christian faith, having written many excellent things in defence of it; yet, by exposing themselves to these very dangers, they were miserably seduced, lost their faith, and fell into the most unreasonable heresies. How many instances have been in the world, even of clergymen who perfectly well knew their religion, and yet lost their faith, and were seduced by exposing themselves to the same, or similar dangers. Their learning, in such cases, is of no service for their preservation; it is the heart that is seduced, and then their knowledge makes them only the more blameable in the sight of God. Hence, the Scripture declares, that it is "by pleasing speeches and good words" that false teachers "seduce the hearts of the innocent," Rom. xvi. 18. It is impossible there should be any solid reason in favour of falsehood, capable of convincing the understanding of a person who is well instructed in the faith of Jesus Christ; but the most learned and best instructed are not proof against their own passions, and the seduction of the heart, and there
fore can have no security against these, if they culpably expose themselves to the danger, by which they offend God, and provoke him to withdraw his grace from them, and leave them a prey to their passions, which, as we have seen, has often been done. On this account we find that the command of avoiding all fellowship with false teachers, is given to all without exception, to the learned as well as to the unlearned, to the pastors as well as to the people. It was to his very apostles that our Lord himself said, "Take heed that no man seduce you. If they say to you, Lo, here is Christ, do not believe them. If they shall say to you, Behold, he is in the desert, go not out. Have nothing to do with them." And it was to Timothy, a pastor himself of the Church, and his own disciple, that St. Paul, after describing false teachers, gave this command, Now these avoid. It was also to Titus, another of his disciples, instructed by himself, and a pastor of the Church, that he gave the same command, Tit. iii. 10. Who can presume upon himself, if these pillars and first pastors of the Church were so strictly cautioned to beware of the danger?
Q. 20. But, if a person, well instructed, should go to such meetings, to see and hear their ways, that he might be the better able to confute them, would not this be lawful?
A. This case is the same, as to the danger, with that of reading bad books with the design of con futing them. To read bad books is forbidden by the law of nature, and by the law of God, as well as by the positive law of the Church, precisely upon account of the danger of being seduced by them to evil. Now, suppose a person to be thoroughly learned, and in no probable danger of being seduced by them; yet he cannot read them with a safe conscience, unless he has also received