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The Works of False Religion

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 8 Mar 2021

Lee Gatiss preaches a modernised version of the final part of the “Homily of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith.”

So that everyone might rightly judge of good works, it has been declared in the second part of this sermon, what kind of good works God would have his people to walk in, namely such as he has commanded in his holy Scripture, and not such works as people have invented out of their own brains, from a blind zeal and devotion, without the word of God. By mistaking the nature of good works, mankind has most highly displeased God, and has moved away from his will and commandments. So you have heard how much the world, from the beginning until Christ’s time, was always ready to fall from the commandments of God, and to seek other means to honour and serve him, by means of a devotion created out of their own heads. And you have heard how people set up their own traditions, as high or above God’s commandments, which has happened also in our times (which is more to be lamented) no less than it did among the Jews, and that by the corruption or at least by the negligence of those who chiefly ought to have preserved the pure and heavenly doctrine left by Christ.

What person, having any judgment or learning joined with a true zeal for God, does not see and lament that such false doctrine, superstition, idolatry, hypocrisy, and other enormities and abuses have entered into Christ’s religion? Little by little, through such sour yeast, the sweet bread of God’s holy word has been much hindered and laid aside. The Jews in their blindness never had so many pilgrimages to images, nor indulged in so much kneeling, kissing, and censing of them as has been used in our time. Sects and false religions were only ever a small minority among the Jews,  and were not as superstitiously abused in an ungodly way as they have been recently among us.

Such sects and religions had so many hypocritical and pretended works in their state of religion (as they arrogantly named it) that their lamps (as they said) always ran over, able to satisfy not only for their own sins but also for all their other benefactors and religious brothers and sisters, as they had persuaded the multitude of ignorant people in their ungodly and crafty way. In various places they kept merit markets, full of their holy relics, images, shrines, and works of overflowing abundance ready to be sold. And all things which they had were called holy — holy cowls,  holy girdles, holy pardons, holy beads, holy shoes, holy rules — and all full of holiness. And what thing can be more foolish, more superstitious, or ungodly, than for men, women, and children, to wear a Friar’s coat to supposedly deliver them from fevers or pestilence? Or when they die, or when they are buried, to cause such a thing to be cast upon them, in the hope of being saved by this? Thanks be to God, this superstition has been little used in this realm, but in various other countries it has been, and is still used among many, both educated and uneducated. 

Superstitious monastic vows
We must pass over the innumerable superstitions that there have been in strange apparel, in silence, in Dormitory, in Cloister, in Chapter, in choice of meats and drinks, and in such like things. Rather, let us consider what enormities and abuses have been in the three chief principal points, which they called the three essentials or three chief foundations of religion, that is to say, obedience, chastity, and wilful poverty.

First, under the pretence or colour of obedience to their father in religion (which obedience they made themselves) they were made free by their rule and Canons from obedience to their natural father and mother, and from obedience to Emperor and King and all temporal power — whom by God’s law they were very much duty bound to obey. And so by professing who they were not bound to obey, they forsook their due obedience.

And it would be better to pass over in silence how their profession of chastity was kept, and let the world judge of that which is well known, rather than with unchaste words to express their unchaste life, and therefore offend chaste and godly ears. And as for their wilful poverty, when they had possessions, jewels, plate, and riches they were equal or above merchants, gentlemen, Barons, Earls, and Dukes. Yet by this subtle term of sophistry, proprium in commune, that is to say, proper in common, they mocked the world, claiming that despite all their possessions and riches they were keeping their vow, and were in wilful poverty.

But for all their riches, they might never help father nor mother, nor others who were indeed very needy and poor, without the permission of their father Abbot, Prior, or Warden. They might take from anyone, but they should not give anything to anyone, no not even to those whom the laws of God bound them to help. And so through their traditions and rules, they resisted the laws of God. And, therefore, what Christ said to the Pharisees might be most truly said of them: “You break the commandments of God by your traditions. You honour God with your lips, but your hearts are far from him” (Matthew 15:3, 8). And they prayed longer prayers by day and by night, under pretence or colour of such holiness, to get the favour of widows and other simple folks, that they might sing trentals,  and hold services for their husbands and friends, and admit or receive them into their prayers. This confirms the saying of Christ about them, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, under colour of long prayers: therefore your damnation shall be the greater. Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel by sea and by land to make more Novices, and new brethren, and when they are let in, or received into your sect, you make them the children of hell, worse than your yourselves are” (Matthew 23:14-15).

May God be honoured, for putting light in the heart of his faithful and true minister of most famous memory, King Henry VIII, and giving him the knowledge of his word and an earnest affection to seek his glory, and to put away all such superstitious and Pharisaical sects invented by Antichrist and set up against the true word of God and the glory of his most blessed Name, just as he gave the same spirit to the most noble and famous Princes, Jehoshaphat, Josiah, and Hezekiah. God grant all of us, the King’s faithful and true subjects, to feed on the sweet and savoury bread of God’s own word, and (as Christ commanded) to avoid all Pharisaical yeast of human false religion. Although that was, before God, most abominable and contrary to God’s commandments and Christ’s pure religion, it was praised as a most godly life, and the highest state of perfection — as though a person might be more godly, and more perfect by keeping human rules, traditions, and professions than by keeping the holy commandments of God.

Roman Catholic Abuses
And briefly to pass over the ungodly and counterfeit religion, let us rehearse some other kinds of Roman Catholic superstitions and abuses, such as Beads,  Lady Psalters,  and Rosaries, Fifteen Os,  Saint Bernard’s Verses,  of Saint Agatha’s Letters,  of Purgatory, of Masses satisfactory,  of Stations,  and Jubilees,  of pretended relics, or hallowed beads, bells, bread, water, psalms, candles, fire, and other such things. We could speak of superstitious fastings, of fraternities or brotherhoods, of pardons, and other such merchandise, which were so esteemed and abused to the great prejudice of God’s glory and commandments, that they were made most high and most holy things, by which to attain to everlasting life, or the cancellation of sin. Indeed, vain inventions, unfruitful ceremonies, and ungodly laws, decrees, and councils of Rome were in such a way advanced that nothing was thought comparable in authority, wisdom, learning, and godliness to them. So that the laws of Rome (as they said) were to be received by everyone like the four Evangelists,  and all the laws of Princes must give way to them. And the laws of God were also partly left aside, and less esteemed, so that these laws, decrees, and councils with their traditions and ceremonies might be more duly kept, and had in greater reverence.

Thus were the people so blinded through ignorance with the godly show and appearance of those things, that they thought the keeping of them to be a more holy, a more perfect service and honouring of God, and more pleasing to God, than the keeping of God’s commandments. Such has been the corrupt inclination of mankind, ever superstitiously given to make new ways of honouring God out of their own heads, and then to have more affection and devotion to keep that than to search out God’s holy commandments and to keep them. And, furthermore, to take God’s commandments for human commandments, and human commandments for God’s commandments, indeed, for the highest and most perfect and holy of all God’s commandments. And so was all confused, so that only a few well-educated people, and but a small number of them, knew or at the least wanted to know and affirm the truth, to separate or sever God’s commandments from human commandments. And so grew much error, superstition, idolatry, vain religion, preposterous judgment, great contention, with all ungodly living.

Truly honouring God
Therefore, as you have any zeal to rightly and purely honour God, as you have any regard to your own souls, and to the life that is to come which is both without pain and without end — apply yourselves chiefly above all things to read and hear God’s word. Mark diligently in it what his will is, and with all your effort apply yourselves to follow that. First, you must have an assured faith in God, and give yourselves wholly to him. Love him in prosperity and adversity, and dread to offend him evermore. Then for his sake love all people, friends and foes, because they are his creation and image, and redeemed by Christ as you are. Consider in your minds how you may do good to all, as you are able, and hurt no one. Obey all your superiors, and governors, serve your masters faithfully and diligently, as well in their absence as in their presence, not for dread of punishment only, but for conscience sake, knowing that you are bound so to do by God’s commandments.

Do not disobey your fathers and mothers, but honour them, help them, and please them as you are able to. Do not oppress others, or kill or beat them, neither slander nor hate anyone.  But love all people, speak well of all, help and assist everyone, as you can, indeed, even your enemies who hate you, who speak evil of you, and who hurt you. Take no-one’s goods, nor covet your neighbour’s goods wrongfully, but content yourselves with that which you obtain lawfully. And also bestow your own goods charitably, as need requires.

Flee all idolatry, witchcraft, and perjury. Commit no kind of adultery, fornication, or other impurity, in will nor in deed, with anyone else’s spouse or otherwise. And labouring continually during this life to thus keep the commandments of God (in which consists the pure, principal, and right honour of God and which, done in faith, God has ordained to be the right pathway to heaven), you shall not fail, as Christ has promised, to come to that blessed and everlasting life, where you shall live in glory and joy with God forever — to whom be praise, honour and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society

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