A PROLOG TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF SAINT PETER
This epistle did saint Peter write to the heathen that were converted and exhorts them to stand fast in the faith, to grow therein and to wax perfect, through all manner of suffering and also good works.
In the first he declares the justifying of faith through Christ’s blood, and comforts them with the hope of the life to come, and shows that we have not deserved it, but that the prophets prophesied it should be given us, and as Christ which redeemed us out of sin and all uncleanness is holy, so he exhorts to lead an holy conversation: and because we be richly bought and made heirs of a rich inheritance, to take heed that we lose it not again through our own negligence.
In the second Chap. he shows that Christ is the foundation and head cornerstone, whereon all are built through faith, whether it be Jew or Gentile, and how that in Christ they are made priests, to offer themselves to God (as Christ died himself) and to flee the lusts of the flesh that fight against the soul. And first he teaches them in general to obey the worldly rulers and then in special he teaches the servants to obey their masters be they good or bad, and to suffer wrong of them as Christ suffered wrong for us.
In the third he teaches the wives to obey their husbands, yea though they be unbelievers and to apparel themselves godly and as it becomes holiness. And thereto that the husbands suffer and bear the infirmity of their wives and live according to knowledge with them. And then in general he exhorts them to be soft, courteous, patient and friendly one to another, and to suffer for righteousness after the example of Christ.
In the fourth he exhorts to flee sin and to tame the flesh with soberness, watching and prayer, and to love each other, and to know that all good gifts are of God and every man to help his neighbor with such as he has received of God, and finally not to wonder, but to rejoice though they must suffer for Christ’s name’s sake, seeing as they be here partakers of his afflictions, so shall they be partakers of his glory to come.
In the fifth he teaches the bishops and priests how they should live and feed Christ’s flock: and warns us of the devil which on every side lies in wait for us.
A PROLOG TO THE SECOND EPISTLE OF SAINT PETER
This epistle was written against them which thought that Christian faith might be idle and without works, when yet the promise of Christ is made us upon that condition, that we henceforth work the will of God and not of the flesh. Therefore he exhorts them to exercise themselves diligently in virtue and all good works, thereby to be sure that they have the true faith, as a man knows the goodness of a tree by his fruit. Then he commends and magnifies the gospel, and wills that men hearken to that only, and to men’s doctrine not at all. For as he says, there came no prophetical scripture by the will of man, but by the will of the Holy Ghost which only knows the will of God, neither is any scripture of private interpretation: that is to say, may be otherwise expounded than agreeing to the open places and general articles and to the covenants of God and all the rest of the scripture.
And therefore in the second he warns them of false teachers that should come, and through preaching confidence in false works to satisfy their covetousness withal, should deny Christ. Which he threatens with three terrible examples, with the fall of the angels, the flood of Noah and overthrowing of Sodom and Gomorrah, and so describes them with their insatiable covetousness, pride, stubborn and disobedience to all temporal rule and authority, with their abominable whoredom and hypocrisy that a blind man may see that he prophesied it of the pope’s holy spirituality which devoured the whole world with their covetous living in all lust and pleasure and reigning as temporal tyrants.
In the third he shows that in the latter days, the people through unbelief and lack of fear of the judgment of the last day, shall be even as Epicurus, wholly given to the flesh. Which last day shall yet surely and shortly come says he: for a thousand years and one day is with God all one. And he shows also how terrible that day shall be, and how suddenly it shall come: and therefore exhorts all men to look earnestly for it, and to prepare themselves against it with holy conversation and godly living.
Finally. The first Chapter shows how it should go in the time of the pure and true Gospel. The second how it should go in the time of the pope and men’s doctrine. The third how at the last men should believe nothing nor fear God at all.
A PROLOG UPON THE THREE EPISTLES OF S. JOHN
This first epistle of Saint John contains the doctrine of a very apostle of Christ, and ought of right to follow his Gospel. For as in his epistle he sets out the true faith, and teaches by it only all men to be saved and restored unto the favour of God again: even so here in this epistle he goes against them that boast themselves of faith and yet continue without good works and teaches many ways that where true faith is, there the works tarry not behind, and contrary that where the works follow not, there is no true faith but a false imagination and utter darkness.
And he writes sore against a certain sect of heretics which then began to deny that Christ was come in the flesh, and calls them very antichrists. Which sect goes now in her full swing. For though they deny not openly with the mouth that Christ is come in the flesh: yet they deny it in the heart with their doctrine and living. For he that will be justified and saved through his own works, the same does as much as he that denies Christ to be come in the flesh seeing that Christ came only therefore in the flesh, that he should justify us, or purchase us pardon of our sins, bring us into the favour of God again and make us heirs of eternal life, with his works only and with his blood shedding, without and before all our works.
So fights this epistle both against them that will be saved by their own good works, and also against them that will be saved by a faith that has no lust to do works at all, and keeps us in the middle way, that we believe in Christ to be saved by his works only, and then to know that it is our duty for that kindness, to prepare ourselves to do the commandment of God, and to love every man his neighbor as Christ loved him, seeking with our own works God’s honour and our neighbor’s wealth only, and trusting for eternal life and for all that God has promised us for Christ’s sake.
The two last epistles though they be short, yet are goodly examples of love and faith and do savour of the spirit of a true apostle.
THE PROLOG TO THE EPISTLE OF S. PAUL TO THE HEBREWS
About this pistle hath ever been much doubting and that among great learned men who should be the author thereof: diverse affirming that it was not Paul’s, partly because the style so disagreeth and is so unlike his other epistles, and partly because it standeth in the second Chapter, this learning was confirmed to usward: that is to say taught us by them that heard it themselves of the Lord. Now Paul testifieth Gala. j. that he received not his gospel of man nor by man but immediately of Christ and that by revelation. Wherefore say they, seeing this man confesseth that he received his doctrine of the apostles, it cannot be Paul’s, but some disciple of the apostles. Now whether it were Paul’s or no I say not, but permit it to other men’s judgments, neither think I it to be an article of any man’s faith, but that a man may doubt of the author.
Moreover, many there hath been which not only have denied this pistle to have been written by any of the apostles, but have also refused it altogether as no catholic or godly epistle, because of certain texts written therein. For first it saith in the sixth: it is impossible that they which were once lighted, and have tasted of the heavenly gift and were become partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God and of the power of the world to come, if they fall, should be renewed again to repentance or conversion. And in the tenth it saith, if we sin willingly after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for judgment and violent fire which shall destroy the adversaries. And in the. xij. it saith that Esau found no way to repentance or conversion, no though he sought it with tears. Which texts say they, sound: that if a man sin any more after he is once baptized, he can be no more forgiven, and that is contrary to all the scripture, and therefore to be refused to be catholic and godly.
Unto which I answer: if we should deny this pistle for those text’s sakes, so should we deny first Matthew which in his. xij. chap. affirmeth that he which blasphemeth the Holy Ghost, shall neither be forgiven here nor in the world to come. And then Mark which in his. iij. chap. saith that he that blasphemeth the Holy Ghost, shall never have forgiveness, but shall be in danger of eternal damnation. And thirdly Luke which saith there shall be no remission to him that blasphemeth the Spirit of God. Moreover John in his .j. pistle saith there is a sin unto death, for which a man should not pray. And. ij. Petr. ij. saith: if a man be fled from the uncleanness of the world through the knowledge of the Saviour Jesus Christ, and then be wrapt in again, his end is worse than the beginning and that it had been better for him never to have known the truth. And Paul ij. Timo. iij. curseth Alexander the coppersmith, desiring the Lord to reward him according to his deeds. Which is a sign that either the pistle should not be good, or that Alexander had sinned past forgiveness, no more to be prayed for. Wherefore seeing no scripture is of private interpretation: but must be expounded according to the general articles of our faith and agreeable to other open and evident texts, and confirmed or compared to like sentences, why should we not understand these places with like reverence as we do the other, namely when all the remnant of the pistle is so godly and of so great learning.
The first place in the. vj. Chapter will no more than that they which know the truth, and yet willingly refuse the light, and choose rather to dwell in darkness, and refuse Christ and make a mock of him (as the Pharisees which when they were overcome with scripture and miracles that Christ was the very Messias, yet had such lust in iniquity that they forsook him, persecuted him, slew him and did all the shame that could be imagined to him) cannot be renewed (eis Metano iam) saith the Greek, to be converted: that is to say, such malicious unkindness which is none other than the blaspheming of the Holy Ghost, deserveth that the Spirit shall never come more at them to convert them, which I believe to be as true as any other text in all the scripture.
And what is meant by that place in the tenth chapter where he saith, if we sin willingly after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, is declared immediately after. For he maketh a comparison between Moses and Christ, saying: if he which despised Moses’ law died without mercy: how much worse punishment is he worthy of, that treadeth the Son of God under foot and counteth the blood of the covenant, by which blood he was sanctified, as an unholy thing and blasphemeth the Spirit of grace. By which words it is manifest that he meaneth none other by the fore words, than the sin of blasphemy of the Spirit.
For them that sin of ignorance or infirmity, there is remedy, but for him that knoweth the truth, and yet willingly yieldeth himself to sin, and consenteth unto the life of sin with soul and body, and had rather lie in sin than have his poisoned nature healed by the help of the Spirit of grace, and maliciously persecuteth the truth: for him I say there is no remedy the way to mercy is locked up and the Spirit is taken from him for his unthankfulness’ sake, no more to be given him. Truth it is if a man can turn to God and believe in Christ, he must be forgiven how deep soever he hath sinned: but that will not be without the Spirit, and such blasphemers shall no more have the Spirit offered them. Let every man therefore fear God and beware that he yield not himself to serve sin, but how oft soever he sin let him begin again and fight afresh, and no doubt he shall at the last overcome, and in the mean time yet be under mercy for Christ’s sake because his heart worketh and would fain be loosed from under the bondage of sin.
And that it saith in the. xij. Esau found no way (eis Metanoiam) to be converted and reconciled unto God and restored unto his birthright again, though he sought it with tears, that text must have a spiritual eye. For Esau in selling his birthright despised not only that temporal promotion, that he should have been lord over all his brethren and king of that country: but he also refused the grace and mercy of God and the spiritual blessings of Abraham and Isaac and all the mercy that is promised us in Christ which should have been his seed. Of this ye see that this epistle ought no more to be refused for holy, godly and catholic than the other authentic scriptures.
Now therefore to come to our purpose again, though this epistle (as it saith in the sixth) lay not the ground of the faith of Christ, yet it buildeth cunningly thereon pure gold, silver and precious stones, and proveth the priesthood of Christ with scriptures inevitable. Moreover there is no work in all the scripture that so plainly declareth the meaning and significations of the sacrifices, ceremonies and figures of the Old Testament, as this pistle: insomuch that if willful blindness and malicious malice were not the cause, this epistle only were enough to weed out of the hearts of the Papists that cankered heresy of justifying of works, concerning our sacraments, ceremonies and all manner traditions of their own invention.
And finally in that ye see in the tenth that he had been in bonds and prison for Christ’s sake, and in that he so mightily driveth all to Christ to be saved through him, and so cared for the flock of Christ that he both wrote and sent, where he heard that they begun to faint, to comfort, encourage and strengthen them with the word of God, and in that also that he sent Timothy Paul’s disciple both virtuous, well learned and had in great reverence, it is easy to see that he was a faithful servant of Christ’s and of the same doctrine that Timothy was of, yea and Paul himself was, and that he was an apostle or in the apostles’ time or near thereunto. And seeing the pistle agreeth to all the rest of the scripture, if it be indifferently looked on, how should it not be of authority and taken for holy scripture?
THE PROLOG UPON THE PISTLES OF S. JAMES AND JUDAS
Though this epistle were refused in the old time and denied of many to be the epistle of a very apostle, and though also it lay not the foundation of the faith of Christ, but speaks of a general faith in God, neither preaches his death and resurrection, either the mercy that is laid up in store for us in him, or everlasting covenant made us in his blood, which is the office and duty of a very apostle, as Christ says, John fifteen you shall testify of me: yet because it sets up no man’s doctrine, but cries to keep the law of God, and makes love which is without partiality the fulfilling of the law, as Christ and all the apostles did, and has thereto many good and godly sentences in it: and has also nothing that is not agreeable to the rest of the scripture, if it be looked indifferently on: methinks it ought of right to be taken for holy scripture. For as for that place for which haply it was at the beginning refused of holy men (as it ought, if it had meant as they took it, and for which place only, for the false understanding, it has been chiefly received of the Papists) yet if the circumstances be well pondered it will appear that the author’s intent was far otherwise than they took him for.
For where he says in the second chap. faith without deeds is dead in itself, he means none other thing than all the scripture does: how that that faith which has no good deeds following, is a false faith and none of that faith justifies or receives forgiveness of sins. For God promised them only forgiveness of their sins which turn to God, to keep his laws. Wherefore they that purpose to continue still in sin have no part in that promise: but deceive themselves, if they believe that God has forgiven them their old sins for Christ’s sake. And after when he says that a man is justified by deeds and not of faith only, he will no more than that faith does not so justify everywhere, that nothing justifies save faith. For deeds also do justify. And as faith only justifies before God, so do deeds only justify before the world, whereof is enough spoken, partly in the Prolog on Paul to the Romans, and also in other places. For as Paul affirms Romans three that Abraham was not justified by works afore God, but by faith only as Genesis bears record, so will James that deeds only justified him before the world, and faith wrought with his deeds: that is to say, faith wherewith he was righteous before God in the heart did cause him to work the will of God outwardly, whereby he was righteous before the world, and whereby the world perceived that he believed in God loved and feared God. And as Hebrews eleven the scripture affirms that Rahab was justified before God through faith, so does James affirm that through works by which she shewed her faith, she was justified before the world, and it is true.
And as for the epistle of Judas, though men have and yet do doubt of the author, and though it seem also to be drawn out of the second epistle of S. Peter, and thereto alledges scripture that is nowhere found, yet seeing the matter is so godly and agreeing to other places of holy scripture, I see not but that it ought to have the authority of holy scripture.
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