The Works of Bishop Hay – The Sincere Christian Vol. II
By: Right Rev. Bishop Hay of Edinburg
Whoever seriously considers what has been shown in the preceding inquiry, and the light in which the sacred Scriptures represent all false religions, will have no difficulty in drawing this conclusion, that all communication with such in religious matters, must be highly criminal in the sight of God; because such communication implies an approbation of their false doctrine, and is, as St. John expresses it, “a communicating with their wicked works,” 2 John, 11. It might seem unnecessary, therefore, to advance anything further on this head; but as the licentiousness of the heart of man, fostered by the latitudinarian maxims so current in the world, is too apt, under some specious pretense or other, to take liberties in practice, which are bare conclusion from other principles might prove too weak to restrain; and as the spirit of God has been pleased to explain our duty on this point in the plainest terms, in His sacred Scriptures, it cannot, therefore, but be agreeable to all sincere disciples of Jesus Christ to know fully that their holy religion teaches them concerning it. This will serve of their own satisfaction in knowing their duty and the grounds of it, and ail also arm them against the “cunning craftiness of such as may go about to deceive them.” This appendix, therefore, is added to show, from the most incontestable authority, that it is altogether unlawful for the members of the true Church of Christ to hold any religious communication even in appearance only, with those who are separated from her communion; and that the vain pretexts which may be brought to authorize such communication are mere delusions, and, as St. Paul justly calls them, “impositions of philosophy, vain deceit, according to the rudiments of the world, and not according to Christ.” Col. ii. 8. This will manifestly appear by what the sacred Word of God declares upon this subject.
SECTION 1- Principles premised from the Holy Scriptures
Q. 1. Are we obliged to confess our holy faith outwardly, acknowledging ourselves to be members of the Church of Christ?
A. We are strictly obliged to do so, when either God’s honor or the good of our neighbor’s soul requires it; because the Scriptures make this an express condition of salvation. Thus, (I) “This is the word of faith which we preach; that if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that god raised Him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart we believe unto justice, but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” Rom. x. 9. In which words the apostle declares, that it is an article of Divine faith, revealed by God, and preached as His word by the apostles, that if we confess Jesus outwardly, and believe Him in our hearts, we shall be saved; for though the internal faith of the heart is sufficient for our justification – that is, for being reconciled with God through repentance – yet, if occasion be given, we are also bound to confess outwardly, both by words and actions, without shame, or fear of the world, the faith which we believe in our hearts, in order to obtain salvation. And it is with great reason that St. Paul affirms this to be revealed truth; for, (2) Jesus Christ Himself declares it to His holy apostles in these words: “Whosoever, therefore, shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven,” Mat. x. 32; and in another place He repays it with an asseveration, saying: “And I say unto you, whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God,” Luke, xii. 8. In these words, the necessity of confessing our faith in Jesus Christ is revealed by Him; which, therefore, St. Paul in the former text calls the word of faith. Now, by confessing Jesus Christ is not only meant confessing our belief in His person, but also in His doctrine, and consequently in His Church, in which alone His true doctrine is preserved; for of St. Paul, before his conversion, it is said that “He breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” Acts, ix. i – that is, against the Church of Christ as he himself declares, saying, “Beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God, and wasted it,” Gal. i. 13.; and yet, when Christ appeared to him by the way going to Damascus, He said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou Me? … I am Jesus whom thou persecutes,” Acts, ix. 4; where it is manifest that persecuting Christ and persecuting His Church is the same thing; and consequently, confessing Christ and confessing His Church is the same thing also, according to His own words to the pastors of His Church, – “He that hears you hears Me; and he that despises you despises Me.”
Q. 2. Is it a grievous sin to deny Christ, or His faith and Church?
A. It is of its own nature a grievous sin of the deepest dye; for Christ Himself says, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny thin before My Father Who is in heaven.” Mat. x. 33; and again, – “He that shall deny Me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God,” Luke, xii. 9. On this authority St. Paul declares the same truth as a faithful saying, and commands his disciple Timothy, and in him all the pastors of God’s Church, to preach and inculcate the same to their people: “A faithful saint …. if we deny Him, He will deny us; if we believe not, He continuity faithful, He cannot deny Himself; of these things put them in mind, charging them before the Lord,” 2 Tim. ii. II; where it is manifest that, to deny Jesus Christ, and consequently to deny His faith of Church, is a deadly sin, which, at the great day, will bring upon us that dreadful sentence, “I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye works of iniquity,” Luke, xiii, 27.
Q. 3. How does it appear that denying the faith or Church Christ is included in these texts, and is the same as denying Christ Himself?
A. This is manifest, both from reason given above, and also from the following express declaration of Christ Himself, saying, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and My words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when He shall come in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels,” Mark, viii. 38; where it is evident that to be ashamed, not only of Christ, but also of His words – that is, of His doctrine, of His faith, and consequently of His Church, the depository of His faith – is a mortal sin of its own nature; and if the being ashamed of these is a mortal sin, how much more the denying of them?
Q. 4. But is it not allowable to deny our faith outwardly, whilst we keep it firmly in our hearts, in order to escape some great evil, such as the loos of all our goods, our liberty or of life itself?
No: it is never allowable, even in appearance, either by words, or signs, or actions, to deny our faith, though it were to gain the whole world, or to escape the greatest evils; for, (I) This is exactly what Christ condemns in express terms, when He says, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men” – this is, outwardly in appearance, in the eyes of the world – “I will also deny Him before My Father Who is in heaven.” (2) Because He makes the losing our life for His sake, and for the sake of His Gospel, when called to the test a condition of salvation.”Whosoever,” says He, “shall loose his life for My sake, and for the Gospel, shall save it; for what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also shall be ashamed of him, when He shall come in the glory of His Father.” Marl, viii. 35; where it is evident that even the being ashamed of His Gospel – that is, of His words – even though it were to save our live or gain the whole world, is a crime which will destroy the soul; how much more to deny it? whereas if we lose our life for His holy faith, we save our souls, and gain eternal happiness. (3.) Because to deny our faith, only in appearance, is, of its own nature, a mortal sin, and therefore never can be allowable on any consideration.
Q. 5. Did the primitive Christians understand these texts in this manner?
A. There cannot be a stronger proof of the belief of the primitive Church in this matter than the noble behavior of thousands and thousands of her members, who laid down their lives in the midst of the most cruel torments, rather than do the smallest thing that could have even the appearance of denying their holy religion. It was not always required of these blessed martyrs openly to renounce their faith, or to abandon it entirely. Merely saying certain words, or doing some action, which was to be interpreted as a disavowal of their religion, or an approbation of the then established religion of the country was frequently all that was required of them to save goods, liberty, and life. To be present at a heathen sacrifice, though their heart took no share in what was done, was sufficient; and had they complied with this but once, they would seldom have again been sought after, but allowed to flow what religion they pleased; yet they persevered resolutely, choosing to forfeit all that was near and dear to them in this world,and to undergo the most exquisite torments, rather than do the smallest action contrary to the allegiance which they owed to Jesus Christ, or, in appearance only, seem to be ashamed of Him and of His sacred words. Surely, nothing but the most perfect conviction of the unlawfulness of the thing could have a caused so many of both sexes, and often of the most tender age, to reject with horror such a compliance. Their all was at stake – life, liberty, goods, children, and everything they possessed; by compliance they would have secured all those things which men are taught to regard as the most valuable in this world, and, moreover, were often promised riches and honors, and the favor of the emperors. By non-compliance they forfeited all, and were condemned to die in the most excruciating manner; yet, convinced that such compliance was unlawful, an injury to God, a dishonor to His holy faith, and a scandal to their brethren, they cheerfully embraced death in all its horrors, rather than be guilty of such a crime. What shows still more plainly the ideas of the primitive Church on this point is her treatment of certain weak brethren, who, to avoid these tortures, procured, for money an attestation from the magistrates that they had complied with what the persecuting laws required, though in reality they had not. They were regarded by the Church as traitors to their God and to their religion, they were death with as such, and not admitted to the participation of the sacred mysteries, till, by long and severe public penance, they had endeavored to expiate their crime, and repair the scandal they had given.
Q. 6. Wherein does the malcie of sin consist when one, either by words, or signs, or actions, denies his faith, though only in appearance, whilst he still retains it in his heart?
A. The malice of this sin is manifold. (1) It is a grievous lie, in a matter of the highest importance, when one professes outwardly that the truths of God are false which he knows in his heart to be true; and if this profession be accompanied with an oath, it is perjury, and one of the grossest insults that can be offered to Almighty God, because it is calling Himself to witness that the Divine truths revealed by Him are false/ (2.) It is giving the lie to God before men; for, as he “that believeth not the Son maketh God a liar, because he believeth not the testimony which HE hath testified of His Son,” I John, v. 10; so he that denieth any truth revealed by Jesus Christ maketh Him a liar, because he acknowledges before men that His Divine faith is not true. Hence, (3) All acts of this kind are most dishonorable to Almighty God, and contain a grievous contempt of His infinite majesty, of which He says, “They that despise Me shall be despised,” I Kings (Sam.) ii. 30. (4) They are also grievously injurious to Divine charity, and show that we love the world, our possessions, our life much more than God, when, from fear of losing them, we deny Him and His holy faith. (5) They also contain the malice of grievous scandal, for they give the enemies of our holy faith occasion to think slightly of it, and to be the more confirmed in their own errors. The bad example also of such actions naturally induces weak brethren to follow it, and to lose the esteem they ought to have for their holy religion, to the ruin and destruction of their souls.
Q. 7. What are the consequences which flow from these Scripture principles?
A. Chiefly these following: 1. That when a person is called upon by public authority to give an account of his religion, he is obliged in conscience openly to declare his faith, because the honor of God then requires him to do so, and obliges him not to be ashamed of Christ nor of His words, even though his doing so should cost him all he has in this world, even life itself. Hence the holy martyrs, when examined before their persecuting judges, openly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ, and rejoiced, with the apostles, to suffer for His name’s sake.2. When we hear wicked men speaking impious things against the Gospel, or ridiculing the sacred truths it teaches, and have rounds to hope that our defending them would either check their impiety or prevent others present from being hurt by it, it is our city to profess our esteem and veneration for the Gospel, because then both the good of our neighbor and the honor of God call upon us to do so. And is it not surprising that, if we hear our friend, father, or prince spoken evil of, we think ourselves obliged to take their part and defend them, and yet that we should be cold and backward to defend the cause of the great God, when we hear His divine truths blasphemed, or ashamed to show ourselves Christians, lest we should be ridiculed by men? Have we not reason to dread that Christ will be ashamed of us at the great day? This was not the case with the royal prophet, that man according to God’s own heart, who said to God, “I spoke of Thy testimonies before kings, and I was not ashamed,” Ps. cxviii. 46; nor with St. Paul, who said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” Rom. i. 16.3. That it is always criminal to seem to approve of or profess any false religion, whether this be done by words, signs, or actions; because to approve a false religion, even in appearance, or before men, is a tacit condemnation of the true, is a dangerous lie, dishonorable to God, and a scandal to our neighbor. Hence, when the persecuting heathen king rehired the venerable Eleazar to eat swine’s flesh, contrary to the law, as a sign of his denying his religion, “he, choosing rather a most glorious death than a hateful life, went forward of his own accord to the torment;” and when some of his friends, moved with a false compassion, proposed to bring him other flesh which the law allowed, that he might appear to have eaten swine’s flesh in obedience to the king, and so save his life, “he answered without delay, … saying he would rather be sent into the other world; for it doth not become our age, said he, to dissemble, whereby many young persons, … through my dissimulation, and for a little time of a corruptible life, should be deceived, and thereby I should bring a stain and a cures upon my old age; for though for the present time I should be delivered from the punishment of men, yet should I not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither alive nor dead; … and he was forthwith carried to execution,” 2 Mac. vi. 19.
4. That when a person living among those of a false religion conceals his faith, though he keep it in his heart, and in order to conceal it neglects all its external duties, and even transgresses the sacred laws and precepts of the Church lest he should be discovered, and meet with some temporal loss or inconvenience, he is guilty of a sin, because he is ashamed of the faith of Christ, disobeys His holy Church, and prefers his own wordily ease and interest to the glory of God and the honor of His holy Gospel.
5. That if this person, the more effectually to conceal his religion, not only neglects its duties, but even joins in acts of the false religion of those with whom he dwells by being present at their prayers, or going to their churches, his sin is still more grievous, because he positively presses a false religion, denies the true religion of Jesus Christ before men, and therefore must expect to be denied by Him at the great day. Of such as these the Scripture says, “When they worship the Lord they serve also their idols,” 4 Kings, xvii. 33,41. And their great misery is, that they conceal their worship of the Lord, being afraid to show it, and worship openly their idols, their wordily interests, and the favor of men.
6. That if any outward action or dress, or the like, be either of its own nature, by the laws of the country, or the custom of the place, considered a distinctive sign of a false religion, it is always unlawful and a sin in any member of the Church of Christ to do that action or wear that dress, whatever may be his private intention in doing so because in the eyes of the world it is an open profession of that false religion, nor does it depend upon his private intention to make it otherwise. Hence the Church severely condemned the practice of some Christians living among Mahometans, who, while they privately attended their Christian duties, took Turkish names, and used the Turkish dress, that, passing for Mahometans, they might enjoy certain privileges in trade, and be freed from certain taxes which Christians were obliged to pay. All such dissimulation in religion is detestable in the sight of God, not only for the reasons given above, but also because of the injury it does to His holy religion itself; for when it is discovered, as it seldom fails sooner or later to be, it gives the enemies of our holy faith cause to believe that it approves such dissimulation, and increases their hatred and aversion to it.
7. Every action or way of speaking which either includes, or seems to include, a contempt or disapprobation of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, or an approbation of what is contrary thereto, and which scandalizes weak brethren, or tends to lead them into error or sin, is still more detestable in the eyes of God; as, beside all the evils above mentioned, it also tends to the ruin of those souls for which Christ died. We have seen how this consideration weighed with that holy servant of God Eleazar, to keep him from doing a thing lawful in itself, but which, having the appearance of evil, would have proved a scandal to others; and St. Paul, in the strongest manner, shows us the greatness of the crime of giving scandal in things that regard religion above all others.
Q. 8. What is the doctrine delivered by St. Paul on this head?
A. It consists of several most necessary points: for (1) He lays down three different kinds of injury we may do to our neighbor’s soul, by giving bad example of any kind, but especially in what regards our religion; first, To scandalize him – that is, to encourage our neighbor to do evil, or to be the cause of inducing him to sin; secondly, to offend him – that is, to give him pain and trouble of mind, on seeing our evil deeds; thirdly, to make him weak – that is, to weaken his esteem and zeal for his religion, by seeing or hearing us do or say anything slighting of it. Now all these things he exhorts us to avoid, by abstaining even from the most innocent of actions, if our neighbor through weakness take offense at them. “It is good,” says he, “not to eat flesh, and not to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother is offended, or scandalized, or made weak.” Rom. xiv. 21 ” “Put not a stumbling-block or a scandal in your bother’s way; … but if, because of thy meat, thy brother be grieved, thou walkest not now according to charity. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died,” Rom xiv. 13. 15.(2) He declares that when a person thinks anything a sin which is not so in itself, and commits it, he becomes guilty, by acting against his conscience. “All things,” says he, “are clean, but it is an evil for that man who eateth with offense; … for he that discerneth” (that is, thinks some meats clean and some unclean), “if he eat, is condemned, because not of faith” – that is not according to but against his conscience, Rom. xiv. 20, 23.(3) He affirms that, if we do a thing innocent in itself, but which has the appearance of evil, and much more so if it be evil, by which our brother is encouraged or otherwise induced to it, believing it to be evil, or knowing it to be such, we commit a grievous sin, by ruining our brother’s soul, and sinning against Christ, who died for our salvation. Meats offered to idols, in reality contract no uncleanness on that account, but because an idol is nothing, and therefore in themselves they may be eaten without any scruple; yet all are not of that opinion, and “if any one eats with the conscience of the idol” (that is, thinking it unlawful to do so), “his conscience, being weak, is defiled/” Now, though another who has knowledge may lawfully each such meat, yet, if his doing so induces his weak brother to do the same, he is guilty of the ruin of his brother. :Take heed,” says he, “lest perhaps this your liberty become a stumbling-block to the weak; for if a man see him that hath knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not his conscience, being weak, be emboldened to eat those things which are sacrificed to idols? and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died? Now, when ye sin thus against the brethren, and would their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ,” I Cor. viii. 9,.
Wherefore, (4) He concludes, that for his part “if meat scandalize my brother, I will never taste flesh, lest I should scandalize my brother,” I Cor, viii. 13. And a little after he gives this general command to all, “Give no offense to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God,” I Cor. x. 32. From this it is manifest that every word or action including or seeming to include a contempt of religion, by which our brethren may “be offended, or scandalized, or made weak,” is very offensive in the sight of God, from this consideration alone, that it tends to make “them perish for whom Christ died, wounds their weak conscience,” and through them is a “sin against Christ.” And how severe a judgment Christ will pass against all those who scandalize their weak brethren appears from His own words, when He says, “He that shall scandalize one of those little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because f scandals; for it must needs be that scandals come; but, nevertheless, woe to that man by whom scandal cometh,” Mat. xviii. 6 And the holy Eleazar declared that, had he been guilty of that crime, though by an action which was in itself lawful, and to save his own life, yet “neither alive nor dead should he escape the hand of the Almighty,” 2 Mac. vi. 26.
8. Lastly, That it is always criminal to expose one’s self without necessity to the probably danger of losing one’s faint, or being corrupted in one’s religion; for the Scripture declares that “He that liveth the danger shall perish in it,” Ecclus. iii. 27. And our Saviour commands us to pluck out our eye, or cut off the and or foot, and throw it from us, if it be scandal to us – that is, to fly from, separate ourselves from, and avoid every person, thing, or employment, which puts us in the dangerous occasion of running our souls, though as near and dear or useful to us as an eye, a hand or a foot; and He adds this cogent reason, “For it is better,” says He, “for thee that one of thy members should perish, than that thy whole body should be cast into hell-fire,” Mat. v. 29. And again: “It is better for thee to enter into life maimed and lame, than, having two hands and two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire,” Mat. xviii. 8.
Q. 9. What is the conclusion to be drawn from all these Scripture truths?
A. The conclusion is manifest, namely – “That all communication in matters of region with those separated from the Church of Christ, which either is in itself, or is esteemed in the eye of men to be, a defection from the true faith, or a profession or approbation of their false tenants, or is a distinctive sign of belonging to their sect, or an occasion of offense and scandal to the faithful, or an exposing of one’s self to the probable danger of seduction, is a very great crime in the sight of God, and strictly forbidden by His holy law, as being intrinsically evil in its own nature.”
Q. 10. Is there any positive law of God expressly forbidding all communication with those of a false religion?
A. There are several very strong and clear commands for this purpose, some of which contain an unlimited prohibition of all such communication in general, and others enforce this prohibition by assigning particular reasons for it.
Q. 11. What are those laws which prohibit this in general?
A. They are principally these following:-
(I.) The first is grounded upon the light in which all false religions are considered in the Holy Scripture, for there we are assured that they arise from false teachers,
who are called seducers of the people, ravenous wolves, false prophets,
who speak perverse things:
that they are anti-christs,
and enemies of the cross of Christ;
that, departing from the true faith of Christ
, they give heed to the spirits of error;
that their doctrines are the doctrines of devils, speaking lies
; that their ways are pernicious
, their heresies damnable
, and the like. In consequence of which, this general command of avoiding all communication with them in religion is given by the apostle: “Bear not the yoke together with unbelievers; for what participation hath justice with injustice? or what fellowship hath light with darkness? and what concord math Christ with Belial? or what part hath the faithful with the unbelievers? or what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God,” 2 Cor. vi. 14. Now it is the true religion of Jesus Christ, the true doctrine of His gospel, which is justice and light; all false doctrines are injustice and darkness: it is by our holy faith that we belong to Christ, and are temples of the living God; all false religions flow from the father of lies, and make those who embrace them unbelievers; therefore all participation, all fellowship, all communication with false religions, is here expressly forbidden by the Word of God. We have seen above we are obliged to love the persons of those who are engaged in false religions, to wish them well, and to do them good; but here we are expressly forbidden all communication in their religion – that is, in their false tenants and worship. Hence the learned and pious English divines who published at Rheims their translation of the New Testament, in their note upon this passage, say: “Generally, here is forbidden conversation and dealing with unbelievers in prayers, or meetings at their schismatical service, or other divine office whatsoever; which the apostle here utterth in more particular terms, that Christian people may take the better heed of it.”(2.) The next general command to avoid all religious communication with those who are heretics, or have a false religion, is this, – “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, AVOID; knowing that he that is such an one is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment,” Tit. iii. 10. Here we see another general command to avoid all such – that is, to flee from them, to have no communication with them. But in what we are commanded to flee from them? not as to their persons, or the necessary communications of society; for them as the same holy apostle says upon a similar occasion, “You must needs go out of the world,” I Cor. v. 10. Not as to the offices of Christian charity; for these we are commanded by Christ Himself, in the person of the good Samaritan, to give to all mankind, whatever their religion be: therefore, in the most restricted and limited sense which the words can bear, the thing in which we are commanded to avoid them . Hence the pious translators of the Rheims New Testament, in their note on this text, say: “Heretics, therefore, must not wonder if we warn all Catholics, by the words of the apostle in this place, to take heed of them, and to shun their preachings, books, and conventicles.”(3) A third general command on this subject is manifestly included in this zealous injunction of the apostle: “We charge you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly, and not according to the tradition which they have received from us,” 2 Thess. iii. 6. In this passage all the different sects of false religions are particularly pointed out; for, however trey may differ in their other respects, they generally agree in this, of rejecting apostolical traditions handed down to us by the Church of Christ; all such the apostle here charges us, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to avoid – to withdraw ourselves from them. Now it is evident that the most limited sense in which this command, so warmly laid on us by the apostle, can be taken, is to withdraw ourselves fro them in everything relating to religion, – from their sacraments, prayers, preachings, religious meetings, and the like. It is in these things that they “do not walk according to the tradition received from the apostles.” In these things, then, we are here commanded, in the name of Christ Himself, “to withdraw ourselves from them.”
Seeing, therefore, that the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of this holy apostle, has so often, and in such strong terms, forbidden all manner of fellowship in religion with those who are out of His holy Church, let us not be deceived by the specious but vain sophistry of cunning men, who lie in wait to deceive; let us not offend our god, by transgressing these His express commands, by joining in the prayers or going to the meetings of such as are separated from His holy Church, lest He should withdraw His holy grace from us, and as we expose ourselves to the danger, leave us to perish in it. Let us hear and follow the advice and command of the same holy apostle: “As therefore ye have received Jesus Christ the Lord, walk ye in Him; rooted and built up in Him, and confirmed in the faith; as also ye have learned, abounding in Him in thanksgiving. Beware lest any man impost upon you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the rudiments of the world, and not according to Christ,” Col. ii. 6. Wherefore, to all those arguments which may be brought from human, wordily, or interested motives, to induce us to join in or to partake of any religious duty with those of a false religion, though in appearance only, we ought to oppose this one, – “God has expressly forbidden it, therefore no human power can make it lawful.”
SECTION IV- PARTICULAR LAWS OF GOD FORBIDDING ALL COMMUNICATION WITH FALSE RELIGIONS, AND ASSIGNING REASONS FOR IT.
Q. 12. What are the particular laws on the subject?
A. In the three general commands above mentioned, God Almighty speaks, by the mouth of His holy apostle, as Lord and Master, and lays His orders upon us absolutely. In what follows, He unites the merciful Saviour to the Sovereign; and whilst He no less strictly commands us to avoid all religious communication with those who are separated from His holy faith and Church, He at the same time condescends to engage our obedience, by showing us the strongest reasons for it.(1) “Beware of false prophets,” says our blessed Master, “who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” Mat. vii. 15. Here Jesus Christ commands His followers to “beware of false prophets” – that is, to flee from them, to be on their guard against them; and He adds this powerful motive, “set ye be seduced and ruined by them; for, whatever appearance of godliness they may put on, though they come to you in the clothing of sheep, yet within they are ravenous wolves, and seek only to slay and to destroy. To the same purpose He says in another place, “Take heed that no man seduce you; for many will come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and they will seduce many,” Mat. xxiv. 4. “And many false prophets shall arise and seduce many,” ver. 11. Here He foretells the cunning of false teachers, and the danger of being seduced by them, and commands us to take care of ourselves, that such be not our fate. But how shall we escape from them? He afterwards tells us how: do not believe them, have nothing to do with them, have no communication with them. “Then,” He says, “if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, do not believe him. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if it is possible) even the elect. Behold, I have told it you before hand. If, therefore they shall say to you, Behold He is in the desert, go ye not out; behold He is in the closet, believe it not,” Mat. xxiv. 23. Can there be a more powerful reason to enforce the observance of His command, or a stronger motive to induce His followers to have no religious communication with such false teachers> Many will be certainly seduced by them; and so will you if you expose yourself to the danger.(2) St. Peter, considering the great mercy bestowed upon us by the grace of our vocation to the true faith of Christ, says, that it is our duty to :declare the praises and virtues of Him Who hath called us out of darkness into His admirable light,” I Pet. ii. 9. St. Paul also exhorts us to “give thanks to God the Father, Who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His beloved Son,” Col. i. 12; where it is manifest that as the true faith of JEsus Christ is the only light that conducts to salvation, and that it is only in His kingdom – that is, in His Church 0 where that heavenly light is to be found, so all false religions are darkness; and that to be separated from the kingdom of Christ is to be in darkness as to the great affair of eternity. And indeed what greater or more miserable darkness can a soul be in than to be led away by seducing spirits, and “departing from the faith of Christ, give heed to the doctrine of devils.” 1 Tim. iv. i. St. Paul, deploring the state of such souls, says that they “have their understandings darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts,” Eph. iv. 18. On this account the same holy apostle exhorts us in the most pressing manner to take care not to be seduced from the light of our holy faith by the vain words and seducing speeches of false teachers, by which we would certainly incur the anger of god; and, to prevent so great a misery, he not only exhorts us to walk as children of the light in the practice of all holy virtues, but expressly commands us to avoid all communication in religion with those who walk in the darkness of error. “Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief; be ye not, therefore, partakers wit them. For ye were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord; walk ye as the children of light, … and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” Eph. v. 6. Here, then, we have an express command, not only not to partake with the unfruitful works of darkness – that is, not to join in any false religion, or partake of its rites or sacraments – but also, not to have any fellowship with its professors, not to be present at their meetings or sermons, or any other of their religious offices, lest we be deceived by them, and incur the anger of the Almighty, provoke Him to withdraw His assistance from us, and leave us to ourselves, in punishment of our disobedience.
(3) St. Paul, full of zeal for the good souls, and solicitous to preserve us from all danger of losing our holy faith, the groundwork of our salvation, renews the same command in his Epistle to the Romans, by way of entreaty, beseeching us to avoid all such communication with those of a false religion. He also shows us by what sign we should discover them, and points out the source of our danger from them: “Now I beseech you, brethren, to mark them who cause dissensions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and to avoid them; for they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly, and by pleasing speeches and good words seduce the hearts of the innocent,” Rom. xvi. 17. See here whom we are to avoid – “those that cause dissensions contrary to the ancient doctrine;” all those who, having left the true faith and doctrine which they had learned, and which has been handed down to us from the beginning of the Church of Christ, follow strange doctrines, and make divisions and dissensions in the Christian world. And why are we to avoid them? because they are not servants of Christ, but slaves to their own belly, whose hearts are placed upon the enjoyments of this world, and who, by “pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent” – that is, do not bring good reasons or solid arguments to seduce people to their evil ways, so as toe convince the understanding, for that is impossible; but practice upon their hearts and passions, realizing the laws of the Gospel, granting liberties to the inclinations of flesh and blood, laying aside the sacred rules of mortification of the passions and of self-denial, promising wordily wealth, and ease, and honors, and, by pleasing speeches of this kind, seducing the heart, and engaging people to their ways.
(4) The same argument and command the apostle repeats in his epistle is to his beloved disciple Timothy, where he gives a sad picture, indeed, of all false teachers telling us that they put on an outward show of piety the better to deceive, “having an appearance, indeed, of godliness, but denying the power thereof; then he immediately gives this command: “Now these avoid: for of this sort are they that creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, who are led away with divers desires;” and adds tho sign by which they may be known, that, not having the true faith of Christ, and being out of His holy Church – the only sure rule for knowing the truth – they are never settled, but are always altering and changing their opinions, “ever learning, and never attain to the knowledge of the truth;” because, as he adds, “they resist the truth, being corrupted n their mind, and reprobate concerning the faith,” 2 Tim. iii. 5. Here it is to be overfed that, though the pastel says that silly weak people, and especially women, are most apt to be deceived by such false teachers, yet he gives the command of avoiding all communication with them in their evil ways, to all without exception, even to Timothy himself; for the epistle is directed particularly to him, and to him he says, as well as to all others, “Now these valid,” though he was a pastor of the Church, and fully instructed by the apostle himself in all the truths of religion; because, besides the danger of seduction, which none can escape who voluntarily expose themselves to it, all such communication is evil in itself, and therefore to be avoided by all, and especially by pastors, whose example would be more prejudicial to others.
(5) Lastly, The beloved disciple St. John renews the same command in the strongest terms, and adds another reason, which regards all without exception, and especially those who are best instructed in their city: “Look to yourselves,” says he, “that you lose not the things that ye have wrought, but that you may receive a full reward. Whosoever revolteth, and continueth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that continuity in the doctrine, the same both the Father and the Son. If any man come to you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, nor say to him, God speed you: for he that saith to him, God speed you, communicateth with his wicked works,” 2 John, ver. 8. Here, the, it is manifest, that all fellowship with those who have not the doctrine of Jesus Christ, which is “a communication in their evil works” – that is, in their fall tenets, or worship, or in any act of religion 0 is strictly forbidden, under pain of losing the “things we have wrought, the reward of our labors, the salvation of our souls.” And if this holy apostle declares that thievery saint God speed to such people is a communication with their wicked works, what would he have said of going to their places of worship, of hearing their sermons, joining in their prayers, or the like? From this passage the learned translators of the Rheims New Testament, in their note, justly observe, “That, in matters of religion, in praying, hearing their sermons, presence at their service, partaking of their sacraments, and all other communicating wit them in spiritual things, it is a great and damnable sin to deal with them.” And if this be the case with all in general, how much more with those who are well instructed and better versed in their religion than others? for their doing any of these things must be a much greeter crime than in ignorant people, because they know their duty better.