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CHAP. interfere with any branch of their duty as subjects
of the sovereign. To the evils of bad government, the writer shews himself to be by no means insensible; but while reproving vice with the same freedom, whether found in lords or churchmen, his protest is entered against the artifice of applying to the magistrate, the reasonings which he had employed but to invalidate the false pretensions of the priesthood. The manner in which the reformer distinguished between the claims of the two authorities, will presently invite our attention. It will be sufficient here, to remark of this production, that there is no seed of anarchy to be extracted from it, but that it is rather fraught with every scriptural element of social, and of religious obligation.
Unwearied in his efforts to vindicate the chapreaching priests. racter, and the general conduct of his followers,
it was at this period that Wycliffe finished a work on the subject “ Of Good Preaching “ Priests." Its design, was to afford a farther developement of the principles embraced by the reformer's poor priests. Their first object is said to be, “ that the law of God, may be steadily
known, taught, maintained, and magnified ; “secondly, that great and open sin which reigneth “ in divers states, be destroyed, and also the “heresy and hypocrisy of antichrist and of his fol
lowers; thirdly, that very peace and prosperity, “ and burning charity be increased in Christen“dom, and particularly in the realm of England, “ for to bring men readily to the bliss of Heaven.”
In a series of articles, the writer then proceeds to CHAP. demonstrate the necessity of the effort made by these reformers ; censures loudly the imprisonment of men before openly convicted of offence; and condemning every species of secret process against an accused party, he demands for each person, as an unalienable right, the substance of that freedom from the controul of the magistrate, and of the prelates, which has since become the privilege of englishmen.
The opponents of Wycliffe were fully aware, that the proficiency of his disciples as preachers, was a circumstance from which they derived the principal share of their influence; and it would be deemed important that the authority employed to silence them, should be accompanied by some shew of reasoning. It is accordingly the object of one of the reformer's pieces, completed about this time, to expose,
“ four deceits by which antichrist, and his clerks would prevent true
priests from preaching Christ's gospel.” The first objection to this favorite occupation of the poor priests, is, that “it maketh dissension and
enmity.” But to this it is replied, that there On the is a kind of peace which the Author of the gospel ceits of came not to establish ; that the only repose which may be innocently left unbroken, is that which is founded on just principles, and heavenly affections; and that whatever hostility may be excited, by the effort to bring the minds of men to that state, should be encountered without fear. If the first objection to the zeal of the new preachers
CHAP. be deemed weak, the second must be considered
as much more so. Many, it is affirmed, will
say, that as God hath ordained good men to bliss, so he hath ordained them to come to bliss by the preaching, and by the keeping of his word. “ So that even as they must need come to bliss;
they must needs hear and keep God's com“ mandments. And herein to them serveth
preaching.” Whatever of necessity there may be in the end, was thus extended to the means. The fourth deceit employed to degrade the office of preaching, is said to be “ that men should
cease from preaching, and give themselves to
holy prayers and contemplation, for that helpeth CHAP. “ christian men more and is better.” But it is immediately added, “ true men say boldly, that “ true preaching is better than praying by mouth,
even though it come from the heart, and with pure devotion. The people too, it editieth
And therefore Christ especially com“ mandeth his apostles and disciples to preach the
gospel, and not to close themselves in cloisters “nor churches, nor in caves to pray thus. There“ fore, Paul saith, Woe is me, if I preach not the “gospel. Devout prayer of men of good life, is “good in certain times; but it is against charity “ for priests to pray evermore, and at no time to
preach; since Christ chargeth priests more to
preach the gospel, than to say mass and “ matins."
It was thus, that the reformer continued to defend the peculiarities of his clerical disciples. About the same period, the reasoning with which the above treatise concludes, was much extended in a work which proposed to shew, “how the On the
prayers of prayer of good men helpeth much, and prayer good men. “ of sinful men displeaseth God, and harmeth “ themselves, and other men.”10 In this piece, which breathes a spirit of the purest devotion, the promises and the examples of scripture are largely cited, to demonstrate the excellence and the efficacy of prayer; and the same book is appealed to as teaching no less decisively, the vanity of the most costly offerings that may be presented by the hypocrite, the vicious, or the formalist. It
CHAP. is deplored, as among the most foreboding circum
stances of the times, that men are so far disposed to confide in the prayer of such intercessors; and thus to yield to a delusion, which not only tended to impoverish them in this world, but to involve them in the ruin of the next.
Indeed there is scarcely a class of men, or a species of religious error of which the writings of Wycliffe at this period, may not be found to treat, and in a manner which anticipates almost every fact in our subsequent improvement as a nation. Thus in one of his productions, the manner in which he had refuted the errors opposed to the office of preaching, is extended to a series of similar misconceptions with respect to religion in general. It is remarked, for instance, that by the phrase “holy church,” men commonly understand its accredited ministers only; by the term “religious ”—hordes of vagrant friars, or the useless inmates of a cloister; by the expression, “the law of the church,” the decrees of popes and of councils, and not the decisions of holy writ; to yield “obedience,” was not to submit to what the conscience had recognised as the will of God, but to bow to what presumption had imposed upon the credulous; and by sin, was generally meant, some venial offence, the guilt of which,
may be washed away with a paternoster, with
holy water, a pardon, a bishop's blessing, and “ in many other light ways. Another treatise commences with the assertion, that nearly all the evils of the land arose from the delinquencies “of “ false confessors, false merchants, and false men “ of law,” and this assertion, it is employed in