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"A Reformed Catholic", William Perkins (1) - Separation from Rome Commanded in Scripture.

William Perkins (1558-1602), was an apostle of practical divinity and through his Reformed theology and Puritan piety shaped Puritanism to establish "a movement majoring on evangelism and spiritual life" (J. I. Packer). Indeed at the height of his ministry his works outsold even those of Beza and Calvin and his writings did more than any to influence the Westminster Assembly and its Confession.

It was during Perkins lifetime that Rome, principally through the Jesuits, responded to the Protestant Reformation with its own 'Catholic' or Counter Reformation. The renewed challenge to the Reformed faith was met by a number of Protestant divines including William Ames in his Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies and Perkins A Reformed Catholike: or, A declaration shewing how near we may come to the present Church of Rome in sundry points of religion: and wherein we must forever depart from them with an advertisement to all favourers of the Roman religion, shewing that the said religion is against the Catholic principles and grounds of the catechism.

In A Reformed Catholic Perkins challenges the false ecumenism promoted by Rome and the claim by compromisers that a union may be made of the two religions, and that the difference is not in substance but in points of circumstance.

In defence of the justified separation from Rome Perkins considers the under noted doctrines to show: first, how far we may join with Rome in the matter of religion; and secondly, how far and why we must dissent and depart from them:

  • Free-will

  • Original sin

  • Assurance of Salvation

  • Justification of a sinner

  • Merits

  • Satisfactions for sin

  • Traditions

  • Vows

  • Images

  • Real-presence

  • The Sacrifice of the Mass

  • Fasting

  • The State of Perfection

  • Worshipping of Saints Departed

  • Intercession of Saints

  • Implicit Faith

  • Purgatory

  • Supremacy

  • The Efficacy of the Sacraments

  • Faith

  • Repentance

But before proceeding to discuss these doctrines Perkins sets out "the duty" of each Christian to separate from Rome, which is plainly commanded by the Scriptures in Rev 18:4. We now look at the exposition of this text by Perkins.


And I heard another voice from heaven say, Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues. Rev 18:4

In the former chapter St. John sets down a description of the whore of Babylon, and that at large as he saw her in a vision described unto him. In the sixteenth verse of the same chapter, he foretells her destruction: and in the three first verses of this eighteenth chapter, he goes on to propound the said destruction yet more directly and plainly; withal alleging arguments to prove the same, in all the verses following. Now in this fourth verse is set down a caveat serving to forewarn all the people of God, that they may escape the judgement which shall befall the whore: and the words contain two parts: a commandment, and a reason.

The commandment, Come out of her my people, that is, from Babylon. The reason, taken from the event least ye be partakers of her plagues. Touching the commandment, first I will search the right meaning of it, and then set down the use thereof and doctrine flowing thence.

The Right Meaning of the Command

In history therefore are three Babylons mentioned: one is, Babylon of Assyria standing on the river Euphrates, where was the confusion of languages, and where the Jews were in captivity: which Babylon is in Scripture reproached for idolatry and other iniquities. The second Babylon is in Egypt standing on the river Nilus, and it is now called Cayr; of that mention is made 1. Pet. 5. v. 13. (as some think) though indeed it is as likely and more commonly thought, that there is meant Babylon of Assyria. The third Babylon is mystical, whereof Babylon of Assyria was a type and figure; and that is Rome, which is without question here to be understood. And the whore of Babylon, as by all circumstances may be gathered, is the state or regiment of a people that are the inhabitants of Rome and appertain thereto.

This may be proved by the interpretation of the Holy Ghost: for in the last verse of the 17th chapter the woman that is the whore of Babylon is said to be a city which reigneth over the kings of the earth: now in the days when St. John penned this book of Revelation, there was no city in the world that ruled over the kings of the earth but Rome; it then being the seat where the Emperor put in execution his imperial authority. Again in the seventh verse she is said to sit on a beast having seven heads and ten horns which seven heads be seven hills, v. 9. whereon the woman sitteth, and also they be seven kings. Therefore by the whore of Babylon is meant a city standing on seven hills. Now it is well known, not only to learned men in the Church of God, but even to the heathen themselves, that Rome alone is the city built on seven distinct hills, (called Caelius, Aventinus, Exquilinus, Tarpeius or Capitolinus, Vi∣minalis, Palatinus, Quirinalis). Papists to help themselves, do allege that old Rome stood on seven hills, but now is removed further to the plain of Campus Martius. I answer, that howsoever the greatest part of the city in regard of habitation be not now on seven hills, yet in regard of regiment and practise of religion it is: for even to this day upon these hills are seated certain churches and monasteries & other like places where the Papal Authority is put in execution: and thus Rome being put for a state and regiment; even at this day, it stands upon seven hills. And though it be come to pass that the harlot in regard of her later days even changed her seat, yet in respect of her younger times in which she was bred and borne, she sat upon the seven hills.

Others, because they fear the wounding of their own heads, labour to frame these words to an other meaning, and say, that by the whore, is meant the company of all wicked men in the world wheresoever, the devil being the head thereof. But this exposition is flat against the text: for in the second verse of the 18th chapter, she is opposed to the kings of the earth with whom she is said to commit fornication: and in the last verse she is called a city standing on seven hills and reigning over the kings of the earth (as I have said,) & therefore must needs be a state of men in some particular place. And the Papists themselves perceiving that this shift will not serve their turn, make two Romes, heathenish Rome, and that whereof the Pope is head: now (say they) the whore spoken of, is heathenish Rome, which was ruled by cruel tyrants, as Nero, Domitian, and the rest: and that Rome whereof now the Pope is head, is not here meant. Behold a vain and foolish distinction: for Ecclesiastical Rome in respect of state, princely dominion, and cruelty in persecuting the Saints of God, is all one with the heathenish Empire: the See of the Bishop being turned into the Emperor's court, as all histories do manifest.

But let the distinction be as they suppose, yet by their leaves, here by the whore must be understood not only heathenish Rome, but even the Papal or Ecclesiastical Rome: for vs 3. of this Chapter the Holy Ghost says plainly, that she hath made all nations drunk with the wine of the wrath of her fornication: yea it is added, that she hath committed fornication with the kings of the earth, whereby is signified that she hath endeavoured to entangle all the nations of the earth in her spiritual idolatry, and to bring the kings of the earth to her religion. Which thing cannot be understood of the heathenish Rome, for that left all the kings of the earth to their own religion and idolatry: neither did they labour to bring foreign kings to worship their gods. Again Ch. 18. v. 16 it is said, that the ten horns, which be ten kings, shall hate the whore, and make her desolate and naked, which must not be understood of heathenish Rome, but of popish Rome: for whereas in former times all the kings of the earth did submit themselves to the whore, now they have begun to withdraw themselves, and make her desolate; as the king of Bohemia, Denmark, Germany, England, Scotland, and other parts: therefore this distinction is also frivolous.

They further allege that the whore of Babylon is drunk with the blood of the Saints and Martyrs, Ch 17. v. 6 shed not in Rome, but in Jerusalem: where the Lord was crucified: and the two prophets being slain lie there in the streets, Rev. 11:8. But this place, is not meant of Jerusalem, as Jerome hath fully taught, but it may well be understood of Rome: Christ was crucified there, either because the authority, whereby he was crucified was from the Roman Empire, or else because Christ in his members was and is there daily crucified, though locally in his own person he was crucified at Jerusalem. And thus, notwithstanding all which hath been said, we must here by the whore understand the State and Empire of Rome, not so much under the heathen Emperors as under the head thereof the Pope: which exposition, besides the authority of the text, hath the favour and defence of ancient and learned men. Bernard saith, They are the ministers of Christ, but they serve Antichrist.

Again, the beast spoken of in the Apocalypse, to which a mouth is given to speak blasphemies, and to make war with the Saints of God, is now gotten into Peter's chair, as a lion prepared to his prey. It will be said, that Bernard speaks these latter words of one that came to the Popedom by intrusion or usurpation. It is true indeed: but wherefore was he an usurper? he renders a reason thereof in the same place: because the Antipope called Innocentius was chosen by the kings of Almaine, France, England, Scotland, Spain, Jerusalem, with consent of the whole clergy and people in these nations, and the other was not. And thus Bernard has given his verdict, that not only this usurper, but all the Popes for this many years are the beast in the Apocalypse; because now they are only chosen by the college of Cardinals. To this agrees the decree of Pope Nicolas the second, 1059AD that the Pope shall afterward be created by the suffrages of the Cardinal bishops of Rome, with the consent of the rest of the clergy and people, and the Emperor himself: and all Popes are excommunicate and accursed as Antichrists, that enter otherwise, as all now do. Joachimus Abbas saith, Antichrist was long since born in Rome, and shall be yet advanced higher in the Apostolic See. Petracrh saith, Once Rome, now Babylon. And Ireaneus book 5. chap. last, said before all these, that Antichrist should be Lateinus, a Roman.

The Use

Again, this commandment must not so much be understood of a bodily departure in respect of cohabitation & presence, as of a spiritual separation in respect of faith & religion. And the meaning of the Holy Ghost is, that men must depart from the Romish Church in regard of Judgment and doctrine, in regard of their faith and the worship of God.

Thus then we see that the words contain a commandment from God, enjoining his Church and people to make a separation from Babylon. Whence I observe, That all those who will be saved, must depart and separate themselves from the faith and religion of this present Church of Rome. And whereas they are charged with schism that seperate on this manner; the truth is, they are not scismatikes that do so, because they have the commandment of God for their warrant: and that party is the schismatic in whom the cause of this separation lies: and that is in the Church of Rome, namely the cup of abomination in the whore's hand, which is, their heretical and schismatical religion.


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