The Casting Down of the Last and Strongest Hold of Satan. Or, A Treatise Against Toleration and Pretended Liberty of Conscience, (1) Thomas Edwards (1599-1647).
April 10, 2018
Many Evangelicals today defend a false liberty of conscience, which is nothing more than a pretended right for man to blaspheme, commit idolatry and otherwise break the law of God. Others are presumptuous seeing no danger in the promotion of false religion and error, acting as if the Magistrate, the Church and Fathers have no duty within their spheres to observe, and keep pure and entire, all religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word or that the Second Commandment does not forbid the toleration of false religion (Larger Catechism, Question & Answers No. 108 & 109).
True freedom in matters of faith or worship consist not in sinning, but rather in being free from the commandments of men which are contrary to the Word of God or besides it (WCF XX). It must never be overlooked or denied that what is being tolerated in a pretended liberty of conscience is not the private conscience of man, but his sin. Man's conscience does not give him the right to sin, the power of the conscience together with all rights come from God the creator, and it would be absurd to conclude that God gives men the right to sin by rejecting the moral law as the rule of life, or that God does not require his own glory as the chief end of everything we do.
As Reformed Christians we ought not be embarrassed by or shy away from requiring Magistrates to fulfil their scriptural duties: to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed (WCF XXXIII) that they be the nursing fathers, and nursing mothers to the Church, Isa. 49:23.
Toleration is not only absurd, but blasphemous being contrary to the nature of God set forth in the Scriptures, which teach that He is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on iniquity (Hab. 1:12, 13); that He is glorious in holiness (Exod. 15:11); that He is a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right (Deut. 32:4); who brings his judgments to light every morning (Zeph. 3:5) and who does not tempt man to evil (James 1:13) but rather requires of them holiness and perfect righteousness.
Toleration of false religions, heresies, sects, errors and false worship is an enemy of the truth, the faith and the gospel which are not many but one. Our First Commandment loyalty is to God and not to the accommodation of man's sin and we are to pray with faith and expectation that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In this new series we shall look at the 20 Theses set out by Thomas Edwards (1599-1647) against toleration in his Casting Down of the Last and Strongest Hold of Satan.
We begin here with Theses I-VII.
As there is but one God, one Lord Christ, one Spirit, one Heaven, so there is but one Faith, and that once delivered to the Saints, one Truth, one Gospel, and one Way; the Scripture every where speaking of these in the singular number as of one, not as of many, never calling them Faiths, Truths, Gospels, Ways, but the Faith, the Gospel, the Truth, the way of Truth, the good old way, one way, the right way, the way of righteousness, and such like; whereas falsehood and error is manifold, the Scripture speaking of false ways, and of Antichrists as many.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in many places hold forth and command to ask for, follow after, walk in that one good way, to strive and contend earnestly for that one Faith, to hold fast the Truth, to serve God only; and on the contrary reproves, prohibits, condemns turning aside to the right hand or to the left, or halting between two or more religions and worships; hence those complaints, 1 Kin. 18. 21. of the people halting between two opinions, between God and Baal, of fearing the Lord, and serving their own gods after the manner of the nations, 2 King. 17. vers. 33. 41. of worshipping and swearing by the Lord and by Malcham, Zeph. 1. 5. and those prohibitions of not letting cattle gender with a diverse kind, of not sowing fields with mingled seed, of not wearing garments mingled of linen and wool, of not sowing of vineyards of divers seeds, and of not ploughing with an ox and an ass together. Levit. 19. 19 and Deut. 22. 9, 10.
God both foretells and promises in his word, and that more particularly of the days of the Gospel, to give one heart and one way to his people; and as there shall be one Lord, so his name shall be one, and that they shall all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent, Jer. 32. 39, Ezek. 11. 19, Zeph. 3. 9, and Zach. 14. 9. Christ prays earnestly to his Father for believers that they all may be one and that they may be perfect in one, John 17: 21, 22, 23. and there are many exhortations to Christians to be of one mind, and of the same mind in the Lord, to be of one accord, of one mind, all to speak the same thing, that there be no schisms among them, but that they be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement, and that they keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, 2 Cor. 13. 11, Philip. 2. 2, Philip. 4. 2, 1 Cor. 1. 10, and Ephes. 4. 3. Now what God has promised and foretold, what Christ has prayed for in a special manner, what the Apostles in their Epistles have so pathetically entreated and exhorted to, that Christians should especially labour after, and all the mean tending thereunto; which the desiring and granting of a toleration of all ways, or many ways, must needs be contrary unto.
A toleration and sufferance but of any one or two false ways and worships fights directly against these and many such like places of Scripture, For we can do nothing against the truth but for the truth, 2 Cor. 13. 8. Buy the truth and sell it not, Prov. 23. 23. be valiant for the truth, strive for the faith of the Gospel, be zealous, beware of false prophets, beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision, A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject. They that keep the Law contend with the wicked, Paul's not giving place to false brethren, no not for an hour that the truth of the Gospel might continue. Paul and Barnabas having no small dissension and disputation with those who taught circumcision, If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed, the Angel of Ephesus his commendation for that he could not bear them which are evil, and which say they are Apostles, and are not, and for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, the Angels of the churches of Pergamus and Thyatira being threatened by Christ for suffering them that held the doctrine of Balaam,the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and that woman Jezabel which called herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce his servants.
Whereas a particular partial toleration offends against many particular places of Scripture, a universal toleration is against all Scripture, goes against the whole current, scope and sense of Scripture both in the Old and New Testament, both in matters of faith and manners, both in the general rules and commands, and the particular, and that both in personal actions, and in all relations to others. The sum of the Scriptures is faith and good life, and the end of the several states appointed by God, both political, ecclesiastical and economical, are to maintain and continue these. Now a general toleration of all religions and consciences is diametrically opposite to all these, against the whole will of God overthrowing all that God in the Scripture expresses of sins, duties and relations. I would have any thing in the Scripture named in point of faith, holiness, in the relations of Magistrates, Ministers, Governors of families, which this toleration some way or other does not make void. Other errors and heresies, as Arianism, Anabaptism, &c. do not offend against all Scripture, but against such and such places; but this general toleration throws down all at once, it overthrows the Scriptures, in that it allows a liberty of denying the Scriptures to be the Word of God, in that it sets up the conscience above the Scriptures, making every man's conscience, even the polluted defiled seared consciences the rule of faith and holiness, before the pure and unerring Word of God, crying out that men must do according to their consciences, but never speaking of going according to the Word of God; yea setting up men's fancies, humours, factions, lusts, under the name of conscience, above the Word of God, which is to set up the creature, yea the corrupted defiled creature above God, and to make man's conscience greater than God, whereas God is greater than men's consciences, 1 John 3. 20.
The complaints, prohibitions, comminations, with the commands, directions, cautions against giving way unto, tolerating of and following many ways in religion, and for contending for the faith, buying the truth, &c. though delivered, and run in general, they bind (as other Scriptures do) all the several sorts of men, every one pro cujusque officii ratione, the Minister in his way according to his office, and the Magistrate in his way, and the Master of a family in his place, and every private Christian in his way to suppress error, and promote the truth; yea the commands and precepts which in the letter and primarily belong to men of such a particular relation, the Father, Master, Minister as being directed by name to them, do also concern Magistrates, by the common rules of interpretation of Scripture, given by Divines, of a Synecdoche, of analogy and proportion, of common equity, and by the way of the Scripture itself in applying what's spoken at first hand to particular persons in such a special relation to all Christians, Joshua 1. 5. compared with Heb. 13. 5. what to Magistrates, to Church Governours, Deu. 13. 11. Deut. 17. 6. compared with 1 Tim. 5. 19, 20. with many other such instances that might be given, the commands of God be∣ing exceeding broad, as David speaks, Psal. 119. The fifth Commandment which in the letter mentions the natural parents, as is evident by many other Scriptures, particularly that of Ephes. 6. 1, 2, 3, 4. commands the duties of Magistrates to their subjects, of Ministers to their people, as all Divines upon that commandment grant. The fourth Commandment that in the letter is directed to the father of the family, for his family to keep the Sabbath, comprehends also the Magistrate: The father of the family is a Synecdoche including the Magistrate; and therein the Holy Ghost lays down not only what lies upon the master of every family, but also what is the Magistrate's duty, as Zanchius, Chemnitius, and many other learned Divines show in their expositions upon this fourth Commandment, all of them upon this commandment writing of the publick worship of God, and the magistrates duty to see it preserved, and the profanation of it punished, and all under the name of the father of the family.
What God in his Word commands or forbids private single persons for themselves and their own practise as considered personally, viz. to learn to know God, fear the Lord, follow him only, and not follow not serve any strange God, to have no fellowship with idols, not the unfruitful works of darkness, and such like, unto all persons whom he hath set over others, and in any relation given them power and authority over them, as Ministers, Parents, Masters, Husbands, be commands and forbids the same not only for themselves in their own persons (thats not all, that will not discharge them) but to them for all under their command, they must see to it and use their interest, power and authority to cause all under them to do so likewise, and not suffer them to go on in false ways, as these Scriptures among many other prove, 〈◊〉. 18. verse 19. Exodus 20. verse 28. Deut, 6. 45. 6, 7. Ephes. 6. 4. Every private servant of God must keep the ways of God; but Abraham who is set over others must command his children and his houshold after him to keep the way of the Lord, every Israelite must keep the Sabbath day holy, but the Governor of the family must besides his own keeping it, see to it that all in his family sanctify the Sabbath, 'tis the duty of all the Israel of God to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and to fear the Lord only, but parents must besides their personal loving and fearing God, wait upon their children diligently and talk to them of the commands of God, and bring them up in the admonition and fear of the Lord; each person should work out his own salvation, but a Minister must save others besides himself, and watch for other mens souls, use authority for edification; hence in many places we shall find it written in Scripture of persons in relations of authority to others, that they both undertake for their families, and that their families walked as they walked; so Joshua, I and my household will serve the Lord; thus David, Psal. 101. verse 4, 6, 7. So the Centurion, a devout man and one that feared God with all his house; and in Timothy there was unfeigned faith which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and in his mother Eunice, and then in him.