Joseph Hall and John Davenant

[Below are reproduced two letters between Bishops Joseph Hall of Exeter and John Davenant of Salisbury. Because I’m really weird, I get warm and fuzzy feelings about the friendship conveyed in a pair of what are at first appearance extremely practical letters.]

To the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

My Lord:

I send you this little pamphlet for your censure. It is not credible, how strangely I have been traduced, every where, for that, which I conceive to be the common opinion of Reformed Divines; yea, of reasonable men: that is, for affirming the True Being and Visibility of the Roman Church. You see how clearly I have endeavoured to explicate this harmless position; yet I perceive some tough understandings will not be satisfied.

Your Lordship hath, with great reputation, spent many years in the Divinity-Chair of the famous University of Cambridge. Let me, therefore, beseech you, whose learning and sincerity is so thoroughly approved in God’s Church, that you would freely, how shortly soever, express yourself in this point: and, if you find that I have deviated but a hair’s breadth from the truth, correct me: if not, free me by your just sentence.

What need I to entreat you to pity those, whose desires of faithful offices to the Church of God are unthankfully repayed with suspicion and slander? Whose may not this case be? I had thought I had sufficiently, in all my writings, and in this very last book of mine whence this quarrel is picked, shewed my fervent zeal for God’s truth against that Antichristian Faction of Rome; and yet, I doubt not, but your own ears can witness what I have suffered.

Yea, as if this calumny were not enough, there want not those, whose secret whisperings cast upon me the foul aspersions of another sect, whose name is as much hated as it is little understood.

My Lord, you know I had a place with you, though unworthy, in that famous Synod of Dort: where, howsoever sickness bereaved me of the honours of a conclusive subscription; yet your Lordship heard me, with equal vehemency to the rest, crying down the unreasonableness of that way. God so love me, as I do the tranquillity and happiness of his Church: yet can I not so overaffect it, that I would sacrifice one dram of truth to it. To that good God I appeal, as the witness of my sincere heart to his whole truth, and no-less-than-ever zealous detestation of all Popery and Pelagianism.

Your Lordship will be pleased to pardon this importunity, and to vouchsafe your speedy answer to

Your much devoted and faithful Brother,
Joseph Exon

* * *

To the Right Reverend Father in God, Joseph, Lord Bishop of Exon, these.

My Lord:

You desire my opinion concerning an assertion of yours, whereat some have taken offence. The proposition was this, ‘That the Roman Church remains yet a True Visible Church.’

The occasion, which makes this an ill-sounding proposition in the ears of Protestants, especially such as are not thoroughly acquainted with School Distinctions, is the usual acceptation of the word ‘true’ in our English Tongue: for, though men skilled in metaphysics hold it for a maxim, Ens, Verum, Bonum convertuntur; yet, with us, he, which shall affirm such a one is a true Christian, a true Gentleman, a true Scholar, or the like, he is conceived not only to ascribe trueness of being unto all these, but those due qualities or requisite actions whereby they are made commendable or praise-worthy in their several kinds.

In this sense, the Roman Church is no more a True Church in respect of Christ, or those due qualities and proper actions which Christ requires, than an arrant whore is a true and loyal wife unto her husband.

I durst, upon mine oath, be one of your compurgators, that you never intended to adorn that Strumpet with the title of a True Church in this meaning. But your own writings have so fully cleared you herein, that suspicion itself cannot reasonably suspect you in this point.

I therefore can say no more respecting your mistaken proposition, than this, If, in that Treatise wherein it was delivered, the antecedents or consequents were such as served fitly to lead the Reader into that sense, which under the word True comprehendeth only Truth of Being or Existence, and not the due Qualities of the thing or subject, you have been causelessly traduced. But, on the other side, if that proposition comes in ex abrupto, or stands solitary in your Discourse, you cannot marvel though, by taking the word True according to the more ordinary acceptation, your true meaning was mistaken.

In brief, your proposition admits a true sense; and, in that sense, is, by the learned in our Reformed Church, not disallowed: for, the Being of a Church does principally stand upon the gracious action of God, calling men out of darkness and death unto the participation of light and life in Christ Jesus. So long as God continues this Calling unto any people, though they, as much as in them lies, darken this light, and corrupt the means which should bring them to life and salvation in Christ; yet, where God calls men unto the participation of life in Christ by the Word and by the Sacraments, there is the true Being of a Christian Church, let men be never so false in their exposition of God’s Word, or never so untrusty in mingling their own traditions with God’s Ordinances.

Thus, the Church of the Jews lost not her Being of a Church when she became an Idolatrous Church.

And thus, under the Government of the Scribes and Pharisees, who voided the Commandments of God by their own traditions, there was yet standing a true Church, in which Zacharias, Elizabeth, the Virgin Mary, and our Saviour himself was born, who were members of that Church, and yet participated not in the corruptions thereof.

Thus, to grant that the Roman was and is a True Visible Christian Church, though in Doctrine a False and in Practice an Idolatrous Church, is a true assertion; and of greater use and necessity in our controversy with Papists about the perpetuity of the Christian Church, than is understood by those who gainsay it.

This in your ‘Reconciler’ is so well explicated, as if any shall continue in traducing you in regard of that proposition so explained, I think it will be only those, who are better acquainted with wrangling than reasoning, and deeper in love with strife than truth. And, therefore, be no more troubled with other men’s groundless suspicions, than you would be in like case with their idle dreams.

Thus I have enlarged myself beyond my first intent. But my love to yourself, and the assurance of your constant love unto the truth, enforced me thereunto. I rest always

Your loving Brother,
John Sarum


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