From “A Sermon Preached on St. Mark’s Day,” Collected Works, VIII.193-195 (1686)
Without…contempt of this present world all the advice that can be given will signify little to make true religion secure in us. If this one thing is lacking, we are liable to be deceived, and none can help us. We shall turn, like weathercocks, by every wind of doctrine, if our interest be that way; and it will not be in the power of any man, by the clearest and most solid demonstrations to fix and settle us. For the love of this present world, of riches, honors, and preferments, dazzles the eyes of men’s minds, blinds their judgment, bribes their affections, corrupts their consciences, and carries them into the foulest dotages.
Religion and the things of the other world cannot be of any great price in the account of one who admires and overvalues the things of this present life. He will be easily persuaded, when he cannot keep both, to let go of his faith, that he may preserve these things. And therefore, if we will stick fast to our religion, we must not cleave too close to this present world. We must not frame too high an opinion in our minds of any thing here, nor set our hearts and affections on it; but learn to want as well as to abound, to be satisfied with a little; and, as the apostle speaks, “having food and raiment, therewith to be content; remembering that godliness with contentment is great gain.”
If we learned and faithfully practiced these lessons (and there is no man that need be ignorant of them or defective in them, unless he will,) they would preserve and keep our minds from being drawn away by plausible and gainful errors. Nay, more than that, they would put an end to all controversies and disputes, better than an infallible judge could do. For when there was one in the world, there were still sects and factions, as I have already shown you: but if we would submit to the power of the gospel, and of God’s Holy Spirit, so far as to become obedient to the plain commands which he lays upon us; that is, to be made truly meek and lowly in heart, humble and peaceable, tender-hearted and charitable, holy and heavenly-minded; having no designs for this world, but all for the other; not intending to serve any earthly ends by our religion, but only to secure our soul’s everlasting salvation; being sincere lovers of truth, desirous to know the whole will of God, ready to embrace it even when it is contrary to our present interests, conscientiously resolved to do it, whatsoever we deny or lose on that account; this temper of mind would be a far better expedient, and more available for the healing of all divisions, and for making peace and unity in the Christian world, than infallibility of judgment would be, could we tell where to find it.
This is the way of God; wherein if we will not walk, there must be heresies, and contention, and strife: nay, there will be, as St. James’s words are, “every evil work;” and no remedy can be found for it.
Whereas in this way, I will be bold to go a little further and say, that God has taken care that every individual Christian may be infallible, as far as is necessary for him.
There has been and is much discourse and dispute about infallibility. And some, you know, argue there must be such a thing, because of the care which we all believe Christ has for his church, in which it would be convenient there should be an infallible judge; and therefore they conclude there is one. But if convenience were the measure, and our understanding the measurers, we might rather conclude that God hath made every particular Christian infallible ; because that is far more convenient than for every Christian to go a great way to one infallible judge, and then not be able to know certainly where to find him; because they that speak of such a judge are not agreed whether he be a single person or whether this infallibility is in a body of persons; but there is as great difference about this as anything else.
All that we can truly resolve therefore in this matter is, that such is the grace of God, such his care of his church, that he has made every truly pious Christian infallible, though not in all things, yet in the main thing, if he go on to the end in a course of piety. That is, with respect to his journey’s end he is infallible, though not with respect to every step he takes toward it. He may err in many things, he may sometimes go wrong; yet if it be his constant design and watchful endeavor to govern himself faithfully in all his actions by the rule of God’s word, and to follow all the directions in it, he shall infallibly come to heaven.
Simon Patrick (1626-1707) was Bishop of Chichester and then of Ely, and one of the most influential Anglican theologians of the Restoration period. He served as rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, in London for several years in his early ministry, including with great heroism during the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire the next year. This sermon was preached to the congregation there during that time, and the text is adapted for contemporary readers.