Page images
[ocr errors]

attain establishing satisfaction in his own mind, must (ordinarily) have proportionable helps, and time, and studies ; unless he look to be taught by miracles.

2. Remember that it is a practical and heavenly doctrine which you are to learn : it is the art of loving God, and being happy in his love: and therefore a worldly, sensual, vicious soul, must needs be under very great disa.lvantage for the receiving of such a kind of truths. Do not therefore impute that to the doubtfulness of the doctrine, which is but the effect of the enmity and incapacity of your minds. How

. can he presently relish the spiritual and heavenly doctrine of the Gospel, who is drowned in the love and care of contrary things? Such men receive not the things of the Spirit: they seem to them both foolishness and undesirable.

3. Think not that the history of things done so long ago, and so far off, should have no more obscurities, nor be liable to any more objections, than of that which was done in the time and country where you live. Nor yet that things done in the presence of others, and words spoken in their hearing only, should be known to you otherwise than by historical evidence, (unless every revelation to others, must have a new revelation to bring it to each individual person in the world). And think not that he who is a stranger to all other helps of church-history, should be as well able to understand the Scripture history, as those that have those other helps.

4. Think not that the narrative of things done in a country and age so remote, and to us unknown, should not have many difficulties, arising from our ignorance of the persons, places, manners, customs, and many circumstances, which if we had known would easily have resolved all such doubts.

5. Think not that a book which was written so long ago, in so remote a country, in a language which few do fully understand, and which may since then have several changes, as to phrases, and proverbial and occasional speeches, should have no more difficulties in it, than a book that were written at home, in the present age in our country language, and the most usual dialect. To say nothing of our own language, what changes are made in all other tongues, since the times that the Gospel was recorded! Many proverbial speeches and phrases may be now disused and unknown, which were


[ocr errors]


then most easy to be understood. And the transcribing and preserving of the copies, require us to allow for some defects of human skill and industry therein.

6. Understand the different sorts of evidence which are requisite to the different matters in the holy Scriptures. The matters of fact require historical evidence (which yet is made infallible by additional miracles). The miracles which were wrought to confirm our history, are brought to our knowledge only by other history. The doctrines which are evident in nature, have further evidence of supernatural revelation, only to help us whose natural sight is much obscured. But it is the supernatural doctrines, precepts and promises, which of themselves require supernatural revelation, to make them credible to man.

7. Mistake not the true use and end of the holy Scriptures.

1. Think not that the Gospel as written was the first constitutive or governing law of Christ, for the Christian churches. The churches were constituted, and the orders, and offices, and government of it settled and exercised very many years together, before any part of the New Testament was written to them; much more before the writing of the whole. The apostles had long before taught them what was commanded them by Christ; and had settled them in the order appointed by the Holy Ghost: and therefore you are not to look for the first determination of such doctrines or orders in the Scripture as made thereby; but only for the records of what was done and established before : for the apostles being to leave the world, did know the slipperiness of the memory of man, and the danger of changing and corrupting the Christian doctrine and orders, if there were not left a sure record of it: and therefore they did that for the sake of posterity.

2. You must not think that all is essential to the Christian religion, which is contained in the holy Scriptures : nor that they are only the adequate form or record of that which is strictly and primarily called our religion, or Christianity. For there are divers particular books of the New Testament, which contain much more than is essential to Christianity. And many appurtenances, and histories, and genealogies, and circumstances are there recorded, which are indeed sub

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

servient helps to our religion; but are not strictly our reli: gion itself.

8. As the use of the Scripture must thus be judged of, according to the purpose of the Holy Spirit ; so the perfection of the Scripture must be judged of, in relation to its intended use. It was not written to be a system of physics, nor oratory ; nor to decide grammatical controversies about words ; but to record in apt expressions the things which God would have men to know, in order to their faith, their duty, and their happiness. And in this respect it is a perfect word. But you must not imagine that it is so far the

. word of God himself, as if God had shewed in it his fullest skill, and made it as perfect in every respect, both phrase and order, as God could do. And if you meet in it with several words, which you think are less grammatical, logical, or rhetorical, than many other men could speak, and which really savour of some human imperfection, remember that this is not at all derogatory to Christianity; but rather tendeth to the strengthening of our faith; for the Scriptures are perfect to their intended use; and God did purposely chuse men of imperfect oratory, to be his apostles, that his kingdom might not be in word, but in power ; and that our faith might not be built upon the wisdom and oratory of man, but on the supernatural operations of the Almighty God: as David's sling and stone must kill Goliah: so unlearned men, that cannot outwit the world to deceive them, shall by the Spirit and miracles convince them. Looking for that in the Scripture, which God never intended it for, doth tempt the unskilful into unbelief.

9. Therefore you must be sure to distinguish the Chris tian religion, which is the vital part or kernel of the Scriptures, from all the rest; and to get well planted in your mind, the sum of that religion itself. And that is briefly contained in the two sacraments, and more largely in the creed, the Lord's prayer, and the decalogue, the summaries of our belief, desire and practice. And then wonder no more that the other parts of Scripture, have some things of less moment, than that a man hath fingers, nails and hair, as well as a stomach, heart and head.

10. Distinguish therefore between the method of the Christian religion, and the method of the particular books

of Scriptures. The books were written on several occasions, and in several methods; and though that method of them all, be perfect, in order to their proper end; yet it is not necessary that there be in the method no human imperfection, or that one or all of them, be written in that method which is usually most logical, and best, But the frame of religion contained in these books, is composed in the most perfect method in the world. And those systems of theology which endeavour to open this method to you, do not feign it, or make it of themselves ; but only attempt the explication of what they find in the Holy Scriptures, synthetically or analytically: (though indeed all attempts have yet fallen short of any full explication of this divine and perfect harmony.)

11. Therefore the true order of settling your faith, is not first to require a proof that all the Scriptures is the word of God; but first to prove the marrow of them, which is properly called the Christian religion, and then to proceed to strengthen your particular belief of the rest. The contrary opinion, which hath obtained with many in this age,

hath greatly hindered the faith of the unskilful ; and it came from a preposterous care of the honour of the Scriptures, through an excessive opposition to the Papists who undervalue them. For hence it comes to pass, that every seeming contradiction, or inconsistency in any book of Scripture, in chronology or any other respect, is thought to be a sufficient cause, to make the whole cause of Christianity as difficult as that particular text is : and so all those readers, who meet with great or insuperable difficulties, in their daily reading of the Scriptures, are thereby exposed to equal temptations, to damning infidelity in itself: so that if the tempter draw any man to doubt of the standing still of the sun in the time of Joshua ; of the life of Jonas in the belly of the whale; or any other such passage in any one book of the Scriptures, he must equally doubt of all his religion.

But this was not the ancient method of faith: it was many years after Christ's resurrection, before any one book of the New Testament was written; and almost an age before it was finished : and all that time the Christian churches had the same faith and religion as we have now; and the same foundation of it: that is, the Gospel preached to them by the apostles: but what they delivered to them by word

[ocr errors]


of mouth, is now delivered to us in their writings, with all the appurtenances and circumstances, which every Christian did not then hear of. And there were many articles of the Christian faith, which the Old Testament did not at all make known: (as that this Jesus is the Christ, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, and is actually crucified, risen, and ascended, &c.) And the method of the apostles was, to teach the people the sum of Christianity (as Paul duth, 1 Cor. xv: 3, 4, &c. and Peter, Acts ii.) and to bring them to the belief of that, and then baptise them, before they wrote any thing to them, or taught them the rest which is now the Holy Scriptures; they were first to disciple the nations and baptise them, and then to teach them to observe all things whatever Christ commanded : and the main bulk of the Scriptures is made up of this last, and of the main subservient histories and helps.

And accordingly it was the custom of all the primitive churches, and ancient doctors, to teach the people first the creed and sum of Christianity, and to make them Christians before they taught them so much as to know what books the canonical Scriptures did contain ; for they had the sum of Christianity itself delivered down collaterally by the two hands of tradition. 1. By the continuation of baptism, and public church-professions, was delivered the creed or covenant by itself. And 2. By the Holy Scriptures, where it was delivered with all the rest; and from whence every novice was not put to gather it of himself, but had it collected to his hand by the churches.

And you may see in the writings of all the ancient defenders of Christianity (Justin, Athenagoras, Tatianus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Arnobius, Theophil. Antioch, Lactantius, Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustine, &c.) that they used the method which I now direct you to.

And if you consider it well, you will find that the miracles of Christ himself, and all those of his apostles after him, were wrought for the confirmation of Christianity itself immediately, and mostly before the particular epistles or books were writtén ; and therefore were only remotely and consequentially for the confirmation of those books as such: as they proved that the writers of them were guided by the infallible Spirit, in all the proper work of their office; of which the writing of the Scriptures was a part.

« PreviousContinue »