Page images
PDF
EPUB

what they think the scripture teaches them, they are turned out of the church, delivered to Satan, and no longer allowed to be christians. And is thus a sincere and rightly directed study of the scriptures, that men may understand and profit thereby, encouraged ? This is the consequence of men's assuming to themselves a power of declaring fundamentals, i. e. of setting up a christianity of their own making. For how else can they turn men of as unblameable lives as others of their members out of the church of Christ (for so they count their communion) for opinions, unless those opinions were concluded inconsistent with christianity? Thus systems, the invention of men, are turned into so many opposite gospels; and nothing is truth in each sect, but what suits with them. So that the scripture serves but, like a nose of wax, to be turned and bent, just as may fit the contrary orthodoxies of different societies. For it is these several systems, that to each party are the just standards of truth, and the meaning of the scripture is to be measured only by them. Whoever relinquishes any of those distinguishing points, immediately ceases to be a christian.

This is the way that the unmasker would have truth and religion preserved, light and knowledge propagated. But here too the different sects, giving equal authority to their own orthodoxies, will be quits with him. For as far as I can observe, the same genius seems to influence them all, even those who pretend most to freedom, the socinians themselves. For when it is observed, how positive and eager they are in their disputes ; how forward to have their interpretations of scripture received for authentic, though to others, in several places, they seem very much strained; how impatient they are of contradiction; and with what disrespect and roughness they often treat their opposers: may it not be suspected, that this so visible a warmth in their present circumstances, and zeal for their orthodoxy, would (had they the power) work in them as it does in others ? They in their turns would, I fear, be ready with their set of fundamentals; which they would be as forward to

impose on others, as others have been to impose contrary fundamentals on them.

This is, and always will be, the unavoidable effect of intruding on our Saviour's authority, and requiring more now, as necessary to be believed to make a man a christian, than was at first required by our Saviour and his apostles. What else can be expected among christians, but their tearing, and being torn in pieces, by one another; whilst every sect assumes to itself a power of declaring fundamentals, and severally thus narrow christianity to their distinct systems? He that has a mind to see how fundamentals come to be framed and fashioned, and upon what motives and considerations they are often taken up, or laid down according to the humours, interests, or designs of the heads of parties, as if they were things depending on men's pleasure and to be suited to their convenience; may find an example worth his notice, in the life of Mr. Baxter, part II. p. 197-205.

Whenever men take upon them to go beyond those fundamental articles of christianity, which are to be found in the preachings of our Saviour and his apostles, where will they stop? Whenever any set of men will require more, as necessary to be believed, to make men of their church, i. e. in their sense, christians, than what our Saviour and his apostles proposed to those whom they made christians, and admitted into the church of Christ; however they may pretend to recommend the scripture to their people, in effect, no more of it is recommended to them, than just comports with what the leaders of that sect have resolved christianity shall consist in.

It is no wonder, therefore, there is so much ignorance amongst christians, and so much vain outcry against it ; whilst almost every distinct society of christians magisterially ascribes orthodoxy to a select set of fundamentals, distinct from those proposed in the preaching of our Saviour and his apostles; which, in no one point, must be questioned by any of its communion. By this means their people are never sent to the holy

scriptures, that true fountain of light, but hood-wink. ed: a veil is cast over their eyes, and then they are bid to read their bible. They must make it all chime to their church's fundamentals, or else they were better let it alone. For if they find any thing there against the received doctrines, though they hold it and express it in the very terms the Holy Ghost has delivered it in, that will not excuse them. Heresy will be their lot, and they shall be treated accordingly. And thus we see how, amongst other good effects, creed-making always has, and always will necessarily produce and propagate ige norance in the world, however each party blame others for it. And therefore I have often wondered to hear men of several churches so heartily exclaim against the implicit faith of the church of Rome; when the same implicit faith is as much practised and required in their own, though not so openly professed, and ingenuously owned there.

In the next section, the unmasker questions the sincerity of mine, and professes the greatness of his concern for the salvation of men's souls. "And tells me of my reflection on him, upon that account, in my Vindication, p. 165. Answ. I wish he would, for the right information of the reader, every-where set down, what he has any thing to say to, in my book, or my defence of it, and save me the labour of repeating it. My words in that place are, “ Some men will not bear, that any

one should speak of religion, but according to the “ model that they themselves have made of it. Nay,

though he proposes it upon the very terms, and in “ 'the very words, which our Saviour and his apostles

preached it in ; yet he shall not escape censures and “ the severest insinuations. To deviate in the least, " or to omit any thing contained in their articles, is

heresy, under the most invidious names in fashion; “ and it is well if he escapes being a downright, atheist. “ Whether this be the way for teachers to make them“ selves hearkened to, as men in earnest in religion, “ and really concerned for the salvation of men's souls, " I leave them to consider. What success it has had, " towards persuading men of the truth of christianity,

" their own complaints of the prevalency of atheism,

on the one hand, and the number of deists on the other, sufficiently show."

I have set down this passage at large, both as a confirmation of what I said but just now; and also to show, that the reflection I there made needed some other answer, than a bare profession of his “regard to the salva“ tion of men's souls." The assuming an undue authority to his own opinions, and using manifest untruths in the defence of them, I am sure is no mark, that the directing men right in the way to salvation is his chief aim. And I wish that the greater liberties of that sort, which he has again taken in his Socinianism unmasked, and which I have so often laid open, had not confirmed that reflection. I should have been glad, that any thing in my book had been fairly controverted and brought to the touch, whether it had or had not been confuted. The matter of it would have deserved a serious debate (if any had been necessary) in the words of sobriety, and the charitable temper of the gospel, as I desired in my preface: and that would not have misbecome the unmasker's function. But it did not consist, it seems, with his design. Christian charity would not have al. lowed those ill-meant conjectures, and groundless censures, which were necessary to his purpose : and therefore he took a shorter course, than to confute my book, and thereby convince me and others. He makes it his business to rail at it and the author of it, that that might be taken for a confutation. For by what he has hither. to done, arguing seems not to be his talent. And thus far, who can but allow his wisdom? But whether it be that “wisdom that is from above; first pure, then

peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy, “ and good fruits, without partiality, and without hy“ pocrisy;" I shall leave to other readers to judge.

His saying nothing to that other reflection, which his manner of expressing himself drew from me, would make one suspect, it savoured not altogether of the wisdom of the gospel ; nor showed an over-great care of the salvation of souls. My words, Vindication, p. 173, are: “ I know not how better to show my care of

" his credit, than by entreating him, that when he takes “ next in hand such a subject as this, wherein the sal“ vation of souls is concerned, he would treat it a “ little more seriously, and with a little more candour, “ lest men should find in his writings another cause of “ atheism, which in this treatise he has not thought fit ci to mention. Ostentation of wit in general, he has “ made a cause of atheism, p. 28. But the world will “ tell him, that frothy light discourses, concerning the “ serious matters of religion, and ostentation of trifling “ misbecoming wit, in those who come as ambassadors “ from God, under the title of successors of the apos« tles, in the great commission of the gospel, are none “ of the least causes of atheism." But this advice I am now satisfied (by his second part of the same strain) was very improper for him; and no more reasonable, than if one should advise a buffoon to talk gravely, who has nothing left to draw attention, if he should lay by his scurrility. The remainder of this fourth chapter, p.

61-67, being spent in showing, why the socinians are for a few articles of faith, being a matter that I am not concerned in; I leave to that forward gentleman to examine, who examined Mr. Edwards's exceptions against the “Rea“ sonableness of Christianity;" and who, as the un masker informs me, page 64, was chosen to vindicate my attempt, &c.

If the unmasker knows that he was so chosen, it is well. If I had known of such a choice, I should have desired that somebody should have been chosen to vindicate my attempt, who had understood it better. The unmasker and examiner are each of them so full of themselves, and their own systems, that I think they may be a fit match one for another; and so I leave these cocks of the game to try it out in an endless battle of wrangling till death them part) which of them has made the true and exact collection of fundamentals; and whose system of the two ought to be the prevailing orthodoxy, and be received for scripture. Only I warn the examiner to look to himself: for the unmasker has the whip hand of him, and gives him to under

« PreviousContinue »