Page images


our religion are truly and fully conveyed to us: and we cannot be so sure of any

other convey It is a confirmation of our faith, indeed, that the earliest Christian writers, after those of Scripture, in all material points, agree with it. But if they do not, no writers can have equal authority with inspired ones ; and no unwritten tradition can long be of any authority at all. For things delivered by word of mouth always vary, more or less, in going through but a few hands. And the world hath experienced, that Articles of Belief, for want of having recourse to the written rule of them, have greatly changed in many churches of Christians : but in few, or none, more than that of Rome, which absurdly pretends to be unchangeable and infallible. It is in the Scripture alone, then, that we, who live in these latter ages, can be sure of finding the Christian faith

preserved complete and undefiled; and there we :: may be sure of it.

For as to any pretence or fear of these Books being corrupted and altered, either by design or mistake: had the Old Testament been depraved in any thing essential, our Saviour and his Apos. tles would have given us notice of it.

And for the New, the several parts of it were so immediately spread through the world, and so constantly read, in public and in private, by all Christians; and so perpetually quoted in all their discourses, and all their disputes of one sect with another, that they could not possibly be changed by any of them, in any thing considerable: for the rest would immediately have discovered it, and charged them with it, which must have put an end to the danger. And, indeed, it is an agreed point amongst all who understand these matters, that nothing of this kind either hath happened or can happen, so as to affect any one article of faith.

But perhaps it will be alleged, that the Bible

was written originally in languages which have long been out of common use, and with which but a small part of Christians now are acquainted : and how shall the rest be sure that we have them rightly translated into our own ? The plain answer is, that all translations, made by all parties, agree in most places, and those of the most importance : and where they disagree, moderate consideration and inquiry will enable any persons, who live in a country of knowledge and freedom, which, God be thanked, is our case, to judge on some good grounds, as far as they need judge, which is right, and which is wrong-which is clear, and which is doubtful. Nor doth any sect of Christians pretend to accuse our common translation of concealing any necessary truth, or asserting any destructive error.

But supposing all this, yet it may be urged, that many parts of Scripture in our own translation, and in the original too, are dark and obscure: and how then can it be the guide and rule of our faith ? I answer: These are few in proportion to such as are clear; and were they more, the Spirit of God, we may be sure, would make all necessary points, in one part or another, sufficiently clear. These, therefore, the most ignorant may learn from Scripture : at least by the help of such explanations as they are willing to ask and trust in all other cases, and much admirable instruction besides ; which, if they do but respect and observe as they ought, they may be content to leave for the use of others, what a little modesty will show them is above their own reach:

But that every person may be enabled the better to distinguish between the necessary doctrines and the rest, those, which either Christ or his Apostles expressly taught to be of the former sort, or the nature of the thing plainly shows to be such, have, from the earliest times, been collected

together; and the profession of them hath been particularly required of all persons baptized. These collections or summaries are, in Scripture, called “The form of sound words, "I “the words “ of faith,”? “ the principles of the doctrine of “ Christ;3 but in the present language of Christians, “the Creed,” that is, the Belief.

The ancient Church had many such creeds; some longer, some shorter ; differing in expression, but agreeing in method and sense, of which that called the Apostles' Creed, was one. And it deserves that name, not so much from any certainty that the Apostles drew it up, as because it contains the apostolical doctrines, and was used by a Church, which, before it corrupted itself, was justly considered as one of the chief apostolical foundations; I mean the Roman.

But neither this, nor any other creed, hath authority of its own, equal to Scripture; but derives its principal authority from being founded on Scripture. Nor is it in the power of any man, or number of men either, to lessen or increase the fundamental articles of the Christian faith ; which yet the Church of Rome, not content with this its primitive creed, hath profanely attempted ; adding twelve articles

that is, on no authority, to the ancient twelve, which stand on the authority of God's Word. But our Church hath wisely refused to go a step beyond the original form ; since all necessary truths are briefly comprehended in it, as will appear when the several parts of it come to be expounded, which it is the duty of every one of us firmly to believe, and openly' to profess. “For with the “ heart man believeth unto righteousness, and 66 with the mouth confession is made unto salva6 tion."4

founded on its own,

(1) 2 Tim. i. 13. (2) 1 Tim. iv. 6. (3) Heb. vi. l. (4) Rom. x. 10. even the



Article I. I believe in God the Father, &c.

THE foundation of all religion is faith in God; the persuasion, that there doth, ever did, and ever will exist, one Being of unbounded power and knowledge, perfect justice, truth and goodness, the creator and preserver of all things. With this article, therefore, our Creed begins. And as all the rest are, built upon it, so the uth and certainty of it is plain to every man, when duly proposed to his consideration, how unlikely soever some men would have been to discover it of themselves.

We know, beyond possibility of doubt, that we now are; and yet the oldest of

but a few

years ago, was not. How then came we to be? Whence had we our beginning ? From our parents, perhaps, we may think. But did our parents know, or do we know in the least, how to form such a mind as that of man, with all its faculties ; or such a body as that of man, with all its parts and members ; or

smallest of them ? No more than a tree knows how to make the seed that grows into a like tree; no more than any common instrument knows how to do the work, which is done by its means. Our parents were only instruments in the hands of some higher powe er: and to speak properly, “That it is which “ made us, and not we ourselves, ther. And the same is the case of every animal and every plant upon the face of the earth.


or one ano.

(1) Psalm c. 2.

But could our parents be the cause of our be. ing? Yet still the first human pair must have had some different cause of theirs. Will it then be said, that there was no first ? But we cannot conceive this to be possible. And it certainly is not true. For we have undoubted accounts, in ancient histories, of the time when men were but few in the world, and inhabited but a small part of it; and therefore were near their beginning : accounts of the times, when almost all arts and sciences were invented : which mankind would not have been long in being, much less from eternity, without finding out. And upon the whole there is strong evidence, that the present frame of things is not more than about six thousand years old : and that none of us here present is one hundred and fifty generations distant from our first parent.

If it be said, that universal deluges may, perhaps, have destroyed all the race of men, and so made that seem a new beginning, which was not ; we answer, that one such deluge we own; but that no such can possibly happen according to the common course of nature, as learned persons have abundantly shown. And consequently this proves a higher power, instead of destroying the proof of it.

But without having recourse to history, it is evident from the very form and appearance of the earth, that it cannot have been from eternity. If it had, to mention nothing else, the hills must all have been washed down by showers, innumerable ages ago, to a level with the plains. And, indeed, they who have thought of these matters, well

(2) This argument is produced from Theophrastus, in Philo, Fegiãplagos as xòono, p. 510 ; and two answers to it attempted, p. 513 : that mountains may lose parts and gain them again, as trees do their leaves ; or are supported by the internal fire, which threw them up. The first is an absurd assertion the latter a groundless and false one.

« PreviousContinue »