« PreviousContinue »
cerned about Religion, when they meet with no Oppofition: But when the Faith is denied, and the Terms of Salvation are difputed againft, this will stir up and actuate a mighty Zeal in all, who have any regard for the Honour of God, and the Salvation of Men. From whence it comes to pass, that most Herefies have been of no long continuance, but appear and fhew themselves, are difproved, become odious, and after a while are hardly known, but from the Books of fuch as confuted them; and those Points of Doctrine which were contradicted, become fo much the better established, and the more firmly believed for the future. Herefies are but the Tryals of Religion, as Dangers are of Courage; it tends to the Honour and Evidence of Truth, to be exercised and encompassed with Errors, which fall before it, and are able to do it no hurt.
So that Differences in Religion are fuffered by Almighty God, as all other Sins are, because it is the defign of Religion, not to compel Men, but to perfuade and exhort them, and to permit them to be guilty of all manner of Sin, whilft it offers the most prevailing Arguments and Motives against it; and to be guilty of Schifms and Herefies amongst the rest : And these are Temptations and Tryals to good Men, and often ferve as Judgments upon the wicked, to punish one Wickednefs with another, and expofe them to the World for Hypocrites and Impoftors. And they serve to confirm the Articles of our Faith, which hereby become the more throughly examined, and the more fully explained. And thefe are fufficient Rea-fons, why God fhould not, by his Almighty Power, hinder thofe Differences in Religion, which muft of neceffity happen by the Sins and Folly of Men, unless he fhould miraculously and irresistibly interpofe to prevent them.
III. These Differences, how great and how many foever they may be, even the worst of Schifms and
Herefies, are no Prejudice to the Truth and Certainty of Religion. Religion is our Direction, our Way to Heaven and Happiness; but will any Man fay, that because there are many wrong Ways, therefore there is none right? This is beneath the Discretion of every ordinary Traveller, who, if the Way be difficult, refolves to use the more Care and Diligence in finding it out, but never concludes with himfelf that there is no fuch Way, and no fuch Place as that to which he intends to go. For a Man to argue from the Multitude of Herefies and Schifms against the Truth of Religion, is as if he would prove, that because there are so many Curve Lines, therefore there can be none Right; when for this very Reafon we must conclude, that there is fuch a thing as Streightness, or elfe there could be nothing Crooked; for we can have no Notion of one without the other. And as all Obliquity fuppofes Rectitude, from which it declines, fo Vice fuppofes Virtue, and Error fuppofes Truth, and Error in Religion must fuppofe Truth in Religion. For whatever is contrary to any thing, neceffarily implies the Being of that to which it is contrary; and that which is not, can have nothing contrary to it. Nothing is more certain than it is, that if there were no Virtue, there could be no Vice; if no Truth, there could be no Error, and unless there were Truth and Excellency in Religion, it were impoffible that there fhould be any fuch thing as Herefy or Schifm, which are other Words for Error and Vice in matters of Religion. And it hath been already observ'd, that the worst Heresies give an occafion to the clearing those Points of Religion which are difputed againft, and fo must be far from invalidating the Truth of it.
But because these are things which fome will not understand, or may be unwilling to acknowledge; and it is generally look'd upon as a fure Argument of the Weakness of any Caufe, when those that maintain it are not agreed about it amongst themselves; let us Kk 3
confider, 1. That all Parties are agreed in the Truth of Religion in general, and of the Christian Religion in particular: 2. That there is nothing befides, in which Men have not difagreed, as well as in matters of Religion.
1. All Parties are agreed in the Truth of Religion in general. Even Hypocrites and Impoftors fo far own Religion, as to believe that it is worth the counterfeiting. For no Man counterfeits that which is not, no, nor that which has no Worth nor Excellency in it. No Man will be at much pains to be thought an Atheist, or an Infidel, who is not fuch; and no Man will endeavour to be thought vicious, unless he be fo indeed. There are few Pretenders to the Shame and Infamy which in all Ages have been infeparable from Irreligion; but it is the natural Senfe which Men have of Religion, that gives it fo great Credit and Honour in a wicked World, that even the Shadow and Counterfeit of it has fometimes too much prevail'd.
But farther, all Sects and Parties of Chriftians are agreed in the Truth of the Christian Religion, and the only Difference amongst them is concerning particular Doctrines and Opinions, that is, concerning the true Meaning and Explication of it: And no Man difputes about the Meaning of that which he does not at the fame time fuppofe to be. When any Point or Clause of a Law is in Difpute, it would be ridiculous from thence to conclude, that no fuch Law was ever made; because all Parties muft agree that there is fuch a Law, or else there could be no Difpute about it. And when Differences arife in Religion, it is an Argument for the Truth of Religion, because there can be Difference about nothing, and Men would never differ about Religinn, if it were not true, or they did not think it to be fo.
But Christians are not only agreed in the main that the Gospel is true, but they are likewise agreed in the Senfe and Meaning of it, as to the Fundamental Arti
cles necessary to Salvation. This was the ancient Rule and Measure laid down by Vincentius Lirinenfis, of the Catholick Doctrine neceffary to be believ'd, that it had been believ'd in all Ages, in all Places, and in all Churches. And the Excellent Archbishop Usher whofe Judgment in the Cafe may fafely be rely'd upon, has declar'd, That if at this day we should take a Survey of the feveral Profeffions of Chriftianity, that have any large Spread in any part of the World (as of the Religion of the Roman and the Reform'd Churches in our Quarters, of the Egyptians and Ethiopians in the South, of the Grecians and other Chriftians in the Eastern Parts) and fhould put by the Points wherein they differ, from one another, and gather into one Body the rest of the Articles, wherein they all did generally agree; we should find, that in thofe Propofitions, which without all Controverfie are fo univerfally receiv'd in the whole Chriftian World, fo much Truth is contain'd, as being join'd with boly Obedience, may be fufficient to bring a Man unto everlafting Salvation. Neither have we caufe to doubt but that as many as do walk according to this Rule, (neither overthrowing that which they have built, by fuperinducing any damnable Herefies thereupon, nor otherwife vitiating their Holy Faith with a lewd and wicked converfation) Peace fhall be upon them, and Mercy, and upon the Ifrael. of God. And he afterwards fays, in relation to the Papists in Ireland, that he had fometimes treated with thofe of the Oppofite Party, and mov'd them, that homsoever in other things we did differ one from another, yet we should join together in teaching thofe main Points, the knowledge whereof was fo neceffary unto Salvation, and of the Truth whereof there was no Controverfy betwixt us.
Brief Declaration of the Universality of the Church of Christ, and the Unity of the Catholick Faith professed therein, delivered in a Sermon before the King, the 20th of June, 1624.
This Paffage was produced by Dr, Potter, and defended by Mr. Chil lingworth, Chap. iv. §. 44, &c.
And as to particular Controverfies, tho' one would imagine that wife Men of all others should be least apt to fall out about Words; yet it is an old Obfervation, that when learned and wife Men difagree in Opinion, the Difference is commonly in the manner of expreffing themselves; or however it is generally about the Manner of the Existence, not about the Existence, it felf, of Things. Thus, what is better known by all than the Sun? and yet what Disputes have there been and ever will be, concerning its Light, and Motion, and Distance, and Dimenfions?
But it ought likewise to be confider'd, that in the Management of the Controverfies in Religion, fuch as are otherwise good Men, are wont many times to be little favourable in representing the Opinions of their Adverfaries; and if Men might be allow'd to explain themselves, and were not provok'd and exasperated beyond their own calmer Thoughts and Temper, the Differences in Religion would not be near fo great, nor fo many, as they now appear to be. It fo happens in all Cafes, that Differences are widen'd by eager and contentious Debates; Men fpeak more than they defign'd, and then refolve to defend what they have faid, fo that Difputes become endless, and are drawn out into Particulars without number, which were never at firft thought of. Many Books of Controversy are half taken up in asking cross Questions, which perhaps neither of the Parties can answer to satisfaction, nor do they often feem to design any thing farther, than to puzzle one another, and to be as captious and as troublefom as they can. But this ought not to be imputed to the Uncertainty of the Subject, but to the Perverfenefs of Men; and thofe, who upon every occafion fall into fo great Heats and Contentions, must needs be very well affured of that, in which they agree, that is, of the Truth of Religion in general, and of the Chriftian Religion in particular, as to the Fundamental Points of it. The Differences a