Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

for two or three days together out of any plain road, and many times over hedge and ditch, I cannot but think it strange, that, in a civil and well inhabited country, there sould be no highways from one part of it to another ; yet thus far I fubmit to him, though not without fome regret and impatience. But then, if after this, for two or three days more, he lead me directly fouth, and with my face full upon the sun at noon-day, and at last bring me back again to Dover pier, and still bids me him; then certainly no modesty does oblige a man not to dispute with his guide ; and to tell him, surely that can be no way, because it is fea. Now, though he fet never so bold a face upon the matter, and tell me with all the gravity and authority in the world, that it is not the fea, but dry land, under the species and appearance of water, and that, whatever my eyes tell me, having once como mitted myself to his guidance, I must not trust my own senses in the case, it being one of the most dangerous forts of infidelity for a man to believe his own eyes, rather than his faithful and infallible guide: all this moves me not; but I begin to expoftulate roundly with him, and to let him understand, that, if I must not believe what I fee, he is like to be of no farther use to me; because I shall not be able, at this rate, to know whether I have a guide, and whether I follow him or not. In fhort, I tell him plainly, that when I took him for my guide, I did not take him to tell me the difference between north and south, between a hedge and a highway, between sea and dry land ; all this I knew before, as well as he or any man elle could tell me : but I took him to conduct and direct me the nearest way to York. And therefore, after all his impertinent talk, after all his motives of credibility to persuade me to believe him, and all his confident sayings, which he gravely calls demonstrations, I stand stiffy upon the shore, and leave my learned and reverend guide to take his own course, and to dispose of himself as he pleaseth; but firmly resolved not in follow him. And is any man to be blamed that breaks with his guide upon these terms?

And this is truly the case, when a man commits himfelf to the guidance of any person or church. If, by virtue of this authority, they will needs persuade me out of

my

my fenfes, and not to believe what I fee, but what they fay; that virtue is vice, and vice virtue, if they declare them to be fo; and that, because they tay they are infallible, I am to receive all their dietates for oracles, though never so evidently falle and ablurd in the judgement of all mankind: in this case, there is no way to be rid of these unreasonable people, but to desire of them, since one kindness deserves another, and all contradictions are alike easy to be believed, that they would be pleased to believe that infidelity is faith ; and that, when I abso. lutely renounce their authority, I do yield a most perfect submission and obedience to it.

Upon the whole matter, all the revelations of God, as well as the laws of men, go upon this presumption, that men are not stark fools, but that they will consider their interest, and have fome regard to the great concernment of their eternal salvation. And this is as much to secure men from mistake in matters of belief, as God hath afforded to keep men from fin in matters of practice. He hath made no effectual and infallible provision, that men shall not fin; and yet it would puzzle any man to give a good reason, why God should take more care to secure men against errors in belief, than against fin and wickedness in their lives.

I shall now only draw three or four inferences from this discourse which I have made, and so conclude.

1. That it is every man's duty who hath ability and capacity for it, to endeavour to understand the grounds of his religion. For to try doctrines, is to inquire into the grounds and reasons of them; which the better any man understands, the more firmly he will be established in the truth, and be the more resolute in the day of trial, and the better able to withstand the arts and assaults of cunning adversaries, and the fierce storms of perfecution, And, on the contrary, that man will soon be moved from his steadfastness, who never examined the grounds and reasons of his belief. When it comes to the trial, he that hath but little to say for his religion, will probably neither do nor suffer much for it.

2. That all doctrines are vehemently to be suspected which decline trial, and are so loth to be brought into the light; which will not endure a fair examination, but ma

gisterially

gisterially require an implicit faith : whereas truth is bold, and full of courage, and loves to appear openly ; and is so secure and confident of her own strength, as to offer herself to the severelt trial and examination. But to deny all liberty of inquiry and judgement in matters of religion, is the greatest injury and disparagement to truth that can be ; and a tacit acknowledgement, that she lies under some disadvantage, and that there is lefs to be said for her than for error.

I have often wondered why the people in the church of Rome do not suspect their teachers and guides to have fome ill design upon them, when they do so industriously debar them of the means of knowledge, and are so very loth to let them understand what it is that we have to fay against their religion. For can any thing in the world be more suspicious, than to persuade men to pue out their eyes, upon promise that they will help them to a much better and more faithful guide ? If any church, any profession of men, be unwilling their doctrines should be exposed to trial, it is a certain sign they know something by them that is faulty, and which will not endure

This is the account which our Saviour gives us in a like cafe. It was because mens deeds were evil, that they loved darkness rather than light: for every one that doth evil, hateth the light; neither cometh herto the light, left his deeds should be reproved: but he that dot! the truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifeft, that they are wrought in God.

3. Since reason and Christianity allow this liberty to private persons, to judge for themselves in matters of religion, we should use this privilege with much modesty and humility, with great submission and deference to our spiritual rulers and guides, whom God hath appointed in his church. And there is very great need of this caution ; fince, by experience, we find this liberty so much abused by many, to the nourishing of pride and self-conceit, of division and faction; and those who are least able to judge, to be frequently the most forward and confident, the most peremptory and perverfe ; and, instead of demeaning themselves with the submission of learners, to assume to themselves the authority of judges, even in the most doubtful and disputable matters.

The

the light.

The tyranny of the Roman church over the minds and consciences of men is not to be justified upon any account: but nothing puts so plausible a colour upon it, as the ill use that is too frequently made of this natural privilege, of mens judging for themselves in a matter of fo infinite concernment, as that of their eternal happiness. But then it is to be considered, that the proper remedy in this case is not to deprive men of this privilege, but to use the best means to prevent the abuse of it: for though the inconveniencies arising from the ill use of it may be very great, yet the mischief on the other hand is intole. rable. Religion itself is liable to be abused to very bad purposes, and frequently is so ; but it is not therefore best that there should be no religion: and yet this objection, if it be of any force, and be pursued home, is every whit as strong against religion itself, as against mens liberty of judging in matters of religion. Nay, I add farther, that no man can judiciously embrace the true religion, unless he be permitted to judge whether that which he embraces be the true religion or not.

4. When, upon due trial and examination, we are well settled and established in our religion, let us hold faft the profession of our faith without wavering ; and not be like children, tosed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, through the Night of mien, and the cunning craftinefs of those who lie in wait to deceive. And, above all, let us resolve to live according to the excellent rules and precepts of our holy religion ; let us heartily obey that doctrine which we profess to believe. We who enjoy the Protestant religion, have all the means and advantages of understanding the will of God, free liberty, and full scope of inquiring into it, and informing ourselves concerning it. We have all the opportunities we can with of coming to the knowledge of our duty. The oracles of God lie open to us, and his law is continually before our eyes: His word is nigh unto us, in our mouths, and in our hearts, (that is, we may read it and meditate upon it) that we may do it. The key of knowledge is put into our hands; so that, if we do not enter into the kingdom of heaven, it is we ourselves that shut ourselves out. And where there is nothing to hinder us from the knowledge of our duty, there certainly nothing

can

can excuse us from the practice of it: for the end of all knowledge is, to direct men in their duty, and effectually to engage them to the performance of it. The great business of religion is, to make men truly good, and to teach them to live well. And, if religion have not this effect, it matters not of what church any man lists and enters himself; for, most certainly, a bad man can be saved in none. Though a man know the right way to heaven never so well, and be entered into it; yet if he will not walk therein, he shall never come thither: nay, it will be an aggravation of this man's unhappiness, that he was lost in the way to heaven, and perished in the very road to falvation. But if we will in good earnest apply ourselves to the practice of religion, and the obedience of God's holy laws, his grace will never be want. ing to us to fo good a purpose.

I have not time to recommend religion to you at large, with all its advantages. I will comprise what I have to fay in a few words; and mind them at your peril. Let that which is our great concernment be our great care, to know the truth, and to do it ; to fear God, and-keep his commandments. Considering the reasonableness and the reward of piety and virtue, nothing can be wiser. Considering the mighty aflistance of God's grace, which he is ready to afford us, and the unspeakable satisfaction and delight which is to be had in the doing of our duty, nothing can be easier : nothing will give us that pleasure while we live : nothing can minister that true and folid comfort to us when we come to die. There is probably no such way for a man to be happy in this world; to be sure, there is no way but this to escape the intole. rable and endless miseries of another world.

Now, God grant that we may all know and do, in this our day, the things that belong to our peace, for his mer. cies sake in Jesus Christ: To whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for ever. .Amen,

The end of the First Volume.

« ZurückWeiter »