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upon us, after we are come to years of discretion, that might be very allowable under the feeble state of our minority, is not to obtain greater freedom, but to make our case worse. For it is more tolerable to be used as children when we are children, and know nothing above that condition, than when riper years have brought us to the understanding and resentment of men. But it is almost as unpardonable, as it is unsufferable, to make that infancy the Perfection of the Christian religion;' as if there were nothing beyond wearing a bib, and being fed, carried, and governed as nurses please; that is, as the priest will. It is a knowing and reasonable, and not a blind obedience, that commends a man : children should be ruled, because they have not so ripe an understanding, or choice; but because it is not so with men, reason ought to conduct them in their duty, that the service they perform to God may be such as the apostle calls a reasonable one: the will is no longer will, if not free: nor conscience to be reputed conscience, where it is compelled. The gospel is not the time of ceremonial works, but of faith; therefore not coercive, because out of their own power; it is the gift of God.
But though this be very unhappy, that so excellent a reformation, founded upon the freest principles of inquiry, common to all that had souls to save, should so miserably degenerate into formality and ignorance, implicit faith and blind obedience; yet that part of our history is most lamentable to me, where we find the "Noble Bereans," the diligent inquirers, people that desire to "prove all things," that they may hold fast that which is good;" such as would see with their own eyes, and that dare not transfer the right of examination of points that so nearly concern their immortal souls to any mortal man; but who desire to make their faith and religion, the faith and religion of their conscience and judgment, that on which they dare depend, and rest their eternal happiness in the day of judgment; that these, I say, should, instead of being cherished, be therefore ex posed to the displeasure of the clergy, the scorn of the rude multitude, and the prosecution of the civil magistrate, has something in it, I confess, that is harsh and anxious to remember; and I only do it for this purpose, that it may put us in mind of our great declension from primitive protestancy, and how much human authority has crept into the affairs of religion, since that time of the day, when we made it a prime article of our protestant creed to reject and renounce it.
And that you may yet see yourselves short of your own pretences, if not contrary to your express principles, and
how much you have narrowed yourselves from the use of your first principle; let us suppose a Turk is convinced, that Christ is that, which he believed Mahomet to be, the "Greatest of all prophets;" that Mahomet was an impostor; that Jesus is the only Saviour and Mediator; but, being catechistically taught the two natures in one person, the hypostatical union, in fine, the Athanasian creed, and other articles of faith, or rites of your church, not so clearly expressed in scripture, or easily apprehended or assented to; will not this poor creature be looked upon either as infidel or heretic, and deprived of all share in Christ or Christian fellowship, because his weakness, or understanding, will not allow him to come up to the full inventory of articles believed and imposed by you? Certainly you must either be partial, and give him that liberty you deny to persons of equal tenderness; or else you must, after your present straitness, conclude him infidel or heretic, though he believe 'One God, Christ to be the only mediator, the gift of the spirit, the necessity of holiness, communion and charity.' But I would beseech you that we may consider if this bears any proportion with the wisdom and love of God, in sending Christ into the world to save you and me ?
The apostle "became all unto all, to win some ;" but this is "becoming all unto none, to force all:" he thereby recommends the utmost condescension that can be lawful; but this use of human authority seems to make it unlawful to condescend as if faith per force were better than love; and conformity, however it be come at, than Christian condescension.
The blessed apostle had his eye to the good intention and sober life of the weak, and used an holy sort of guile to catch them he seems as if he dissembled the knowledge of thoseaverse opinions which they held, or the necessity of their embracing these doctrines, which, as yet, they might not believe. He fell not to debate and canvass points in difference between them: which, instead of union, would have inflamed the difference, and raised contention: no, no, “he became all unto all;" that is, he stooped to all capacities, and humbled himself to those degrees of knowledge that men had, and valued that which was good in all; and with this sweetness he practised upon them to their farther proficiency in the school of Christ. These allurements were all his injunctions. Nay, in this case he makes it an injunction to use no other: "Let us therefore," says he, “ as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." Which
* Phil. iii. 15.
is to say, 'You shall not be imposed upon, stigmatized, or excommunicated, for want of full satisfaction, or because you do not consent before conviction; for "God shall reveal it to you;" you shall see and know what you do, and to God you shall owe your knowledge and conformity, and not to human authority and imposition: your faith shall not be implicit, nor your obedience blind; the reason of your hope shall be in you.'
Pray let us compare this with the language of our own times; where, because people cannot come up to the prescription of men, but plead the liberty of dissent, though with ever so much sobriety and true tenderness of conscience, they are upbraided after this manner: Are you wiser than your superiors? Were our forefathers out of the way? Did nobody know the truth till you came? Are you abler than all our ministers and bishops, and your mother the church? Cannot it content you to believe as she believes? Is not this pride and presumption in you, a design to make and head sects and parties?' With the like entertainment.
Now this is that which you yourselves, at least in the persons of your ancestors, have stiled popery; yea, popery in the abstract; to wit, implicit faith and blind obedience: if so, then, say I, let us also have a care of popery in protestant guise; for that popery is likely to do us more injury that is least suspected. I beg you, by the love of God and: truth, and as you would lay a sure foundation of peace here, and eternal comfort to your own souls, that you would consider the tendency of upbraiding and violently over-ruling the dissent of the conscientious and peaceable people for if: you will rob me once of the liberty of my choice, the use of my understanding, the distinction of my judgment, no religion comes amiss; indeed it leads to no religion. It was the saying of the old king to the then prince of Wales, and, our present king; Make the religion of your education the religion of your judgment:' which to me is of the nature of an appeal from his education to his judgment, about the truth of his religion that he was educated in: and that religion which is too tender to be examined is unsound: "Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good," lies as an impeachment against imposition, delivered upon record by the apostle Paul, in the name of the Holy Ghost. It was the same apostle that commended the Bereans of old for that they "diligently searched the scriptures," whether those things, delivered by the apostles, concerning the Messiah,
Nay, Christ himself, to whom all power was given in heaven and in earth, submitted himself to the test: he did not require them to believe him, because he would be believed; he refers them to the witness that God bore to him :*" If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." He also sends them to the scriptures; and pleads the truth of his authority from that of his doctrine and miracles:+" If I had not done among them the works which none other man did." And, finally, challenges them to convince him but of one sin "Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?" He offers to reason the matter, and submit himself to the judgment of truth; and well he might, who was truth itself.
But an imposing church bears witness of herself, and will be both party and judge: she requires assent without evidence, and faith without proof; therefore false. Christian religion ought to be carried on only by that way by which it was introduced, which was persuasion: "If any man will be my disciple, let him take up his cross, and, follow me :" and this is the glory of it, that it does not destroy, but fairly conquer, the understanding.
I am not unacquainted with the pretences of Romanists to Abnegation, to a mortified and self-denying life; and I do freely acknowledge, that the author of the German Theology,' Taulerus, Thomas à Kempis, and other mystics in that communion, have written excellent practical things; but there is scarcely any thing of this violent popery in those tracts on the contrary, the very nature and tendency of them is diametrically opposite to the compulsory spirit and constitution of that church, and all others that practise imposition in religion, whatever name they walk under.
And as it is one great mark of the false church to pervert the right end of true doctrine, so hath she excelled in the abuse of that excellent word, self-denial: for she hath translated it from life to understanding, from morals to faith: subjugare intellectum in obsequium fidei, to subject the understanding to the obedience of faith,' is the perpetual burden of their song, and conclusion of their confererences. But what is this faith? That which conquers the world, and purifies the heart? By no means: but it is to believe that the church of Rome is the true church, and the pope Christ's vicar, and the visible head of that church.
Thus that self-denial, which relates to our wills and affections in a corrupt state, they apply to the use of our understanding about religion: as if it were the same thing to deny that which we understand and know to be the will of God John v. 31, 32, 37. 39.
+ John xv. 24.
John viii, 46.
that we should deny, (which is the Christian self-denial) and to deny that very knowledge and understanding which is God's gift and our honour. Whereas religion and reason are so consistent, that religion can neither be understood, nor maintained, without reason. For if this must be laid aside, I am so far from being infallibly assured of my salvation, that I am not capable of any measure or distinction of good from evil, truth from falshood. Why? I have no understanding; or, at least, not the use of any. All the disadvantage the protestant is under in this, is that of his greater modesty, and that he submits his belief to be tried; which the other refuses, under the pretence of unaccountable infallibility: to that authority reason demurs; right reason I mean; the reason of the first nine verses of the first of John; for so Tertullian, (and some other ancient, as well as modern critics) gives us the word Logos: and the divine reason is one in all; that lamp of God, which lights our candle, and enlightens our darkness, and is the measure and test of our knowledge.
So that whereas some people excuse their embracing of that religion, by urging the certainty that is in it, I do say, it is but a presumption. For a man can never be certain of that, about which he has not the liberty of examining, understanding, or judging: confident, I confess, he may be: but that is quite another thing than being certain.
Yet I must never deny, but that every Christian ought to believe as the church believes, provided the church be true: but the question is, which is that true church? And when that is answered, as a man may unlawfully execute a lawful sentence, so he may falsly believe as the true church believes: for if I believe what she believes, only because she believes it, and not because I am convinced in my understanding and conscience of the truth of what she believes, my faith is false, though hers be true: I say, it is not true to me; I have no evidence of it.
What is this church, or congregation rather (as worthy Tindal every where translates it) but a company of people agreed together in the sincere profession and obedience of the gospel of Christ.' Now look, what inducement they severally had to believe and embrace the gospel, and unite into fellowship, that we must have to join with them for as they made not one another an infallible authority to one another, upon which they first embraced the gospel, neither are we to ground our belief thereof upon their authority jointly but as they had a rule to believe and commune, so must we have the same rule to embrace their communion. So that the church cannot properly be the rule of my faith,