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deliver and establish it, and confirm it by miracles, and sent his apostles to preach it to the world, and gave them and multitudes of others the Holy Ghost, by extraordinary, supernatural works to confirm it; and being thus sealed, to deliver it down to the world, and to settle churches in which, and officers by whom, it shall be successively explained, and propagated to the end of the world; and he continueth the sanctifying works of that Spirit, as of standing necessity, and so writeth the same doctrine or laws in the hearts of his true disciples.
5. In inquiring after the verity of all this, we arise by these degrees from our present state, and the things which we see, to the former, and things that we never saw. And first, we are most likely to look upon the professors of that religion; and though we cannot see the sanctity of their hearts, nor clearly the glory of their lives ; yet may it be discerned, that they are indeed of another spirit, and of higher hopes, and nobler resolutions, and contempt of things below, and in general of a more innocent, honest, and sublime conversation, than the rest of the world are. Many primitive converts were first moved by this observation. Yet this is not enough.
6. The next question, therefore, in our assent will be, whether this religion were indeed delivered down from Christ and his apostles to the first churches, and from them to us, by a succession of believers to this day?
And first, we inquire, Was this religion delivered down from the first churches till now?
The answer to this, or the means by which we are resolved, is, 1. Assertory; 2. By proof. The first being used by well known teachers, who are discerned to be of honest lives, and have no deceiving intent, and to be learned and skilful in their own profession, doth often serve with the ignorant vulgar to produce such an assent, as helpeth to a saving belief of the main doctrine, and draws them to be sincerely of the christian religion. But as all should aspire after clear evidence, and see the proof, so those that are able to judge of it, may soon discern a sufficiency in it.
7. The proof, that this is the religion which was delivered from the first churches, is in these particulars : 1. In signis, that is, in the continents and infallible signifiers of this religion. 2. In evidentia traditionis, in the evidence of a certain tradition of it, in and by these signs and continents. The mind of one man is made known to another by signs, seeing we cannot
see the naked face of another's soul; much less can we immediately see the essence and mind of God, and, therefore, must have signs for the discerning of his will. These signs are: 1. The very words of Christ, and his apostles in their writings, commonly called the canonical Scriptures; which not only reveal the essentials of our religion, but also the necessary accomplishments and accidents.
2. The second thing that per modum signi containeth the christian religion, is the forms, ordinances, and constant practices of the church. 1. By forms, I mean, 1. The form of words called “The Creed,' containing the sum of the christian belief. 2 The forın of words called “The Lord's Prayer,'containing the sum of our necessary requests, and directory for prayer. 3. The form of words called "The Decalogue,' containing the sum of moral, natural duty. These three forms have been constantly preserved in the church, and contain the sum of the christian religion. And the Scripture itself is a form of words, more copious, comprehensive, and fitted to particular uses and cases.
Let them, therefore, that are against all forms, see here, on the by, how foolishly they would reject the christian religion; and lose the sword, by losing the scabbard ; the meat, by losing the dish; the soul, by destroying the body that it dwelleth and appeareth in.
3. The third thing that, by way of sign, doth evidently declare the christian religion, is the established church ordinances, and constant practice of them. Among these, I especially
, enumerate, 1. The catechising of those without, by which they were taught the sum of religion: as also the preaching of the Gospel for their conversion, where the same doctrine was delivered to them, and which was the constant practice of Christ's ministers. - 2. The ordinance of baptism, for entrance into the church, which summarily comprehended the main body of the christian religion ; for there the person baptised, by himself if at age, did confess his sin and misery, and profess repentance and belief in God the Father that made him and all things; in Jesus Christ that redeemed him, and died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, and will judge the world, and reward his people with everlasting life, and punish the rebellious with everlasting punishment; and in the Holy Ghost who was the Witness of Christ, and the Sanctifier of his church. He professed also his resolution for future obedience, and hereupon was baptised into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost : so that
baptism itself, with its profession, contained the very covenant of grace on God's part and man's, as entered there and solemnly confirmed or sealed, and so contained the sum of the christian religion. 3. To this we must add the communion of the church, in the participation of the Lord's Supper, which was another seal for the confirmation of the same mutual covenant, and so the sum of the same religion. 4. The like we may say of the constant prayers of the church to God, in the name of Christ, and the constant hymns and praises of God and the Redeemer, for the grace of redemption and the hopes of glory, which show what was the christian religion. 5. Add to these the constant preaching, and reading of the Gospel in the church, for the instruction and edification of the faithful, besides that to the una believing for their conversion : by which the substance of the christian religion, for faith and practice, was frequently inculcated on all. 6. Add, also, hereunto, the church's constant practice of discipline, first, in avoiding the scandalous, and rejecting the obstinate by suspension and excommunication : secondly, the open confessions, and discoveries of repentance, and requests for readmission, which were used by the rejected : thirdly, the open absolution of them upon such manifestation of repentance. All which show what the christian religion was as to the purity of their practice. 7. To these may be added their opposition to, and conflicts with, all the depravers of their doctrine or practices. And thus church ordinances and practices were the continents and signs of the christian religion: and if we can prove the continuation of these, we undeniably prove the continuation of the religion.
2. The next part of this proof doth consist in the evidence of tradition, that, de facto, all these things were so. Where, first, observe that God hath, by abundance, provided for the security of his people's belief. If we had not all these forementioned proofs, yet one of them might satisfy beyond all cons tradiction.
As, first, if we could only prove the tradition of the canonical Scriptures, from the apostles' days till ours, we should thereby prove the tradition of the christian religion in them expressed, viz., that this is the faith once delivered to the saints.
Secondly. If we could only prove the tradition and use of the said church forms, the Creed, Lord's Prayer, and Decalogue, though we had not seen the Scripture, or could not prove its tradition, or incorruption, yet did we fully prove the tradition of
the christian religion. So that the being of the christian religion is not shaken, if the Scripture were unknown, or if we could not vindicate them, but only the well-being and accomplishment of our religion.
Thirdly, if the aforesaid ordinances alone were proved, it would prove tlie succession of religion, which indeed doth so much consist in their performance; but through God's abundant provision, we have all these characters of our continued religion, and the evidence of all and each part, as clear as that ever King James or King Henry did reign in England : so that it affordeth us an infallible certainty. To run over the particulars briefly :
1. We do show an unbeliever, before his eyes, the Scriptures extant in the original languages, and several translations; and we prove, by most unquestionable records, that these are the same that have been delivered down to us from the first churches.
For, first, we show them manuscripts, yet extant, of exceeding antiquity : we have one in England that came from Alexandria, above 1300 years old.
2. We show them very ancient translations.
3. We show them, openly, the unquestionable writings of all divines, historians, lawyers, councils, &c.; assuring us that these holy writings came down to us, as the apostles', from the first churches; all pleading these Scriptures, appealing to them, and filling their books with the express citations of their words.
4. We show them the arguings of exasperated heretics, who all plead the same Scriptures, and acknowledge them even while they wrest and abuse them; yea, very few of them did ever attempt the depraving of them, and those few to their great disgrace.
5. We show them the infallible records of several countries and nations in the world, east and west, and south and north, that this Scripture hath been among them and translated into their languages, Ethiopic, Persian, Arabic, Syriac, Sclavonian, &c. ; which old translations do still remain, and, in all things of moinent, agree,
6. We show them infallible records of multitudes of Christians, that for the doctrine of this Scripture have sacrificed their lives.
7. We show them the laws of the Roman empire since Constantine's days, confirming the Scripture and religion, and the edicts of former emperors; some persecuting it, and some abating those persecutions,
8. We show them the Jews now living, the great enemies of
the christian name, who never deny but that this is the same Scripture and religion that was, by the apostles, delivered down to us.
9. We show them all the nations of Mahometans now living, who, for the chief part, do confess the same.
10. We show them all the records of the former carriages of the enemies of Christianity: 1. Both in the controversial writings of our own with them, as Origen, Athanasius, Eusebius, Cyril, Augustin, &c., with all our apologies to the heathens, as Justin's, Athenagoras', Lactantius', Clemens Alexandrinus', Arnobius', &c. 2. And also the writings of the enemies themselves, so many as are extant;. in all which it appears that they took it for granted, and denied not, that this is the same Scripture and religion which was delivered to us from the beginning.
11. We show them the ministers of the Gospel now in being, and prove, by all the unquestionable records of friends and foes, that there hath been a succession of such ministers from the apostles till now. Of the necessity of succession in a particular church, I speak not, nor of the necessity of an uninterrupted succession of a regular ordination by man to that office; but that a succession there hath been in the universal church, and each particular where the Gospel hath continued, of men of this office, whose employment was constantly to preach this Scripture, and build men up in this religion, and guide them in the practice of it: all this is confessed by the persecutors that murdered them, as well as by the whole history of the church, and that part of the world.
12. We show them the present churches in being, I mean the people that profess and practise this religion, and receive this Scripture; and we show them the unquestionable records of the church and the enemies; attesting, that such a people or churches there have been since the apostles' days. What man will make question of this ? And, if there have been Christians, then there hath been the christian doctrine and religion: they are the subjects of this religion. He that proves there have been societies of Stoics, Platonists, or Peripatetics, so long, doth prove that their doctrine hath been so long. If there have been christian churches so long, then there hath been the christian religion so long. :
13. We show them undoubted records of the constant, solemn assemblies of Christians, to profess and practise this religion. 14. And also of the Lord's day appointed to be the solemn,