« ForrigeFortsæt »
SOCIETY OF CHRISTIANS
CITY OF NORWICH,
Whom I ferve in the Gospel of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, Grace, Mercy and Peace from God, our FATHER, and from the LORD JESUS CHRIST.
T is my Honour and Pleafure, as well as Duty, to ferve you in the Golpel of our Lord Jefus Chrift: and your kind Acceptance, and due Improvement of my honeft and well intended Labours is the greatest Encouragement I defire. Your Affections and friendly Regards are, in Effect, the whole World to me: And it is my Ambition to purchale them, only by fuch worthy Actions, and honourable Discharge of Duty, as deferve a juft and solid Esteem.
Too many, I fear, have but imperfect uncertain Notions of Chrif tianity: Butt would gladly give you fuch a View of the Gospel Scheine, as may eftablish you in the Faith of Jefus Chrift upon the most just and folid Grounds; and fuch a deep Senie of the Love of God in Him, as may form and fix every good principle in the Mind, productive of all Righteoufnefs in the Converfation.
With this only View, the Book before you was written; and it was originally defigned for your Service alone. For which Reason, and as it is the Work of One, whofe Character and Converfation you are well acquainted with; who ardently defires your fpiritual Improvement, in order to your eternal Felicity; and who, for a confiderable Time, has laboured among you for your common Good, it is my very earnest and particular Requeft, that you would, and my Hope that you will, read and study it carefully.
We may not indulge our own Conceits in Matters of Revelation. Every Point advanced as Chriftian Doctrine, ought to be found in Scripture, and explained by Scripture, ftrictly regarding the Principles there taught, and the eftablithed Senfe of Phrafes there uled. And it is the Defign of this Effay, fetting afide all human Schemes, and my own Imagination, to give you the true Scheme of Chriftianity, collected immediately from that pure Fountain, carefully comparing one Part with another; that your Faith, Hope, and Joy may ftand, not upon the Wisdom of Man, but upon the firm and immoveable Foun dation of the Word of God.
I can truly fay, I have taken great Care to go every where upon good and fure Grounds. I have not affected Novelty, nor inferted any one fingle Sentiment, merely because new and plaufible; but because I am perfuaded it is the true and real, or the most probable Senfe, of Revelation.
And yet I think it my Duty to advife you, to read what I have writ with proper Caution; for after all the Care and Pains I have taken to fee and fhew the Truth, I dare not pretend to be free from all Miftakes. The Apoftles were infpired, and infallible Writers, but we are none of us either infpired, or infallible Interpreters. Nor is it neceffary we should. In the Works of Creation, God has fo clearly fhewn his eternal Godhead, Wifdom, Goodness, and Power, that they, who do not fee and acknowledge them, are inexcufable; and many able and ingenious Hands have been well and fuccefsfully employed in fearching into, and explaining the various Appearances and Productions in the Natural World. But who ever pretended to penetrate into all the Receffes of Nature, or to give a perfect unerring Account of all her Appearances? Even fo, the Holy Scriptures do give us fuch a true, clear, and full Account of the Divine Difpenfations, and of the Way to eternal life, that every one, who is willing to understand, may very clearly and certainly fee what is fufficient to guide him to Salvation. And it is the Duty of fuch as have Knowledge and Learning, to dig in thofe facred Mines; and to endeavour, as they are able, to bring into clearer Light the rich Treatures which may have been hidden through the Ignorance, Error, and Superftition of foregoing Ages. And feveral worthy and learned Pens have been happily employed in this ufeful and neceflary Work. But who will prefume to fay, he has in every Inftance brought forth the pure and precious Metal, without any Mixture of Drofs? The Pretences of the Church of Rome to Infallibility, are proved by their own different Sects and Sentiments, and by many of their Tenets, which are either without any Ground in Scripture, or directly Contrary to it, to be manifeftly falfe and arrogant. Nor is the Perfection of Knowledge, or Infallibility of Sentiment, needful to our Salvation. For while we every one of us feriously endeavour to find the Truth, and to be governed by it, whatever the Quantity of Knowledge, or Certainty of Perfuafion be, to which we attain, we do all that is in our Power, and all that God requires of us; nor can we be deftitute of that Faith, which is neceffary to Salvation. So far as we truly follow the Scriptures, we are infallibly fure we are in the Right: And fo far as we honestly and fincerely endeavour to follow them, we are infallibly U 4
fure of God's acceptance. But none of us have dominion over the faith of our fellow-chriftians and fervants; nor muft any one pretend to fet up for mafter in Chrift's fchool. Chrift alone is our Mafter and Lord; and we ought not, as indeed, juftly, we cannot, substitute any fuppofed infallible guide in his place.
I only profefs, to point at the light fhining in revelation. It is to that light, and not to me, you are to turn your eyes. Indeed, I am perfuaded, that in the principal parts and general fcheme of the gospel, I am not mistaken. However, it is incumbent upon you, not implicitly to fwallow every thing I advance; but to examine carefully, whether it be well grounded upon the word of God.
I have endeavoured to make every thing eafy and intelligible. But he, who has been much in perufing the apoftolic writings, is beft prepared to apprehend what is here advanced. And when a perion has digefted, and made familiar, the phrafes and fentiments here explained, he will reap but little fruit, if he doth not immediately apply himself to reading the Acts and Epiftles. To give a clear understanding of them, in particular, is the defign of what is here offered; and therefore the careful reading of them, fhould fucceed the perufal of this. And if both were read alternately, firft the one, and then the other, I am perfuaded fuch an exercife would turn to good account. But a perfon little verfed in the apoftolic writings, can be no competent judge of what I have done; and he, who doth not apply what he here learns, to his affiftance in ftudying them, will receive less benefit
Above all, we should remember; that a vain wordly, fenfual mind is in no condition to fee, or relifh the truth as it is in Jefus: nor can any explications force knowledge upon thofe that are not willing to understand. The love of truth, purity of mind, and patient application, are neceffary on your part; and I am perfuaded will render the principal things plain, and give you the pleasure of seeing the truth clearly in feveral points, hitherto reckoned very dark and
You will not, indeed, be able to form a compleat judgment upon fome of the criticifims. Yet you fhould not theretore forbear to read them; becaufe you will meet with feveral useful obfervations, which lie within the reach of fuch as are not acquainted with the learned languages.
It thould never be forgot, that to spend one's time even in conmenting and fpeculating upon the Sacred Writings, if we do not imbibe the principles they teach, lay them to heart, and reduce them to prac tice, amounts to no more, than diverting one's felf with any commen amufement. St. Paul was ravished with the charms of the golpel; he felt its power and efficacy upon his own heart; it railed him, in the brighteft views of glory, honour and immortality, far above ail earthly things. And we then understand the gofpel to purpofe, when in the fame manner it works upon every spring of action with
It is your honour and happiness, that you have always been a peaceable people. You icorn to pratite the unchriftian methods of
fome, who, to fupport a favourite, fentiment, foment heats, animofi. ties, and divifions, and difcourage men of probity and learning. You allow your minifters to read the Bible, and to fpeak what they find there. You profefs univerfal charity and good-will to all your brethren in Chrift, and to all mankind. Thefe are noble principles; and I hope you will never relinquish them. Give your Catholicifm its proper worth, by improving in found knowledge; and guard it with refolution. Reject all flavish, narrow principles with difdain. Neither lift yourselves, nor be preft into the fervice of any fect or party whatfoever. Be only Chriftians; and follow only God and truth.
You know, your congregation ftands upon no other ground, but that Catholic one, which the apoftle, in his epiftle to the Romans, afferts, and demonftrates, to be the only, and the fufficient foundation of a right to a place in the church and kingdom of God, Faith in Jefus Chrift. You may reft fully fatisfied that you are a true church, built upon the foundation of the apoftles and prophets, whereof Chrift Jefus is the chief corner ftone. And you have, therefore, the best reafon in the world for adhering fteadily to the cause you have efpoufed, the caufe of Chriftian Liberty, which at once fettles your profeffion upon an infallible bottom, rejects all human impofitions, and at the fame time comprehends, and cordially receives, all who are of the faith of the Son of God.
I hope I need not warn you against Popery, that monftrous and most audacious corruption of the pureft and brighteft difpenfation of Religion. Romifh agents are bufy amongit us, deluding, with all deceivableness of unrighteoufness, the weak and ignorant, who do not fee the falfhood of their affertions, prefumptuoufly backed with the terror of eternal damnation. This aftonishing apoftacy is 'plainly foretold, 2 Thef. ii. 1—12. 1 Tim. iv. 1-5. alfo in the prophet Daniel, and at large in the Revelation. And this idolatrous church, the mother of harlots, we know, fhall be "confumed by the fpirit of the mouth of the Lord, and deftroyed by the brightness of his coming." And his voice to us, in the mean time, is, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her fins, and that ye receive not of her plagues," Rev. xviii. 4.
But you are not without danger from another quarter. Some, and not a few in our land, with unnatural eagerness and pleafure, fet themfelves openly to difparage and difprove the Chriftian Revelation. But where thall we find eternal life, but in that revelation? Will it be faid, that the light of nature difcovers it? That light doth difcover, indeed, to thole that attend to it, a future world: But doth it dif cover immortality, or eternal life? By no means. Doth it fhew how we fhall reach immortality? It may be faid, in the practice of virtue, But who can fay, he hath performed a virtue, that, in the estimate of his own reafon, will entitle him to it? Who can pretend to have fo behaved, as to deferve any one bleffing from God's hands? Is it not evident, that the beft virtue, any man performs, needs the relief of grace and mercy? And where is that grace and mercy revealed, but
in the gospel! The gospel alone difcovers and infures immortality; or reveals the grace which exprefsly gives it, the ground upon which this grace ftands, the end for which it is given, and the means by which we may obtain it. And can the full perfuafion and view of immortal honour and glory be esteemed a trifle? A little light duft, to be blown away with every blaft of ignorant and prophane breath? The gofpel is good news from Heaven; pardon and eternal life promifed to a finful world. And can any be fo infatuated as to with its heavenly light and hopes at once extinguished, and the darkncís of Paganifm reftored among the nations? Doth not nature itself teach us to be thankful for fuperior bleffings, and to turn our eyes to the brightest views and clearest profpects of happiness? If the Univerfal Father is pleased to bestow upon us fingular favours, is it not most unnatural and wicked to defpife and reject them? Such is the glory and excellence, fuch the delightful profpects of the gospel, that, instead of cavilling and oppofing, methinks the proper and only concern of every mind thould be to feek out evidence, and all poffible means to establish its truth.
Value the Word of God as your richest treasure, and the only fund of true and perfect religious knowledge, comfort, and joy. Read it over diligently, and treafure it up in your minds, as a rule of life; then you will experience its power and excellency. Forfake not the affembling of yourselves together; with readiness of mind embrace any opportunity of joining a fociety which worships God in spirit and truth, as part of his family, as the heirs of the grace of life, in hope of being joined in a little time to the bleffed fociety of the angels above. Live in love and goodness to all men, and efpecially to one another. Be inftant, and fervent in prayer; make confcience of family and clofet devotion. Keep your hearts and views above this world; daily look, and prepare for, the coming of our Lord. And that your love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve those things which are excellent; that ye may be fincere and without offence till the day of Chrift, being filled with the fruits of righteousnes, which are by Jefus Chrift, unto the glory and praife of God, is the unfeigned wifh of your faithful fervant for the fake of Jefus,