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The word of God, however, vouches for the one, and the vain philosophy of men would advance the other. It is our business to choose which we would adhere to.
Although there should be no necessity for believing, either in what I have been labouring to prove fundamental, or in the contrary; yet it must be necessary, at least, to know, whether such belief is necessary or not. The subject does not seem to be of so little consequence, as not to merit even this preliminary attention. Can it be less than absolutely necessary to salvation, that we should know whom we are to worship, and by what means we are to be saved? The Holy Ghost tells us, over and over again, 'That we are to worship God, the one only eternal God, alone; that we are justified by faith; and that the just shall live by his faith.' If we resolve to be concluded by the word of God, we must leave all our own opinions, prejudices, and preconceptions, behind us, that our faculties may have nothing else to do, but to receive the dictates of divine wisdom, which, in that case, we shall easily apprehend, and clearly understand. Where God hath been pleased to be silent, it becomes us to be dumb. So far as he hath vouchsafed to reveal himself, it is our duty, our highest wisdom, to believe, and to adore; not choosing to be of them, who draw back unto perdition, but of them who believe, to the saving of the soul;' not choosing, that our faith should stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God;' not choosing that wisdom of the wise, which God will destroy; nor that understanding of the prudent, which he will bring to nothing;' because it lieth against the truth;' because 'it descendeth not from above; but is earthly, sensual, devilish; but choosing that wisdom which is' really from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy;' that sound wisdom which the Lord layeth up for the righteous, which is with the lowly, who ceaseth from his own wisdom,' and like 'Solomon, asketh of God that wisdom which is better than rubies, so that all things that may be desired, are not to be compared to it. To conclude, we can in nothing so safely consult our own happiness, as in avoiding the example of 'that man,' who, through desire, or vain curiosity, having sepa
rated himself from the true teacher' of his church, ' vainly seeketh, and impertinently intermeddleth with, all wisdom,' though ever so foreign to his purpose, though ever so high above his reach; Prov. xviii. 1. Nor can we, after renouncing the wisdom of the world,' and emptying our understandings of vain refinements, do any thing so pleasing to God, or so highly beneficial to ourselves, as to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom;' Coloss. iii. 16.
But whereas the true wisdom or religion is thy gift, O God, alone; so, in a deep sense of our own blindness and folly, we most humbly beseech thee, of thy infinite goodness, to bestow on us thy Spirit, that we may know the holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith, which is in Christ Jesus;' to whom, in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore.
A TEST NECESSARY BEFORE ADMISSION INTO
2 TIM. 1. 13, 14
Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus.
That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost, which dwelleth in us.
ALTHOUGH there is sufficient reason to doubt whether what we call the Apostles' Creed was the form of sound words here spoken of, or not; yet there is no room to question the general persuasion, that it was some such form, or brief summary of articles, necessary to the belief and practice of the church. That the apostle did not mean the instructions at large which he gave to Timothy, is plain from the word in the original, rendered by form, which properly signifies the sketch or outlines of a picture. This form he charges his favourite disciple to hold fast in a firm faith,' as to himself, and in love or charity towards others, who are
united to him in Christ Jesus; that, by the first, he might ensure the salvation of a true believer to his own soul; and, by the latter, be moved to propagate the same saving faith, and no other, among the people committed to his care. The matter of this form he calls a good or excellent deposit, requiring Timothy to keep, or, as it is in the original, to 'guard it safely,' that is, to preserve it pure and entire, by the grace of the Holy Ghost,' which alone can enable us to stand fast in the faith,' in that faith which is not of ourselves, but the gift of God.'
Two things merit our observation in regard to this faith; its unity, and its necessity. As to the first, the Holy Spirit assures us, that, as there is but one God, and one Lord, so there is likewise but one faith;' Eph. iv; and, in the same chapter tells us, 'God gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, for the edification of Christ's body,' or church, 'that we may all come,' by the sound and uniform instructions of those teachers, 'to the unity of the faith.' And, as to the necessity of this one only faith, it is set forth to us in the strongest terms: Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin,' Rom. xiv. Without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;' Heb. xi. 'Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ;' Rom. v. 1. Our Saviour saith, John iii. 18, He that believeth on him, is not condemned: but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the only-begotten Son of God.'
As, then, there is but one faith, and that faith so necessary; and since the Scriptures were given us by God purely to instruct us in the matter of that faith, and to convince us of its truth; we cannot, without blaspheming the wisdom and goodness of God, suppose this faith, either obscurely or imperfectly declared to us in those Scriptures; for, if it were, how could his Spirit, taking occasion from differences that arose on subjects of far less consequence, 1 Cor. i. 11, 12. than such as related to the faith, exhort us to uniformity in all things; and, ver. 10, so earnestly' beseech us, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we should all speak the same thing; that there should be no divisions among
us; but that we should be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and the same judgment?' It is in regard to faith especially, perhaps only, that revelation is so often called light, the great, the marvellous light, the day,' and 'the dayspring.'
This being the case, it may seem astonishing, that such infinite diversities and oppositions should have risen among Christians about the articles of faith, about their number, their meaning, their necessity; whether we are to be justified by the righteousness of Christ, or by our own; whether the torments of hell will be eternal, or temporary; whether we may worship and pray to any being but God; whether there is only one God, or three, &c. Who, that ever looked into the word of God with open eyes, could conceive it possible for the readers and believers of that word to be in doubt about such things?
The odium of this wonder might, with some colour of justice, be thrown on the Scriptures, had not men differed as widely, according to their prejudices and passions, about other branches of knowledge sufficiently plain. There is nothing so plain in the whole circle of science, as to have been always undisputed. Neither is there any thing so remote from right reason, as not, at one time or another, to have been the favourite opinion of some uncouth head, or even of some party. If any one should take the pains to write, with freedom and impartiality, a dogmatical history, it would be no easy matter to distinguish it from a history of Bedlam. Its true character would be a vast mass of subtle reasonings, screwed and distorted, to support a proportionable variety of wild, whimsical, or wicked notions. To say nothing of logics, physics, metaphysics, &c. is it possible for the lodgers in Moorfields to think more differently, that is, in effect, more wildly, than the learned in morality and politics have both thought and written in those practical sciences wherein mankind are most concerned, and, of consequence, one should imagine, ought to be most clear and determinate? As to religious matters, which are often high and spiritual, and, in some measure, incomprehensible in their very nature, that they should, although ever so clearly revealed, afford room for difference and dispute among mankind, who are more tempted to deviate from reason in this
than in any other kind of knowledge, is a thing not much to be wondered at, if we consider it as the growth of minds so naturally various in their judgments, and so apt to be opinionated in what springs from within themselves; although, indeed, nothing can be more unaccountable in men who make, or pretend to make, the plain word of God the only rule of their faith. As men, it may well be expected of us, that we should differ, especially about remote and less necessary points of theology; but whosoever candidly reads the Scriptures, must be amazed at our differing, as Christians, at least concerning the very fundamentals of our religion. Be this, however, as it will, surely these diversities of opinions, and the contentions arising from thence, are an evil, which, of all others, the sober and pious part of the world should most earnestly desire to see cured.
And therefore, we may venture to say, that, of all the extravagances, in relation to religion, which the wrong heads, and of all the fallacies, which the deceitful hearts, of the present age, so fertile in both, have engendered, none seems so wild in itself, nor so dangerous in its consequences, as the now prevailing notion of many, who represent the care taken by each Christian church to provide for the choice of teachers conformable to herself in principles, as the greatest bar to truth, the most grievous encroachment on the natural liberty of mankind, and, therefore, as a thing wholly unlawful in itself. This is the general cry of all who have only a smattering either of knowledge or religion; and we can easily see what are the motives that serve them instead of reasons. They are miserably hampered with principles opposite to those of the church, and, at the same time, with no small longings after her preferments. Straitened, therefore, as they are, between conscience on the one hand, and the love of lucre on the other; and finding it difficult, on account of the first, to squeeze through the present subscriptions and declarations to the latter; they are forced to have recourse to this artful plea, in hopes thereby to throw open the doors of the church, and procure an indiscriminate admission for all. But from how many different quarters this plea is pushed, is not easy to say. This, however, is certain, were it allowed to be valid, and reduced to practice by a total abolition of all articles, creeds, declarations, &c.