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without compassion behold honestly paying the greatest regard to the pretended Constitutions of the Apostles, and “ not dar“ing," as he says, “ any more to disbelieve the doctrines, or “ disobey the duties therein delivered and enjoined, than he “ dare do the like, as to the known doctrines and duties “ plainly contained in the uncontested books of the New Tes66 tament p.”
II. It must needs also be of very bad consequence, that any book be excluded from the canon, which really is the word of God; for hereby,
1. We cast contempt upon God and his Spirit, in refusing to hear what the Lord our God hath spoken to us.
2. We are injurious to ourselves, as we deny ourselves the use of the means of salvation.
Thus the Ebionites, Manichees, and most of the primitive heretics, by disowning several parts of the New Testament, fell into those errors, which proved so fatal to their most important interests.
derable number of those, who are called Christians, are des-
authority of the present books of the New Testament. THOUGH I would by no means be the occasion of shocking any person's faith in a business of this nature, yet I think the present observation to be so much to my present purpose, and withal so very true, that I cannot pass it over, though it be on a subject so disagreeable. He, who has but the least occasion to acquaint himself with the religious state of mankind, cannot but with surprising concern have observed, how slender and uncertain the principles are, upon which men receive the scriptures as the word of God. The truth is, (though a very melancholy one,) that many persons commence religious at first they don't know why, and so with a blind zeal persist in a religion, which is they don't know what; by the chance of education, and the force of custom, they receive these scriptures
p Essay on Constitut. Introd. p. 11.
as the word of God, without making any serious inquiries, and consequently without being able to give any solid reasons, why they believe them to be such. This has been observed and lamented by our best divines long since, and by none more than the pious Mr. Baxter, in whose words I shall rather choose to express myself, on this tender subject, than my own: “ Few Christians among us, for aught I find,” says he 9, “ have any better than the popish implicit faith in this point, “ nor any better arguments than the papists have, to prove “ the scriptures the word of God. They have received it by “ tradition : godly ministers and Christians tell them so: it is
impious to doubt of it: therefore they believe it. Though “ we could persuade people never so confidently, that scrip“ ture is the very word of God, and yet teach them no more “ reason, why they should believe this, than any other book, “ to be that word; as it will prove in them no right way of “ believing, so it is in us no right way of teaching. It is
strange,” says he', “ to consider, how we all abhor that piece “ of popery, as most injurious to God of all the rest, which “ resolves our faith into the authority of the church; and yet “ that we do, for the generality of professors, content ourselves “ with the same kind of faith; only with this difference, the “papists believe scripture to be the word of God, because “ their church saith so; and we, because our church, or our os leaders say so.
ministers never yet gave “their people better grounds, but tell them, that it is damna“ble to deny it, but help them not to the necessary antece“ dents of faith. It is to be understood, that many a thou“ sand do profess Christianity, and zealously hate the enemies “ thereof, upon the same grounds, to the same end, and fro “ the same inward corrupt principles, as the Jews did hate “ and kill Christ. It is the religion of the country, where
every man is reproached, that believes otherwise; they were “ born and brought up in this belief, and it hath increased in “ them upon the like occasions. Had they been born and “ bred in the religion of Mahomet, they would have been as 66 zealous for him. The difference betwixt him and a Maho
4 Saints' Rest, part 2. §. 1. p. 197.
r Ibid. §. 2. p. 201.
• Ibid. . 2. p. 202.
“ metan, is more that he lives where better laws and religion “ dwell, than that he hath more knowledge or soundness of
apprehension.” Thus far he; nor is the case, I fear, much altered for the better since his time. What sorry reasons, when asked, are the generality of persons able to give for the divine authority of scripture! Nay, to use Mr. Baxter's words once more, Are the more exercised understanding sort of “ Christians able, by sound arguments, to make good the ve
rity of scripture? Nay, are the meaner sort of ministers in “ England able to do this ? Let them that have tried, judget.” If the question be, why Barnabas's Epistle be rejected, and Jude's received; why the Gospel of Peter was excluded, and the Epistle of Peter admitted into the canon as the word of God, &c. alas ! how little shall we have given in answer, unless what Mr. Baxter says,
believe as the church does !”. As for those happy persons, who are able, by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, to distinguish between canonical and apocryphal books, I shall say nothing now; only observe, their number is very small, designing hereafter to do all possible justice to this argument, so much insisted on by our first reformers. What I have now to do is to observe, from the melancholy experience we have of persons' ignorance of the grounds of scripture-belief, how necessary it is we should use our utmost endeavours to remove it. Not that I think it necessary, or indeed possible, for every one to search the ancient records of Christianity; but that those, who are able, should do it, and endeavour to convey as much knowledge, as may be, of these matters into the minds of those who cannot. And certainly this must be of the utmost necessity; for,
1. Our assent to any proposition can only be in proportion to its evidence. “ The truth is,” says the learned Mr. Hookerų, 66 that how bold and confident soever we may be in words, “ when it cometh to the point of trial, such as the evidence is, " which the truth hath, either in itself, or through proof, such " is the heart's assent thereunto; neither can it be stronger,
being grounded as it should be.” This evidently appears from the nature of things; and therefore, as persons' evidences for the truth of scripture are, such will be their assent. * Saints' Rest, part 2. §. I. p. 197.
1 Ecclesiast. Polity, book 2. p. 117.
2. In proportion to the degree of our assent to any truth, will be its influence upon us. This, however it may seem at first, will, upon close inquiry, be found no less true than the former. There seems to be no other way possible of accounting for men's disregard of the important duties of religion, but by supposing their tacit disbelief of its principles. “ For my “ own part,” says Mr. Baxter , “ I take it to be the greatest “ cause of coldness in duty, weakness in graces, boldness in
sinning, and unwillingness to die, &c. that our faith is either 6 unsound or infirm in this point. This worm lying at the
root, causeth the languishing and decay of the whole.” St. Paul, by this very means, accounts for the strange disobedience of the Israelites, viz. they did not really believe the promises. (See Heb. iv. 2.) And it is a sort of proverbial and very just observation, that unbelief is the source of, or is in, all our sins. It were easy to say a great deal to support the assertion, of the proportion that is in our practice to our faith, not only in principles of religion, but all other things; I shall only now make this reflection, that if it be so, we are proportionably concerned, as we would have our practice agreeable to the will of God, to use our best endeavours to get the strongest evidence for the authority of the sacred books.
OBSERV. IV. That though it be a matter of so great difficulty and import
ance, to determine the canonical authority of the books of the New Testament, and though the generality of Christians are so very ignorant in this matter; yet very little has been
done by learned men on this subject. IT is indeed strange, that in so great a variety of books of all sorts, so few or none should have been published on this subject. It must be remembered, that I am now speaking only of the New Testament; for about the canon of the Old, Chamier, Whitaker, Dr. John Reynolds, Dr. Cosin, Spanheim, bishop Burnet, and many others, have written much, and to good purpose. Mr. Du Pin is the only one I know, who has wrote purposely on the canon of the New; beside what has been wrote occasionally in the prefaces and prolegomena of commentators on particular books, and the Reflections of Mr. Nye, Mr. Richardson, and Dr. Clarke on Toland's Amyntor. The first of these is reckoned the most considerable; though, in my judgment, the other lesser pieces have done much more to establish the canon than this larger work of Mr. Du Pin: for,
* Ubi supr. p. 197. See p. 199, 200.
1. The greatest part of the work is upon subjects very different from the canon ; such as, the purity of the Greek text, the ancient manuscripts, various readings, Latin and Oriental versions, the division of the New Testament into titles, chapters, &c.
2. There is in it but very little said to establish the canonical authority of the books, and answer what is objected against the controverted pieces ; viz. the Epistle to the Hebrews, of James, Jude, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third of John, and the Revelations. In that place where he proposes to establish them, he does not spend much above one page in doing it; and though, for the proof of the authority of these books, he names such and such fathers who cited them, yet he neither informs the unlearned reader at what time these fathers lived, nor the learned, in what part of their works they do cite them: so that the former must necessarily be ignorant of the force of his argument, as the latter will be of the truth of it.
3. His sixth chapter, which is all he has wrote of the apocryphal books of the New Testament, is wretchedly defective, both in the enumerating and confuting them; besides that he has given us scarce any of their fragments, and indeed has said scarce any thing of them.