Imatges de pÓgina

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.

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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. Amen.



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.'

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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.

the Arian, the Socinian, the Papist, the Mahometan, would all equally find their account in it, and therefore have equal reason to urge it for the present turn; though the world knows there is not one denomination of them that would grant what they now demand, could they once get the church to themselves. Indeed they ought not; for with what conscience could a Popish church admit such men for teachers as they esteem heretics? Or how could an Arian or a Socinian church admit into the ministry a set of men, who, they are sensible, would teach the people the co-equality of the three Persons in the Trinity, which they regard as a most pernicious doctrine? Sure I am, if they did, they must be very unfaithful to the most awful trust that ever was reposed in man.

It will not, I hope, be denied, that some care ought to be taken by those who have any authority (howsoever they come by it) in any church, that the members of that church be taught Christianity, and not any other religion or superstition, such as Mahometism, Manicheism, Paganism, &c. If they do not take this care, how can they answer for the trust they conceive to be reposed in them, on the strength of which they meddle with the affairs of religion?

But they can in no sort shew themselves thus careful, without a strict inquiry into the principles, the morals, the capacities, and the knowledge, of such as they permit and appoint to be teachers of the people. If there is no inquiry into their principles, the people may have instructors who shall teach them to trust in Mahomet, or worship the devil. If there is no inquiry into their morals, the sheep may have goats and wolves for pastors. If there is no inquiry into their capacity and knowledge, the blind must be led by the blind; or the ignorant must be set up to teach those who have more understanding than themselves; which can tend to nothing but the utter contempt of the ministry, and, through that, of religion.

If, then, they who are already in authority may, or rather ought, thus to inquire, it follows, that they ought by the most effectual methods they can think of, to sound the capacities of such as sue for the ministry, to examine their skill in Scripture, to demand ample certificates of their good behaviour; and, as no man is morally good but on principle,

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