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society that grounds communion upon conformity to such propositions and articles of faith.
What a stir have we had in England about the word, 'Erious! He that says it signifies an higher office than nçoofüleç@, shall have no part or fellowship with us : on the other hand, they that will debase Episcopos to Presbuteros, and turn levellers or degraders of episcopal dignity, shall be excommunicated, silenced, punished. Is not this plain fact? Can any deny it, that love truth more than a party? The fire kindled by this contention, hath warmed the hands of violence : it had been well if men had entertained equal zeal against impiety, and been but half as much enemies to sin, as they have been against one another on such accounts.
If we look a little back, we shall find, that the debate of free-will and unconditional reprobation filled this kingdom, with uncharitableness and division. In the arch-episcopacy of Abbot (reputed in himself a good man) whosoever held,
that Christ so died for all men, that all men might be saved, (if they would accept the means) and that none were absolutely decreed to eternal reprobation,' was reputed an heretic, and excommunicated, as an enemy to the free-grace of God; which, it seems, at that time of day, lay in being narrow.
In the reign of archbishop Laud the tide turned : and those that held an absolute election and reprobation, without regard had to the good or evil actions of men, and asserted, that Christ only died for the elect, and not for all, must be discountenanced, displaced, and pointed at as men out of fashion, though at the same time conscientious, sober, and (at worst) mistaken; and to be pitied, rather than persecuted; and informed, not destroyed.
This controversy begat the synod of Dort : he that reads the epistles of that judicious man J. Hales, of Eton college, upon the matter and conduct of that assembly, will find cause of being sad at heart; too many of them talking of religion without the spirit of it: men, perhaps, learned in books, but few of the sticklers gave any great testimony of their proficiency in that science, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated. This flame, kindled between Arminius and Episcopius, &c. for the remonstrants, and Gomarus, Sibrandus, &c. for the predestinarians, distracted Holland not a little, and had an ill influence upon the affairs of England, at least so far as concerned the church. But the mournfullest part of that history is the ' ill usage Martinus Crocius, the bishop of Landaff, and others bad; who, though they were acknowledged to be sound in 'the faith of those things, which generally followed the judge
ment of Calvin, as to the main points controverted, yet if at any time they appeared moderate in their behaviour, gentle in their words, and for accommodation in some particulars, with the remonstrants, or free-willers ; Gomarus and his followers, not observing the gravity due to the assembly, the rules of debate, and least of all the meekness of Christian communion, fell foul of their brethren, reproached their tenderness, and began to fix treachery upon their sober endeavours of accommodation; as if they intended to execute, as well as maintain, their reprobation, and blow up their friends, rather than not destroy their adversaries.
But if we will rise higher in our enquiry, and view the 'mischiefs of earlier times, flowing from this practice, the .fourth and fifth centuries after Christ will furnish us with instances enough. We cannot possibly forget the heavy life some men made about the observation of Easter-day, as if their eternal happiness had been in jeopardy: for so far were they degenerated from the love and meekness of Christianity, that about keeping of a day, which perhaps was no part, but, to be sure, no essential part, of the Christian religion, they tell to pieces; reproached, reviled, hated, and persecuted one another. A day was more to them than Christ, who was the Lord and end of days; and victory over brethren, sweeter than the peace and concord of the church, the great command of Jesus, whom they called Lord.
But the remarkable and tragical story of Alexander bishop of Alexandria, and Arius his priest, in their known debate about the "Nature and existence of the Son of God,' with the lamentable consequences thereof, (as all writers upon that subject have related) witnesseth to the truth of what I say. The bishop's curiosity, and the strictness of Arius; the presumption of the one to expound beyond the evidence and simplicity of the text, and the captious humour of the other, that would not abate the bishop any thing for his age, or the rank he held in the church, but logically exacted the utmost farthing of the reckoning from his old pastor; first began the fray: which as it became the perplexity of church and state for some ages, so it raged to blood; and those that had been persecuted like sheep by the heathen not long before, turned wolves against each other, and made sport for the infidels, doing their
work to their own destruction. Nay, so much more Christian was Themistius, the philosopher, that he, in his oration, called consul, commended the emperor Jovianus, for his moderation, and advised him to give that liberty of conscience, which professed Christians refused to allow each other; who seemed to think
they never did God better service, than in sacrificing one another for religion, even as soon as ever they had escaped the heathen's shambles.
Did we duly reflect upon the unnatural heats, divisions, and excommunications among them, the many councils that were called, the strong and tedious debates held, the translations of sees, the anathemas, the banishments, wars, sackings, fires and bloodshed that followed this unnatural division, that sprang from so nice a controversy, one would verily believe no less, than that religion itself had been in the utmost hazard : that judaism or paganism were over-running Christianity; and not that all this stir had been made about an Iota. For the whole question was, whether Homousia, or Homoiusia, should be received for faith? In which the difference is but the single letter i : certainly, we must do violence to our understanding, if we can think that these men were followers of that Jesus that “ loved his enemies, and gave his blood for the world," who hated their brethren, and shed one another's blood for opinions : the heathen philosophers never were so barbarous to one another, but maintained a better understanding and behaviour in their differences.
But how easily might all these confusions have been pre. vented, if their faith about Christ bad been delivered in the words of the scripture; since all sides pretend to believe the text? and why should any man presume to be wiser, or plainer in matters of faith, than the Holy Ghost? It is strange, that God and Christ should be wanting to express or discover their own mind; or that the words used by the Holy Ghost should have that shortness, ambiguity, or obliquity in them, that our frail capacities should be needed to make them more easy, proper and intelligible. But that we should scarcely deliver any one article of faith in scriptureterms, and yet make such acts the “Rule and bond of Christian communion,' is, in my judgment, an offence heinous against God and holy scripture, and very injurious to Christian charity and fellowship. Who can express any man's mind so fully, as himself? And shall we allow that liberty to ourselves, and refuse it to God? “ The scriptures came not in old time," said the apostle Peter, “by the will of man; but holy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Who can speak better, or express the mind of the Holy Ghost plainer, than the Holy Ghost ? The scripture is the great record of truth, that which all these parties in controversy agree to be the declared mind and will of God,' and they unanimously say, it ought to be believed and professed as such. It'this be true, in what lan
guage can we so safely and properly declare our belief of those truths, as in the very language of the scripture?
And I cannot see how those persons can be excused in the day of God's judgment, who make men heterodox or heretical, for refusing to subscribe their articles of faith that are not in scripture-terms, who in the same time offer to declare their belief of God, Christ, spirit, man's lapse or fall, repentance, sanctification, justification, salvation, resurrection, and eternal recompense, in the language of holy scripture ? I must say it is preposterous, and a contradiction, that those who desire to deliver their faith of truth, in the language of truth, shall not be reputed true believers, nor their faith admitted. - This were to say, that therefore their faith is not to be received, because it is declared in the language of that very truth, which is the object of that faith, for which it ought to be received, and which is, on all hands, concluded to be our duty to believe. It seems then, we must not express our belief of God in his words, but our own : nor is the scripture a creed plain or proper enough to declare a true believer, or an orthodox Christian, without our glosses.
Are not things come to a sad pass, that to refuse any other terms than those the Holy Ghost has given us, and which are confessed to be the rule or form of sound words, is to expose a man to the censure of being unsound in the faith, and unfit for Christian communion ? Will nothing do but man's comment instead of God's text? His consequences and conclusions, in the room of sacred revelation ? 'I cannot see how any man can be obliged to receive, or believe, revealed truths in any other language than that of the revelation itself: especially if those, that vary. the expression, have not the same spirit to lead them in doing so, or that it appears not to me that they have the guidance of that holy spirit. If the Holy Ghost had left doubts in scripture, which is yet irreverent to believe, I see not how men can resolve them; it is the work of that spirit. And since men are so apt to err, doubts are better left in scripture, than made or left by us. But it is to cross that order of prudence and wisdom among men, who choose to conform their expressions to the thing they believe. If an honest man hath related a story to me, of something he hath seen, and I am to declare my faith about it, if I believe the fact, I will choose to deliver it in the terms of the relator, as being nearest to the truth.
Supposo a father, dying, makes his last will and testament, and, as he thinks, so plain, that there can be no mistake made by the executors, but what is wilful : if they, instead
of proving this will, and acting according to the plainness of it, turn commentators, make more difficulties than they find, and perplex the whole matter, to the children and legatees, and send them to the law for right; will we not esteem such executors ill men, and justify those persons concerned in their refusal of their paraphrase? «God hath, at sundry times, and in divers manners,” by his prophets, his beloved Son, and his apostles,* delivered to the world a declaration of his blessed will; but some have claimed, and taken to themselves, the keeping, explanation; and use of it, so as those that choose to be concluded by the letter and 'text of Christ's testament, in its most important points, expose themselves to great prejudice for so doing; for they are excommunicated from all other share in it, than the punishment of the breakers of it; which is part of their anathema, who, of all others, are most guilty of adding, or diminishing, by undertaking to determine, for others as well as themselves, the mind and intention of the Holy Ghost in it.
But if it be true, as true it is, that few have writ of the divine authority of scripture, who do not affirm that the very penmen of it were not only inspired by the Holy Ghost, but so extraordinarily acted by him, as that they were wholly asleep to their own will, desires or affections, like people taken out of themselves, and purely passive, “as clay in the hands of the potter,” to the revelation, will, and motion of the spirit; and for this end, that nothing, delivered by them, might have the least possibility of mistake, error, or imperfection, but be a complete declaration of the will of God to men ;' I cannot see which way such men excuse themselves from great presumption, that will notwithstanding, have the wording of creeds of communion, and reject that declaration of faith as insufficient, which is deli: vered in the very terms of the Holy Ghost; and deny those persons to be members of Christ's church, that in conscience refuse to subscribe any other draught than that the Lord has given them.
Two things oppose themselves to this practice: the glory of God, and the honour of the scripture ; in that it naturally draws people from the regard due to God and the scripture, and begets too much respect for men and their tradition. This was the difficulty Christ met with, and complained of, in his time; they had set up so many rabbies to teach them religion, that the Lord of the true religion could hardly find place amongst them. And what did they do? “They taught for doctrines the traditions of men :” they gave their own and their predecessors' apprehensions, con
+ Heb. i. 1.