« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
nifest, that not one in ten of the candidates can subscribe the far greater part of it, any otherwise than as blank paper, or as paper filled with unmeaning words. But, if a translation may be used for this purpose, then it may be asked, Whose translation ? A Popish or a Protestant translation ? The proposers of this scheme are not aware, that it is as dangerous to translate the Scriptures for vulgar use, as for subscription; and that, if we do translate them, we must depart from God's words, and dress up in our own such meanings as we have collected, or rather sometimes extorted, from his. This considered, is it not evident, that all the subscribers of a translation will set their hands, not to one Bible, but each of them to a Bible of his own? As the devil quoted Scripture against Christ, só numbers quote it every day against truth, against the very truths of Scripture, nay, even against its own authority and divinity. That they quote it absurdly, and wrest it wickedly, is true: but who shall judge them in this ? None but God, who knows he hath made it sufficiently intelligible to answer his gracious ends in giving it to us; and who clearly sees in the hearts of men those abominable biasses, and detestable passions, through which they view it all distorted and confounded. Now, although the governors of no church can justly pretend to the gift of infallible interpretation ; yet, as it is acknowledged by the objection, that they ought, by some means or other, to ask the candidates for holy orders what are their religious principles; as the candidates must, some way or other, return a satisfactory answer, before the askers can be justified in ordaining them; and as, in fact, subscribing the Bible will by no means bring them to the necessary end proposed; this new scheme of subscription must be laid aside, as wholly useless.
Perhaps, had I stayed a few years, I might have saved myself the trouble of stating and answering this proposal for subscribing the Bible; because, it is probable, they who offer it, will in a little time give it up. They have generally gone on, for fifty years past, laying aside confessions, abolishing creeds, and inveighing against all human composures, as tests of orthodoxy; and now, to serve a turn, they insist on the Bible as the only test. But, whereas they already begin to deny the divine inspiration of the Bible in part, and can by no means settle what parts were given by the Spirit, and what by the scriptural writers, purely as the dictates of their own minds; the word of God itself must soon lose its credit with these enemies to uninspired tests. And this is more probable, since they have long ago reduced the religion contained in it to almost nothing; taking such liberties, in order thereunto, in explaining it, as no just critic would allow himself or others to take with the compositions of the meanest writers. They whiffle away the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost, which the Scriptures represent in the strongest terms, in shameless equivocations. They deny the atonement made by the death of Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, than which nothing is more insisted on in the word of God. They sink the necessity of revelation to a mere trifling expediency; and cry up the light of nature as a sufficient guide both in religion and morality. How long, then, think you, will they continue to insist on the Scriptures as the only creed, or test of true religion? Shall men, who conceive quite otherwise of religion on all these heads, admit such libertines into the office of teaching the people committed to their charge? If they do, how will they answer it to their consciences here, or the God of truth hereafter? No forms of confession can possibly be conceived in terms too strict or full, or with clauses too awfully damnatory, in order to exclude such candidates from the holy ministry. But if they will subscribe all sorts of forms, though ever so contrary to their principles (I will not say consciences, for surely they have none), as we see they are every day ready to do, allured with the prospect of gain; the governors of the church, however, having done their utmost to prevent it by close examinations, by strict subscriptions, by ample, explicit, and solemn, declarations, exacted of them, are excusable in the sight of God, who knows they can do no more; who knows they are not able to penetrate into the secrets of men's hearts.
But, to obviate the reasons for this only expedient in a matter of so high concern, the adversaries insist, that although we are obliged to hold the truth, so far forth as we are able to find it out, yet we are not obliged, on such occasions, to declare what we understand by the truth ; that the Scriptures no where tie us to this as our duty; and that, were it nevertheless so necessary, they would somewhere have prescribed it. Such declarations might, they say, be, in many cases, attended with persecution, and, in some, with exclusions little short of persecution.
Had the disciples of our Saviour been so tender of themselves, there had been few preachers of the gospel, not one effectual preacher, no confessors, no martyrs, and, consequently, no Christian church now in the world. But are we not to confess with the mouth,' as well as 'believe with the heart?' Can we allspeak the same thing,' as we are commanded, if we do not speak at all? Does not the Holy Ghost expressly order us to be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh a reason of the hope that is in us ?' And how can we give a reason of our hope, if we do not tell what our hope is? Or can we discover our hope, and yet conceal our faith, on which that hope is founded? Or can we be under an obligation to discover our faith and hope, and even the reasons for both, while no man hath a right to ask what they are? But if other Christians have no right to ask, or be answered, as to these matters, surely the church, or they who are to call and ordain, must, at least, have a right to inquire, of those who desire holy orders, what are the principles they intend to teach ? If a candidate is obliged to give an answer to every man, he must undoubtedly answer his ordainers, unless he takes them to be
Sure I am, were not such a candidate ashamed of his own principles, or afraid of incurring some worldly loss or inconvenience, he would never scruple to answer by any form or method his examiners should be pleased to take. Were he already ordained, he could not take it amiss to be asked his judgment concerning the faith, by the meanest of his hearers; and why is he more nice, when the like question is proposed to him by the ordainers? Why, they might refuse him orders, if they did not like his answers, and he does not care to prevaricate. Hath he reason to blame them for this? If he himself had the power of ordaining, would he ordain a man, who, he had reason to think, would instił into the people principles not only contrary to his own, but such as, in- his judgment, are destructive of all their hopes in futurity ? Or, if he did, surely we may be allowed to call him a most unfaithful shepherd. Now what he would, in conscience, be obliged to do, on pain of his own damnation, he can have no pretence so bitterly to inveigh against others for doing
But the goodly objectors tell us, they could with the less scruple subscribe, were it not for the damnatory clauses wherewith one of our creeds is clogged. The articles of that creed, say they, are too many, and too nicely scholastic, to be necessary to a faith which is itself necessary to salvation; and besides, although we are never so clearly convinced of them ourselves, we think it a shocking breach of Christian charity to pronounce damnation on those who do not believe them all.
Now, I insist on it, these articles are very few, if counted as they lie; and fewer still, if it is considered, that all the rest, not found in the other creeds expressly or virtually, are necessarily explanatory of two points only; the Trinity and the Incarnation ; which, if not so explained and guarded, must be sunk in one or other of the heresies that have infested the church. So this creed is more explicit indeed, but not longer, as to its real content of articles, than any of the rest.
As to the nicely, the curiosity, and difficulty, of the terms wherein it is conceived; had it been clothed in terms less express and apposite, it could not so perfectly have exhibited the faith, nor so well have answered the end proposed by a declaration of that faith; for a declaration that is not full, particular, and clear is a contradiction in terms, and can answer no other end, but to amuse and deceive. That the terms are not all scriptural, we own; nor was it possible they should; but, till they are shewn to contain meanings not warranted by Scripture, we have a right to use them ; because we can in no language, but Hebrew and Greek, preserve the precise terms of Scripture; and because we are under a necessity, nevertheless, of declaring our faith in other languages. The whole merit of the question, therefore, resting in this, whether the terms of that creed convey scriptural meanings only, we ought to be attacked merely on the subject of their scriptural rectitude in point of sense, and not on the nicety of their choice, who were forced to use them, because no other words could so well have set forth the sense of Scripture on those heads. Now, as to the damnatory clauses, annexed to the articles of this creed; if the belief of the articles themselves is necessary, those clauses must be necessary too; for why should not the necessity of that faith be declared, as well as the faith itself? Christ saith, He that believeth not, is condemned already. Believeth not what? What Christ himself, and what the Holy Ghost, tell us in Scripture ; namely, that • Jesus is Christ,' or the Messiah ; that he is ‘the onlybegotten Son of God;' that he is 'a Teacher sent from God;' that all his words are the words of truth, and eternal life;' that he is God himself;' that he took our nature on him,' and died a 'sacrifice for the sins of believers;' that 'he arose again from the dead,' and 'shall judge the world;' that the Holy Ghost is the very •Spirit of God, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent;' that'he shall guide us into all truth;' and that therefore whatsoever he communicates to us is truth, and necessary to be believed by us, if we will not give the lie to God, and thereby destroy our own souls. Such is our faith, and such the necessity of standing fast in it. Does the creed in question say more? Or ought it to say less ? Surely a Christian may safely speak after Christ; and say again what the Holy Ghost hath said already.
What hath been urged is sufficient to shew, that the damnatory clauses are not of man's invention, and, consequently, no breach of Christian charity in those who pronounce them. But this will appear still more demonstrable, if we ever so little consider what are the true nature and use of those clauses, and what it is we do when we utter them as an appendage to our faith.
As to the first; these clauses were inserted in this creed, and in most of the ancient creeds, the Arian as well as others, by no means to intimate the condemnation, for want of faith, of such as had no opportunity of receiving the Christian religion; but of such only, as, having it duly preached to them, should receive it in an evil heart of unbelief,' and, holding it in unrighteousness,' should mutilate or corrupt its essentials. Accordingly, the creed in question says, not that all are damned who never heard of Christ; but, Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary, that he hold the catholic faith ; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish ever