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GIVEN TO US,
Or the Christians Birth-right and Duty in the custody and use of the
The several Methods of Gods communicating the knowledge of himself.
GOD, as he is invisible to human eyes, so he is unfathomable by human understandings; the perfection of his nature, and the impotency of ours, setting us at too great a distance to have any clear perception of him. Nay, so far are we from a full comprehension, that we can discern nothing at all of him, but by his own light; those discoveries he hath been pleas’d to make of himself.
2. THOSE have been of several sorts; The first was by infusion in mans creation, when 2God interwove into mans very constitution and being the notions and apprehensions of a Deity: and at the same instant when he breath’d into him a living soul, imprest on it that native religion, which taught him to know and reverence his Creator, which we may call the instinct of humanity. Nor were those principles dark and confus’d, but clear and evident, proportionable to the ends they were design’d to, which were not only to contemplate the nature, but to do the will of God; practice being even in the state of innocence preferable before an unactive speculation.
3. BUT this Light being soon eclips’d by Adams disobedience, there remain’d to his benighted posterity, only some faint glimmerings, which were utterly insufficient to guide them to their end, without fresh aids, and renew’d manifestations of God to them. It pleas’d God therefore to repair this ruine, and by subsequent revelations to communicate himself to the Patriarchs in the first Ages of the World: afterwards to Prophets, and other holy men; till at last he revealed himself yet more illustriously in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. 4. 6.
4. THIS is the one great comprehensive Revelation wherein all the former were involv’d, and to which they pointed; the whole mystery of Godliness being compris’d in this 3of Gods being manifested in the flesh, and the consequents thereof, 1 Tim. 3. 16. whereby our Saviour as he effected our reconciliation with God by the sacrifice of his death; so he declar’d both that, and all things else that it concern’d man to know in order to bliss, in his doctrine and holy life. And this Teacher being not only sent from God, Jo. 3. but being himself God blessed for ever, it cannot be that his instructions can want any supplement. Yet that they might not want attestation neither to the incredulous world; he confirm’d them by the repeated miracles of his life, and by the testimony of those who saw the more irrefragable conviction of his Resurrection and Ascension. And they also might not want credit and enforcement, the holy Spirit set to his seal, and by his miraculous descent upon the Apostles, both asserted their commission, and enabled them for the discharge of it, by all gifts necessary for the propagating the Faith of Christ over the whole World.
5. THESE were the waies by which God was pleased to reveal himself to the Forefathers of our Faith, and that not only for their sakes, but ours also, to whom they were to derive those divine dictates they had receiv’d. St. Stephen tells us, those under the Law receiv’d the lively Oracles to deliver them down to their posterity, Acts 7. 38. And those under 4the Gospel, who receiv’d yet more lively Oracles from him who was both the Word and the Life, did it for the like purpose; to transmit it to us upon whom the ends of the world are come. By this all need of repeated Revelations is superseded, the faithful deriving of the former, being sufficient to us for all things that appertain to life and godliness, 2 Pet. 1. 3.
6. AND for this, God (whose care is equal for all successions of men) hath graciously provided, by causing Holy Scriptures to be writ; by which he hath deriv’d on every succeeding Age the illuminations of the former. And for that purpose endowed the Writers not only with that moral fidelity requisite to the truth of History, but with a divine Spirit, proportionable to the great design of fixing an immutable rule for Faith and Manners. And to give us the fuller security herein, he has chosen no other penmen of the New Testament, than those who were the first oral Promulgers of our Christian Religion; so that they have left to us the very same doctrine they taught the Primitive Christians; and he that acknowledges them divinely inspir’d in what they preach’d, cannot doubt them to be so in what they writ. So that we all may enjoy virtually and effectively that with of the devout Father, who desir’d to be St. Paul’s Auditor: for he 5that hears any of his Epistles read, is as really spoke to by Saint Paul, as those who were within the sound of his voice. Thus God, who in times past spak: at sundry times, and in diverse manners to our Fathers by the Prophets, and in the latter days by his Son, Heb. 1. 1, 2. continues to speak to us by these inspir’d Writers; and what Christ once said to his Disciples in relation to their preaching is no less true of their writings: He that despiseth you, despiseth me, Luk. 10. 16. All the contempt that is at any time flung on these sacred Writings, rebounds higher, and finally devolves on the first Author of those doctrines, whereof these are the Registers and Transcripts.
7. BUT this is a guilt which one would think peculiar to Infidels and Pagans, and not incident to any who had in their Baptism lifted themselves under Christs banner: yet I fear I may say, of the two parties, the Scripture has met with the worst treatment from the latter. For if we measure by the frequency and variety of injuries, I fear Christians will appear to have out-vied Heathens: These bluntly disbelieve them, neglect, nay perhaps scornfully deride them. Alas, Christians do this and more; they not only put contempts, but tricks upon the Scripture, wrest and distort it to justify all their wild phancies, or secular designs; and suborn its Patronage to those things it forbids, and tells us that God abhors.6
8. INDEED so many are the abuses we offer it, that he that considers them would scarce think we own’d it for the words of a sensible man, much less of the great omniscient God. And I believe ’twere hard to assign any one so comprehensive and efficacious cause of the universal depravation of manners, as the disvaluing of this divine Book, which was design’d to regulate them. It were therefore a work worthy another inspired writing, to attempt the rescue of this, and recover it to its just estimate. Yet alas, could we hope for that, we have scoffers who would as well despise the New as the Old; and like the Husbandmen in the Gospel, Mat. 21. 36. would answer such a succession of messages by repeating the same injuries.
9. To such as these ’tis I confess vain for man to address; nay ’twere insolence to expect that human Oratory should succeed where the divine fails yet the spreading infection of these renders it necessary to administer antidotes to others. And besides, tho’ (God be blest) all are not of this form, yet there are many who, tho’ not arriv’d to this contempt, yet want some degrees of that just reverence they owe the sacred Scriptures, who give a confus’d general assent to them as the Word of God, but afford them not a consideration and respect answerable to such an acknowledgment. To such as these, I shall hope 7it may not be utterly vain to attempt the exciting of those drowsy notions that lie unactive in them; by presenting to them some considerations concerning the excellence and use of the Scripture: which being all but necessary consequences of that principle they are supposed to own, viz. that they are Gods word, I cannot much question their assent to the speculative part: I wish I could as probably assure my self of the practick.
10. INDEED were there nothing else to be said in behalf of holy Writ, but that it is Gods word, that were enough to command the most awful regard to it. And therefore it is but just we make that the first and principal consideration in our present discourse. But then ’tis impossible that that can want others to attend it; since whatsoever God saies, is in all respects compleatly good. I shall therefore to that of its divine original add secondly the consideration of its subject Matter; thirdly, of its excellent and no less diffusive end and design; and fourthly, of its exact propriety and fitness to that design: which are all such qualifications, that where they concur, nothing more can be requir’d to commend a writing to the esteem of rational men. And upon all these tests, notwithstanding the cavil of the Romanists and others, whose force we shall examin with the unhappy issue of contrary counsels, this Law of God 8will be found to answer the Psalmists character of it Ps. 19. 7. The Law of God is perfect: and ’twill appear that the custody and use thereof is the Birth-right and Duty of every Christian. All which severals being faithfully deduced, it will only remain that I add full cautions as will be necessary to the due performance of the aforesaid duty, and our being in some degree render’d perfect, as this Law of God, and the Author thereof himself is perfect, Matt. 5. 48.9
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