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The Divine Original, Endearments and Authority of the Holy Scripture.
MENS judgments are so apt to be bias’d by their affections, that we often find them readier to consider who speaks, than what is spoken: a temper very unsafe, and the principle of great injustice in our inferior transactions with men; yet here there are very few of us that can wholly divest our selves of it, whereas, when we deal with God ( in whom alone an implicit faith may securely be reposed ) we are nice and wary, bring our scales and measures, will take nothing upon his word which holds not weight in our own balance. ’Tis true, he needs not our partiality to be justified in his sayings, Psal. 51. 4. His words are pure, even as the silver tried seven times in the fire, Psalm. 12. 6. able to pass the strictest test that right reason (truly so called) can put them to. Yet it shews a great perverseness in our nature that we who so easily resign our understandings to fallible men, stand thus upon our guard against God make him dispute for every inch he gains on us; nor will afford him what we daily grant 10to any credible man, to receive an affirmation upon trust of his veracity.
2. I am far from contradicting our Saviours Precept, of Search the Scriptures Jo. 7. or Saint Pauls, of proving all things, 1 Thes. 5. 21. we cannot be too industrious in our inquest after truth, provided we still reserve to God the decisive vote, and humbly acquiesce in his sense, how distant soever from our own; so that when we consult Scripture (I may add reason either) ’tis not to resolve us whether God be to be believed or no in what he has said, but whether he hath said such and such things: for if we are convinc’d he has, reason as well as Religion commands our assent.
3. WHATEVER therefore God has said, we are to pay it a reverence merely upon the account of its Author, over and above what the excellence of the matter exacts: and to this we have all inducements as well as obligation: there being no motives to render the words of men estimable to us, which are not eminently and transcendently applicable to those of God.
4. THOSE motives we may reduce to four: first, the Authority of the Speaker; secondly, his Kindness; thirdly, his Wisdom, and fourthly, his Truth. First, for that of Authority: that may be either native, or acquired; the native is that of a parent, which is such a charm 11of observance, that we see Solomon, when he would impress his counsels, assumes the person of a Father; Hear O my children the instructions of a Father, Prov. 4. 1. And generally thro’ that whole Book he uses the compellation of my Son, as the greatest endearment to engage attention and reverence. Nay so indispensible was the obligation of children in this respect, that we see the contumacious child that would not hearken to the advice of his Parents; was by God himself adjudged to death, Deut. 21. 20.
5. NOR have only Gods, but mens Laws exacted that filial reverence to the dictates of Parents. But certainly no Parent can pretend such a title to it as God, who is not only the immediate Father of our persons, but the original Father of our very nature; not only of our flesh, but of our spirits also, Heb. 12. 9. So that the Apostles Antithesis in that place is as properly applied to counsels as corrections; and we may as rightly infer, that if we give reverence to the advices of our earthly Parents; much more ought we to subject our selves to this Father of our spirits. And we have the very same reason wherewith to enforce it: for the Fathers of our flesh do as often dictate, as correct according to their own pleasures, prescribe to their children not according to the exact measures of right and wrong, but after that humor which most predominates 12in themselves. But God alwaies directs his his admonitions to our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness, Heb. 12. 10. So that we are as unkind to our selves, as irreverent towards him, whenever we let any of his words fall to the ground; whose claim to this part of our reverence is much more irrefragable than that of our natural Parents.
6. BUT besides this native Authority there is also an acquired; and that we may distinguish into two sorts: the one of dominion, the other of reputation. To the first kind belongs that of Princes, Magistrates, Masters, or any that have coercive power over us. And our own interest teaches us not to slight the words of any of these, who can so much to our cost second them with deeds. Now God has all these titles of jurisdiction; He is the great King, Psal. 48. 2. Nor was it only a complement of the Psalmists; for himself owns the stile, I am a great King, Mal. 1. He is the judge of all the World, Gen. 18. yea, that Ancient of days, before whom the Books were open’d, Dan. 7. 13. He is our Lord and Master by right both of Creation and Redemtion; and this Christ owns even in his state of inanition; yea, when he was about the most servile employment, the washing his Disciples feet, when he was most literally in the form of a servant; yet he scruples not to assert his right to that opposite title; You call me Master, 13 and Lord; and ye say well, for so 1 am; Jo. 13. 13. Nor are these empty names, but effectively attended with all the power they denote. Yet so stupid are we, that whilst we awfully receive the dictates of our earthly Superiors, we slight and neglect the Oracles of that God who is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. When a Prince speaks, we are apt to cry out with Herods Flatterers, the voice of a God, and not of a man, Acts 12. Yet when it is indeed the voice of God, we choose to listen to any thing else rather than it. But let us saddy remember, that notwithstanding our contempts, this word shall (as our Saviour tells us) judge us at the last day, Jo. 12. 48.
7. A second sort of acquir’d Authority is that of reputation. When a man is famed for some extraordinary excellencies, whether moral or intellectual, men come with appetite to his discourses, greedily suck them in, nor need such a one bespeak attention; his very name has done it for him, and prepossess’d him of his Auditors regard. Thus the Rabbies among the Jews, the Philosophers among the Greeks, were listened to as Oracles, and to cite them was (by their admiring Disciples) thought a concluding Argument. Nay, under Christianity, this admiration of mens persons has been so inordinate, that it has crumbled Religion away in little insignificant parties; whilst not only Paul, Apollo or 14Cephas, but names infinitely inferior, have become the distinctive characters of Sects and separate Communions. So easily alas are we charm’d by our prepossessions, and with itching ears run in quest of those doctrines which the fame of their Authors, rather than the evidence of truth, commends to us.
8. AND hath God done nothing to get him a repute among us? has he no excellencies to deserve our esteem? is he not worthy to prescribe to his own creatures? if we think yes, why is he the only person to be disregarded? or why do we so unseasonably depart from our own humour, as not to give his Word a reverence proportionable to that we pretend for him; nay, which we actually pay to men of like passions with our selves? A contempt so absurd as well as impious, that we have not the example of any the most barbarous people to countenance us. For tho’ some of them have made very wild mistakes in the choice of their Deities, yet they have all agreed in this common principle, that whatever those Deities said, was to be receiv’d with all possible veneration; yea, such a deference gave they to all significations of the divine will, that as they would undertake no great enterprize without consulting their Auguries; so upon any inauspicious signs they relinquish’d their attempts. And certainly if we had the same reverence for the true God 15which they had for the false, we should as frequently consult him. We may do it with much more ease and certainty: we need not trust to the entrails of Beasts, or motion of Birds we need not go to Delphos, or the Lybian Hammon for the resolving our doubts: but what Moses said to Israel is very applicable to us, the Word is nigh thee, Deut. 30. 14. That Word which David made his Counsellor, Psal. 119. 24, his Comforter, ver. 50. his Treasure, ver. 72. his Study, ver. 99. And had we those awful apprehensions of God which he had, we should pay the like reverence to his Word. Did we well ponder how many titles of Authority he has over us, we should surely be asham’d to deny that respect to him in whom they all conspire, which we dare not deny to them separately in humane Superiors.
9. A second motive to esteem mens words, is the kindness of the speaker. This has such a fascinating power, as nothing but extreme ill nature can resist. When a man is assur’d of the kindness of him that speaks, whatever is spoken is taken in good part. This is it that distinguishes the admonitions of a friend from the reproaches of an enemy; and we daily in common conversation receive those things with contentment and applause from an intimate and familiar, which spoken by a stranger or enemy would be 16despis’d or stomach’d. So insinuating a thing is kindness, that where it has once got it self believ’d, nothing it says after is disputed; it supples the mind, and makes it ductile and pliant to any impressions.
10. BUT what human kindness is there that can come in any competition with the Divine? it surpasses that of the nearest and dearest relations; Mothers may forget, yet will I not forget thee, Isa. 49. 15. And the Psalmist found it experimentally true, When my Father and my Mother forsake me, the Lord taketh me up, Ps. 27. 10. The tenderest bowels compared to his are adamant and flint: so that ’tis a most proper epithet the Wise man gives him, O Lord thou lover of souls, Wis. 11. 26. Nor is this affection merely mental: but it attests it self by innumerable effects. The effects of love are all reducible to two heads, doing and suffering; and by both there God has most eminently attested his love to us.
11. FOR the first, we cannot look either on our bodies or our souls, on the whole Universe about us, or that better World above us; but we shall in each see the Lord hath done great things for us, Psal. 126. Nay, not only our enjoyments, but even the capacity to enjoy, is his bounty. Had not he drawn mankind out of his original clay, what had we been conscern’d in all the other works of his Creation? So that if we put any value either upon what 17we have or what we are, we cannot but account our selves so much indebted to this his active love. And tho’ the passive was not practicable by the divine Nature simply and apart, yet that we might not want all imaginable evidences of his love, he who was God blessed for ever, linkt his impassible to, our passible nature; assum’d our humanity, that he might espouse our sorrows, and was born on purpose that he might die for us. So that sure we may say in his own words, greater love than this hath no man; Jo. 15. 13.
12. AND now ’tis very hard, if such an unparallel’d love in God, may not as much affect us, as the slight benefactions of every ordinary friend; if it cannot so much recommend him to our regard, as to rescue his word from contempt, and dispose us to receive impressions from it; (especially when his very speaking is a new act of his kindness, and design’d to our greatest advantage.)
13. BUT if all he has done and suffer’d for us cannot obtain him so much from us, we must surely confess, our disingenuity is as superlative as his love. For in this instance we have no plea for our selves. The discourses of men ’tis true may sometimes be so weak and irrational, that tho’ kindness may suggest pity, it cannot reverence; But this can never happen in God, whose wisdom is as infinite as his love. He talks not at our vain rate 12who often talk only for talkings sake; but his words are directed to the most important ends and address’d in such a manner as befits him in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Col. 2. And this is our third consideration, the wisdom of the Speaker.
14. HOW attractive a thing Wisdom is, we may observe in the instance of the Queen of Sheba, who came from the utmost parts of the earth, as Christ faies Mat. 12. 42. to hear the Wisdom of Solomon. And the like is noted of the Greek Sages, that they were address’d to from all parts, by persons of all ranks and qualities, to hear their Lectures. And indeed the rational nature of man does by a kind of sympathetick motion close with whatever hath the stamp of reason upon it. But alas, what is the profoundest wisdom of men, compar’d with that of God? He is the essential reason; and all that man can pretend to is but an emanation from him; a ray of his Sun, a drop of his Ocean: which as he gives, so he can also take away. He can infatuate the most subtil designers; And (as he saies of himself) makes the diviners mad: turns the wise men back, and makes their wisdom foolishness, Esay 44. 25.
15. HOW impious a folly is it then in us, to Idolize human Wisdom with all its imperfections, and despise the divine? yet this every man is guilty of, who is not attracted to the 19study of sacred Writ by the supereminent wisdom of it’s Author. For such men must either affirm that God has not such a supereminency, or that, tho’ he has in himself; he hath not exerted it in this writing; The former is down-right blasphemy; and truly the latter is the same, a little varied. For that any thing, but what is exactly wise can proceed from infinite wisdom, is too absurd for any man to imagine. And therefore he that charges Gods Word with defect of wisdom must interpretatively charge God so too. For tho’ ’tis true, a wise man may sometimes speak foolishly; yet that happens through that mixture of ignorance, or passion which is in the most knowing of mortals: but in God, who is a pure act, and essential wisdom, that is an impossible supposition.
16. NAY, indeed it were to tax him of folly beyond what is incident to any sensible man; who will still proportion his instruments to the work he designs. Should we not conclude him mad, that should attempt to fell a mighty Oak with a Pen-knife, or stop a Torrent with a whisp of Straw? And sure their conceptions are not much more reverend of God, who can suppose that a writing design’d by him for such important ends, as the making men wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. 3. 15. the casting down all that exalts it self against the obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. 10. 5. should it self be foolish 20and weak: or that he should give it those great attributes of being sharper than a two edged-sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow, Heb. 4. 14. if its discourses were so flat and insipid as some in this profane Age would represent them.
17. ’TIS true indeed, ’tis not, as the Apostle speaks the wisdom of this world, 1 Cor. 2. 6. The Scripture teaches us not the arts of undermining governments, defrauding and circumventing our Brethren; but it teaches us that which would tend much more even to our temporal felicity; and as reason prompts us to aspire to happiness, so it must acknowledge that is the higher wisdom which teaches us to attain it.
18. AND as the Holy Scripture is thus recommended to us by the wisdom of its Author; so in the last place is it by his truth, without which the other might rather raise our jealousy than our reverence. For wisdom without sincerity degenerates into serpentine guile; and we rather fear to be ensnar’d than hope to be advantag’d by it. The most subtil addresses, and most cogent arguments prevail not upon us, where we suspect some insidious design. But where wisdom and fidelity meet in the same person, we do not only attend, but confide in his counsels. And this qualification is most eminently in God. The children 21of men are deceitful upon the weights, Psal. 62. 9. Much guile often lurks indiscernably under the fairest appearances: but Gods veracity is as essentially himself, as his wisdom, and he can no more deceive us, than he can be deceiv’d himself. He is not man that he should lie, Numb. 23. 19. He designs not (as men often do) to sport himself with our credulity; and raise hopes which he never means to satisfy: he saies not to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain, Exod. 45. 19. but all his promises are yea and Amen, 2 Cor. 1. 20. He is perfectly sincere in all the proposals he makes in his word: which is a most rational motive for us to advert to it, not only with reverence but love.
19. AND now when all these motives are thus combined; the authority, the kindness, the wisdom, the veracity of the speaker, what can be requir’d more to render his words of weight with us? If this four-fold cord will not draw us, we have sure the strength, not of men, but of that Legion we read of in the Gospel, Mat. 5. 1. For these are so much the cords of man, so adapted to our natures, nay to our constant usage in other things, that we must put off much of our humanity, disclaim the common measures of mankind, if we be not attracted by them. For I dare appeal to the breast of any sober, industrious man, whether in case a person, who he were sure 22had all the fore-mention’d qualifications, should recommend to him some rules as infallible for the certain doubling, or trebling his estate, he would not think them worth the pursuing; nay, whether he would not plod and study on them, till he comprehended the whole Art. And shall we then when God, in whom all those qualifications are united, and that in their utmost transcendencies, shall we, I say, think him below our regard, when he proposes the improving our interests, not by the scanty proportions of two or three; but in such as he intimated to, Abraham, when he shew’d him the Stars, as the representative of his numerous off-spring, Gen. 5. 15. when he teaches us that highest, and yet most certain Alchymy, of refining, and multiplying our enjoyments, and then perpetuating them?
20. ALL this God do’s in Scripture; and we must be stupidly improvident, if we will take no advantage by it. It was once the complaint of Christ to the Jews, I am come in my Fathers name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive, Jo. 5. 43. And what was said by him the eternal essential Word, is no less applicable to the written; which coming in the name, and upon the message of God, is despis ’d and slighted, and every the lightest composure of men preferr’d before it. As if that signature 23of Dignity it carries, served rather as a Brand to stigmatize and defame, than adorn and recommend it. A contempt which strikes immediatly at God himself, whose resentments of it, tho’ for the present supprest by his longsuffering, will at last break out upon all who persevere so to affront him, in a judgment worthy of God, Wisd. 12. 26.
21. BUT after all that has been said, I foresee some may say, that 1 have all this while but beaten the air, have built upon a principle which some flatly deny, others doubt of, and have run away with a supposition that the Bible is of divine Original, without any attempt of proof. To such as these I might justly enough object the extreme hard measure they offer to Divinity above all other Sciences. For in those, they still allow some fundamental maxims, which are presupposed without proof; but in this they admit of no Postulata, granted principle on which to superstruct. If the same rigor should be extended to secular cases, what a damp would it strike upon commerce? For example, a man expects fair dealing from his Neighbour, upon the strength of those common notions of Justice he presumes writ in all mens hearts: but according to this measure, he must first prove to every man he deals with, that such notions there are, and that they are obligatory: that the wares expos’d to sale are his own; that dominion 24is not founded on grace, or that he is in that state, and so has a property to confer upon another that the person dealt with paies a just price; do’s it in good money; and that it is his own, or that he is in the state of grace, or needs not be so, to justify his purchase: and at this rate the Market will be as full of nice questions as the Schools. But because complaints and retortions are the common refuge of causes that want better Arguments, I shall not insist here; but proceed to a defence of the question’d Assertion, that the Bible is the Word of God.
22. IN which I shall proceed by these degrees. First, I shall lay down the plain grounds upon which Christians believe it. Secondly, I shall compare those with those of less credibility which have generally satisfied mankind in other things of the like nature. And thirdly, I shall consider whether those who are dissatisfied with those grounds, would not be equally so with any other way of attestation.
23. BEFORE I enter upon the first of these, I desire it may be consider’d, that matters of fact are not capable of fuch rigorous demonstrative evidences, as mathematical propositions are. To render a thing fit for rational belief, there is no more requir’d, but that the motives for it do over poise those against it; and in that degree they do so, so is the belief stronger or weaker.25
24. NOW the motives of our belief in the present case, are such as are extrinsick, or intrinsick to the Scriptures; of which the extrinsick are first, and preparative to the other; and indeed all that, can reasonably be insisted on to a gain-saier, who must be suppos’d no competent judge of the latter. But as to the former, I shall adventure to say, that the Divine Original of the Scripture hath as great grounds of credibility as can be expected in any thing of this kind. For that God inspir’d the Pen-men of Holy Writ, is matter of fact, and being so, is capable of no other external evidence but that of testimony: and that matter of fact being also in point of time so remote from us, can be judg’d of only by a series of Testimonies deriv’d from that Age wherein the Scriptures were written, to this: and the more credible the testifiers, and the more universal the Testimony, so much the more convincing are they to all considering men.
25. AND this attestation the Scripture hath in the highest circumstances, it having been witnes’d to in all Ages, and in those Ages by all persons that could be presum’d to know any thing of it. Thus the Old Testament was own’d by the whole Nation of the Jews, as the writings of men inspir’d by God, and that with such evidence of their mission, as abundantly satisfied those of that Age, of their 26being so inspir’d; and they deriv’d those Writings with that attestation to their posterity. Now that those of the first Ages were not deceiv’d, is as morally certain as any thing can be suppos’d. For in the first part of the Bible is contain’d the history of those miracles wherewith God rescued that people out of Egypt, and instated them in Canaan, Now if they who liv’d at that time, knew that such miracles were never done, ’tis impossible they could receive an evident Fable as an inspir’d truth. No single person, much less a whole Nation can be suppos’d so stupid. But if indeed they were eye-witnesses of those miracles, they might with very good reason conclude, that the same Moses who was by God impower’d to work them, was so also for the relating them; as also all those precedent events from the Creation down to that time, which are recorded by him.
26. SO also for the preceptive parts of those Books, those that saw those formidable solemnities, with which they were first publish’d, had sure little temptation to doubt that they were the dictates of God, when written. Now if they could not be deceiv’d themselves, ’tis yet less imaginable that they should conspire to impose a cheat upon their posterities; nor indeed were the Jews of so easy a credulity, that ’tis at all probable the succeeding Generations would have been so impos’d 27on: their humour was stubborn enough, and the precepts of their Law severe and burdensome enough to have tempted them to have cast off the yoak, had it not been bound upon them by irresistible convictions of its coming from God. But besides this Tradition of their Elders, they had the advantage of living under a Theocracy, the immediate guidance of God; Prophets daily were rais’d up among them, to fore-tell events, to admonish them of their duty, and reprove their back-slidings yet even these gave the deference to the written Word; nay, made it the test by which to try true inspirations from false: To the Law and to the Testimony; if they speak not according to it, there is no light in them, Esay 18. 20. So that the veneration which they had before acquir’d, was still anew excited by fresh inspirations, which both attested the old, and became new parts of their Canon.
27. NOR could it be esteem’d a small confirmation to the Scriptures, to find in succeeding Ages the signal accomplishments of those prophecies which were long before registred in those Books; for nothing less than divine Power and Wisdom could foretell, and also verify them. Upon these grounds the Jews universally thro’ all successions receiv’d the Books of the Old Testament as divine Oracles, and look’d upon them as the greatest trust that could be committed to them: 28and accordingly were so scrupulously vigilant in conserving them, that their Masorits numbred not only the sections, but the very Words, nay Letters, that no fraud or inadvertency might corrupt or defalk the least iota of what they esteem’d so sacred. A farther testimony and sepiment to which, were the Samaritan, Chaldee, and Greek Versions: which being made use of in the Synagogues of Jews, in their dispersions, and by the Samaritans at Sichem, could not at those distances receive an uniform alteration, and any other would be of no effect. Add to this, that the Original exemplar of the Law, was laid up in the Sanctuary, that the Prince was to have a Copy of it alwaies by him, and transcribe it with his own hand; that every Jew was to make it his constant discourse and meditation, teach it his Children, and wear part of it upon his hands and forehead. And now sure ’tis impossible to imagine any matter of fact to be more carefully deduced, or irrefragably testified, nor any thing believ’d upon stronger evidence.
28. THAT all this is true in reference to the Jews, that they did thus own these Writings as divine, appears not only by the Records of past Ages, but by the Jews of the present, who still own them, and cannot be suspected of combination with the Christians. And if these were reasonable grounds of conviction 29to the Jews, (as he must be most absurdly sceptical that shall deny) they must be so to Christians also, who derive them from them: and that with this farther advantage to our Faith, that we see the clear completion of those Evangelical prophecies which remain’d dark to them, and consequently have a farther Argument to confirm us, that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are certainly divine.
29. THE New has also the like means of probation: which as it is a collection of the doctrine taught by Christ and his Apostles, must if truly related be acknowledged no less divine than what they orally deliver’d. So that they who doubt its being divine, must either deny what Christ and his Apostles preach’d to be so; else distrust the fidelity of the relation The former strikes at the whole Christian faith; which if only of men, must not only be fallible but is actually a deceit, whilst it pretends to be of God, and is not. To such Objectors we have to oppose those stupendous miracles with which the Gospel was attested such as demonstrated a more than human efficacy. And that God should lend his omnipotence to abet the false pretensions of men, is a conceit too unworthy even for the worst of men to entertain.
30. ’TIS true, there have been by God permitted 30lying miracles, as well as true ones have been done by him; such as were those of the Magicians in Egypt, in opposition to the other of Moses; but then the difference between both was so conspicuous, that he must be more partial and disingenuous, than even those Magicians were, who would not acknowledge the disparity, and confess in those which were truely supernatural the finger of God, Exod. 8. 19. Therefore both in the Old and New Testament it is predicted, that false Prophets should arise, and do signs and wonders, Deut. 13. 1. Matt. 24. 11, 24. as a trial of their fidelity who made profession of Religion; whether they would prefer the few and trivial sleights which recommend a deceiver, before those great and numberless miracles which attested the sacred Oracles deliver’d to the sons of men by the God of truth. Whether the trick of a Barchochebas, to hold fire in his mouth; that of Marcus the Heretick, to make the Wine of the Holy Sacrament appear blood; or that of Mahomet, to bring a Pidgeon to his ear, ought to be put in balance against all the Miracles wrought by Moses, our Saviour, or his Apostles. And in a word; whether the silly stories which Iamblichus solemnly relates of Pythagoras, or those Philostratus tells of Apollonius Tyaneus, deserve to rival those of the Evangelists. It is a most just judgment, and accordingly threatned by 31Almighty God that they who would not obey the truth should believe a lie, 2 Thes. 2. 11. But still the Almighty, where, any man or devil do’s proudly, is evidently above him, Exod. 18. 11. will be justified in his sayings, and be clear when he is judged, Rom. 3. 4.
31. BUT if men will be Scepticks, and doubt every thing, they are to know that the matter call’d into question, is of a nature that admits but two waies of solution; probability, and testimony. First for probability, let it be consider’d, who were the first promulgers of Christs Miracles. In his life time they were either the patients on whom his Miracles were wrought, or the common people, that were spectators: the former, as they could not be deceiv’d themselves, but must needs know whether they were cur’d or no; so what Imaginable design could they have to deceive others? Many indeed have pretended impotency as a motive of compassion; but what could they gain by owning a cure they had not? As for the Spectators, as their multitude adds to their credibility; (it being morally impossible that so many should at once be deluded in a matter so obvious to their senses) so do’s it also acquit them from fraud and combination. Cheats and forgeries are alwaies hatch’d in the dark, in close Cabals, and private Junctos. That five thousand men at one time, and four thousand at another, should 32conspire to say, that they were miraculously fed, when they were not; and all prove true to the fiction, and not betray it, is a thing as irrational to be suppos’d, as impossible to be parallel’d.
32. BESIDES, admit it possible that so many could have join’d in the deceit, yet what imaginable end could they have in it? Had their lie been subservient to the designs of some potent Prince that might have rewarded it, there had been some temptation: but what could they expect from the reputed Son of a Carpenter, who had not himself where to lay his head? Nay, who disclaim’d all secular power; convey’d himself away from their importunities, when they would have forced him to be a King: And consequently, could not be look’d on as one that would head a Sedition, or attempt to raise himself to a capacity of rewarding his Abettors. Upon all thee considerations, there appears not the least shadow of probability, that either those particular persons who publish’d the cures they had receiv’d, or those multitudes who were witnesses and divulgers of those, or his other miracles, could do it upon any sinister design, or indeed upon any other motive but gratitude and admiration.
33. IN the next place, if we come to those miracles which succeeded Christs death, those most important; and convincing of his Resurrection 33and Ascension, and observe who were the divulgers of those, we shall find them very unlikely to be men of design; a set of illiterate men, taken from the Fisher-Boats, and other mean occupations: and such as needed a miracle as great as any of those they were to assert (the descent of the Holy Ghost) to fit them for their office. What alas could they drive at, or how could they hope that their testimony could be received, so much against the humour and interest of the present Rulers; unless they were assur’d not only of the truth of the things, but also of some supernatural aids to back and fortify them? Accordingly we find, that till they had receiv’d those; till by the descent of the Holy Ghost they were endued with power from on high, Luk. 24. 49. they never attempted the discovery of what they had seen: but rather hid themselves, kept all their assemblies in privacy and concealment, for fear of the Jews, Jo. 20. 10. and so were far enough from projecting any thing besides their own safety. Afterwards, when they began to preach, they had early Essays, what their secular advantages would be by it; threatnings and revilings, scourgings and imprisonments, Act. 4. 20. 5. 18, 40. And can it be imagined, that men who a little before had shewed themselves so little in love with suffering, that none of them durst stick to their Master at his apprehension, but 34 one forswore, and all forsook him; can it, 1 say, be imagin’d that these men should be so much in love with their own Fable, as to venture all sorts of persecution for the propagating it? Or if they could, let us in the next place consider what probability there could be of success.
34. THEIR preaching amounted to no less than the Deifying of one, whom both their Roman and Jewish Rulers, nay, the generality of the people had executed as a malefactor: so that they were all engag’d, in defence of their own Act, to lift their testimony with all the rigour that conscious jealousy could suggest. And where were so many concern’d inquisitors, there was very little hope for a forgery to pass. Besides the avow’d displeasure of their Governours made it a hazardous thing to own a belief of what they asserted. Those that adher’d to them could not but know, that at the same time they must espouse their dangers and sufferings. And men use not to incur certain mischiefs, upon doubtful and suspicious grounds.
35. YET farther, their doctrine was design’d to an end to which their Auditors could not but have the greatest reluctancy: they were to struggle with that rooted prepossession which the Jews had for the Mosaical Law, which their Gospel out-dated; and the Gentiles for the Rites and Religion of their Ancestors; 35and, which was harder than either, the corruptions and vices of both: to plant humility and internal sanctity, so contrary to that ceremonial holiness, upon which the Jews so valued themselves, and despis’d others: and Temperance, Justice, and Purity, so contrary to the practice, nay, even the religion of the Heathen: and to attempt all this with no other allurement, no other promise of recompence but what they must attend in another world, and pass too through reproaches and afflictions, torments and death; These were all such invincible prejudices, as they could never hope to break thorough with a lie; nay, which they could not have encounter’d even with every common truth, but only with that, which being divine, brought its aids with it; without which ’twas utterly impossible for all the skill or oratory of men to overcome such disadvantages.
36. AND yet with all these did these rude inartificial men contest, and that with signal success: no less than three thousand Proselytes made by Saint Peter’s first Sermon; and that in Jerusalem, the Scene where all was acted; and consequently where ’twas the most impossible to impose a forgery. And at the like miraculous rate they went on, till as the Pharisees themselves complain, they had filled Jerusalem with their doctrine, Acts 5. 28. nor did Judea set bounds to them; their sound went 36out into all Nations, Rom. 10. 18, and their doctrine spread it self through all the Gentile world.
37. AND sure so wonderful an event, so contrary to all humane measures, do’s sufficiently evince there was more than man in it. Nothing but the same creative Power that produc’d light out of darkness, could bring forth effects so much above the proportion of the cause. Had these weak instruments acted only by their natural powers, nothing of this had been achiev’d. Alas could these poor rude men learn all Languages within the space of fifty days, which would take up almost as many years of the most industrious Student? and yet had they not been able to speak them, they could never have divulg’d the Gospel to the several Nations, nor so effectually have convinc’d the by-standers, Acts 2. that they acted by a higher impulse. And to convince the world they did so, they repeated their Masters miracles as well as his doctrine; heal’d the sick cast out devils, rais’d the dead. And where God communicated so much of his power, we may reasonably conclude he did it to promote his own work, not the work of the devil, as it must have been if this whole Scene were a lie.
38. WHEN all this is weigh’d, I presume there will remain little ground to suspect that the first planters of Christian Faith had 37any other design than what they avowed, viz. the bringing men to holiness here, and salvation hereafter. The suspicion therefore, if any, must rest upon latter times; and accordingly some are willing to perswade themselves and others, that the whole Scheme of our Religion is but a lately devis’d Fable to keep the world in awe, whereof Princes have made some use, but Clergy-men more; and that Christ and his Apostles are only actors whom themselves have conjured up upon the Stage to pursue their plot.
39. 1N answer to this bold, this blasphemous suggestion, I should first desire these Surmisers to point out the time when, and the persons who began this design; to tell us exactly whence they date this politick Religion, as they are pleas’d to suppose it. If they cannot, they are manifestly unjust to reject our account of it when they can give none themselves; and fail very much of that rigid demonstration they require from others. That there is such a profession as Christianity in the world, is yet (God be blest) undeniable; (though at the rate it has of late declin’d, God knows how long it will be so:) we say it came by Christ, and his Apostles, and that it is attested by an uninterrupted testimony of all the intervening Ages, the suffrage of all Christian Churches from that day to this. And sure they who embraced the Doctrine, are the 38 most competent witnesses from whence they receiv’d it.
40. YET lest they should be all thought parties to the design, and their witness excepted against, it has pleas’d God to give us collateral assurances, and make both Jewish and Gentile Writers give testimony to the Antiquity of Christianity. Josephus do’s this, lib. 20. chap. 8. and lib. 18. chap. 4. where, after he has given an account of the crucifixion of Christ exactly agreeing with the Evangelists he concludes, And to this day the Christian people, who of him borrow their name, cease not to increase. I add not the personal elogium which he gives of our Saviour; because some are so hardy to controul it: also I pass by what Philo mentions of the religious in Egypt, because several Learned men refer it to the Essens, a Sect among the Jews, or some other. There is no doubt of what Tacitus and other Roman Historians speak of Christ as the Author of the Christian doctrine; which it had been impossible for him to have done, if there had then been no such doctrine, or if Christ had not been known as the Founder of it. .So afterward Pliny gives the Emperour Trajan an account both of the manners, and multitude of the Christians; and makes of the innocence of the one, and the greatness of the other, an Argument to slacken the persecution against them. Nay, the very bloody Edicts 39of the persecuting Emperors, and the scoffs and reproaches of Celsus, Porphyry, Lucian, and other profane opposers of this Doctrine, do undeniably assert its being. By all which it appears, that Christianity had in those Ages not only a being, but had also obtain’d mightily in the world, and drawn in vast numbers to its profession: and vast indeed they must needs be, to furnish out that whole Army of Martyrs, of which profane, as well as Ecclesiastick writers speak. And if all this be not sufficient to evince that Christianity stole not clancularly into the world, but took its rise from those times and Persons it pretends, we must renounce all faith of Testimony, and not believe an inch farther than we see.
41. I suppose I need say no more to shew that the Gospel, and all those portentous miracles which attested it, were no forgeries, or stratagems of men. I come now to that doubt which more immediately concerns the Holy Scripture, viz. whether all those transactions be so faithfully related there, that we may believe them to have been dictated by the spirit of God. Now for this, the process need be but short, if we consider who were the Pen-men of the New Testament; even for the most part of the Apostles themselves: Matthew, and John who wrote two of the Gospels were certainly so: and Mark, as all the Ancients aver, was but the Amanuensis to Saint 40 Peter, who dictated that Gospel. Saint Luke indeed comes not under this first rank of Apostles; yet is by some affirm’d to be one of the seventy Disciples: however an Apostolical person ’tis certain he was, and it was no wonder for such to be inspir’d. For in those first Ages of the Church men acted more by immediate inflation of the Spirit than since. And accordingly we find Stephen, tho’ but a Deacon, had the power of Miracles and preach’d as divine as the prime Apostles, Acts 7. And the gift of the Holy Ghost was then a usuial concomitant of conversion, as appears in the Story of Cornelius, Acts 10. 45, 46. Besides, Saint Luke was a constant attendant on Saint Paul (who deriv’d the Faith not from man, but by the immediate revelation of Jesus Christ, as himself professes, Galat. 1. 12.) and is by some said to have wrote by dictate from him, as Mark did from Saint Peter. Then as to the Epistles they all bear the names of Apostles, except that to the Hebrews, which yet is upon very good grounds presum’d to be Saint Paul`s. Now these were the Persons commissionated by Christ to preach the Christian doctrine, and were signally assisted in the discharge of that office; so that as he tells them, it was not they, who speak, but the spirit of the Father that spake in them, Matt. 13. 11. And if they spake by Divine Inspiration, there can be no question that they wrote so also. Nay, indeed of the 41 two, it seems more necessary they should do the latter. For had they err’d in any thing they orally deliver’d, they might have retracted and cured the mischief: but these Books being design’d as a standing immutable rule of Faith and Manners to all successions, any errour in them would have been irreparable, and have entail’d it self upon posterity: which agreed neither with the truth, nor goodness of God to permit.
42. NOW that these Books were indeed writ by them whose names they bear, we have as much assurance as ’tis possible to have of any thing of that nature, and that distance of time from us. For however some of them may have been controverted, yet the greatest part have admitted no dispute; whole Doctrines agreeing exactly with the others, give testimony to them. And to the bulk of those writings, it is notorious that the first Christians receiv’d them from the Apostles, and so transmitted them to the ensuing Ages, which receiv’d them with the like esteem and veneration. They cannot be corrupted, faies Saint Austin in the thirty second Book against Faustis the Manich. c. 16. because they are and have been in the hands of all Christians. And whosoever should first attempt an alteration, he would be confuted by the inspection of other ancienter Copies. Besides, the Scriptures are not in some one Language, but translated into many: so that the 42faults of one Book would be corrected by others more ancient, or in a different Tongue.
43. AND how much the body of Christians were in earnest concern’d to take care in this matter, appears by very costly evidences; multitudes of them choosing rather to part with their lives than their Bibles. And indeed ’tis a sufficient proof, that their reverence of that Book was very avowed and manifest; when their Heathen persecutors made that one part of their persecution. So that as wherever the Christian Faith was receiv’d, this Book was also, under the notion we now plead for, viz. as the writings of men inspir’d by God: so it was also contended for even unto death: and to part with the Bible was to renounce the Faith. And now, after such a cloud of testimonies, we may sure take up that (ill apply’d) saying of the High Priest, Matt. 26. 65. what farther need have we of witnesses.
44. YET besides these, another sort of witnesses there are, I mean those intrinsick evidences which arise out of the Scripture it self; but of these I think not proper here to insist, partly because the subject will be in a great degree coincident with that of the second general consideration; and partly because these can be argumentative to none who are not qualified to discern them. Let those who doubt the Divine Original of Scripture, well digest the former grounds which are 43 within the verge of reason; and when by those they are brought to read it with due reverence, they will not want Arguments from the Scripture it self to confirm their veneration of it.
45. IN the mean time, to evince how proper the former discourse is to found a rational belief that the Scripture is the word of God, I shall compare it with those measures of credibility upon which all humane transactions move, and upon which men trust their greatest concerns without diffidence or dispute.
46. THAT we must in many things trust the report of others, is so necessary, that without it humane society cannot subsist. What a multitude of subjects are there in the world, who never saw their Prince, nor were at the making of any Law? if all these should deny their obedience, because they have it only by hear-say, that there is such a man, and such Laws, what would become of Government? So also for property, if nothing of testimony may be admitted, how shall any man prove his right to any thing? All pleas must be decided by the sword, and we shall fall into that state (which some have fancied the primitive) of universal hostility. In like manner for traffick and commerce; how should any Merchant first attempt a trade to any foreign part of the world, if he did not believe 44that such a place there was? and how could he believe that, but upon the credit of those who have been there? Nay, indeed how could any man first attempt to go but to the next Market Town, if he did not from the report of others, conclude that such a one there was? so that if this universal diffidence should prevail, every man should be a kind of Plantagnus, fix’d to the soil he first sprung up in. The absurdities are indeed so infinite, and so obvious, that I need not dilate upon them.
47. BUT it will perhaps be said, that in things that are told us by our contemporaries, and that relate to our own time, men will be less apt to deceive us, because they know ’tis in our power to examine and discover the truth. To this I might say, that in many instances it would scarce quit cost to do so, and the inconveniences of tryal would exceed those of belief. But 1 shall willingly admit this probable argument, and only desire it may be applied to our main question, by considering whether the primitive Christians who receiv’d the Scripture as divine, had not the same security of not being deceiv’d, who had as great opportunities of examining, and the greatest concern of doing it throughly, since they were to engage, not only their future hopes in another world, but (that which to nature is much more sensible) 45all their present enjoyments, and even life it self upon the truth of it.
48. BUT because it must be confess’d that we who are so many Ages remov’d from them, have not their means of assurance; let us in the next place consider, whether an assent to those testimonies they have left behind them, be not warranted by the common practice of mankind in other cases. Who is there that questions there was such a man as William the Conqueror in this Island? Or, to lay the Scene farther, who doubts there was an Alexander, a Julius Cæsar, an Augustus? Now what have we to found this confidence on besides the Faith of History? And I presume even those who exact the severest demonstrations for Ecclesiastick story, would think him a very impertinent Sceptick that should do the like in these. So also, as to the Authors of Books; who disputes whether Homer writ the Iliads, or Virgil the Æneids, or Cæsar the Commentaries, that pass under their names? yet none of these have been attested in any degree like the Scripture. ’Tis said indeed, that Cæsar ventured his own life to save his Commentaries, imploying one hand to hold those above the water, when it should have assisted him in swiming. But whoever laid down their lives in attestation of that, or any humane composure, as multitudes of men have done for the Bible?46
49. BUT perhaps ’twill be said, that the small concern men have, who wrote these, or other the like Books, inclines them to acquiesce in the common opinion. To this I must say, that many things inconsiderable to mankind have oft been very laboriously discuss’d, as appears by many unedifying Volumes, both of Philosophers and School-men. But whatever may be said in this instance, ’tis manifest there are others, wherein mens real and greatest interests are intrusted to the testimonies of former Ages. For example, a man possesses an estate which was bought by his great Grandfather, or perhaps elder Progenitor: he charily preserves that deed of purchase, and never looks for farther security of his title: yet alas, at the rate that men object against the Bible, what numberless Cavils might be rais’d against such a deed? How shall it be known that there was such a man as either Seller or Purchaser? if by the witnesses they are as lyable to doubt as the other; it being as easie to forge the attestation as the main writing: and yet notwithstanding all these possible deceits, nothing but a positive proof of forgery can invalidate this deed. Let but the Scripture have the same measure, be allowed to stand in force, to be what it pretends to be, till the contrary be (not by surmises and possible conjectures) but by evident proof evinc’d and its greatest Advocates will ask to more.47
50. A like instance may be given in publick concerns; the immunities and rights of any Nation, particularly here of our Magna Charta, granted many Ages since, and deposited among the publick Records: to make this signify any thing, it must be taken for granted, that this was without falsification preserved to our times; yet how easy were it to suggest that in so long a succession of its keepers, some may have been prevail’d on by the influence of Princes to abridge and curtail its concessions; others by a prevailing faction of the people to amplify and extend it? Nay, if men were as great Scepticks in Law, as they are in Divinity, they might exact demonstrations that the whole thing were not a forgery. Yet, for all these possible surmises, we still build upon it, and should think he argued very fallaciously, that should go to evacuate it, upon the force of such remote suppositions.
51. NOW I desire it may be consider’d whether our security concerning the holy Scripture be not as great, nay, greater than it can be of this. For first, this is a concern only of a particular Nation, and so can expect no foreign attestation; and secondly, it has all along rested on the fidelity of its keepers; which has been either a single person, or at best some small number at a time; whereas the Scriptures have been witness’d to by persons of all Nations; and those not single, but collective 48Bodies and Societies, even as many as there have been Christian Churches throughout the world. And the same that are its Attestors have been its Guardians also, and by their multitudes made it a very difficult, if not an impossible thing to falsify it in any considerable degree; it being not imaginable, as I shew’d before from St. Austin, all Churches should combine to do it: and if they did not, the fraud could not pass undetected: and if no eminent change could happen, much less could any new, any counterfeit Gospel be obtruded, after innumerable Copies of the first had been translated into almost all Languages, and dispers’d throughout the world.
52. THE Imperial Law compil’d by Justinian, was soon after his death, by reason of the inroads of the Goths, and other barbarous Nations, utterly lost in the Western world; and scarce once heard of for the space of five hundred years, and then came casually to be retriv’d upon the taking of Amalsis by the Pisans, one single copy being found there at the plundering of the City. And the whole credit of those Pandects, which have ever since govern’d the Western world, depends in a manner on that single Book, formerly call’d the Pisan; and now, after that Pisa was taken by the Florentines, the Florentine Copy. But notwithstanding this, the body of the Civil Law obtains; and no man thinks it reasonable 49to question its being really what it pretends to be, notwithstanding its single, and so long interrupted derivation. I might draw this parallel thro’ many other instances, but these may suffice to shew, that if the Scripture might find but so much equity, as to be tried by the common measures of other things, it would very well pass the test.
53. BUT men seem in this case (like our late Legislators) to set up new extraregular Courts of Justice, to try those whom no ordinary rules will cast, yet their designs require should be condemn’d: And we may conclude, ’tis not the force of reason, but of prejudice, that makes them so unequal to themselves as to reject the Scripture, when they receive every thing else upon far weaker grounds. The bottom of it is, they are resolv’d not to obey its precepts; and therefore think it the shortest cut to disavow its authority; for should they once own that, they would find themselves intangled in the most inextricable dilemma; that of the Pharisees about John Baptist: If we say from heaven, he will say, why then did you not believe him? Matt. 21. 25. If they confess the Scriptures divine, they must be self-condemn’d in not obeying them. And truly men that have such preingagements to their lusts, that they must admit nothing that will disturb them; do but prevaricate when they call for greater evidence 50and demonstrations: for those bosom Sophisters will delude the most manifest conviction; and like Juglers make men disbelieve even their own senses. So that any other waies of evidence will be as disputable with them, as those already offer’d: which is the third thing I proposed to consider.
54. IT has been sometimes seen in popular mutinies, that when blanks have been sent them they could not agree what to ask: and were it imaginable that God should so far court the infidelity of men, as to allow them to make their own demands, to set down what waies of proof would perswade them; I doubt not there are many have obstinacy enough to defeat their own methods, as well as they do now Gods. ’Tis sure there is no ordinary way of conviction left for them to ask. God having already (as hath also been shew’d) afforded that. They must therefore resort to immediate revelation, expect instant assurances from heaven, that this Book we call the Bible is the word of God.
55. MY first question then is, in what manner this revelation must be made to appear credible to them. The best account we .have of the several waies of revelation is from the Jews, to whom God was pleas’d upon new emergencies signally to reveal himself. These were first dreams; secondly, visions; by both which the Prophets 51 receiv’d their inspirations. Thirdly, Urim and Thummim. Fourthly, the Bath-col (as they term it) Thunder and voice from Heaven. Let us consider them distinctly, and see whether our Sceptical men may not probably find somewhat to dispute in every one of these. And first for dreams, it is among us so hard to distinguish between those that arise from constitution, prepossession of phancy, diabolical, or divine infusion, that those that have the most critically consider’d them, do rather difference them by their matter, than any certain discriminating circumstances: and unless we had some infallible way of discerning, our dependence on them may more probably betray than direct us. ’Tis unquestionable that dually phancy has the greatest stroke in them. And if he that should commit himself to the guidance of his waking phancy, is not like to be over-wisely govern’d, what can we expect from his sleeping? All this and more may doubtless be soberly enough objected against the validity of our common dreams.
56. BUT admit there were now such divine dreams as brought their evidence along with them; yet sure ’tis possible for prejudic’d, men to resist even the clearest convictions. For do we not see some that have made a shift to extinguish that natural light, those notions which are interwoven into the very frame and constitution of their minds, that 52so they may sin more at ease, and without reluctancy? and sure ’tis as possible for them to close their eyes against all raies from without too, to resist revelation as well as instinct and more likely, by how much a transient cause is naturally less operative than a permanent. An instance of this we have in Balaam, who being in these nightly visitations prohibited by God to go to Balak; and tho’ he knew then what he afterwards saies, Num. 23. 19. that God was not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that be should repent; yet he would not take God at his firm word, but upon a fresh bait to his covetousness, tries again for an answer more indulgent to his interest. Besides, if God should thus reveal himself to some particular persons, yet ’tis beyond all president or imagination, that he should do it to every man; and then how shall those who have these dreams, be able to convince others that they are divine?
53. ’TIS easy to guess what reception a man that produces no other authority would have in this ludicrous Age: he would certainly be thought rather to want sleep, than to have had revelations in it. And if Jacob and the Patriarchs, who were themselves acquainted with divine dreams, yet did not believe Josephs; any man that should now pretend in that kind, would be sure to fall under the same irony that he did, to be entertain’d with 53 a behold this dreamer cometh, Gen. 37. 19.
58. THE second way of revelation by vision was, where the man was wrapt into an extasy, his spirit for a while suspended from all sensible communication with the body, and entertain’d with supernatural light. In these the Prophets saw emblematical representations of future events, receiv’d knowledge of divine Mysteries, and commission and ability to discharge the whole prophetick office. Now suppose God should now raise us Prophets, and inspire them after this manner; what would the merry men of this time say to it? Can we think that they who rally upon all that the former Prophets have writ, would look with much reverence on what the new ones should say? Some perhaps would construe their raptures to be but like Mahomets Epilepsy others a fit of frenzy, others perhaps a being drunk with new wine Acts. 2. 13. but those that did the most soberly consider it, would still need a new revelation to attest the truth of this: there being far more convincing arguments to prove the Scriptures divine, than any man can alledge to prove his inspiration to be so. And ’tis sure a very irrational method, to attempt the clearing of a doubt by somewhat which is it self more doubtful.
59. A third way, was by Urim and Thummin, which Writers tell us was an Oracle resulting from the Letters which were graven 54in the High Priests Pectoral, to which in all important doubts the Jews of those Ages resorted, and receiv’d responses; but whether it were by the suddain prominency, or resplendency of the letters, or by any other way, is not material in this place to enquire: one: one thing is certain, that the Ephod, and consequently the Pectoral was in the Priests custody, and that he had the administration of the whole affair. Now I refer it to consideration, whether this one circumstance would not (to those prejudic’d men I speak of) utterly evacuate the credit of the Oracle. They have taught themselves to look on Priest-hood, whether Legal or Evangelical, only as a better name for imposture and cosenage: and they that can accuse the Priests for having kept up a cheat for so many Ages, mud needs think them such omnipotent Juglers, that nothing can be fence against their Legerdemain: and by consequence, this way of revelation would rather foment their displeasure at the Ecclesiatticks, than satisfy their doubts of the Scripture.
60. LASTLY, for the fourth way, that of thunder and voice from Heaven, tho’ that would be a signal way of conviction to unprejudiced men, yet it would probably have as little effect as the rest upon the others: men that pretend to such deep reasoning, would think it childish to be frighted out of their 55opinion by a clap of Thunder; some Philosophical reason shall be found out, to satisfy them that ’tis the effect only of some natural cause, and any the most improbable shall serve turn to supplant the fear of its being a divine testimony to that which they are so unwilling should be true. As for the voice from Heaven, it must either be heard by others, and related to them; or else immediatly by themselves: if the former, ’twill lie under the same prejudice which the Bible already do’s, that they have it but by hearsay: and reporters would fall under the reproach either of design or frenzy; that they meant to deceive, or were themselves deceiv’d by their own distemper’d phancy. But if themselves should be Auditors of it; ’tis odds but their bottomless jealousies in divine Matters would suggest a possibility of fraud, tho’ they knew not how to trace it: nay ’tis more than possible that they will rather disbelieve their own senses, than in this instance take their testimony with all its consequences.
61. NOR is this a wild supposition for we see it possible for not only single men but, multitudes to disbelieve their senses through an excess of credulity witness the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. Why may it not then be as possible for others to do the like thro’ a greater excess of incredulity? Besides mens prepossessions and affections have a strange 56influence on their Faith: men many times will not suffer themselves to believe the most credible things, if they cross their inclination. How often do we see irregular Patients that will not believe any thing that their appetite craves will do them hurt, tho’ their Physicians, nay, their own even sensitive experience attest it to them? And can we think that a diseas’d mind, gasping with an Hydropick thirst after the pleasures of sin, will ever assent to those premises, whose conclusion will engage to the renouncing them? Will not a luxurious voluptuous person be willing rather to give his ears the lie, to disbelieve what he hears, than permit them more deeply to disoblige his other senses, by bringing in those restraints and mortifications which the Scripture would impose upon them?
62. THUS we see how little probability there is, that any of these waies of revelation would convince these incredulous men. And indeed, those that will not believe upon such inducements as may satisfy men of sober reason, will hardly submit to any other method, according to that Assertion of Father Abraham, If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be perswaded, tho’ one rose from the dead Luk. 16. 31. Now at this rate of infidelity, what way will they leave God to manifest any thing convincingly to the world? which is to put him under an impotency 57greater than adheres to humanity for we men have power to communicate our minds to others, tell whetherto we own such or such a thing to which we are intitled; and we can satisfy our Auditors that it is indeed we that speak of them: but if every method God uses, do’s rather increase than satisfy mens doubts, all intercourse between God and man is intercepted; and he must do that of necessity, which Epicurus fancied he did of his choice; viz. keep himself unconcern’d in the affairs of mortals, as having no way of communicating with them. Nay (what is yet, if possible, more absurd) he must be suppos’d to have put the works of his Creation out of his own reach, to have given men discoursive faculties, and left himself no way of address to them.
63. THESE inferences how horridly soever they sound, yet 1 see not how they can be disclaim’d by those, who are unsatisfied with all those waies by which God hath hitherto reveal’d himself to the world. For can it be imagin’d that God who created man a reasonable creature, that himself might be glorified in his free and rational obedience: (when all other creatures obey upon impulse and instinct) can it, I say, be imagin’d, that he should so remisly pursue his own design, as to let so many Ages pass since the Creation, and never to acquaint mankind with the 58particulars wherein that obedience was to be exercis’d. This sure were so disagreeable to his wisdom and goodness, that it cannot be charged upon his will: and consequently they who own not that he has made any such revelation, must tacitly tax him of impotence, that he could not do it. But if any man will say he has, and yet reject all this which both Jews and Christians receive as such, let him produce his testimonies for the others, or rather (to retort his own measure) his demonstrations. And then let it appear whether his Scheme of Doctrine, or ours, will need the greater aid of that easy credulity he reproaches us with.
64. 1 have now gone thro’ the method I proposed for evincing the Divine Original of the Scriptures, and shall not descend to examine those more minute and particular Cavils which profane men make against them; the proof of this, virtually superseding all those. For if it be reasonable to believe it the Word of God, it must be reasonable also to believe it of perfection proportionable to the Author; and then certainly it must be advanced beyond all our objections. For to those who except to the stile, the incoherence, the contradictions, or whatever else in Scripture; I shall only ask this one question, whether it be not much more possible that they (who can pretend to be nothing above fallible 59men) may misjudge, than that the infallible God should dictate any thing justly liable to those charges: I am sure they must depart as much from Reason as Religion, to affirm the contrary. But alas, instead of this implicit submission to Gods Word, men take up explicit prejudices against it; condemn it without ever examining the truth of the allegation. ’Tis certain, that in a writing of such Antiquity, whose original Language has Idioms and Phrases so peculiar, whose Country had customs so differing from the rest of the world; ’tis impossible to judge of it without reference to all those circumstances. Add to this, that the Hebrew has been a dead Language for well nigh two thousand years, no where in common use: nor is there any other ancient Book now extant in it, besides those (yet not all neither,) of the Old Testament.
65. NOW of those many who defame Holy Writ, how few are there that have the industry to enquire into those particulars? And when for want of knowledge, some passages seem improper, or perhaps contradictory the Scripture must bear the blame of their ignorance, and be accus’d as absurd and unintelligible, because themselves are stupid and negligent. It were therefore methinks but a reasonable proposal, that no man should arraign it, till they have used all honest diligence, taken in all probable helps for the understanding 60it and if this might be obtain’d, I believe most of its Accusers would like those of the Woman in the Gospel Jo. 8. 9, drop away, as conscious of their own incompetency: the loudest out-cries that are made against it, being commonly of those who fall upon it only as a fashionable theme of discourse, and hope to acquire themselves the reputation of wits by thus charging God foolishly. But he that would candidly and uprightly endeavour to comprehend before he judges, and to that end industriously use those means which the providence of God by the labours of pious men hath afforded him, will certainly find cause to acquit the Scripture of those imputations which our bold Criticks have cast upon it. I do not say that he shall have all the obscurities of it perfectly clear’d to him; but he shall have so many of them as are for his real advantage, and shall discern such reasons why the rest remain unfathomable, as may make him not only justify, but celebrate the wisdom of the Author.
66. YET this is to be expected only upon the fore-mention’d condition, viz. that he come with sincere and honest intentions; for as for him that comes to the Scripture with design, and wishes to find matter of cavil and accusations; there is little doubt but that spirit of impiety and profaneness which sent him thither, will meet him there as a spirit 61of delusion, and occecation. That Prince of the Air will cast such mists, raise such black vapours; that as the Apostle speaks, the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ shall not shine unto him, 2 Cor. 4. 5. Indeed were such a man left only to the natural efficacy of prejudice, that is of it self so blinding, so infatuating a thing, as commonly fortifies against all conviction. We see it in all the common instances of life; mens very senses are often enslav’d by it: the prepossession of a strong fancy will make the objects of sight or hearing appear quite different from what they are. But in the present case, when this shall be added to Satanical illusions, and both left to their operations by Gods withdrawing his illuminating grace, the case of such a man answers that description of the Scripture, They have eyes and see not, ears have they and hear not, Rom. 11. 8. And that God will so withdraw his grace, we have all reason to believe, he having promis’d it only to the meek, to those who come with malleable ductile spirits, to learn, not to deride or cavil. Saint Peter tells us, that the unlearned and unstable wrest the Scripture to their own destruction 2 Pet. 3. 16. And if God permit such to do so, much more will he the proud and malicious.
67. 1 say not this, to deter any from the sturdy of Holy Scripture, but only to caution them to bring a due preparation of mind 62along with them; Gods Word being like a generous soveraign medicament, which if simply and regularly taken, is of the greatest benefit; but if mix’d with poison, serves only to make that more fatally operative. To conclude, he that would have his doubts solv’d concerning Scripture, let him follow the method our blessed Lord has prescrib’d: Let him do the will of God, and then he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, Jo. 7. 17. Let him bring with him a probity of mind, a willingness to assent to all convictions he shall there meet with; and then he will find grounds sufficient to assure him that it is Gods Word, and consequently to be receiv’d with all the submission and reverence, that its being so exacts.63
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