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The Custody of the Holy Scripture is a privilege and right of the Christian Church, and every member of it; which cannot without impiety to God, and injustice unto it and them, be taken away or impeach’d.
BESIDES the keeping of the divine Law, which is obsequious, and imports a due regard to all its Precepts, commonly express’d in Scripture by keeping the commandments, hearkning to, and obeying the voice of the Lord, walking in his ways, and observing and doing his statutes and his judgements; there is a possessory keeping it, in reference to our selves and others; in respect whereof, Almighty God, Deut. 6. and elsewhere frequently, having enjoin’d the people of Israel, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their might, and that the words which be commanded them should be in their heart, he adds, that they shall teach them diligently to their children, and shall talk of them when they sit down in their houses, and when they walk by the way, and when they lie down, and when they rise up: 124and that they bind them for a sign upon their hand, and that they shall be as frontlets between their eyes, and that they shall write them upon the posts of their house, and on their gates. So justly was the Law call’d the Scripture, being written by them, and worn upon the several parts of the body, inscrib’d upon the walls of their houses, the entrance of their doors, and gates of their Cities; and in a word placed before their eyes wherever they convers’d.
2. AND this was granted to the Jews, as matter of privilege and favour. To them, says Saint Paul, Rom. 9. 4. pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law. And the same Saint Paul, at the 3. chap. 2, ver. of that Epistle, unto the question what advantage hath the Jew, or what profit is there of circumcision, answers, that it is much every way, chiefly because unto them were committed the Oracles of God. This depositumor trust was granted to the Fathers, that it should be continued down unto their children. He made a covenant, says David, Ps. 78. v. 5. with Jacob, and gave Israel a Law, which he commanded our Fore-fathers to teach their children, that their posterity might know it, and the children which are yet unborn; to the intent that when they came up, they might shew their children the same. Which Scripture by a perpetual succession was to be handed down unto the Christian Church; the Apostles on all occasions 125appealing unto them, as being read in the Synagogues every Sabbath day, Act. 13. 27. and also privately, in their hands; so that they might at pleasure search into them, Jo. 5. 39. Act. 17. 11. Hereupon the Jews are by Saint Austin call’d the Capsarii, or servants that carried the Christian Books. And Athanasius in his Tract of the Incarnation, says, The Law was not for the Jews only, nor were the Prophets sent for them alone; but that Nation was the Divinity-School of the whole world; from whence they were to fetch the knowledge of God and the way of spiritual living: which amounts to what the Apostle says, Galat. 3. 24. That the Law was a School-master to bring us unto Christ.
3. AND ’tis observable that the very same word, Rom. 3. 2. in the Text even now recited, which expresses the committing of the Oracles of God to the Jews, is made use of constantly by Saint Paul, when he declares the trust and duty incumbent on him in the preaching of the Gospel: of which, see 1 Cor. 9. 17. Gal. 2. 7. 1 Thes. 2. 4. 1 Tim. 1. 11. Tit. 1. 3. And therefore, as he says, 1. Cor. 9. Tho’ I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me, yea, wo is unto me if I preach not the Gospel, for if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is commuted unto me: So may all Christians say; if we our selves keep and transmit to our posterities the Holy Scriptures, 126we have nothing to glory of, for a necessity is laid upon us, and wo be unto us if we do not our selves keep, and transmit to our posterity the Holy Scriptures. if we do this thing willingly, we have a reward; but if against our will, the custody of the Gospel, and at least that dispensation of it, is committed to us. But if we are Traditors, and give up our Bibles, or take them away from others, let us consider how black an apostacy and sacrilege we shall incur.
4. THE Mosaick Law was a temporary constitution, and only a shadow of good things to come, Heb. 10. 1. but the Gospel being in its duration as well as its intendment, everlasting, Rev. 14. 6. and to remain when time shall be no more, Rev. 10. 6. it is an infinitely more precious depositum and so with greater care and solemner attestation to be preserv’d. Not on1y the Clergy, or the people of one particular Church, nor the Clergy of the universal are intrusted with this care; but ’tis the charge, the privilege and duty of every Christian man, that either is, or was, or shall be in the world; even that collective Church which above all competition, is the pillar and ground of truth, 1 Tim. 3. 15. against which the assaults of men and devils, and even the gates of hell shall not prevail, Mat. 16. 18.
5. THE Gospels were not written by their Holy Pen-men to instruct the Apostles, but to 127the Christian Church, that they might believe Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, and that believing they might have life thro’ his name, Jo. 20. 31. The Epistles were not address’d peculiarly to the Bishops and Deacons, but all the Holy brethren, to the Churches of that are sanctified in Jesus Christ, and to all those that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Rom. 1. 7. 1 Cor. 1. 2. 2 Cor. 1. 1. Gal. 1. 2. Eph. 1. 1. Col. 4. 16. 1 Thes. 5. 27. Phil. 1. 1. Jam. 1. 1. 1 Pet. 1. 1. 2 Pet. 1. Rev. 1. 4. Or if by chance some one or two of the Epistles were address’d to an Ecclesiastick person, as those to Timothy and Titus, their purport plainly refers to the community of Christians, and the depositum committed to their trust; 1 Tim. 6. 20. And St. John on the other side directs his Epistles to those who were plainly secular; to fathers, young men and little children; and a Lady and her children, Epist. I. chap. 2. 12, 13, 14. and Epist. 2. 1. 1.
6. BUT besides the interest which every Christian has in the custody of the Scripture upon the account of its being a depositum intrusted to him, he has also another no less forcible; that ’tis the Testament of his Saviour, by which he becomes a Son of God, no more a Servant but a Son; and if he be a Son, it is the Apostles inference, that he is then an heir, an heir of God thro’ Christ, Gal. 4. 7. Now as he who is heir to an estate, is also to the 128deeds and conveiances thereof; which without injury cannot be detain’d, or if they be, there is a remedy at Law for the recovery of them: so it fares in our Christian inheritance: every believer by the privilege of faith, is made a Son of Abraham, and an heir of the promises made unto the fathers, whereby he has an hereditary interest in the Old Testament; and also by the privilege of the same Faith he has a firm right to the purchas’d possession, Eph. 1. 14. and the charter thereof, the New. Therefore the detention of the Scriptures, which are made up of there two parts, is a manifest injustice, and sacrilegious invasion of a right, which the person wrong’d is impower’d, nay, is strictly oblig’d by all lawful means to vindicate.
7. WHICH invasion of right will appear more flagrant when the nature and importance of it is consider’d; which relating to mens spiritual interest, renders the violation infinitely more injurious than it could be in any secular. I might mention several detriments consequent to this detention of Scripture, even as many as there are benefits appendant to the free use of it; but there is one of so fundamental and comprehensive a nature, that I need name no more; and that is, that it delivers men up to any delusion their teachers shall impose upon them, by depriving them of means of detecting them. 129Where there is no standard or measures, ’tis easie for men to falsifie both; and no less easie is it to adulterate doctrines, where no recourse can be had to the primary rule. Now that there is a possibility that false teachers may arise, we have all assurance; nay we have the word of Christ, and his Apostles that it should be so and all Ecclesiastick Story to attest it has been so. And if in the first and purest times (those Ages of more immediate illumination) the God of this world found instruments whereby to blind mens minds, 2 Cor. 4. 4. it cannot be suppos’d impossible or improbable he should do so now.
8. BUT to leave generals, and to speak to the case of that Church which magisterially prohibits Scripture to the vulgar: she manifestly stands liable to that charge of our Saviour, Luk. 11. 52. Ye have taken away the key of knowledge; and by allowing the common people no more Scripture than what she affords them in their Sermons and private Manuals, keeps it in her power to impose on them what she pleases. For ’tis sure those portions she selects for them, shall be none of those which clash with the doctrines she recommends: and when ever she will use this power to the corrupting their faith, or worship (yea, or their manners either) they must brutishly submit to it, because they cannot bring her dictates to the rest.130
9. BUT ’twill be said, this danger she wards by her doctrine of infallibility: that is, she enervates a probable supposition attested by event, by an impossible one confuted by event. For ’tis certain that all particular Churches may err; and tho’ the consciousness of that forces the Roman Church upon the absurd pretence of universality, to assert her infallibility; yet alas Tyber may as well call it self the Ocean, or Italy the world, as the Roman Church may name it self the universal; whilst ’tis so apparent that far the less part of Christians are under her communion. And if she be but a particular Church, she has no immunity from errours, nor those under her from having those errours (how pernicious soever) impos’d upon them. As to her having actually err’d, and in diverse particulars, the proof of that has been the work of so many Volumes, that ’twould be impertinent here to undertake it: I shall only instance in that of Image-worship, a practice perfectly irreconcilable with the second commandment; and doubtless clearly discern’d by her to be so; upon which account it is, that tho’ by Translations and Paraphrases she wrests and moulds other Texts to comply with her Doctrines, yet the dares not trust to those arts of this: but takes a more compendious course, and expunges the Commandment; as is evident in her Catechisms and 131other Manuals. Now a Church that can thus sacrilegiously purloin one Commandment (and such a one as God has own’d himself the most jealously concen’d in) and to delude her Children split another to make up the number, may as her needs require, substract and divide what others she please: and then whilst all resort to Scripture is obstructed, how fatal a hazard must those poor souls run, who are oblig’d to follow these blind, or rather these winking guides into the ditch?
10. BUT all these criminations she retorts by objecting the dangers of allowing the Scriptures to the vulgar, which she accuses as the spring of all Sects, Schisms, and Heresies. To which 1 answer first, that supposing this were true, ’twas certainly foreseen by God, who notwithstanding laid no restraint; probably as fore-seeing, that the dangers of implicite faith (to which such a restraint must subject men) would be far greater: and if God saw fit to indulge the liberty, those that shall oppose it must certainly think they do not only partake, but have transplanted infallibility from God to themselves.
11. BUT secondly, ’tis not generally true, that Sects, Schisms, and Heresies are owing to this liberty: All Ecclesiastical Story shews us that they were not the illiterate Lay-men, but the learned Clerks who were usually the broachers of Heresies. And indeed many of 132them were so subtile and aerial, as could never have been forg’d in grosser brains; but were founded not on Scripture merely mistaken, but rack’d and distorted with nice criticisms, and quirks of Logick, as several of the Ancients complain: some again sprang from that ambition of attaining, or impatience of missing Ecclesiastical dignities; which appropriates them to the Clergy. So that if the abuse infer a forfeiture of the use, the Learned have of others the least title to the Scriptures; and perhaps those who now ingross them, the least title of all the Learned.
12. ON the other side, Church story deed mentions some Lay-propugners of Heresies but those for the most part were either so gross and bestial; as disparag’d and confuted themselves and Authors, and rose rather from the brutish inclination of the men, than from their mistakes of Scripture: or else they were by the immediate infusion of the devil, who back’d his Heretical suggestions with sorcerie and lying wonders, as in Simon Magus, Menander, &c. And for latter times, tho’ sometimes there happens among the vulgar a few pragmatick spirits, that love to tamper with the obscurest Texts, and will undertake to expound before they understand; yet that is not their common temper: the generality are rather in the other extreme, stupid and unobservant even of the plainest doctrines. And if 133to this be objected the multitude of Quakers and Fanaticks, who generally are of the ignorant sort; 1 answer, that ’tis manifest the first propugners of those tenets in Germany were not seduc’d into them by mistakes of Scripture, but industriously form’d them, at once to disguise and promote their villainous designs of sedition and Rapine: and as for those amongst us, it is not at all certain that their first errours were their own productions: there are vehement presumptions that the seeds were sown by greater Artificers; whose first business was to unhinge them from the Church, and then to fill their Heads with strange Chimera’s of their priviledges and perfections; and by that intoxication of Spiritual Pride, dispose them for all delusions: and thereby render them like Samsons Foxes, fit instruments to set all in combustion.
13. BUT admit this were but a conjecture, and that they were the sole Authors of their own frenzy; how appears it that the liberty of reading the Scriptures was the cause of it? Had these men been of the Romish Communion, and so been interdicted private reading, yet some broken parts of Scripture would have been in Sermons and Books of Devotion communicated to them; had it not been as possible for them to have wrested what they heard as what they read? In one respect it seems rather 134more likely: for in those loose and incidental quotations the connexion is sometimes not so discernable: and many Texts there are whose sense is so interwoven with the context, that without consulting that, there may be very pernicious mistakes: on which account it is probably more safe that the Auditor should have Bibles to consult. So that this restraint of Scripture is a very fallible expedient of the infallible Church. And indeed themselves have in event found it so; for if it were so soveraign a prophylactick against errour, how comes it to pass that so many of their members who were under that discipline have revolted from them into that which they call Heresie? If they say, the defection was made by some of the Learned to whom the Scripture was allow’d, why do they not (according to their way of arguing) take it from them also upon that experiment of its mischief, and confine it only to the Infallible Chair? but if they own them to have been unlearned (as probably the Albigenses and Waldenses, &c. were) they may see how insignificant a guard this restraint is against errour: and learn how little is got by that policy which controuls the Divine Wisdom.
14. NOR can they take shelter in the example of the primitive Christians: for they in the constant use of the Holy Scriptures yielded not unto the Jews. Whereas the Jews had 135the Scriptures read publickly to them every Sabbath-day; which Jorephus against Appion thus expresses: Moses expounded to the Jews the most excellent and necessary learning of the Law; not by hearing it once or twice, but every seventh day laying aside their works, he commanded them to assemble for the hearing of the Law, and throughly and exactly to learn it. Parallel to this was the practice of the primitive Church, perform’d by the Lector, or Reader, of which Justin Martyr in his 2 Apol. gives this account. On the day call’d Sunday, all that abide in Towns or the countries about, meet in one place, and the writings of the Apostles and Prophets are read, so far as there is place. So Tertullian in his Apol. describing the offices in the publick Assemblies: We feed our faith with the sacred Words, we raise our hopes, and establish our reliance.
15. AND as the Jews thought it indecent for persons professing piety, to let three days pass without the offices thereof in the congregation; and therefore met in their Synagogues upon every Tuesday and Thursday in the week, and there perform’d the duties of fasting, prayer, and hearing the Holy Scriptures; concerning which is the boast of the Pharisee, Luk. 18. 12. in conformity hereto the Christians also, their Sabbath being brought forward from the Saturday to the day following, that the like number of days might not pass them without performing the aforesaid 136duties in the congregation, met together on the Wednesdays and Fridays which were the days of Station, so frequently mention’d in Tertullian, and others, the first writers of the Church. Tertullian expressly says, that the Christians dedicated to the offices of Piety, the fourth and sixth day of the week: and Clemens Alex. says of the Christians, that they understood the secret reasons of their weekly fasts, to wit, those of the fourth day of the week, and that of preparation before the Sabbath, commonly call’d Wednesday and Friday. Where, by the way, we may take notice what ground there is for the observation of the Wednesday and Friday in our Church, and the Litanies then appointed, so much neglected in this profligate Age.
16. BUT secondly, as the Jews were diligent in the private reading of the Scripture; being taught it from their infancy: which custome Saint Paul refers to 1 Tim. 3. 15. whereof Josephus against Appion says, That if a man ask any Jew concerning the Laws, he will tell every thing readier than his name: for learning them from the first time they have sense of any thing, they retain them imprinted in their minds. So were the first Christians equally industrious in improving their knowledge of divine Truth. The whole life of a Christian says Clem. Alex. Strom. l. 7. is a Holy solemnity, there his sacrifices are prayers and praises; before 137 every meal he has the readings of the Holy Scriptures; and Psalms, and hymns at the time of his meals. Which Tertullian also describes in his Apol. and St. Cyprian in the end of the Epist. to Donatus.
17. AND this is farther evidenc’d by the early and numerous Versions of the Scriptures into all vulgar Languages; concerning which Theodoret speaks in his Book of the Cure of the Affections of the Greeks, Serm. 5. We Christians (says he) are enabled to shew the power of Apostolick and Prophetick Doctrines, which have fill’d all Countries under Heaven. For that which was formerly utter’d in Hebrew, is not only translated into the Language of the Grecians, but also the Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Armenians, Scythians, Samaritans; and in a word into all the Languages that are us’d by any Nation. The same is said by Saint Chrysostom in his first Homily upon Saint John.
18. NOR was this done by the blind zeal of inconsiderable men, but the most eminent Doctors of the Church were concern’d herein: such as Origen, who with infinite labour contriv’d the Hexapla. Saint Chrysostom, who translated the New Testament, Psalms, and some part of the Old Testament into the Armenian Tongue, as witnesses Geor. Alex. in the life of Chrysost. So Ulphilas the first Bishop of the Goths translated the Holy Scripture into the Gothick; as Socrat. Eccl. Hist. l. 4. cap. 33. 138and others testifie. Saint Jerome, who translated them not only into Latin from the Hebrew, the Old Italick version having been from the Greek; but also into his native vulgar Dalmatick: which he says himself in his Epistle to Sophronins.
19. BUT the peoples having them for their private and constant use appears farther by the Heathens making the extorting of them a part of their persecution: and when divers did faint in that trial, and basely surrender’d them, we find the Church levell’d her severity only against the offending persons, did not (according to the Romish equity) punish the Innocent, by depriving them of that Sacred Book, because the others had so unworthily prostituted it (though the prevention of such a profanation for the future had been as fair a plea for it as the Romanists do now make:) but on the contrary the primitive Fathers are frequent, nay indeed importunate in their exhortations to the private study of Holy Scripture, which they recommend to Christians of all Ranks, Ages, and Sexes.
20. AS an instance hereof let us hear Clemens of Alex. in his Exhortation. The word, says he, is not hid from any, it it a common light that shineth to all men; there is no obscurity in it; hear it you that be far off, and hear it you that are nigh.
21. TO this purpose St. Jerome speaks in his 139Epistle to Leta, whom he directs in the education of her young daughter, and advises, that instead of gems and silk, she be enamour’d with the Holy Scripture; wherein not gold, or skins, or Babylonian embroideries, but a correct and beautiful variety producing faith, will recommend its self. Let her first learn the Psalter, and be entertain’d with those songs; then be instructed unto life by the Proverbs of Solomon: let her learn from Ecclesiastes to despise worldly things; transcribe from Job the practice of patience and vertue: let her pass then to the Gospels, and never let them be out of her hands: and then imbibe with all the faculties of the mind, the Acts of the Apostles, and Epistles. When she has enrich’d the storehouse of her breast with these treasures, let her learn the Prophets, the Heptateuch, or books of Moses, Joshua and Judges, the books of Kings and Chronicles, the volumes of Ezra and Esther; and lastly the Canticles. And indeed, this Father is so concern’d to have the unletter’d Female Sex skilful in the Scriptures, that tho’ he sharply rebukes their pride and over-weening; he not only frequently resolves their doubts concerning difficult places in the said Scriptures, but dedicates several of his Commentaries to them.
22. THE same is to be said of Saint Austin, who in his Epistles to unletter’d encourages their enquiries concerning the Scripture, assuring Volusianus Ep. 3• that it speaks 140those things that are plain to the heart of the learned and unlearned, as a familiar friend; in the mysterious, mounts not up into high phrases which might deter a slow and unlearned mind, (as the poor are in their addresses to the rich;) but invites all with lowly speech, feeding with manifest truth, and exercising with secret. And Ep. 1. 21. tells the devout Proba, that in this world, where we are absent from the Lord, and walk by faith and not by sight, the soul is to think it self desolate, and never cease from prayer, and the words of Divine and Holy Scripture, &c.
23. SAINT Chrysostom in his third Homily of Lazarus thus addresses himself to married persons, house-holders, and people engag’d in trades and secular professions; telling them, that the reading of the Scripture is a great defensative against sin; and on the other side, the ignorance whereof is a deep and head-long precipice; that not to know the Law of God, is the utter loss of salvation; that this has caused Heresies, and corruption of Life, and has confounded the order of things: for it cannot be by any means, that his labour should be fruitless, who employs himself in a daily and attentive reading of the Scripture.
24. I am not, says the same Saint Chrysostom, Homil. 9. on Colos 3. a Monk, I have Wife and Children, and the cares of a Family. But ’tis a destructive opinion, that the reading of the Scripture pertains only to those who have addicted themselves to a Monastick life; when the reading of Scripture 141is much more necessary for secular persons: for they who converse abroad, and receive frequent wounds, are in greatest needs of remedies and preservatives. So Hom. 2. on Matt. Hearken all you that are secular, how you ought to order your Wives and Children; and how you are particularly enjoyn’d to read the Scriptures, and that not perfunctorily, or by chance, but very diligently.
25. LIKEWISE Hom. 3. on Lazarus. What sayest thou, O man? it is not thy business to turn over the Scripture, being distracted by innumerable cares; no, thou hast therefore the greater obligation: others do not so much stand in need of the aids of the Scripture, as they who are conversant in much business. Farther, Homil. 8. on Hebr. 5. I beseech you neglect not the reading of the Scriptures; but whether we comprehend the meaning of what if spoken or not, let us always be conversant in them: for daily meditation strengthens the memory; and it frequently happens, that what you now cannot find out, if you attempt it again, you will the next day discover: for God of his goodness will enlighten the mind. It were endless to transcribe all the Exhortations of the ancient Doctors and Fathers of the Church; they not only permitted, but earnestly prest upon all Christians, whatever their state or condition were, the constant reading of the holy Scripture. Nor indeed was their restraint ever heard of till the Church of Rome had espous’d such doctrines as would 142not bear the test of Scripture and then as those who deal in false wares are us’d to do, they found it necessary to proportion their lights accordingly.
26. THIS Peter Sutor in his second Book Cap. 22. of the Translation of the Scripture honeisly confesses, that whereas many things are enjoyn’d which are not expresly Scripture, the unlearned observing this will be apt to murmur and complain that so heavy burthens are laid upon them, and their Christian liberty infringed. They will easily be with-drawn from observing the Constitutions of the Church, when they find that they are not contain’d in the Law of Christ. And that this was not a frivolous suggestion, the desperate attempt of the Romanists above mention’d, in leaving out the second Commandment in their Primers and Catechisms, which they communicate to the people, may pass for an irrefragable evidence; For what Lay-man would not be shockt to find Almighty God Command, not to make any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in Heaven above, or in the Earth beneath, or in the Water under the Earth; that no one should bow down to them, nor worship them: when he sees the contrary is practiced and commanded by the Church.
27. BUT would God none but the Romanist were impeachable of this detention of Scripture: there are too many among us 143that are thus false and envious to themselves: and what the former do upon policy and pretence of reverence, those do upon mere oscitancy and avow’d profaneness; which are much worse inducements. And for such as these to declaim against detention of the Scripture, is like the Law-suits of those who contend only about such little punctilio’s as themselves design no advantage from, but only the worsting their Adversaries and it would be much safer for them to lie under the interdict of others, than thus to refrain themselves: even as much as the errours of obedience are more excusable, than those of contempt and profaneness.
28. AND here I would have it seriously consider’d that the Edict of Diocletian for the demolishing the Christian Churches, and the burning their Bibles, became the character and particular aggravation of his most bloody persecution. Now should Almighty God call us to the like trial, should Antichristian violence, whether heathen or other, take from us our Churches and our Bibles, what comfort could we have in that calamity, if our contempt of those blessings drove them from us nay, prevented persecution, and bereft us of them even whilst we had them in our power? He who neglects to make his constant resort unto the Church, which by Gods mercy now stands open; or to read diligently the holy Scriptures, which by the 144same divine Goodness are free for him to use, is his own Diocletian; and without the terrours of death, or torments, has renounc’d, if not the Faith, the great instruments of its conveiance, and pledge of God Almighties presence among the sons of men.
29. BUT what if men either upon the one motive or the other, will not read; yet the Scriptures continue still most worthy to be read: they retain still their propriety for all those excellent ends to which God design’d them: and as the Prophet tells the Jews, Ez. 2. 5. whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, they shall know that there has been a Prophet among them: so whether we will take the benefit or no, we shall one day find that the holy Scripture would have made us wise unto salvation. If thro’ our fault alone they fail to do so, they will one day assume a less grateful office; and from guides and assistants, become accusers and witnesses against us.
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