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Mr Biddle’s preface to his catechism.

I have often wondered and complained that there was no catechism yet extant (that I could ever see or hear of) from whence one might learn the true grounds of the Christian religion, as the same is delivered in the holy Scripture, all catechisms generally being so stuffed with the supposals and traditions of men that the least part of them is derived from the word of God: for when councils, convocations, and assemblies of divines, justling the sacred writers out of their place in the church, had once framed articles and confessions of faith according to their own fancies and interests, and the civil magistrate had by his authority ratified the same, all catechisms were afterward fitted to those articles and confessions, and the Scripture either wholly omitted or brought in only for a show, not one quotation amongst many being a whit to the purpose, as will soon appear to any man of judgment, who, taking into his hand the said catechisms, shall examine the texts alleged in them; for if he do this diligently and impartially, he will find the Scripture and those catechisms to be at so wide a distance one from another, that he will begin to question whether the catechists gave any heed at all to what they wrote, and did not only themselves refuse to make use of their reason, but presume that their readers also would do the same. In how miserable a condition, then, as to spiritual things, must Christians generally needs be, when thus trained up, not, as the apostle adviseth, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” but in the supposals and traditions of men, having little or no assurance touching the reality of their religion! which some observing, and not having the happiness to light upon the truth, have quite abandoned all piety whatsoever, thinking there is no firm ground whereon to build the same. To prevent which mischief in time to come, by bringing men to a certainty (I mean such men as own the divine authority of the Scripture), and withal to satisfy the just and pious desires of many who would fain understand the truth of our religion, to the end they might not only be built up themselves, but also instruct their children and families in the same, I have here (according to the understanding I have gotten by continual meditation on the word of God) compiled a Scripture Catechism; wherein I bring the reader to a sure and certain knowledge of the chiefest things pertaining both to belief and practice, whilst I myself assert nothing (as others have done before me), but only introduce the Scripture faithfully uttering its own assertions, which all Christians confess to be of undoubted truth. Take heed, therefore, whosoever thou art that lightest on this book, and there readest things quite contrary to the doctrines that pass current amongst the generality of Christians (for I confess most of the things here displayed have such a tendency), that thou fall not foul upon them; for thou canst not do so without falllng foul upon the holy Scripture itself, inasmuch as all the answers throughout the whole Catechism are faithfully transcribed out of it and rightly applied to the questions, 56as thou thyself mayst perceive if thou make a diligent inspection into the several texts, with all their circumstances. Thou wilt perhaps here reply, that the texts which I have cited do indeed in the letter hold forth such things as are contrary to the doctrines commonly received amongst Christians, but they ought to have a mystical or figurative interpretation put upon them, and then both the doctrines and the texts of Scripture will suit well enough. To which I answer, that if we once take this liberty to impose our mystical or figurative interpretations on the Scripture, without express warrant of the Scripture itself, we shall have no settled belief, but be liable continually to be turned aside by any one that can invent a new mystical meaning of the Scripture, there being no certain rule to judge of such meanings as there is of the literal ones, nor is there any error, how absurd and impious soever, but may on such terms be accorded with the Scripture. All the abominable idolatries of the Papists, all the superstitious fopperies of the Turks, all the licentious opinions and practices of the Ranters, may by this means be not only palliated but defended by the word of God. Certainly, might we of our own heads figuratively interpret the Scripture, when the letter is neither repugnant to our senses nor to the scope of the respective texts, nor to a greater number of plain texts to the contrary (for in such cases we must of necessity admit figures in the sacred volume as well as we do in profane ones, otherwise both they and it will clash with themselves or with our senses, which the Scripture itself intimates to be of infallible certainty; see 1 John i. 1–3); — might we, I say, at our pleasure impose our figures and allegories on the plain words of God, the Scripture would in very deed be, what some blasphemously affirm it to be, “a nose of wax.” For instance, it is frequently asserted in the Scripture that God hath a similitude or shape, hath his place in the heavens, hath also affections or passions, ‘as love, hatred, mercy, anger, and the like; neither is any thing to the contrary delivered there unless seemingly in certain places, which neither for number nor clearness are comparable unto those of the other side. Why now should I depart from the letter of the Scripture in these particulars, and boldly affirm, with the generality of Christians (or rather with the generality of such Christians only as, being conversant with the false philosophy that reigneth in the schools, have their understandings perverted with wrong notions), that God is without a shape, in no certain place, and incapable of affections? Would not this be to use the Scripture like a nose of wax, and when of itself it looketh any way, to turn it aside at our pleasure? And would not God be so far from speaking to our capacity in his word (which is the usual refuge of the adversaries when in these and the like matters concerning God they are pressed with the plain words of the Scripture), as that he would by so doing render us altogether incapable of finding out his meaning, whilst he spake one thing and understood the clean contrary? Yea, would he not have taken the direct course to make men substitute an idol in his stead (for the adversaries hold that to conceive of God as having a shape, or affections, or being in a certain place, is idolatry), if he described himself in the Scripture otherwise than indeed he is, without telling us so much in plain terms, that we might not conceive amiss of him? Thus we see that when sleep, which plainly argueth weakness and imperfection, had been ascribed to God, Ps. xliv. 23, the contrary is said of him, Ps. cxxi. 4. Again, when weariness had been attributed to him, Isa. i. 14, the same is expressly denied of him, Isa. xl. 28. And would not God, think ye, have done the like in those forementioned things, were the case the same in them as in the others? This 57consideration is so pressing, that a certain author (otherwise a very learned and intelligent man) perceiving the weight thereof, and not knowing how to avoid the same, took up (though very unluckily) one erroneous tenet to maintain another, telling us in a late book of his, entitled Conjectura Cabalistica, “That for Moses, by occasion of his writings, to let the Jews entertain a conceit of God as in human shape, was not any more a way to bring them into idolatry than by acknowledging man to be God, as,” saith he, “our religion does in Christ.” How can this consist even with consonancy to his own principles, whilst he holds it to be false that God hath any shape, but true that Christ is God; for will a false opinion of God not sooner lead men into idolatry than a true opinion of Christ? But it is no marvel that this author, and other learned men with him, entertain such conceits of God and Christ as are repugnant to the current of the Scripture, whilst they set so high a rate on the sublime, indeed, but uncertain notions of the Platonists, and in the meantime slight the plain but certain letter of the sacred writers, as being far below the Divine Majesty, and written only to comply with the rude apprehensions of the vulgar, unless by a mystical interpretation they be screwed up to Platonism. This is the stone at which the pride of learned men hath caused them continually to stumble, — namely, to think that they can speak more wisely and worthily of God than he hath spoken of himself in his word. This hath brought that more than Babylonish confusion of language into the Christian religion, whilst men have framed those horrid and intricate expressions, under the colour of detecting and excluding heresies, but in truth to put a baffle on the simplicity of the Scripture and usher in heresies, that so they might the more easily carry on their worldly designs, which could not be effected but through the ignorance of the people, nor the people brought into ignorance but by wrapping up religion in such monstrous terms as neither the people nor they themselves that invented them (or at least took them from the invention of others) did understand. Wherefore, there is no possibility to reduce the Christian religion to its primitive integrity, — a thing, though much pretended, yea, boasted of in reformed churches, yet never hitherto sincerely endeavoured, much less effected (in that men have, by severe penalties, been hindered to reform religion beyond such a stint as that of Luther, or at most that of Calvin), — but by cashiering those many intricate terms and devised forms of speaking imposed on our religion, and by wholly betaking ourselves to the plainness of the Scripture: for I have long since observed (and find my observation to be true and certain), that when, to express matters of religion, men make use of words and phrases unheard of in the Scripture, they slily under them couch false doctrines and obtrude them on us; for without question the doctrines of the Scripture can be so aptly explained in no language as that of the Scripture itself. Examine, therefore, the expressions of God’s being “infinite and incomprehensible, of his being a simple act, of his subsisting in three persons or after a threefold manner, of a divine circumincession, of an eternal generation, of an eternal procession, of an incarnation, of an hypostatical union, of a communication of properties, of the mother of God, of God dying, of God made man, of transubstantiation, of consubstantiation, of original sin, of Christ’s taking our nature on him, of Christ’s making satisfaction to God for our sins, both past, present, and to come, of Christ’s fulfilling the law for us, of Christ’s being punished by God for us, of Christ’s merits or his meritorious obedience, both active and passive, of Christ’s purchasing the kingdom of heaven for us, of Christ’s enduring the wrath of God, yea, the pains of a damned man, of Christ’s rising from 58the dead by his own power, of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, of apprehending and applying Christrighteousness to ourselves by faith, of Christ’s being our surety, of Christ’s paying our debts, of our sins imputed to Christ, of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, of Christ’s dying to appease the wrath of God and reconcile him to us, of infused grace, of free grace, of the world of the elect, of irresistible workings of the Spirit in bringing men to believe, of carnal reason, of spiritual desertions, of spiritual incomes, of the outgoings of God, of taking up the ordinance,” etc., and thou shalt find that as these forms of speech are not owned by the Scripture, so neither the things contained in them. How excellent, therefore, was that advice of Paul to Timothy in his second epistle to him, 2 Tim. i. 13, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus”! for if we once let go those forms of sound words learned from the apostles, and take up such as have been coined by others in succeeding ages, we shall together [with them] part with the apostles’ doctrine, as woful experience hath taught us; for after Constantine the Great, together with the council of Nice, had once deviated from the language of the Scripture in the business touching the Son of God, calling him” co-essential with the Father,” this opened a gap for others afterward, under a pretence of guarding the truth from heretics, to devise new terms at pleasure; which did, by degrees, so vitiate the chastity and simplicity of our faith, delivered in the Scripture, that there hardly remained so much as one point thereof sound and entire. So that as it was wont to be disputed in the schools, whether the old ship of Theseus (which had in a manner been wholly altered at sundry times, by the accession of new pieces of timber upon the decay of the old) were the same ship it had been at first, and not rather another by degrees substituted in the stead thereof: in like manner there was so much of the primitive truth worn away, by the corruption that did, by little and little, overspread the generality of Christians, and so many errors in stead thereof tacked to our religion, at several times, that one might justly question whether it were the same religion with that which Christ and his apostles taught, and not another since devised by men and put in the room thereof. But thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who, amidst the universal corruption of our religion, hath preserved his written word entire (for had men corrupted it, they would have made it speak more favourably in behalf of their lusts and worldly interests than it doth); which word, if we with diligence and sincerity pry into, resolving to embrace the doctrine that is there plainly delivered, though all the world should set itself against us for so doing, we shall easily discern the truth, and so be enabled to reduce our religion to its first principles. For thus much I perceive by mine own experience, who, being otherwise of no great abilities, yet setting myself, with the aforesaid resolution, for sundry years together upon an impartial search of the Scripture, have not only detected many errors, but here presented the reader with a body of religion exactly transcribed out of the word of God: which body whosoever shall well ruminate and digest in his mind, may, by the same method wherein! have gone before him, make a farther inquiry into the oracles of God, and draw forth whatsoever yet lies hid; and being brought to light, [it] will tend to the accomplishment of godliness amongst us, for at this only all the Scripture aimeth; — the Scripture, which all men who have thoroughly studied the same must of necessity be enamoured with, as breathing out the mere wisdom of God, and being the exactest rule of a holy life (which all religions whatsoever confess to be the way unto happiness) that can be imagined, and whose divinity will never, 59even to the world’s end, be questioned by any but such as are unwilling to deny their worldly lusts and obey the pure and perfect precepts thereof; which obedience whosoever shall perform, he shall, not only in the life to come, but even in this life, be equal unto angels.

John Biddle.

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