« AnteriorContinuar »
mained, which required to be more rigidly examined by the rule of Scripture, and reformed after a more accurate model. I so far satisfied myself in the prosecution of this plan as at length to trust that I had discovered, with regard to religion, what was matter of belief, and what only matter of opinion. It was also a great solace to me to have compiled, by God's assistance, a precious aid for my faith,or rather to have laid up for myself a treasure which would be a provision for my future life, and would remove from my mind all grounds for hesitation, as often as it behoved me to render an account of the principles of my belief.
If I communicate the result of my inquiries to the world at large; if, as God is my witness, it be with a friendly and benignant feeling towards mankind, that I readily give as wide a circulation as possible to what I esteem my best and richest possession, I hope to meet with a candid reception from all parties, and that none at least will take unjust offence, even though many things should be brought to light which will at once be seen to differ from certain received opinions. I earnestly beseech all lovers of truth, not to cry out that the Church is thrown into confusion by that freedom of discussion and inquiry which is granted to the schools, and ought certainly to be refused to no believer, since we are ordered to prove all things, and since the daily progress of the light of truth is productive far less of disturbance to the Church, than of illumination and edification. Nor do I see how the Church can be more disturbed by the investigation of truth, than were the Gentiles by the first promulgation of the gospel ; since so far from recommending or imposing anything on my own authority, it is my particular advice that every one should suspend his opinion on whatever points he
may not feel himself fully satisfied, till the evi'dence of Scripture prevail, and persuade his reason into assent and faith. Concealment is not my object; it is to the learned that I address myself, or if it be thought that the learned are not the best umpires and judges of such things, I should at least wish to submit my opinions to men of a mature and manly understanding, possessing a thorough knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel ; on whose judgements I should rely with far more confidence, than on those of novices in these matters. * And whereas the greater part of those who have written most largely on these subjects have been wont to fill whole pages with explanations of their own opinions, thrusting into the margin the texts in support of their doctrine, with a summary reference to the chapter and verse ; I have chosen, on the contrary, to fill my pages even to redundance with quotations from Scripture, that so as little space as possible might be left for my own words, even when they arise from the context of revelation itself. It has also been my object to make it appear
* "I seek not to seduce the simple and illiterate; my errand is to find out the choicest and the learnedest, who have this high gist of wisdom to answer solidly, or to be convinced.' Address to the Parliament of England, prefixed to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Prose Works, I. 341.
from the opinions I shall be found to have advanced, whether new or old, of how much consequence to the Christian religion is the liberty not only of winnowing and sifting every doctrine,* but also of thinking and even writing respecting it, according to our individual faith and persuasion ;t an inference which will be stronger in proportion to the weight and importance of those opinions, or rather in proportion to the authority of Scripture, on the abundant testimony of which they rest. Without this liberty there is neither religion nor gospel-force alone prevails,by which it is disgraceful for the Christian religion to be supported. Without this liberty we are still enslaved, not indeed, as formerly, under the divine law, but, what is worst of all, under the law of man, or to speak more truly, under a barbarous tyranny. But I do not expect from candid and judicious readers a conduct so unworthy of them,—that like certain unjust and foolish men, they should stamp with the invidious name of heretic or heresy whatever appears to them to differ from the received opinions, without trying the doctrine by a comparison with Scripture testimonies.* According to their notions, to have branded any one at random with this opprobrious mark, is to have refuted him without any trouble, by a single word. By the simple imputation of the name of heretic, they think that they have despatched their man at one blow. To men of this kind I answer, that in the time of the apostles, ere the New Testament was written, when ever the charge of heresy was applied as a term of reproach, that alone was considered as heresy which was at variance with their doctrine orally delivered,—and that those only were looked upon as heretics, who according to Rom. xvi. 17, 18. caused divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine of the apostles..... serving not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.' By parity of reasoning therefore, since the compilation of the New Testament, I maintain that nothing but what is in contradiction to it can properly be called heresy.
* Sad it is to think how that doctrine of the Gospel, planted by teachers divinely inspired, and by them winnowed and sifted from the chaff of overdated ceremonies,' &c. Of Reformation in England. Prose Works, 1. 1.
+ For me, I have determined to lay up as the best treasure and solace of a good old age, if God vouchsafe it me, the honest liberty of free speech from my youth, where I shall think it available in so dear a concernment as the Church's good.' The Reason of Church-Government urged against Prelaty. Prose Works, I. 116. “To Protestants, therefore, whose common rule and touchstone is the Scripture, nothing can with more conscience, more equity, nothing more Protestantly can be permitted, than a free and lawful debate at all times by writing, conference, or disputation of what opinion soever, disputable by Scripture ; concluding that no man in religion is properly a heretic at this day, but he who maintains traditions or opinions not probable by Scripture, who for aught I know is the Papist only; he the only beretic who counts all heretics but himself.' Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiasli. cal Causes. Prose Works, III. 326.
* "But we shall not carry it thus; another Greek apparition stands in our way, Heresy and Heretic ; in like manner also railed at to the people as in a tongue unknown....... In apostolic time, therefore, ere the Scripture was written, heresy was a doctrine maintained against the doctrine by them delivered ; which in these times can be no otherwise defined than a doctrine maintained against the light, which we now only have, of the Scripture.' Trealise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes. Prose Works, III. 326. And again, in The Reason of Church-Gorernment urged against Prelaty.
"As for those terrible names of sectaries and schismatics, which ye have got togeth. er, we know your manner of fight, when the quiver of your arguments, which is ever thin, and weakly stored, after the first brunt is quite empty, your course is to betake ye to your other quiver of slander, wherein lies your best archery. And whom you could not move by sophistical arguing, them you think to confute by scandalous misnaming; thereby inciting the blinder sort of people to mislike and deride sound doctrine and good Christianity, under two or three vile and bateful terms.' I. 104.
For my own part, I adhere to the Holy Scriptures alone-I follow no other heresy or sect.
I had not even read any of the works of heretics, so called, when the mistakes of those who are reckoned for orthodox,* and their incautious handling of Scripture, first taught me to agree with their opponents whenever those opponents agreed with Scripture. If this be heresy, I confess with St. Paul, Acts xxiv. 14. “ that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets'—to which I add, whatever is written in the New Testament, Any other judges or chief interpreters of the Christian belief, together with all implicit faith, as it is called,
*Yea those that are reckoned for orthodox, began to make sad and shameful rents in the Church about the trivial celebration of feasts,' &c. Of Reformation in England. Prose Works, I. 15. VOL. I.