(1) To the plain and satisfactory method of seeking for the faith in the sacred books, there are many ad∣versaries and many objections raised. There are (says a great man) a very numerous body of Christians who know no other guides but the living guides of the pre∣sent church; and acknowledge no other faith, for the faith once delivered to the saints, but that which is now delivered to them by their present rulers, as such.
To establish this point, the greater part of these lay down the infallibility of the present church, and of eve∣ry man of the past ages, through whose mouth, or by whose hands, the present traditions of faith have de∣scended to them. And this, indeed, would be a very good method, if that single proof of infallibility could be proved. But this is a point so gross, and so utterly void of all proof, that a great body of the Christian world, have broke loose from the power of this mon∣ster, and declared for the New Testament itself, as the only guide or rule of faith; the only deliverer of the faith to us of later ages.
When this comes however to be put in practice, too many of the same persons who set the scriptures up as the only guide, turn round on a sudden, and let us know that they mean by it, not these sacred original writings themselves, but the interpretations, or sense, put upon them by our spiritual superiors, to which we are bound to submit, and put under an obligation Page 29 to find that to be the truth which is taught by these leaders.
But to this we reply with reason, that though we ought to pay a regard of serious attention to those whose business it is to find out and dispense the truth, and shew the respect of a due examination of what they affirm; yet we must not yield the submission due only to infallibility. It is our glory not to submit to the voice of any man. We must reserve that regard, for God, and for Christ, in matters of faith once delivered to the Saints.
Others, again, of the reformed, tell us, that the surer way of knowing what was delivered near eighteen hundred years ago, is to take the original faith from the Councils and Fathers, grave and good men, who met and writ for the settling of the faith. — And to this we answer, that these wise and good men cannot give so good an account of the faith contained in the original books as the books themselves which contain it.
To give an example to the purpose. If we would know the doctrine of the Church of England at the reformation, it is not the writings of any particular di∣vines, many years after that period, that we must con∣sult; or any assembly of them; but the authentic acts, and declarations, and sermons, made and recorded at the time; for many of the doctrines thought essential at the reformation, have been since changed by gradual alterations; — by explainers using their own stile and manner of expression, and introducing their own scheme of philosophy, and judgment in commenting, into the scheme of doctrine to be explained. This produces great variation from what was once settled. What was once esteemed fundamental is thereby altered. — Let this be applied to the first Christian writers, after the Apostles were departed, Page 30 and as their language and philosophy were various, and they differed from one another, great variations must creep into the doctrines delivered by them. It follows then, that nothing but what is recorded in the first original books themselves can be firm and stable to us in points of faith. In the original books only we can find the faith, without that confusion and darkness, which human explications and additions have brought in by way of light.Page 28
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