« PreviousContinue »
TO ALL THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST,
AND TO ALL
WAC PROFESS THE CHRISTIAN FAITH THROUGHOUT THE WORLD
PEACE, AND THE RECOGNITION OF THE TRUTH,
AND ETERNAL SALVATION
IN GOD THE FATHER, AND IN OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
SINCE the commencement of the last century, when religion began to be restored from the corruptions of more than thirteen hundred years to something of its original purity, many treatises of theology have been published, conducted according to sounder principles, wherein the chief heads of Christian doctrine are set forth sometimes briefly, sometimes in a more enlarged and methodical order. I think myself obliged, therefore, to declare in the first instance why, if any
works have already appeared as perfect as the nature of the subject will admit, I have not remained contented with them-or, if all my predecessors have treated it unsuccessfully, why their failure has not deterred me from attempting an undertaking of a similar kind.
If I were to say that I had devoted myself to the study of the Christian religion because nothing else can so effectually rescue the lives and minds of men from those two detestable
curses, slavery and superstition,' I should seem to have acted rather from a regard to my highest earthly comforts, than from a religious motive.
But since it is only to the individual faith of each that the Deity has opened the way of eternal salvation, and as he requires that he who would be saved should have a personal belief of his own, I resolved not to repose on the faith or judgement of others in matters relating to God; but on the one hand, having taken the grounds of my faith from divine revelation alone, and on the other, having neglected nothing which depended on my own industry, I thought fit to scrutinize and ascertain for myself the several points of my religious belief, by the most careful perusal and meditation of the Holy Scriptures themselves.
If therefore I mention what has proved beneficial in my own practice, it is in the hope that others, who have a similar wish of improving themselves, may be thereby invited to pursue the same method. I entered upon an assiduous course of study in my youth, beginning with the books of the Old and New Tes tament in their original languages, and going diligently through
Our victory at once against two, the most prevailing usurper over mankind, superstition and tyranny.' A Ready and easy Way i Establish a Free Commonwealth, Milton's Prose Works, II. p. 113 • When you laboured under more sorts of oppression than one, yo betook yourselves to God for refuge, and he was graciously pleased t hear your most earnest prayer and desires. He has gloriously delivere you, the first of nations, from the two greatest mischiefs of this life, most pernicious to virtue, tyranny and superstition.' Defence of the Peop of England. Prose Works, I. p. 212.
What but unbuild
a few of the shorter systems of divines, in imitation of whom I was in the habit of classing under certain heads whatever pas sages of Scripture occurred for extraction, to be made use of hereafter as occasion might require. At length I resorted with increased confidence to some of the more copious theological treatises, and to the examination of the arguments advanced by the conflicting parties respecting certain disputed points of faith. But, to speak the truth with freedom as well as candour, I was concerned to discover in
instances adverse reasonings either evaded by wretched shifts, or attempted to be refuted, rather speciously than with solidity, by an affected display of formal sophisms, or by a constant recourse to the quibbles of the grammarians ; while what was most pertinaciously espoused as the true doctrine, seemed often defended, with more vehemence than strength of argument, by misconstructions of Scripture, or by the hasty deduction of erroneous inferences. Owing to these causes, the truth was sometimes as strenuously opposed as if it had been an error or a heresy-while errors and heresies were substituted for the truth, and valued rather from deference to custom and the spirit of party than from the authority of Scripture.
According to my judgement, therefore, neither my creed nor my hope of salvation could be safely trusted to such guides ; and yet it appeared highly requisite to possess some methodical tractate of Christian doctrine,' or at least to attempt such a disquisition as might be useful in establishing my faith or assisting my memory. I deemed it therefore safest and most advisable to compile for myself, by my own labour and study, some original treatise which should be always at hand, derived solely from the word of God itself, and executed with
all possible fidelity, seeing that I could have no wish to practise any imposition on myself in such a matter.
After a diligent perseverance in this plan for several years, I perceived that the strong holds of the reformed religion were sufficiently fortified, as far as it was in danger from the Papists,--but neglected in many other quarters ; neither competently strengthened with works of defence, nor adequately provided with champions. It was also evident to me, that, in religion as in other things, the offers of God were all directed, not to an indolent credulity, but to constant diligence, and to an unwearied search after truth ; and that more than I was aware of still remained, 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 arge; if, as God is my witness,” it be with a friendly and be
Compare this appeal to God respecting the purity of his motives, with the solemn invocation at the beginning of Reformation in England. • And here withal I invoke the immortal Deity, revealer and judge of secrets, that wherever I have in this book plainly and roundly (though worthily and truly) laid open the faults and blemishes of fathers, martyrs, or christian emperors, or have otherwise inveighed against error and superstition with vehement expressions ; I have done it neither out of malice, nor list to speak evil, nor any vain glory, but of mere necessity to vindicate the spotless truth from an ignominious bondage.' Prose Works, II. 372.
nignant 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 shoul:] suspend his opinion on whatever points he may not feel himself fully satisfied, till the evidence 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 opi nions 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
3 "I would be heard only, if it might be, by the elegant and learned reader, to whom principally for a while I shall beg leave I may address
I seeb not to seduce the simple and illiterate; my arrand is to find out