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parent's mind and way, would hasten its extinction in the world. 8. And as it is a religion which must be taught us ; so it requireth or consisteth in so much wisdom, and willingness, and fortitude of mind, that few are naturally apt to receive it; because folly, and badness, and feebleness of mind are so common in the world. And as we see that learning will never be common but in the possession of a very few, because a natural ingenuity is necessary thereto, which few are born with; so it would be with Christianity, if Divine power maintained it not. 9. And it is a religion which requireth much time and contemplation, in the learning and in the practising of it: whereas the world are taken up with so much business for the body, and are so slothful to those exercises of the mind, which bring them no present, sensible commodity, that this also would quickly wear it out. 10. And then the terms of it being so contrary to all men's fleshly interest and sense, in self-denial, and forsaking all for Christ; and in mortifying the most beloved sins, and the world putting us to it so ordinarily by persecution; this also would deter the most, and weary out the rest, if the power of God did not uphold them. That which is done by exceeding industry, against the inclinations and interest of nature, will have no considerable number of practisers. As we see in horses and dogs which are capable, with great labour, of being taught extraordinary things which resemble reason: and yet because it must cost so much labour, there is but one in a century that is brought to it. But (though the truly religious are but few in comparison of the wicked, yet) godly persons are not so few as they would be, if it were the work of industry alone. God maketh it as a new nature to them; and (which is very much to be observed) the main change is oftimes wrought in an hour, and that after all exhortations, and the labours of parents and teachers have failed, and left the sinner as seemingly hopeless.
And thus I have shewed you, 1. That our religion objectively taken, is the image of God's Wisdom, Goodness and Power, and thereby fully proved it to be from God. 2. And that our religion subjectively taken, is answerably the spirit or impress of Power, and of Love, and of Sound Understanding, and is in us a constant seal and witness to the truth of Christ.
The Means of making known all this Infallibly to us.
I SUPPOSE the evidence of Divine attestation is so clear in this image of God on the Christian religion, which I have been opening, that few can doubt of it who are satisfied of the historical truth of the facts; and therefore this is next to be considered, 'How the certain knowledge of all those things cometh down to us?"
The first question is, whether this doctrine and religion indeed be the impress of God's Wisdom, and his Goodness and Power, supposing the truth of the historical part? This is what I think few reasonable persons will deny: for the doctrine is legible, and sheweth itself.
But the next question, which I am now to resolve, is, How we shall know that this doctrine was indeed delivered by Christ and his apostles, and these things done by them, which the Scriptures mention?'
And here the first question shall be, How the apostles, and all other the first witnesses, knew it themselves?' For it is by every reasonable man to be supposed, that they who were present, and we who are at seventeen hundred years distance, could not receive the knowledge of the matters of fact, in the very same manner. It is certain that their knowledge was by their present sense and reason: they saw Christ and his miracles: they heard his words: they saw him risen from the dead: they discoursed with him, and eat and drank with him: they saw him ascending up bodily to heaven. They needed no other revelation to tell them what they saw, and heard, and felt.
How know you that all
They would have anheard them.' But we
If you had asked them then, these things were said and done?' swered you, 'Because we saw and were not then present: we did not see and hear what they did: nor did we see or hear them, who were the eyewitnesses. And therefore as their senses told it them the natural way for our knowledge, must be by derivation from their senses to ours: for when they themselves received it in a way so natural, (though not without the help of God's Spirit, in the remembering, recording and attesting it,) we
that can less pretend to inspiration, or immediate revelation, have small reason to think that we must know the same facts by either of those supernatural ways. Nor can our knowledge of a history, carried down through so many ages, be so clearly satisfactory to ourselves, as sight and hearing was to them. And yet we have a certainty, not only infallible, but so far satisfactory, as is sufficient to warrant all our faith, and duty, and sufferings for the reward which Christ hath set before us.
Let us next then inquire, How did the first churches. know that the apostles and other preachers of the Gospel did not deceive them in the matter of fact?" I answer, They had their degrees of assurance or knowledge in this part of their belief. 1. They had the most credible human testimony of men that were not like to deceive them. But this was not infallible.
2. They had in their testimony the evidence of a natural certainty. It being naturally impossible, that so many persons should agree together to deceive the world, in such matters of fact, at so dear a rate, in the very place and age when the things were pretended to be done and said, when any one might have presently evinced the falsehood, if they had been liars; about the twice feeding of many thousands miraculously, and the raising of the dead, and many other public miracles, and the darkness at his death, and the rending of the rocks and veil of the temple, and the earthquake, and the coming down of the Holy Ghost upon themselves, with many the like; they would have been detected and confuted to their confusion. And we should have read what apologies they made against such detections and confutations! And some of them (at least at their death) would have been forced by conscience to confess the plot.
3. But to leave no room for doubting, God gave those first churches the addition of his own supernatural attestation, by the same threefold impress of his image before described. 1. In the holy wisdom and light which was in their doctrine. 2. In the holy love, and piety, and purity, which was conspicuous in their doctrine, and in their lives. 3. And in the evidences of Divine power, in the many gifts, and wonders, and miracles which they wrought and manifested. And these things seem a fuller testimony than the
miracles of Christ himself. For Christ's miracles were the deeds of one alone; and his resurrection was witnessed but by twelve chosen witnesses, and about five hundred other persons; and he conversed with them but forty days, and that but seldom; but the miracles of the disciples were wrought by many, and before many thousands, at several times, and in many countries, and for many, many years together, and in the sight and hearing of many of the churches: so that these first churches had sight and hearing to assure them of the divine, miraculous attestation of the truth of their testimony, who told them of the doctrines, miracles and resurrection of Christ and all this from Christ's solemn promise and gift; "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do, shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to the Father;" John xiv. 12.
But if it be demanded, 'How did the next Christians of the second receive all this from the first churches, who received it from the apostles?' I answer, by the same evidence, and with some advantages. For, 1. They had the credible human testimony of all their pastors, neighbours, parents, who told them but what they saw and heard. 2. They had a greater evidence of natural infallible certainty. For, (1.) The doctrine was now delivered to them in the records of the sacred Scriptures, and so less liable to the misreports of the ignorant, forgetful or erroneous. (2.) The reporters were now more numerous, and the miracles reported more numerous also. (3.) They were persons now dispersed over much of the world, and could not possibly agree together to deceive. (4.) The deceit would now have been yet more easily detected and abhorred.
3. But besides this, they had also the supernatural testimony of God: for the apostles' converts received the same Spirit as they had themselves: and though the miracles of other persons were not so numerous as those of the apostles, yet the persons were many thousands more that wrought them. All this is asserted in the Scripture itself; as Gal. iii. 3, 4. 1 Cor. xiv. xii, and many places. And he that should have told them falsely that they themselves had the spirit of extraordinary gifts and miracles, would hardly have been believed by them. And all this also the following ages have themselves asserted unto us.
The question then which remaineth is, 'How we receive all this infallibly from the subsequent ages or churches to this day?' The answer to which is, still by the same way, with yet greater advantages in some respects, though less in others. As, 1. We have the human testimony of all our ancestors, and of many of our enemies. 2. We have greater evidence of natural certainty, that they could not possibly meet or plot together to deceive us. 3. We have still the supernatural, divine attestation (though rarely of miracles, yet) of those more necessary and noble operations of the Spirit, in the sanctification of all true believers; which Spirit accompanieth and worketh by the doctrine which from our ancestors we have received.
More distinctly observe all these conjunct means of our full reception of our religion.
1. The very being of the Christians and churches, is a testimony to us that they believed and received this religion. For what maketh them Christians and churches but the receiving of it?
2. The ordinance of baptism is a notable tradition of it. For all that ever were made Christians have been baptized : and baptism is nothing but the solemn initiation of persons into this religion, by a vowed consent to it, as summarily were expressed in the Christian covenant. And this was used to be openly done.
3. The use of the creed, which at baptism and other sacred seasons, was always wont to be professed (together with the Lord's prayer and the decalogue; the summaries of our faith, desire and practice) is another notable tradition; by which this religion hath been sent down to the following ages. For though perhaps all the terms of the creed were not so early as some think, thus constantly used; yet all the sense and substance of it was.
4. The holy Scriptures or records of this religion, containing integrally all the doctrine, and all the necessary matter of fact, is the most complete way of tradition. And it will appear to you in what further shall be said, that we have infallible proof, that these Scriptures are the same which the first churches did receive; whatever inconsiderable errors may be crept into any copies by the unavoidable oversight of the scribes.