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otherwise have done, had the ground been cleared of thorns, and hurtful, and unprofitable weeds. Many vices and faults were not only admitted or borne with, but applauded also. Yet was not sound doctrine ever the less safe, whilst the books of the New Testament remained, and whilst Christians were endued with com
for by this means, very eminent men were often raised who corrected the errors and vices of their age, and ventured to oppose the torrent. Thus according to the promise of Christ, God hindered the gates of death from prevailing against the church ; that is, did not suffer every society wherein the Christian doctrine was preserved entire, to be extinguished ; though sometimes they were blended and obscured with foreign and contrary opinions, and sometimes were more sincere and pure. Wherefore, (to observe this by the way,) unless this doctrine was really sent to us from God, it could never have escaped out of such a deluge of vices and errors, but would, at length, have been overwhelmed by the changeableness and folly, of human nature, and have entirely perished.
An Answer to that Question, Why God permits Differences and Errors to arise amongst Christians ?
Perhaps some may here object against what has been said, that the divine providence would have better consulted the preservation of the Christian doctrine, if it But if any
had prevented the errors that are and have been amongst Christians, and maintained truth and constant agreement, which is the companion of it, amongst them, by its omnipotence. But it is not for us to instruct God how he ought to direct himself, in the government of human affairs, that they might be better. On the contrary, it is our duty to think that God had very wise reasons for suffering what he did suffer, though we cannot so much as guess at what they are. probable reasons can be given for the things that are done, we ought to believe that God permits those things, which daily come to pass, to be done for these or more weighty reasons.
To make a conjecture from the reasons of things, we are above all things sure, that the design of God was to create men free, and to suffer them to continue so to the end ; that is, not so good, that they must necessarily continue good always; nor so bad, as that they must of necessity submit to vice; but mutable, so as that they might pass from vice to virtue, and again from virtue to vice; and this with more or less ease, according as they had a longer or shorter time given up themselves to virtue or vice. Such we see the Hebrew people of old were,
and such were the Christians afterwards. Neither of them were drawn by an irresistible force either to virtue' or 'vice; but only restrained bylaws, which proposed rewards to the good, and punishment to the bad ; to which were added, by the divine providence, various incitements to virtue and discouragements from vice ;
but yet neither of them deprived man of his native liberty, whereby he had a power of obeying or disobeying God, as is evident from experience; for there were always good and bad, though the divine laws prescribed virtue, and prohibited vice equally to all. That this would be so amongst Christians, Christ has plainly signified in two parables, the one of the tares which the enemy sowed, after the wheat was sown; the other of the net, which took good and bad fish alike; by which he signified, that there would always be in the church a mixture of good and bad Christians; whence it follows, that he very well saw the evils that would always be in the Christian church. Moreover, Paul tells the Christians, that there must be sects amongst Christians, that they who are approved may be made manifest. And indeed, unless there had been differences among Christians concerning doctrine, there had been no room left for choice, and for that sort of virtue, by which truth is preferred to all other things. Therefore even in this particular also, the divine wisdom shines bright; which caused an excellent virtue to flourish out of the midst of the vices of men.
If any one should object here, as some do, that it were better there were no such kind of virtue, than that there should be vices contrary to it, from whence so many horrid crimes, so many calamities, and so great miseries should befal mankind, and such heavy punishment attend them after this life ; to this we answer, that these evils were not of such a consideration with
God, that upon their account, he should not give an instance of his power in creating free agents. Unless this had been done, no creature would have believed, that it could have been done before. Nay, God himself would not have been thought to be free, unless he himself had planted this opinion of himself by his omnipotence in the minds of men, which otherwise they never could have conceived from his works. Nor could he have been worshipped, if he had been thought to do, or to have done all things, not out of his free goodness, but by a certain fatal necessity; unless by a fatal worship also, and such an one as is not at all free. The vices and calamities of this or the other life, are not comparable to so great an evil, as the supposing God to be ignorant of anything; for if we find any difficulty about them, we ought to consider that God is most good, just, powerful, and wise, and will not act otherwise than agreeable to his perfections; and will easily find a way to go in it, whereby to clear those things which seem to us to be entangled ; and to show to all intelligent creatures, that nothing was done by him, which ought not to have been done. In the mean time, till that day spring, in which all the clouds of our ignorance shall be dispersed, he hath given us such experience of himself, and such instances of his perfections, on the account of which, we may and ought entirely to confide in him, and patiently to wait for what he will have come to pass. More might be said on this matter, but that it would divert us from that end we are tending to, and carry us to what does not belong to this place.
They profess and teach the Christian Doctrine in the
purest Manner of all, who propose Those things only as necessary to be believed, practised, or hoped for, which Christians are agreed in.
To pass by these things, therefore, and return to the choice of our opinion amongst the different sects of Christians ; nothing seems possible to be done more safe and wise, in this state of affairs, than for us to join ourselves with that sect of Christians, which acknowledges the New Testament only for the rule of their faith, without any mixture of human decrees; and who think it sufficient, that every one should learn their from of faith from thence conform their lives to its precepts, and expect the promises which are there made. Which, if it be done sincerely, and without any dissimulation, the end of such a search will be that very form of sound words, which we have made appear to have remained the same, amidst so many and so great storms of errors and dissensions, during the passing of so many ages, and the changes of kingdoms and cities. In it are contained all things, that are necessary to faith and practice; to which, if any one would have any other things added, it may lawfully be done, according to the circumstances of time and place ; provided they be not imposed as necessary, which belongs only to the supreme Lawgiver, nor contrary doctrines to those obtruded.