« AnteriorContinuar »
It seems then to be the Voice of Reason, that no Man should be admitted into the Christian Church, or suffered to continue in it j who is not ready to subscribe these two Propositions.
1. That Jesus was a Teacher sent from God.
a. That the Books of the New Testament contain a faithful Account of the Doctrines he taught.
S o far is the Scripture from contradicting this Notion, that we may draw from thence an Analogical Argument, which will serve to strengthen and confirm it.—Whatever Degree of Infidelity was esteemed by the Apostles sufficient Ground for excluding Men from the Church, the opposite Degree of Faith is a necessary Qualification for Men's Admission to it» or Continuance in it. But it seems that all such Persons, as knowingly opposed the Doctrines of the Apojiles were thought unworthy of Fellowship with the Church. Now what the Apostles themjehes were to the first Christians, that the Scriptures are to us. What we cannot learn from their Mouths, we must learn from their Pens j and Opposition to their Writings is now the very fame Thing, as Op<position to their Persons was formerly. For as to various Lections, or supposed Interpolations, they do not seem of Consequence suffixaent to affect the Rule here laid down.—
The The Conclusion is, that they who oppose the Scriptures, are utterly disqualified for Churcb Communion.
That nothing further was required of the first Converts^ but simply to believe in Cbriftj is mot e true than pertinent: because the Reason of that Conduct does not now subsist.— They who had been convinced by our Saviour's Miracles, that God was with him, could not possibly doubt of the Truth of his Doctrines: and they who had the Happiness of a personal Correspondence might be sure of knowing what these Doctrines were. In like Manner the Preaching of the Apostles convinced and inflruSfed at once: So that Belies and Ignorance were in a manner incompatible; a Belief, I mean, of their Divine Mission, and an Ignorance of those fundamental Doctrines they were sent to teach in all the World. No wonder then that a general Belief was sufficient, when it unavoidably drew after it a. full and particular Information.—But this is no Precedent for us. Because our Circumstances are widely different. A Man may now take upon him the Name of Christ, without knowing one Syllable of Christianity, and therefore the Fact maintained by Mr. Locke, however true in itlelf, will afford no Shadow of Argument against any Ecclesiastical Constitution whatever; much less against insisting
on on that Form of Communion for which I am here pleading.'
But what shall we say to those Persons, who agree with us in a Belief of the Scriptures, but differ in the Interpretation of them? differ even in those Articles which appear to
us of the greatest Importance? 1 answer,
1st, It does not appear from Scripture that such Persons are to be excluded the Church. The Heretics, there mentioned, seem to have denied those Doctrines, which they knew to have been taught by the Apostles themselves. But that the Apostles would have excommunicated a Christian merely for mistaking their Meanings does not appear from any Thing they have said. On the contrary it seems highly probable that they took Care to rectify all dangerous Mistakes, by explaining themselves more fully and more clearly in those Instances, where they had been misunderstood. —But then, idly, I observe, that under a Standing Revelation the Advantage just mentioned is not to be had; and, of consequence, that we are now liable to a great Variety of Errors, which in the first Age of the Gospel could not possibly subsist. Our Circumsta?ices therefore being so greatly altered, it is by no means to be pre(umed,merely from thePractife of the Apostles, that all possible Mistakes in interpreting Scripture are compatible with ChurchCommunion.—These two Observations taken
together together shew, if I mistake not, that the New Testament itself has left this Matter altogether undetermined. I therefore observe, 3<#y, That we are to be jolely directed by the Reason of the Thing. Or in other Words thus; Whatever Terms of Communion best serve the Ends of Communion j whatever Terms most effectually promote the Knowlege and Practise of true Religion; these, and these only, ought to be made the Terms of ChriJlian Communion.' If any Man require
me to be yet more particular, I must answer as follows. No sing le Man ought to be denied the Benefits of Communion, unless the Concession of these Benefits redound to the Damage of the whole Society. No Christian Society, spiritually considered, does or can receive Damage, by the fame Means which promote and confirm a right Understanding of the Scriptures. No Means are more effectual for this End, than a fair, and diligent, and impartial Inquiry. No Inquiry is so likely to deserve this Character, as that which is free from Refiraint, of what Kind soever. And lastly, no Inquiry is free from Restraint, which is accompanied with the Danger of Exclusion from the Church.—I fay nothing of Men's Admission to Offices of Power and Trust, whether Civil or Ecclesiastical. How far the same Method of Reasoning may be extended to these Cases, is a Point in which I
am am not concerned, and which I therefore leave to be determined by others. I speak only of the general Terms of Christian Communion* And, with regard to these, I am forced to conclude, in those celebrated Words of the great Chillingworth, that we ought not to require more of any Man than this j to believe the Scripture to be God's Word, to endeavour to find out the true Sense of it, and to live according to it.
I Find I have been insensibly drawn into a Subject not essential to my present Design. —What was incumbent upon me to shew was only this.—1/?, That the New Testament requires no other Condition of our entering into Covenant with Christ, and partaking in the Privileges of hit Church, but that we believe in his Name: and, zdly, That this Condition is perfectly agreeable to Right Reason.—If Reason itself require other Conditions; this has no Relation to any Objections that can be brought against the Scripture Doctrine of the Necessity of Faith.
Wb have hitherto considered Faith as a previous Qualification, without which we are not allowed to enter into the Christian Church, and to take upon us the Christian Covenant. We are now to consider it as belonging to ttysK
Covenant itself.—' Let me here premise,
That the Word Covenant signifies nbthing G more,