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Concerning the Agreement and Disagreement of
Christians. Though the controversies amongst Christians be very sharp, and managed with great heat and animosity, so that we may hear complaints niade on all sides, of very obvious things being denied by some of the contending parties; yet notwithstanding this, there are some things so evident, that they are all agreed in them. And it is no mean argument of the truth of such, that they are allowed of by the common consent of those who are most set upon contention, and most blinded by passion. I do not mean by this, that all other things about which there is any contention, are doubtful or obscure, because all Christians are not agreed in them. It may easily happen that that may be obscure to some, which would be very plain, if they were not hindered by passion ; but it is hardly possible that the fiercest adversaries, who are most eager in disputing, should agree about an obscure point.
First then, all Christians now alive, are agreed concerning the number and truth of the books of the New Testament; and though there be some small controversies among learned men about some Epistles of the Apostles, this is no great matter; and they all acknowledge, that there is nothing but truth contained in them, and that the Christian doctrine is not at all altered, either by keeping or rejecting them. And this consent is of no small moment in a discourse about the undoubted original of a divine revelation under the new covenant. For all other records or footsteps of ancient revelation, that have been preserved according to the opinions of some, are called in question by others.
Further, Christians are agreed in many articles of faith, which they embrace, as things to be believed, practised, and hoped for. For instance, all who have any understanding, believe, (I shall mention only the principal heads here,) 1. That there is one God, eternal, all powerful, infinitely good and holy, in a word, endued with all the most excellent attributes, without the least mixture of imperfection; that the world and all things contained in it, and consequently mankind, were created by this same God; and that by him all things are governed and directed with the highest wisdom. 2. That Jesus Christ is the only Son of the same God; that he was born at Bethlehem, of the Virgin Mary, without the knowledge of a man, in the latter part of the life of Herod the great, in the reign of Augustus Cæsar ; that he was afterwards crucified, and died in the reign of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea ; that his life is truly related in the history of the Gospel; that he was therefore sent from the Father, that he might teach men the way to salvation, redeem them from their sins, and reconcile them to God by his death ; and that this his mission was confirmed by innumerable miracles; that he died, as I before said, and rose again, and, after he had been very often seen by many who had discoursed with him, and handled him, he was
taken up into heaven, where he now reigns, and from whence he will one day return, to pass a final judgment according to the laws of the Gospel, upon those who were then alive, and upon all them that are dead, when they shall be raised out of their graves; that all the things that he taught, are to be believed, and all that he commanded are to be obeyed, whether they relate to the worship of God, or to temperance in restraining our passions, or to charity to be exercised towards others; that nothing could be appointed more holy, more excellent, more advantageous, and more agreeable to human nature than these precepts ; however, that all men, (Jesus only excepted,) violate them, and cannot arrive at salvation, but through the mercy of God. 3. That there is a Holy Ghost, who inspired the Apostles of Jesus Christ, worked miracles to recommend them, and inclines the minds of pious men constantly to obey God, and supports them in the afilictions of life; that we are to give the same credit, and in all things to obey this spirit speaking by the Apostles, as we do the Father and the Son. 4. That the Christian church owes its original and preservation, from the days of Christ to this time, to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ; that all they who believe these things, and observe the precepts of the Gospel, shall obtain mercy of God, whereby they shall be made partakers of the resurrection, (if they be dead when Christ shall come,) and of a happy life to eternity ; on the contrary, all they who have diminished from the faith of the Gospel, and have not observed its precepts, shall rise, (if they be dead,) to be punished, and their punishment shall be eternal death. 5. Lastly, That Christians ought to profess all these things, both at their baptism, in which we declare that we will lead a life free from the filthiness of iniquity, according to the direction of the Gospel; and also at the Lord's Supper, in which we celebrate the death of Christ, according to his command, till he comes; and shew that we are willing to be esteemed his disciples, and the brethren of those who celebrate it in like manner; moreover, that those rites, if they are observed by us, as is reasonable, and are celebrated with a religious mind, convey heavenly grace and the divine spirit to us.
These things, and others that are necessarily connected with them, (for it is not to our present purpose to mention them all particularly,) all Christians believe ; nor is there any other difference but only this, that some add many other things to these, whereby they think the foregoing doctrines ought to be explained or enlarged with additions ; and those such, as they imagine were delivered to posterity, not by the writings of the Apostles, but by the tradition and custom of the church, or by the writings of latter ages. Concerning these additions, I shall say nothing more than what I before advised ; that Christians are not agreed upon them, as they are upon the doctrines now explained, which are put beyond all manner of doubt by their own plainness, if we allow but the authority of the Holy Scripture, which no Christian in his senses can refuse.
IC any one weighs the arguments, by which the truth of the Christian religion is proved, with these doctrines in his view; he will observe, (and if it be well observed, it will be of great use,) that all the force of the argument is employed about these things, and not about those points which divide the Christian world, as was before hinted.
Whence every one ought to learn the Knowledge of the
Christian Religion. In this agreement and disagreement amongst Christians, prudent men will judge it most safe, to take their knowledge of the Christian religion from the fountain, which is not in the least suspected, and whose streams all confess to be pure and undefiled. And this fountain is not the creed or the confession of faith of any particular church, but only the books of the New Testament, which all acknowledge to be genuine. I confess some Christians do sometimes say, that those books cannot be understood but by the doctrine of their church; but others again deny it ; and, to mention but this one thing, that opinion is very suspicious, which depends only on the testimony of those that affirm it; and they such, whose chief interest it is, that it should seem true. Others say, that there is need of the extraordinary assistance of the Holy Spirit, not only in order to the belief of the Scripture, which may without any