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undoubtedly true account of our religion. The only possible question is, whether they contain a full and clear account. Now such a one they without question intended to give, for what could induce them designedly to give any other? Besides, St. Luke, in the very beginning of his Gospel, tells us, that having a perfect understanding of those things which were believed amongst Christians, he had taken in hand to set forth a declaration of them, that those he wrote to might know the certainty of what they had been instructed in. And St. John, in the conclusion of his,
. tells us, that though our Saviour did, and doubtless said also, many things that were not written in that book, yet these, says he, are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name This being then their intention, can we possibly think they failed of it! Two of the Evangelists at
? least were constantly present at our Saviour's discourses, the other two heard them either from him, or his immediate followers, and they had the promise of his Spirit to bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever he had said unto them t. Could they after all forget any part of this that was material and necessary ? That any of them should do so is very strange: much more that they all should. That St. Luke, the companion of the Apostles, and the writer of their Acts, that he too, in relating what they taught their converts, should unhappily omit any thing essential, still adds to the wonder: and that no one of the many Epistles written to instruct the Churches in their faith and duty, should supply this defect, is heyond all belief. But supposing the Scripture ever so perfect in * John xx. 30, 31.
t Jolin xiv. 26.
itself, yet the Church of Rome objects that it is not clear to us: even to the learned many things are hard to be understood; which therefore to the unlearned must be impossible. Nay sometimes they · tell us not one sentence of it hath a meaning, which by our own private judgment we can be certain of. But surely the Apostles were not worse writers with a divine assistance, than others commonly are without it. What they spoke and preached was plain ; else they spoke to no purpose: and why should not the same things be as plain when they were written down? Some passages indeed might to some persons be difficult, even at first: and more are doubtless become so by length of time. But that the main of the New Testament is intelligible enough cannot be with any modesty denied.
And for the rest, what at first sight is difficult, may with due consideration of our own, and help of others, be made easy ; what is obscurely expressed in one place, may be clearly expressed in another ; and what is clearly expressed in no place, we may safely for that very reason conclude it is not neccessary for us to understand or believe.
But allowing the Scriptures to have been at first sufficiently intelligible, how do we know they are come down to us uncorrupted ? I answer, by all the same arguments which prove the incorruptness of any other ancient book in the world, and by this argument farther, that these books having many more copies of them, being much wider dispersed and much more carefully read, and warmly disputed about, than any other whatever: it is in proportion more incredible that either chance or design should alter them in any thing considerable without discovery from some quarter, even were no particular Providence to watch over writings so worthy of its care. And accordingly in fact amidst all the various readings which such a number of copies must produce, there is not one that affects the least article of our religion. But if ever so faithfully preserved, still how shall the unlearned know when they are faithfully translated? Why, most passages all parties agree in, and on those they disagree about, common sense, comparison of other texts, consideration of what goes
before and after, and consulting as opportunity offers, judicious and honest persons of different persuasions, will enable any person to pass a sufficient judgment, so far as he is concerned to judge, which is right and which is wrong, which is clear and which is doubtful. Indeed there is in general but little danger of any gross impositions upon men being attempted, much less succeeding for any continuance, in a land of knowledge and freedom, whatever may be or hath been under Popish tyranny and darkness. Since therefore the Scriptures contain a full and clear account of Christianity written by the very Apostles and first Disciples of our Lord himself, and honestly delivered down into our hands, we have plainly such a rule for our faith as all men in all cases are ever satisfied with, nor have we any need to look farther. And yet the farther we do look into other pretended rules, the better we shall be satisfied with that we have already. For, let what will be said against Scripture as not being a sufficient rule, it must be a sufficient one, unless there be some other ; and upon a fair examination it will evidently appear there is no other. The Romanists indeed tell us of one which they speak of in very high terms; and that is the traditionary doctrine of what they call the Catholic Church. The Apostles, they say, instructed their converts very diligently in every article of faith.
Those converts again, knowing it to be their indispensible duty, could not fail to instruct with the same diligence, ministers their flocks, parents their children, every Christian his neighbour. And thus, by a continued succession of teaching, all the doctrines of religion are handed down in their Church, they tell us, uncorrupted to this day. Whoever either added, omitted or changed any thing, must, they think, by every one around him, be immediately charged with a mistake; and, if he persisted in it, convicted of a heresy, whilst the rest were confirmed in the ancient truth. And therefore to hold what the Church holds is a rule that never can mislead us. Now it must be owned indeed that our Saviour delivered his doctrine to the Apostles, and they to all the world by word of mouth; and this way of delivery at first was sufficient, and therefore St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to hold fast the traditions he had taught them, whether by word or by letter *. But then in the nature of things how long could this last ? Suppose but the easiest common story were to be told from one person to another, without being written down, for only 100 or 200 years, and let each person as he received it have never so strict a charge to tell it in the same manner : yet, long before the end of that time, what security could we possibly have that it was true at first and unaltered still ? And you cannot but see there is much less security that a considerable number of doctrines, especially such as compose the Popish Creed, should be brought down safe for 1700 years together, through so many millions of hands, that were all liable through ignorance, forgetfulness, and superstition, to mistake them, or, through knavery and design, to alter them. But it will be said, in a case of such importance as religion, men would be more careful in delivering truth than in others. Undoubtedly they ought : but who can be secure that they would ? It is of equal importance to be careful in practising it too; yet we all know how this hath been neglected in the world : and therefore have reason to think the other hath been no less so. But whoever made the first change, they say, must have been immediately discovered. Now so far from this, that persons make changes in what they relate without discovering it themselves; alterations come in by insensible degrees; one man leaves out, or varies, or adds one little circumstance: the next, another: till it grow imperceptibly into a different thing. In one age a doctrine is delivered as a probable opinion, the following age speaks of it as certain truth : and the third advances it into an article of faith. Perhaps an opposition rises upon this, as many have done: some have said such a doctrine was delivered to them, others that it was not: and who can tell whether at last the right side or the wrong have prevailed ? Only this is certain, that which soever prevails, though by a small majority at first, will use all means of art and power to make it appear an universal consent at last : and then plead uninterrupted tradition. But though such things as these may possibly be done in almost any age, yet they are easy to be done in such ages, as were five or six of those, that preceded the reformation; when by the confession of their own historians, both Clergy and Laity were so universally and so monstrously ignorant and vicious, that nothing was too bad for them to do, or too absurd for them to believe. But still they tell us, we Protestants receive it upon the authority of tradition, that Scripture is the Word of God : and why can we not as well receive other
2 Thess. ii. 15.