« ElőzőTovább »
clining into extremes, it will be much more difficult in religious worship; both as the path is supposed narrower, and the precipices more dangerous on every side. And because each man is created by God a free citizen of the world, and obliged to nothing so much as the inquiry of those means by which he may attain his everlasting happiness, it will be fit to examine to whose tuition and conduct he commit himself. For as several teachers, not only differing in language, habit, and ceremony, (or at least in some of these) but peremptory and opposite in their doctrines, present themselves, much circumspection must be used. Here then taking his prospect, he shall find these guides directing him to several ways; whereof the first yet extends no further than to the laws and religions of each man's native soil or diocese, without passing those bounds. The second reaching much further, branches itself into that diversity of religions and philosophies, that not only are, but have been extant in former times, until he be able to determine which is best. But in either of these, no little difficulties will occur. For, if each man ought to be secure of all that is taught at home, without enquiring further, how can he answer his conscience? When looking abroad, the terrors of everlasting damnation shall be denounced on him, by the several hierarchies and visible churches of the world, if he believe any doctrine but theirs. And
that, amongst these again, such able and understand ing persons may be found, as, in all other affairs, will equal his teachers. · Will it be fit that he believe, God hath inspired his church and religion only, and deserted the rest; when yet mankind is so much of one offspring, that it hath not only the same Pater Communis in God, but is come all from the same carnal ancestors ? Shall each man, without more examination, believe his priests in what religion soever, and, when he hath done, call their doctrine his faith! On the other side, if he must argue controversies before le can be satisfied, how much leisure must he obtain? How much wealth and substance must he consume? How many languages must he learn? And how many authors must he read? How many ages must he look into? How many faiths must he examine ? How many expositions must he confer? And how many contradictions reconcile? How many countries must he wander into ? And how many dangers must he run? Briefly, would not our life on these terms be a perpetual peregrination? While each man posted into the other's country, to learn the way to heaven, without yet that he could say at last, he had known or tried all. What remains then to be done? Must he take all that each priest upon pretence of inspiration would teach him, because it might be 50; or may he leave all, because it might be otherwise ? Certainly, to embrace all religions, according to their various and repugnant rites, tenets, traditions, and faiths, is impossible, when yet in one age it were possible (after incredible pains and expences) to learnı out, and number them. On the other side, to reject all religions is as impious ; there being no nation, that in some kind or other doth not worship God. So that there will be a necessity to distirguish. Not yet that any man will be able, upon comparison, to discern which is the perfectest among the many professed in the whole world; (each of them being of that large extent, that no man's understanding will serve to comprehend it in its uttermost latitude and signification,) but (at least,) that every man might vindicate and sever, in his particular religion, the more essential and demonstrative parts from the rest, without being moved so much at the threats and promises of any other religion, that would make him obnoxious, as to depart from this way; there being no ordinary method so intelligible, ready, and compendious for the conducting each man to his desired end. Having thus therefore recollected himself, and together implored the assistance of that supreme God, whom all nations acknowe ledge; he must labour in the next place to find out what inward means bis Providence hath delivered, to discern the true not only from the false, but even from the likely and possible ; each of them requiring a peculiar scrutiny and consideration. Neither shall he fly thus to particular reason, which may soon lead him to heresy ; but after a due separation of the more doubtful and controverted parts, shall hold himself to common authentic and universal truths, and consequently inform himself what, in the several arti cles proposed to him, is so taught, as it is first written in the heart, and together delivered in all the laws and religions he can hear of in the whole world; for this certainly can never deceive him, since there. in he shall find out how far the impressions of God's wisdom and goodness are extant in all mankind, and to what degrees his universal Providence hath dilated itself: while thus ascending to God by the same steps he descends to us, he cannot fail to encounter the Divine Majesty. Neither ought it to trouble him, if he find these truths variously coniplicated with difficulties or errors; since, without insisting on more points than what are clearly agreed, on every side, it will be his part to reduce them into method and order; which also is not hard, they being but few, and apt for connexion ; so that it will concern our several teachers to initiate us in this doctrine, before they come to any particular direction ; lest otherwise they do like those who would persuade us to renounce day-light, to study only by their candle: it will be worth the labour, assuredly, Lo inquire how far these universal notions will guide us, before we commit ourselves to any of their obstruse and scholastic mysteries, or supernatural and private revelations. Not yet, but that they also may challenge a just place in our belief, when they are delivered upon warrantable testimony, but that they cannot be understood as so indifferent and unfallible principles for the instruction of all mankind. Thus, among many supposed inferior and questionable deities, worshipped in the four quarters of the world, we shall find one chief so taught us, as above others to be highly reverenced.
Among many rites, ceremonies, and volumes, &c. delivered us as instruments or parts of his worship, we shall find virtue so eminent as it alone concludes and sums up the rest. Insomuch as there is no sacrament which is not finally resolved into it; good life, charity, faith in, and love of God, being such necessary and essential parts of religion, that all the rest are finally closed and determined in them.
Among the many expiations, lustrations, and propitiations for our sins taught in the several quarters of the world, in sundry times, we shall find that none doth avail without hearty sorrow for our sins, and a true repentance towards God, whom we have offended.
And lastly, amidst the divers places and manners of reward and punishment, which former ages have delivered, we shall find God's justice and mercy not so limited but that he can extend either of them even