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chiefly owing to the care I have always taken not to depart from the Scripture-principles now laid before you:
I did not think I could offer you any thing so justly valuable as this plain draught of the Christian religion, in all its native purity and simplicity.
It hath been no little satisfaction to me to observe, that there are many persons of piety and virtue in this place : I pray God increase the number of them, that so there may be nothing wanting to render this ancient Society, in all respects, truly great and honourable,
Your most obliged, and
most humble Servant,
THE Scriptures being written on purpose to acquaint us with the will of God, and to instructus in all things necessary to our everlasting salvation, there is no doubt to be made, but that in the form we now have them, (which, for divers wise reasons was so contrived by the Holy Spirit), they are sufficient to that end; so that whoever reads. thein with due care and attention, may, with- . out any further help, be truly and fully informed what he ought to believe and do, in order to be saved. I will add also, that he, whose peculiar business it is to instruct the ignorant, to guard the unwary, and to stopa the mouths of gainsayers, may be thoroughly furnished from hence unto all these good works.
Nay, farther, had the scriptures exhibited religion to us in that regular form andi method to which other writers have reduced it, there would, to me at least, have been A 3
wanting one great proof of the authority of those writings; which being penned at different times, and upon different occasions, and containing in them a great variety of wonderful events, , surprising characters of men, wise rules of life, and new unheard-of doctrines, all mixed together with an unusual simplicity and gravity of narration, do, in the very frame and composure of them, carry the marks of their divine original.
However, for the benefit of such as will not be at the pains to search and study the scriptures ; such as by reason of their age are not capable of reading them with judgment; and such as through some prejudice er evil disposition of mind, may be apt to misapply them; it hath been thought proper to draw up several abstracts or summaries of Christian doctrine, which being, as the several authors of them assure us, exactly agreeable to scripture, are designed to give us a general notion of what we shall find more particularly and fully set down in those books; by which means we may be enabled to read them with more ease and greater profit.
The design is certainly very fit and good, were it but as fairly and justly executed : But the great misfortune is, that these very books, which were intended to lead us more easily and certainly into the knowledge of scripture, are most of them so framed as to
represent the religion there delivered to us in a false light; and by giving a wrong turn to our minds at first, to render our endeavours to inform ourselves afterwards by our own reading ineffectual.
The chief occasion of which abuse is, the many differences and divisions that have happened among Christians, both with regard to their faith and to their rules and measures of serving God; which differences, as they plainly rose at first from a greater deference that was paid, either to the traditions or writings of men, than to the word of God; so they have been kept up ever since, by a. greater care that hath been taken by the sea veral sects to instruct their children in those things which distinguish them from one ano. ther, than to teach them the common doctrines and duties of their most holy profession.- From whence it follows, that the books composed by them for that purpose must needs give a very different, and the greatest part of them, for that reason, a very false account of the Christian religion.
But besides the many errors which are made part of the standing doctrine of some particular church or society of Christians, several other mistakes must be supposed to occur in the various writings and discourses. of private men, even of the same church, who take upon them to explain the common A 4
faith, every man in his own language and method.
Now, for the better removing any false opinions we may have received from those different accounts which are given us of scripture by other men, as well as preventing any wrong judgments we may be disposed to make of the word of God when we read it ourselves, I have often thought that it would be a work of great use to collect out of the writings of the Old and New Testament all the doctrines and precepts therein dispersed : to lay them together in such an order and method, as to give the Christian reader a full and distinct view of his whole faith and duty at once; and by keeping all along the language of scripture, to leave no room for misrepresentation.
This is what I have endeavoured to do in the following Treatise, as being fully satisfied of the truth of what a great writer observes *, That we cannot speak of the things of God better than in the words of God.
It is not to be expected, that the general draught here given of Scripture-religion, should have that influence upon persons nourished up in the words of unsound doctrine, as to make them lay by all the false opinions and improper language which they
* Chillingworth, p. 152.