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profession. So here in the text, the Apostle, upon the same confideration, exhorts Cbriftians to retain or hold fast thv dugaoz i'ev. Tõs do, the confession, or profefsion of their hope; that is, the hope of the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life, which was the conclufion of that faith, or creed, whereof in baptism they made a solemn profession. Let us, hold fast: the profesion of our faith, or hope, without wavering: the word is enaan, inflexible, unmoveable, steddy; and not apt to waver, and be, laken by every wind of contrary, doctrine, nor by the blasts and storms of persecution. For he is faithful that hath promised. If we continue faithful and steddy to God, he will be faithful to make good all the promises he hath made to us.
In the words thus explained there are two things which I shall distinctly confider.
1. The exhortation: Let us hold fast the profesion of our faith without wavering. And,
2. The argument or encouragement used to inforce it: He is faithful that promised. I begin with the
Eirji, The exhortation to be constant and steddy in the profession of the Christian religion: Let us hold fast. the profesion of our faith without wavering. In the han. dling of this, and that we may the better upderstand the true meaning of this exhortation here in the text, I shall do these two things.
1. I shall fhew negatively, wherein this conltancy and fteddiness in the profession of the true religion does not confift. And here I shall remove one or two things, which are thought by some to be inconfiltent with conftancy and stedfastness in religion.
2. I fall shew positively what is implied in a constant and steddy profession of the true religion.
First, I shall shew negatively, what constancy and stedfastness in the profession of the true religion does not imply. And there are two things which are thought by Some to be implied in holding faf the profesion of our faith without wavering.
1. That men should not take the liberty, to examine their religion, and inquire into the grounds and reasons of it, 2. That men Mould obstinately refuse to hear any rea
fons that can be brought against the true religion, as they think, which they have once entertained.
1. That men should not take the liberty. to examine their religion, and to inquire into the grounds and reafons of it. This, I think, is so far from being forbidden in this exhortation, that, on the contrary, I doubt not to make it appear, that a free and impartial inquiry into the grounds and reasons of our religion, and a thorough trial and examination of them, is one of the best means to confirm and establish us in the profession of it: I mean, that all persons that are capable of it, should do it, and that they will find great benefit and advantage by it. For I do'not think, that this is a duty equally and indifferently incumbent upon all; nor indeed fit and proper for all persons; because all are not equally capable of doing it. There are two sorts of perfons that are in a great measure incapable of doing it.
2. Such grown persons as are of a very mean and low capacity, and improvement of understanding.
Children are not fit to examine, but only to learn and believe what is taught them by their parents and teachers. They are fit to have the fear of God, and the principles of the true religion, instilled into them; but they are by no means fit to discern between a true and false religion, and to chuse for themselves, and to make a change of their religion; as hath of late been allowed to them in a nation not far from us, and by publick ediet declared, that children at seven years old are fit to chufe and to change their religion. Which is the first law I ever heard of, that allows children at that age to do any act for themselves, that is of consequence and impor. tance to them for the remaining parts of their lives, and which they shall stand obliged to perform and make good. They are indeed baptized, according to the custom and usage of the Christian church, in their infancy: but they do not enter into this obligation themfelves ; but their fureties undertake for them, that when they come to age, they shall take this promise upon themselves, and confirm and make it good. But surely they can do no act for themselves, and in their own name, at that age, which can be obligatory. They can neither make any
contracts that shall be valid, nor incur any debt, nor oblige themfelves by any promise, nor chuse themselves a guardian, nor do any act that may bring them under an inconvenience, when they fhall come at age. And can we think them of discretion sufficient at that tinze, to do a thing of the greatest moment and confequence of all on ther, and which will concern them to all eternity, namely, to chuse their religion? There is indeed, one part of one religion (which we all know) which children at fe
of age are fit (I do not say to judge of, but), to be as fond of, and to practife to as good purpose, as those of riper years; and that is, to worship images, to tell their beads, to say their prayers, and to be prefent at the service of God in an unknown tongue : and this they are more likely to chuse at that age, than those who are of riper and more improved understandings; and if they do not chuse it at that time, it is tęp to one they will not chuse it afterwards. I shall say no more of this, but that it is a very extraordinary law, and such as perhaps was never thought of before, from the begin. ning of the world. Thus much for children.
As for grown persons, who are of a very low and mean capacity of understanding, and, either by reason of the weakness of their faculties, or other disadvantages which they lie under, are in little or no probability of improving themfelves; these are always to be considered as in the condition of children and learners, and therefore mult of neçellity, in things which are not plain and obvious to the meanest capacities, trust and rely upon the judgment of others. And it is really much wiser. and fafer for them so to do, than to depend upon their own judgments, and to lean to their own understandings; and such persons, if they be modest and humble, and pray, earnestly to God for his assistance and direction, and are careful to practise what they know, and to live up to the best light and knowledge which they have, fhall not miscarry, merely for want of those farther degrees of knowledge which they had no capacity nor opportụnity to attain; because their ignorance is unavoidable, and God will require no more of them than he hath given them, and will not call them to account for the improve-. ment of those talents which he never committed to them.
And if they be led into any dangerous error, by the negligence or ill conduct of those under whose care and instruction the providence of God permitted them to be placed, Ġod will not impute it to them as a fault; because, in the circumstances in which they were, they took the beft and wiseft courfe that they could, to come to the knowledge of the truth, by being willing to learn what they could of those whom they took to be wiser than themfelves.
But for fuch perfons who, by the matarity of their age, and by the natural strength and clearness of their understandings, or by the due exercise and improvement of them, are capable of inquiring into and understanding the grounds of their religion, and discerning the difference betwixt truth and error, (I do not mean in unneceffary points, and matters of deepest learning and speculation, but in matters neceßary to falvation); it is certainly very reasonable, that such persons should examine their religion, and understand the reasons and grounds of it.
And this must either be granted to be reasonable, or else every man must continue in that religion in which he happens to be fixed by education, or for any other reason to pitch upon, when he comes to years, and makes his free choice. For if this be a good principle, That no man is to examine his religion, but take it as it is, and to believe it, and rest satisfied with it, then every man is to remain in the religion which he first lights upon, whether by choice, or the chance of his education. For he ought not to change but upon reason; and reason he can have none, unless he be allowed to examine his religion, and to compare it with others, that by the comparison he may discern which is best, and ought in reason to be preferred in his choice. For to him that will not, or is not permitted to search into the grounds of a. ny religion, all religions are alike; as all things are of the fame.colour to him that is always kept in the dark ; or if he happens to come into the light, dares not open his cyes, and make use of them to discern the different colours of things.
But this is evidently and at first sight unreasonable ; because, at this rate, every man that hath once entertained
an error, and a false religion, must for ever continue in it: for if he be not allowed to examine it, he can never have reason to change; and to make a change without reason, is certainly unreasonable, and mere vanity and inconltancy.
And yet, for ought I can see, this is the principle which the church of Rome doth, with great zeal and earnestness, inculcate upon their people; discouraging all doubts and inquiries about their religion, as temptations of the devil; and all examinations of the grounds and reasons of their religion, as an inclination and dangerous step towards heresy. For what else can they mean, by taking the scriptures out of the hands of the people, and locking them up from them in an unknown tongue; by requiring them absolutely to submit their judgments, and to resign them up to that which they are pleased to call the Catholick church, and implicitly to believe as the believes, though they know not what that is ? This is, in truth, to believe as their priest tells them; for that is all the teaching part of the church, and all the rule of faith that the common people are acquainted with.
And it is not sufficient to say in this matter, that when men are in the truth, and of the right religion, and in the bosom of the true church, they ought to rest satisfied, and to examine and inquire no farther : for this is manifestly 'unreasonable, and that upon these three accounts.
I. Because this is a plain and shameful begging of the thing in question; and that which every church, and every religion, doth almost with equal confidence pretend to, that theirs is the only right religion, and the only true church. And these pretences are all alike reasonable to him that never examined the grounds of any of them, nor hath compared them together. And therefore it is the vainest thing in the world for the church of Rome to pretend, that all religions in the world ought to be examined but theirs ; because theirs, and none else, is the true religion. For this which they say so confidently of it, that it is the true religion, no man can know till he hạth examined it, and searched into the grounds of it, and hath considered the objections which are against it. So that it is fond partiality to say, that their religion is not to be examined by the people that profess