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it; but that all other religions ought to be examined; or rather, because they are different from that which they presume to be the only true religion, ought to be condemned at all adventures, without any farther inquiry : this, I say, is fond partiality; because every religion, and every church, may, for ought that appears to any man that is not permitted to examine things impartially, fay the same for themselves, and with as much reason : and if so, then either every religion ought to permit itself to be examined; or else no man ought to examine his own religion, whatever it be; and consequently Jews, and Turks, and Heathens, and hereticks, ought all to continue as they are, and none of them to change; because they cannot reafonably change without examining both that religion which they leave, and that which they embrace instead of it,
2. Admitting this pretence were true, that they are the true church, and have the true religion, this is so far from being a reason why they should not permit it to be examined, that, on the contrary, it is one of the best reasons in the world why they should allow it to be examined, and why they may safely suffer it to be so. They should permit it to be tried, that men may, upon good reason, be satisfied that it is the true religion. And they may safely suffer it to be done; because, if they be sure that the grounds of their religion be firm and good, I am sure they will be never the worse for being examined and looked into. But I appeal to every man's reason, whether it be not an ill sign, that they are not so sure that the grounds of their religion are solid and firm, and such as will abide the trial, that they are so very loth to have them searched into and examined ? This cannot but tempt a wiseman to suspect, that their church is not founded upon a rock; and that they themselves know something that is amiss in their religion, which makes them so loth to have it tried, and brought to the touch.
3. It is certain among all Christians, that the doctrine preached by the Apostles was the true faith of Chrilt ; and yet they never forbad the Christians to examine whether it was so or not: nay, on the contrary, they frequently exhort them to try and examine their religion and whether that doctrine which they had delivered to VOL.IV.
them was the true faith of Christ. So St. Paul, 2 Cor. xiii. 5. Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith ; prove your own selves. And again, 1Thess.v:21. Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good; intimating to us, that, in order to the holding fast the profession of our faith, it is requisite to prove and try it. And fo likewise St. John, 1 epist. iv. I. Beloved, believe not every Spirit, but try the Spirits, whether they are of God; bea cause many false prophets are gone out into the world. And he gives a very notable mark whereby we may know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. The spirit of error carries on a worldly interest and design ; and the doctrines of it tend to secular power and greatness : v5. They are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. Acts xvii. II. St. Luke commends it, as an argument of a more noble and generous spirit in the Bereans, that they examined the doctrine which the Apostles preached, whether it were agreeable to the scriptures; and this without disparagement to their infallibility : Thefe (faith he) were more noble than ihose in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the fcriptures daily, whether those things were fo. They were ready to receive the word; but not blindly, and with an implicit faith ; but using due care to examine the doctrines which they were taught, and to fee if they were agreeable to that divine revelation of the holy fcriptures which they had before received. It feems they were not willing to admit and fwallow contradictions in their faith. And we desire no more of the church of Rome, than, that they would encourage the people to search the fcriptures daily, and to examine whether their doctrines be according to them. We would be glad to hear the Pope and a general council commend to the people the searching of the scriptures, and to try their definitions of faith and decrees of worship by that rule, to see whether what they have defined, and decreed to be believed and praEtised, be agreeable to it; their worship of images, their folemn invocation of angels, and of the blessed virgin, and the faints departed, the facrament under one kind only, the publick prayers and service of God in an unknown tongue, the frequent repetition of the propitia
tory sacrifice of Christ's body and blood in the mass, Had the Bereans been at the council of Trent, and pleaded their right to search the foriptures, whether those things were so, I doubt they would have been thought very troublesome and impertinent, and would not have been praised by the Pope and council for their pains, as they are by St. Luke.
You see then, upon the whole matter, that it is a very groundless and suspicious pretence of the church of Rome, that because they are infallibly in the right, and theirs is the true religion, therefore their people must not be permitted to examine it. The doctrine of the Apostles was undoubtedly the true faith of Christ ; and yet they not only permitted the people to examine it, but exhorted and encouraged them so to do, and commended them for it: and any man that hath the spirit of a man, must abhor to submit to this slavery, not to be allowed to examine his religion, and to inquire freely into the grounds and reasons of it; and would break with any church in the world upon this single point; and would tell them plainly, If your religion be too good to be examined, I doubt it is too bad to be believed.
If it be faid, that the allowing of this liberty is the way to make people perpetually doubting and unsettled; I do utterly deny this ; and do, on the contrary, with good reason affirm, that it is apt to have the contrary effect ; there being in reason no better way to establish any man in the belief of any thing, than to let him fee, that there are very good grounds and reasons for what he believes; which no man can ever see, that is not permitted to examine whether there be such reasons or not. So that, besides the reasonableness of the thing, it is of great benefit and advantage tous; and that upon these accounts.
1. To arm us against seducers. He that hath examined his religion, and tried the grounds of it, is most able to maintain them, and make them good against all assaults that may be made upon us, to move us from our stedfastness: whereas he that hath not examined, and confequently does not understand the reasons of his religion, is liablc to be tossed to and fro, and to be carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the Neight of men, and the cunning craftiness of those that lie in wait to deF 2
ceive. For when he is attempted, he will either defend his religion or not. If he undertake the defence of it, before he hath examined the grounds of it, he makes himfelf an easy prey to every crafty man that will set upon him; he exposeth at once himself to danger, and his religion to disgrace. If he decline the defence of it, he must be forced to take sanctuary in that ignorant and obstinate principle, That because he is of an infallible church, and sure that he is in the right, therefore he never did nor will examine whether he be so or not. But how is he, or can he be sure, that he is in the right, if he have no other reason for it, but his confidence, and his being wiser in his own conceit, than seven men that can render a reason? It is a shameful thing in a wise man, who is able to give a good reason of all other actions and parts of his life, to be able to say nothing for his religion, which concerns him more than all the rest.
2. To examine and understand the grounds of our religion, will be a good means (by the allistance of God's grace) to keep us constant to it, even under the fiery trial. When it comes to this, that a man must suffer for his religion, he had need to be well established in the belief of it; which no man can fo well be, as he that in some measure understands the grounds and reasons of his belief. A man would be very well assured of the truth and goodness of that for which he would lay down his life; otherwise he dies as a fool dies, he knows not for what, A man would be loth to set such a feal to a blank, I mean, to that which he hath no sufficient ground and reason to believe to be true ; which whether he hath or not, no man that hath not examined the grounds of his religion can be well assured of. This St. Peter prescribes as the best preparative for suffering for righteousness fake, 1 Pet. iii. 14, 15. But if ye suffer for righteousness fake, happy are ye : and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled ; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts ;; (that is, make him the great object of your dread and trust): and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.
II. The holding fast the profession of our faith without wavering, doth not imply, that men should obftinately refuse to hear any reason against that religion which they have embraced, and think to be the true religion. As men should examine before they chuse, so after they have chosen, they should be ready to be better informed, if better reason can be offered. No man ought to think himself so infallible, as to be privileged from hearing reason, and from having his doctrines and dictates tried by that telt.
Our blessed Saviour himself, the most infallible person that ever was in the world, and who declared the truth which he had heard of God; yet he offered himself and his doctrine to this trial : John viii. 46. Which of you convinceth me of fin.? that is, of falfhood and error : and if I speak the truth, why do ye not believe me? He was sure he spake the truth ; and yet for all that, if they could convince bim of error and mistake, he was ready to hear any reason they could bring to that purpose. Though a man be never fo sure that he is in the true religion, and never so resolved to continue constant and ftedfast in it; yet reason is always to be heard when it is fairly offered. And as we ought always to be ready to give an answer to those who ask a reason of the hope and faith that is in us, so ought we likewise to be ready to hear the reasons which others do fairly offer against our opinion and persuasion in religion, and to debate the matter with them; that if we be in the right, and they in the wrong, we may rectify their mistake, and instruct them in meekness, if God peradventure may give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.
We are not only to examine our religion before we peremptorily fix upon it, but after we are, as we think upon the best reason, established and settled in it. Though we ought not to doubt and waver in our religion upon every flight and trifling objection that can be brought against it ; yet we ought always to have an ear open to hear reason, and consider any thing of weight and moment that can be offered to us about it. For it is a great disparagement to truth, and argues a distrust of the goodness of our cause and religion, to be afraid to hear what can be said against it; as if truth were so weak, that in every conflict it were in danger to be baffled and run down, and go by the worst; and as if the reasons that could be brought against it, were too hard for it,