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Who knows how far transcending goodness can
Extend the merits of that son to man?
Who knows what reasons may his mercy lead,
Or ignorance invincible may plead?
Not only charity bids hope the best,
But more the great apostle has exprest:
That, if the Gentiles, whom no law inspired,
By nature did what was by law required;
They, who the written rule had never known,
Were to themselves both rule and law alone;
To nature's plain indictment they shall plead,
And by their conscience be condemned or freed.
Most righteous doom! because a rule revealed
Is none to those from whom it was concealed.
Then those, who followed reason's dictates right,
Lived up, and lifted high their natural light,
With Socrates may see their Maker's face,
While thousand rubric-martyrs want a place.
Nor does it baulk my charity, to find
The Egyptian bishop of another mind;
For, though his creed eternal truth contains,
Tis hard for man to doom to endless pains
All, who believed not all his zeal required;
Unless he first could prove he was inspired.
Then let us either think he meant to say,
This faith, where published, was the only way;
Or else conclude, that, Arius to confute,
The good old man, too eager in dispute,
Flew high; and, as his christian fury rose,
Damned all for heretics who durst oppose.
Thus far my charity this path has tried;
A much unskilful, but well-meaning guide:
Yet what they are, even these crude thoughts were
By reading that which better thou hast read;
Thy matchless author's work, which thou, my friend,
By well translating better dost commend;
Those youthful hours which, of thy equals, most
In toys have squandered, or in vice have lost,
Those hours hast thou to nobler use employed,
And the severe delights of truth enjoyed.
Witness this weighty book, in which appears
The crabbed toil of many thoughtful years,
Spent by thy author, in the sifting care
Of rabbins' old sophisticated ware
From gold divine; which he who well can sort
May afterwards make algebra a sport;
A treasure which, if country-curates buy,
They Junius and Tremellius may defy;t
Save pains in various readings and translations,
And without Hebrew make most learned quotations;
A work so full with various learning fraught,
So nicely pondered, yet so strongly wrought,
As nature's height and art's last hand required;
As much as man could compass, uninspired;
Where we may see what errors have been made
Both in the copiers' and translators' trade;
How Jewish, Popish, interests have prevailed,
And where infallibility has failed.
For some, who have his secret meaning guessed,
Have found our author not too much a priest;
For fashion-sake he seems to have recourse
To pope, and councils, and traditions' force;
But he that old traditions' could subdue,
Could not but find the weakness of the new :
* Simon's Critical History of the Old Testament, translated by the young gentleman to whom the poem is addressed.-See Preface.
+ Calvinistic divines, who made translations of the Scripture, with commentaries, on which Pere Simon makes learned criticisms.
If scripture, though derived from heavenly birth,
Has been but carelessly preserved on earth;
If God's own people, who of God before
Knew what we know, and had been promised more,
In fuller terms, of heaven's assisting care,
And who did neither time nor study spare
To keep this book untainted, unperplext,
Let in gross errors to corrupt the text,
Omitted paragraphs, embroiled the sense,
With vain traditions stopt the gaping fence,
Which every common hand pulled up with ease,-
What safety from such brushwood-helps as these?
If written words from time are not secure,
How can we think have oral sounds endured?
Which thus transmitted, if one mouth has failed,
Immortal lies on ages are entailed;
And that some such have been, is proved too plain,
If we consider interest, church, and gain.
O but, says one, tradition set side,
Where can we hope for an unerring guide?
For, since the original scripture has been lost,
All copies disagreeing, maimed the most,
Or christian faith can have no certain ground,
Or truth in church-tradition must be found.
Such an omniscient church we wish indeed; "Twere worth both Testaments, cast in the Creed: But if this mother be a guide so sure,
As can all doubts resolve, all truth secure,
Then her infallibility as well
Where copies are corrupt or lame can tell;
Restore lost canon with as little pains,
As truly explicate what still remains ;
Which yet no council dare pretend to do,
Unless, like Esdras, they could write it new;
Strange confidence still to interpret true,
Yet not be sure that all they have explained,
Is in the blest original contained.
More safe, and much more modest 'tis, to say
God would not leave mankind without a way;
And that the scriptures, though not every where
Free from corruption, or entire, or clear,
Are uncorrupt, sufficient, clear, entire,
In all things which our needful faith require.
If others in the same glass better see,
"Tis for themselves they look, but not for me;
For my salvation must its doom receive,
Not from what others, but what I believe.
Must all tradition then be set aside?
This to affirm were ignorance or pride.
Are there not many points, some needful sure
To saving faith, that scripture leaves obscure?
Which every sect will wrest a several way,
For what one sect interprets, all sects may;
We hold, and say we prove from scripture plain,
That Christ is God; the bold Socinian
From the same scripture urges he's but man.
Now what appeal can end the important suit?
Both parts talk loudly, but the rule is mute.
Shall I speak plain, and, in a nation free,
Assume an honest layman's liberty?
I think, according to my little skill,
To my own mother-church submitting still,
That many have been saved, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play.
The unlettered Christian, who believes in gross,
Plods on to heaven, and ne'er is at a loss;
For the strait gate would be made straiter yet,
Were none admitted there but men of wit.
The Socinians, or followers of Lelius Socinius, denied the doctrine of the Trinity and of Redemption. The modern Unitarians have embraced some of the priciples of this sect.
The few by nature formed. with learning fraught,
Born to instruct, as others to be taught,
Must study well the sacred page; and see
Which doctrine, this or that, does best agree
With the whole tenor of the work divine,
And plainliest points to heaven's revealed design;
Which exposition flows from genuine sense,
And which is forced by wit and eloquence.
Not that tradition's parts are useless here,
When general, old, disinterested, and clear;
That ancient fathers thus expound the page,
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age;
Confirms its force by bideing every test;
For best authorities, next rules, are best;
And still the nearer to the spring we go,.
More limpid, more unsoiled, the waters flow.
Thus, first, traditions were a proof alone;
Could we be certain, such they were, so known;
But since some flaws in long descent may be,
They make not truth, but probability.
Even Arius and Pelagius durst provoke
To what the centuries preceding spoke:
Such difference is there in an oft-told tale;
But truth by its own sinews will prevail.
Tradition written, therefore, more commends
Authority, than what from voice descends;
And this, as perfect as its kind can be,
Rolls down to us the sacred history;
Which from the universal church received,
Is tried, and, after, for itself believed.
The partial Papists would infer from hence, Their church, in last resort, should judge the sense.
The founders of two noted heresies, who, nevertheless, as the poet observes, ventured to appeal to the traditions of the church in support of their doctrines.