should be told, that his interpretation however is new, and very suspicious, because new, and so not likely to be Scripture doctrine. The novelty of it is itself a strong presumption against it, and such as nothing can overbalance but very clear and plain reasons on that side. The judgment of ten thousand interpreters will always be of considerable weight against the judgment of some few, who are but interpreters at best, and as fallible as any other: and it must argue great conceitedness and selfsufficiency, for a man to expect to be heard, or attended to, as a scripturist, or a textuary, in opposition to the Christian world; unless he first fairly considers and confutes what the ablest writers have pleaded for the received construction, and next as fairly proves and enforces his own. That there is very great weight and force in the united voice of the Christian world, is a point not to be denied by any: and indeed those that affect to set up new notions are themselves aware of it, and tacitly, at least, confess the same thing. For they value such authorities as they are any way able to procure, or even to torture so far as to make them speak on their side : and they pride themselves highly in the number of their disciples, (as often as they chance to succeed,) thinking it a great advantage to their cause, if but the multitude only, or the vulgar herd, approve and espouse the same thing with them. Socinus, for instance, while he slighted, or pretended to slight, the concurring judgment of all churches, ancient and modern, yet felt a very sensible pleasure in the applauses of some few individuals, whom he had been able to deceive: and he looked upon their approbation as a confirming circumstance that his sentiments were true and right. This kind of natural logic appears to be common to our whole species : and there are few, I believe, so sanguine, (unless disordered,) as to confide entirely in their own judgment, or not to suspect their own best reasonings, however plausible they may at first appear, if they have nobody else to concur with them and support them. Therefore again I conclude as before, that it is of great moment to know and consider what others have thought before us, and what the common reason of mankind approves : and the more numerous or the more considerable the persons were or are who stand against us in any article, the less reason, generally, have we to be confident of our own private persuasions.

I shall only add, that in subjects which have already passed through many hands, and which have been thoroughly sifted and considered by the ablest and best heads, in a course of 1700 years, there appears to be a great deal more room for judgment than for invention; since little new can now be thought on that is worth notice : and it is much wiser and safer to take the most valuable observations of men most eminent in their several ways, than to advance poor things of our own, which perhaps are scarce worth the mentioning in comparison.

III. I must farther premise, in relation to our present subject, that as there may be two extremes, viz. of superstition on one hand, and of profaneness on the other, it appears to be much safer and better to lean towards the former extreme, than to incline to the latter. Where there is room for doubt, it is prudent to err rather on that side which ascribes too much to the Sacrament, than on that which ascribes too little. 1. Because it is erring on the side of the precepts : for Scripture gives us express cautions h against paying too little regard to this holy Sacrament, but never cautions us at all, or however not expressly, against the contrary extreme. 2. Besides, since we attempt not, and desire not to carry the respect due to the Sacrament at all higher than the ancient churches, and the primitive saints and martyrs have carried the same before, it will be erring on the humble, modest, pious side, if we should happen to run into an extreme, after such bright examples. And this again is much safer (for who would not wish that his lot may be amongst the saints ?) than it can be to deviate into the contrary extreme of irreverence, and to come so much the nearer to the faithless and unbelieving, who have their portion in this life. It

h I Cor. xi. 27, 29.

may be pleaded perhaps, that a person does no harm, or risks no danger, by erring on the lessening side, because God will certainly perform what he has really promised of the Sacraments to every worthy receiver; whether believed or no. But then the question is, how a man can be thought a worthy receiver, who, without sufficient grounds, disbelieves the promises, much more if he confidently rejects them, and teaches others also to do so. Schlictingius pleads in this case, that the effect of the Sacrament will be the same to every one that receives, though he disbelieves the doctrine of its being a mean of grace', or the like: as if he thought that the outward act of receiving were all, and that the inward qualification of faith were of no moment. But that was his great mistake. They who disbelieve and openly deny the inward graces of the Sacrament are unworthy receivers for that very reason, and ordinarily forfeit all right and title to the promised graces.

It may be further pleaded, on the same side, that the notion of the Sacraments, as means of grace, (supposing it erroneous,) is apt to lead men to rely upon the Sacraments than upon

their own serious endeavours for the leading a good life, or to rest in the Sacraments as sufficient without keeping God's commandments. But this is a suggestion built upon no certain grounds. For suppose we were deceived (as we certainly are not) in our high conceptions of the use and efficacy of this Sacrament; all that follows is, that we may be thereby led to frequent the Sacrament so much the oftener ; to come to it with the greater reverence, and to repeat our solemn vows for the leading a good life, by the assistance of Divine grace, with the more serious and devout affections. No Divines amongst us, that I know of, ever teach that the use of the outward Sacrament is of any avail without inward faith and repentance, or entire obedience. Our Church at least, and, I think, all Protestant churches have abundantly guarded against any one's resting in the bare outward work. The danger therefore on this side is very slight in comparison. For what if a man should erroneously suppose that upon his worthy receiving he obtains pardon for past sins, and grace to prevent future, will not this be an encouragement to true repentance, without which he can be no worthy receiver, and to watchfulness also for the time to come, without which the Divine grace can never have its perfect work? Not that I would plead for any pious mistake, (were it really a mistake,) but I am answering an objection ; and showing, that there is no comparative force in it. Were the persuasion I am pleading for really an error, reason good that it should be discarded : religion wants not the assistance of pious frauds, neither can it be served by them. But as we are now supposing it doubtful on which side the error lies, and are arguing only upon that supposition, it appears to be a very clear case, that religion would suffer abundantly more by an error on the left hand, than by an error on the right; and that of the two extremes, profaneness, rather than superstition, is the dangerous extreme.


i Articulus de coena Domini et baptismo (si vera est vestra sententia, qua cænam Domini et baptismum media esse statuitis per quæ Deus spirituales effectus in animis hominum operetur) exprimit quidem causam salutis in. strumentalem : sed tamen ignoratus aut repudiatus salutem non adimit, dummodo quispiam coena Domini et buptismo utatur; adhibitis enim istis divinitus ordinatis instrumentis effectum sequi necesse est. Schlicting. adv. Balthas. Meisn. p. 6. Conf. Socin. de Cæna, tom. i. p. 767.

To which Abr. Calovius well answers :

-Negare nos, sacramenta talia media esse quæ illico effectus sequatur, etiamsi fides non accedat : fides autem locum habere nequit in iis qui negant et impugnant directe media salutis divinitus instituta. Abr. Calov, contr. Socin. tom. i. part. 2. p. 251.

Add to this, that corrupt nature generally leans to the diminishing side, and is more apt to detract from the burden of religion than to increase the weight; and therefore the stronger guard ought to be placed there. Men are but too inclinable of themselves to take


with low and groveling sentiments of Divine things : and so there

is the less need of bending Scripture that way, when the words are fairly capable of an higher meaning, yea, and require it also, as shall be shown in the sequel.

If it should be asked, what temptation any serious Christian can have to lessen the promises or privileges belonging to the Sacraments? I answer, that pure good nature and mistaken humanity may often tempt men to be as easy and indulgent as possible, in their casuistry, for the relieving of tender consciences, and for the quieting the scruples of their brethren. The guides of souls are sometimes apt to be over officious that way, and much more than is proper; like as indulgent parents often ruin their children by an excessive fondness, considering their present uneasiness more than their future well-being. When Epicurus set himself to take off the restraints of religion, no doubt but he thought he was doing the most humane and the best-natured office imaginable. It had the appearance of it, in some respects, (though upon the whole it was altogether the reverse,) and that was his chief temptation to it. It is not improbable that the same kind of good nature, ill directed, has tempted many otherwise learned and valuable guides to be too indulgent casuists, and to comply too far with the humour of the world. Strict notions of the Sacraments require as strict observance of the same Sacraments, which demands the more intense care, and greater abstraction of thought; all which is irksome and painful to flesh and blood: there lies the temptation to low and diminishing conceptions of the Sacraments, both in clergy and people.

But are there not temptations likewise to an over-scrupulous severity ? Undoubtedly there are. Sometimes education, temper, prejudice ; sometimes indiscreet zeal, or a spice of enthusiasm : but in the general, and for the most part, the making religion bend to the humours and fashions of the world is the sin which most easily besets us; and therefore there it is that we ought to appoint the double guard. To conclude this article, all extremes are wrong, and it may require some care and good discernment to

« VorigeDoorgaan »