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tion. Neither will it enter easily into my belief, that before the coming of our Siour, the whole world, excepting only the Jewish nation, should lie under the inevitable necessity of everlasting punishment, for want of that revelation which was confined to 60 small a spot of ground as that of Palestine. Among the sons of Noah we read of one only who was accursed ; and if a blessing in the ripeness of time was reserved by Japheth, (of whose progeny we are) it seems unaccountable to me, why so many generations, of the same offspring, as preceded our Saviour in the flesh, should be all involved in one common condemnation, and yet that their posterity should be entitled to the hopes of salvation: as if a bill of exclusion had passed only on the fathers, which debarred not the sons from their succession : or that so many ages had been delivered over to hell, and so many reserved for heaven; and that the devil had the first choice, and God the next. Truly, I am apt to think, that the revealed Religion which was taught by Noah to all his sons might continue for some ages in the whole posterity: that afterwards it was included wholly in the family of Shem is manifest; but when the progenies of Cham andJaphet swarmed into colonies, and those colonies were subdivided into many others, in process of time their descendents lost, by little and little, the primitive and purer rites of divine worship, retaining only the notion of one Deity; to which succeeding generations added others : for men took their degrees in those ages from conquerors to gods. Revelation being thus eclipsed to almost all mankind, the light of nature, as the next in
dignity, was substituted ; and that is it which St. Paul concludes to be the rule of the heathens, and by which they are hereafter to be judged.*
If my supposition be true, then the consequence which I have assumed in my Poem may be also true; namely, that Deism, or the principles of natural worship, are only the faint remnants or dying flames of revealed Religion in the posterity of Noah; and that our modern philosophers, nay, and some of our philosophizing divines, have too much exalted the faculties of our souls, when they have maintained that, by their force, mankind has been able to find out that there is one Supreme Agent, or intellectual Being, which we call God; that praise and prayer are his due worship; and the rest of those deducements, which I am confident are the remote effects of Revelation, and unattainable by our discourse, I mean as simply considered, and without the benefit of divine illumination : so that we have not lifted up ourselves to God by the weak pinions of our reason, but he has been pleased to descend to us; and what Socrates said of him, what Plato writ, and the rest of the Heathen philosophers of several nations, is all no more than the twilight of Revelation, after the sun of it was set in the race of Noah. That there is something above us, some principle of motion, our Reason can apprehend, though it cannot discover what it is by its
* " When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing, one another." Romans ii. 14, 15.
And indeed, it is very improbable that we, who by the strength of our faculties cannot enter into the knowledge of any being, not so much as of our own, should be able to find out by them that Supreme Nature, which we cannot otherwise define than by saying it is infinite;, as if infinite were definable, or infinity a subject for our narrow understanding. They who would prove religion by reason do but weaken the cause which they endeavour to support; it is to take away the pillars from our faith, and to prop it only with a twig; it is to design a tower like that of Babel, which, if it were possible (as it is not) to reach Heaven, would come to nothing by the confusion of the workmen : for every man is building a several way; impotently conceited of his own model, and his own materials. Reason is always striving, and always at a loss; and of necessity it must so come to pass, while it is exercised about that which is not its proper object. Let us be content at last to know God by his own methods; at least so much of him as he is pleased to reveal to us in the sacred Scriptures: to apprehend them to be the word of God is all our reason has to do; for all beyond it is the work of faith, which is the seal of Heaven impressed upon our human understanding.
for what concerns the holy Bishop Athanasius, the preface of whose Creed seems inconsistent with my opinion; which is, that Heathens may possibly be saved. In the first place, I desire it may be considered that it is the Preface only, not the Creed itself, which (till I am better informed) is of too hard a digestion for my charity. 'Tis not that I am ignorant how many several texts of Scrip
ture seemingly support that clause; but neither am I ignorant how all those texts may receive a kinder and more mollified interpretation. Every man who is read in church history, knows that belief was drawn up after a long contestation with Arius, concerning the divinity of our blessed Saviour, and his being one substance with the Father; and that, thus compiled, it was sent abroad among the Christian Churches, as a kind of test, which, whosoever took, was looked on as an orthodox believer. 'Tis manifest, from hence, that the Heathen part of the empire was not concerned in it; for its business was not to distinguish betwixt Pagans and Christians, but betwixt heretics and true believers. This, well considered, takes off the heavy weight of censure which I would willingly avoid from so venerable a man; for if this proposition, “Whosoever will be saved,' be restrained only to those to whom it was intended, and for whom it was composed, I mean the Christians; then the anathema reaches not the Heathens, who had never heard of Christ, and were nothing interested in that dispute. After all, I am far from blaming even that prefatory addition to the Creed, and as far from cavilling at the continuation of it in the Liturgy of the church, where, on the days appointed, it is publicly read : for, I suppose, there is the same reason for it now, in opposition to the Socinians, as there was then against the Arians; the one being a heresy which seems to have been refined out of the other; and with how much more plausibility of reason it combats our religion, with so much more caution it ought to be avoided : therefore the prudence of
our church is to be commended, which has interposed her authority for the recommendation of this Creed. Yet to such as are grounded in the true belief, those explanatory creeds, the Nicene, and this of Athanasius, might perhaps be spared : for what is supernatural will always be a mystery in spite of exposition: and, for my own part, the plain Apostles' Creed is most suitable to my weak under. standing; as the simplest diet is the most easy of digestion.
I have dwelt longer on this subject than I intended, and longer than, perhaps, I ought; for having laid down, as my foundation, that the Scripture is a rule; that in all things needful to salvation it is clear, sufficient, and ordained by God Almighty for that purpose, I have left myself no right to interpret obscure places, such as concern the possibility of eternal happiness to Heathens; because, whatsoever is obscure, is concluded not necessary to be known.
But, by asserting the Scripture to be the canon of our faith, I have unavoidably created to myself two sorts of enemies: the Papists, indeed, more directly, because they have kept the Scripture from us, what they could, and have reserved to themselves a right of interpreting what they have delivered, under the pretence of infallibility; and the Fanatics more collaterally, because they have assumed what amounts to an infallibility, in the private spirit; and have distorted those texts of Scripture, which are not necessary to salvation, to the damnable uses of sedition, disturbance, and destruction of the civil government.
To begin with the Papists; and, to speak freely,