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If from his nature foes may pity claim,
Much more may strangers who ne'er heard his name:
And though no name be for salvation known,
But that of his eternal Son alone;
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 inspird)
By nature did what was by law requir’d;
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 condemn'd or freed."
Most righteous doom! because a rule reveald
Is none to those from whom it was conceal'd.
Then those who follow'd Reason's dictates right
Liv'd up, and lifted high their natural light;
With Socrates may see their Maker's face,
While thousand rubric martyrs want a place.
Nor doth it balk 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 believ'd not all his zeal requir'd,
Unless he first could prove he was inspir’d.
Then let us either think he meant to say-
• This faith, where publish’d, 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,
Damn'd all for heretics who durst oppose.
* Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria.
Thus far my charity this path hath tried, (A much unskilful, but well-meaning guide) [bred Yet what they are, e'en 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 squander'd, or in vice have lost, Those hours hast thou to nobler use employ'd, And the severe delights of truth enjoy’d: 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; Save pains in various readings and translations, And, without Hebrew, make most learn'd quota
tions. A work so full with various learning fraught, So nicely ponder'd, yet so strongly wrought, As Nature's height and Art's last hand requir'd; As much as man could compass, uninspird: Where we may see what errors have been made Both in the copiers' and translators' trade; How Jewish, Popish interests, have prevailid, And where infallibility has fail'd.
For some, who have his secret meaning guess'd, Have found our author not too much a priest :
• Critical History of the Old Testament by Pere Simon. See Preface to this poem.
For fashion-sake he seems to have recourse
To Pope, and councils, and tradition's force:
But he that old traditions could subdue,
Could not but find the weakness of the new.
If Scripture, though deriv'd from heavenly birth,
Has been but carelessly preserv'd on earth ;
If God's own people, who of God before
Knew what we know, and had been promis'd 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, embroild the sense,
With vain traditions stopt the gaping fence,
Which every common hand pulld up with ease;
What safety, from such brush-wood helps as these?
If written words from time are not secur’d,
How can we think have oral sounds endur'd?
Which thus transmitted, if one mouth has faild,
Immortal lies on ages are intail'd;
And that some such have been, is provid too plain,
If we consider interest, church, and gain,
“Oh but, (says one) tradition set aside,
Where can we hope for an unerring guide ?
For, since the original Scripture has been lost,
All copies disagreeing, maim'd 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 truths 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 explain’d
Is in the blest original contain’d!
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 sav'd, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play.
The' unletter'd Christian, who believes in gross,
Plods on to Heaven, and ne'er is at a loss :
For the straight gate would be made straighter yet,
Were none admitted there but men of wit.
The few, by Nature form’d, 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 reveald design:
Which exposition flows from genuine sense,
And which is forc'd by wit and eloquence.
Not that tradition's parts are useless here,
When general, old, disinterested, clear:
That ancient Fathers thus expound the
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age;
Confirms its force by biding every test;
For best authorities next rules are best;
And still the nearer to the spring we go,
More limpid, more unsoil'd, 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.
E'en 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 receiv'd,
Is tried, and, after, for itself believ'd.