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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 inay be also true ; namely, that Deism, or the priuciples of natural worship, are only the faint remoants 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 confi. dent 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 can
not discover what it is by its own virtue. 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 detinable, 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 Scrip“. tures: to apprehend them to be the word of God is all our reasou has to do; for all beyond it is the work of faith, which is the seal of Heaven impressed upon our human understanding.
Apd pow for what concerns the holy Bishop Athanasius, the preface of whose Creed seems inconsistent with my opinion, which is, that Heathens inay possibly be saved. In the first place, I desire it may be considered that it is the Preface oniy, not the Creed itself, which (till better informed) is of too hard a digestion for my
charity. 'Tis not that I am ignorant bow many several texts of Scripture seemingly support that canse; but neither am I ignorant how all those texts may receive a kinder and more mollified interpretation. Every man, who is read in churchhistory, 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 be twixt 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 blaning 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 comþats our religion, with so much more caution it
onght 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 understanding; as the simplest diet is the most casy 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 detorted 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, I think them the less dangerous (at least in appearance) to our present state ; for not only the penal laws are in force against them, and their number is contemptible, but also their peers and commons are excluded from Parliament, and, consequently, those laws in no probability of being repealed. A general and uninterrupted plot of their clergy, ever since the Reformation, I suppose all Protestants believe: for it is not reasonable to think but that so many of their orders, as were outed from their fat possessions, 'would endeavour a re-entrance against those whom they account heretics. As for the late design, Mr. Coleman's letters ', for aught I know, are the best evidence; and what they discover, without wire-drawing their sense or malicious glosses, all men of reason conclude credible. If there be any thing more than this reqnired of me, I must believe it as well as I am able, in spite of the witnesses, and out of a decent conformity to the votes of Parliament; for I sup. pose the Fanatics will not allow the private spirit in this case. Here the infallibility is at least in one part of the government, and our understandings as well as our wills are represented. But to return to the Roman Catholics; how can we be secure from the practice of Jesuited Papists in that religion? For not two or three of that order, as some of them would impose upon us, but almost