« Prev The Translator’s Preface to the Christian Reader. Next »




THE general acceptation this piece of Grotius has met with in the world encouraged this translation of it, together with the notes, which, being a collection of ancient testimonies, upon whose authority and truth the genuineness of the books of holy Scripture depends, are very useful in order to the convincing any one of the truth of the Christian religion. These notes are for the most part Grotius’s own, except some few of mr. Le Clerc’s, which I have, therefore, translated also, because I have followed his edition, as the most correct.

The design of the book is to shew the reasonableness of believing and embracing the Christian Religion above any other; which our author does, by laying before us all the evidence that can he brought, both internal and external, and declaring the sufficiency of it; by enumerating all the marks of genuineness in any books, and applying them to the sacred writings; and by making appear the deficiency of all other institutions of religion, whether Pagan, Jewish, or Mahometan. So that the substance of the whole is briefly this: That as certain as is the truth of natural principles, and that the mind can judge of what is agreeable to them; as certain as is the evidence of men’s bodily senses, in the most plain and obvious matters of fact; and as certainly as men’s integrity and sincerity may be discovered, and their accounts delivered down to viiiposterity faithfully; so certain are we of the truth of the Christian religion; and that, if it be not true, there is no such thing as true religion in the world; neither was there ever, or can there ever be, any revelation proved to be from heaven.

This is the author’s design, to prove the truth of the Christian religion in general, against Atheists, Deists, Jews, or Mahometans; and he does not enter into any of the disputes which Christians have among themselves, but confines himself wholly to the other. Now, as the state of Christianity at present is, were a heathen or Mahometan convinced of the truth of the Christian religion in general, he would yet be exceedingly at a loss to know what society of Christians to join himself with; so miserably divided are they amongst themselves, and separated into so many sects and parties, which differ almost as widely from each other as heathens from Christians, and who are so zealous and contentious for their own particular opinions, and bear so much hatred and towards those that differ from them, that there is very little of the true spirit of charity, which is the bond of peace, to be found amongst any of them: this is a very great scandal to the professors of Christianity, and has been exceedingly disserviceable to the Christian religion; insomuch that great numbers have been hindered from embracing the gospel, and many tempted to cast it off, because they saw the professors of it in general agree so little amongst themselves: this consideration induced mr. Le Clerc to add a seventh book to those of Grotius; wherein he treats of this matter, and shews what it becomes every honest man to do in such a case; and I have translated it for the same reason. All that I shall here add, shall be only briefly to inquire into the cause of so much division in the church of Christ, and to shew what ixseems to me the only remedy to heal it. First, to examine into the cause why the church of Christ is so much divided: A man needs but a little knowledge of the state of the Christian church, to see that there is just reason for the same complaint St. Paul made in the primitive times of the church of Corinth: that some were for Paul, some for Apollos, and some for Cephas; so very early did the spirit of faction creep into the church of God, and disturb the peace of it, by setting its members at variance with each other, who ought to have been all of the same common faith into which they were baptized; and I wish it could not be said that the same spirit has too much remained amongst Christians ever since. It is evident that the foundation of the divisions in the church of Corinth was their forsaking their common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, into whose name alone they were baptized, and uniting themselves, some under one eminent apostle or teacher, and some under another, by whom they had been instructed in the doctrine of Christ, whereby they were distinguished into different sects, under their several denominations: this St. Paul complains of as a thing in itself very bad, and of pernicious consequence; for hereby the body of Christ, that is, the Christian church, the doctrine of which is one and the same at all times and in all places, is rent and divided into several parts, that clash and interfere with each other; which is the only method, if permitted to have its natural effect, that can overthrow and destroy it. And from the same cause have arisen all the divisions that are or have been in the church ever since. Had Christians been contented to own but one Lord, even Jesus Christ, and made the doctrine delivered by him the sole rule of faith, without any fictions or inventions of men, it had been impossible but that the church of Christ x must have been one universal, regular, uniform thing, and not such a mixture and confusion as we now behold it. But when Christians once began to establish doctrines of their own, and to impose them upon others by human authority, as rules of faith, (which is the foundation of Antichrist), then there began to be as many schemes of religion as there were parties of men who had different judgment, and got the power into their hands. A very little acquaintance with ecclesiastical history does but too sadly confirm the truth of this, by giving us an account of the several doctrines in fashion in the several ages of the Christian church, according to the then present humour. And if it be not so now, how conies it to pass that the generality of Christians are so zealous for that scheme of religion which is received by that particular church of which they profess themselves members? How is it that the generality of Christians in one country are zealous for Calvinism, and in another country as zealous for Arminianism? It is not because men have any natural disposition more to the one than the other, or perhaps that one has much more foundation to support it from Scripture than the other; but the reason is plain, viz. because they are the established doctrines of the places they live in; they are by authority made the rule and standard of religion, and men are taught them from the beginning by this means they are so deeply fixed and rooted in their minds that they become prejudiced in favour of them, and have so strong a relish of them, that they cannot read a chapter in the Bible, but it appears exactly agreeable to the received notions of them both, though perhaps those notions are directly contradictory to each other; thus, instead of making the Scripture the only rule of faith, men make rules of faith of their own, and interpret xiScripture according to them; which being an easy way of coming to the knowledge of what they esteem the truth, the generality of Christians sit down very well satisfied with it. But whoever is, indeed, convinced of the truth of the gospel, and has any regard for the honour of it, cannot but be deeply concerned to see its sacred truths thus prostituted to the power and interests of men; and think it his duty to do the utmost he is able to take it out of their hands, and fix it on its own immovable bottom. In order to contribute to which, I shall, in the second place, shew what seems to he the only remedy that can heal these divisions amongst Christians; and that is, in one word, making the Scripture the only rule of faith. Whatever is necessary for a Christian to believe, in order to everlasting salvation, is there declared, in such a way and manner as the wisdom of God, who best knows the circumstances and conditions of mankind, has thought fit. This, God himself has made the standard for all ranks or orders, for all capacities and abilities; and to set up any other above, or upon the level with it, is dishonouring God, and abusing of men. All the authority in the world cannot make any thing an article of faith, but what God has made so; neither can any power establish or impose upon men, more or less, or otherwise than what the Scripture commands. God has given every man proportionable faculties and abilities of mind, some stronger and some weaker; and he has by his own authority made the Scripture the rule of religion to them all: it is, therefore, their indispensable duty to examine diligently and study attentively this rule, to instruct themselves in the knowledge of religious truths front hence, and to form the best judgment they can of the nature of them. The Scripture will extend or contract itself according to the capacities of men; xiithe strongest and largest understanding will there find enough to fill and improve it, and the narrowest and meanest capacity will fully acquiesce in what is there required of it. Thus all men are obliged to form a judgment of religion for themselves, and to be continually rectifying and improving it: they may be very helpful and assisting to each other in the means of coming to this divine knowledge, but no one can finally determine for another; every man must judge for himself; and for the sincerity of his judgment he is accountable to God only, who knows the secrets of all hearts, which are beyond the reach of human power: this must be left till the final day of account, when every man shall be acquitted or condemned according as he has acted by the dictates of his conscience or no. Were all Christians to go upon this principle, we should soon see an end of all the fierce controversies and unhappy divisions which now rend and confound the church of Christ: were every man allowed to take the Scripture for his only guide in matters of faith and, after all the means of knowledge and instruction used, all the ways of assurance and conviction tried, permitted quietly to enjoy his own opinion, the foundation of all divisions would be taken away at once: and, till Christians do arrive at this temper of mind, let them not boast that they are endued with that excellent virtue of charity, which is the distinguishing mark of their profession; for, if what St. Paul says be true, that charity is greater than faith, it is evident no Christian ought to be guilty of the breach of a greater duty upon account of a lesser; they ought not to disturb that peace and unity which ought to be amongst all Christians, for the sake of any matters of faith, any differences of opinion; because it is contrary to the known law of charity: and how the far greatest part of Christians xiiiwill clear themselves of transgressing this plain law, I know not. Wherefore, if ever we expect to have our petitions answered, when we pray that God would make us one flock under one Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ, we must cease to make needless fences of our own, and to divide ourselves into small separate flocks, and distinguish them by that whereby Christ has not distinguished them. When this spirit of love and unity, of forbearing one another in meekness, once becomes the prevailing principle amongst Christians, then, and not till then, will the kingdom of Christ in its highest perfection and purity flourish upon the earth, and all the powers of darkness fall before it.


« Prev The Translator’s Preface to the Christian Reader. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection