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I think, according to my little skill,
To my own mother-church submitting till,
That many have been fav’d, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play,
Th’unletter'd Christian who believes in gross,
Plods on to heaven ; and ne'er is at a loss :
For the streight-gate would be made ftreighter 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,
Muft ftudy well the sacred page ; and fee
Which doctrine, this or that, does best
With the whole tenor of the work divine :
And plainliest points to heaven’s reveald design:
Which expofition flows from genuine fenfe;
And which is forc'd by wit and eloquence.
Not that tradition's parts are useless here:
When general, old, disinterested and clear:
That ancient fathers thus expound the page,
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age :
Confirms its force by bideing every teft;
For best authorities next rules, are best.
And still the nearer to the spring we go
More limpid, more unfoild the waters flow.
Thus first traditions were a proof alone;
Could we be certain such they were, so known :
But since fome flaws in long descent may be,
They make not truth but probability.
Even Arius and Pelagius durft provoke
To what the centuries preceding spoke.
Such difference is there in an oft-told tale :
But truth by its own finews will prevail.
Tradition written therefore more commends
Authority, than what from voice descends a
And this, as perfect as its kind can be,
Rolls down to us the facred history:
Which from the universal church receiv'd,
Is try'd, and after, for itfelf believ'd.
The partial Papifts would infer from hence
Their church, in last resort, should judge the sense.
But first they would assume with wondrous art,
Themselves to be the whole, who are but parç
Of that vast frame the church; yer grant they were
The handers down, can they from thence infer
A right t' interpret? or would they alone
Who brought the present, claim it for their own
The book's a common largefs to mankind ?
Not more for them than every man defign’d:
The weļcome news.is in the letter found;
The carrier's not commission'd to expound,
It speaks itself, and what it does contain,
In all things needful to be known is plain.
In times o'ergrown with ruft and ignorance, A gainful trade their clergy did advance : When want of learning kept the lay men low, And none but priests were authoriz'd to know: When what small knowledge was, in them did dwell; And he a God who could but read and spell ; Then mother church did mightily prevail : She parcel}d out the Bible by retail : But still expounded what the fold or gave ; To keep it in her power to damp and save : Scripture was scarce, and as the market went, Poor laymen took salvation on content; As needy men take money good or bad : God's word they had not, but the priest's they had, Yet whate'er false conveyances they made, The lawyer ftill was certain to be paid. In those dark times they learn'd their knack fo well, That by long use they grew infallible : At last a knowing age began t'enquire If they the book, or that did them inspire :
And making narrower search they found, tho' late,
That what they thought the priest's, was their eftate:
Taught by the will produc'd, the written word,
How long they had been cheated on record.
Then every man who saw the title fair,
Claim'd a child's
put in for a fhare:
Consulted soberly his private good ;
And say'd himself as cheap as e'er he could.
'Tis true, my friend, and far be flattery hence,
This good had full as bad a consequence :
The book thus put in every vulgar hand,
Which each préfum'd he beft could understand,
The common rule was inade the common prey;
And at the mercy of the rabble lay.
The tender page with horny fists was gallid;
And he was gifted most that loudeft bauld:
The Spirit gave the doctoral degree :
member of a company
Was of his trade, and of the Bible free.
Plain truths enough for needful use they found;
But men would still be itching to expound:
Each was ambitious of th' obscurest place,
No measure ta'en from knowledge, all from grace.
Study and pains were now no more their care;
Texts were explain’d by fasting and by prayer :
This was the fruit the private spirit brought;
Occafion'd by great zeal and little thought.
White crouds unlearn’d with rude devotion warm,
About the sacred viands buz and swarm.
The fly.blown text creates a crawling brood;
And turns to maggots what was meant for food.
A thousand daily fects rise up and die;
A thousand more the perith'd race fupply:
So all we make of heaven's discover'd will,
Is not to have it, or to use it ill.
The danger's much the fame; on several shelves
If others wreck us,' or we wreck ourselves,
What then remains, but waving each extreme,
The tides of ignorance and pride to ftem?
Neither so rich a treasure to forego ;
Nor poudly seek beyond our power to know:
Faith is not built on disquisitions vain ;
The things we must believe are few and plain :
But since men will believe more than they need ;
And every man will make himself a creed :
In doubtful questions 'tis the safeft way
To learn what unsuspected ancients say:
For 'țis not likely we should higher soar
In search of heaven, than all the church before :
Nor can we bę deceiy'd, unless we fee
The scripture and the fathers disagree.
If after all they stand suspected till,
For no man's faith depends upon his. will;
'Tis some relief, that points not clearly known,
Without much hạzard may be let alone :
And after hearing what our church can fay,
If ftill our reason rụns another way,
That private reason ’tis more just to curb,
Than by disputes the public peace disturb.
For points obscure are of small use to learn :
But common quiet is mankind's concern.
Thus have I made my own opinions clear:
Yet neither praise expect, nor cenfure fear :
And this unpolish'd rugged verse I chose ;
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose :
For while from facred truth I do not swerve,
Tom Sternhold's, or Tom Shadwell's rhymes will serve.