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How Jewish, Popish, interests have prevail'd,
And where infallibility has fail'd.
For some, who have his secret meaning guess’d,
Have found our author not too much a priest :
For fashion-fake he seems to have recourse
pope, and councils, and traditions 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 presery’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 allifting 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 froin such brushwood-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 fail'd,
Immortal lyes on ages are intailid :
And that some such have been, is prov'd too plain ;
If we consider interest, church, and gain.
O but, says one, tradition set aside,
Where can we hope for an unerring guide ?
For since th' 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 inust be found.
Such an omniscient church we wish indeed;
'Twere worth both Testaments ; cast in the creed :
But if this mother be a guide fo sure,
As can all doubts resolve, all truth 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 modiest 'tis, to say
God would not leave mankind without a way :
And that the scriptures, though not every where
Free from corruption, or intire, or clear,
Are uncorrupt, fufficient, clear, intire,
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 :
salvation must its doom receive, Not from what others but what I believe.
Muft all tradition then be set aside ?
This to affirm, were ignorance or pride.'
Are there not many points, fome needful sure
To saving faith, that scripture leaves obscure ?
Which every feet will wrest a several way,
For what one fect interprets, all sects may:
We hold, and say we prove from scripture plain,
That Chriít is God; the bold Socinian
From the same scripture urges he's but inan.
Now what appeal can end th’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 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,
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 reveai'd 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, and clear :
That ancient Fathers thus expound the page,
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age :
Confirms its force by bideing every test;
For best authorities next rules, are best..
And fill the nearer to the spring we go
More limpid, more unfoil'd, 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.
Ev’n 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 try'd, and after, for itself believ’d.
The partial Papists would infer from hence
Their church, in last resort, Mould judge the sense.
But first they would assume with wonderous art,
Themselves to be the whole, who are but part
Of that vast frame the church; yet 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 largess to mankind;
Not more for them than every man design'd:
The welcome news is 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 rust and ignorance, A gainful trade their clergy did advance : When want of learning kept the laymen 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 she fold or gave; To keep it in her power to damn 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 still 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, though late, That what they thought the priest's, was their estate : 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 part, and put in for a share : Consulted soberly his private good; And fav’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 : VOL. I.