A VINDICATION OF THE REASONABLENESS OF CHRISTIANITY, &c.
FROM MR. EDWARDS’S REFLECTIONS.
My Book had not been long out, before it fell under the correction of the author of a Treatise, entitled, “Some Thoughts concerning the several Causes and Occasions of Atheism, especially in the present Age.” No contemptible adversary, I’ll assure you; since, as it seems, he has got the faculty to heighten every thing that displeases him, into the capital crime of atheism; and breathes against those, who come in his way, a pestilential air, whereby every the least distemper is turned into the plague, and becomes mortal. For whoever does not just say after Mr. Edwards, cannot, it is evident, escape being an atheist, or a promoter of atheism. I cannot but approve of any one’s zeal, to guard and secure that great and fundamental article of all religion and morality, “That there is a God:” but atheism being a crime, which, for its madness as well as guilt, ought to shut a man out of all sober and civil society, should be very warily charged on any one, by deductions and consequences, which he himself does not own, or, at least, do not manifestly and unavoidably flow from what he asserts. This caution, charity, I think, obliges us to: and our author would possibly think himself hardly dealt with, if, for neglecting some of those rules he himself gives, p. 31 and 34, against atheism, he should be pronounced a promoter of it: as rational a charge, I imagine, as some of those he makes; and as fitly put together, as “the Treatise of the Reasonableness of Christianity, &c.” brought in among the causes of atheism. However I shall not much complain of him, since he joins me, p. 104, with no worse company, than two eminently pious and learned prelates of our church, whom he makes favourers of the same conceit, as he calls it. But what has that conceit to do with atheism? Very much. That conceit is of kin to socinianism, and socinianism to atheism. Let us hear Mr. Edwards himself. He says, p. 113, I am “all over socinianized:” and therefore, my book fit to be placed among the causes of atheism. For in the 64th, and following pages, he endeavours to show, That “a socinian is an atheist;” or, lest that should seem harsh, “one that favours the cause of atheism,” p. 75. For so he has been pleased to mollify, now it is published as a treatise, what was much more harsh, and much more confident in it, when it was preached as a sermon. In this abatement, he seems a little to comply with his own advice, against his fourth cause of atheism; which we have in these words, p. 34, “Wherefore, that we may effectually prevent this folly in ourselves, let us banish presumption, confidence, and self-conceit; let us extirpate all pride and arrogance; let us not list ourselves in the number of capricious opinionators.”
I shall leave the socinians themselves to answer his charge against them, and shall examine his proof of my being a socinian. It stands thus, p. 112, “When he” (the author of the Reasonableness of Christianity, &c.) “proceeds to mention the advantages and benefits of Christ’s coming into the world, and appearing in the flesh, he hath not one syllable of his satisfying for us; or, by his death, purchasing life or salvation, or any thing that sounds like it. This, and several other things, show, that he is all over socinianized.” Which in effect is, that because I have not set down all that this author perhaps would have done, therefore I am a socinian. But what if I should say, I set down as much as my argument required, and yet am no socinian? Would he, from my silence and omission, give me the lie, and say I am one? Surmises that may be overturned by a single denial, are poor arguments, and such as some men would be ashamed of: at least, if they are to be permitted to men of this gentleman’s skill and zeal, who knows how to make a good use of conjectures, suspicions, and uncharitable censures in the cause of God; yet even there too (if the cause of God can need such arts) they require a good memory to keep them from recoiling upon the author. He might have taken notice of these words in my book, (page 9 of this vol.) “From this estate of death, Jesus Christ restores all mankind to life.” And a little lower, “The life which Jesus Christ restores to all men.” And p. 109, “He that hath incurred death for his own transgression, cannot lay down his life for another, as our Saviour professes he did.” This, methinks, sounds something like “Christ’s purchasing life for us by his death.” But this reverend gentleman has an answer ready; it was not in the place he would have had it in, it was not where I mention the advantages and benefits of Christ’s coming. And therefore, I not having there one syllable of Christ’s purchasing life and salvation for us by his death, or any thing that sounds like it: this and several other things that might be offered, show that I am “all over socinianized.” A very clear and ingenuous proof, and let him enjoy it.
But what will become of me, that I have not mentioned satisfaction!
Possibly, this reverend gentleman would have had charity enough for a known writer of the brotherhood, to have found it by an “inuendo,” in those words above quoted, of laying down his life for another. But every thing is to be strained here the other way. For the author of “the Reasonableness of Christianity, &c.” is of necessity to be represented as a socinian; or else his book may be read, and the truths in it, which Mr. Edwards likes not, be received, and people put upon examining. Thus one, as full of happy conjectures and suspicions as this gentleman, might be apt to argue. But what if the author designed his treatise, as the title shows, chiefly for those who were not yet thoroughly, or firmly, christians, proposing to work on those, who either wholly disbelieved, or doubted of the truth of the christian religion? Would any one blame his prudence, if he mentioned only those advantages, which all christians are agreed in? Might he not remember and observe that command of the apostle, Rom. xiv. 1, “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations;” without being a socinian? Did he amiss, that he offered to the belief of those who stood off, that, and only that, which our Saviour and his apostles preached, for the reducing the unconverted world: and would any one think he in earnest went about to persuade men to be christians, who should use that as an argument to recommend the gospel, which he has observed men to lay hold on, as an objection against it? To urge such points of controversy, as necessary articles of faith, when we see our Saviour and the apostles, in their preaching, urged them not as necessary to be believed to make men christians, is (by our own authority) to add prejudices to prejudices, and to block up our own way to those men, whom we would have access to, and prevail upon. But some men had rather you should write booty, and cross your own design of removing men’s prejudices to christianity, than leave out one tittle of what they put into their systems. To such, I say, convince but men of the mission of Jesus Christ, make them but see the truth, simplicity, and reasonableness, of what he himself taught, and required to be believed by his followers; and you need not doubt, but being once fully persuaded of his doctrine, and the advantages which all christians agree are received by him, such converts will not lay by the scriptures, but by a constant reading and study of them get all the light they can from this divine revelation, and nourish themselves up in the words of faith, and of good doctrine, as St. Paul speaks to Timothy. But some men will not bear it, that any one should speak of religion, but according to the model that they themselves have made of it. Nay, though he proposes it upon the very terms, and in the very words which our Saviour and his apostles preached it in, yet he shall not escape censures and the severest insinuations. To deviate in the least, or to omit any thing contained in their articles, is heresy, under the most invidious names in fashion, and ’tis well if he escapes being a downright atheist. Whether this be the way for teachers to make themselves hearkened to, as men in earnest in religion, and really concerned for the salvation of men’s souls, I leave them to consider. What success it has had, towards persuading men of the truth of christianity, their own complaints of the prevalency of atheism, on the one hand, and the number of deists on the other, sufficiently show.
Another thing laid to my charge, p. 105 and 107, is my “forgetting, or rather wilful omitting, some plain and obvious passages,” and some “famous testimonies in the evangelists; namely, Matt. xxviii. 19, Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And John i. 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” And verse 14, “And the word was made flesh.” Mine, it seems, in this book, are all sins of omission. And yet, when it came out, the buz, the flutter, and noise which was made, and the reports which were raised, would have persuaded the world, that it subverted all morality, and was designed against the christian religion. I must confess, discourses of this kind, which I met with, spread up and down, at first amazed me; knowing the sincerity of those thoughts, which persuaded me to publish it (not without some hope of doing some service to decaying piety, and mistaken and slandered christianity.) I satisfied myself against those heats, with this assurance, that, if there was any thing in my book against what any one called religion, it was not against the religion contained in the gospel. And for that, I appeal to all mankind.
But to return to Mr. Edwards, in particular, I must take leave to tell him, that if “omitting plain and obvious passages, the famous testimonies in the evangelists,” be a fault in me, I wonder why he, among so many of this kind that I am guilty of, mentions so few. For I must acknowledge I have omitted more, nay, many more, that are “plain and obvious passages, and famous testimonies in the evangelists,” than those he takes notice of. But if I have left out none of those “passages or testimonies,” which contain what our Saviour and his apostles preached, and required assent to, to make men believers, I shall think my omissions (let them be what they will) no faults in the present case. Whatever doctrines Mr. Edwards would have to be believed, if they are such as our Saviour and his apostles required to be believed, to make a man a christian, he will be sure to find them in those preachings and “famous testimonies,” of our Saviour and his apostles, that I have quoted. And if they are not there, he may rest satisfied, that they were not proposed by our Saviour and his apostles, as necessary to be believed, to make men Christ’s disciples.
If the omission of other texts in the evangelists (which are all true also, and no one of them to be disbelieved) be a fault, it might have been expected that Mr. Edwards should have accused me for leaving out Matth. i. 18—23, and Matth. xxvii. 24, 35, 50, 60, for these are “plain and obvious passages and famous testimonies in the evangelists;” and such, whereon these articles of the apostles creed, viz. “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried,” are founded. These, being articles of the apostles creed, are looked upon as “fundamental doctrines:” and one would wonder, why Mr. Edwards so quietly passes by their omission; did it not appear, that he was so intent on fixing his imputation of socinianism upon me, that, rather than miss that, he was content to drop the other articles of his creed. For I must observe to him, that if he had blamed me for the omission of the places last quoted out of St. Matthew, (as he had as much reason as for any other,) it would plainly have appeared, how idle and ill-grounded his charging socinianism on me was. But, at any rate, he was to give the book an ill name: not because it was socinian; for he has no more reason to charge it with socinianism for the omissions he mentions, than the apostles creed. It is therefore well for the compilers of that creed, that they lived not in Mr. Edwards’s days: for he would, no doubt, have found them “all over socinianized,” for omitting the texts he quotes, and the doctrines he collects out of John i. and John xiv. p. 107, 108. Socinianism then is not the fault of the book, whatever else it be. For I repeat it again, there is not one word of socinianism in it. I, that am not so good at conjectures as Mr. Edwards, shall leave it to him to say, or to those who can bear the plainness and simplicity of the gospel, to guess, what its fault is.
Some men are shrewd guessers, and others would be thought to be so; but he must be carried far by his forward inclination, who does not take notice, that the world is apt to think him a diviner, for any thing rather than for the sake of truth, who sets up his own suspicions against the direct evidence of things; and pretends to know other men’s thoughts and reasons, better than they themselves. I had said, that the epistles, being writ to those who were already believers, could not be supposed to be writ to them to teach them fundamentals, without which they could not be believers.
And the reason I gave, why I had not gone through the writings in the epistles, to collect the fundamental articles of faith, as I had through the preachings of our Saviour and the apostles, was, because those fundamental articles were in those epistles promiscuously, and without distinction, mixed with other truths. And, therefore, we shall find and discern those great and necessary points best in the preachings of our Saviour and the apostles, to those who were yet ignorant of the faith, and unconverted. This, as far as I know my own thoughts, was the reason why I did (as Mr. Edwards complains, p. 109) “not proceed to the epistles, and not give an account of them, as I had done of the gospels and acts.” This, I imagined, I had in the close of my book so fully and clearly expressed, particularly p. 152 of this vol. that I supposed no-body, how willing soever, could have mistaken me. But this gentleman is so much better acquainted with me, than I am with myself; sees so deeply into my heart, and knows so perfectly every thing that passes there; that he, with assurance, tells the world, p. 109, “That I purposely omitted the epistolary writings of the apostles, because they are fraught with other fundamental doctrines, besides that one which I mention.” And then he goes to enumerate those fundamental articles, p. 110, 111, viz. “The corruption and degeneracy of human nature, with the true original of it, (the defection of our first parents,) the propagation of sin and mortality, our restoration and reconciliation by Christ’s blood, the eminency and excellency of his priesthood, the efficacy of his death, the full satisfaction made, thereby, to divine justice, and his being made an all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. Christ’s righteousness, our justification by it, election, adoption, sanctification, saving faith, the nature of the gospel, the new covenant, the riches of God’s mercy in the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, the certainty of the resurrection of human bodies, and of the future glory.”
Give me leave now to ask you seriously, whether these, which you have here set down under the title of “fundamental doctrines,” are such (when reduced to propositions) that every one of them is required to be believed to make a man a christian, and such as, without the actual belief thereof, he cannot be saved. If they are not so, every one of them, you may call them “fundamental doctrines,” as much as you please, they are not of those doctrines of faith I was speaking of, which are only such as are required to be actually believed to make a man a christian. If you say, some of them are such necessary points of faith, and others not, you, by this specious list of well-sounding, but unexplained terms, arbitrarily collected, only make good what I have said, viz. that the necessary articles of faith are, in the epistles, promiscuously delivered with other truths, and, therefore, they cannot be distinguished but by some other mark, than being barely found in the epistles. If you say, that they are all of them necessary articles of faith, I shall then desire you to reduce them to so many plain doctrines, and then prove them to be every one of them required to be believed by every christian man, to make him a member of the christian church. For, to begin with the first, it is not enough to tell us, as you do, that “the corruption and degeneracy of human nature, with the true original of it, (the defection of our first parents,) the propagation of sin and mortality, is one of the great heads of christian divinity.” But you are to tell us, what are the propositions we are required to believe concerning this matter: for nothing can be an article of faith, but some proposition; and then it will remain to be proved, that these articles are necessary to be believed to salvation. The apostles creed was taken, in the first ages of the church, to contain all things necessary to salvation; I mean, necessary to be believed: but you have now better thought on it, and are pleased to enlarge it, and we, no doubt, are bound to submit to your orthodoxy.
The list of materials for his creed (for the articles are not yet formed) Mr. Edwards closes, p. 111, with these words, “These are the matters of faith contained in the epistles, and they are essential and integral parts of the gospel itself.” What, just these? Neither more nor less? If you are sure of it, pray let us have them speedily, for the reconciling of differences in the christian church, which has been so cruelly torn, about the articles of the christian faith, to the great reproach of christian charity, and scandal of our true religion.
Mr. Edwards, having thus, with two learned terms of “essential and integral parts,” sufficiently proved the matter in question, viz. That all those he has set down are articles of faith necessary to be believed to make a man a christian, he grows warm at my omission of them. This I cannot complain of as unnatural: the spirit of creed-making always rising from an heat of zeal for our own opinions, and warm endeavours, by all ways possible, to decry and bear down those who differ in a tittle from us. What then could I expect more gentle and candid, that what Mr. Edwards has subjoined in these words? “And therefore it is no wonder that our author, being sensible of this,” (viz. That the points he has named were essential and integral parts of the gospel,) “would not vouchsafe to give us an abstract of those inspired writings [the epistles]; but passes them by with some contempt.” Sir, when your angry fit is over, and the abatement of your passion has given way to the return of your sincerity, I shall beg you to read this passage in page 154 of this vol. “These holy writers (viz. the pen-men of the scriptures) inspired from above, writ nothing but truth, and, in most places, very weighty truths to us now, for the expounding, clearing, and confirming of the christian doctrine; and establishing those in it who had embraced it.” And again, p. 156, “The other parts of divine revelation are objects of faith, and are so to be received. They are truths, of which none that is once known to be such, i. e. revealed, may or ought to be disbelieved.” And if this does not satisfy you, that I have as high a veneration for the epistles, as you or any one can have, I require you to publish to the world those passages, which show my contempt of them. In the mean time, I shall desire my reader to examine what I have writ concerning the epistles, which is all contained between p. 151 and 158 of this vol. and then to judge whether I have made bold with the epistles in what I have said of them, or this gentleman made bold with truth in what he has writ of me. Human frailty will not, I see, easily quit its hold; what it loses in one part, it will be ready to regain in another; and not be hindered from taking reprisals, even on the most privileged sort of men. Mr. Edwards, who is intrenched in orthodoxy, and so is as safe in matters of faith almost as infallibility itself, is yet as apt to err as others in matters of fact.
But he has not yet done with me about the epistles: all his fine draught of my slighting that part of the scripture will be lost, unless the strokes complete it into socinianism. In his following words you have the conclusion of the whole matter. His words are these: “And more especially, if I may conjecture,” (by all means, sir, conjecturing is your proper talent: you have hitherto done nothing else; and I will say that for you, you have a lucky hand at it:) “he doth this (i. e. pass by the epistles with contempt) because he knew that there are so many and frequent, and those so illustrious and eminent attestations to the doctrine of the ever to be adored Trinity, in these epistles.” Truly, sir, if you will permit me to know what I know, as well as you do allow yourself to conjecture what you please, you are out for this once; the reason why I went not through the epistles, as I did the gospels and the acts, was that very reason I printed, and that will be found so sufficient a one to all considerate readers, that I believe, they will think you need not strain your conjectures for another. And, if you think it to be so easy to distinguish fundamentals from non-fundamentals in the epistles, I desire you to try your skill again, in giving the world a perfect collection of propositions out of the epistles, that contain all that is required, and no more than what is absolutely required to be believed by all christians, without which faith they cannot be of Christ’s church. For I tell you, notwithstanding the show you have made, you have not yet done it, nor will you affirm that you have.
His next page, p. 112, is made up of the same, which he calls, not uncharitable conjectures. I expound, he says, “John xiv. 9, &c. after the antitrinitarian mode:” and I make “Christ and Adam to be sons of God, in the same sense, and by their birth, as the racovians generally do.” I know not but it may be true, that the antitrinitarians and racovians understand those places as I do: but it is more than I know, that they do so. I took not my sense of those texts from those writers, but from the scripture itself, giving light to its own meaning, by one place compared with another: what in this way appears to me its true meaning, I shall not decline, because I am told that it is so understood by the racovians, whom I never yet read; nor embrace the contrary, though the “generality of divines” I more converse with should declare for it. If the sense, wherein I understand those texts, be a mistake, I shall be beholden to you, if you will set me right. But they are not popular authorities, or frightful names, whereby I judge of truth or falsehood. You will now, no doubt, applaud your conjectures; the point is gained, and I am openly a socinian, since I will not disown, that I think the Son of God was a phrase, that among the jews, in our Saviour’s time, was used for the Messiah, though the socinians understand it in the same sense; and therefore I must certainly be of their persuasion in every thing else. I admire the acuteness, force, and fairness of your reasoning, and so I leave you to triumph in your conjectures. Only I must desire you to take notice, that that ornament of our church, and every way eminent prelate, the late archbishop of Canterbury, understood that phrase in the same sense that I do, without being a socinian. You may read what he says concerning Nathanael, in his first “Sermon of Sincerity,” published this year: his words are these, p. 4, “And being satisfied that he [our Saviour] was the Messiah, he presently owned him for such, calling him the Son of God, and the King of Israel.”
Though this gentleman knows my thoughts as perfectly as if he had for several years past lain in my bosom, yet he is mightily at a loss about my person: as if it at all concerned the truth contained in my book, what hand it came from. However, the gentleman is mightily perplexed about the author. Why, sir, what if it were writ by a scribbler of Bartholomew-fair drolls, with all that flourish of declamatory rhetoric, and all that smartness of wit and jest about captain Tom, unitarians, units, and cyphers, &c. which are to be found between pages 115 and 123 of a book that came out during the merry time of rope dancing, and puppet plays? What is truth, would, I hope, nevertheless be truth in it, however oddly spruced up by such an author: though perhaps, it is likely some would be apt to say, such merriment became not the gravity of my subject, and that I writ not in the style of a graduate in divinity. I confess (as Mr. Edwards rightly says) my fault lies on the other side, in a want of “vivacity and elevation:” and I cannot wonder, that one of his character and palate, should find out and complain of my flatness, which has so over-charged my book with plain and direct texts of scripture, in a matter capable of no other proofs. But yet I must acknowledge his excess of civility to me; he shows me more kindness than I could expect or wish, since he prefers what I say to him myself to what is offered to him from the word of God; and makes me this compliment, that I begin to mend, about the close, i. e. when I leave off quoting of scripture: and the dull work was done, of “going through the history of the Evangelists and Acts,” which he computes, p. 105, to take up three quarters of my book. Does not all this deserve, at least, that I should, in return, take some care of his credit? Which I know not how better to do, than by entreating him, that when he takes next in hand such a subject as this, wherein the salvation of souls is concerned, he would treat it a little more seriously, and with a little more candour; lest men should find in his writings, another cause of atheism, which in this treatise, he has not thought fit to mention. “Ostentation of wit” in general he has made a “cause of atheism,” p. 28. But the world will tell him, that frothy light discourses concerning the serious matters of religion; and ostentation of trifling and misbecoming wit in those who come as ambassadors from God, under the title of successors of the apostles, in the great commission of the gospel; are none of the least causes of atheism.
Some men have so peculiar a way of arguing, that one may see it influences them in the repeating another man’s reasoning, and seldom fails to make it their own. In the next paragraph I find these words: “what makes him contend for one single article, with the exclusion of all the rest? He pretends it is this, that all men ought to understand their religion.” This, I confess, is a reasoning I did not think of; nor could it hardly, I fear, have been used but by one who had first took up his opinion from the recommendation of fashion or interest, and then sought topics to make it good. Perhaps the deference due to your character, excused you from the trouble of quoting the page, where I pretend, as you say; and it is so little like my way of reasoning, that I shall not look for it in a book where I remember nothing of it, and where, without your direction, I fear the reader will scarce find it. Though I have not “that vivacity of thought, that elevation of mind,” which Mr. Edwards demands, yet common sense would have kept me from contending that there is but one article, because all men ought to understand their religion. Numbers of propositions may be harder to be remembered, but it is the abstruseness of the notions, or obscurity, inconsistency, or doubtfulness of the terms or expressions that makes them hard to be understood; and one single proposition may more perplex the understanding than twenty others. But where did you find “I contended for one single article, so as to exclude all the rest?” You might have remembered that I say, p. 1, 17, That the article of the one only true God, was also necessary to be believed. This might have satisfied you, that I did not so contend for one article of faith, as to be at defiance with more than one. However, you insist on the word one with great vigour, from p. 108 to 121. And you did well, you had else lost all the force of that killing stroke reserved for the close, in that sharp jest of unitarians, and a clench or two more of great moment.
Having found, by a careful perusal of the preachings of our Saviour and his apostles, that the religion they proposed, consisted in that short, plain, easy and intelligible summary which I set down, p. 157, in these words: “Believing Jesus to be the Saviour promised, and taking him, now raised from the dead, and constituted the Lord and Judge of men, to be their King and “Ruler;” I could not forbear magnifying the wisdom and goodness of God (which infinitely exceeds the thoughts of ignorant, vain, and narrow-minded man) in these following words: “The All-merciful God seems herein to have consulted the poor of this world, and the bulk of mankind: these are articles that the labouring and illiterate man may comprehend.” Having thus plainly mentioned more than one article, I might have taken it amiss, that Mr. Edwards should be at so much pains as he is, to blame me for “contending for one” article; because I thought more than one could not be understood; had he not had many fine things to say in his declamation upon one article, which affords him so much matter, that less than seven pages could not hold it. Only here and there, as men of oratory often do, he mistakes the business, as p. 115, where he says, “I urge, that there must be nothing in christianity that is not plain, and exactly levelled to all men’s mother-wit.” I desire to know where I said so, or that “the very manner of every thing in christianity must be clear and intelligible, every thing must be presently comprehended by the weakest noddle, or else it is no part of religion, especially of christianity;” as he has it, p. 119. I am sure it is not in p. 133—136, 149—151, of my book: these, therefore, to convince him that I am of another opinion, I shall desire somebody to read to Mr. Edwards, for he himself reads my book with such spectacles, as make him find meanings and words in it, neither of which I put there. He should have remembered, that I speak not of all the doctrines of christianity, nor all that is published to the world in it; but of those truths only, which are absolutely required to be believed to make any one a christian. And these, I find, are so plain and easy, that I see no reason why every body, with me, should not magnify the goodness and condescension of the Almighty, who having, out of his free grace, proposed a new law of faith to sinful and lost man; hath, by that law, required no harder terms, nothing as absolutely necessary to be believed, but what is suited to vulgar capacities, and the comprehension of illiterate men.
You are a little out again, p. 118, where you ironically say, as if it were my sense, “Let us have but one article, though it be with defiance to all the rest.” Jesting apart, sir, this is a serious turn, that what our Saviour and his apostles preached, and admitted men into the church for believing, is all that is absolutely required to make a man a christian. But this is, without any “defiance to all the rest,” taught in the word of God. This excludes not the belief of any of those many other truths contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which it is the duty of every christian to study, and thereby build himself up in our most holy faith; receiving with stedfast belief, and ready obedience, all those things which the spirit of truth hath therein revealed. But that all the rest of the inspired writings, or, if you please, “articles, are of equal necessity” to be believed to make a man a christian, with what was preached by our Saviour and his apostles, that I deny. A man, as I have shown, may be a christian and believer, without actually believing them, because those whom our Saviour and his apostles, by their preaching and discourses, converted to the faith, were made christians and believers, barely upon the receiving what they preached to them.
I hope it is no derogation to the christian religion, to say, that the fundamentals of it, i. e. all that is necessary to be believed in it, by all men, is easy to be understood by all men. This I thought myself authorized to say, by the very easy and very intelligible articles, insisted on by our Saviour and his apostles; which contain nothing but what could be understood by the bulk of mankind: a term which, I know not why, Mr. Edwards, p. 117, is offended at; and thereupon is, after his fashion, sharp upon me about captain Tom and his myrmidons, for whom, he tells me, I am “going to make a religion.” The making of religions and creeds I leave to others. I only set down the christian religion as I find our Saviour and his apostles preached it, and preached it to, and left it for, the “ignorant and unlearned multitude.” For I hope you do not think, how contemptibly soever you speak of the “venerable mob,” as you are pleased to dignify them, p. 117, that the bulk of mankind, or, in your phrase, the “rabble,” are not concerned in religion, or ought to understand it, in order to their salvation. Nor are you, I hope, acquainted with any who are of that Muscovite divine’s mind, who, to one that was talking to him about religion, and the other world, replied, That for the czar, indeed, and bojars, they might be permitted to raise their hopes to heaven; but that for such poor wretches as he, they were not to think of salvation.
I remember the pharisees treated the common people with contempt, and said, “Have any of the rulers, or of the pharisees, believed in him? But this people, who knoweth not the law, are cursed.” But yet these, who in the censure of the pharisees, were cursed, were some of the poor; or, if you please to have it so, the mob, to whom the “gospel was preached” by our Saviour, as he tells John’s disciples, Matt. xi. 5.
Pardon me, sir, that I have here laid these examples and considerations before you; a little to prevail with you not to let loose such a torrent of wit and eloquence against the “bulk of mankind,” another time, and that for a mere fancy of your own: for I do not see how they here came in your way; but that you were resolved to set up something to have a fling at, and show your parts, in what you call your “different strain,” though besides the purpose. I know nobody was going to “ask the mob, What you must believe?” And as for me, I suppose you will take my word for it, that I think no mob, no, not your “venerable mob,” is to be asked, what I am to believe; nor that “Articles of faith” are to be “received by the vote of club-men,” or any other sort of men, you will name instead of them.
In the following words, p. 115, you ask, “Whether a man may not understand those articles of faith, which you mentioned out of the gospels and epistles, if they be explained to him, as well as that one, I speak of?” It is as the articles are, and as they are explained. There are articles that have been some hundreds of years explaining; which there are many, and those not of the most illiterate, who profess they do not yet understand. And to instance in no other, but “He descended into hell,” the learned are not yet agreed in the sense of it, though great pains have been taken to explain it.
Next, I ask, Who are to explain your articles? The papists will explain some of them one way, and the reformed another. The remonstrants, and anti-remonstrants, give them different senses. And probably, the trinitarians and unitarians will profess, that they understand not each others explications. And at last, I think it may be doubted, whether any articles, which need men’s explications, can be so clearly and certainly understood, as one which is made so very plain by the scripture itself, as not to need any explication at all. Such is this, that Jesus is the Messiah. For though you learnedly tell us, that Messiah is a Hebrew word, and no better understood by the vulgar, than Arabic; yet I guess it is so fully explained in the New Testament, and in those places I have quoted out of it, that nobody, who can understand any ordinary sentence in the scripture, can be at a loss about it. And it is plain, it needs no other explication, than what our Saviour and the apostles gave it in their preaching; for, as they preached it, men received it, and that sufficed to make them believers.
To conclude, when I heard that this learned gentleman, who had a name for his study of the scriptures, and writings on them, had done me the honour to consider my treatise, I promised myself, that his degree, calling, and fame in the world, would have secured to me something of weight in his remarks, which might have convinced me of my mistakes; and, if he had found any in it, justified my quitting of them. But having examined what, in his, concerns my book, I to my wonder find, that he has only taken pains to give it an ill name, without so much as attempting to refute any one position in it, how much soever he is pleased to make a noise against several propositions, which he might be free with, because they are his own: and I have no reason to take it amiss if he has shown his zeal and skill against them. He has been so favourable to what is mine, as not to use any one argument against any passage in my book. This, which I take for a public testimony of his approbation, I shall return him my thanks for, when I know whether I owe it to his mistake, conviction, or kindness. But if he writ only for his bookseller’s sake, he alone ought to thank him.
After the foregoing papers were sent to the press, the “Witnesses to Christianity,” of the reverend and learned Dr. Patrick, now lord bishop of Ely, fell into my hands. I regretted the not having seen it, before I writ my treatise of the “Reasonableness of Christianity, &c.” I should then, possibly, by the light given me by so good a guide, and so great a man, with more confidence directly have fallen into the knowledge of christianity; which, in the way I sought it, in its source, required the comparing of texts with texts, and the more than once reading over the Evangelists and Acts, besides other parts of scripture. But I had the ill luck not to see that treatise, until so few hours since, that I have had time only to read as far as the end of the introduction or first chapter: and there Mr. Edwards may find, that this pious bishop (whose writings show he studies, as well as his life that he believes, the scriptures) owns what Mr. Edwards is pleased to call, “a plausible conceit,” which, he says, “I give over and over again in these formal words, viz. That nothing is required to be believed by any christian man, but this, That Jesus is the Messiah.”
The liberty Mr. Edwards takes, in other places, deserves not it should be taken upon his word, “That these formal words” are to be found “over and over again” in my book, unless he had quoted the pages. But I will set him down the “formal words,” which are to be found in this reverend prelate’s book, p. 14, “To be the Son of God, and to be Christ, being but different expressions of the same thing.” And, p. 10, “It is the very same thing to believe, that Jesus is the Christ, and to believe, that Jesus is the Son of God; express it how you please. This alone is the faith which can regenerate a man, and put a divine spirit into him; that is, make him a conqueror over the world, as Jesus was.” I have quoted only these few words; but Mr. Edwards, if he pleases, or any body else, may, in this first chapter, satisfy himself more fully, that the design of it is to show, that in our Saviour’s time, “Son of God,” was a known and received name and appellation of the Messiah, and so used in the holy writers. And that the faith that was to make men christians, was only the believing, “that Jesus is the Messiah.” It is to the truth of this proposition that he “examines his witnesses,” as he speaks, p. 21. And this, if I mistake not, in his epistle dedicatory, he calls “christianity;” fol. A 3, where he calls them “witnesses to christianity.” But these two propositions, viz. That “Son of God,” in the gospel, stands for Messiah; and that the faith, which alone makes men christians, is the believing “Jesus to be the Messiah,” displeases Mr. Edwards so much in my book, that he thinks himself authorized from them, to charge me with socinianism, and want of sincerity. How he will be pleased to treat this reverend prelate, whilst he is alive (for the dead may, with good manners, be made bold with) must be left to his decisive authority. This, I am sure, which way soever he determine, he must, for the future, either afford me more good company, or fairer quarter.