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things the scripture may suppose that we know already. And if what the scripture says, together with what is plain to reason, leads to believe any doctrine, we are to look upon ourselves as taught that doctrine by the scripture. God may reveal things in scripture which way he pleases. If, by what he there reveals, the thing is any way clearly discovered to the understanding, or eye of the mind, it is our duty to receive it as his revelation.
§ 7. The greatest part of Christians, were very early agreed, what books were canonical, and to be looked upon as the rule of their faith. It is impossible, in the nature of things, but some churches must receive the books long after others, as they lay at a greater distance from the places where they were written, or had less convenience of communication with them. Besides, as Christianity for a long time laboured under the disadvantages of continual persecution, no general councils could be convened, and so there could be no public notification of universal agreement in this matter. But, notwithstanding all these things, it is yet discoverable, that, as soon as can be supposed, after the writing the books, the Christians, in all countries, remarkably agreed in receiving them as canonical.
$ 8. Several of the first writers of Christianity, have left us, in their works, catalogues of the sacred books of the New Testament, which, though made in countries at a vast distance from each other, do very little differ. Great were the pains and care of those early Christians, to be well assured what were the genuine writings of the apostles, and to distinguish them from all pretended revelations of designing men, and the forgeries they published under sacred titles. Thus, when a presbyter of Asia had published a spurious piece, under the name of Paul, he was immediately convicted, and notice of the forgery was soon conveyed to Carthage, and the churches of Africa.
$ 9. Hence it follows, that the primitive Christians are proper judges to determine what book is canonical, and what not. For nothing can be more absurd than to suppose, in those early ages, an agreement so universal, without good and solid foundation; or, in other words, it is next to impossible, either that so great a number of men should agree in a cheat, or be imposed upon by a cheat. But there are some particular circumstances that make the inference more clear as to the Christian books, than others; such as, the prodigious esteem the books at first were received with; the constant use that was made of them in their religious assemblies; the translations made of them very early into other languages, &c.*
* See Jopes's Canon of the New Testament, part i. chap. 5.
§ 10. The omission of a book in some one or two particular catalogues, cannot, with any reason, be urged against its canonical authority, if it be found in all, or most of the others, and any good reason can be assigned for the omission, where it occurs. Thus, for instance, the Revelation is omitted, either perhaps because it was not known to the author, or its credit was not sufficiently established in the country where he lived; or perhaps, which
may be as probable as the other, because, it being so full of mysteries, few or none were judged proper or able to read it to any purpose. This was certainly the case in England: this book being, for this reason, omitted in the public calendar for reading the scriptures, though it be received into the canon. If, therefore, these, or any such good reasons, can be assigned for the omission of a book in a particular catalogue, it will be very unfair to infer, that such book is apocry. phal, especially when it is to be found in many or most other catalogues.
§ 11. The catalogues drawn up by ATHANASIUS, Bp. of Alexandria, (A. D. 315,)-by Epiphanus, Bp. of Salamis, (A. D. 370,)—by JEROME, of Dalmatia, (A. D. 382,)—by Ruffin, presbyter of Aquilegium, (A. D. 390,)—by Augustine, Bp. of Hippo, (A. D. 391,) by 41 Bps. assembled in a third council of Carthage, (A. D. 416,) were perfectly the same with ours now received. *
§ 12. It is exceedingly natural to suppose, that these two things together, would soon lead the apostles to write some history of the acts, and doctrine, and sufferings of Christ, their great Lord, and the head of the Christian church ; viz. first, Their unavoidable experience of the need of such a thing; and, secondly, The example of the penmen of the Old Testament, in writing the history of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and others, whose persons and actions they esteemed of vastly less importance than those of the Son of God, who was greater than Jonas, or David, or Solomon, or Moscs, or Abraham.
§ 13. It is a great argument, that there were some genuine gospels, or authentic histories of Christ's life and death, that the Christian church had under the name of gospels, that there were such a multitude of forged fabulous accounts, or histories of Christ, all under the same name of gospels. These fictions are evidently counterseits or imitations of something that was looked on by all as true and undoubted. And, that there should be such a multitude of counterfeits and imitations of these gospels, shows not only that there were genuine gospels, but also shows the great value and importance of these genuine gospels, and the high repute they had in the Christian churches.- Mr. Jones mentions the following spurious gospels, now not extant.
See Jones's Canon of the New Testament, part i. chap. 8.
mentioned by the writers of the primitive church : By the writers of he second century, the gospel of Judas Iscariot; the gospel of truth; the gospel of the Egyptians; the gospel of Valentinus ; the gospel of Marcion. By writers of the third century, the gospel of the Twelve Apostles; the gospel of Basilides ; the gospel of Thomas; the gospel of Matthias. By writers of the fourth century, the gospel of Scythianus; the gospel of Bartholomew ; the gospel of Apelles ; the gospel of Lucianus; the gospel of Hesychius ; the gospel of Perfection ; the gospel of Eve; the gospel of Philip; the gospel of the Ebionites; the gospel of Jude ; the gospel of the Encratites; the gospel of Cerinthus; the gospel of Merinthus; the gospel of Thaddeus ; the gospel of Barnabas ; the gospel of Andrew. And some he men
; tions besides, that are now extant; as the gospel of our Saviour's infancy; the gospel of Nicodemus.
§ 14. Public societies cannot be maintained without trials and witnesses : And if witnesses are not firmly persuaded, that he who holds the supreme power over them, is omniscient, just, and powerful, and will revenge falsehood; there will be no dependence on their oaths, or most solemn declarations.-God, therefore, must be the supreme Magistrate ; society depends absolutely on him; and all kingdoms and communities are but provinces of his universal kingdom, who is King of kings, Lord of lords, and Judge of judges.--Thus as mankind cannot subsist out of society, nor society itself subsist without religion ; I mean, without faith in the infinite power, and wisdom, and justice of God, and a judgment to come ; religion cannot be a falsehood. It is not credible, that all the happiness of mankind, the whole civil world, and peace, safety, justice, and truth itself, should have nothing to stand on but a lie: It is not to be supposed, that God would give the world no other foundation. So that religion is absolutely necessary, and must have some sure foundation. But there can be no good, sure foundation of religion, without mankind having a right idea of God, and some sure and clear knowledge of him, and of our dependence on him. Lord Shaftesbury himself owns, that wrong ideas of God, will hurt society, as much, if not more, than ignorance of him can do.
§ 15. Now, the question is, “ Whether nature and reason alone can give us a right idea of God, and are sufficient to establish among mankind a clear and sure knowledge of his nature, and the relation we stand in to him, and his concern with us? It may well be questioned whether any man hath this from the mere light of nature. Nothing can seem more strange, than that the wisest and most sagacious of all men, I mean the philosophers, should have searched with all imaginable candour and anxiety for this, and searched in vain, if the light of nature alone is sufficient to give it to, and establish it among, mankind VOL. VII.
in general."--There never man known or heard of, who had an idea of God, without being taught it.— Whole sects of philosophers denied the very being of God; and some have died martyrs to Atheism, as, Vaninus, Jordanus, Bruno, Cosimir, Liszinsai, and Mahomet Effendi.--A man confined to a dungeon all his days, and deprived of all conversation with mankind, probably would not so much as once consider who made him, or whether he was made or not, nor entertain the least notion of God. There are many instances of people born absolutely deaf and blind, who never showed the least sense of religion, or knowledge of God.
16. It is one thing to work out a demonstration of a point when once it is proposed, and another to strike upon the point itself. I cannot tell whether any man would have considered the works of creation, as effects, if he had never been told they had a cause. We know very well, that, even after the being of such a cause was much talked of in the world, and believed by the generality of mankind; yet many and great philosophers held the world to be eternal; and others as. cribed what we call the works of creation, to an eternal series of causes. If the most sagacious of the philosophers were capable of doing this, after hearing so much of a first cause and a creation, what would they have done, and what would the gross of mankind, who are inattentive and ignorant, have thought of the matter, if nothing had been taught concerning God and the origin of things; but every single man left solely to such intimation as his own senses and reason could have given him? We find, the earlier ages of the world did not trouble themselves about the question, whether the being of God could be proved by reason; but either never inquired into the matter, or took their opinions, upon that head, merely from tradition. But allowing that every man is able to demonstrate to himself, that the world, and all things contained therein, are effects, and had a beginning, which I take to be a most absurd supposition, and look upon it to be almost impossible for unassisted reason to go so far: yet, if effects are to be ascribed to similar causes, and good and wise effect must suppose a good and wise cause ; by the same way of reasoning, all the evil and irregularity in the world must be attributed to an evil and unwise cause. So that either the first cause must be both good and evil, wise and foolish, or else there must be two first causes, an evil and irrational, as well as a good and wise principle. Thus, man left to himself, would be apt to reason, “ If the cause and the effects are similar and conformable, matter must have a material cause; there being nothing more impossible for us to conceive, than how matter should be produced by spirit, or any thing else but matter." The best reasoner in the world, endeavouring to find out the causes of things, by the things themselves, might be led into the grossest errors and contradictions, and find himself, at the end in extreme want of an instructor.
$ 17. In all countries we are acquainted with, knowledge bears an exact proportion to instruction. Why does the learned and well educated, reason better than the mere citizen? why the citizen better than the poor? why the English poor better than the Spanish? why the Spanish better than the Moorish? why the Moorish better than the Negro ? and why he better than the Hottentot? If, then, reason is found to go hand in hand, and step by step with education ; what would be the consequence, if there were no education? There is no fallacy more gross, than to imagine reason, utterly untaught and undisciplined, capable of the same attainments in knowledge, as reason well refined and instructed : or to suppose, that reason can as easily find in itself principles to argue from, as draw the consequences, when once they are found; I mean, especially in respect to objects not perceivable by our senses. In ordinary articles of knowledge, our senses and experience furnish reason with ideas and principles to work on : continual conferences and debates give it exercise in such matters; and that improves its vigour and activity. But, in respect to God, it can have no right idea nor axiom to set out with, till he is pleased to reveal it.
§ 18. What instance can be mentioned, from any history, of any one nation under the sun, that emerged from atheism or idolatry, into the knowledge or adoration of the one true God, without the assistance of revelation? The Americans, the Africans, the Tartars, and the ingenious Chinese, have had time enough, one would think, to find out the true and right idea of God, and yet, after above five thousand years' improvements, and the full exercise of reason, they have, at this day, got no further in their progress towards the true religion, than to the worship of stocks and stones and devils. How many thousand years must be allowed to these nations, to reason themselves into the true religion? What the light of nature and reason could do to investigate the knowledge of God, is best seen by what they have already done. We cannot argue more convincingly on any foundation, than that of known and incontestable facts.
$ 19. Le Compte and Duhald assure us, the Chinese, after offering largely to their gods, and being disappointed of their assistance, sometimes sue them for damages, and obtain decrees against them from the Mandarin. This ingenious people, when their houses are on fire, to the imminent peril of their wooden gods, hold them to the flames, in hopes of extinguishing them by it. The Tyrians were a wise people ; and there.