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prayer were only to give God to understand what we want, it were all one what language we prayed in, and whether we understood what we asked of him or not ; but so long as the end of prayer is to testify the fense of our own wants, and of our dependence upon God for the supply of them, it is impossible that any man should in any tolerable propriety of speech be said to pray, who does not understand what he asks ; and the saying over so many Pater Nojlers by one that does not understand the meaning of them, is no more a prayer than the repeating over so many verses in Virgil. And if this were ood reasoning, that men must not be permitted to now so much as they can in religion, for fear they stiould grow troublesome with their knowledge, then certainly the best way in the world to maintain peace in the Christian church, would be to let the people know nothing at all in religion; and the best way to secure the ignorance of the people would be to keep the Priests as ignorant as the people, and then to be sure they could teach them nothing : but then the mischief would be, that . out of a fondness to maintain peace in the Christian church, there would be no church, nor no Christianity ; which would be the fame wife contrivance, as if a Prince should destroy his subjects, to keep his kingdom quiet.
Fourthly, Let us likewise consider, that if this reason be good, it is much stronger for withholding the scriptures from the Priests, and the learned, than from the people ; because the danger of starting errors and heresies, and countenancing them from scripture, and managing them plausibly and with advantage, is much more to be feared from the learned, than from the common people ; and the experience of all ages hath shewn, that the great broachers and abettors of heresy in the Christian church, have been men of learning and wit ; and most of the famous heresies, that are recorded in ecclesiastical history, 'i have their names from some learned man or other; 11 so that it is a great mistake to think, that the way to prevent error and heresy in the church, is to take the JBible out of the hands of the people, so long as the
free use of it is permitted to men of learning and skill, in whose hands the danger of perverting it is much greater. The ancient fathers, I am sure, do frequently prescribe to the people the constant and careful reading of the holy scriptures, as the surest: antidote against the. poison of dangerous errors, and damnable heresies ; and if there be so much danger of seduction into error from the oracles of truth, by what other or better means can we hope to be secured against this danger ? If the word of God be so cross and improper a means to this end, one would think that the teachings of men mould be much less effectual; so that men must either be left in their ignorance, or they must be permitted to learn from the word of truth ; and whatever force this reason of the danger of heresy hath in it, to deprive the common people of the use of the scriptures, I am sure it is much stronger to wrest them out of the hands of the Priests and the learned, because they are much more capable of perverting them to so bad a purpose.
Fifthly, and lastly, This danger was as great and visible in the age of the Apostles, as it is now ; and et they took a quite contrary course : there were eresies then, as well as now, and either the scriptures were hot thought, by being in the hands of the people, to be the cause of them, or they did not think the taking of them out of their hands a proper remedy. The Apostles in all their epistles do earnestly exhort the people to grow in knowledge, and commend them for searching the scriptures, and charge them that the word of God should dwell richly in them. And St. Peter takes particular notice of some men "wresting some difficult paflages in St. Paul's epistles, as likewise in the other scriptures, to their own destruction, 2 Pet. iii. 16. where speaking of St. Paul's epistles, he fays, there are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. Here the danger objected is taken notice of; but the remedy prescribed by St. Peter, is not to take from- the people the use of the Kki fcriscriptures, and to keep them in ignorance; but after he had cautioned against the like weakness and errors, he exhorts them to grow in knowledge, ver. li. ii. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know theft things before, (that is, feeing ye are so plainly told and warned of this danger) beware left ye also beini led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness ; but grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, (that is, of the Christian religion; ) believing, it seems, that the more knowledge they had in religion, the less they would be in danger of falling into damnable errors. I proceed to the
Second observation, viz. That the knowledge of our duty, and the practice of it., may be and often are separated. This likewise is supposed in the text, that men may, and often do know the will of God, and their duty, and yet fail in the practice of ir. Our Saviour elsewhere supposeth, that many knoiv their master's will who do not do it; and he compares those that hear his sayings, and do them not, to a foolish man that built his house upon the sand. And St. Jamei speaks of some, who are hearers of the word only, but not doers of it, and for that reason fall short os happiness. And this is no wonder, because the 'attaining to that knowledge os religion which is necessary to salvation is no difficult task. A great part of it is written in our hearts, and we cannot be ignorant of it if we would; as that there is a God, and a providence, and another state after this life, wherein we shall be rewarded, or punished, according as we have lived here in this world; that God is to be worshipped, to be prayed to for what we want, and to be praised for what we enjoy. Thus far nature instructs men in religion, and in the great duties of. morality, ai justice and temperance, and the like. And as for revealed religion, as that Jesus Christ the Son of God came in our nature to save us, by revealing our duty more clearly and fully to us, by giving us a more perfect example of holiness and obedience in his own life and conversation, and by dying for our sins, and rising again for our justificationj these are things
which men may easily understand and yet for all that, they are difficultly brought to the practice of religion.
I shall instance in three sorts of persons, in who rathe knowledge of religion is more remarkably separated from the practice of it ; and for distinction'sfake, I may call them. by these three names; the; speculative, the formal, and the hypocritical Christian. The first of these makes religion only a science, the second takes it up for a fashion, the third makes some worldly advantage of it, and servessome secular interest and design by it. All these are upon several accounts concerned to understand something of religion ; but yet wilt riot be brought to the, practice of it.
1 The first of these, whom I call the speculativeChristian, is he who makes religion only a science^. and studies it as a piece of learning, and part of that general knowledge in which he affects the reputation of being a master; he hath no design to practiseit, but he is loch to be ignorant of it, because tha knowledge of it is a good ornament of conversation, aud will serve for discourse and entertainment among those who are disposed to be grave and serious.; and because he does not intend to practise fry he paffeth over those things which are plain and easy to be understood, and applies himself chiefly to the; consideration of those things which are more abstruse,. and will afford matter of controversy and subtle dispute, as the doctrine of theTrinity,PredestiriationiFreewill, and the like; Of this temper seem many of the school-men. of old to. have been, who made it their' great study and business to puzzle religion, and tomake every thing in it intricate, by starting infinite questions and difficulties about the ' plainest truths r and of the fame rank usually are the neads and leaders of parties and' factions in religions who by needless controversies' and endless disputes about something or other, commonly of no great moment in r.eligion-, hinder-themselves and others from minding?the practice of the great and. substantial duties of av good life-. r
Stonily, There is the formal Christian, who takes up religion for a fashion. He is born and bred in a . nation where Christianity is professed and countenanced, and therefore thinks it convenient for him to know something os it. Of this sort there are, 1 fear, a great manv, who read the scriptures sometimes as others do, to know the history of it ; and go to church, and hear the gospel preached, and by this means come in some measure to understand the history os our Saviour, and the Christian doctrine; but do not at all bend themselves to comply with the gTeat end and design of it ; they do not heartily endeavour to form and fashion their lives according to the laws and precepts of it ; they think they are very good Christians, if they can give an accounrof the articles of their faith, profess their belief in God and Christ, and declare that they hope to be saved by him, though they take no care to keep his commandments. These are they of whom our Saviour speaks, Luke vi. 46. who call him Lord, Lord ; but do not the things which he said.
Thirdly, Hypocritical Christians, who make an interest of religion, and serve some worldly design by ir. These are concerned to understand religion more than ordinary, that they may counterfeit it handsomely, and may not be at a loss when they have occasion to put on the garb of it. And this is one part of the character which the Apostle gives of those persons, who he foretells would appear in the last days, 2 Tim. iit. 2. he fays they should be lovers. »f their own seives, covetous, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the ptwer of it.
Now these men do not love religion, but they have occasion to make use of it, and therefore they will have no more of it than will just serve- their purpose and design. And indeed he that hath any Other design in religion than to please God, and save his soul, needs no more than so much knowledge of it, as will serve him to act a past in it upon occasion. I come to the.