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THE Scriptures being written on purpose to acquaint us with the will of God, and to instruct us in all things necessary to our everlasting salvation, there is no doubt to be made, but that in the form we now have them (which, for divers wise reasons, was so contrived by the Holy Spirit,) they are sufficient to that end; so that whoever reads them with due care and attention, may, without any further help, be truly and fully informed what he ought to believe and do, in order to be saved. I will add also, that he whose peculiar business it is to instruct the ignorant, to guard the unwary, and to stop the mouths of gainsayers, may be thoroughly furnished from hence unto all these good works.
Nay, farther, had the Scriptures exhibited religion to us in that regular form and method to which other writers have reduced it, there would, to me at least, have been wanting one great proof of the authority of those writings, which being penned at different times, and upon different occasions, and containing in them a great variety of wonderful events, surprising characters of men, wise rules of life, and new unheard-of doctrines, all mixed together with an unusual simplicity and gravity of
narration, do, in the very frame and composure of them, carry the marks of their Divine Original.
However, for the benefit of such as will not be at the pains to search and study the Scriptures; such as, by reason of their age, are not capable of reading them with judgment; and such as, through some prejudice or evil disposition of mind, may be apt to misapply them; it hath been thought proper to draw up several abstracts or summaries of Christian Doctrine, which being, as the several authors of them assure us, exactly agreeable to Scripture, are designed to give us a general notion of what we shall find more particularly and fully set down in those books; by which means we may be enabled to read them with more ease and greater profit.
The design is certainly very fit and good, were it but as fairly and justly executed: but the great misfortune is, that these very books, which were intended to lead us more easily and certainly into the knowledge of Scripture, are most of them so framed as to represent the religion there delivered to us in a false light; and, by giving a wrong turn to our minds at first, to render our endeavours to inform ourselves afterwards, by our own reading, ineffectual.
The chief occasion of which abuse is, the many differences and divisions that have happened among Christians, both with regard to their faith, and to their rules and measures of serving God; which differences, as they plainly rose at first from a greater deference that was paid, either to the traditions or writings of men, than to the word of God; so they have been kept up ever since, by a greater care that hath been taken by the several sects to instruct their children in those things which dis
tinguish them from one another, than to teach them the common doctrines and duties of their most holy profession. From whence it follows, that the books composed by them for that purpose, must needs give a very different, and the greatest part of them, for that reason, a very false account of the Christian Religion.
But besides the many errors which are made part of the standing doctrine of some particular Church, or society of Christians, several other mistakes must be supposed to occur in the various writings and discourses of private men, even of the same Church, who take upon them to explain the common faith, every man in his own language and method.
Now for the better removing any false opinions may
have received from those different accounts which are given us of Scripture by other men, as well as preventing any wrong judgments we might be disposed to make of the word of God when we read it ourselves, I have often thought that it would be a work of great use to collect out of the writings of the Old and New Testament all the doctrines and precepts therein dispersed; to lay them together in such an order and method, as to give the Christian reader a full and distinct view of his whole faith and duty at once; and by keeping all along the language of Scripture, to leave no room for misrepresentation.
This is what I have endeavoured to do in the following treatise, as being fully satisfied of the truth of what a great writer observes ', That we cannot speak of the things of God better than in the words of God.
Chillingworth, p. 152.
It is not to be expected, that the general draught here given of Scripture Religion, should have that influence upon persons nourished up in the words of unsound doctrine, as to make them lay by all the false opinions and improper language which they have long been used to; but since it contains nothing else but the pure Word of God, there is reason to hope, that men of all persuasions will be easily prevailed upon to look into it without fear of being misled; and that if any of them should from hence be enabled to discover their mistakes, the authority of what is said will dispose them to yield more willingly to their convictions.
But whatever effect this method may have with such as are already fixed in error, those that have not yet taken a wrong bent, will, in all likelihood, find it of some advantage to them, in their earliest inquiries in the Christian Religion, to take a general view of the whole, in the most simple manner in which it was first delivered to the Saints. For when they see all the passages of Scripture together, which refer to the same subject, they will be in less danger of falling into any of those mistakes which are manifestly founded upon single texts considered apart by themselves: and when they have once truly learned to speak the language of Scripture, they will be better enabled to judge of the force of all other expressions, and to discern how far they agree with that unerring standard, the Word of God.
It was for their sakes, chiefly, that I undertook to draw up this summary account of the doctrine contained in the Sacred Writings: which, at this time more especially, I was encouraged to do, upon a presumption that it might some way serviceable to those glorious designs, which are now with