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2 Cor. xiii. 11. Gal. v. 22. Eph. iv. 3. 1 Thes. v. 13. 2 Tim. ii. 22. Heb. xii. 14. James iii. 18. 1 Pet. iii. 11.
As we honour the God of Love and Peace, whom we serve; as we love the Prince of Peace, in whom we believe; as we tender the success of the Gospel of Peace, which we preach; as we wish and hope for the comfort of the peace of God in our own bosoms: let us seek peace, where it is missing; let us follow after it, when it flies from us; let us never leave the chase, by importuning God and men, till we overtake it, till we re-enjoy it, and all the blessings that accompany it which shall be ever the prayer and endeavour of
The Difference of Truths: and the Importance of those, which concern Matter of Religion.
THERE is as much difference in the value of truths, as there is of coins whereof one piece is but a farthing, another no less than a pound; yet both current, and in their kind useful.
Theological truths are so much more precious than all others, by how much divine knowledge is more excellent than all human arts and sciences whatsoever.
Amongst divine truths, those are most important, which are requisite to the regulating of religion, both in the theory and practice thereof. And, even amongst these, there is just place for Canus's distinction, betwixt Truths of Christian Doctrine, and Truths of Catholic Faith: there being, in the former, great latitude and variety; in the latter, more narrowness and restraint.
As there is no truth therefore, which may be a meet subject of our contempt or opposition: so there are some truths, which may be too much striven for; others, never enough. Of which last kind are those, which do mainly concern the grounds of our Christian Religion for, if the soul be the better part, if not the whole, of man; and religion be that, which is of highest concernment to the everlasting good of the soul; it must needs follow, that the soul can never be better taken up, than with the care of that religion, which only can render it eternally happy.
If therefore the Christian Cicero, Lactantius, went too far in making religion the form of man, instead of the reasonable soul wherewith he is animated; certainly, we cannot err, in making the investigation and finding out the true religion, the highest improvement, of which the reasonable soul can be capable.
There is no man then, except perhaps some lawless atheist, which doth not busy himself in this necessary search; and find his heart unquiet, till he have attained such a resolution, in the choice and assurance of his religion, wherein he may find rest to his soul: like as the dove could find no stay for the sole of her feet upon the waves; but flutters up and down, till she may settle in the ark;
Gen. viii. 9.
Neither is it more natural to us, to seek for and to pitch upon that religion, which we apprehend true; than it is to desire, that that, which we have conceived to be the only truth, should be communicated to others; and either to pity or deeply censure those, who come not home to us in the same belief.
Hence, are those many and miserable distractions, which we find all the world over. Hence, are churches, congregations, families, persons torn asunder, one from another: so as, the whole earth is strewed over, with the woeful monuments of our discerptions: here lies a leg; there, an arm: here, a hand; there, a foot: here, a head; there, a heart: yea, in a more accurate subdivision, here, lies a finger disjoined from the hand, a toe from the foot; yea, more, a joint severed from either. How happy were it, if that powerful Spirit, that breathed upon the dry scattered bones in Ezekiel's vision, might once blow upon these dismembered limbs, that they might yet come together and live! Ezek. xxxvii. 7.
In the mean time, it is the duty of every son of peace, to endeavour, what in him lies, to reduce all the members of God's Church upon earth to a blessed unity, both in judgment and affections. This is the holy labour, which I have here undertaken. The God of Peace put life into it; and make it as effectual, as it is heartily meant, to the good of every Christian soul!
What Differences of Judgment make a Different Religion. It is not to be expected, but that, as every man hath a soul of his own, so he should have several conceits and opinions; as concerning whatsoever subject, so especially in matter of religion: wherein, sense and reason have less stroke, than in all secular objects: neither is it possible, that all men's minds should be confined to the same passages or issues of ratiocination. That active spirit, wherewith we are informed, will take scope to itself, of moving and alighting, where it likes.
But it is not the varieties or differences of petty and unimportant opinions, how many soever, that can make several religions. These may trouble the spring; but cannot divert the channel. They must be quarrels of a higher nature, that can pretend reason to make an universal breach in God's Church, and to warrant the denomination of a different religion. Like as it is in the family: there may be some small household jars upon trivial occasions, betwixt the dearest
yoke-fellows: yet these break not the domestic peace; much less, can be the ground of a divorce.
To speak plainly and fully. The Church, and the religion which constitutes it, is God's building: the building of God must needs be perfect a perfect building must have a foundation, walls, roof: a foundation, to uphold the walls; and walls, to uphold the roof; and a roof, laid upon those walls. None of these can be wanting, in a complete fabric: for, what is a foundation without walls? or, to what purpose were a roof set upon a mere groundsel? When all these are fully made up, the frame is entire: and now, fit for furniture and ornament.
But, if some curious purchaser shall come afterwards, and say, "This roof is too high; lay it somewhat flatter:" or, "These spars or studs stand too thin; put in more:" or, "This window is not uniform; set it somewhat lower:" will any wise man say, when all this is accordingly done, it is not the same house it was? Small alterations, whether in matter or form, cannot reach so far, as to forfeit the name of an old edifice, or to impose the title of a new: but, if the roof be taken away, the walls demolished, the foundation digged up, and the same materials employed upon another structure, as near as is possible to the former model, every beholder will justly call this house new.
The similitude applies itself. Little differences of opinion in immaterial points, are not of power to make another religion: but, if there be any, who, having pulled down the frame of orthodox belief, will be laying, instead thereof, a foundation of false principles, and raise upon them the walls of heretical doctrine; this man is of a religion, not more different, than abominable. O my soul, come not thou into the secret of any such men: unto their assembly, mine honour be not thou united; Gen. xlix. 6.
Of the Fundamental Points of Religion.
BUT, because this matter is of so high concernment, that it imports no less than our souls are worth; let us yet look more deeply into, and enquire punctually, What it is, that makes one or a several Church.
And we shall find That to be one Church, wherein is an agreement in all the essentials of religion. And those, the great Doctor of the Gentiles hath determined to be, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism that is, a subjection to one Lord, prescribed in the Decalogue; a belief of the same Articles, set down in the Creed; a joint use and celebration of the Holy Sacraments, the initiatory whereof is Baptism: so as, where there is an acknowledgment of the same Living Lord, the God of Heaven, whom we profess to depend upon for all things, to serve and obey according to his com
mandments, to invoke in our prayers for the supply of all our necessities; where there is a profession of the same faith in all the main points of Christian doctrine, summed up in that Symbol of the holy Apostles; where there is a communion in the same Blessed Sacraments, instituted by our Lord Jesus; there is one and the same Church of Christ, however far disterminate in places, however segregated and infinitely severalized in persons, however differing in rites and circumstances of worship, however squaring in by-opi
This is a truth, which is, with much consent and serious vehemence, inculcated by all our orthodox Divines; amongst whom, none hath so fully cleared the point, as the late honour of our Schools, the learned Bishop Davenant, in that last golden Tractate** which he wrote, now breathing towards the gates of his heaven, his pious and pithy Exhortation of the Evangelical Churches to a happy Peace: wherein the Fundamentals of our Faith are so evidently laid open, that it is not hard to judge by that unfailing rule, whom we may and must admit to the communion of Christ's Church, and whom we ought to exclude from that holy society.
Doubtless, there is the same consideration of a Christian, and of a Church: for, what is a Church, but an assembly of many true believing Christians? and, what is a Christian, but an abridgment of the Church; or a Church contracted into one bosom? The number makes no difference in the essence.
Now, what is a Christian, but a living stone, laid upon the foundation of God's spiritual building? And this foundation is either personal or doctrinal. The personal is Christ, the Son of the EverLiving God: so the great and wise master-builder tells us; Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ; 1 Cor. iii. 11. The doctrinal is the whole truth of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures; The foundation of the prophets and apostles; Eph. ii. 20: every line of whose divine writings is, in respect of the authority of the Revealer, a several stone in this precious foundation; though, in respect of use, those only truths, thence selected, without whose express and explicit knowledge no man can be saved, are justly styled Fundamental. The sum whereof, is the Rule of Belief, the Rule of Life, and the Rule of Devotion: the Rule of Belief gathered up into the known Articles of our Creed; the Rule of Life comprehended in the Ten Commandments; the Rule of Devotion, in the prescription of Prayer and Sacraments. What person soever then, after his due matriculation into God's Church, professeth to be built upon Christ the true corner-stone, to receive and embrace the whole Truth of God delivered in the sacred monuments of the Prophets and Apostles, to believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, to yield himself to the guidance of that Royal
* Jo. Davenant, Ad Pacem Ecclesiæ Adhortatio.
+ Symbolum est omnium credendorum ad salutem spectantium compendiosa collectio. Gers. Tract. 1. de Artic. Fiaei.