Page images

has no power in temporal matters, then is my prince in all such matters to be obeyed, say the pope what he will to the contrary. If I hearken to them that tell me the pope has a fulness of power in all, both temporal and spiritual matters; I must obey my prince in nothing without the pope's leave. If I listen to them, who say the pope's power in temporal matters is indeed the highest power; yet indirectly only, and in order to spiritual ends, then am I so far to obey it, and no further. And here I am at as great a loss as ever; for who shall judge for me, whether his commands be needful for spiritual ends, or no? It is very unlikely that my prince and the pope should agree in the determination of this point; and the difference being between them two, and their commands, to whose award will they stand? I must here necessarily be left to the direction of my own, or some other private judgment, and which side soever I take, it is an even wager whether I can be saved.

I have been considering all this while for myself alone, and the satisfaction of my own conscience. I presume not to judge for, nor of others. They who have more light, and better eyes, may go on more confidently; it is all my care to go safely for myself, and as inoffensively as I can to all others. I see many wise men among Roman catholics, and I dare not say the contrary; but that they are of another religion than I, because they are wiser and better able to choose than I. If I choose as wisely as I can for myself, I cannot do any better for myself, and I doubt not of being saved whilst I do so well. And if it should prove so, that I choose the worse, he hath no reason to be angry with me, to whom I leave, and do not grudge the better.

I cannot yet think it necessary to salvation to believe that church infallible, which not only in my opinion, but in the judgment of all other Christians, (and they are two to one and more,) hath often erred, and doth very grossly err in many things; and which, if we ask her, can herself only tell us, who they be in her communion that can err, but not who they be that cannot. Nor can I think it safe to be of that church, where I may not be allowed to judge or try, whether error be taught me or no. I cannot think I am bound to judge either myself or others in a state of damnation, for not denying our

senses, or captivating our judgments to the judgment of an infallible church, which could never determine where her judgment or infallibility is certainly to be found: or for not obeying the head of that church, which hath sometimes no head, sometimes many heads, and is always uncertain which is her head, or where it stands. If I must thus believe, and thus obey, nobody can tell me what, and declare I do all this, or in the judginent of that church which must be believed infallible, be no better for turning papist; then I verily think I am much safer as I am, a poor protestant. I am sure I may as safely, as I can freely, captivate my judgment both in faith and practice, to the doctrine and laws of the blessed Jesus, whom all Christians unanimously acknowledge both the supreme and infallible Head of the universal church. I will no longer lose my labour in seeking an infallible guide, which almost every body can tell me of, but no man can certainly shew me. Instead of an ecclesiastical monarch on earth, I will content myself with that blessed and only potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords, whom his Father hath made sole Head of the church, which is his body; who long since told us that his kingdom is not of this world, as, I fear, the pope's too much is.








WHEN I first undertook to answer these papers, I little thought of writing a book; but when it was writ, I was more easily persuaded to make it public; for such kind of objections as these our people are daily assaulted with, and our ministers daily troubled to answer; and therefore it will be very serviceable to both to print such a plain discourse as this, which whatever defects it may have, I am pretty confident does sufficiently expose the weakness and sophistry of such arguments.

The truth is, this ought not to be made a dispute, and the fundamental miscarriage is, that our people are not taught, or will not learn, to reject such captious questions as tend only to scepticism, and deserve not to be confuted; which, I think, I may have liberty to say, now I have confuted them; and to shew the reason I have to say so, shall be the subject of this preface.

It is thought (and certainly it is so) the most compendious way to reduce protestants to the communion of the church of Rome, to persuade them that they can have no certainty of their religion without an infallible judge, and that there is no infallibility but in the church of Rome. Now could they prove that the church of Rome is infallible, this indeed would be an irresistible reason to return to her communion; but this they say little of nowadays, this they would gladly have us take for granted, especially if they can prove that we can have no certainty without an infallible judge;

and therefore this they apply themselves to, to run down protestant certainty, and first to make men sceptics in religion, and then to settle them upon infallibility.

Now the way they take to do this is, not by shewing that the reasons on which protestants build their faith, either of Christianity in general, or of those particular doctrines which they profess, are not sufficient to found a rational certainty on; for this would engage them in particular disputes, which is the thing they as industriously avoid, as if they were afraid of it; but instead of this, they declaim in general about the nature of certainty; ask us, how we know that we are certain; if we rely upon reason, other men do not reason as we do, and yet think their reason as good as ours ; if on scripture, we see how many different and contrary expositions there are of scripture; and how can we be certain then that we only are in the right, when other men are as confident, and as fully persuaded as we? Now all this is palpable sophistry, and no other direct answer can or ought to be given to it, but to let them know, that after all they can say, we find ourselves very certain, and that their attempt to prove us uncertain, without confuting the reasons of our certainty, is very fallacious.

1. As for the first, whether I am certain or not, nobody can tell but myself, for it is matter of sense, as sight and hearing is; and they may as well ask me how I know that I see and hear, as how I know that I am certain; I feel that I am so, and that is answer enough.

2. And therefore when they ask me how I know that I am certain, if this question have any sense in it, it must signify on what reason I found my certainty; for nothing can create certainty in the mind, but that reason and evidence which we have of things, as we can see with nothing but light. Now if certainty results only from the reason of things, it is ridiculous to expect any other answer to that question, How I am certain, than my giving the reasons of my faith; for there is no other reason of certainty, than those particular reasons for which I believe any thing; and this of necessity brings the controversy to particulars. There is no one reason of my certainty, because the same reason will not serve for all things; and therefore before I can give them my reason, I must know what they require a reason of, and then I will give it them. And thus we are just where we were; and if they will prove that we have no certainty, they must confute all the reasons of our faith, and dispute over all the controversies between us, a task which they are not willing to undertake; and yet there is no other way to prove the


faith of protestants uncertain, but by proving that they have no certain reasons of their faith.

Yes, you will say, it is proof enough that we cannot be certain, because we every day find so many confident men mistaken, who yet think themselves as certain as we do, and therefore we may be mistaken, notwithstanding all our assurance and confidence that we are not. Now this, indeed, would be an unanswerable argument, did we found our certainty upon the mere strength and confidence of persuasion; for men may be very confident because they are ignorant; and we readily grant, that an ignorant confidence may betray men into the grossest errors; and therefore, though every confident man thinks himself in the right, we never think another man in the right merely because we see him confident, which is a plain sign that all men distinguish between confidence and certainty. Wise men, who would not be mistaken, are very careful that their confidence do not outrun their reason, for reason is the foundation of certainty; and no man can have greater certainty than he has evidence for what he believes. Now since men may be equally confident with or without reason, the only way to try the certainty of their faith, is to examine the reasons whereon it is founded; if we can confute their reasons, we destroy their certainty; if we cannot, it is ridiculous to charge their faith with uncertainty; for that is a certain faith which is built upon certain and immovable reasons; and if the certainty of reason makes men certain, and some men's faith may be built upon certain reasons, though others are mistaken, then the confident mistakes of some men is no proof that the faith of all men is uncertain.

I am sure all mankind think thus, who think any thing, which is a good sign that it is a very natural thought. No man thinks himself the less certain, because he sees other men differ from him. The foundation of this very argument against protestant certainty owns this.

The argument is, that we can never know when we are certain, because of the multitude of differing opinions which are maintained with equal confidence on all sides. Now that this is no plain and convincing argument against certainty, is evident from the argument itself, which confesses, that notwithstanding all this diversity of opinions, all men are very confident of their own; which, I think, proves, that every man believes that he may be certain; nay, does actually think himself certain, though he knows that other men differ from him; and that, I think, proves, that they do not believe that no man can be certain, because some men are confident, and yet

« PreviousContinue »