Forgotten Sermons: An Answer to Pilate's Question, What is Truth? by John Edwards
JOHN XVIII. 38.
Pilate saith unto him, what is truth?
One signal circumstance of our Saviour's meritorious passion, was that which we daily rehearse in the Creed, that he suffered under Pontius Pilate. And truly from the character which is given this person, not only by the Evangelists but other writers, he appears to have been a fit man for that execrable work of condemning the Lord of Life. For who was more so than the covetous and greedy Pilate, who attempted to rob the Temple, and sacrilegiously to rifle the Corban (as Josephus relates)? Who could be fitter than he to receive a bribe from the Jews, and even against his conscience to deliver up the Messias a victim to their fury and malice? Who than he, who had inhumanely mingled the Galileans blood with their sacrifices, was fitter to be employed when the great sacrifice of the world was to be offered, and when Jesus of Galilee (from whom his followers were called Galileans) was to give his blood for the redemption of mankind? But though this man was thus fitly disposed and prepared for his work, yet the bloody sentence against our Saviour was not to be pronounced by him without the preamble of a formal arraignment and trial. And accordingly the innocent Jesus was set to the Bar; and this Roman Governor took the bench: where (as you will find by the context) this judge was full of his interrogatories, and propounded several, and those not inconsiderable questions. But among them all there was none certainly that was in itself more substantial and useful than this, What is truth?
And it was as pertinent as it was weighty: for it was justly occasioned by our Lord's plea and protestation in Court, viz. That, notwithstanding the malicious Jews had accused him as an impostor, yet to this end he was born, and for this cause he came into the world, that he might witness to the truth, v. 37. As if our Saviour had said, whereas error and falsehood have a long time in the world, and they have miserably perverted the law of nature, and great numbers of them have been spoiled through their philosophy and vain deceit: And likewise among you Jews, the meaning of God's written law is depraved by the corrupt doctrines of the superstitious Pharisees and profane Sadducees, (the former a sort of Hebrew Stoics, the later a kind of Jewish Epicures and Atheists:) and you are divided into several other disagreeing sects and schools, and go on daily to corrupt and stifle the true notions of morality and religion, and even utterly to take away the key of knowledge and truth: Whereas things are thus, the great design of my visiting mankind is of a contrary nature; namely, to lead them to right apprehensions of things, to baffle all error and delusion, and to direct them most effectually into the way of truth. And every one that is of the truth heareth my voice, v. 37 that is, those who are competent judges and sincere lovers of truth, will soon descry my doctrine to be fraught with the highest and most important verities; and will embrace it as the greatest blessing that was ever vouchsafed to the world.
Pilate hearing our Saviour discourse of truth, puts this question to him in the text. It is Luther's conjecture that he did it out of kindness to our Lord; for Pilate (saith he) being a worldly wise man, and willing to release Christ did as much as say to him, What? wilt thou dispute concerning truth in these wicked times of the world? Truth is here of no value: it is generally despised and rejected. You must think of some other way, for this will not do. Alas, What is truth worth? and what are you like to get by abetting it? But I rather think that Pilate asked this question in contempt and derision, I pray, sir, what is the right definition of truth? Do you pretend to understand the exact notion of it? I must tell you this, friend, men are as much mistaken about this as anything in the world; and I believe you are one of that number. You talk of truth, but do you know what it is? And as soon as he had started this query he went off the bench.
By which it appears, that his enquiry was not serious; and that he cared not for a reply to it. Otherwise, if he had been in good earnest, without doubt our Saviour would not have failed to return an answer. For he was a person extremely communicative, and used to satisfy all material questions to the full, yea above what was demanded: As when a lawyer asked him, What was the First Commandment, he told him moreover what was the Second, which was like unto it. So when it was asked him, Is it lawful to give tribute to Cesar or no? His answer was more than satisfactory; for he not only acquaints them that they ought to pay Caesar his tribute; but he adds also, that God's as well as Caesar's dues are to be discharged. It is not to be doubted, that he who was so ready at all times to satisfy men’s demands, would have returned an answer to this of Pilate, if this great man would have stayed for it.
But though Pilate went away in haste, I hope it will be worth our time to stay, and satisfy ourselves about this question of so unspeakable use and value; a question which is every ways necessary in order to the resolving of the scruples of the conscientious, and silencing the cavils of the atheistical and profane; a question whereon the whole frame and constitution of religion depends; a question of the greatest importance next to that, What shall we do to be saved? Or rather, it is of the same rank with it; for (as the Apostle has joined them together) God would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.
But another question then will arise, How shall we come to the knowledge of the truth? Are we not on every side beset with mistakes and false notions? Was not error very early in the world; and does it not bear date from Adam? I have not examined whether that be true which one saith, That there is but one speech delivered before the flood by man, wherein there is not an erroneous conception. But this is certain, that mistake and falsehood entered into the world early; and that ever since a night of ignorance has over-spread our minds, and our judgments are involved in a cloud of obscurity and imperfection. In Cebes's Table, which represents man's life, Imposture gives her cup to all that come into the world. Error and Ignorance are the portion; and every one drinks of it: but some more and some less. Hence it is that pretences and appearances of reason trick us; Imperfect argumentations and superficial discourses easily determine us. A petty inducement, a weak likelihood, a plausible harangue, are enough to turn the scales with us, and weigh heavier sometimes than a demonstration. Hence it is that truth is so rare a thing in the world. We may justly complain as he of old, it is difficult to find out true reason. Or, we may cry out as Hermias the old Christian Philosopher did, Truth hath abandon'd, and taken its farewell of the world. How then shall we hope to have this question set free, and to know, What is truth?
Nay, we are in as bad circumstances as before, and Pilate's demand is as far from being answered as it was; for as the Sceptic doubts of all truth, yea, indeed, denies it; so on the other hand we see, that all parties of religion in the world pretend that they are masters and possessors of it. Before there was no truth, and now all is truth. If you ask, what it truth? you shall not want whole herds of men who will come and offer their service to you, and with all officiousness will tell you, that they are able to resolve you in such an easy question as that is truth takes up its residence with us, say the Pagan worshipers: Our numerous deities and their idols, have been vouched by oracles and divinations, and all the ways that are requisite to make a religion authentic. We are the parents of orthodox faith, say the Jews, and all the rest of the world are bewildered and lost, being destitute of a Pillar of Light to lead them. Alas, they are enveloped in Egyptian darkness, and must continue to be so till they take Moses for their only guide to bring them out of it. But then again, neither Gentiles nor Jews are in the right, say the followers of Mahomet, who yet was the son of a Pagan father and a Jewish mother. The Alcoran is the true charter of our religion; and who can suspect it, since our Prophet received it from the angel Gabriel? We are the true Musselmen, i.e. believers, and all others are downright infidels and miscreants. Nay, even among those who profess Christianity (for out of the best and purest religion will arise the worst of corruptions and heresies) the parties and divisions, the disputes and claims are not a few.
Truth is but one, and yet they all think they monopolize it. Every sect is eager and violent; and some of them confine all religion and salvation to their own way. Nay, they are for persecuting all parties but their own; like the Ottoman Princes, they must strangle all their brethren, otherwise they think they cannot reign safely. Ask the different parties, even from the highest to the lowest, from the old gentleman that sits in the Porphyry Chair, to the meanest quaker or muggletonian, and they will all tell you they are in possession of the truth. Every persuasion has this of Popery in it, that the professors of it think themselves infallible, and say they have an unerring guide; and therefore they take the chair, and determine peremptorily on their own sides. Even whilst some cry, this is false, and others that; if you ask them singly, they all say they are in the right; and every one confidently vouches that he is proprietor of truth. It seems by this, that truth is equally divided among all men; or rather indeed, that the opinion of it is so. And hence it is probable, that Scepticism and Indifferency in religion have had their rise; for too lavish pretences to truth have made some question whether there be any. The divers claims and quarrels in Christianity have wonderfully fostered Atheism. For whilst it has been observed that Divinity has every where become polemical; and that men have thrown bibles at one another’s heads, whilst it has been cried in their ears that here is truth, and there is truth, they have grown perplexed and distracted, and know not how to behave themselves, and what part to take. They hear that the claim to truth is universal; but then they know this, that all the pretences to it cannot be true, and how, say they, if none of them should be so? Hereupon they renounce religion as a faction, and in plain terms a cheat, and consequently they live and act in the world as they please. If truth be claimed by all the professors of religion, and those professors contradict one another, where shall we find an answer to this interrogatory, What is truth?
In way of reply it is enough to say at present (for I shall answer a great part of these cavils afterwards in the sequel of this discourse): these several divisions and parties evidently prove a true religion: For it is certain, that rational men would not contend for nothing. Unless there were some reality at the bottom, we cannot imagine that persons of unprejudiced minds and sincere intentions (as we must allow a great part of them to be) would thus seriously busy themselves, and be so mightily concerned. Some men’s fond and groundless pretences ought not to be equalled with the just claims of others. As long as the world continues in this degenerate posture where it is, there will ever be a great number of men who will be pretending to truth, even whilst they are maintaining those doctrines which are directly opposite to it: Therefore we are not to concern ourselves for these pretenders, only so far as to slight them as persons govern'd by interest or passion, or to pity them as those who are misled by ignorance or prejudice. As for the generality of disputes which are at this day on foot, Religion, and particularly the Christian Religion (I mean the essentials and vitals of it, which give it its denomination) are little, or not at all concerned in those quarrels, as will appear from what I shall suggest soon; and therefore I shall say no more here. But (notwithstanding what has been objected) I will go on with my present design, which is an inquest after truth: and I hope the attempt will not prove vain and success-less.
That we may certainly find it out, those two known, but too much neglected rules or standards are to be made use of by us, viz. Reason and Scripture. By Reason I mean the free and impartial use of our understandings and judgments which God has naturally endued us with, and which we are obliged to improve and cultivate by the aid of our bodily senses, by the testimony of others, by serious and steady observation and well-grounded experience, for these must be assisting to human reason to render it perfect and complete. If thus we would apply ourselves to a serious search after truth, we should soon make ourselves masters of it: For the candle of the Lord (as Solomon very significantly calls the reason of man) was set up in our breasts by God, on purpose to discover truth to us.
But it must be acknowledged, that this light hath been much impaired by man's degeneracy, so that it can scarcely be said to shine out; i.e. perfectly to display itself. It has been clouded ever since the first apostacy, and obscured daily by the actual prevalency of vice. An undeniable evidence whereof were those swarms of monstrous opinions among the Pagans, that gross superstition and idolatry of the Gentile world, those prodigious shapes and models of religion which were invented by them. Oftentimes it happened, that the creature made and framed his creator; they shaped out deities and the way of worshipping them according to their own fancies and imaginations; and a God was even what they thought good to make him. Or, suppose Nature’s light did shine out to the full, yet it would not be clear and bright enough, to give us a prospect of those divine and supernatural truths, which are to bring us to everlasting happiness. For Nature and Reason cannot dictate those things which depend wholly on God's free grace and pleasure: And such are the doctrine of a Saviour and Redeemer, the method of man's salvation, and all the mysteries of the Christian and Evangelical dispensation. How was Nicodemus (a noted Master in Israel, and no mean possessor of reason) baffled with the doctrine of regeneration? He might truly be said to go to Jesus by night, who made his visit only by the dusky and obscure light of Nature. Therefore, though Reason, or rather the understanding using its reasoning faculty, be a laudable guide in religion, yet it will not be a safe conduct to truth if it be alone. There must of necessity be another guide besides this, to lead us to the discovery of heavenly verities, and propositions of faith. There must be divine illumination to assist us, to find out divine and spiritual truths.
The second standard then of truth is, the Infallible Word of God. Divine truths must be sought for, not from man, but from God; not from human writings, but an unerring word; not from those who are finite and ignorant, but from him who is infinite, and knows all things; not from the sons of men, but from him who is the only-begotten Son of God, the revealer of his Father's will: For [No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,] as the beloved disciple bears witness, John 1. 18. None is able to discover the divine and supernatural mysteries which our religion is fraught with, but the founder of them. We could never have arrived to those transcendent notions, unless we had been taught them from Heaven. We were not skilled to appoint the manner of appeasing the incensed Majesty of Heaven, and to prescribe the way of worship suitable to that economy. This would have been as if it should be left to some silly country peasant, to assign the way and manner of treating a mighty King and Monarch; Who would not expect in such a case a strange and uncouth, a rude and ridiculous way of address and courtship, and below the greatness and majesty of a Prince? But it was requisite there should be a particular divine discovery, a clearer light, a surer guide than that of Nature: For though God at sundry times, and in divers manners had revealed himself to the past generations of men, yet to make that revelation complete, he spoke in the last days by his Son, and by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the inspired writings of the Apostles and Evangelists. Christ therefore saith, and that emphatically, I am the truth, John 14. 6. The Gospel was the last and most corrected edition of the doctrine of truth; and we must never look for any other to come forth to the end of the world. This is truth more eminently so called, the truth which came by Jesus Christ, as the blessed Evangelist speaks. This is the Christian truth, our singular glory whereby we are distinguished from all those who profess any other religions whatsoever, whether of the unbelieving Jews, or the idolatrous Gentiles, or the deluded Saracens and Turks, or downright Atheists, and others of a like perverse persuasion. These all err, especially the three first ranks of men, by not knowing or not embracing the Scriptures; which are deservedly styled, the word of truth, and are the only supreme rule of faith and doctrine. We then, who embrace this Christian rule, are blessed with that institution which is pure and undefiled, which is grounded on undoubted revelation, which is backed by a more sure word of prophecy, which has a divine impress stamped upon it. So that our religion as far surmounts all others, as the gold which hath passed the refiners fire, and hath the royal stamp upon it, outbids the common ore, and shames its dross and meaner alloy.
You see then which are the unalterable Standards of Truth, viz. Reason and Revelation (the Light of Nature and of Scripture). And I dare confidently aver, that if our enquiries and determinations in religion were faithfully managed by these two, it were impossible to fail of truth. If we would but act thus as men and Christians (and that is as we ought to do) we cannot miss of it: For it is certainly the purchase of all those who make a right use of their rational powers, and also help and direct those powers by the revelation of the sacred Spirit in the Holy Scriptures. By these two we may examine the truth of the whole Christian Religion, and we shall find that it will abide the test. By these standards of truth we may examine the doctrines of all seducers that are abroad in the world, and we shall find them to be false and adulterate. If we would sincerely follow these rules, the great diversity of opinions and sentiments amongst us would soon be reconciled: If we would faithfully take these measures, i.e. always be ruled and conducted by Reason and Scripture, we should easily agree upon what is to be believed and asserted in religion; and all our disputes and controversies would vanish.
Now, from what hath been hitherto discoursed, we may in some good measure be able not only to return an answer to Pilate’s question, What is truth? but to another near a kin to it, viz. What is error and falsehood? All propositions which contradict the common notices and first principles in our minds, and which affront right reason and the plain deductions made from it, are to be looked upon as false: And on the same account those assertions which overthrow the verdict of our senses; and much more those that imply contradictions in them, and consequently impossibilities, cannot be true. And on these grounds I might show that the divinity of some high-flown Enthusiasts, and the doctrine of the Roman Catholics concerning transubstantiation, are justly to be impeached of falsehood.
Again, whatsoever assertions in any religion are repugnant to divine revelation, to God's will declared by some positive law, to such discoveries as are known to be immediately from Heaven, these must necessarily be false. And on this ground the religion of the Pagans, Jews, and Mahometans must be voted to be such, because they oppose an infallible revelation, and that confirmed by unparalleled miracles. And semblably in Christianity, all those tenents of several Sects, which bid defiance to any part of the sacred Scripture, which is left us by the Holy Ghost, as the generality of the Roman opinions, the doctrines of Pelagians, Socinians, Anabaptists, Antinomians, Libertines, Quakers, Hobbians, &c. are false and erroneous.
Thus far then, by virtue of the premises, we have advanced, that when there are several claims and pretences to truth, and it is enquired, what judge shall decide the controversy, the answer must be, That right reason and inspired Scripture are the only judges, they being the fixed standards and measures of truth.
But then here will lie the main difficulty of all, that in the questions and debates of religion, Scripture is quoted with equal vigour and confidence on all sides; as if what the Jewish Rabbins say of Scripture, that it hath seventy-two faces, were the received opinion of Christians. Nay, some of these seem to acknowledge, by their strange way of interpreting it, that it has not only different, but contrary aspects. When therefore there are disputes about Scripture-interpretation, what must we do? How can we discern what is truth by consulting of Scripture, when as that is dubious and uncertain? If contrary sects and parties quote it, and plead it, how can it be a fixed standard of truth? How is it an unerring guide?
It might suffice to say in general, that it is no wonder that all Opinionists, even the wildest of them, make use of Scripture; yea, a great part of the Turks Alcoran is express words of the Bible. It is no wonder, I say, since Scripture was quoted by Satan himself, who, when he tempted our Saviour, misapplied it to the vilest purpose. But particularly, to satisfy this great and affrighting difficulty, we may inform ourselves that in religion there are five sorts of enquiries and doctrines. Now, I will briefly show how Scripture is to be made use of, and when it is fit to apply it to any of these particulars.
I. Some points of our religion are in themselves mystical and profound; and the sacred Writings having not explained them, it cannot be expected that we should ever do it. Such difficult and sublime doctrines as the mystery of the sacred Trinity (i.e. a Trinity of Divine Persons in the unity of the Godhead) the union of the Divine and human nature in one person, the manner of the resurrection, and the like, are not to be throughly known by us as long as we sojourn on Earth.
These are like the book in the Revelation, which none is able to open in Heaven or in Earth, but the Lamb. And seeing he is not pleased to unfold them to us, we must admire and adore them, but not be solicitous to comprehend them. We are to remember this, that some things must be believed on the mere authority of the speaker, and it argues infidelity to question the truth of them, or so much as to be inquisitive about them. The things are spoken by God, therefore we ought to give credit to them: The manner and circumstances of them are not discovered, therefore I'm obliged not to pry into them. This was the sense and practice of the primitive Christians, as we may learn from Origen, who tells us, that the believing some articles of faith on the bare authority of the Scriptures, was objected to the Christians by the heathens: Their complaint against them was, That they would neither give nor receive a Reason of their Faith, but were wont to cry out, Examine not, but believe.
Here likewise I may rank some insuperable problems concerning the Divine decrees and predestination, the abstruseness of which forbids a curious and close enquiry. But this is most true, that modesty is the most commendable virtue here. Theodoret saith well, I think it boldness to pronounce peremptorily concerning those things of which the sacred Scripture delivers nothing plainly. God was not pleased to deliver all things with equal evidence; and why then should we undertake to make every thing plain and demonstrable? Or, why are we angry if others think some things are not so? Those words which I meet with in one of St. Jerome's Epistles are admirable, and are worth the observation of those, especially, who are students of Divinity. When we search (saith he) with too much nicety and curiosity into those things which God would not have us know, but hath purposely concealed from us, we catch only at shadows, we entertain and busy ourselves with trifles, we quit the fountain truth, and run after the fruitless streams of mere opinion and fancy. Let us fix this on our minds, that there are some unsearchable mysteries, and it was designed by the All-Wise God that we should not be acquainted with them. We may say here, as Seneca concerning the nature of comets, God only, whose sole prerogative is to have a perfect knowledge of truth, knows these things to be true, and the very manner of them, though it be hid from us. When we peremptorily say this or that concerning these obscure matters, we may err, and we cannot tell when we do; but when we determine nothing precisely (above what is determined in Scripture) we are sure we do not err; and we are sure of this too, that we are not guilty of distorting and misinterpreting the Word of God; which is a fault very frequent in these cases.
To conclude this particular, let not weak Christians be troubled that there are several passages in the Bible which they cannot clearly understand. I assure them, that they may be ignorant of the full meaning and manner of them, and yet their salvation is not endangered thereby. And as to our deportment towards others, with respect to these points, seeing we cannot perfectly explain them, why should we be angry at those who embrace a different persuasion concerning the manner of these things?
II. Many things in religion are made difficult merely by disputes and quarrels; and if the Holy Scriptures were plainer than they are, yea never so plain, yet wrangling heads would fall a disputing, and make way for error by that means. And here it is their way commonly to make use of one or two places of Scripture, and to oppose them against a whole heap of other texts. The old heretics (those Interfectores Viritatis, as Tertullian calls them, those murders and assasins of truth) frequently used this way. A few texts, yea sometimes a single one, shall serve to baffle a great number. It might be shown in particular instances, how erroneous doctrines are grounded on some men’s attending to one or a very few places of Scripture, whilst in the mean time they take no notice of several and divers texts which look another way. Nay, not only a few texts, but those also which are very dark and obscure, difficult and knotty, are oftentimes wielded and managed against very plain and direct places of Scripture. This was observed by that learned Father whom I last mentioned; One Chapter (saith he) in the Bible where some ambiguous words are, is brought by them to confront a numerous company and host of texts. But this is an indirect method; for it is most just and reasonable that a few places of Scripture should yield to many, obscure ones to the plainer, doubtful to the certain; that those should be judged and decided by these, not vice versa; that so amidst this seeming discord and discrepancy, our belief may not be shaken, and that the truth may not be endangered, and that the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures may not be thought to be inconsistent with itself, as that excellent person saith in another place. It is an useful rule therefore of St. Austin, To explain obscure places of Scripture, let us use the assistance of those that are plainer; and by the certainty and clearness of some, let the doubtfulness of others be taken away. This may be serviceable to us when we read the Scriptures, and when we would be satisfied about some controversies which arise thence. But alas, this holy book is ruffled and entangled by wilful mistakes and disputes, wherein it is common to wrest the words, and to oppose one part of them to another, instead of adjusting the whole matter by a fair reconcilement.
To instance, nothing is plainer in the book of God than this, that he has fully decreed and predetermined whatever shall come to pass; and Nothing is more plain in the said holy volume than this, that man is a free agent, and is not constrained and compelled, but what he wills he wills freely. All sober persons agree in these, and therefore this ought to be a ground of mutual concord and reconciliation. But instead of this, some raise disputes still, and whereas we are agreed that both these are true and consistent, viz. God's decree, and Man's freedom, they will ask, How this can be? And if you do not satisfy them as to this (which it is utterly impossible perhaps to do) they will show themselves very much displeased. Which argues that they are of a quarrelsome temper, and delight in wrangling, and make use of Scripture for that purpose in the most serious and weighty doctrines.
III. It happens by the luxuriancy of busy brains, that many enquiries in religion are nice and subtle, over-curious and trifling; and as for these, they are below the verdict of Holy Scripture. It began to be a matter of wit to be a Christian (as one observes) about the days of Constantine the Great: So soon had they learned to be quaint in their divinity, and that about the highest points of it. And other subtile heads since that time (such were most of the Schoolmen) have troubled the world with their fruitless speculations, their foolish and unlearned questions, their fond and sapless notions. And these, and others added to them, are called truths by some persons; but indeed, they are not worthy of that great name. A man may be ignorant of a thousand of them, and yet not impair his knowledge. To make use of Holy Scripture here, is to be serious in the midst of trifles, and (which is worse) to profane that holy book. The same judgment may be made of many (not to say most) of the questions propounded and handled by the Roman Casuists, which are of no moment or use at all, nay they are very hurtful and pernicious, because they distract men’s minds, instead of directing them; and yet they are very warmly controverted, as if they were the most serious and important truths.
IV. There are some propositions in our religion which are disputable and probable on both sides: And in these doubtful cases to hear persons of different judgments cite the same passages of Holy Writ, should not give offence to any. Because that trumpet gives an uncertain sound, I see no reason why the parties should prepare themselves for battle, and dispute with so much fierceness and rage, as generally they do. I cannot sufficiently admire and commend the excellent candour and moderation of the first pious Reformers of our Church, who in such articles as are dubious and disputable have not showed themselves stiff and peremptory, rigid and magisterial, have not wound up the strings too high, lest they should mar the harmony and peace of the Church. But where the arguments are deemed to be equal on both sides, they have allowed us an ingenuous freedom, and permit us to make use of our own judgments; and yet at the same time severely and indispensably urge upon us all articles that are of the foundation, and which are certainly known to be true.
V. And this brings me to the fifth and last rank of principles in our holy religion; and they are fundamental and necessary, and of the very essence of Christianity: Of which sort are the doctrines of man's corruption and degeneracy, of the reparation made by Christ the Redeemer, of forgiveness and justification by his blood, &c. with all those substantial articles of faith comprised in the Creed, which goes under the name of the Apostles. These are the Christian Verities, and these are clear and manifest in God's Word, and have plain evidence of Scripture, and are agreed upon by all sober and considerate persons who have not renounced the Christian profession.
Here it is that we have the greatest use and guidance of Scripture; and for that plain direction which it gives us in these, we are to prize and value it as the richest treasure, nay; as the only treasure in the world: For from this inspired book alone we have these heavenly and divine doctrines; they were originally in no other writings in the world but these. Wherefore let us look upon these grand truths as the main and necessary contents of the Bible, and as the matters which we are indispensably concerned in. As for those texts which are obscure and difficult, or which relate not to faith or manners, and consequently are not necessary to be known, let us not be displeased that we cannot reach the meaning of them. Let it not seem strange that interpreters vary here, and cannot agree about the sense of these places. St. Jerome upon the place saith thus, St. Augustine otherwise, and St. Chrysostom varies from both; and it may be a fourth differs from these; and a fifth comes and differs from them all. This does not offend me in the least, for where the Scripture speaks of things that are abstruse, or speaks in an obscure and dark manner, it is not strange that we have not a clear and plain discovery of those passages, and consequently that those writers who have treated of them differ in their expositions. Let not this trouble us, for it was God's will there should be these difficulties in Scripture, and he has not made it necessary for us to have the certain sense and meaning of these places. But this should satisfy us, that whatever is necessary to Salvation is plainly revealed, declared and written in the Old and New Testament; and that the knowledge of this alone is absolutely necessary.
This then is that which I say, that if Christian men would read the Bible, to learn thence these undoubted principles and their indispensable duty, and not to furnish themselves with matter of dispute, they would be the happiest people under heaven, and be no longer scandalous to the greater (which is the unbelieving) part of the world, by their dissensions and disagreements. O when will that blessed day come when rectified and unbiassed reason, and the plain arbitrament of Scripture shall decide the controversies in Christendom! If these were once admitted as impartial umpires, they would make short work of all the quarrels about religion, namely, by pronouncing many of them to be vain janglings, and most of them unreasonable and absurd; by assuring the Christian world, that if they would lay aside prejudice, and interest, and vile-affections, nothing would appear so clear and evident and indisputable as the fundamental doctrines above-named; and that all who name the name of Christ are obliged to embrace and profess these necessary and unquestionable maxims, and that they ought to be wary and modest in their determinations concerning other propositions which are uncertain; and that in matters which are indifferent and circumstantial, it is reasonable that they should either conform themselves to the practice of the Church they live in, or mutually agree to bear with one another.
Where then is there any place left for uncharitable disputes, and unchristian animosities? Nowhere certainly, but where mere wilfulness and perverseness reign. For are not the Rules and Standards of truth easy and intelligible? Have we not the eternal laws of reason, the immediate directions of Nature, and the convictions of our own minds; and moreover have we not the infallible oracles and inspired writings to rectify our mistakes? Have we not heavenly and divine knowledge to exalt our natural notions? Has not the Divine Goodness blessed us with abundant discoveries, both from the Law of Nature and the positive laws of Christ Jesus, but more especially from the latter, that complete body of Divine Laws, that authentic volume of religion, that inestimable treasury of true wisdom and knowledge? So that if we will sincerely make use of these helps which God has given us, we shall have no occasion to renew this demand, What is truth?
Now to the God of truth, and Father of lights; and to his Son Christ Jesus, who is the way and the truth; and to the Holy Spirit of truth and grace be ascribed everlasting honour and glory.