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art and science, seem to authorize the present age to think with some respect, of itself. It accordingly exults in the idea of its own wisdom: and this country, in particular, which has contributed its full share to those improvements, may well be thought as forward, as any other, to pay itself this tribute of selfesteem. It would not be strange, if it appeared, on inquiry, That some presumption had, in either case, been indulged; and had even operated, according to the nature of presumption, to the prejudice of that claim, which, with so much confidence, has been set up. But I have now in view, only, one effect of this presumption ; I mean, the complacency which many take in supposing, That the present age excels equally in sacred and secular learning; and, with regard to ourselves, That our theological knowledge as much surpasses that of our forefathers at the Reformation, as their knowledge did, the thick and gross ignorance of the

monkish ages.

It concerns us, for more reasons than one, not to mistake in this matter. The direct way to decide upon it, would, no doubt, be, To compare the best modern writers, with the ablest of those among the Reformers, on the subject of religion. But, till ye have the leisure or selves, ye

curiosity to make this comparison for your

will

pay some regard, it may be, to the following considerations ; which, at least, I think, maķe it questionable, whether our claims, in particular (for the inquiry shall, for the present, be confined to them), whether, I say, our pretensions to religious knowledge have not been carried too far. And,

1. One is tempted to ask, whether it be credible, that we of this age should have much advantage over our Reformers, in respect of religious knowledge, when both had an opportunity of deriving it from the same source ? You will apprehend the meaning of this question, if you reflect, that our Reformers had not their religious system to fetch out of the dark rolls of ancient tradition, and much less to create, or fashion for themselves, out of their own proper stock of ingenuity and invention. Had such been their unhappy circumstances, there would be reason enough to presume that their system was defective. For the first attempts towards perfection in any art, or science, will not bear a comparison with those happier and more successful efforts, which a length of time and continued application enable men tu make. But the case of those good men, we know, was wholly different. They had only to copy, or, rather, to inspect, a consummate model, made to their hands; I mean, the sacred scriptures, which lay open to them, as they do to us; and, being taken by them, as we understand they were, for their sole rule of faith, what should hinder them, when they read those scriptures, from seeing as distinctly, as we do at this day, what the Gospel-terms of salvation are, and what the erudition of a Christian man should be ?

Did the primitive Christians, a plain people, and taken, for the most part, from the lowest ranks of life, did they understand their religion, when it was proposed to them, so as to have no doubt concerning its great and leading principles ; nay, so as to be the standard of orthodoxy to all succeeding ages of the Church ? and shall we think that the ablest Doctors at the Reformation, when they had once turned themselves to the study of the sacred volumes, could be at a loss about the contents of them?

Yes, it will, perhaps, be said ; the primitive Christians had the advantage of reading the scriptures in the languages in which they were composed, or of hearing them explained, at least, by learned and well-instructed teachers : whereas, at the Reformation, those languages. were understood by few, or none; and consequently, in those days, there could be no persons sufficiently skilled in the sacred scriptures to ascertain their true meaning.”

But to this charge of ignorance you will easily reply, by asking

2. In the next place, whether it can consist with a known fact, namely, That the revival of letters had preceded the Reformation everywhere, especially in England; and that the excellent persons who took the lead in that work, were all of them, competently, and, some of them, deeply, skilled in the learned languages?

Indeed, in the nature of the thing, it is scarce possible, that the Reformers should be so little versed, as the objection supposes, in the original scriptures. For, whether the new learning as it was called, had, or had not, been cultivated, before the Reformation began, we may be sure it would then be cultivated with the utmost assiduity; both, because it was a new learning, that is, because the charms of novelty would naturally engage many in the study of

ad, because no step could be taken in the

it;

Reformation, without some proficiency in that learning. Now, if you consider, of what the human mind is capable, when pushed on by two such active principles, as learned curiosity, and religious zeal, you will conclude with yourselves, even without recurring to positive testimony, that the Reformers must needs have made an acquaintance with the authentic text: such an acquaintance, as would let them into a clear apprehension, at least, of those doctrines, which are the elementary, as we may say,' or necessary ingredients in the constitution of a truly Christian Church.

hesitate about coming to this conclusion, the reason, I suppose, is, that you consider the Reformers as just then emerging from the darkness of Popery, and therefore so farblinded by the prejudices of that church a, or by their own prejudices against it, as not to see distinctly, and at once, the true sense of Scripture, though they might be competently skilled in the learned languages. And, possibly, there is some truth, as well as plausibility, in this suggestion, as applied to the

If you

a As in the case of the real presence in the sacrament of the altar.

b As in the case of good works.

VOL, VI.

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