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To what can reason such effects assign
Transcending nature, but to laws divine;
Which in that sacred volume are contain'd;
Sufficient, clear, and for that use ordain'd?
But stay: the deist here will urge anew,
No supernatural worship can be true:
Because a general law is that alone
Which must to all, and every where, be known:
A style so large as not this book can claim,
Nor ought that bears reveal'd religion's name.
'Tis said the sound of a Messiah's birth
Is gone through all the habitable Earth:
But still that text must be confin'd alone
To what was then inhabited and known:
And what provision could from thence accrue
To Indian souls, and worlds discover'd new?
In other parts it helps, that, ages past,
The Scriptures there were known, and were embrac❜d,
Till sin spread once again the shades of night:
What's that to these, who never saw the light?
Of all objections this indeed is chief
To startle reason, stagger frail belief:
We grant, 'tis true, that Heaven from human sense
Has hid the secret paths of providence :
But boundless wisdom, boundless mercy, may
Find ev'n for those bewilder'd souls, a way:
If from his nature foes may pity claim,
Much more may strangers who ne'er heard his name.
And though no name be for salvation known,
But that of his eternal Son's alone;
Who knows how far transcending goodness can
Extend the merits of that Son to man?
Who knows what reasons may his mercy lead;
Or ignorance invincible may plead?
Not only charity bids hope the best,
But more the great apostle has exprest:
"That if the Gentiles, whom no law inspir'd,
By nature did what was by law requir'd;
They, who the written rule had never known,
Were to themselves both rule and law alone:
To nature's plain indictment they shall plead;
And by their conscience be condemn'd or freed."
Most righteous doom! because a rule revéal'd
Is none to those from whom it was conceal'd.
Then those who follow'd reason's dictates right;
Liv'd up, and lifted high their natural light;
With Socrates may see their Maker's face,
While thousand rubric-martyrs want a place.
Nor does it baulk my charity, to find
Th' Egyptian bishop of another mind :
For though his creed eternal truth contains,
'Tis hard for man to doom to endless pains
All who believ'd not all his zeal requir'd;
Unless he first could prove he was inspir'd.
Then let us either think he meant to say
This faith, where publish'd, was the only way;
Or else conclude, that, Arius to confute,
The good old man, too eager in dispute,
Flew high; and as his Christian fury rose,
Damn'd all for heretics who durst oppose.
Thus far my charity this path has try'd;
A much unskilful, but well-meaning guide: [bred Yet what they are, ev'n these crude thoughts were By reading that which better thou hast read.
Thy matchless author's work: which thou, my friend,
By well translating better dost commend:
Those youthful hours which, of thy equals most
In toys have squander'd, or in vice have lost,
Those hours hast thou to nobler use employ'd;
And the severe delights of truth enjoy'd.
Witness this weighty book, in which appears
The crabbed toil of many thoughtful years,
Spent by the author, in the sifting care
Of rabbins old sophisticated ware
From gold divine; which he who well can sort
May afterwards make algebra a sport.
A treasure, which if country-curates buy,
They Junius and Tremellius may defy :
Save pains in various readings, and translations;
And without Hebrew make most learn'd quotations.
A work so full with various learning fraught,
So nicely ponder'd, yet so strongly wrought,
As Nature's height and Art's last hand requir'd:
As much as man could compass, uninspir'd.
Where we may see what errours have been made
Both in the copier's and translator's trade:
How Jewish, popish, interests have prevail'd,
And where infallibility has fail'd.
For some, who have his secret meaning guess'd,
Have found our author not too much a priest:
For fashion-sake he seems to have recourse
To pope, and councils, and tradition's force :
But he that old traditions could subdue,
Could not but find the weakness of the new:
If Scripture, though deriv'd from heavenly birth,
Has been but carelessly preserv'd on Earth;
If God's own people, who of God before
Knew what we know, and had been promis'd more,
In fuller terms, of Heaven's assisting care,
And who did neither time nor study spare
To keep this book untainted, unperplext,
Let in gross errors to corrupt the text,
Omitted paragraphs, embroil'd the sense,
With vain traditions stopt the gaping fence,
Which every common hand pull'd up with ease:
What safety from such brushwood-helps as these?
If written words from time are not secur'd,
How can we think have oral sounds endur'd?
Which thus transmitted, if one mouth has fail'd,
Immortal lies on ages are intail'd:
And that some such have been, is prov'd too plain;
If we consider interest, church, and gain.
O but, says one, tradition set aside,
Where can we hope for an unerring guide?
For since th' original Scripture has been lost,
All copies disagreeing, maim'd the most,
Or christian faith can have no certain ground,
Or truth in church-tradition must be found.
Such an omniscient church we wish indeed; 'Twere worth both Testaments; cast in the creed: But if this mother be a guide so sure,
As can all doubts resolve, all truth secure,
Then her infallibility, as well
Where copies are corrupt or lame, can tell;
Restore lost canon with as little pains,
As truly explicate what still remains :
Which yet no council dare pretend to do;
Unless like Esdras they could write it new:
Strange confidence still to interpret true,
Yet not be sure that all they have explain'd
Is in the blest original contain'd.
More safe, and much more modest 'tis, to say
God would not leave mankind without a way:
And that the Scriptures, though not every where
Free from corruption, or entire, or clear,
Are uncorrupt, sufficient, clear, entire,
In all things which our needful faith require.
If others in the same glass better see,
'Tis for themselves they look, but not for me:
For my salvation must its doom receive,
Not from what others, but what I believe.
Must all tradition then be set aside?
This to affirm, were ignorance or pride.
Are there not many points, some needful sure
To saving faith, that Scripture leaves obscure?
Which every sect will wrest a several way,
For what one sect interprets, all sects may :
We hold, and say we prove from Scripture plain,
That Christ is God; the bold Socinian
From the same Scripture urges he's but man.
Now what appeal can end th' important suit?
Both parts talk loudly, but the rule is mute.
Shall I speak plain, and in a nation free
Assume an honest layman's liberty?
I think, according to my little skill,
To my own mother-church submitting still,
That many have been sav'd, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play
Th' unletter'd Christian, who believes in gross,
Plods on to Heaven; and ne'er is at a loss:
For the straight-gate would be made straighter yet,
Vere none admitted there but men of wit.