John Biddle's Twofold Scripture Catechism (1654)
In how miserable a condition then (as to spiritual things) must Christians generally needs be, when thus trained up, not, (as the Apostle adviseth) in the nurture and admonition of the Lord , but in the supposals & traditions of men having little or no assurance touching the reality of their Religion! Which they observing, and not having the happiness to light upon the Truth, have quite abandoned all Piety whatsoever, thinking there is no firm ground where on to build the same. To prevent which mischief in time to come, by bringing men to a certainty, (I mean such men as own the Divine Author of the Scripture) and wish to satisfy the just and pious desires of many, who would fain understand the truth of their religion, to the end they might not onely be built-up themselves, but also instruct their children and families in the same, I have here (according to the understanding I have gotten by continual meditation on the word of God) compiled a Scripture Catechism, wherin I bring the Reader to a sure and certain knowledge of the chiefest things pertaining to belief and practice, while I myself assert nothing, (as others have done before me) but onely introduce the Scripture faithfully uttering its own assertions, which all Christians confess to be of undoubted truth.
Take heed therefore whosoever thou art, that lightest on this Book, and there readest things quite contrary to the doctrines that pass currant amongst Christians, (for I confess that most of the things here displayed, have such a tendency) that thou fall not foul upon them, for thou canst not do so without falling foul upon the holy Scripture itself, in as much as all the Answers throughout the whole Catechism are faithfully transcribed out of it, and rightly applied to the Questions, as thou, thy self maist perceive, if thou shalt make a diligent inspection into the several texts with all their circumstances. Thou wilt perhaps here reply, that the texts which I have cited, do indeed in the letter hold forth such things as are contrary to the doctrines commonly received amongst Christians, but they ought to have a mystical or figurative interpretation put upon them, and then both the doctrines and the texts of Scripture will suit well enough. To which I answer, that if we once take this liberty to impose our mystical or figurative interpretations on the Scripture, without express warrant of the Scripture itself, we shall have no setled belief, but be liable continually to be turned aside by any one that can invent a new mystical meaning of the Scripture, there being no certain rule to judge of such meanings, as there is of the literal ones: nor is there any error how absurd and impious soever, but may on such terms be accorded with the Scriptures .
All the abominable Idolatries of the Papists, all the superstitious Fopperies of the Tur____?? all the licentious Opinions and Practices of the Ranters, may by this means be not only p____? iated, but defended by the Word of God. Certainly might we of our own heads figuratively interpret the Scripture, when the letter is neither repugnant to our senses, nor to the scope of the respective texts, nor to a greater number of plain texts to the contrary, (for in such cases we must of necessity admit figures in the sacred Volume, as well as we do in profane ones, otherwise both they and it will clash either with themselvs , or with our senses, which the Scripture itself intimates to be of infallible certainty, see 1 Joh .1. 2,3) might we, I say, at our pleasure impose our Figures & Allegories on the plain words of God, the Scripture would in very deed be, what some blasphemously affirm it to be, a Nose of Wax.
For instance, it is frequently asserted in the Scripture, that God hath a similitude or shape, hath his place in the heavens, hath also affections or passions, as love, hatred, mercy, anger, and the like, neither is any thing to the contrary delivered there, unless seemingly in certain places, which neither for number, nor clearness are comparable unto those of the other side. Why now should I depart from the letter of the Scripture in these particulars and boldly affirm with the generality of Christians, (or rather, with the generality of such Christians only, as being conversant with the false Philosophy that reigneth in the Schools, have their understandings perverted with wrong notions) that God is without a shape, in no certain place, and uncapable of affections? Would not this be to use the Scripture like a nose of wax, and when of itself it looketh any way, to turn it aside at our pleasure?
And would not God be so far from speaking to our capacity in the Word, (which is the usual Refuge of the Adversaries, when in these and the like matters concerning God, they are pressed with the plain words of the Scripture) as that he would by so doing render us altogether uncapable of finding out his meaning, while he spake one thing, and understood the clean contrary? Yea would he not have taken the direct course to make men substitute an Idol in his stead (for the Adversaries hold, that to conceive of God as having a shape, or affections, or being in a certain place, is Idolatry, if he described himself in the Scripture otherwise then indeed he is, without telling us so much in plain terms, that we might not conceive amiss of him?
Thus we see, that when sleep, which plainly argueth weakness, and imperfection, had been ascribed to God, Psal. 44.23 the contrary is said of him , Psal. 121.4 . Again, when weariness had been attributed to him Isa.1.14. the same is expressly denied of him, Isa . 40.28 . And would not God (think ye) have done the like in those forementioned things, were the case the same in them, as in the others? This consideration is so pressing, that a certain Author, (otherwise a very learned and intelligent man) perceiving the weight thereof, and not knowing how to avoid the same, took up (though very unluckily) one erroneous tenet to maintain another, telling us in a late book of His, intituledConjectura Caballistica, that for Moses, by occasion of his writings, to let the Jews entertain a conceit of God as in human shape, was not any more a way to bring them into Idolatry, then by acknowledging man to be God, as (saith he) our Religion does in Christ.
How can this consist - even with consonancy to his own Principles, whilst he holds it to be false that God hath any shape, but true that Christ is God? For, will a false opinion of God no sooner lead men into Idolatry, then a true opinion of Christ?
But it is no marvel that the Author, & other learned men with him, entertain such conceits of God and Christ, as are repugnant to the current of the Scripture, whilst they set so high a rate on the sublime indeed, but uncertain notions of the Platonists, and in the mean time slight the plain, but certain letter of the sacred Writers, as being far below the Divine Majesty, and written onely to comply with the rude apprehensions of the vulgar , unless by a mystical Interpretation they be scrued up to Platonism. This is the stone on which the Pride of learned men hath caused them continually to stumble, namely, to think that they can speak more wisely and worthily of God, than he hath spoken of himself in his Word. This hath brought that more then Babylonish confusion of language into the Christian Religion, when men have framed those horrid and intricate expressions under the colour of detecting and excluding Heresies, but in truth to put a baffle on the simplicity of the Scripture, and usher in Heresies in that so they might the more easily carry on their worldly designes , which could not be effected but through the ignorance of the people, nor the people brought into ignorance, but by wrapping up Religion in such monstrous terms, as neither the people, nor they themselves that invented them, (or at least took them from the invention of others) did understand.
Wherefore there is no possibility to reduce the Christian Religion to its primitive integrity, A thing though much pretended, yea boasted of in Reformed Churches, yet never hitherto sincerely endeavoured, much less effected, in that men have by severe penalties been hindered to reform Religion beyond such a stint as that of Luther or at most that of Calvin ) but by cashiering those many intricate terms, and devised forms of speaking, imposed on our Religion, and by wholly betaking ourselves to the plainness of the Scriptures. For I have long observed, (and find my observation to be true and certain) that when to express matters of religion men make use of words and phrases unheard of in the Scripture, they slily under them couch false doctrines, and obtrude them on us: for without question the doctrines of the Scripture can be so aptly explained in no language as that of the Scripture it self.
Examine therefore the expressions of Gods being infinite and incomprehensible, of his being a simple Act , of his subsisting in three persons, or after a threefold manner, of a Divine Circumincession , of an Eternal Generation, of an Eternal Procession, of an Incarnation, of an Hypostatical Union, of a Communication of Properties, of the Mother of God, of God dying, of God made man, of Transubstantiation, of Consub stantiation, of Original Sin, of Christs taking our nature on him, of Christs making satisfaction to God for our sins, both past, present, and to come, of Christs fulfilling the Law for us, of Christs being punished by God for us, of Christs merits, of his meritorious obedience both active and passive, of Christs purchase of the kingdom of heaven for us, of Christs enduring the wrath God , yea the pains of a damned man, of Christs rising from the dead by his own power, of the ubiquity of Christs body, of apprehending and applying Christs righteousness to our selves by faith, of Christs being a Surety, of Christs paying our debts, of Christs righteousness imputed to us, of Christs dying to appease the wrath of God, and reconcile him to us, of infused grace, of free grace, of the world of the elect, of irresistable workings of the Spirit in bringing men to believe, of carnal reason, of spiritual desertions, of spiritual incomes, of Outgoings of God, of taking up the Ordinance, &c. and thou shalt finde , that as these forms of speech are not owned by the Scripture, so neither the things contained in them.
How excellent therefore was the advice of Paul to Timothy in his second Epistle to him, chap. 1:13. Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus? For if we once let go those forms of sound words learned from the Apostles, and take up such as have been coined by others in succeeding Ages, we shall together part with the Apostles doctrine, as woeful experience has taught us.
For after Constantine the Great together with the Councel of Nice had once deviated from the language of the Scripture, in the business touching the Son of God, calling him coessential with the Father, this opened a gap for others afterwards, under a pretence of guarding the Truth from Heriticks , to devise new terms at pleasure, which did by degrees so vitiate the chastity and simplicity of our faith delivered in the Scripture, that there hardly remained so much as one point thereof sound and entire. So that as it was wont to be disputed in the schools, whether the old ship of Theseus, (which had in a maner been wholly altered at sundry times by the accession of new pieces of timber upon the decay of the old) were the same ship it had been at first, and not rather another by degrees substituted in the stead thereof: in like maner there was so much of the primitive truth worn away by the corruption that did by little and little overspread the generality of Christians, and so many errors instead there of tacked to our Religion at several times, that one might justly question whether it were the same Religion with that which Christ and his Apostles taught, and not another since devised by men, and put in the room thereof.
But thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who amidst the universal corruption of our religion, hath preserved his written Word entire, (for had men corrupted it, they would have made it speak more favorably in behalf of their lusts and worldly interests, then it doth) which Word if we with diligence and sincerity pry into, resolving to embrace the doctrine that is there plainly delivered, though all the world should set itself against us for so doing, we shall easily discern the Truth, and so be enabled to reduce our Religion to its first principles.
For thus much I perceive
by mine own experience, who being otherwise of no great abilities, yet
setting myself with the aforesaid resolution for sundry yeers
together upon an impartial search of the Scripture, have not onely
detected many errors, but here presented the Readers with a body of Religion,
exactly transcribed out of the Word of God; which body whosoever shall
well ruminate and digest in his mind, may by the same method, wherein I
have gone before him, make a further enquiry
into the Oracles of God, and draw forth whatsoever yet lies hid, and being
brought to will tend to the accomplishment of Godliness amongst us, for
at this only all the Scripture aimeth: I say the Scripture, which all men,
who have thorowly studied the same, must of
necessity be enamoured with, as breathing-out the meer
wisdom of God, and being the exactest rule of a holy life (which all Religions
whatsoever confess to be the way to happiness) that can be imagined, and
whose Divinity will never even to the worlds end be questioned by any,
but such as are unwilling to deny their worldly lusts, and obey the pure
and perfect precepts thereof. Which obedience whosoever shall perform,
he shall not onely in the life to come, but
even in this life be equal unto Angels.
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