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Before the word was written, faid the Hind,
Our Saviour preach'd his faith to human kind :
From his apoftles the firft age receiv'd
Eternal truth, and what they taught believ'd.
Thus by tradition faith was planted firft;
Succeeding flocks fucceeding paftors nurs❜d.
This was the way our wife Redeemer chofe,
(Who fure could all things for the beft difpofe,)
To fence his fold from their encroaching foes,
He could have writ himself, but well forefaw
Th' event would be like that of Mofes' law;
Some difference would arife, fome doubts remain,
Like those which yet the jarring Jews maintain.
No written laws can be fo plain, so pure,
But wit may glofs and malice may obfcure;
Not thofe indited by his first command,
A prophet grav'd the text, an angel held his hand,
Thus faith was ere the written word appear'd,
And men believ'd not what they read but heard.
But fince th' apoftles could not be confin'd
To these, or those, but severally defign'd
Their large commiffion round the world to blow
To spread their faith, they spread their labours too,
Yet ftill their absent flock their pains did share;
They hearken'd ftill, for love produces care.
And as mistakes arose, or discords fell,
Or bold feducers taught them to rebel,
As charity grew cold, or faction hot,
Or long neglect their leffons had forgot,
For all their wants they wifely did provide,
And preaching by epiftles was supply'd;
So great phyficians cannot all attend,
But fome they vifit, and to fome they fend,
Yet all thofe letters were not writ to all;
Nor firft intended but occafional,
Their abfent fermons; nor if they contain
All needful doctrines, are thofe doctrines plain.
Clearnefs by frequent preaching must be wrought;
They writ but feldom, but they daily taught.
And what one faint has faid of holy Paul,
"He darkly writ," is true apply'd to all.
For this obfcurity could heaven provide
More prudently than by a living guide,
As doubts arofe, the difference to decide?
A guide was therefore needful, therefore made;
And, if appointed, fure to be obey'd.
Thus, with due reverence to th' apostles writ,
By which my fons are taught, to which submit;
I think, those truths, their sacred works contain,
The church alone can certainly explain;
That following ages, leaning on the past,
May reft upon the primitive at last.
Nor would I thence the word no rule infer,
But none without the church-interpreter.
Because, as I have urg'd before, 'tis mute,
And is itself the fubject of difpute.
But what th' apoftles their fucceffors taught,
They to the next, from them to us is brought,
Th' undoubted fenfe which is in fcripture fought.
From hence the church is arm'd, when errors rife
To ftop their entrance, and prevent surprise;
And, fafe entrench'd within, her foes without defies.
By these all festering fores her councils heal,
Which time or has difclos'd, or shall reveal;
For difcord cannot end without a last appeal.
Nor can a council national decide,
But with fubordination to her guide:
(I wish the cause were on that issue try'd.)
Much less the fcripture; for fuppofe debate
Betwixt pretenders to a fair eftate,
Bequeath'd by fome legator's laft intent;
(Such is our dying Saviour's teftament:)
The will is prov'd, is open'd, and is read;
The doubtful heirs their diff'ring titles plead:
All vouch the words their int'rest to maintain,
And each pretends by thofe his caufe is plain.
Shall then the Teftament award the right?
No, that's the Hungary for which they fight;
The field of battle, fubje&t of debate;
The thing contended for, the fair estate.
The fenfe is intricate, 'tis only clear
What vowels and what confonants are there.
Therefore 'tis plain, its meaning must be try'd
Before fome judge appointed to decide.
Suppose, the fair apostate said, I grant,
The faithful flock fome living guide should want,
Your arguments an endless chace pursue:
Produce this vaunted leader to our view,
This mighty Mofes of the chofen crew.
The dame, who faw her fainting foe retir'd,
With force renew'd, to victory aspir'd;
And, looking upward to her kindred sky,
As once our Saviour own'd his Deity,
Pronounc'd his words" fhe whom ye
feek am I.".
Nor lefs amaz'd this voice the Panther heard,
Than were thofe Jews to hear a God declar'd.
Then thus the matron modeftly renew'd:
Let all your prophets and their fects be view'd,
And fee to which of them yourselves think fit
The conduct of your confcience to fubmit:
Each profelyte would vote his doctor beft,
With abfolute exclufion to the rest:
Thus would your Polish diet difagree,
And end as it began in anarchy:
Yourfelf the fairest for election stand,
Because you seem crown-general of the land:
But foon against your fuperftitious lawn.
Some prefbyterian fabre would be drawn:
In your establish'd laws of fov'reignty
The reft fome fundamental flaw would fee,
And call rebellion gofpel-liberty.
To church-decrees your articles require
Submiffion mollify'd, if not entire.
Homage deny'd, to cenfures you proceed :
But when 6 Curtana will not do the deed,
You lay that pointless clergy-weapon by,
And to the laws, your fword of justice, fly.
Now this your fects the more unkindly take
Those prying varlets hit the blots you make,
Because fome ancient friends of yours declare,
Your only rule of faith the scriptures are,
Interpreted by men of judgment found,
Which every fect will for themselves expound;
Nor think lefs rev'rence to their doctors due
For found interpretation, than to you.
If then, by able heads, are understood
Your brother prophets, who reform'd abroad;
Those able heads expound a wifer way,
That their own sheep their fhepherd should obey.
But if you mean yourselves are only found,
That doctrine turns the reformation round,
And all the rest are falfe reformers found;
Becaufe in fundry points you ftand alone,
Not in communion join'd with any one;
And therefore must be all the church, or none.
Then, 'til you have agreed whofe judge is beft,
Against this forc'd fubmiffion they proteft:
While found and found a diff'rent fenfe explains,
Both play at hardhead till they break their brains;
And from their chairs each other's force defy,
While unregarded thunders vainly fly.
6 But when Curtana-The name of King Edward the Confeffor's fword without a point, an emblem of Mercy, and is carried before the King at the coronation.
I pass the reft, because your church alone
Of all ufurpers beft could fill the throne.
But neither you, nor any fect befide,
For this high office can be qualify'd,
With neceffary gifts requir'd in such a guide.
For that, which muft direct the whole, must be
Bound in one bond of faith and unity:
But all your several churches disagree.
The confubftantiating church and priest
Refufe communion to the Calvinist:
The French reform'd from preaching you reftrain,
Because you judge their ordination vain;
In fhort, in doctrine, or in difcipline,
Not one reform'd can with another join:
But all from each, as from damnation, fly;
No union they pretend, but in Non-Popery:
Nor, fhould their members in a fynod meet,
Could any church prefume to mount the feat,
Above the rest, their discords to decide;
None would obey, but each would be the guide:
And face to face diffenfions would increase;
For only distance now preserves the peace.
All in their turns accufers, and accus'd:
Babel was never half fo much confus'd:
What one can plead, the reft can plead as well
For amongst equals lies no laft appeal,
And all confefs themselves are fallible.
Now fince you grant fome neceffary guide,
All who can err are juftly laid afide:
Because a truft fo facred to confer
Shews want of fuch a fure interpreter ;
And how can he be needful who can err?.
Then granting that unerring guide we want,
That fuch there is you stand oblig'd to grant:
Our Saviour elfe were wanting to fupply
Qur needs, and obviate that neceffity.