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That Christ is God; the bold Socinian
From the same Scripture urges he's but man.
Now what appeal can end the 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 saved, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play
The unletter'd Christian, who believes in gross,
Plods on to heaven, and ne'er is at a loss :
For the strait-gate would be made straiter yet,
Were none admitted there but men of wit.
The few by nature form’d, with learning fraught,
Born to instruct, as others to be taught,
Must study well the sacred page : and see
Which doctrine, this, or that, does best agree
With the whole tenor of the work divine;
And plainliest points to Heaven's reveald design:
Which exposition flows from genuine sense ;
And which is forced by wit and eloquence.
Not that tradition's parts are useless here :
When general, old, disinteressed, clear:
That ancient Fathers thus expound the page,
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age :
Confirms its force, by biding every test;
For best authority's next rules are best:
And still the nearer to the spring we go,
More limpid, more unsoil'd, the waters flow.
Thus, first traditions were a proof alone ;
Could we be certain such they were, so known :
But since some flaws in long descent may be,
They make not truth but probability;
Even Arius and Pelagius durst provoke
To what the centuries preceding spoke.
Such difference is there in an oft-told tale
Eut truth by its own sinews will prevail.
'Tradition written therefore more commends
Authority, than what from voice descends :
And this, as perfect as its kind can be,
Rolls down to us the sacred history:
Which from the Universal Church received,
Is tried, and after, for itself believed.
The partial Papists would infer from hence Their Church, in last resort, should judge the sense. But first they would assume, with wondrous art, Themselves to be the whole, who are but part Of that vast frame, the Church ; yet grant they were The handers down, can they from thence infer A right to interpret ? or would they alone, Who brought the present, claim it for their own ? The Book 's a common largess to mankind; Not more for them than every man design'd; The welcome news is in the letter found, The carrier's not commission'd to expound. It speaks itself, and what it does contain, In all things needful to be known, is plain.
In times o'ergrown with rust and ignorance, A gainful trade their clergy did advance; When want of learning kept the laymen low, And none but priests were authorised to know : When what small knowledge was, in them did dwell, And he a god who could but read or spell: Then mother Church did mightily prevail: She parcell'd out the Bible by retail: But still expounded what she sold or gave, To keep it in her power to damn and save. Scripture was scarce, and as the market went, Poor laymen took salvation on content, As needy men take money good or bad ; God's word they had not, but the priest's they had. Yet, whate'er false conveyances they made, The lawyer still was certain to be paid. In those dark times they learn'd their knack so well, That by long use they grew infallible : At last, a knowing age began to inquire If they the Book, or that did them inspire : And, making narrower search, they found, though late, That what they thought the priest's, was their estate ; Taught by the will produced, (the written word) How long they had been cheated on record. Then, every man who saw the title fair Claim'd a child's part, and put in for a share ; Consulted soberly his private good, And saved himself as cheap as e'er he could.
'Tis true, my friend, (and far be flattery hence,) This good has full as bad a consequence :
The Book thus put in every vulgar hand,
Which each presumed he best could understand,
The common rule was made the common prey;
And at the mercy of the rabble lay.
The tender page with horny fists was galld;
And he was gifted most that loudest bawld :
The spirit gave the doctoral degree :
member of a company
Was of his trade, and of the Bible, free.
Plain truths enough for needful use they found ;
But men would still be itching to expound :
Each was ambitious of the obscurest place,
No measure ta’en from knowledge, all from grace.
Study and pains were now no more their care ;
Texts were explain’d by fasting and by prayer:
This was the fruit the private spirit brought:
Occasion d by great zeal and little thought.
While crowds unlearn'd, with rude devotion warm,
About the sacred viands buzz and swarm,
The fly-blown text creates a crawling brood ;
And turns to maggots what was meant for food.
A thousand daily sects rise up and die;
A thousand more the perish'd race supply:
So all we make of Heaven's discover'd will,
Is, not to have it, or to use it ill.
The danger's much the same; on several shelves
If others wreck us, or we wreck ourselves.
What then remains, but, waiving each extreme, The tides of ignorance and pride to stem? Neither so rich a treasure to forego, Nor proudly seek beyond our power to know: Faith is not built on disquisitions vain ; The things we must believe are few and plain : But since men will believe more than they need, And every man will make himself a creed, In doubtful questions 'tis the safest way To learn what unsuspected ancients say: For 'tis not likely we should higher soar In search of Heaven, than all the Church before : Nor can we be deceived, unless we see The Scripture and the Fathers disagree. If after all they stand suspected still
, (For no man's faith depends upon his will ;)
'Tis some relief, that points not clearly known,
Without much hazard may be let alone :
And after hearing what our Church can say,
If still our reason runs another way,
That private reason 'tis more just to curb,
Than by disputes the public peace disturb.
For points obscure are of small use to learn :
But common quiet is mankind's concern.
Thus have I made my own opinions clear;
Yet neither praise expect nor censure fear:
And this unpolish’d, rugged verse I chose,
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose :
For while from sacred truth I do not swerve,
Tom Sternhold's, or Tom Shadwell's rhymes will serve.
[Richard Flecknoe, Esq., from whom this poem derives it name, was an
Irish priest, who had, according to his own declaration, laid aside the mechanic part of the priesthood. He was well known at court; yet, out of four plays which he wrote, could get only one of them acted, and that was damned. Mr. Thomas Shadwell is the hero of the piece, and introduced, as if pitched upon, by Flecknoe, to succeed him in the throne of
dulness; for Flecknoe was never poet-laureat.]
ALL human things are subject to decay,
And when fate summons, monarchs must obey.
This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young
Was call’d to empire, and had govern'd long;
In prose and verse, was own'd, without dispute,
Through all the realms of Nonsense, absolute.
This aged prince, now flourishing in peace,
And bless'd with issue of a large increase ;
Worn out with business, did at length debate
To settle the succession of the state :
And, pondering, which of all his sons was fit
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit,
Cried, “'Tis resolved; for nature pleads, that he
Should only rule, who most resembles me.
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dulness from his tender years :
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he,
Who stands confirm’d in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence.
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through, and make a lucid interval;
But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray,
His rising fogs prevail upon the day.
Besides, his goodly fabric fills the eye,
And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty :
Thoughtless as monarch oaks, that shade the plain,
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.
Heywood and Shirley were but types of thee,
Thou last great prophet of tautology.
Even I, a dunce of more renown than they,
Was sent before but to prepare thy way
And, coarsely clad in Norwich drugget, came
To teach the nations in thy greater name.
My warbling lute, the lute I whilom strung,
When to king John of Portugal I sung,
Was but the prelude to that glorious day,
When thou on silver Thames didst cut thy way,
With well-timed oars before the royal barge,
Swelld with the pride of thy celestial charge ;
And big with hymn, commander of an host,
The like was ne'er in Epsom blankets toss'd.
Methinks I see the new Arion sail,
The lute still trembling underneath thy nail.
At thy well-sharpen'd thumb from shore to shore
The trebles squeak for fear, the basses roar :
Echoes from Passing-Alley Shadwell call,
And Shadwell they resound from Aston-Hall.
About thy boat the little fishes throng,
As at the morning toast that floats along.
Sometimes, as prince of thy harmonious band,
Thou wield'st thy papers in thy threshing hand,
St. André's feet ne'er kept more equal time,
Not ev’n the feet of thy own Psyche's rhyme :
Though they in number as in sense excel;
So just, so like tautology, they fell
That, pale with envy, Singleton forswore
The lute and sword, which he ip triumph bore,
And vow'd he ne'er would act Villerius more.”
Here stopp'd the good old sire, and wept for joy, In silent raptures of the hopeful boy.