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It was a maxim taught by all the ringleaders of the Reformation, and is current among their followers to this very day, That the written word of God, as it is understood by every person of sound judgment, is the whole rule of faith : that all things necessary to salvation are therein clearly contained: and that nothing is to be believed with divine faith, but what may be from thence clearly proved: that every one has a right, which no authority on earth can deprive him of, to read and interpret Scripture for himself; that so every Protestant having thus learnt his religion from the Bible, his faith may not be built on the authority of men,
the pure word of God.
When Catholics objected against these maxims, that there can be no security for private persons, that their interpretation of Scripture will be always true; and yet unless the Scriptures are taken in their true meaning, they can neither be the whole rule of faith, or indeed any rule at all: that nothing is more apt to lead people into the strongest delusions than inspired writings, when the sense of them is misunderstood, and they are read and expounded without the key of science ; consequently, that the foregoing maxims of the reform were much more likely to open a door to all kinds of errors and heresies, than to lead any one to the discovery of the true religion. The ringleaders of the reform replied:
That if their people would but apply themselves to the reading and study of Scripture, with a sincere love of truth; if they would divest themselves of prejudice and partiality, and, at the same time, beg of God the gift of interpreting Scripture; they need not fear that God would leave them destitute of means sufficient for understanding, at least, all points necessary to salvation, or suffer them to fall into
and finally to be lost.
These maxims, although they served the turn of the first reformers, so far, at least, as to tempt great numbers to forsake the Catholic Church, who went over to the Protestant party, for the sake of this privilege of reading and interpreting Scripture for themselves, which makes every partizan of error a sovereign independent judge in all matters of controversy ; judge even of his judges, and judge in his own cause too; yet, within a short time, these principles had a very bad consequence among Protestants themselves, and occasioned vast numbers to turn enthusiasts and dissenters, which indeed was but the natural consequence of the maxims which they themselves had taught. For all Protestant people who betook themselves to the reading and study of Scripture, easily persuaded themselves that they were persons of sound judgment; that they had a great share of sincerity and impartiality, love of truth, and no prejudice; they flattered themselves, too, that they had not been backward in praying for the light of heaven, to guide their understanding : and being at the same time assured by the apostles of the Reformation, that whosoever shall read the Scriptures with these good intentions and pious dispositions, cannot fail of discovering the true religion; the consequence was, that whatever errors each one imbibed by mistaken interpretations of Scripture, whatever scheme of religion each one fixed upon, that, they concluded, was the true religion ; acted in that supposition to the end of their lives, and their followers continue in the same supposition to this day. Thus the Protestant rule of faith, The written word as understood by every man of sound judgment, (no one allowing his own judgment to be unsound) created a numerous swarm of sects, which have most horribly plagued one another ever since ; Lutherans, Sacramentarians, Prelatic Protestants, Presbyterians, Anabaptists, Quakers, and a hundred more, among whom was a sect of Protestants in Silesia called Swenkfeldians, who canvassed the text of Scripture, till at length they pretended to prove from Scripture, that the Scriptures are needless to salvation. (Ross's View of Religions. Sec. viii. Quest. 12.)
But what is yet more remarkable, Protestants, who so hotly contended that the written word is the whole rule of faith, by which rule all their sects at their first beginning pretended to form themselves, do not follow this their own rule at present, in the choice of the several religions they now profess. For which of them can say they took up
profession of their religion from reading the Bible, since it is an undeniable fact, that they are all preengaged to some party or sect, before they have ever read the Bible, or are in any capacity to understand it? And although they pretend to derive their religion from the pure word of God alone, most evident it is, that in their childhood they follow the natural way of tradition, which is,
that of children believing their parents and other teachers (which tradition of theirs is however infinitely defective, since it cannot possibly ascend higher than Luther, who was the first of all Protestants). Nor can they, with any appearance of truth, affirm, that after they came to years of discretion, they then laid aside all the prejudices they had imbibed in their minority, studied the Scriptures attentively, and so made choice of their religion anew by the pure word of God. Others among them may
be observed to follow their religion, because it suits best with their present interest or present humour; and with many it is a maxim to adhere to that religion which they find established in the country where Providence had cast their lot, without endeavouring to give themselves
further satisfaction about the truth of it: nay, having from their childhood acted on the supposition that it is true, they ever after studiously decline all serious examination, for fear it should prove false, and then their conscience should force them to undergo the inconvenience of a change. So that, if truth may be spoken, there is scarce a Protestant in Christendom that owes his religion to his rule of faith, the written word of God as understood by every man of sound judgment, but either to interest, or inclination, or to the place of his birth, or to the custom of the country where he lives. Now, if these are good reasons to justify any sect of Protestants in the choice they have made, the same will equally justify every sect of them, even those which are contrary to one another, and therefore can justify none of them at all. This therefore being undeniable, that Protestants have not followed their own rule of faith,