Religio Laici, Or a Layman's Faith Poem Text

Religio Laici, Or a Layman's Faith Poem Text

DIM, 1 as the borrow’d beams of Moon and Stars
To lonely, weary, wandring Travellers
Is Reason to the Soul: And as on high
Those rowling Fires discover but the Sky
Not light us here; So Reason’s glimmering Ray
Was lent, not to assure our doubtfull way,
But guide us upward to a better Day.
And as those nightly Tapers disappear
When Day’s bright Lord ascends our Hemisphere;
So pale grows Reason at Religions sight;
So dyes, and so dissolves in Supernatural Light.
Some few, whose Lamp shone brighter, have been led
From Cause to Cause to Natures secret head;
And found that one first principle must be;
But what, or who, that UNIVERSAL HE;
Whether some Soul incompassing this Ball,
Unmade, unmov’d; yet making, moving All;
Or various Atom’s, interfering Dance
Leapt into Form (the Noble work of Chance,)
Or this great All was from Eternity; 20
Not ev’n the Stagirite himself could see;
And Epicurus Guess’d as well as He.
As blindly grop’d they for a future State,
As rashly Judg’d of Providence and Fate:
But least of all could their Endeavours find
What most concern’d the good of Humane kind:
For Happiness was never to be found;
But vanish’d from ’em, like Enchanted ground.
One thought Content the Good to be enjoyed:
This, every little Accident destroyed: 30
The wiser Madmen did for Vertue toyl,
A Thorny, or at best a barren Soil:
In Pleasure some their glutton Souls would steep,
But found their Line too short, the Well too deep,
And leaky Vessels which no Bliss cou’d keep.
Thus, anxious Thoughts in endless Circles roul,
Without a Centre where to fix the Soul:
In this wilde Maze their vain Endeavours end:
How can the less the Greater comprehend?
Or finite Reason reach Infinity?
For what cou’d Fathom GOD were more than He.

The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground,
Cries Eureka: the mighty Secret’s found:
God is that Spring of Good; Supreme and Best,
We, made to serve, and in that Service blest;
If so, some Rules of Worship must be given,
Distributed alike to all by Heaven:
Else God were partial, and to some deny’d
The Means His Justice shou’d for all provide.
This general Worship is to PRAISE, and PRAY:
One part to borrow Blessings, one to pay:
And when frail Nature slides into Offence,
The Sacrifice for Crimes is Penitence.
Yet, since th’ Effects of Providence, we find
Are variously dispensed to Humane kind;
That Vice Triumphs and Vertue suffers here,
(A Brand that Sovereign justice cannot bear;)
Our Reason prompts us to a future State,
The last Appeal from Fortune, and from Fate,
Where God’s all-righteous ways will be declar’d,
The Bad meet Punishment, the Good, Reward.

Thus Man by his own strength to Heaven wou’d soar:
And wou’d not be Obliged to God for more.
Vain, wretched Creature, how art thou misled
To think thy Wit these God-like notions bred!
These Truths are not the product of thy Mind,
But dropt from Heaven, and of a Nobler kind.
Reveal’d Religion first inform’d thy sight,
And Reason saw not till Faith sprung the Light.
Hence all thy Natural Worship takes the Source:
’Tis Revelation what thou thinkst Discourse.
Else how com’st Thou to see these truths so clear,
Which so obscure to Heathens did appear?
Not Plato these, nor Aristotle found.
Nor He whose wisedom Oracles renown’d.
Hast thou a Wit so deep, or so sublime,
Or canst thou lower dive, or higher climb?
Canst Thou, by Reason, more of God-head know
Than Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero?
Those Gyant Wits, in happyer Ages born,
(When Arms, and Arts did Greece and Rome adorn,)
Knew no such Systeme: no such Piles cou’d raise
Of Natural Worship, built on Pray’r and Praise,
To One sole GOD:
Nor did Remorse, to Expiate Sin, prescribe:
But slew their fellow Creatures for a Bribe:
The guiltless Victim groan’d for their Offence;
And Cruelty and Blood, was Penitence.
If Sheep and Oxen cou’d Attone for Men
Ah! at how cheap a rate the Rich might Sin!
And great Oppressours might Heavens Wrath beguile
By offering his own Creatures for a Spoil!

Dar’st thou, poor Worm, offend Infinity?
And must the Terms of Peace be given by Thee?
Then Thou art Justice in the last Appeal;
Thy easie God instructs Thee to rebell:
And, like a King remote, and weak, must take
What Satisfaction Thou art pleased to make.

But if there be a Pow’r too Just, and strong
To wink at Crimes and bear unpunish’d Wrong;
Look humbly upward, see his Will disclose
The Forfeit first, and then the Fine impose
A Mulct thy poverty cou’d never pay
Had not Eternal Wisedom found the way
And with Cœlestial Wealth supply’d thy Store;
His Justice makes the Fine, his Mercy quits the Score.
See God descending in thy Humane Frame;
Th’ offended, suffering in th’ Offenders name:
All thy Misdeeds to Him imputed see,
And all his Righteousness devolv’d on thee.

For granting we have Sin’d, and that th’ offence
Of Man, is made against Omnipotence,
Some Price, that bears proportion, must be paid
And Infinite with Infinite be weigh’d.
See then the Deist lost: Remorse for Vice
Not paid, or paid, inadequate in price:
What farther means can Reason now direct,
Or what Relief from humane Wit expect?
That shews us sick; and sadly are we sure
Still to be Sick, till Heav’n reveal the Cure:
If then Heaven’s Will must needs be understood,
(Which must, if we want Cure, and Heaven be Good,)
Let all Records of Will reveal’d be shown;
With Scripture, all in equal ballance thrown,
And our one Sacred Book will be That one.

Proof needs not here; for whether we compare
That Impious, Idle, Superstitious Ware
Of Rites, Lustrations, Offerings, (which before,
In various Ages, various Countries bore,)
With Christian Faith and Vertues, we shall find
None answ’ring the great ends of humane kind,
But This one rule of Life; That shews us best
How God may be appeas’d, and mortals blest.
Whether from length of Time its worth we draw,
The World is scarce more Ancient than the Law:
Heav’ns early Care prescrib’d for every Age;
First, in the Soul, and after, in the Page.
Or, whether more abstractedly we look,
Or on the Writers, or the written Book,
Whence, but from Heav’n cou’d men, unskilled in Arts,
In several Ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing Truths? or how or why
Shou’d all conspire to cheat us with a Lye?
Unask’d their Pains, ungratefull their Advice,
Starving their Gain and Martyrdom their Price.

If on the Book itself we cast our view,
Concurrent Heathens prove the Story True:
The Doctrine, Miracles; which must convince,
For Heav’n in Them appeals to humane Sense;
And though they prove not, they Confirm the Cause,
When what is Taught agrees with Natures Laws.

Then for the Style, Majestick and Divine,
It speaks no less than God in every Line;
Commanding words; whose Force is still the same
As the first Fiat that produc’d our Frame.
All Faiths beside, or did by Arms ascend;
Or Sense indulg’d has made Mankind their Friend;
This onely Doctrine does our Lusts oppose:
Unfed by Natures Soil, in which it grows;
Cross to our Interests, curbing Sense and Sin;
Oppress’d without, and undermin’d within,
It thrives through pain; its own Tormentours tires;
And with a stubborn patience still aspires.
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 ordained.

But stay: the Diest 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 aught that bears reveal’d Religions 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 discovered New?
In other parts it helps, that Ages past,
The Scriptures there were known, and were imbrac’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 Heav’n from humane Sense
Has hid the secret paths of Providence;
But boundless Wisedom, boundless Mercy, may
Find ev’n for those be-wildred 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 Sons 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 onely 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 required,
They, who the written Rule had never known,
Were to themselves both Rule and Law alone:
To Natures plain indictment they shall plead;
And, by their Conscience, be condemn’d or freed.
Most Righteous Doom! because a Rule reveal’d
Is none to Those, from whom it was conceal’d.
Then those who follow’d Reasons Dictates right;
Liv’d up, and lifted high their Natural Light;
With Socrates may see their Maker’s Face,
While Thousand Rubrick-Martyrs want a place.

Nor does it baulk my Charity to find
Th’ Eqyptian 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 cou’d prove he was inspir’d.
Then let us either think he meant to say
This Faith, where publish’d, was the onely 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 Hereticks who durst oppose.

Thus far my Charity this path has try’d,
(A much unskilfull, but well meaning guide:)
Yet what they are, even these crude thoughts were bred
By reading that, which better thou hast read,
Thy Matchless Author’s work: which thou, my Friend,
By well translating better dost commend:
Those youthfull 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 thoughtfull years,
Spent by thy Authour 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 pondred, yet so strongly wrought,
As Natures height and Arts last hand requir’d:
As much as Man cou’d compass, uninspir’d.
Where we may see what Errours have been made
Both in the Copiers and Translaters Trade:
How Jewish, Popish, Interests have prevail’d,
And where Infallibility has fail’d.

For some, who have his secret meaning ghes’d,
Have found our Authour not too much a Priest;
For Fashion-sake he seems to have recourse
To Pope, and Councils, and Traditions force:
But he that old Traditions cou’d subdue,
Cou’d not but find the weakness of the New:
If Scripture, though deriv’d from heav’nly birth,
Has been but carelessly preserved 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 Errours to corrupt the Text,
Omitted paragraphs, embroyl’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 Lyes on Ages are intail’d;
And that some such have been, is prov’d too plain;
If we consider Interest, Church, and Gain.

Oh but, says one, Tradition set aside,
Where can we hope for an unerring Guid?
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.

Suchan Omniscient Church we wish indeed;
’Twere worth Both Testaments, and cast in the Creed:
But if this Mother be a Guid 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 doe;
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 wou’d not leave Mankind without a way:
And that the Scriptures, though not every where
Free from Corruption, or intire, or clear,
Are uncorrupt, sufficient, clear, intire,
In all things which our needfull 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 needfull 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, 320
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 Streight-gate would be made streighter 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 Tenour of the Work Divine:
And plainlyest points to Heaven’s reveal’d Design:
Which Exposition flows from genuine Sense;
And which is forc’d by Wit and Eloquence.
Not that Traditions parts are useless here:
When general, old, disinteress’d and 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 unsoyl’d, the Waters flow.
Thus, first Traditions were a proof alone;
Cou’d 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:
But 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,
Rouls down to us the Sacred History:
Which, from the Universal Church receiv’d,
Is try’d, and after for its self believed.

The partial Papists wou’d infer from hence,
Their Church, in last resort, shou’d 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 t’ interpret? or wou’d 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 it Self, and what it does contain,
In all things needfull to be known, is plain.

In times o’ergrown with Rust and Ignorance,
A gainfull Trade their Clergy did advance:
When want of Learning kept the Laymen low,
And none but Priests were Authoriz’d to know;
When what small Knowledge was, in them did dwell;
And he a God who cou’d but Reade or Spell;
Then Mother Church did mightily prevail:
She parcel’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 Priests 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 t’ enquire
If they the Book, or That did them inspire:
And, making narrower search they found, thô’ late,
That what they thought the Priest’s was Their Estate,
Taught by the Will produc’d, (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 sav’d himself as cheap as e’er he cou’d.

’Tis true, my Friend, (and far be Flattery hence)
This good had full as bad a Consequence:
The Book thus put in every vulgar hand,
Which each presum’d he best cou’d understand,
The Common Rule was made the common Prey;
And at the mercy of the Rabble lay.
The tender Page with horney Fists was gaul’d;
And he was gifted most that loudest baul’d;
The Spirit gave the Doctoral Degree,
And every member of a Company
Was of his Trade and of the Bible free.
Plain Truths enough for needfull use they found;
But men wou’d still be itching to expound;
Each was ambitious of th’ obscurest place,
No measure ta’n 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 Crouds unlearn’d, with rude Devotion warm,
About the Sacred Viands buz 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 dye;
A Thousand more the perish’d Race supply:
So all we make of Heavens 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 our selves.

What then remains, but, waving each Extreme,
The Tides of Ignorance, and Pride to stem?
Neither so rich a Treasure to forgo;
Nor proudly seek beyond our pow’r 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 doubtfull questions ’tis the safest way
To learn what unsuspected Ancients say:
For ’tis not likely we should higher Soar
Insearch of Heav’n than all the Church before:
Nor can we be deceiv’d, 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 publick 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, not 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 Sha—ll’s Rhimes will serve.

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