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As in reading a Comment upon any Book whatsoever, he that would thence understand the true meaning of the Text, must not barely consider what the words of the Comment may of themselves possibly happen to signify; but how they may be so understood, as to be a consistent Interpretation of the Text they are to explain : So in considering all Forms of Humane Composition in matters of Religion, it is not of importance what the words may in themselves possibly most obviously signify, or what they may vulgarly and carelesly be understood to mean ; ( for there is in almost all words, some Ambiguity ;) but in what Sense they can be consistent Expositions of those Texts of Scripture, which they were intended and are professed to interpret. Otherwise it may easily happen, that a Comment may in effect come into the place of the Text, and another Interpretation afterwards into the place of That Comment ; till in process of Time, men by insensible degrees depart entirely from the Meaning of the Text, and Human Authority swallows up that which is Divine. Which Evil can no otherwise be prevented, than by having recourse perpetually to the Original itself; and allowing no Authority to any Inter. pretation, any further than 'cis evidently agreeable to the Text it felf.
Not to mention many Examples of this kind, in almost all the Confessions of Faith that ever were published ; There is One very
remarkable Instance of it, in the Apostles Creed it self. The word, Hell, in the English language, signifies always, the place or state of the damned ; Andes very vulgar English Reader, when he professes his Belief that Christ descended into Hell, is apt to understand the Article, as signifying Christs descending into the place of the damned: And probably they who first put the Article into the Creed, about the beginning of the fourth Century, might mean and intend it should be so understood. Nevertheless, since all learned men are satisfied, that the Greek word ["Adns ] in those Texts of Scripture upon which this Article was founded, does not signify Hell, but in general only The invisible state of Those departed out of this World; they Now with great reason think themselves obliged to understand it in the Creed, not as the word may in modern speech seem to sound to the Vulgar , but as it really signifies in the original Texts of Scripture.
The same is to be understood of every part of all humane Compositions whatsoever. According to That excellent Observation of the learned Bp Pearson : 1
observe (saith he) that what foever is delivered in the Crecd, we therefore believe, because it is contained in the Scriptures; and consequently must so believe it, as it is contained there : Whenee all this exposition of the Whole, is nothing else but an Illustration and Proof of every particular part of the Creed, by such Scriptures as deliver the same, according to the True Interpretation of them. Expof. on the Creed, 4th Edit. pag. 227.
And the Whole Church has made the like Declaration, in the 6th, the 20th, and 21st of the 39 Articles, before-cited; and in the eighth Article, which declares that the Creeds ought to be received and believed, because (and consequently only in such Sense wherein ) they may be proved by most certain Warrants of Holy Scripture.
In what Sense the most difficult Passages in the Liturgy, concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity, can be understood agreeabiy to the Doctrine of Scripture, I have endeavoured to show in the following Papers. And ( as I think the Sincerity of a Christian obliges me to declare,) Í desire it may be observed that my Assent to the Forms by Law appointed, and to all words of Humane Institu
tion, is given only because they are, and in That Sense wherein they are, (according to the following Explication,) agreeable to that which appears to Me (upon the most careful and serious confideration of the whole matter) to be the Do&trine of Scripture ; and not in that Senfe which the Popish Schoolmen, (affe&ing, for the sake of Tranfubftantiation, to make every thing look like a Contradiction,) endeavoured to introduce into the Church.
Every sincere Christian, assenting (for the fake of Peace and Order) to the Use of any Forms of Words; must take care to assent to them in such a Sense, as may make them consistent with the Scripture; (otherwise he assents to what is Falfe :) and in fuch a Sense, as may make them'consistent with Themselves; (otherwise he assents to Nothing.) This is what I have attempted to do in the Third Part : And I am sure it is no more a putting of violence upon the Expressions cited in chapter the ad of That Part, to make them consistent with Scripture, and with the Expreffions of the Liturgy cited in chapter the ift ; than it is on the contrary a putting of violence upon the Scripture
and upon the Expresions cited in chapter the ift, to make them consistent with the Expressions cited in chapter the zd.
I am well aware it may to Many seem Needless, to enter into Questions of This Nature ; and that, in matters of such Nicety and Difficulty as This, it were better (in their opinion) to let every man frame to himself such obscure Notions as he can, and not perplex him with subtle Speculations. And indeed, with regard to Scholaftick and Philofophical Inquiries concerning the metaphysical Nature and Substance of each of the Three Persons in the everblessed Trinity, this manner of judging is so right and true, that had These things Never been medled with, and had men contented themselves with what is plainly revealed in Scripture, (more than which, they can never certainly know ;) the Peace of the Catholick Church, and the Simplicity of Christian Faith, had possibly never been disturbed. But That which is properly Theological in this matter ; viz. the distinct Powers and Offices of each of the Three Perfons, in the Creation, Government, Redemption, Sanctification, and Salvation of man; and the proper Honour due consequently from Us to