Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
By William Chillingworth (16021644)
From The Religion of Protestants a Safe Way to Salvation
BUT, speaking truly and properly, the Scripture is not a judge, nor cannot be, but only a sufficient rule for those to judge by that believe it to be the Word of God (as the Church of England and the Church of Rome both do), what they are to believe, and what they are not to believe. I say, sufficiently perfect and sufficiently intelligible in things necessary to all that have understanding, whether they be learned or unlearned. And my reason hereof is convincing and demonstrative, because nothing is necessary to be believed but what is plainly revealed. For to say, that when a place of Scripture, by reason of ambiguous terms, lies indifferent between divers senses, whereof one is true and the other is false, that God obliges men, under pain of damnation, not to mistake through error and human frailty, is to make God a tyrant; and to say that He requires us certainly to attain that end, for the attaining whereof we have no certain means; which is to say, that, like Pharoah, He gives no straw, and requires brick; that He reaps where He sows not; that He gathers where He strews not; that He will not be pleased with our utmost endeavours to please Him, without full, and exact, and neverfailing performance; that His will is that we should do what He knows we cannot do; that He will not accept of us according to that which we have, but requireth of us what we have not. Which whether it can consist with His goodness, and His wisdom, and with His Word, I leave to honest men to judge. If I should send a servant to Paris, or Rome, or Jerusalem, and he using his utmost diligence not to mistake his way, yet notwitstanding meeting often with such places where the road is divided into several ways, whereof every one is as likely to be true and as likely to be false as any other, should at length mistake and go out of the way, would not any man say that I were an impotent, foolish, and unjust master, if I should be offended with him for so doing? And shall we not tremble to impute that to God which we would take in foul scorn if it were imputed to ourselves? Certainly, I for my part fear I should not love God if I should think so strangely of Him.
Again, when you say that unlearned and ignorant men cannot understand Scripture, I would desire you to come out of the clouds, and tell us what you mean; whether, that they cannot understand any Scripture, or that they cannot understand so much as is sufficient for their direction to heaven. If the first, I believe the learned are in the same case. If the second, every mans experience will confute you; for who is there that is not capable of a sufficient understanding of the story, the precepts, the promises, and the threats of the Gospel? If the third, that they may understand something but not enough for their salvation; I ask you, first, Why then doth St. Paul say to Timothy, The Scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation? Why doth St. Austin say, Ea quæ manifeste posita sunt in sacris scripturis, omnia continent quæ pertinent ad fidem, moresque vivendi?1 Why does every one of the four Evangelists entitle their book, The Gospel, if any necessary and essential part of the Gospel were left out of it? Can we imagine that either they omitted something necessary out of ignorance, not knowing it to be necessary? or, knowing it to be so, maliciously concealed it? or, out of negligence, did the work they had undertaken by halves. If none of these things can without blasphemy be imputed to them, considering they were assisted by the Holy Ghost in this work, then certainly it most evidently follows that every one of them writ the whole Gospel of Christ; I mean, all the essential and necessary parts of it. So that if we had no other book of Scripture but one of them alone, we should not want anything necessary to salvation. And what one of them hath more than another, it is only profitable, and not necessary; necessary indeed to be believed, because revealed; but not therefore revealed because it is necessary to be believed.
Neither did they write only for the learned, but for all men. This being one special means of the preaching of the Gospel, which was commanded to be preached, not only to learned men, but to all men. And therefore, unless we will imagine the Holy Ghost and them to have been wilfully wanting to their own desire and purpose, we must conceive that they intended to speak plain, even to the capacity of the simplest; at least, touching all things necessary to be published by them and believed by us.