Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Simplicity of Christianity spoilt by Additions
By Benjamin Hoadly (16761761)
From A Sermon on the Divisions and Cruelties of which the Christian Religion has been made the Occasion
MUCH of this unhappiness hath proceeded from mens not being contented with the simplicity of Christianity, as it is to be found in the Gospels: from their making new creeds; their adding new Articles of Faith to those laid down in the New Testament; and laying new impositions upon the rest of Christians, unknown to Christ and his Apostles. This I may safely affirm, that had Christians been always content with a mutual agreement in the fundamental doctrines of their religion, as they lie in the gospel itself; and the indispensable obligation of the practice of all the duties commanded in it; much of this fatal consequence of it might have been hindered; and very much of the scandal redounding from it, have been prevented. But there hath ever been an itch, in some or other of power and authority, to alter the terms of love and concord settled by Christ; by framing some new character, and some fresh note of distinction, among Christians: and this hath ever begot opposition; and controversies managed (on all sides) with aggravations and provocations; and this hath brought forth variances, and passion, and hatred, in the breasts of those who are sure to be condemned by their own law, for want of love and charity. And it ever so happens, (as it hath been manifested by constant experience,) that more violence, which hath now for many ages passed for zeal; that more violence, I say, is shewn for these additions, and for these lesser, and undetermined matters in which the difference lies, than for the most fundamental points of faith, or the most necessary points of practice. In the practical duties, especially, men seem easy enough: and would fain have it thought, that the vilest and most enormous crimes are more tolerable in themselves; and more inoffensive and harmless to public society; than a difference in the least of their additions.
Another consideration near akin to this, is, that this unhappiness amongst Christians hath chiefly proceeded from mens mistaking the nature, and main design, of Christianity. Did men but understand and consider that it was not the great design of the Christian religion to make all the world of one opinion, in things of little moment; but that it was revealed from heaven, chiefly to restore the worship of the one supreme God, in spirit and in truth; and to teach men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this world; they could not act the part they so often do. Did men but consider, that the great branch of Christian duty is love, and good-nature, and humanity; and the distinguishing mark of a Christian, an universal charity; they could not but own that Jesus Christ came to plant and propagate these in the world. And then, they would abhor the thoughts of making any thing in His institution an engine of strife, and malice, and inhumanity. Then, they would not think all things lawful against those that differ from them; nor themselves obliged to crush, and ruin them. Then, the contentions between men of various minds would not be, who should have the power of oppressing their brethren: but the contest would be, who should love most; and who should give the most expressive demonstrations of an unconfined good-nature, and an unbounded charity. But these are but dreams, and wishes!
It would sound something strange to say that the chief design of Christianity is too plain to be understood, and too evident to be seen: and yet it is true, that the very plainness of this makes it the less attended to. Such a love there is in men to something not so easy to be understood; nor of such importance: and such a readiness to find out other designs of Christianity more agreeable to their own worldly projects!
Can any of all the fiery zealots in the world shew us any design more worthy of the Son of Gods desending from heaven, than the planting of love in the world? more beneficial to the whole race of mankind; more for the ease and internal quiet of our own breasts; or a better preparative for the calm and serene joys of heaven: for the fruition of that God Who is love, and of the company of those blessed spirits, who are the witnesses, and ministers, of His love? Can they shew us any design more plainly revealed in the gospel; or any one duty there laid upon us, to which this must at any time give place? If they cannot, then nothing can ever release us from our obligation to love, and charity; or ever excuse the least degree of hatred, and malice, and violence; much less, of barbarity and cruelty. Nay, how can it possibly be thought by any Christians, that a religion which lays such stress upon peace, and love; which dwells so eternally upon them; which was founded in love, and so manifestly designed for the propagating and establishing good-nature in the world: how then can it be imagined, that there is anything in this religion, that can give them occasion to hate, or disturb, or persecute, any of their brethren? unless they can think, that itself is so framed as to destroy its own design; to oppose its own main end and purpose; and to dissolve the obligation of its own precepts. These things are inconsistent, and too absurd to be fastened upon Jesus Christ, by any who believe Him sent of God. And would men seriously attend to the design of the gospel, they could not fix such absurdities upon it: religion would be free from the scandal of being the occasion of hatred, and disturbance and persecution, amongst men; and the world would be free from the trouble and plague of them; society would be happy; and God would be glorified in the universal practice of love and peace.
Since the guilt of those who have an hand in making anything in religion subservient to the purposes of dissension, hatred, and persecution, is so great: Let us take care not to be of the number of those who do this, in the least degree imaginable. There hath been enough already done to verify this prediction of our Lords, that He came not to send peace, but a sword. He will thank us, if we will at length leave off to prove the truth of it by our example. Enough of persecution, and violence, and hatred, hath been founded on religion. Designing men have cheated the world long enough: and long enough hath the gospel lain under the scandal of the vices of others; and of encouraging those passions which it came to tame. It is time now for Christians to consider that their business is peace; and their religion love: and that Christianity is sufficiently qualified to make them taste of happiness even here below, if they do not themselves hinder it. Let us remember this: and think, if we can be too careful to do our parts towards the retrieving the good name of religion; and the restoring it to its primitive and original design.