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the public; which are so many, so various, and so changeable, according to the mutable state of men, and things, in this world; that it is not strange, if a very small part of this consists in book-learning. He, that would know it, must have eyes open upon the present state of affairs; and from thence take his measures of what is, good, or prejudicial, to the interest of his country.
You see how ready I am to obey your commands, though in matters wherein I am sensible of my own. ignorance. I am so little acquainted with books, especially on these subjects relating to politics, that you must forgive, if perhaps I have not named to you the best in every kind. And you must take it as a mark of my readiness to serve you, that I have ventured so far out of what lay in my way of reading, in the days that I had leisure to converse with books. The knowledge of the bible, and the business of his calling, is enough for an ordinary man; a gentleman ought to go farther.
Those of this place return their service and thanks, for the honour of your remembrance.
I am, &c.
To the same,
I AM sorry to find, that the question, which was the most material, and my mind was most upon, was answered so little to your satisfaction, that you are fain to ask it again. Since therefore you ask me a second time, "what is the best method to study religion?" I must ask you, "what religion you mean?" For if it be, as I understood you before, the "christian religion in its full extent and purity;" I can make you no other answer but what I did, viz. that "the only way to at"tain a certain knowledge of that, is the study of the holy scripture." And my reason is, because the christian religion is a revelation from God Almighty, which
is contained in the bible; and so all the knowledge we can have of it must be derived from thence. "But if σε you ask, which is the best way to get the knowledge "of the Romish, Lutheran, or reformed religion, of "this or that particular church, &c." each whereof intitles itself to be the true christian religion, with some kind of exclusion or diminution to the rest; that will not be hard to tell you. But then it is plain that the books, that best teach you any one of these, do most ' remove you from all the rest; and in this way of studying, you pitch upon one as the right, before you know it to be so; whereas that choice should be the result of your study of the christian religion, in the sacred scriptures. And the method I have proposed would, I presume, bring you the surest way to that church, which, I imagine, you already think most conformable to the
word of God.
I find the letter you last honoured me with contains a new question, and that a very material one, viz. "what "is the best way of interpreting the sacred scripture?" Taking "interpreting" to mean "understanding," I think the best way for understanding the scripture, or the New Testament, (for of that the question will here be in the first place,) is to read it assiduously and diligently; and, if it can be, in the original. I do not mean, to read every day some certain number of chapters, as is usual; but to read it so, as to study and consider, and not to leave till you are satisfied that you have got the true meaning.
To this purpose, it will be necessary to take the assistance of interpreters and commentators; such as are those called the critics, and Pool's " Synopsis Criticorum;" Dr. Hammond on the New Testament, and Dr. Whitby, &c.
I should not think it convenient to multiply books of this kind, were there any one that I could direct you to, that was infallible. But you will not think it strange, if I tell you, that after all, you must make use of your own judgment; when you consider that it is and always will be, impossible to find an expositor, whom you can blind-fold rely upon, and cannot be mistaken in follow
ing. Such a résignation as that is due to the holy scriptures alone; which were dictated by the infallible spirit of God.
Such writings also as Mr. Mede's and Dr. Lightfoot's are very much conducing to lead us into a true sense of the sacred scriptures.
As to the method of reading them, order requires that the four Evangelists should, in the first place, be well studied, and thoroughly understood. They all treating of the same subject do give great light to one another; and, I think, may, with the greatest advantage, be read in harmony. To this purpose, Monsieur LeClerc's, or Mr. Whiston's." Harmony of the four Evangelists," will be of use, and save a great deal of time. and trouble, in turning the bible. They are now both in English, and Le Clerc's has a paraphrase. But if you would read the Evangelists in the original, Mr. Le Clerc's edition of his "Harmony" in Greek and Latin will be the best.
If you find that, by this method, you advance in the knowledge of the gospel; when you have laid a foundation there to your satisfaction, it will not be hard to add what may help you forwards, in the study of other parts of the New Testament.
But I have troubled you too much already, for which I beg your pardon; and am, &c.
To the same.
Oates, 20 January, 1703-4.
THE small acknowledgments I was able to make, for the honour of your visit, and enjoyment of your company here, left the debt on my side, and deserve not the notice you are pleased to take of them.
In your obliging letter of the 13th, you do me favours, and you thank me too. If you intend by this a perfect acquisition of so inconsiderable a thing as I am, your worth and virtue dispose me to be as much at your service as you please; I wish I found any thing in myself that might promise you any usefulness from me. That
defect I shall endeavour to make up the best I can, with a perfect esteem, and a readiness of will; which must supply the want of abilities of doing.
I thank you for the printed paper you sent me *, and am very glad to see such a spirit raised, for the support and enlargement of religion. Protestants, I think, are. as much concerned now, as ever, to be vigorous in their joint endeavours for the maintenance of the reformation. I wish all, that call themselves so, may be prevailed with by those, whom your paper intimates, to imitate. the zeal, and pursue the principles of those great and pious men, who were instrumental to bring us out of Roman darkness and bondage. I heartily pray for good success on all such endeavours.
If I may guess at the intention of the society, by the only man you let me know of it, I may be confident that the glory of God, and the propagation of true religion, is the only aim of it. May God eminently prosper all endeavours that way, and increase the number of those who seriously lay it to heart.
Sir Francist, my lady, and the rest of this family, return you their humble service. I am, &c.
RULES of a SOCIETY,
Which met once a week, for their improvement in useful knowledge, and for the promoting of truth and christian charity.
1. THAT it begin at six in the evening, and end at eight; unless a majority of two thirds present are inclined to continue it longer.
II. That no person be admitted into this society, without the suffrage of two thirds of the parties present, after the person, desiring such admission, hath subscribed to the rules contained in this paper, and answered in the affirmative to the following questions;
* "An account of the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge." + Sir Francis Masham.
1. Whether he loves all men, of what profession or religion soever?
2. Whether he thinks no person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship?
3. Whether he loves and seeks truth for truth's sake; and will endeavour impartially to find and receive it himself, and to communicate it to others?
III. That no person be admitted occasionally, without a good testimony from some of the society that knows him, and he answering in the affirmative to the above-mentioned questions.
IV. That every member in his course, if he please, be moderator; (and the course here meant, is that of their sirnames, according to the alphabet;) whose care must be to keep good order, to propose the question to be debated, recite what may have been said to it already, briefly deliver the sense of the question, and keep the parties close to it; or, if he please, he may name one to be moderator for him. The question for the ensuing conference to be always agreed, before the company departs.
V. That no person or opinion be unhandsomely reflected on; but every member behave himself with all the temper, judgment, modesty, and discretion he is master of.
VI. That every member place himself to the left hand of the moderator, in order, as he happens to come in; and in his turn speak as plainly, distinctly, and concisely as he can to the question proposed, directing his discourse to the moderator.
VII. That no more than one person speak at once; and none object, till it come to his turn to speak.
VIII. That, the question having gone round, if the time will permit, and the company pleases, it may be discoursed again in the same order; and no weighty question to be quitted, till a majority of two thirds be satisfied, and are willing to proceed to a new one. That when a controversy is not thought, by two thirds of the company, likely to be ended in a convenient time; then those two thirds may dismiss it, and, if they please, an