THIS then is the answer which I have thought proper to make, at present, to the THIRTY-ONE ARTICLES that have been objected against me. If I have not given satisfaction by it to some men, I am prepared to confer in order with any of them upon these subjects and others which pertain to the Christian Religion, for this purpose, that we may either agree in our sentiments; or, if this result cannot be obtained by a conference, that we bear with each other, when it has become evident how far we severally proceed together in the matter of religion, and what things they are of which we approve or disapprove, and that these points of difference are not of such a description as to forbid professors of the same religion to hold different sentiments about them.
Some persons perhaps will reproach me with |appearing sometimes to answer with doubt and desitation, when it is the duty of a Divine and a Professor of Theology to be fully persuaded about those things which he will teach to others, and not to fluctuate in his opinions.| To these persons I wish to reply.
1. The most learned man, and he who is most conversant with the Scriptures, is ignorant of many things, and is always but a scholar in the school of Christ and of the Scriptures. But one, who is thus ignorant of many things, cannot, without hesitation, give answer in reference to all things about which an opportunity or necessity for speaking is presented either by adversaries or by those who wish to ask and ascertain his sentiments by private or public conference and disputation. For it is better for him to speak somewhat doubtfully, than dogmatically, about those things of which he has no certain knowledge; and to intimate that he himself requires daily progress, and seeks for instruction as well as they. For I think no one has proceeded to such a pitch of audacity, as to style himself a master that is ignorant of nothing, and that indulges no doubts about any matter whatever.
2. It is not everything which becomes a subject of controversy that is of equal importance. Some things are of such a nature as to render it unlawful for any man to feel a doubt concerning them, if he have any wish to be called by the name of Christian. But there are other things which are not of the same dignity, and about which those who treat on catholic sentiments [such orthodox doctrines as are held by all real Christians,] have dissented from each other, without any breach of truth and Christian peace. Of what description those subjects may be which are discussed in these Articles, and about which I have appeared to answer with hesitation, and whether they be of absolute necessity, may likewise become in due time a topic of discussion.
3. My reply [to these thirty-one articles] is not peremptory:
Not that I have in them said anything against conscience, but because I did not consider it requisite to bring forward, in the first instance, all those things which I might be able to say. I accounted my answer sufficient, and more than sufficient, for all those objections, which have not the slightest foundation on any reasons whatsoever; not only because they were untruly charged against me, but because they did not impinge against the truth of the Scriptures. In the greater number of these Articles, I might have discharged the whole of my duty, in simply denying them, and in demanding proof. But I have gone further than this, that I might in some degree give satisfaction, and that I might besides challenge my brethren to a conference, if they should think it necessary. This I will never decline, provided it be lawfully instituted, and in such a manner as to inspire hopes of any benefits to be derived from it. If after that conference it be discovered that, either because I am ignorant of necessary things which ought to be taught in the Church and in the University; or because I hold unsound opinions about articles on which some importance is placed for obtaining salvation and for the illustration of divine glory; or because I doubt concerning such things as ought to be delivered dogmatically and inculcated with seriousness and rigor, if for these reasons it be discovered that, according to this our unhappy [natural] condition, I am unworthy to hold any office in the Church or University, (for who is sufficient for these things,) I will, without reluctance, resign my situation, and give place to a man possessed of greater merit.
But I wish to advise my brethren, particularly those of them who are my juniors, and who have not |their senses so much exercised| in the Scriptures as to be enabled to deliver out of those Scriptures determinate opinions about all things, that they be not too bold in asserting anything, of which when required to give their reasons, they will be able with great difficulty to produce them; and, besides, that they be sedulously on their guard lest, after they have strenuously affirmed anything which I call in doubt without employing the contrary affirmation, and it be discovered that the arguments which I employ in justification of my doubts are stronger than those on which they rely in that their affirmation, they incur the charge of immodesty and arrogance among men of prudence, and from this very circumstance be accounted unworthy of the place which they hold with so much presumption. For it becomes a Bishop and a Teacher of the Church, not only to hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by his sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers, (Tit. i.9,7,) but likewise not to be given to self-will, arrogance, and boldness. Into which faults novices easily fall, (1 Tim. iii.6,)who, |by their inexperience, are unacquainted with the vast difficulty with which the eye of the inward man is healed, that it may be enabled to look upon its sun; with the sighs and groans by which we are able in any small degree to attain to an understanding of God; with the labour necessary for the discovery of truth; and with the difficulty of avoiding errors.| Let them consider, that nothing is more easy for them, than not only to assert, but also to think, that they have discovered the truth. But they will themselves at length acknowledge the real difficulties with which the discovery is attended, when with seriousness and earnestness they enter into a conference about the matters in controversy, and have after a rigid examination discussed all those things which may have been alleged on both sides.