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Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing. He who hears what praying there is for light and clear knowledge to be sent down among us, would think of others matters to be constituted beyond the discipline of Geneva, framed and fabricated already to our hands.
Yet when the new light which we beg for shines in upon us, there be who envy and oppose, if it come not first in at their casements. What a collusion is this, whenas we are exhorted by the wise man to use diligence, “to seek for wisdom as for hidden treasures,” early and late, that another order shall enjoin us to know nothing but by statute? When a man hath been labouring the hardest labour in the deep mines of knowledge, hath furnished out his findings in all their equipage, drawn forth his reasons as it were a battle ranged, scattered and defeated all objections in his way, calls out his adversary into the plain, offers him the advantage of wind and sun, if he please, only that he may try the matter by dint of argument; for his opponent then to skulk, to lay ambushments, to keep a narrow bridge of licensing where the challenger should pass, though it be valour enough in soldiership, is but weakness and cowardice in the wars of Truth. For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty: she needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious,—those are the shifts and the defences that Error uses against her power: give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she speaks not true, as the old Proteus did, 24 who spake oracles only when he was caught and bound, but then rather she turns herself into all shapes except her own, and perhaps tunes her voice according to the time, 25 as Micaiah did before Ahab, until she be adjured into her own likeness.
Yet is it not impossible that she may have more shapes than one. What else is all that rank of things indifferent, wherein Truth may be on this side, or on the other, without being unlike herself? What but a vain shadow else is the abolition of “those ordinances, that hand-writing nailed to the cross ?” What great 26 purchase is this Christian liberty which Paul so often boasts of ? His doctrine is, that he who eats or eats not, regards a day or regards it not, may do either to the Lord. How many other things might be tolerated in peace, and left to conscience, had we but charity, and were it not the chief stronghold of our hypocrisy to be ever judging one another! I fear yet this iron yoke of outward conformity hath left a slavish print upon our necks; the ghost of a 27 linen decency yet haunts us. We stumble and are impatient at the least dividing of one visible congregation from another, though it be not in fundamentals; and through our forwardness to suppress, and our backwardness to recover, any inthralled piece of truth out of the gripe of custom, we care not to keep truth separated from truth, which is the fiercest rent and disunion of all. We do not see that while we still affect by all ineans a rigid external formality, we may as soon fall again into a gross conforming stupidity, a stark and dead congealment of "wood and hay and stubble,” forced and frozen together; which is more to the sudden degenerating of a church than many 28 subdichotomies of petty schisms.
Not that I can think well of every light separation; or that all in a church is to be expected “gold and silver and precious stones :" it is not possible for man to sever the wheat from the tares, the good fish from the other fry; that must be the angels' ministry at the end of mortal things. Yet if all cannot be of one mind, (as who looks they should be ?) this, doubtless, is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be 29 extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and the misled : that also which is impious or evil absolutely, either against faith or manners, no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself: but those neighbouring differences, or rather indifferences, are what I speak of, whether in some point of doctrine or of discipline, which, though they may be many, yet need not interrupt the unity of Spirit, if we could but find among us the bond of peace.
In the meanwhile, if any one would write, and bring his helpful
hand to the slow-moving reformation which we labour under, if Truth have spoken to him before others, or but seemed at least to speak, who hath so bejesuited us that we should trouble that man with asking license to do so worthy a deed; and not consider this, that if it come to prohibiting, there is not aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself: 30 whose first appearance to our eyes, bleared and dimmed with prejudice and custom, is more unsightly and unplausible than many errors; even as the person is of many a great man slight and contemptible to see to? And what do they tell us vainly of new opinions, when this very opinion of theirs, that none must be heard but whom they like, is the worst and newest opinion of all others, and is the chief cause why sects and schisms do so much abound, and true knowledge is kept at distance from us; besides yet a greater danger which is in it. For when God shakes a kingdom, with strong and healthful commotions, to a general reforning, it is not untrue that many sectaries and false teachers are then busiest in seducing.
But yet more true it is, that God then raises to his own work men of rare abilities and more than common industry, not only to look back and revive what hath been taught heretofore, but to gain further, and to go on some new enlightened steps in the discovery of truth. For such is the order of God's enlightening his church, to dispense and deal out by degrees his beam, so as our earthly eyes may best sustain it. Neither is God appointed and confined, where and out of what place these his chosen shall be first heard to speak: for he sees not as man sees, chooses not as man chooses, lest we should devote ourselves again to set places and assemblies and outward callings of men; planting our faith one while in the old convocation house, and another while in the chapel at Westminster, when all the faith and religion that shall be there canonized is not sufficient, without plain convincement, and the charity of patient instruction, to supple the least bruise of conscience, to edify the meanest Christian, who desires to walk in the spirit, and not in the letter of human trust, for all the number of voices that can be there made,—no, though Harry the Seventh himself there, with all his liege tombs
about him, should lend them voices from the dead to swell their number.
And if the men be erroneous who appear to be the leading schismatics, what withholds us but our sloth, our self-will, and distrust in the right cause, that we do not give them gentle meetings and gentle dismissions, that we debate not and examine the matter thoroughly with liberal and frequent audience, if not for their sakes yet for our own; seeing no man who hath tasted learning but will confess the many ways of profiting by those who, not contented with stale receipts, are able to manage and set forth new positions to the world? And were they but as the dust and cinders of our feet, so long as in that notion they may yet serve to polish and brighten the armoury of truth, even for that respect they were not utterly to be cast away. But if they be of those whom God hath fitted for the special use of these times with eminent and ample gifts, and those perhaps neither among the priests, nor among the Pharisees, and we, in the haste of a precipitant zeal, shall make no distinction, but resolve to stop their mouths, because we fear they come with new and dangerous opinions, as we commonly forejudge them ere we understand them; no less than woe to us, while, thinking thus to defend the gospel, we are found the persecutors !
The author of whom a short account is now about to be given is better known as a poet than as a writer of prose; but what he has left us in this latter derartment of literature is more likely to commend itself to modern taste than a great deal of his poetry. That he was a man of genius, there is indeed no doubt; but the fruits of that genius are very much impaired by the affectation and want of simplicity which disfigure them. His Essays, on the other hand, are models of clear, nervous, and at the same time graceful writing.
Abraham Cowley was a native of London, and was born in 1618. He was the posthumous child of a respectable and substantial tradesman. His circumstances were such that he enjoyed the benefit of a liberal education at Westminster School, and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1643 he was ejected from Cambridge by the Parliamentary authorities, and found an asylum at Oxford, where he had the advantage of attracting the notice and securing the friendship of Lord Falkland and other chiefs of the Royalist party. On the surrender of Oxford he retired to Paris, where he became secretary to Lord Jermyn, and was for some time employed in correspondence connected with the royal cause. He returned to England in 1656, and was almost immediately taken into custody as a secret agent of the disaffected. He very soon, however, obtained his discharge, on finding security for his good behaviour, and making some kind of submission to the dominant powers.
He was even accused of paying honour to the meinory of the Lord Protector, and his biographer, Dr. Spratt, has taken a good deal of trouble to vindicate him from a charge which seems to rest on a few expressions in the preface to one of his books, and which, even if true, probably would not, under the circumstances, reflect any great discredit on him.
The Restoration, however, delivered him from suspicions and embarrassments, and opened out to him the prospect of a satisfactory position and honourable employment. But he avowed himself weary of public affairs, and professed to desire