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The protestant doctrine concerning the rule of faith.
§. 1. HAVING thus taken a view of his opinion, and considered how much he attributes to oral tradition, and how little to the Scriptures; before I assail his hypothesis, I shall lay down the protestant rule of faith; not that so much is necessary for the answering of his book, but that he may have no colour of objection that I proceed altogether in the destructive way. and overthrow his principle, as he calls it, without substituting another in his room. The opinion then of the protestants concerning the rule of faith, is this, in general: That those books which we call the Holy Scriptures, are the means whereby the Christian doctrine hath been brought down to us. And that he may now clearly understand this, together with the grounds of it, (which in reason he ought to have done before he had forsaken us) I shall declare more particularly in these following propositions,
§. 2. First, That the doctrine of Christian religion was by Christ delivered to the apostles, and by them first preached to the world, and afterwards by them committed to writing; which writings, or books, have been transmitted from one age to an other down to us: so far I take to be granted by our present adversaries. That the Christian doctrine was by Christ delivered to the apostles, and by them published to the world, is part of their own hypo thesis: that this doctrine was afterwards by the apostles committed to writing, he also grants, corol. 29.3030P. 117. “It is certain the apostles taught the same doctrine they writ;” and if so, it must be as certain that they writ the same doctrine which they taught. I know it is the general tenet of the papists, that the Scriptures do not contain the entire body of Christian doctrine, but that besides the doctrines contained in Scripture, there are also others brought down to us by oral or unwritten tradition. But Mr. S. who supposeth the whole doctrine of Christian religion to be certainly conveyed down to us solely by oral tradition, doth not any where, that I remember, deny that all the same doctrine is contained in the Scriptures; only he denies the Scriptures to be a means sufficient to convey this doctrine to us with certainty, so that we can by them be infallibly assured what is Christ’s doctrine, and what not Nay, he seems in that passage I last cited to grant this, in saying that the apostles did both teach and write the same doctrine. I am sure Mr. White (whom he follows very closely through his whole book) does not deny this in his “Apology for Tradition,”3131P. 171. where he saith, that “it is not the catholic position, that all its doctrines are not contained in the Scriptures.” And that those writings or books which we call the Holy Scriptures, have been transmitted down to us, is unquestionable matter of fact, and granted universally by the papists, as to all those books which are owned by protestants for canonical.
§. 3. Secondly, That the way of writing is a sufficient means to convey a doctrine to the knowledge of those who live in times very remote from the age of its first delivery. According to his hypothesis, there is no possible way of conveying a doctrine with certainty and security besides that of oral tradition; the falsehood of which will sufficiently appear, when I shall have shewn, that the true properties of a rule of faith do agree to the Scriptures, and not to oral tradition. In the mean time I shall only offer this to his consideration—that what ever can be orally delivered in plain and intelligible words, may be written in the same words; and that a writing or book which is public, and in every one’s hand, may be conveyed down with at least as much certainty and security, and with as little danger of alteration, as an oral tradition. And if so, I understand not what can render it impossible for a book to convey down a doctrine to the knowledge of after ages. Besides, if he had looked well about him, he could not but have apprehended some little inconvenience in making that an essential part of his hypothesis, which is contradicted by plain and constant experience: for that any kind of doctrine may In 1 sufficiently conveyed, by books, to the knowledge of after ages, provided those books be but written intelligibly, and preserved from change and corruption in the conveyance, (both which I shall be so bold as to suppose possible) is as little doubted by the generality of mankind as that there are books. And surely we Christians cannot think it impossible to convey a doctrine to posterity by books, when we consider that God himself pitched upon this way for conveyance of the doctrine of the Jewish religion to after ages; because it is not likely that so wise an agent should pitch upon a means whereby it was impossible he should attain his end.
§. 4. Thirdly, That the books of Scripture are sufficiently plain, as to all things necessary to be believed and practised. He that denies this, ought in reason to instance in some necessary point of faith, or matter of practice, which is not in some place of Scripture or other plainly delivered. For it is not a sufficient objection to say,3232P. 38, 39. That the greatest wits among the protestants differ about the sense of those texts, wherein the generality of them suppose the divinity of Christ to be plainly and clearly expressed; because if nothing were to be accounted sufficiently plain, but what it is impossible a great wit should be able to wrest to any other sense, not only the Scriptures, but all other books, and (which is worst of all to him that makes this objection) all oral tradition, would fall into uncertainty. Doth the traditionary church pretend that the doctrine of Christ’s divinity is conveyed down to her by oral tradition more plainly than it is expressed in Scripture?” 1 would fain know what plainer words she ever used to express this point of faith by, than what the Scripture useth, which expressly calls him “God, the true God, God over all, blessed for evermore.” If it be said, that those who deny the divinity of Christ have been able to evade these and all other texts of Scripture, but they could never elude the definitions of the church in that matter; it is easily answered, that the same arts would equally have eluded both; but there was no reason why they should trouble themselves so much about the latter; for why should they be solicitous to wrest the definitions of councils, and conform them to their own opinion, who had no regard to the church’s authority?” If those great wits (as he calls them) had believed the sayings of Scripture to be of no greater authority than the definitions of councils; they would have answered texts of Scripture, as they have done the definitions of councils; not by endeavouring to interpret them to another sense, but by downright denying their authority. So that it seems that oral tradition is liable to the same inconvenience with the written, as to this particular.
§. 5. And of this I shall give him a plain instance in two great wits of their church, the present pope and Mr. White; the one the head of the traditionary church, as Mr. S. calls it; the other the great master of the traditionary doctrine. These two great wits, the pope and Mr. White, notwithstanding the plainness of oral tradition, and the impossibility of being ignorant of it, or mistaking it, have yet been so unhappy as to differ about several points of faith; insomuch that Mr. White is unkindly censured for it at Rome, and perhaps here in England the pope speeds no better; however, the difference continues still so wide, that Mr. White hath thought fit to disobey the summons of his chief pastor, and, like a prudent man, rather to write against him here out of harm’s way, than to venture the infallibility of plain oral tradition for the doctrines he maintains, against a practical tradition, which they have at Rome, of killing heretics.
Methinks Mr. S. might have spared his brags, that he “hath evinced from clear reason,3333P. 54. that it is far more impossible to make a man not to be, than not to know what is riveted into his soul by so oft-repeated sensations (as the Christian faith is by oral and practical tradition); and that it exceeds all the power of nature (abstracting from the cases of madness and violent disease) to blot knowledge, thus fixed, out of the soul of one single believer;” insomuch, “that sooner may all mankind perish, than the regulative virtue of tradition miscarry; nay, sooner may the sinews of entire nature, by overstraining, crack, and she lose all her activity and motion, (that is, herself) than one single part of that innumerable multitude which integrate the vast testification, which we call tradition, can possibly be violated:”” when, after he hath told us3434P. 116. that the city of Rome was blessed with “more vigorous causes to imprint Christ’s doctrine at first, and recommend it to the next age, than were found any where else;” and consequently, “that the stream of tradition, in its source and first putting into motion, was more particularly vigorous there, than in any other see; and that the chief pastor of that see hath a particular title to infallibility built upon tradition, above any other pastor whatsoever; not to dilate on the particular assistances to that bishop, springing out of his divinely-constituted office:”” when, I say, after all this quaint reasoning, and rumbling rhetoric, about the infallibility of oral tradition, and the particular infallibility of the bishop of Rome built on tradition, we cannot but remember that this great oracle of oral tradition, the pope, and this great master of it, Mr. White, who is so peculiarly skilled in the rule of faith, have so manifestly declared themselves to differ in points of faith. For that the pope, and his congregation general, at Rome, have condemned all his books for this reason, because3535Mr. Wh. Exetasis, p. 9. “they contain several propositions manifestly heretical,” is a sign that these two great wits do not very well hit it in matters of faith; and either that they do not both agree in the same rule of faith, or that one of them does not rightly understand it, or not follow it. And now, why may not that which Mr. S. unjustly says concerning the use of Scripture, be upon this account justly applied to the business of oral tradition?”3636P. 59. If we see two such eminent wits among the papists (the pope and Mr. White) making use of the self-same, and, as they conceive, the best advantages their rule of faith gives them; and availing themselves the best they can by acquired skill, yet differ about matters of faith; what certainty can we undertakingly promise to weaker heads, that is, to the generality of the papists, in whom the governors of the church do professedly cherish ignorance, for the in creasing of their devotion?”
§. 6. Fourthly, We have sufficient assurance that the books of Scripture are conveyed down to us without any material corruption or alteration. And he that denies this, must either reject the authority of all books, because we cannot be certain whether they be the same now that they were at first; or else, give some probable reason why these should be more liable to corruption than others. But any man that considers things, will easily find, that it is much more improbable that these books should have been either wilfully or involuntarily corrupted, in any thing material to faith or a good life, than any other books in the world; whether we consider the peculiar providence of God engaged for the preservation of them, or the peculiar circumstances of these books. If they were written by men divinely inspired, and are of use to Christians, as is acknowledged (at least in words) on all hands, nothing is more credible, than that the same Divine Providence which took care for the publishing of them, would likewise be concerned to preserve them entire. And, if we consider the peculiar circumstances of these books, we shall find it morally impossible that they should have been materially corrupted, because, being of universal and mighty concernment, and at first diffused into many hands, and soon after translated into most languages, and most passages in them cited in books now extant, and all these now agreeing in all matters of importance, we have as great assurance as can be had concerning any tiling of this nature, that they have not suffered any material alteration, and far greater than any man can have concerning the incorruption of their oral tradition, as I shall shew, when 1 come to answer the thing which he calls demonstration.
§. 7. Fifthly, That de facto the Scripture hath been acknowledged by all Christians, in former ages, to be the means whereby the doctrine of Christ hath with greatest certainty been conveyed to them. One good evidence of this is, that the primitive adversaries of Christian religion did always look upon the Scripture as the standard and measure of the Christian doctrine, and in all their writings against Christianity, took that for granted to be the Christian faith which was contained in those books; there having not as yet any philosopher risen up who had demonstrated to the world, that a doctrine could not, with sufficient certainty and clearness, be conveyed by writing, from one age to another. But how absurd had this method of confuting Christian religion been, if it had been then the public profession of Christians, that the Scriptures were not the rule of their faith?” Plow easy had it been for the fathers, who apologized for, and defended Christian religion, to havet old them, they took a wrong measure of their doctrine; for it \vas not the principle of Christians, that their faith was conveyed to them by the Scriptures, and therefore it was a fond undertaking to attack their religion that way; but if they would effectually argue against it, they ought to inquire what that doctrine was which was orally delivered from father to son, without which the Scriptures could signify no more to them than an unknown cipher without a key; being of themselves, without the light of oral tradition, only a heap of unintelligible words, “unsensed characters, and ink variously figured in a book;” and, therefore, it was a gross mistake in them to think they could understand the Christian religion (like their own philosophy) by reading of those books, or confute it by impugning them. Thus the fathers might have defended their religion; nay, they ought in all reason to have taken this course, and to have appealed from those dead senseless books to the “true rule of faith, the living voice of the church essential.” But doth Mr. S. find any thing to this purpose in the apologies of the fathers?” If he hath discovered any such matter, he might do well to acquaint the world with it, and make them wiser; in the mean time, I shall inform him what I have found, that the fathers never except against that method, but appeal frequently from the slanderous reports and misrepresentations which were made of their doctrine, to the books of Scripture, as the true standard of it.
§. 8. Another evidence that Christians in all ages since the apostles times, have owned the Scriptures for the rule of their faith, is, that the fathers, in their homilies, did use constantly to declare to the people, what they were to believe, and what they were to practise, out of the Scriptures; which had been most absurd and senseless, had they believed not the Scriptures, but something else, to have been the rule of faith and manners. For what could tend more to the seducing of the people from Mr. S.’s supposed rule of faith, oral tradition, than to make a daily practice of declaring and confirming the doctrines of the Christian faith from the Scriptures?” Had the ancient fathers been right for Mr. S.’s way, they would not have built their doctrine upon Scripture; perhaps not have mentioned it, for fear of giving the people an occasion to grow familiar with so dangerous a book, but rather, as their more prudent posterity have done, would have locked it up from the people in an unknown tongue, and have set open the stores of good wholesome traditions, and instead of telling them, as they do most frequently, “Thus saith the Scripture,” would only have told them, This is “the voice of the essential church, thus it hath been delivered down by hand to us from our forefathers.”
§. 9. I might add, for a third evidence, the great malice of the enemies and persecutors of Christianity against this book, and their cruel endeavours to extort it out of the hands of Christians, and destroy it out of the world, that, by this means, they might extirpate Christianity: for it seems they thought that the abolishing of this book would have been the ruin of that religion. But, according to Mr. S.’s opinion, their malice wanted wit; for had all the Bibles in the world been burned, Christian religion would nevertheless have been entirely preserved, and safely transmitted down to us, “by sense written in men’s hearts,” with the good help of Mr. S.’s demonstration. Nay, their church would have been a great gainer by it; for this occasion and parent of all heresy, the Scripture, being once out of the way, she might have had all in her own hands, and by leading the people in the safe paths of tradition, and consequently of science, might have made them wise enough to obey. Well, but suppose the persecutors of Christianity mistook themselves in their design, how came the Christians in those days to be so tenacious of this book, that rather than deliver it, they would yield up themselves to torments and death?” And why did they look upon those who, out of fear, delivered up their books, as apostates and renouncers of Christianity?” And if they had not thought this book to be the great instrument of their faith and salvation, and if it had really been of no greater consideration than Mr. W. and Mr. S. would make it; why should they be so loath to part with a few “unsensed characters, waxen-natured words, fit to be played upon diversely by quirks of wit, that is, apt to blunder and confound, but to clear little or nothing?” Why should they value their lives at so cheap a rate, as to throw them away for a few insignificant scrawls, and to shed their blood for “a little ink variously figured in a book?” Did they not know, that the safety of Christianity did not depend upon this book?” Did no Christian then understand that, which (according to Mr. S.) no Christian can be ignorant of, viz. that not the Scripture, “but unmistakable and indefectible oral tradition” was the rule of faith?” Why did they not consider, that though this letter-rule of heretics had been consumed to ashes, yet their faith would have lain safe, and a been preserved entire” in its3737P. 34. “spiritual causes, men’s minds, the noblest pieces in nature?” Some of them, indeed, did deliver up their books, and were called Traditores; and I have some ground to believe, that these were the only traditionary Christians of that time, and that the rest were confessors and martyrs for the letter-rule. And if this be not evidence enough, that the Scriptures have always been acknowledged by Christians for the rule of faith, I shall, when I come to examine his testimonies for tradition, (with the good leave of his distinction between speculators and testifiers) prove, by most express testimony, that it was the general opinion of the fathers, that the Scriptures are the rule of Christian faith; and then, if his demonstration of the infallibility of tradition will enforce, that as testifiers they must needs have spoken otherwise, who can help it?”
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