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That the properties of a rule of faith belong to Scripture.
§. 1. LET us now see how he endeavours to shew, that these properties agree solely to oral tradition. He tells us there are but two pretenders to this title of being the rule of faith, Scripture and oral tradition; these properties do not belong to Scripture, and they do to oral tradition, therefore solely to it. A very good argument, if he can prove these two things—that these two properties do not belong to Scripture, and that they do to oral tradition.
§. 2. In order to the proving of the first, that these properties do not belong to Scripture, he premiseth this note,5151P. 13. that “we cannot by the Scriptures mean the sense of them, but the book,” that is, such or such characters not yet sensed or interpreted. But why can we not, by the Scriptures, mean the sense of them?” He gives this clear and admirable reason, Because the sense of the Scripture is, “the things to be known, and these we confess are the very points of faith, of which the rule of faith is to ascertain us.” Which is just as if a man should reason thus: Those who say the statute-book can convey to them the knowledge of the statute-law, cannot by the statute-book mean the sense of it, but the book; that is, such or such characters not yet sensed or interpreted; because the sense of the statute-book is, the things to be known, and these are the very laws, the knowledge whereof is to be conveyed to them by this book; which is to say, that a book cannot convey to a man the knowledge of any matter, because, if it did, it would convey to him the thing to be known. But, that he may further see what excellent reasoning this is, I shall apply this paragraph to oral tradition, for the argument holds every whit as well concerning that. To speak to them then in their own language, who say that oral tradition is their rule, we must premise this note—that they cannot mean by oral tradition the sense of it, that is, the things to be known; for those, they confess, are the very points of faith, of which the rule of faith is to ascertain us. When they say, then, that oral tradition is the rule of faith, they can only mean by oral tradition the words wherein it is delivered, not yet sensed or interpreted, but as yet to be sensed; that is, such or such sounds, with their aptness to signify to them assuredly God’s mind, or ascertain them of their faith; for abstracting from the sense and actual signification of these words, there is nothing imaginable left but those sounds, with their aptness to signify it. When he hath answered this argument, he will have answered his own. In the mean while, this discourse, that he who holds the Scripture to be the rule of faith, must needs by the Scriptures mean a book void of sense, &c. because otherwise if by Scripture he should understand a book that hath a certain, sense in it, that sense must be the doctrine of Christ, which is the very thing that this book is to convey to us; I say, this-discourse tends only to prove it an absurd thing for any man, that holds Scripture the means of conveying Christ’s doctrine, to understand by the Scripture, a book that conveys Christ’s doctrine. This being his own reason, put into plain English, I leave the reader to judge whether it be not something short of perfect science and demonstration. Nay, if it were thoroughly examined, I doubt whether it would not fall short of that low pitch of science which he speaks of in his preface, where he tells us, that “the way of science is to proceed from one piece of sense to another.”
§. 3. Having premised this, that by the Scriptures we must mean only dead characters that have no sense under them, he proceeds to shew that these dead characters have not the properties of a rule of faith belonging to them: which, although it be nothing to the purpose when he hath shewn it, yet it is very pleasant to observe by what cross and untoward arguments he goes about it; of which I will give the reader a taste by one or two instances.
In the first place he shews that it cannot be evident to us that these books were written by men divinely inspired, because5252P. 14. “till the seeming contradictions in those books are solved, which to do, is one of the most difficult tasks in the world, they cannot be concluded to be of God’s inditing.” Now how is this an argument against those who by the Scriptures must mean unsensed letters and characters?” I had always thought contradictions had been in the sense of words, not in the letters and characters; but I perceive he hath a peculiar opinion, that the four and twenty letters do contradict one another.
The other instance shall be in his last argument,5353P. 17. which is this: that the Scripture cannot be the rule of faith, because those who are to be ruled and guided by the Scripture’s let ter to faith, cannot be certain of the true sense of it; which is to say, that unsensed letters and characters cannot be the rule of faith, because the rule of faith must have a certain sense, that is, must not be unsensed letters and characters; which in plain English amounts to thus much—unsensed letters and characters cannot be the rule of faith, that they cannot.
§. 4. And thus I might trace him through all his properties of the rule of faith, and let the reader see how incomparably he demonstrates the falsehood of this protestant tenet (as he calls it), that a sense less book may be a rule of faith. But I am weary of pursuing him in these airy and fantastical combats, and shall leave him to fight with his own fancies, and batter down the castles which himself hath built. Only I think fit here to acquaint him, once for all, with a great secret of the protestant doctrine, which it seems he hath hitherto been ignorant of (for I am still more confirmed in my opinion, that he forsook our religion before he understood it), that when they say the Scriptures are the rule of faith, or the means whereby Christ’s doctrine is conveyed down to them, they mean, by the Scriptures, books written in such words as do sufficiently express the sense and meaning of Christ’s doctrine.
§. 5. And to satisfy him that we are not absurd and unreasonable in supposing the Scriptures to be such a book, I would beg the favour of him to grant me these four things, or shew reason to the contrary:”
First, That whatever can be spoken in plain and intelligible words, and such as have a certain sense, may be written in the same words.
Secondly, That the same words are as intelligible when they are written as when they are spoken.
Thirdly, That God, if he please, can indite a book in as plain words as any of his creatures.
Fourthly, That we have no reason to think that God affects obscurity, and envies that men should understand him in those things which are necessary for them to know, and which must have been written to no purpose if we cannot understand them. St. Luke5454Luke i. 3, 4. tells Theophilus, that he wrote the history of Christ to him, on purpose to give him a certain knowledge of those things which he writ. But how a book which hath no certain sense, should give a man certain knowledge of things, is beyond my capacity. St. John5555John xx. 31. saith, that he purposely committed several of Christ’s miracles to writing, that men might believe on him. But now, had Mr. S. been at his elbow, he would have advised him to spare his labour, and would have given him this good reason for it; because, when he had written his book, nobody would be able to find the certain sense of it without oral tradition, and that alone would securely and intelligibly convey both the doctrine of Christ, and the certain knowledge of those miracles which he wrought for the confirmation of it. If these four things be but granted, I see not why, when we say that the Scriptures are the means of conveying to us Christ’s doctrine, we may not be allowed to understand by the Scriptures, a book which doth in plain and intelligible words express to us this doctrine.
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