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The Scripture has great propriety and fitness towards the attainment of its excellent end.
WE are now in the next place to consider how exactly the holy Scriptures are adapted to those great ends to which they are directed: how sufficient they are for that important negotiation on which they are sent: and that we than certainly find them, if we look on them either intrinsecally, or circumstantially. For the first of these 11 notions we need only to reflect on the third Part of this discourse, where the Scripture in respect of the subject Matter is evinc’d to be a systeme of the most excellent Laws, back’d with the most transcendent rewards and punishments; and the certainty of those confirm’d by such pregnant inflames of Gods mercies and vengeance in this world, as are the surest gages and earnests of what we are bid to expect in another.
2. NOW what method imaginable can there be used to rational creatures of more force and energy? Nay it seems to descend 146even to our passions and accommodates it self to our several inclinations. And seeing how few Proselytes there are to bare and naked vertue, and how many to interest and advantage; God closes with them upon their own terms, and does not so much injoin as buy those little services he asks from us.
3. BUT because some mens natures are so disingenuous as to hate to be oblig’d no less than to be reform’d, the Scripture has goads and scourges to drive such beasts as will not be led; terrours and threatnings, and those of most formidable sorts, to affright those who will not be allur’d. Nay lest incredulous men should question the reality of future rewards or punishments, the Scripture gives as sensible evidence of them as we are capable of receiving in this world; by registring such signal protections and judgements proportioned to vertue and vice, as sufficiently attests the Psalmists Axiom: Doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth, Psal. 58. 11. and leaves nothing to the impenitent firmer, but a fearful expectation of that fiery indignation threatned hereafter; Heb, 10. 27.
4. AND now methinks the Scripture seems to be that net our Saviour speaks of, that caught of every sort, Matt. 13. 47. it is of so vast a compass, that it must, one would think, fetch in all kind of tempers: and sure had we not mixt natures with fiends contracted some of their 147malice and obstinacy, mere human gravity could not hold out.
5. AND as the Holy Scripture is thus fitly proportion’d to its end in respect of the subject matter, so is it also in reference to its circumstances, which all conspire to render it, the power of God unto salvation, Rom. 1. 16. In the first rank of those we must place its Divine Original, which stamps it with an uncontroulable authority; and is an infallible security that the matter of it is perfectly true: since it proceeds from that Essential Verity which cannot abuse us with fraudulent promises or threatnings: and from that Infinite Power that cannot be impeded in the execution of what he purposes.
6. YET to render this circumstance efficacious there needs another; to wit, that its being the Word of God be sufficiently testify’d to us: and we have in the foregoing discourse evinced it to be so; and that in the utmost degree that a matter of that kind is capable of, beyond which no sober man will require evidence in any thing. And certainly these two circumstances thus united, have a mighty force to impress the dictates of Scripture on us. And we must rebel against God and our own convictions too, to hold out against it.
7. A third circumstance relates to the frame and composure of this Divine Book, 148both as to method, and stile: concerning which I have already made some reflexions. But now that I may speak more distinctly, I observe it takes its rise from the first point of time wherein ’twas possible for mankind to be concern’d; and so gradually proceeds to its fall and renovation: shews us first our need of a Redeemer, and then points us out who it is by Types and Promises in the Old Testament, and by way of History and Completion in the New. In the former it acquaints us with that Pedagogy of the Law which God design’d as our School master to bring us to Christ, Gal. 3. 25. And in the Gospel shews us yet a more excellent way; presents us with those more sublime, elevated doctrines, which Christ came down from Heaven to reveal.
8. As for the stile, that is full of grateful variety, sometimes high and majestick, as becomes that High and only One that inhabiteth Eternity, Esaiah 57. 15. and sometimes so humble and after the manner of men, as agrees to the other part of his Character, his dwelling is with him that is of an humble spirit, Esai. 17. 15. I know profane wits are apt to brand this as an unevenness of stile: but they may as well accuse the various notes of Musick as destructive to harmony, or blame an Orator for being able to tune his tongue to the most different strains.149
9. ANOTHER excellency of the stile, is its propriety to the several subjects it treats of. When it speaks of such things as God would not have Men pry into, it wraps them up in clouds and thick darkness; by that means to deter inquisitive man (as he did at Sinai) from breaking into the Mount, Exod. 20. And that he gives any intimation at all of such, seems design’d only to give us a just estimate how shallow our Comprehensions are; and excite us to adore and admire that Abyss of Divine Wisdom which we can never fathom.
10. THINGS of a middle nature, which may be useful to some, but are not indispensibly necessary to all, the Scripture leaves more accessible; yet not so obvious as to be within every mans reach: but makes them only the prize of industry, prayer, and humble endeavours. And it is no small benefit, that those who covet the knowledge of divine Truth, are by it engag’d to take these vertues in the way. Besides, there is so much time requir’d to that study, as renders it inconsistent with those secular businesses wherein the generality of men are immerst: and consquently ’tis necessary that those who addict themselves to the one, have competent vacancy from the other: And in this it hath a visible life by being very contributive to the maintaining that Spiritual subordination of the 150people to the Pastors; which God has establish’d. Miriam and Corahs Partisans are a pregnant instance how much the opinion of equal knowledge unfits for subjection and we see by sad experience how much the bare pretence of it has disturb’d the Church, and made those turn Preachers who never were understanding Hearers.
11. BUT besides these more abstruse, there are easier truths in which every man is concern’d; the explicit knowledge whereof is necessary to all: I mean the Divine Rules for saving Faith and Manners. And in those the Scripture stile is as plain as possible; condescends to the apprehensions of the rudest Capacities: so that none that can read the Scripture but will there find the way to bliss evidently chalked out to him. That 1 may use the words of Saint Gregory, The Lamb may wade in those waters of Life, as well as the Elephant may swim. The Holy Ghost, as Saint Austin tells as, lib. 2. of Christian doctrine, cap. 6. has made in the plainer places of Scripture magnificent and healthful provision for our hunger; and in the obscure, against satiety. For there are scarce any things drawn from obscure places, which in others are not spoken most plainly. And he farther adds, that if any thing happen to be no where explain’d, every man may there abound in his own sense.
12. SO again in the same Book, cap. 9. 151he saies, that all those things which concern Faith and Manners, are plainly to be met with in the Scripture: and Saint Jerome in his Comment on Es. 19. tells us, that ’tis the custom of the Scripture to close obscure sayings with those that are easy; and what was first express’d darkly, to propose in evident words: which very thing is said likewise by Saint Chrysostom, Hom. 9. 2 Cor. 4. 11. who in his first Homily on St. Mat. farther declares, that the Scriptures are easy to be understood, and expos’d to vulgar capacities.
13. HE saies again, Hom. upon Esay, that the Scriptures are not mettals that require the help of Miners, but afford a treasure easily to be had to them that seek the riches contain’d in them. It is enough only to stoop down, and look upon them, and depart replenish’d with wealth; it is enough only to open them, and behold the splendour of those Gems. Again Hom. 3. on Gen. 14. It cannot be that he who studious in the holy Scripture should be rejected: for though the instruction of men be wanting, the Lord from above will inlighten our minds, shine in upon our reason, reveal what is secret, and teach what we do not know. So Hom. 1. on Jo. 11. Almighty God involves his doctrine with no mists, and darkness, as did the Philosophers: his doctrine 152is brighter than the Sun-beams and more illustrious; and therefore every where diffus’d: and Hom. 6. on Jo. 11. His doctrine is so facile, that not only the wise, but even women, and youths must comprehend it. Hom. 13. on Gen. 2. Let us go to the Scripture as our Mark, which is its own interpreter. And soon after saies, that the Scripture interprets itself, and suffers not its Auditor to err. To the same purpose saies Cyril in his third book against Julian. In the Scripture nothing is difficult to them, who are conversant in them as they ought to be.
14. IT is therefore a groundless cavil which men make at the obscurity of the Scripture; since it is not obscure in those things wherein ’tis our common interest it should be plain: which sufficiently justifies its propriety to that great end of making us wise unto Salvation. And for those things which seem less intelligible to us, many of them become so, not by the innate obscurity of the Text, but by extrinsick circumstances (of which perhaps the over-busy tampering of Paraphrasts, pleased with new notions of their own, may be reckon’d for one.) But this subject the Reader may find so well pursued in Mr. Boyls Tract concerning the stile of Scripture, that I shall be kindest both to him and it to refer him thither; as also for answer to those other querulous objections, which men galled with the sense of the Scripture have made to its stile.153
15. A third circumstance in which the Scripture is fitted to attain its end, is its being committed to writing, as that is distinguish’d from oral delivery. It is most true, the word of God is of equal authority and efficacy which way soever it be deliver’d: The Sermons of the Apostles were every jot as divine and powerful out of their mouths, as they are now in their story. All the advantage therefore that the written Word can pretend to is in order to its perpetuity, as it is a securer way of derivation to posterity, than that of oral Tradition. To evince that it is so, I shall first weigh the rational probabilities on either side. Secondly, I shall consider to which God himself appears in Scripture to give the deference.
16. FOR the first of these, I shall propose this consideration, which I had occasion to intimate before, that the Bible being writ for the universal use of the faithful, ’twas as universally disperst amongst them: The Jews had the Law not only in their Synagogues, but in their private houses, and as soon as the Evangelical Books were writ, they were scatter’d into all places where the Christian Faith had obtain’d. Now when there was such a vast multitude of Copies, and those so revered by the possessors, that they thought it the highest pitch of Sacrilege to expose them, it must surely be next to impossible entirely to 154suppress that Book. Besides, it could never be attempted but by some eminent violence, as it was by the heathen Persecutors; which (according to the common effect of opposition) serv’d to enhance the Christians value of the Bible: and consequently when the storm was past, to excite their diligence for recruiting the number. So that, unless in after Ages, all the Christians in the world should at once make a voluntary defection, and conspire to eradicate their Religion, the Scriptures could not be utterly extinguish’d.
17. AND that which secures it from total suppression, do’s in a great degree do so from corruption and falsification. For whilst so many genuine copies are extant in all parts or the world, to be appeal’d to, it would be a very difficult matter to impose a spurious one; especially if the chang’d were so material as to awaken mens jealousies. And it must be only in a place and age of gross ignorance, that any can be daring enough to attempt it. And if it should happen to succeed in such a particular Church, yet what is that to the universal? And to think to have the forgery admitted there, is (as a learned man saies) like attempting to poison the Sea.
18. ON the other side, oral Tradition seems much more liable to hazards; errour may there insinuate it self much more insensibly. And tho’ there be no universal conspiracy 155to admit it at first; yet like a small eruption of waters, it widens its own passage, till it causes an inundation. There is no impression so deep, but time and intervening accidents may wear it out of mens minds; especially where the notions are many and are founded not in nature, but positive institution, as a great part of Christian Religion is. And when we consider the various tempers of men, ’twill not be strange that succeeding Ages will not always be determin’d by the Traditions of the former. Some are pragmatick, and think themselves fitter to prescribe to the belief of their Posterity, than to follow that of their Ancestors: some have interests and designs which will be better serv’d by new Tenets: and some are ignorant and mistaking, and may unawares corrupt the doctrine they should barely deliver: and of this last sort we may guess there may be many, since it falls commonly to the Mothers lot to imbue Children with the first rudiments.
19. NOW in all there cases how possible is it that primitive Tradition may be either lost or adulterated? and consequently, and in proportion to that possibility, our confidence of it must be stagger’d. I am sure according to the common estimate in seculars it must be so. For 1 appeal to any man whether he be not apter to credit a relation which 156comes from an eye-witness than at the third or fourth, much more at the hundredth rebound: (as in this case.) And daily experience tells us, that a true and probable story by passing thro’ many hands, often grows to an improbable lye. This man thinks he could add one becoming circumstance; that man another and whilst most men take the liberty to do so, the relation grows as monstrous as such a heap of incoherent fancies can make it.
20. IF to this be said, that this happens only in trivial secular matters, but that in the weighty concern of Religion, mankind is certainly more serious and sincere: I answer that ’tis very improbable that they are; since ’tis obvious in the common practice of the world, that the interests of Religion are postpon’d to every little worldly concern. And therefore when a Temporal advantage requires the bending and warping of Religion, there never be wanting force that will attempt it.
21. BESIDES; there is still left in human nature so much of the venom of the Serpents first temptation, that tho’ Men cannot be as God, yet they love to be prescribing to him, and to be their own Assessors as to that Worship and Homage they are to pay him.
22. BUT above all ’tis considerable that 157 in this case Satan has a more peculiar concern, and can serve himself more by a falsification here than in Temporal affairs. For if he can but corrupt Religion, it ceases to be his Enemy, and becomes one of his most useful Engins, as sufficiently appear’d in the Rites of the Heathen Worship. We have therefore no cause to think this an exempt case; but to presume it may be influenc’d by the same pravity of human nature, which prevails in others; and consequently are oblig’d to bless God that he has not left our Spiritual concerns to such hazards, but has lodg’d them in a more secure Repository, the written word.
23. BUT I fore-see ’twill be objected, that whilst I thus disparage Tradition, I do vertually invalidate the Scripture it self, which comes to us upon its credit. To this I answer first, that since God has with-drawn immediate Revelation from the word, Tradition is the only means to convey to us the first notice that this Book is the word of God: and it being the only means he affords, we have all reason to depend on his goodness, that he will not suffer that to be evacuated to us: and that how lyable soever Tradition may be to err, yet that it shall not actually err in this particular.
24. BUT in the second place; This Tradition seems not so lyable to falsification as 158others: It is so very short and simple a proposition, such and such writings are the Word of God, that there is no great room for Sophistry or mistake to pervert the sense; the only possible deception must be to change the subject, and obtrude supposititious writings in room of the true, under the title of the Word of God. But this has already appear’d to be unpracticable, because of the multitude of copies which were disperst in the world; by which such an attempt would soon have been detected. There appears therefore more reason as well as more necessity, to rely upon Tradition in this, than in most other particulars.
25. NEITHER yet do I so far decry oral Tradition in any, as to conclude it impossible it should derive any Truth to Posterity: I only look on it as more casual; and consequently a less fit conveyance of the most important and necessary verities than the written Word: In which I conceive my self justify’d by the common sense of mankind; who use to commit those things to writing, which they are most sollicitous to derive to Posterity. Do’s any Nation trust their Fundamental Laws only to the memory of the present Age, and take no other course to transmit them to the Future? Do’s any man purchase an Estate, and leave no way for his Children to lay claim to. it, but the Tradition the present witnesses shall leave of it? Nay, do’s any considering 159man ordinarily make any important pact or bargain (tho’ without relation to posterity) without putting the Articles in writing? And whence is all this caution but from a universal consent that writing is the surest way of transmitting?
26. BUT we have yet a higher appeal in this matter than to the suffrage of men: God himself seems to have determin’d it; And what his decision is, ’tis our next business to inquire.
27. AND first he has given the most real and comprehensive attestation to this way of writing, by having himself chose it. For he is too wise to be mistaken in his estimate of better and worse, and too kind to chuse the worst for us: and yet he has chosen to communicate himself to the latter Ages of the world by writing; and has summ’d up all the Eternal concerns of mankind in the sacred Scriptures, and left those sacred Records by which we are to be both inform’d and govern’d; which if oral Tradition would infallibly have done, had been utterly needless: and God sure is not so prodigal of his spirit, as to inspire the Authors of Scripture to write that, whose use was superseded by a former more certain expedient.
28. NAY, under the Mosaick oeconomy, when he made use of other ways of revealing himself, yet to perpetuate the memory even 160of those Revelations, he chose to have them written. At the delivery of the Law, God spake then viva voce, and with that pomp of dreadful solemnity, as certainly was apt to make the deepest impressions; yet God fore-saw that thro’ every succeeding Age that stamp would grow more dim, and in a long revolution might at last be extinct. And therefore how warm soever the Israelites apprehensions then were, he would not trust to them for the perpetuating his Law, but committed it to writing; Exod. 31. 18. nay wrote it twice himself.
29. YET farther even the ceremonial Law, tho’ not intended to be of perpetual obligation, was not yet referr’d to the traditionary way, but was wrote by Moses, and deposited with the Priests, Deut. 31. 19. And after-event shew’d this was no needless caution. For when under Manasses, Idolatry had prevail’d in Jerusalem, it was not by any dormant Tradition, but by the Book of the Law found in the Temple, that Josiah was both excited to reform Religion, and instructed how to do it; 2 Kings 22. 10. And had not that or some other copy been produc’d, they had been much in the dark as to the particulars of their reformation; which that they had not been convey’d by Tradition, appears by the sudden startling of the King upon the reading of the Law; which could not have been, 161had he been before possest with the contents of it. In like manner we find in Nehemiah, that the observation of the Feast of Tabernacles was recover’d by consulting the Law; the Tradition whereof was wholly worn out; or else it had sure been impossible that it could for so long a time had been intermitted, Neh. 1. 18. And yet mens memories are commonly more retentive of an external visible rite, than they are of speculative Propositions, or moral Precepts.
30. THESE instances shew how fallible an expedient mere oral Tradition is for transmission to posterity. But admit no such instance could be given, ’tis argument enough that God has by his own choice of writing given the preference to it. Nor has he barely chosen it, but has made it the standard by which to measure all succeeding pretences. ’Tis the means he prescribes for distinguishing divine from diabolical inspirations To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, there is no light in them. Isai. 8. 20. And when the Lawyer interrogated our Saviour what he should do to inherit eternal life, he sends him not to ransack Tradition, or the cabalistical divinity of the Rabbins, but refers him to the Law: What is written in the Law? how readest thou? Luk. 10. 26. And indeed, throughout the Gospel, we still find him in his discourse appealing to 162Scripture, and asserting its authority: as on the other side inveighing against those Traditions of the Elders which had evacuated the written Word: Ye make the Word of God of none effect by your Tradition, Matt. 15. 6. Which as it abundantly shews Christs adherence to the written word, so ’tis a pregnant instance how possible it is for Tradition to be corrupted, and made the instrument of imposing mens fancies even in contradiction to Gods commands.
31. AND since our blessed Lord has made Scripture the test whereby to try Traditions, we may surely acquiesce in his decision, and either embrace or reject Traditions, according as they correspond to the supreme rule, the written Word. It must therefore be a very unwarrantable attempt to set up Tradition in competition with (much more in contradiction to) that to which Christ himself hath subjected it.
32. SAINT Paul reckons it as the principal privilege of the Jewish Church, that it had the Oracles of God committed to it, i. e. that the Holy Scriptures were deposited, and put in its custody and in this the Christian Church succeeds it, and is the guardian and conservator of holy Writ. I ask then, had the Jewish Church by vertue of its being keeper, a power to supersede any part of those Oracles intrusted to them? if so, Saint Paul was 163much out in his estimate, and ought to have reckon’d that as their highest priviledge. But indeed, the very nature of the trust implies the contrary; and besides, ’tis evident, that is the very Crime Christ Charges upon the Jews in the place above cited. And if the Jewish Church had no such right, upon what account can the Christian claim any? Has Christ enlarg’d its Charter? Has he left the Sacred Scriptures with her, not to preserve and practise, but to regulate and reform? to fill up its vacancies, and supply its defects by her own Traditions? If so, let the Commission be produc’d; but if her office be only that of Guardianship and Trust, she must neither substract from, nor by any superadditions of her own evacuate its meaning and efficacy: and to do so, would be the same guilt that it would be in a person intrusted with the Fundamental Records of a Nation, to foist in such clauses as himself pleases.
33. IN short, God has in the Scriptures laid down exact rules for our belief and practice, and has entrusted the Church to convey them to us: if she varies, or any way enervates them, she is false to that trust, but cannot by it oblige us to recede from that rule she should deliver, to comply with that she obtrudes upon us. The Case may be illustrated by an easy resemblance. Suppose a King has a Forreign Principality for which he composes a 164body of Laws; annexes to them rewards and penalties, and requires an exact and indispensable conformity to them. These being put in writing, he sends by a select messenger: now suppose this messenger delivers them, yet says withal, that himself has authority from the King to supersede these Laws at his pleasure; so that their resort must be to his dictates, yet produces no other testimony but his own bare affirmation. Is it possible that any men in their wits should be so stupidly credulous, as to incur the penalty of those Laws upon so improbable an indemnity? And sure it would be no whit less madness in Christians, to violate any precept of God, on an ungrounded supposal of the Churches power to dispense with them.
34. AND if the Church Universal has not this power, nor indeed ever claim’d it, it must be a strange insolence for any particular Church to pretend to it, as the Church of Rome do’s; as if we should owe to her Tradition all our Scripture, and all our Faith insomuch that without the supplies which she affords from the Oracle of her Chair, our Religion were imperfect, and our Salvation insecure. Upon which wild dictates I shall take liberty in a distinct Section farther to animadvert.165
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