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The suffrage of the primitive Christian Church, concerning the propriety and fitness which the Scripture has towards the attainment of its excellent end.
AGAINST what has been hitherto said to the advantage of the Holy Scripture, there opposes it self (as we have already intimated) the authority of the Church of Rome; which allows it to be only an imperfect rule of Faith, saying in the fourth Session of the Council of Trent, That Christian Faith and Discipline are contain’d the Books written and unwritten Tradition. And in the fourth Rule of the Index, put forth by Command of the said Council, the Scripture is declar’d to be so far from useful, that its reading is pernicious, if permitted promiscuously in the vulgar Tongue, and therefore to be with-held: insomuch that the study of the Holy Bible is commonly by persons of the Roman Communion, imputed to Protestants as part of their Heresy; they being call’d by them in contempt, the Evangelical Men, and Scripturarians. And the Bible in the vulgar Tongue of any Nation is commonly reckon’d among prohibited Books, and as such, publickly burnt when met with by 166the Inquisitors: and the person who is found with it, or to read therein, is subjected to severe penalties.
2. FOR the vindication of the Truth of God, and to put to shame those unhappy Innovators, who, amidst great pretences to Antiquity, and veneration to the Scriptures, prevaricate from both: I think it may not be amiss to shew plainly the mind of the primitive Church herein; and that in as few words as the matter will admit.
3. FIRST, I premise that Ireneus and Tertullian having to do with Hereticks, who boasted themselves to be Emendators of the Apostles, and Wiser than they, despising their authority, rejecting several parts of the Scripture, and obtruding other writings in their stead, have had recourse unto Tradition, with a seeming preference of it unto Scripture. Their Adversaries having no common principle besides the owning the name of Christians; it was impossible to convince them, but by a recourse to such a medium which they would allow. But these Fathers being to set down and establish their Faith, are most express in resolving it into Scripture: and when they recommend Tradition ever mean such as is also Apostolical.
4. IRENEUS in the second Book, 37. cap. tells us, That the Scriptures are perfect, as dictated by the word of God and his Spirit. And the 167same Father begins his third Book in this manner, The disposition of our salvation is no otherwise known by us, than by those by whom the Gospel was brought to us; which indeed they first preach’d, but afterward deliver’d it to us in the Scripture, to be the foundation and pillar of our Faith. Nor may we imagine, that they began to preach to others, before they themselves had perfect knowledge, as some are bold to say; boasting themselves to be emendators of the Apostles. For after our Lords Resurrection, they were indued with the power of the Holy Spirit from on high; and having perfect knowledge, went forth to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of salvation, and celestial praise unto men. Each and all of whom had the Gospel of God. So Saint Matthew wrote the Gospel to the Hebrews in their tongue. Saint Peter and Saint Paul preach’d at Rome, and there founded a Church: Mark the Disciple and Interpreter of Peter, deliver’d in writing what he had preach’d, and Luke the follower of Paul set down in his Book the Gospel he had deliver’d. Afterward Saint John at Ephesus in Asia publish’d his Gospel &c. in his fourth Book, ch. 66. he directs all the Hereticks with whom he deals, to read diligently the Gospel deliver’d by the Apostles, and also read diligently the Prophets, assuring them they shall there find every action, every doctrine, and every suffering of our Lord declared by them.168
5. THUS Tertullian in his Book of Prescriptions ch. 6. It is not lawful for us to introduce any thing of our own will, nor make any choice upon our arbitrement. We have the Apostles of our Lord for our Authors, who themselves took up nothing on their own will or choice; but faithfully imparted to the Nations the discipline which they had receiv’d from Christ. So that if an Angel from heaven should teach another doctrine, he were to be accurst. And ch. 25. ’Tis madness, says he of the Hereticks, when they confess that the Apostles were ignorant of nothing, nor taught things different, to think that they did not reveal all things to all: which he enforces in the following Chapter. In his Book against Hermogenes, ch. 23, he discourses thus; I adore the plenitude of the Scripture, which discovers to me the Creator, and what was created. Also in the Gospel I find the Word was the Arbiter and Agent in the Creation. That all things were made of preexistent matter I never read. Let Hermogenes, and his journey-men shew that it is written. If it be not written, let him fear the woe, which belongs to them that add or detract. And in the 39 ch. of his Prescript, We feed our faith, raise our hope, and establish our reliance with the sacred Word.
6. IN like manner Hippolytus in the Homily against .Noctus declares, that we acknowledge only from Scripture that there is one God. And whereas secular Philosophy is not to be had 169but from the reading of the doctrine of the Philosophers; so whosoever of us will preserve piety towards God, he cannot otherwise learn it than from the holy Scripture. Accordingly Origen in the fifth Homily on Leviticus, says, that in the Scripture every word appertaining to God, is to be sought and discust; and the knowledge of all things is to be receiv’d.
7. WHAT Saint Cyprian’s opinion was in this point, we learn at large from his Epistle to Pompey. For when Tradition was objected to him, he answers; Whence is this Tradition? is it from the authority of our Lord and his Gospel; or comes it from the commands of the Apostles in their Epistles? Almighty God declares that what is written should be obey’d and practised. The Book of the Law, says he in Joshua, shall not depart from thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and keep all that is written therein. So our Lord sending his Apostles, commands them to baptise all Nations, and teach them to observe all things that he had commanded. Again what obstinacy and presumption it is to prefer human Tradition to divine command: not considering that Gods wrath is kindled as often as his Precepts are dissolv’d and neglected by reason of human Traditions. Thus God warns and speaks by Isaiah: This people honour me with their lips but their heart is far from me; but in vain do they worship me, 170teaching for docrines the commandments of men. Also the Lord in the Gospel checks and reproves, saying; you reject the Law of God, that you may establish your Tradition. Of which Precept the Apostle Saint Paul being mindful, admonishes and instructs, saying; If any man teaches otherwise and hearkens not to sound doctrine, and the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is proud, knowing nothing: From such we must depart. And again he adds, There is a compendious way for religious and sincere minds, both to deposit their errours, and find out the truth. For if we return to the force and original of divine Tradition; humane errour will cease, and the ground of heavenly mysteries being seen, whatsoever was hid with clouds and darkness, will be manifest by the light of truth. If a pipe that brought plentiful supplies of water, fail on the suddain, do not men look to the fountain, and thence learn the cause of the defect, whether the spring it self be dry; or if running freely, the water is stopt in its passage; that if by interrupted or broken conveyances, it was hindred to pass, they being repair’d, it may again be brought to the City, with the same plenty as it flows from the spring? And this Gods Priests ought to do at this time, obeying the commands of God, that if truth has swerv’d or fail’d in any particular, we go backward to the source of the Evangelical and Apostolical Tradition, and there found our actings: from whence their order and origination began.171
8. IT is true Bellarmine reproaches this discourse as erroneous; but whatever it might be in the inference which Saint Cyprian drew from it, in it self it was not so. For Saint Austin, tho’ sufficiently engag’d against Saint Cyprian’s conclusion, allows the position as most Orthodox; saying, in the fourth Book of Baptism, cap. 35. Whereas he admonishes to go back to the fountain, that is, the Tradition of the Apostles, and thence bring the stream down to our times; ’tis most excellent, and without doubt to be done.
9. THUS Eusebius expresses himself in his second Book against Sabellius. As it is a point of sloth, not to seek into those things, whereof one may enquire; so ’tis insolence to be inquisitive in others. But what are those things which we ought to enquire into? Even those which are to be found in the Scriptures: those things which are not there to be found, let us not seek after. Eor if they ought to be known, the Holy Ghost had not omitted them in the Scripture.
10. ATHANASIUS in his Tract of the Incarnation, says, It is fit for us to adhere to the Word of God, and not relinquish it, thinking by syllogisms to evade what is there clearly deliver’d. Again, in his Tract to Serap. of the Holy Ghost: Ask not, says he, concerning the Trinity, but learn only from the Scriptures. For the instructions which you will find there, are sufficient. And in his Oration against the Gentiles, declares, 172 That the Scriptures are sufficient to the manifestation of the Truth.
11. AGREEABLE to there is Optatus in his fifth Book against Parmen, who reasons thus, You say ’tis lawful to Rebaptize, we say ’tis not lawful: betwixt your saying and our gain-saying the Peoples minds are amus’d. Let no man believe either you or us. All men are apt to be contentious. Therefore Judges are to be call’d in. Christians they cannot be, for they will be parties, and thereby partial. Therefore a Judge is to be look’d out from abroad. If a Pagan, he knows not the mysteries of our Religion. If a Jew, he is an enemy to our Baptism. There is therefore no Earthly Judge; but one is to be sought from Heaven. Yet there is no need of a resort to Heaven, when we have in the Gospel a Testament: and in this case, Celestial things may be compar’d to Earthly. So it is as with a Father who has many Children; while he is present he orders them all, and there is no need of a written Will: Accordingly Christ when he was present upon Earth, from time to time commanded the Apostles whatsoever was necessary. But as the Earthly Father finding himself to be at the point of death, and fearing that after his departure his Children should quarrel among themselves, he calls witnesses, and puts his mind in writing; and if any difference arise among the brethren, they go not to their Fathers Sepulchre, but repair to his Will and Testament; and he who rests in his grave, 173 speaks still in his writing, as if he were alive. Our Lord who left his Will among us, is now in Heaven, therefore let its seek his Commands in the Gospel as in his Will.
12. THUS Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. 4. Nothing, no not the least concernment of the Divine and Holy Sacraments of our Faith, is to be deliver’d without the Holy Scripture: believe not me unless I give you a demonstration of what I say from the Scripture.
13. SAINT Basil in his Book of the true Faith says, If God be faithful in all his sayings, his words, and works, they remaining for ever, and being done in truth and equity, it must be an evident sign of infidelity and pride, if any one shall reject what is written, and introduce what is not written. In which Books he generally declares that he will write nothing but what he receives from the Holy Scripture: and that he abhors from taking it elsewhere. In his 29. Homily against the Antitrinitarians. Believe, says he, those which are written; seek not those which are not written. And in his Eth. reg. 26. Every word and action ought to be confirm’d by the testimony of the divinely inspir’d Scriptures, to the establishment of the Faith of the good, and reproof of the wicked.
14. SAINT Ambrose in the first Book of his Offic. says: How can we make use of any thing which is not to be found in Scripture? And in his Institut. of Virgins. I read he is the first, but 174 read not he is the second; let them who say he is the second, shew it from the reading.
15. GREG. Nyssen in his Dial. of the Soul and Resurrection, says, ’Tis undeniable, that truth it there only to be plac’d, where there is the Seal of Scripture Testimony.
16. SAINT Jerom against Helvidius declares. As we deny not that which is written, so we refuse those which are not written. And in his Comment on the 98. Psal. Every thing that we assert, we must shew from the Holy Scripture. The word of him that speaks has not that authority as Gods Precept. And on the 87. Psal. Whatever is said after the Apostles, let it be cut off, nor have afterwards authority. Tho’ one be holy after the Apostles, tho’ one be eloquent, yet has he not authority.
17. SAINT Austin in his Tract of the unity of the Church, cap. 12. Acknowledges that be could not be convinc’d but by the Scriptures of what he was to believe; and adds, they are read with such manifestation, that he who believes them must confess the doctrine to be most true. In the second Book of Christian doctrine, cap. 9. he says, That in the plain places of Scripture are found all those things that concern Faith and Manners. And in Epistle 42. All things which have been exhibited heretofore as done to mankind, and what we now set and deliver to our Posterity, the Scripture has not past in silence, so far forth as they concern 175 the search or defence of our Religion. In his Tract of the good Widowhood, he says to Julian, the person to whom he addresses, What shall I teach you more than that we read in the Apostles? for the holy Scripture settles the rule of our doctrine; that we think not any thing more than we ought to think; but to think soberly, as God has dealt to every man the measure of Faith. Therefore my teaching is only to expound the words of this Doctor, Ep. 157. Where any subject is obscure, and passes our comprehension, and the Scripture do’s not plainly afford its help, there human conjecture is presumptuous in defining.
18. THEOPHILLUS of Alex. in his second Paschal Homily, tells us that ’tis the suggestion of a diabolical spirit to think that any thing besides the Scripture has divine authority. And in his third he adds, that the Doctors of the Church having the Testimony of the Scripture, lay firm foundation of their Doctrine.
19. CHRYSOSTOM in his third Homily on the first of the Thessal. asserts, that from alone reading or hearing of the Scripture one may learn all things necessary. So Hom. 34. on Acts 15. he declares. A heathen comes and says, I would willingly be a Christian, but I know not whom to join my self to; for there are many contentions among you, many seditions and tumults; so that I am in doubt what opinion I should chuse. Each man says, what I say is 176true, and I know not whom to believe; each pretends to Scripture which I am ignorant of. ’Tis very well the issue is put here: for if the appeal were to reason, in this case there would be just occasion of being troubled: but when we appeal to the Scriptures, and they are simple and certain, you may easily your self judge. He that agrees with the Scriptures is a Christian, he that resists them, is far out of the way. And on Psal. 95. If any thing be said without the Scripture, the mind halts between different opinions; sometimes inclining as to what is probable, anon rejecting as what is frivolous: but when the testimony of holy Scripture is produc’d, the mind both of speaker and hearer is confirm’d. And Hom. 4. on Lazar. Though one should arise from the dead, or an Angel come down from heaven, we must believe the Scriptures; they being fram’d by the Lord of Angels, and of the quick and dead. And Hom. 13. 2 Cor. 7. Is it not an absurd thing that when we deal with men about mony, we will trust no body, but cast up the sum, and make use of our counters; but in religions affairs, suffer our selves to be led aside by other mens opinions, even then when we have by an exact scale and touchstone the dictate of the divine Law? Therefore I pray and exhort you, that giving no heed to what this or that man says, you would consult the holy Scripture, and thence learn the divine riches, and pursue what you have learn’d. And Hom. 58. on Jo. 10. 1. ’Tis the mark of a thief, 177that he comes not in by the door, but another way: now by the door the testimony of the Scripture is signified. And Hom. on Gal. 1. 8. The Apostle says not if any man teach a contrary doctrine let him be accurs’d, or if he subvert the whole Gospel; but if he teach any thing besides the Gospel which you have receiv’d, or vary any little thing, let him be accurs’d.
20. CYRIL of Alex. against Jul. l. 7. says, The holy Scripture is sufficient to make them who are instructed in it wise unto salvation, and endued with most ample knowledge.
21. THEODORET Dial, 1. I am persuaded only by the holy Scripture. And Dial. 2. I am not so bold to affirm any thing, not spoken of in the Scripture. And again, qu. 45. upon Genes. We ought not to enquire after what is past over in silence, but acquiesce in what is written.
22. IT were easy to enlarge this discourse into a Volume; but having taken, as they offer’d themselves, the suffrages of the writers of the four first Centuries, I shall not proceed to those that follow. If the holy Scripture were a perfect rule of Faith and Manners to all Christians heretofore, we may reasonably assure our selves it is so still; and will now guide us into all necessary truth, and consequently make us wise unto salvation, without the aid of oral Tradition, or the new mintage of a living infallible Judge of controversy. And the 178impartial Reader will be enabled to judge whether our appeal to the holy Scripture, in all occasions of controversy, and recommendation of it to the study of every Christian, be that heresy and innovation which it is said to be.
23. IT is, we know, severely imputed to the Scribes and Pharisees by our Saviour, that they took from the people the key of knowledge, Luke 11. 52. and had made the word of God of none effect by their Traditions, Matt. 15. 6. but they never attempted what has been since practicised by their Successors in the Western Church, to take away the Ark of the Testament it self, and cut off not only the efficacy, but the very possession of the word of God by their Traditions. Surely this had been exceeding criminal from any hand: but that the Bishops and Governours of the Church, and the universal and infallible Pastor of it, who claim the office to interpret the Scriptures, exhort unto, and assist in the knowledge of them, should be the men who thus rob the people of them, carries with it the highest aggravations both of cruelty and breach of trust. If any man shall take away from the words of the Book of this prophecy says Saint John, Revel. 22. 19. God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy City, and from the things 179which are written in this Book. What vengeance therefore awaits those, who have taken away not only from one Book, but at once the Books themselves, even all the Scripture, the whole Word of God?180
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