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The explication of the terms of the question.
§. 1 THE question he propounds to himself to debate, is, “What is the rule of faith?” In order to the resolution whereof he endeavours,
First, To fix the true notion of these two terms, rule and faith: which way of proceeding I can not but allow to be very proper and reasonable, but I can by no means think his explication of those terms to be sufficient. He tells us, that “a rule is that which is able to regulate or guide him that useth it:”” in which description, as in many other passages of his book, he is plainly guilty of that which he taxeth in Mr. 1717P. 180.Whitby, that is, the confounding of a rule and a guide, by making regulating and guiding to be equivalent words. But for this I am no further concerned than to take notice of it by the way: the fault which I find in this definition, is, that it doth not make the thing plainer than it was before; so that no man is the wiser for it, nor one jot nearer knowing what a rule is. He pretends to tell Englishmen what a rule is, and for their clearer understanding of this 229word, he explains it by a word less removed from the Latin, “a rule is that which is able to regulate him that useth it;” just as if a man should go about to explain what a lawgiver is, by saying, He is one that hath the power of legislation. Of the two he had much better have said, that a rule is a thing that is able to rule him that useth it, though this be nothing but an explication of the same word by itself.
§. 2. Not much better is his explication of the term faith, which he tells us, “in the common sense of mankind, is the same with believing.” 1818P. 4.He declared indeed beforehand, that he did not “intend to give rigorous school-definitions of either this or the former word;” and (to do him right) he hath not in the least swerved from his intention. It were to be wished he had prefaced some such thing to his demonstrations, for the reader will find that they are not a whit more rigorous than his definitions; the latter of which doth very much resemble the country man’s way of defining, who, being asked by his neighbour, what an invasion was, after some study told him very gravely, that “an invasion was as if he should say an invasion.” In like manner Mr. S. tells us, that “faith (or, which is all one, belief) is the same with believing;” which, in my apprehension, is but a country definition, unless the interposing of those solemn words “in the common sense of man kind” may be thought to mend the matter. This puts me in mind of what Mr. S. says in his 1919P. 159.“Transition” (as he calls, it) where he gives the reader an account what feats he hath done in his book: “He will see (says he) I take my rise at the meaning of the words rule and 230faith; this known, I establish my first principles in this present matter to be these, viz. a rule is a rule, faith is faith.” This is the right self-evident method he talks so much of, and his principles agree admirably well with his definitions. If he had but proceeded in the same method, and added, that a rule of faith is a rule of faith, that oral tradition is oral tradition; and that to say, oral tradition is the rule of faith, is as much as to say oral tradition is the rule of faith, the whole business had been concluded without any more ado, and I think no body would have gone about to confute him.
§. 3. Rejecting then his way of definition as inept and frivolous, and no ways tending to give a man a clearer notion of things; I shall endeavour to explain a little better (if I can) the meaning of these terms.
A rule (when we speak of a rule of faith) is a metaphorical word, which, in its first and proper sense, being applied to material and sensible things, is the measure according to which we judge of the straightness and crookedness of things; and from hence it is transferred by analogy to things moral or intellectual. A moral rule is the measure according to which we judge whether a thing be good or evil; and this kind of rule is that which is commonly called a law, and the agreement or disagreement of our actions to this rule, is, suitably to the metaphor, called rectitude or obliquity. An intellectual rule is the measure according to which we judge whether a thing be true or false; and this is either general or more particular. Common notions, and the acknowledged principles of reason, are that general rule, according to which we judge whether a thing be true or false. The particular principles 231of every science are the more particular rules, according to which we judge whether things in that science be true or false. So that the general notion of a rule is, That it is a measure, by the agreement or disagreement to which we judge of all things of that kind to which it belongs.
§. 4. Faith, though both among sacred and profane writers it be used many times more generally for a persuasion or assent of the mind to any thing wrought in us by any kind of argument; yet, as it is a term of art used by divines, it signifies that particular kind of assent which is wrought in us by testimony or authority: so that Divine faith, which we are now speaking of, is an assent to a thing upon the testimony or authority of God; or, which is all one, an assent to a truth upon Divine revelation.
§. 5. A rule of faith is the measure according to which we judge what matters we are to assent to, as revealed to us by God, and what not. And more particularly, the rule of Christian faith is the measure, according to which we are to judge what we ought to assent to as the doctrine revealed by Christ to the world, and what not.
§. 6. So that this question, What is the rule of Christian faith?” supposeth a doctrine revealed by Christ to the world; and that that doctrine was intelligibly and entirely delivered by Christ to his apostles, and sufficient confirmation given to it; that this doctrine was in the same manner published to the world by the apostles, who likewise gave sufficient evidence of the truth of it. All this is necessarily supposed in the question: for it would be in vain to inquire whether this or that be the rule of Christian faith, if such a thing as the Christian faith were not first supposed. When therefore 232we inquire, What is the rule of Christian faith?” the meaning of that inquiry is, by what way and means the knowledge of Christ’s doctrine is conveyed certainly down to us, who live at the distance of so many ages from the time of its first delivery: for this being known, we have the rule of faith; that is, a measure by which we may judge what we are to assent to, as the doctrine of Christ, and what not. So that when any question ariseth about any particular proposition, whether this be part of Christ’s doctrine, we may be able, by this rule, to resolve it.
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