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SECT. V.

How much Mr. S. attributes to his rule of faith more than protestants to theirs.

§. 1. SECONDLY, How much more he attributes to his attributes to his rule of faith, than we think fit to attribute to ours.

1. We do not say, that it is impossible, 259in the nature of the thing, that this rule should fail, that is, either that these books should cease to descend, or should be corrupted. This we do not at tribute to them, because there is no need we should. We believe the providence of God will take care of them, and secure them from being either lost or materially corrupted; yet we think it very possible that all the books in the world may be burned or otherwise destroyed: all that we affirm concerning our rule of faith, is, that it is abundantly sufficient (if men be not wanting to themselves) to convey the Christian doctrine to all successive ages; and we think him very unreasonable that expects that God should do more than what is abundantly enough, for the perpetuating of Christian religion in the world.

§. 2. Secondly, Nor do we say, that that certainty and assurance which we have, that these books are the same that were written by the apostles, is a first and self-evident principle: but only that it is a truth capable of evidence sufficient, and as much as we can have for a thing of that nature. Mr. S. may, if he please, say that tradition’s certainty is a first and self-evident principle; but then he that says this, should take heed how he takes upon him to demonstrate it. Aristotle was so wise as never to demonstrate first principles, for which he gives this very good reason—because they cannot be demonstrated. And most prudent men are of opinion, that a self-evident principle, of all things in the world, should not be demonstrated, because it needs not: for to what purpose should a man write a book to prove that which every man must assent to without any proof, so soon as it is propounded to him?” 1 have always taken a self-evident principle to be such a 260proposition, as having in itself sufficient evidence of its own truth, and not needing to be made evident by any thing else. If I be herein mistaken, I desire Mr. S. to inform me better.

§. 3. So that the true state of the controversy between us, is, whether oral and practical tradition, in opposition to writing and books, be the only way and means whereby the doctrine of Christ can with certainty and security be conveyed down to us, who live at this distance from the age of Christ and his apostles: this he affirms, and the protestants deny, not only that it is the sole means, but that it is sufficient for the certain conveyance of this doctrine; and withal affirm, that this doctrine hath been conveyed down to us by the books of Holy Scripture, as the proper measure and standard of our religion: but then they do not exclude oral tradition from being one means of conveying to us the certain knowledge of these books; nor do they exclude the authentic records of -former ages, nor the constant teaching and practice of this doctrine, from being subordinate means and helps of conveying it from one age to another; nay, so far are they from excluding these concurrent means, that they suppose them always to have been used, and to have been of great advantage for the propagating and explaining of this doctrine, so far as they have been truly subordinate to, and regulated by, these sacred oracles, the Holy Scriptures, which, they say, do truly and fully contain that doctrine which Christ delivered to his apostles, and they preached to the world. To illustrate this by an instance: Suppose there were a controversy now on foot, how men might come to know what was the true art of logic which Aristotle taught his scholars; and some should be of 261opinion, that the only way to know this would be by oral tradition from his scholars; which we might easily understand by consulting those of the present age, who learned it from those who received it from them, who at last had it from Aristotle himself: but others should think it the surest way to study his Organon, a book acknowledged by all his scholars to have been written by himself, and to contain that doctrine which he taught them. They who take this latter course, suppose the authority of oral tradition for the conveying to them the knowledge of this book; and do suppose this doctrine to have been taught and practised in all ages, and a great many books to have been written by way of comment and explication of this doctrine; and that these have been good helps of promoting the knowledge of it. And they may well enough suppose all this, and yet be of opinion that the truest measure and standard of Aristotle’s doctrine is his own book; and that it would be a fond thing in any man, by forcing an interpretation upon his book, either contrary to, or very foreign and remote from, the obvious sense of his words, to go about to reconcile this book with that method of disputing which is used by the professed Aristotelians of the present age, and with all that scholastic jargon which Mr. S. learned at Lisbon, and has made him so great a man in the science of all controversy, as even to enable him to demonstrate first and self-evident principles, a trick not to be learned out of Aristotle’s Organon. The application is so easy that I need not make it.

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