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§. 1. HAVING thus endeavoured to bring the controversy between us to its clear and true state, that so we might not quarrel in the dark, and dispute about we know not what; I come now to grapple more closely with his book. And the main foundations of his discourse may be reduced to these three heads:”
First, That the essential properties of such a way and means as can with certainty and security convey down to us the doctrine of Christ, belong solely to oral tradition. This he endeavours to prove in his five first discourses.
Secondly, That it is impossible that this way of oral tradition should fail. And this he pretends to prove in his four last discourses.
Thirdly, That oral tradition hath been generally reputed by Christians in all ages, the sole way and means of conveying down to them the doctrine of Christ. And this he attempts to shew in his last chapter, which he calls, “The consent of authority to the substance of his foregoing discourses.” If he make good these three things, he hath acquitted himself well in his undertaking; but whether he hath made them good or not, is now to be examined.263
§. 2. First, Whether the essential properties of such a way and means as can with certainty and security convey down to us the knowledge of Christ’s doctrine, belong solely to oral tradition?”
The true way to measure the essential properties of this or that means, is, by considering its sufficiency for its end: for whatsoever is necessary to make any means sufficient for the obtaining of its end, is to be reputed an essential property of that means, and nothing else. Now, because the end we are speaking of is the conveyance of the knowledge of Christ’s doctrine to all those who are concerned to know it, in such a manner as they may be sufficiently certain and secure that it hath received no change or corruption from what it was when it was first delivered: from hence it appears, that the means to this end must have these two properties: First, It must be sufficiently plain and intelligible. 2dly, It must be sufficiently certain to us, that is, such as we may be fully satisfied concerning it, that it hath received no corruption or alteration. If it have these two conditions, it is sufficient for its end; but if it want either of them, it must necessarily fall short of its end: for if it be not plain and intelligible, it cannot convey this doctrine to our knowledge; if it be not certain, we cannot be assured, that that doctrine which it brings down to us for the doctrine of Christ, is really such.
§. 3. I know he assigns more properties of this means, which he calls the rule of faith; but upon examination, it will appear that they either fall, in with these two, or do not at all belong to it: as,
First, That4242P. 11. “it must be plain and self-evident to all, as to its existence.” Nothing can be more frivolous than to make this a 264property of any thing; because whosoever inquires into the properties of a thing, is supposed to be already satisfied that the thing is.
Secondly, That it be4343P. 11. “evidenceable as to its ruling power;” that is, as he explains himself,4444P. 3. “that men be capable of knowing that it deserves to be relied on as a rule.” By which he must either understand the certainty of it; (and then it falls in with the second property I mentioned, and is the same with the sixth which he lays down;) or else he means, more generally, that it is the property of a rule, that men be capable of knowing that it hath the properties of a rule: for I understand not how a man can know that any thing deserves to be relied on as a rule, otherwise than by knowing that it hath the properties of a rule; that is, that it is sufficient for its end. But at this rate a man may multiply the properties of things without end, if the evidence of a thing, as to its existence, be one property; and then, that we be capable of knowing that it is such a thing, be another.
§. 4. Thirdly, That it be4545P. 12. “apt to settle and justify undoubting persons.” What he means here by “settling undoubting per sons,” I am not able, on a sudden, to comprehend, because I understand not what unsettles a man be sides doubting; for if a man be but so well satisfied about any thing as to have no doubt concerning it, I do not easily apprehend how he can be settled better, that is, how his mind can be more at rest, than not to doubt. But if by undoubting persons he means those who do not doubt for the present, but afterwards may doubt, then I perceive what he means by “apt to settle undoubting persons,” viz. apt to settle persons when they do doubt, that 265is, when they are not undoubting persons. As for “justifying undoubting persons,” if he means that whosoever securely relies on this rule ought of right to be acquitted, as acting rationally in so doing; this is plainly consequent upon the two properties I have laid down: for if the means of conveying Christ’s doctrine be sufficiently plain and certain, every man that relies upon it is justified in so doing, because he trusts a means which is sufficient for its end.
§. 5. Fourthly, That4646P. 11, 12. it be “apt to satisfy fully the most sceptical dissenters and rational doubters.” For its aptitude to satisfy rational doubters, that plainly follows from the sufficient certainty of it; but why it should be a necessary property of a rule of faith, to be apt to satisfy the most sceptical dissenter, I can no more divine, than I can, why he should call a dissenter sceptical, which are repugnant terms: for a sceptic is one who neither assents to any thing, nor dissents: but is in a perpetual suspense, because he looks upon every opinion as balanced by a contrary opinion of equal probability, without any inclination of the scales either way. But if by “the most sceptical dissenter” he means only a sceptic, one that doth not believe the doctrine of Christ, nor any thing else; then I would fain know, what that is which in reason is apt fully to satisfy such a person. If any thing will, sure a demonstration will; but there is no aptitude at all in a demonstration, to satisfy him who doubts whether there be any such thing as a demonstration, and likewise questions the certainty of all those principles from whence any conclusion can be demonstrated. And those who are most sceptical, profess to doubt of all this.266
§. 6. Fifthly, That it4747P. 12. be “apt to convince the most obstinate and acute adversary.” If the rule be plain and certain, the most acute adversary may be convinced by it if he will, that is, if he be not obstinate; but if he be obstinate, that is, such an one as will not be convinced, but will persist in his error in despite of all evidence that can be offered him, then I must profess that I do not know any kind of evidence that is apt to convince that man who will not be convinced by any reason that can be propounded to him. And that he ought not to have expected this from any rule of faith, though never so self-evident, he might have learned from the same author, in whom he may find his chief properties of the rule of faith, if he had but had the patience to have considered his explication of them; I mean Dr. Holden,4848Analys. Fid. l. 1 c. 3. who lays down the second property of the rule of faith (or, as he calls it, “the means whereby we come to the knowledge of revealed truth”) in these words: “Another (viz. condition of this means, &c.) is, That it be apt of its own nature to afford the greatest true and rational certainty, to all men without exception, to whom the knowledge of it shall come: provided they be furnished with the faculty of reason, and have their minds purified from all passion and lust, which do (as he tells us, cap. 6.) often hinder the most sagacious persons from understanding the most evident and manifest truth.” Now I suppose obstinacy to be the effects of passion and lust.
If Mr. S. mean, that the rule of faith must be apt to conquer obstinacy, and make men lay it aside, I cannot understand this neither; unless he mean that the rule of faith must be a cudgel, which the traditionary church have been good at, and may use it 267again when occasion serves; for none but they have a title to it, upon a church account, as Mr. S. tells us, corol. 10. But setting aside this, I do not know any thing else that is apt to conquer obstinacy: not the clearest reason, or the strongest demonstration, for that I am sure is no ways fitted to combat a wilful and unreasonable humour with any probability of success. And if any one doubt of this, if he will but make trial, he may easily be convinced by experience how unapt obstinate persons are to be convinced by reason. I do not know any thing that ever carried greater evidence than the doctrine of Christ, preached by himself and his apostles to the obstinate Jews, and confirmed by multitudes of unquestionable miracles; and yet we do not find by the success of it, that it was so very apt to convince those that were obstinate. And no man can judge of the aptitude of a means to an end, otherwise than by the usual and frequent success of it when it is applied. Nor do I think that the doctrine of the gospel was ever intended for that purpose. God hath provided no remedy for the wilful and perverse, but he hath done that which is sufficient for the satisfying and winning over of those who are teach able and willing to learn: and such a disposition, supposeth a man to have laid asside both scepticism and obstinacy.
These two are comprehended in the second property I laid down; so that I have nothing to say against them, but that the last looks very like a contradiction, “absolutely ascertainable to us;” which 268is to say, with respect to us, without respect to us, for absolutely seems to exclude respect, and to us implies it.
Having thus shewn, that the seven properties he mentions are either coincident with those two I have laid down, or consequent upon them, or absurd and impertinent; it remains, that the true properties of a rule of faith are those two which I first named, and no more.
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