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Mr. S.’s exceptions against Scripture examined.
§. 1. AND now, although this might have been a sufficient answer to his exceptions against the Scriptures, as being incapable of the properties of a rule of faith; because all of them suppose that which is apparently false and absurd, as granted by protestants, viz. that the Scriptures are only a heap of dead letters and insignificant characters, without any sense under them; and that oral tradition is that only which gives them life and sense: yet, because several of his exceptions pretend to shew, that the true properties of a rule of faith do not at all appertain to the Scriptures; therefore I shall give particular answers to them, and, as I go along, shew that tradition is liable to all or most of those exceptions, and to far greater than those.
§. 2. Whereas he says,5656P. 13. it cannot be evident to protestants, from their principles, that the books of Scripture were originally written by men divinely inspired: I will shew him that it may, and then answer the reasons of this exception.
It is evident, from an universal, constant, and uncontrolled tradition among Christians, not only oral, but written, and from the acknowledgment of the greatest adversaries of our religion, that these books were originally written by the apostles and evangelists. And this is not only a protestant principle, but the principle of all mankind, “That an undoubted tradition is sufficient evidence of the antiquity and author of a book,” and all the extrinsical 274arguments that can ordinarily be had of a book written long ago.
Next, it is evident that the apostles were men divinely inspired, that is, secured from error and mistake in the writing of this doctrine, from the miracles that were wrought for the confirmation of it; because it is unreasonable to imagine, that the Divine power should so remarkably interpose for the confirmation of a doctrine, and give so eminent an attestation to the apostles to convince the world that they were immediately appointed and commissioned by God, and yet not secure them from error in the delivery of it. And that such miracles were wrought, is evident from as credible histories as we have for any of those things which we do most firmly believe. And this is better evidence that the apostles were men divinely inspired, than bare oral tradition can furnish us withal: for setting aside the authentic relation of these matters in books, it is most probable, that oral tradition of itself, and without books, would scarce have preserved the memory of any of those particular miracles of our Saviour and his apostles which are recorded in Scripture. And for the probability of this, I offer these two things to his consideration:”
First, No man can deny that memorable persons have lived, and actions been done, in the world, innumerable, whereof no history now extant makes any mention.
Secondly, He himself will grant, that our Saviour wrought innumerable more miracles than are recorded in Scripture. And now I challenge him to shew the single virtue of oral tradition, by giving an account of any of those persons, or their actions, who lived fifteen hundred or two thousand years 275ago, besides those which are mentioned in books; or to give a catalogue but of ten of those innumerable miracles wrought by our Saviour, which are riot recorded by the evangelists, with circumstances as punctual and particular as those are clothed withal: if he can do this, it will be a good evidence that oral tradition singly, and by itself, can do something; but if he cannot, it is as plain an evidence on the contrary, that if those actions of former times, and those miracles of our Saviour and his apostles which are recorded in books, had never been written, but entrusted solely to oral tradition, we should have heard as little of them at this day, as we do of those that were never written.
§. 3. Now to examine his reasons for this exception:”
First, He saith,5757P. 13. it is most manifest that this cannot be made evident to the vulgar, that Scripture was written by men divinely inspired. This reason is as easily answered, by saying, it is most manifest that it can: but besides saying so, I have shewed how it may be made as evident to the vulgar, as other things which they do most firmly, and upon good grounds, believe. Even the rudest of the vulgar, and those who cannot read, do believe upon very good grounds that there was such a king as William the Conqueror; and the miracles of Christ and his apostles are capable of as good evidence as we have for this.
Secondly, He says,5858P. 13, 14. this cannot be evident to the “curious and most speculative searchers, but by so deep an inspection into the sense of Scripture, as shall discover such secrets, that philosophy and human industry could never have arrived to.” As if we could not be assured 276that any thing were written by men divinely inspired, unless it were above the reach of human understanding; and as if no man could know that this was our Saviour’s doctrine, “Whatever ye would that men should do unto you, that do ye likewise unto them,” because every one can understand it. But if there were more mysteries in the Scriptures than there are, I hope a man might be satisfied that they were written by men divinely inspired, without a clear comprehension of all those mysteries. The evidence of the inspiration of any person doth not depend upon the plainness and sublimity of the things revealed to him, but upon the goodness of the arguments which tend to persuade us that the person is so inspired; and the argument that is most fit to satisfy us of that, is, if he work miracles. Now I would gladly know, why a learned man cannot be assured of a miracle, that is, a plain sensible matter of fact done long ago, but. “by so deep an inspection into the sense of Scripture, as shall discover such secrets, that philosophy and human industry could never have arrived to.”
§. 3. Thirdly, Because5959P. 14. “all the seeming contradictions of Scripture must be solved, before we can out of the bare letter conclude the Scripture to be of God’s inditing; to solve which literally, plainly, and satisfactorily, (he tells us) the memory of so many particulars, which made them clearer to those of the age in which they were written, and the matter known, must needs be so worn out by tract of time, that it is one of the most difficult tasks in the world.” As if we could not believe a book to be of God’s inditing, because there seem now to be some contradictions in it, which we have reason to believe could easily have 277been solved by those who lived in the age in which it was written. Or, as if oral tradition could help a man to solve these contradictions, when the memory of particulars necessary for the clear solution of them, is (as himself confesses) worn out by tract of time. If Mr. S. can, in order to the solution of the seeming contradictions of Scripture, demonstrate, that oral tradition hath to this day preserved the memory of those particulars (necessary for that purpose), the memory of which must needs be long since worn out by tract of time, then I will readily yield, that his rule of faith hath in this particular the advantage of ours. But if he cannot do this, why doth he make that an argument against our rule, which is as strong against his own?” This is just like Captain Everard’s friend’s way of arguing against the protestants, viz. That they cannot rely upon Scripture, because it is full of plain contradictions impossible to be reconciled; and therefore they ought in all reason to submit to the infallibility of the church. And for an instance of such a contradiction, he pitcheth upon the three fourteen generations mentioned in the first of St. Matthew; because the third series of generations, if they be counted, will be found to be but thirteen. Not to mention now, how this difficulty hath been sufficiently satisfied both by protestant and popish commentators, without any recourse to oral tradition; that which I take notice of, is, the unreasonableness of making this an exception against the protestants, when it comes with every whit as much force upon themselves. Suppose this contradiction not capable of any solution by protestants (as he affirms), and I should submit to the infallibility of the church; can he assure me that infallibility can make thirteen 278fourteen?” If it cannot, how am I nearer satisfaction in this point, by acknowledging the infallibility of the church?” The case is the very same as to Mr. S.’s exception; if I owned oral tradition, I should be never the nearer solving the seeming contradictions of Scripture, and consequently I could not “in reason conclude it to be of God’s inditing.” So that, in truth, these exceptions, if they were true, would not strike at protestancy, but at Christian religion; which is the general unhappiness of most of the popish arguments; than which, there is no greater evidence, that the church of Rome is not the true mother, because she had rather Christianity should be destroyed, than it should appear that any other church hath a claim to it. It was a work very proper for the heretic Marcion to assault religion this way; who, as Tertullian6060L. 1. contra Marcion. tells us, wrote a whole book, which he called Antitheses, wherein he reckoned up all the contradictions, (as he thought) between the Old and New Testament: but methinks it is very improper for the papists, who pretend to be the only true Christians in the world, to strain their wits to discover as many contradictions as they can in the Scripture, and to prove that there is no way of reconciling them; the natural consequence of which is, the exposing of this sacred instrument of our religion, and even Christianity itself, to the scorn of atheists. Therefore, to be very plain with Mr. S. and Captain Everard, I am heartily sorry to see, that one of the chief fruits of their conversion is to abuse the Bible.
. 5. Secondly, He says,6161P. 14. that protestants cannot know how many the books of Scripture “ought to be, and which of the many controverted ones may be securely put in that catalogue, 279which not.” This he proves by saying, “’Tis most palpable, that few, or at least the rude vulgar, can never be assured of it.” And if this be a good argument, this again is a good answer, to say it is not most palpable. But I shall deal more liberally, and tell him, that we know, that just so many ought to be received as uncontroverted books, concerning which it cannot be shewn there was ever any controversy; and so many as controverted, concerning which it appears that question hath been made: and if those which have been controverted have been since received by those churches which once doubted of them, there is now no farther doubt concerning them, because the controversy about them is at an end. And now I would fain know what greater certainty oral tradition can give us of the true catalogue of the books of Scripture: for it must either acknowledge some books have been controverted, or not; if not, why doth he make a supposition of controverted books?” If oral tradition acknowledge some to have been controverted, then it cannot assure us that they have not been controverted, nor consequently that they ought to be received as never having been controverted; but only as such, concerning which those churches who did once raise a controversy about them, have been since satisfied that they are canonical. The traditionary church now receive the Epistle to the He brews as canonical. I ask, do they receive it as ever delivered for such?” That they must, if they receive it from oral tradition, which conveys things to them under this notion, as ever delivered; and yet St. Jerome (speaking not as a speculator, but a testifier) saith expressly of it,6262Com. in Esai. c. 6. et c. 8. “that the custom of the Latin church doth not receive 280it among the canonical Scriptures.” What saith Mr. S. to this?” It is clear from this testimony, that the Roman church, in St. Jerome’s time, did not acknowledge this Epistle for canonical; and it is as plain, that the present Roman church doth receive it for canonical. Where is then the infallibility of oral tradition?” How does the living voice of the present church assure us, that what books are now received by her were ever received by her?” And if it cannot do this, but the matter must come to be tried by the best records of former ages (which the protestants are willing to have the catalogue tried by), then it seems the protestants have a better way to know what books are canonical, than is the infallible way of oral tradition; and so long as it is better, no matter, though it be not called in fallible.
§. 6. Thirdly, He says6363P. 15. the protestants cannot know, “that the very original, or a perfectly true copy of these books, hath been preserved.” It is not necessary that they should know either of these; it is sufficient that they know that those copies which they have, are not materially corrupted in any matter of faith or practice; and that they have sufficient assurance of this, I have already shewn. And how doth he prove the contrary?” By his usual argument, with saying, “it is manifestly impossible!” But how do the church of Rome know that they have perfectly true copies of the Scripture in the original languages?” They do not pretend to know this; the learned men of that church acknowledge the various readings as well as we, and do not pretend to know otherwise than by probable conjecture (as we also may do) which of those readings is the true one. And why should it 281be more necessary for us to know this, than for them?” If they think it reasonable to content themselves with knowing, that no material corruptions have crept into those books, so may we. And that there have not, we know by better arguments than oral tradition, even by the assurance we have of God’s vigilant providence, and from a moral impossibility that the things in a book so universally dispersed, and translated into so many languages, and constantly read in the assemblies of Christians, should have been materially corrupted, so as that all those copies and translations should have agreed in those corruptions. And this reason St. Austin6464Ep. 48. gives, of the preservation of the Scriptures entire rather than any other book; if Mr. S. likes it not, he may call St. Austin to account for it.
§. 7. Fourthly, He says,6565P. 15. the protestants, “at least the rudest vulgar,” can have no assurance “that those books are rightly translated, “because they cannot be assured either of the ability or integrity of translators.
Fifthly, “Nor can they (says he6666P. 16, 17.) be assured, that the transcribers, and printers, and correctors” of the press, have carefully and faithfully done their part, in transcribing and printing the several copies and translations of Scripture aright; because “they only can have evidence of the right letter of Scripture, who stood at their elbows attentively watching they should not err in making it perfectly like a former copy; and even then, why might they not mistrust their own eyes and aptness to oversee?” I put these two exceptions together, because the same answer will serve them both. The grounds of these exceptions, if they have 282any, are these: That no man is to be trusted either for his skill or honesty; and that it is dangerous for men to trust their own eyes. Unless both these be true, these exceptions are of no force: for if we can be assured that other men have sufficient skill in any thing which we ourselves do not sufficiently understand, we may be assured that those who translated the Bible had skill in the original languages; because very credible persons tell us so, and we have no reason to doubt their testimony in this particular, more than in any other matter. So that if we can have sufficient assurance of men’s integrity in any thing, we have no reason to doubt of the skill of translators, transcribers, or printers; and if we can have no assurance of men’s integrity in any thing, then no man can be assured that there was such a man as Henry the Eighth; and yet I hope the church of Rome makes no doubt of it: nor can any man be assured there is such a city as Rome, who hath not seen it; nay, if he have,6767P. 16. “why may he not mistrust his own eyes?” And, which is the saddest inconvenience of all, if nobody be to be trusted, nor men’s own eyes, (and for the same reason, sure, nor their ears) what becomes of the infallibility of oral and practical tradition?” which necessarily supposeth a competent understanding, a faithful memory, and honest mind, in the generality of those who delivered Christ’s doctrine down to us: and by what means soever a man can be assured of these, by the same he may much more easily be assured of the ability and integrity of translators, transcribers, and printers. But above all, it supposeth that men’s ears and eyes cannot deceive them in those things which they are taught and see practised.283
Is it not very pretty to see what pitiful shifts men that serve an hypothesis are put to, when, to maintain infallibility, they are forced to run to the extremities of scepticism! and, to defend the certainty of oral tradition, (which depends upon the certainty of men’s senses, and an assurance of the ability and integrity of those who were dead fifteen hundred years before we were born) are glad to take refuge in principles quite contrary! such as these—that we can have no assurance, but that whole professions of men6868P. 16. “might hap to be knaves:”” that we can have no sufficient evidence that any man made his “copy perfectly like the former,” unless6969Ibid. “we stood at his elbow attentively watching him: nay, and if we did so, we have still reason to distrust our senses. In short, all human faith supposeth honesty among men; and that for matters of fact and plain objects of sense, the general and uncontrolled testimony of mankind is to be credited; and for matters of peculiar skill and knowledge, that the generality of those who are accounted skilful in that kind are to be relied upon: for, as Aristotle well observes, there is no greater sign of an undisciplined wit, (or, to use one of Mr. S.’s fine phrases,7070Preface. of a man “not acquainted with the paths of science”) than to expect greater evidence for things than they are capable of. Every man hath reason to be assured of a thing which is capable of sufficient evidence, when he hath as much evidence for it as the nature of that thing will bear, and as the capacity he is in will permit him to have; and, as Mr. White says well, “7171Answer to the Lord Falkland, p. 35.Satisfaction is to be given to every one, according to his capacity; it is sufficient for a child to believe his parents, for a 284clown to believe his preacher.” And this is universally true in all cases where we have not better or equal evidence to the contrary. But such is the unhappiness of the popish doctrines, that if people were permitted the free use of the Scripture, they would easily discern them to have no probable foundation in it, and to be plainly contrary to it; so that it cannot be safe for their preachers to tell the people that the Scripture is the only rule of faith, lest they should find cause not to believe them when they teach doctrines so plainly contrary to that rule.
§. 8. Lastly, He says,7272P. 17. the protestants cannot be “certain of the true sense of Scripture.” Does he mean of plain texts, or obscure ones?” of the true sense of plain texts I hope every one may be certain; and for obscure ones, it is not necessary every one should. But it may be there are no plain texts in the Scriptures: then the reason of it must be, (till Mr. S. can shew a better) either because it is impossible for any one to write plainly, or because God cannot write so plainly as men; or because we have good reason to think that he would not write things necessary for every one to believe, so as men might clearly understand him.
But he tells us,7373P. 17. “the numerous comments upon Scripture” are an evidence that no man can be certain of the true sense of it. I hope not; for if those numerous commentators do generally agree in the sense of plain texts, (as it is certain they do) then this argument signifies nothing as to such texts; and as for those which are obscure, let commentators differ about them as much as they please, so long as all necessary points of faith and matters of practice are delivered in plain texts. He 285adds,7474P. 17. “There are infinite disputes about the sense of Scripture, even in the most concerning points, as in that of Christ’s Divinity.” But are not commentators, both protestant and popish, generally agreed about the sense of Scripture in that point?” and what if some out of prejudice mistake, or out of perverseness do wrest, the plainest texts of Scripture for the Divinity of Christ to an other sense?” is this any argument that those texts are not sufficiently plain?” can any thing be spoken or written in words so clear from ambiguity, which a perverse or prejudiced mind shall not be able to vex and force to another meaning?” God did not write the Scriptures for the froward and the captious, but for those who will read them with a free and unprejudiced mind, and are willing to come to the knowledge of the truth. If Mr. S. had been conversant in the writings of the fathers, he could not but have taken notice with what confidence they attempted to prove the Divinity of Christ out of Scripture, as if that did afford convincing arguments for this purpose. St. Chrysostom 7575Hom. 32. de Consubstant.professes to demonstrate out of Scripture, “that the Son is of the same substance with the Father;” and relies upon Scripture alone for this, without mentioning any other kind of argument: so that it seems St. Chrysostom was not acquainted with the insufficiency of Scripture for the conviction of heretics in this point; and that he was either ignorant of the (infallible) way of demonstrating this point from oral tradition, or had no great opinion of it. The same father, elsewhere,7676Hom. 7. de Sancto Phoca. arguing against heretics about the Divinity of Christ, says, that “they pervert the Scriptures, to strengthen their heresy from thence.” But then he does not 286(with Mr. S.) blame the Scripture, and say that this doctrine is riot there delivered with sufficient clearness; but contrariwise, he says, that the Scripture is clear enough, but the corrupt minds of here tics will not see what is there contained. Had St. Chrysostom been a true son of the traditionary church, he would have laid hold of this occasion to vilify the Scriptures, and to shew the necessity of regulating our faith not by such uncertain records, but by the infallible reports of oral tradition.
§. 9. But because Mr. S. lays great weight (in several parts of his book) upon this exception against Scripture, viz. that protestants cannot be certain of the true sense of it; therefore I shall not content myself, only to have shewn that we may be sufficiently certain of the sense of Scripture, so far as to understand all necessary matters of faith and practice, and that more than this is not necessary; but shall likewise return this exception upon him, by inquiring into these two things:”
1. How the traditionary church can be more certain of the true sense of Scripture than the protestants?”
2. How they can be more certain of the true sense of tradition, than protestants of the true sense of Scripture?”
1. How the traditionary church can be more certain of the true sense of Scripture than protestants?” They pretend to have an oral tradition of the true sense of it, delivered down from father to son. But this only reached to those texts which are coincident with the main body of Christian doctrine; as for all other parts of Scripture, they are as useless to papists, as they suppose they are to us; because, wanting the help of oral tradition, they cannot be 287certain of one tittle of them. And as for those texts, the sense whereof is conveyed down by oral tradition; this sense is, I hope, delivered in some words or other: and have all preachers, and fathers, and mothers, and nurses, the faculty of delivering this sense in words so plain as cannot possibly be mistaken or wrested to another sense?” I am sorry that when every one hath this faculty of speaking his thoughts plainly, the Holy Ghost should be represented as not able to convey his mind to men in intelligible words. And does not his own objection rebound upon himself?” If the church have a certain sense of Scripture orally delivered, whence are the numerous comments of the fathers upon it, and of later writers of their church, and the infinite disputes about the sense of it, in the most concerning points?” viz. the efficacy of God’s grace, the supremacy of St. Peter, the infallibility of a pope and council by immediate assistance of the Holy Ghost?” What a stir is made about the sense of Dabo tibi Claves, Tu es Petrus, et super hanc Petram, &c. Pasce oves?” Do not they differ about the meaning of these texts among themselves, as much as they do from the fathers, and from the protestants?” Some understanding them of St. Peter’s supremacy only, others of his in fallibility, others of his infallibility only in and with a general council; which yet others do not allow to pope or council from any immediate assistance, but only from the rational force of tradition, supposing that the pope and council hold to it. If oral tradition have brought down a certain sense of these texts, why do they not produce it, and agree in it?” If it have not (to use a hot phrase of his own7777P. 17.), “it is perfect frenzy to say they can be certain of the true sense of Scripture.”288
If he say, they are by tradition made certain of the true sense of Scripture, so far as it concerns the main body of Christian doctrine, and do all agree in it, and that is sufficient; then I ask him, What are those points of faith which make up the body of Christian doctrine?” He will tell me, they are those which all catholics agree to have descended to them from the apostles by a constant and uninterrupted tradition. I inquire further, how I shall know what is the certain sense of Scripture so far as it concerns these points?” He must answer as before, that that is the true sense which all catholics agree to have descended to them by tradition. Which amounts to this: that all catholics do agree in the sense of Scripture so far as they do all agree in it. It is to be hoped, that the protestants (how much soever at present they differ about the sense of Scripture) may in time come to as good an agreement as this. This brings to my remembrance a passage or two of Mr. Cressy; the one in his Appendix,7878Exomolog. 2d edit. p. 554. where he tells us, that “as it is impossible that heretics should agree in any other way than in faction; so it is impossible that catholics should differ in points of faith.” Why so?” Were not those catholics first, who afterwards became heretics?” and when they became so, did they not differ in points of belief?” Yes, but here lies the conceit, when they began to differ, then they ceased to be catholics; therefore catholics can never differ in points of faith. The other passage is where he says,7979Exomolog. c. 53. sect. 2. that ^ “hath forsaken a church where unity was impossible, &c. and betaken himself to a church where schism is impossible.” This last clause, “that schism is impossible” in their church, 289cannot possibly be true but in the same absurd and ludicrous sense, in which it is impossible for catholics to differ in points of belief. For he cannot deny but that it is possible for men to break off from the communion of their church, which in his sense is schism. But here is the subtilty of it: No schismatic is of their church, because so soon as he is a schismatic he is out of it; therefore schism is impossible in their church. And is it not as impossible in the church of England?” where Mr. Cressy might have done well to have continued, till he could have given a wiser reason for forsaking her.
§. 10. But to return to our purpose. Mr. Rushworth8080Dial. 2. sect. 12. acknowledgeth, that the Scripture is of itself sufficiently plain as to matters of practice; for he asks, “Who is so blind as not to see that these things are to be found in Scripture by a sensible, common, and discreet reading of it; though perhaps by a rigorous and exact balancing of every particular word and syllable, any of these things would vanish away we know not how?” So that, for the direction of our lives and actions, he confesseth the Scripture to be sufficiently plain, if men will but read it sensibly and discreetly; and (he says) that he is blind that does not see this. But who so blind as he that will not see, that the sense of Scripture is as plain in all necessary points of faith?” I am sure St. Austin makes no difference, when he tells us,8181De Doctr. Christ. l. 2. that “in those things which are plainly set down in Scripture, we may find all those things which in faith and manners of life are comprehended.” And why cannot men, in reference to matters of faith as well as of practice, 290read the Scriptures sensibly and discreetly, without such a rigorous balancing of every word and syllable, as will make the sense vanish away we know not how?” If the Scripture be but sufficiently plain to such as will use it sensibly and discreetly, I do not understand what greater plainness can be de sired in a rule; nor can I imagine what kind of rule it must be that can be unexceptionably plain to captious cavillers, and such as are bent to play the fool with it.
Well, suppose the Scriptures be not sufficiently clear as to matters of faith, and hereupon I have recourse to the church for the true sense of Scripture; must I believe the church’s sense to be the true sense of such a text, though I see it to be plainly contrary to the genuine sense of the words?” Yes, that I must, or else I make myself, and not the church, judge of the sense of Scripture, which is the grand heresy of the protestants. But then I must not suppose, much less believe, that the church’s sense of such a text is contrary to the genuine meaning of it; no, although I plainly see it to be so: this is hard again on the other hand; especially if that be true which is acknowledged both by Dr. Holden and Mr. Cressy, viz. that though general councils cannot mistake in their points of faith which they decree, yet they may mistake in the confirmation of them from texts of Scripture; that is, they may be mistaken about the sense of those texts. And if Mr. S. think his brethren have granted too much, he may see this exemplified in the second council of Nice (to mention no other), which, to establish their doctrine of image worship, does so palpably abuse and wrest texts of Scripture, that I can 291hardly believe that any papist in the world hath the forehead to own that for the true sense of those texts which is there given by those fathers.
§. 11. Secondly, How the traditionary church can be more certain of the true sense of their traditional doctrines, than the protestants can be of the true sense of Scripture?” And this is worthy of our inquiry, because, if the business be searched to the bottom, it will appear (besides all other inconveniences, which oral tradition is much more liable to than Scripture), that the certain sense and meaning of traditional doctrine is as hard to come at as the sense of Scripture. And this I will make appear by necessary consequence from their own concessions. Mr. White and Mr. S. say, that the great security of tradition is this: that it is not tied to certain phrases and set forms of expression, but the same sense is conveyed and settled in men’s hearts by various expressions. But, according to Mr. Rushworth, this renders tradition’s sense uncertain; for he says,8282Dial. 2. sect. 6. “’Tis impossible to put fully, and beyond all quarrel, the same sense in divers words.” So that if men do not receive tradition in a sensible, common, discreet way (as Mr. Rushworth speaks concerning reading the Scriptures), but will come to a rigorous and exact balancing of every particular phrase, word and syllable, the sense of tradition will be in the very same danger of uncertainty, and be liable to vanish we know not how. Dr. Holden8383Analys. Fidei, l. 1. c. 9. lays down these two principles: “First, That no truth can be conveyed down from man to man but by speech; and speech cannot be but by words; and all words are either equivocal in themselves, or liable to be differently 292understood by several persons. Secondly, That such is the frame of man’s mind, that the same truths may be differently apprehended and understood by different persons:”” and if this be true, then traditional doctrines, if they be delivered by speech and words, will be liable to uncertainties and ambiguities, as to their sense, as well as Scripture. Mr. Cressy8484Append. c. 6. tells us, “That reason and experience shew, that differences will arise even about the writings of the fathers, and any thing but the testimony of the present church.” If this be true, tradition wholly falls into uncertainty: for if difference will arise about the writings of the fathers, how they are to be interpreted, I suppose the writings of councils will be liable to the same inconvenience: and if the whole present church cannot declare her sense of any traditional doctrine otherwise than by a council, (unless with the Jesuits they will epitomize the church into the pope) and the decrees of a council cannot be universally dispersed (or at least never use to be) but by writing: and if differences will arise about the interpretation of that writing, as well as any other; then, this present infallible authority (which Mr. Cressy magnifies so much for ending of differences) leaves all controversies arising about the sense of tradition as indeterminable as ever; and they must for ever remain so, till general councils have got the knack of penning their decrees in words which will so infallibly express their meaning to the most captious caviller, that no difference can possibly arise about the interpretation of them; or else (which will be more suitable to this wise hypothesis) till general councils (being convinced by Mr. S.’s demonstrations) shall come to understand themselves 293so well, as not to entrust their decrees any more to the uncertain way of writing; but for the future to communicate them to the world by the infallible way of oral tradition. And, to mention no more, Mr. Knott8585Answer to Chillingworth, c. 2. sect. 6. (who agrees with the other thus far, that the certain sense of Scripture is only to be had from the church) speaks to this purpose: That before we can be certain that this is the true sense of such a text, we must either be certain that this text is capable of no other sense; as figurative, mystical, or moral; or, if it be, we must have some certain and infallible means to know in which of them it is taken, which can be known only by revelation. If this be true, then, by a fair parity of reason, before I can be certain that this is the sense of a doctrinal tradition delivered down to me, I must either be certain that the words in which this tradition was expressed when it was delivered to me, are capable of no other sense (as figurative, mystical, or moral) besides that in which I understood them; or, if they be (as certainly they will be) capable of any of these other senses, then must I have some certain and infallible means whereby to know in which of these they are taken: and this can no more be known without a revelation, than which is the true sense of such a text of Scripture. If it be said, that the sense of a traditionary doctrine may by different expressions be still further and further explained to me till I come certainly to understand the sense of it; this will not help the matter: for if these kinds of cavils be good, that a man cannot be certain of the meaning of any words till he can by an infallible argument demonstrate either that they cannot be taken, or that they are not taken, in any other sense; I say, if this 294cavil will hold, then every new expression, where by any one shall endeavour to explain any traditional doctrine, is liable to the same inconvenience which those words in which it was first delivered to me were liable to. From all which it is evident, that the traditionary church can be no more certain of the sense of their traditional doctrines, than protestants may be of the sense of Scripture.
§. 12. These are his exceptions contained in his second discourse; and of what force they are hath been examined. But because he foresaw that it might be replied, that these defects might in part be provided against by history, by the providence of God, by testimonies of councils and fathers, and by the sufficient clearness of Scripture as to the fundamentals; he endeavours to shew, that these signify little to this purpose.
First, Not “history,8686P. 17, 18. because few are skilled in history; and they that are not cannot safely rely upon those that are skilled, unless they knew certainly that the historians whom they rely on had secure grounds, and not bare hear say for what they wrote, and that they were not contradicted by others either extant or perished.” How much credit is to be given to uncontrolled history by the learned, and how much by the vulgar to men of skill, I have already shewn. I shall only add now, that if this reasoning be true, it is impossible for any man to be certain by history of any ancient matter of fact, as namely, that there were such persons as Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror, and that they invaded and conquered England, because (according to him) we cannot know certainly that the historians who relate these things, and upon whose authority we rely, had secure 295grounds, and not bare hearsay, for what they wrote: and that they were not contradicted by others either extant or perished, is, I am sure, impossible for any man to know: for who can tell now what was contained in those books which are perished?” So that if this be requisite to make every historical relation credible, to know certainly that it was not contradicted by any of those books which we do not know what they were, nor what was in them, we can have no certainty of any ancient fact or history: for who knows certainly that some books that are perished did not contradict whatever is written in books that are extant?” Nay, if this reasoning hold, we can have no certainty of any thing conveyed by oral tradition: for what though the priest tell me this was the doctrine of Christ delivered to him; unless I know that all others agree with him in this tradition, I cannot rely upon his testimony: nor then neither, in Mr. Knott’s8787Answ. to Chilling. c. 1. sect. 33. opinion, because “the testimony of preachers or pastors is human and fallible,” unless (according to his jargon) a conclusion, deduced from premises, one of which is only probable, and may be sufficient to bring our understanding to an infallible act of faith, viz. if such a conclusion betaken specificative; whereas if it may be taken reduplicative, as it is a conclusion, it can only beget a probable assent; which is to say, that, considered barely as a conclusion, and so far as in reason it can deserve assent, it is only probable; but, considered as it serves an hypothesis, and is convenient to be believed with reason or without, so it is infallible. But to carry the supposition further: put the case, that the whole present age, assembled in a general council, should declare that 296such a point was delivered to them; yet (according to Mr. S.) we cannot safely rely upon this, unless we knew certainly, that those whom they relied on had secure grounds, and not bare hearsay, for what they delivered; and that they were not contradicted within the space of fifteen hundred years by any of those that are dead; which is impossible for any one now to know.
But to shew how inconsistent he is with himself in these matters, I will present the reader with a passage or two in another part of his book, where he endeavours to prove that men may safely rely on a general and uncontrolled tradition. He tells us, “8888P. 49.That the common course of human conversation makes it madness not to believe great multitudes of knowers, if no possible considerations can awaken in our reason a doubt that they conspire to deceive us.” And a little after, 8989Ibid.”Nor can any, unless their brains rove wildly, or be unsettled even to the degree of madness, suspect deceit, where such multitudes agree unanimously in a matter of fact.” Now if men be but supposed to write, as well as to speak, what they know, and to agree in their writings about matter of fact; then it will be the same “madness not to believe multitudes of historians, where no possible consideration can awaken in our reason a doubt that they have conspired to deceive us; and men’s brains must rove wildly, and be unsettled even to the degree of frenzy, who suspect deceit where such multitudes unanimously agree in a matter of fact.” And this seems to me to be the great unhappiness of Mr. S.’s demonstrations, that they proceed upon contradictory principles, so that in order to the demonstrating of the uncertainty of 297books and writings, he must suppose all those principles to be uncertain, which he takes to be self-evident and unquestionable, when he is to demonstrate the infallibility of oral tradition.
§. 13. Secondly, He tells us, 9090P. 18.the providence of God is no security against those contingencies the Scriptures are subject to; because we cannot be certain of Divine providence or assistance to his church, but by letter of Scripture; therefore, that must first be proved certain, before we mention the church, or God’s assistance to her. As if we pretended there was any promise in Scripture that God would preserve the letter of it entire and uncorrupted, or as if we could not otherwise be assured of it; as if the light of natural reason could not assure us of God’s providence in general, and of his more especial care of those things which are of greatest concernment to us, such as this is, that a book containing the method and the terms of salvation should be preserved from any material corruption! He might as well have said, that without the letter of Scripture we cannot know that there is a God.
§. 14. Thirdly, Nor (says he9191P. 18, 19.) can testimonies of councils and fathers be sufficient interpreters of Scripture. We do not say they are. Our principle is, that the Scripture doth sufficiently interpret itself, that is, is plain to all capacities, in things necessary to be believed and practised. And the general consent of fathers in this doctrine of the sufficient plainness of Scripture, (which I shall afterwards shew) is a good evidence against them. As for obscure and more doubtful texts, we acknowledge the comments of the fathers to be a good help, but no certain rule of interpretation. 298And that the papists think so, as well as we, is plain: inasmuch as they acknowledge the fathers to differ among themselves in the interpretation of several texts: and nothing is more familiar in all popish commentators, than to differ from the ancient fathers about the sense of Scripture. And as for councils, Dr. Holden and Mr. Cressy (as I said before) do not think it necessary to believe that always to be the true sense of texts which councils give of them, when they bring them to confirm points of faith. Nay, if any controversy arise about the sense of any text of Scripture, it is impossible (according to Mr. Rushworth’s principles) for a council to decide either that, or any other controversy: for he9292Dial. 2. sect. 8. makes it his business to prove, that controversies cannot be decided by words; and if this be so, then they cannot be decided at all, unless he can prove that they may be decided without words, and consequently that councils may do their work best in the quakers’ way, by silent meetings.
First, Because “a certain catalogue of fundamentals was never given and agreed to by sufficient authority, and yet without this all goes to wreck.” I hope not, so long as we are sure that God would make nothing necessary to be believed but what he hath made plain; and so long as men do believe all things that are plainly revealed, (which is every one’s fault if he do not) men may do well enough without a precise catalogue. But suppose we say, that the articles of the apostles creed contain all necessary 299matters of simple belief; what hath Mr. S. to say against this?” I am sure the Roman catechism set forth by the decree of the council of Trent, says9494Praefat. as much as this comes to; viz. “That the apostles having received a command to preach the gospel to every creature, thought fit to compose a form of Christian faith; namely, to this end, that they might all think and speak the same things, and that there might be no schisms among those whom they had called to the unity of faith, but that they might all be perfect in the same sense and the same opinion: and this profession of the Christian faith and hope, so framed by them, the apostles called the symbol, or creed.” Now how this end of bringing men to unity of faith, and making them perfectly of the same sense and opinion, could probably be attained by means of the creed, if it did not contain all necessary points of simple belief, I can by no means understand. Be sides, a certain catalogue of fundamentals is as necessary for them as for us; and when Mr. S. gives in his, ours is ready. Mr. Chillingworth had a great desire to have seen Mr. Knott’s catalogue of fundamentals, and challenged him to produce it, and offered him very fairly, that whenever he might with one hand receive his, he would with the other deliver his own: but Mr. Knott, though he still persisted in the same demand, could never be prevailed with to bring forth his own, but kept it for a secret to his dying day. But, to put a final stop to this “canting demand of a catalogue of fundamentals” (which yet I perceive I never shall be able to do, because it is one of those expletive topics which popish writers, especially those of the lowest form, do generally make use of to help out a book); 300however, to do what I can towards the stopping of it, I desire Mr. S. to answer the reasons whereby his friend Dr. Holden9595Analys. Fid. l. 1. c. 4. shews the unreasonableness of this demand, and likewise endeavours to prove, that such a catalogue would not only be useless and pernicious if it could be given, but that it is manifestly impossible to give such a precise catalogue.
Secondly, He asks,9696P. 21. “Is it a fundamental that Christ is God?” If so, “Whether this be clearer in Scripture, than that God hath hands, feet,” &c. To which I answer by another question, Is it clear that there are figures in Scripture, and that many things are spoken after the manner of men, and by way of condescension and accommodation to our capacities; and that custom and common sense teach men to distinguish between things figuratively and properly spoken?” If so, why cannot every one easily understand, that when the Scripture saith God hath hands and feet, and that Christ is the vine and the door, these are not to be taken properly, as we take this proposition, that Christ is God, in which no man hath any reason to suspect a figure?” When Mr. S. tells us, that he “percheth upon the specifical nature of things,” would it not offend him, if any one should be so silly as to conclude from hence that Mr. S. believed himself to be a bird, and nature a perch?” And yet not only the Scriptures, but all sober writers, are free from such forced and fantastical metaphors. I remember that Origen9797L. 4. taxeth Celsus’s wilful ignorance in finding fault with the Scriptures, for attributing to God human affections, as anger, &c. and tells him, “That any one who had a mind to understand the Scriptures, might easily 301see, that such expressions were accommodated to us, and accordingly to be understood; and that no man, that will but compare these expressions with other passages of Scripture, need to fail of the true sense of them.” But, (according to Mr. S.) Origen was to blame to find fault with Celsus for thinking that the Scriptures did really attribute human affections to God; for how could he think otherwise, when the most fundamental point is not clearer in Scripture, than that God hath hands, feet, &c.?” How could Origen in reason expect from Celsus (though never so great a philosopher), that he should be able, without the help of oral tradition, to distinguish between what is spoken literally, and what by a certain scheme of speech?” Theodoret9898Haeret. Fabul. l. 4. tells us of one Audaeus, who held that God had a human shape, and bodily members; but he does not say that the reason of this error was because he made Scripture the rule of his faith, but expressly because “he was a fool, and did foolishly understand those things which the Divine Scriptures speak by way of condescension.” So that, although Mr. S. is pleased to make this wise objection, yet it seems (according to Theodoret) that men do not mistake such texts either for want of oral tradition, or of sufficient clearness in the Scriptures, but for want of common reason and sense. And if Mr. S. know of any rule of faith that is secure from all possibility of being mistaken by foolish and perverse men, I would be glad to be acquainted with it, and with him for its sake.302
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