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That Scripture is a sufficient rule to the unlearned, and to the most rational doubters.
§. 1. IN his next discourse he endeavours to shew, that unlearned persons cannot be justified as acting rationally in receiving the Scripture for the word of God, and relying upon it as a certain rule; because they are not capable of satisfaction concerning these matters. But I have already shewn that they are, and shall not repeat the same over again. And whereas he says, 9999P. 24.that “several professions all pretend to Scripture, and yet differ, and damn, and persecute one another” about these differences; the answer is easy: that they all pretend to Scripture, is an argument that they all acknowledge it to be the word of God, and the rule of faith; and that they are generally agreed about the sense of those plain texts which contain the fundamental points of faith, is evident, in that those several professions acknowledge the articles contained in the apostles creed to be sufficiently delivered in Scripture: and if any professions differ about the meaning of plain texts, that is not an argument that plain texts are obscure, but that some men are perverse. And if those professions damn and persecute one another about the meaning of obscure texts, the Scripture is not in fault, but those that do so.
§. 2. And whereas he pretends,100100P. 25-27. that the Scripture is not “able to satisfy sceptical dissenters and rational doubters, because nothing under a demonstration can satisfy such persons so well concerning the incorruptedness of 303originals, the faithfulness of translations, &c. but that searching and sincere wits may still maintain their ground of suspense, with a—Might it not be otherwise?” This hath been answered already, partly by shewing that the Scripture was not in tended to satisfy sceptics, and that a demonstration is not sufficient to give satisfaction to them; and partly by shewing that rational doubters may have as much satisfaction concerning those matters, as the nature of the thing will bear; and he is .not a rational doubter that desires more.
But, that he may see the unreasonableness of this discourse, I shall briefly shew him, that all man kind do, in matters of this nature, accept of such evidence as falls short of demonstration; and that his great friends and masters, from whom he hath taken the main grounds of his book, (though he manageth them to less advantage) do frequently acknowledge, that it is reasonable for men to acquiesce in such assurance as falls short of infallibility, and such evidence as is less than demonstration. Do not mankind think themselves sufficiently assured of the antiquity and authors of several books, for which they have not demonstrative evidence?” Doth not Aristotle say, that things of a moral and civil nature, and matters of fact done long ago, are in capable of demonstration; and that it is madness to expect it for things of this nature?” Are there no passages in books so plain, that a man may be sufficiently satisfied that this and no other is the certain sense of them?” If there be none, can any thing be spoken in plainer words than it may be written?” If it cannot, how can we be satisfied of the certain sense of any doctrine orally delivered?” And if we cannot be so satisfied, where is the certainty 304of oral tradition?” But if books may be writ ten so plainly as that we may be abundantly satisfied that this is the certain sense of such and such passages, then we may reasonably rest satisfied in evidence for these matters short of demonstration. For was ever the sense of any words so plain as that there did not remain this ground of suspense, that those words might be capable of another sense?” Mr. Rushworth101101Dial. 2. sect. 7. says, that “disputative scholars do find means daily to explicate the plainest words of an author to a quite different sense:”” and, that the world might be furnished with an advantageous instance of the possibility of this, Raynaudus102102De bonis et malis. Libris. (a writer of their own) hath made a wanton experiment upon the apostles’ creed, and by a sinister (but possible) interpretation, hath made every article of it heresy and blasphemy, on purpose to shew that the plainest words are not free from ambiguity. But may be Mr. S. can outdo the apostles, and can de liver the Christian doctrine so clearly, that he can demonstrate it impossible for any man to put any other sense upon any of his words than that which he intended. I do not know what may be done; but if Mr. S. doth this, he must both amend his. style and his way of demonstration.
Is Mr. S. sufficiently assured that there is such a part of the world as America?” and can he demonstrate this to any man without carrying him thither?” Can he shew, by any necessary argument, that it is naturally impossible that all the relations concerning that place should be false?” When his demonstrations have done their utmost, cannot103103P. 27. “a searching and sincere wit at least maintain his ground of suspense, with a—Might it not 305be otherwise?” And, with an—Is it not possible that all men may be liars, or that a company of travellers may have more use of their privilege to abuse the world by false reports, and to put a trick upon mankind?” or that all those who pretend to go thither, and bring their commodities from thence, may go to some other parts of the world, and taking pleasure in abusing others in the same manner as they have been imposed upon themselves, may say they have been at America?” Who can tell but all this may be so?” And yet, I suppose, notwithstanding the possibility of this, no man in his wits is now possessed with so incredible a folly as to doubt whether there be such a place. The case is the very same as to the certainty of an ancient book, and of the sense of plain expressions: we have no demonstration for these things, and we expect none, because we know the things are not capable of it. We are not infallibly certain that any book is so ancient as it pretends to be, or that it was written by him whose name it bears, or that this is the sense of such and such passages in it; it is possible all this may be otherwise, that is, it implies no contradiction: but we are very well assured that it is not; nor hath any prudent man any just cause to make the least doubt of it. For a bare possibility that a thing may be, or not be, is no just cause of doubting whether a thing be or not. It is possible all the people of France may die this night; but I hope the possibility of this doth not incline any man in the least to think it will be so: it is possible that the sun may not rise to-morrow morning; and yet, for all this, I suppose that no man hath the least doubt but that it will.
§. 3. But because this principle, viz. “That in 306matters of religion, a man cannot be reasonably satisfied with any thing less than that infallible assurance which is wrought by demonstration,” is the main pillar of Mr. S.’s book; therefore, beside what hath been already said to shew the unreasonableness of this principle, I shall take a little pains to manifest to him how much he is contradicted in this, by the chief of his brethren of the tradition: viz. Mr. Rushworth, Dr. Holden, Mr. Cressy, and Mr. White, who, besides Mr. S. and one J. B. are, so far as I can learn, all the public patrons that ever this hypothesis of oral tradition hath had in the world; and if Mr. White, as 1 have reason to believe, was the author of those Dialogues which pass under Rushworth’s name, the number of them is yet less. Now if I can shew that this principle, esteemed by Mr. S. so fundamental to this hypothesis, is plainly contradicted by the principal assertors of oral tradition, I shall hereby gain one of these two things—either that these great patrons of oral tradition were ignorant of the true foundation of their own hypothesis, or that this principle is not necessary for the support of it. Not that I would be so understood, as if I did deny that these very persons do sometimes speak very big words of the necessity of infallibility: but if it be their pleasure to contradict themselves, as I have no reason to be displeased, so neither to be concerned for it; but shall leave it to Mr. S. to reconcile them first to themselves, and then, if he pleases, afterwards to himself.
§. 4. I begin with Mr. Rushworth, of immortal memory, for that noble attempt of his to persuade the world, that, notwithstanding he was the first inventor of this hypothesis of oral tradition, yet he could prove that the church had, in all ages, owned 307it, and proceeded upon it, as her only rule of faith. He, in his Third Dialogue,104104Sect. 3. and 4. when his nephew objects to him, that “perhaps a protestant would say that all his foregoing discourse was but probability and likelihood; and, therefore, to hazard a man’s estate upon peradventures, were something hard, and not very rationally done:”” replies thus to him, “What security do your merchants, your statesmen, your soldiers, those that go to law, nay, even those that till your grounds, and work for their livings; what security, I say, do all these go upon?” Is it greater than the security which these grounds afford?” Surely, no; and yet no man esteems them foolish. All human affairs are hazardous, and have some adventure in them: and, therefore, he who requires evident certainty only in matters of religion, discovers in himself a Jess mind to the goods promised in the next life, than to these which he seeks here in this world, upon weaker assurance. Howsoever, the greatest evidence that can be to him that is not capable of convincing demonstrations, (which the greatest part of mankind fall short of) is but conjectural.” So that, according to Mr. Rushworth, it is not reason and discretion, but want of love to God and religion, which makes men require greater evidence for matters of religion, than for human affairs, which yet, he tells us, are “hazardous, and have some adventure in them,” and, consequently, are not capable of demonstration. Besides, if demonstrative evidence be an essential property of the rule of faith, as Mr. S. affirms, then this rule cannot, according to Mr. Rushworth, be of any use to the greatest part of mankind, because they are “not capable of convincing demonstrations.” Again, “Do but consider 308(says he105105Ib. sect. 6.) how unequal and unjust a condition it is, that the claim of the present church shall not be heard, unless she can confute all the peradventures that wit may invent, and solve all the arguments which the infinite variety of time, place, and occasions, may have given way unto; and then you will see how unreasonable an adversary he is, who will not be content with any satisfaction, but such as man’s nature scarcely affords.” And is it not equally unjust in Mr. S. not to let Scripture’s “claim be heard, unless we can confute every peradventure (and—Might it not be otherwise) that wit may invent?” See, then, how unreasonable an adversary Mr. S. is, “who will not be content with any satisfaction, but such as (according to Mr. Rushworth) man’s nature scarcely affords.”
Dr. Holden, I confess, states the matter somewhat cautiously, when he tells us, 106106 L. 1. c. 1“That it shall suffice, for the present, to determine, that the wisdom of the Creator hath afforded us such an assurance, especially of truths necessary to salvation, as is suitable to our nature, and best fitted for the safe conduct of our lives in moral and religious affairs.” But if we interpret these general expressions by the passages I before cited out of Mr. Rushworth, (as in reason we may, since the Doctor is beholden to him for the best part of his book) then nothing can make more against Mr. S.’s principle.
§. 5. Mr. Cressy, in his Exomologesis,107107C. 19. sect. 5. says, “That such teachers as approached nearest to the fountain of truth, Christ and his apostles, had means of informing themselves in apostolical tradition, incomparably beyond us.” Mr. S. 309may do well to shew what those means were which are so incomparably beyond his infallibility and demonstration. The same author108108C. 32. sect. 4. does very much applaud Stapleton’s determination of the question concerning the church’s infallibility, which is as follows: “That the church does not expect to be taught by God immediately by new revelations, but makes use of several means, &c. as being governed not by apostles, &c. but by ordinary pastors and teachers. That these pastors, in making use of these several means of decision, proceed not as the apostles did, with a peculiar in fallible direction of the Holy Spirit, but with a prudential collection not always necessary. That to the apostles, who were the first masters of evangelical faith, and founders of the church, such an infallible certitude of means was necessary; not so now to the church,” &c. If this be true, “that an infallible certitude of means is not now necessary to the church;” and that her pastors do now, in deciding matters of faith, proceed only with a prudent collection not always necessary; then it should seem that “a searching wit may maintain his ground and suspense,” even against the church also, with a “Might it not be otherwise?” Again, Mr. Cressy109109Append. c. 5. tells us, “That truth, and our obligation to believe it, is in a higher degree in Scripture, than in the decisions of the church,” as Bellarmine acknowledges; which is to say, that we may have greater assurance of the truth of doctrines contained in the Scriptures, than we can have of any doctrine from the determination of the church. But if we have the greatest assurance that can be of truths delivered to us by the church, as Mr. S. affirms, then I would fain learn of him what 310that higher degree of assurance is which Bellarmine speaks of, and whether it be greater than the great est?” Not to insist upon that, (which yet I cannot but by the way take notice of) that Mr. Cressy, by his approbation of this determination of Bellarmine’s, doth advance the Scripture above the church, as to one of the most essential properties of the rule of faith, viz. the certainty of it.
But the most eminent testimony to my purpose in Mr. Cressy, is that famous passage,110110C. 40. sect. 3. &c. (which hath given so much offence to several of his own church) wherein he acknowledges the unfortunateness (to him) of the word infallibility, and tells us,—That he could find no such word in any council; that no necessity appeared to him, that either he or any other protestant should ever have heard that word named, and much less pressed, with so much earnestness as of late it has generally been, in disputations and books of controversy; and that Mr. Chillingworth combats this word with too great success, insomuch, that if this word were once forgotten, or but laid by, Mr. Chillingworth’s arguments would lose the greatest part of their strength; and, that if this word were confined to the schools where it was bred, there would be still no inconvenience: and, that since by manifest experience the English protestants think themselves so secure, when they have leave to stand or fall by that word, and in very deed have so much to say for themselves when they are pressed unnecessarily with it: since likewise it is a word capable of so high a sense that we cannot devise one more full and proper to attribute to God himself, &c. since all this is so, he thinks he cannot be blamed, if such reasons move him to wish that the protestants 311may never be invited to combat the authority of the church under that notion.—A very ingenuous acknowledgment! and as cross to Mr. S.’s principle as any thing can be. But the word infallibility was not so unfortunate to Mr. Cressy, as his untoward explication of the forecited passage in his Appendix, which he afterwards published chiefly by way of vindication of himself against the learned author of the preface to my Lord Falkland’s discourse of Infallibly. There he111111Append. sect. 2. and 3. tells us, That there are “several degrees of infallibility.” And that we may know what degrees of infallibility he thinks necessary to be attributed to the church, this following passage will inform us: “Methinks (he says) if God have furnished his Divine and supernatural truth with evidence equal to this, the sun will shine to-morrow, or that there will be a spring and harvest next year, we are infinitely obliged to bless his providence, and justly condemned, if we refuse to believe the least of such truths, as shewing less affection to save our souls, than the dull ploughmen to sow their corn, who certainly have far less evidence for their harvest than catholics for their faith; and yet they insist not peevishly upon every capricious objection, nor exact an infallible security of a plentiful reaping next summer; but, notwithstanding all difficulties and contingencies, proceed cheer fully in their painful husbandry.” So that, according to this discourse, whatever degree of assurance the church hath, or can give to those who rely upon her, it is plain that no further degree is necessary, than what the husbandman, when he sows, hath of a plentiful harvest, and that men are justly condemned if they refuse to believe the least truth upon such security, which yet (by his own acknowledgment) 312is liable to contingencies: way, further, that men are not reasonable, but peevish, in exacting in fallible security, and insisting upon every capricious objection, such as is Mr. S.’s “Might it not be other wise?” Now as to this degree of assurance, (or, as he calls it, infallibility,) I cannot but grant what he says of it to be most true, viz. that in a severe acceptation of the word it is not rigorously infallible, that is, (as he explains) it is not absolutely impossible, nor does it imply a flat contradiction, that the thing whereof we are so assured may be otherwise: but then I utterly deny, that, according to any true acceptation of this word, such a degree of assurance as he speaks of can be called infallibility; and withal I affirm, that none of those several degrees of infallibility which he mentions, excepting that only which imports an absolute impossibility, can, with any tolerable propriety of speech, or regard to the true meaning and use of the word, have the name of infallibility given to them. For infallibility can signify nothing else but an utter impossibility that one should be deceived in that matter as to which he is supposed to be infallible; and to say, such a thing is impossible, is to say, that the existence of it implies a flat contradiction: so that whosoever asserts degrees of infallibility, is obliged to shew that there are degrees of absolute impossibilities, and of perfect contradictions; and he had need of a very sharp and piercing wit, that is to find out degrees where there neither are nor can be any. Indeed, in respect of the objects of knowledge, it is easy to conceive how infallibility may be extended to more objects or fewer; but in respect of the degree of assurance (of which Mr. Cressy speaks), it is altogether unimaginable how any one can be more or less out of 313all possibility of being deceived in those things wherein he is supposed to be infallible; for no one can be more removed from the possibility of being deceived, than he that is out of all possibility of being deceived; and whosoever is less than this is not infallible, because he only is so who is out of all possibility of being deceived in those matters wherein he is supposed to be infallible: so that Mr. Cressy’s lower degrees of infallibility are no degrees of that assurance which may properly be called in fallible (for that can have no degrees), but of that assurance which is less than infallible. And he needed not have raised all this dust about the degrees of infallibility, had it not been that, by the means of such a cloud, he might make the more convenient escape out of that strait he was in between the clamours of his own church, and the advantage which his adversaries made of his free and open discourse against infallibility: for any one that carefully reads his book, will find that he under stands nothing by the infallibility of the church, but an authority of obliging all Christians to submit to her decisions, which is no more but what every supreme civil judge hath in matters, viz. a power to determine those controversies that lie before him as well as he can or will, and when that is done every one is bound to submit to such determinations; but yet, for all this, no man ever dreamt a supreme civil judge to be infallible more than another man. I do not now dispute the extent of the church’s authority: but if she have no other infallibility but what a full authority of decision does suppose, I am sure she hath none at all.
Before I leave Mr. Cressy, I cannot but take notice how unfortunate and disingenuous he is in explaining 314the meaning of these words of his own, [viz. “Against this word infallibility, Mr. Chillingworth’s book especially combats, and this with too great success,”] which in his Appendix112112C. 5. sect. 6. he interprets thus; “Success, 1 mean, not against the church, but against his own soul, and the souls of his fellow English protestants,” &c. As if one that had wished well to Caesar should have said, “That Pompey had fought against him with too great success;” and being after wards challenged by Caesar’s party, as having said that Pompey had conquered Caesar, he should explain himself thus, “Success, I mean, not against Caesar, but against his own life, and the lives of his followers.” Can any thing be finer, than for any man to say, that, by Pompey’s success in fighting against Caesar, he means that Caesar had beaten Pompey?” Which is no more than if any one should take the liberty to interpret white by black.
§. 6. Lastly, Mr. White doth most expressly contradict this principle of Mr. S.’s in these following passages. In his preface to Mr. Rush worth he says, “That such a certainty as makes the cause always work the same effect, though it take not away the ab solute possibility of working otherwise, ought absolutely ta be reckoned in the degree of true certainty;” and that those authors are mistaken who undervalue it. So that it seems, Mr. S. is mistaken in affirming that a man cannot be certain of any thing so long as there is any possibility that it may be otherwise. In his answer to my Lord Falkland, he says, 113113P. 14, 15.that “in moral matters, and such as are subject to human action, we must expect such assurance as human actions bear. If for the government of your spiritual life you have as 315much as for the management of your natural and civil life, what can you expect more! Two or three witnesses of men beyond exception will cast a man out of not only his lands, but life and all. He that among merchants will not adventure where there is a hundred to one of gaining, will be accounted a silly factor: and among soldiers, he that will fear danger where but one of a hundred is slain, shall not escape the stain of cowardice. What, then, shall we expect in religion, but to see a main advantage on the one side, which we may rest ourselves on?” And for the rest, remember we are men subject to chance and mutability, and thank God he hath given us that assurance in a supernatural way, which we are contented withal in our civil ventures and possessions, which nevertheless, God knoweth, we often love better, and would hazard less, than the unknown good of the life to come.” Again,114114P. 30. “If God Almighty hath in all sorts and manners provided his church that she may enlighten every man in his way that goeth the way of a man, then let every man consider which is the fit way for himself, and what in other matters of that way he accounteth evidence. And if there be no interest in his soul to make him loath to believe, what in another matter of the like nature he doth not stick at, or heavy to practise what he sees clearly enough, I fear not his choice.” Once more; directing a man in his search after rational satisfaction in matters of religion, he hath this passage: 115115P. 46.“Besides this, he must have this care, that he seek what the nature of the subject can yield; and not as those physicians, who, when they have promised no less than immortality, can at last only reach to some conservation of 316health or youth in some small degree: so I could wish the author to well assure himself first that there is possibly an infallibility, before he be too earnest to be contented with nothing less; for what if human nature should not be capable of so great a good?” Would he therefore think it fitting to live without any religion, because he could not get such an one as himself desired, though with more than a man’s wish?” Were it not rational to see, whether among religions some one have not such notable advantages over the rest, as in reason it might seem human nature might be contented withal?” Let him cast his account with the dearest things he hath, his own or friends lives, his estate, his hope of posterity, and see upon what terms of advantage he is ready to venture all these; and then return to religion, and see whether, if he do not venture his soul upon the like, it be truly reason, or some other not confessed motive, which withdraws him. For my own part, as I doubt not of an infallibility, so I doubt not but, setting that aside, there be those excellences found on the catholic party which may force a man to prefer it, and to venture all he hath upon it, before all other religions and sects in the world. Why, then, may not one who after long searching findeth no infallibility, rest himself on the like, supposing man’s nature affords no better?”
Are not these fair concessions, which the evidence and force of truth have extorted from these authors?” So that it seems that that which Mr. S. calls116116Letter to his Answerer, p. 5. “a civil piece of atheistry,” is advanced in most express words by his best friends; and therefore, I hope he will (as he threatens me) “be smart with them in opposition to so damnable and fundamental an error.” And 317whenever he attempts this, I would entreat him to remember that he hath these two things to prove: First, That no evidence but demonstration can give a man sufficient assurance of any thing. Secondly, That a bare possibility that a thing may be other wise, is a rational cause of doubting, and a wise ground of suspense:”—which, when he hath proved, 1 shall not grudge him his infallibility.
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