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That Scripture is sufficient to convince the most acute adversaries, and that it is sufficiently certain.
§. 1. THE last part of this third discourse endeavours to shew, “that the Scripture is not convictive of the most obstinate and acute adversaries.” As for the obstinate, he knows my mind already. Let us see why “the most acute adversary” may not be convinced by Scripture: because, as he objects, 117117P. 28.First, We cannot be certain that this book is God’s word, because of the “many strange absurdities and heresies in the open letter as it lies, as that God hath hands and feet,” &c. and because “of the contradictions in it:”” to which I have already returned an answer. Secondly, Because (as he saith118118P. 31.) we cannot be “certain of the truth of the letter in any particular text, that it was not foisted in, or some way altered in its significativeness; and if it be a negative proposition, that the particle not was not inserted; if affirmative, not left out.” And if we pretend to be certain of this, he demands119119P. 31. our demonstration for it, But how unreasonable this demand is, I hope I have sufficiently shewn. And to shew it 318yet further, I ask him, how their church knows, that the particle not was not left out of any text in which it is not found in their copies?” I know he hath a ready answer, viz. by oral tradition. But this (according to him)120120P. 116. only reaches to “Scripture’s letter so far as it is coincident with the main body of Christian doctrine;” concerning the rest of Scripture it is impossible (according to his own principles) that they should have any security that the particle not was not unduly inserted, or left out by the transcribers. Nay, as to those texts of Scripture which fall in with the main body of Christian doctrine, I demand his demonstration that the particle not was not unduly inserted or left out, not only in those texts, but also in the oral tradition of the doctrines coincident with the sense of those texts. If he say, it was impossible any age should conspire to leave out or insert the particle not in the oral tradition; so, say I, it was that they should conspire to leave it out of the written text: but then, I differ from him thus far—that I do not think this naturally impossible, so as that it can rigorously be demonstrated, but only morally impossible, so that nobody hath any reason to doubt of it; which to a prudent man is as good as a demonstration. Pyrrho himself never advanced any principle of scepticism beyond this, viz. That men ought to question the credit of all books, concerning which they cannot demonstrate as to every sentence in them, that the particle not was not inserted (if it be negative), or left out (if it be affirmative). If so much be required to free a man from reasonable doubting concerning a book, how happy are they that have attained to infallibility! What he saith concerning the variae lectiones 319121121 P. 38.of Scripture, hath already had a suffiient answer.
§. 2. In his fourth discourse he endeavours to shew,122122P. 33. that the Scripture “is not certain in itself,” and consequently, “not ascertained to us.” First, “Not certain, materially considered,123123P. 34. as consisting of such and such characters, because books are liable to be burnt, torn, blotted, worn out.” We grant it is not impossible but that any, or all the books in the world, may be burnt: but then we say, likewise, that a book so universally dispersed may easily be preserved; though we have no assurance that God will preserve it, in case all men should be so foolish or so careless as to endeavour or suffer the abolition of it. But it seems the Scripture can not be a rule of faith, if they be liable to any external accidents: and this (he tells us) “Though it may seem a remote and impertinent exception, yet, to one who considers the wise dispositions of Divine Providence, it will de serve a deep consideration; because the salvation of mankind being the end of God’s making nature, the means to it should be more settled, strong, and unalterable, than any other piece of nature what ever.” But notwithstanding this wise reason, this exception still seems to me both remote and impertinent: for if this which he calls a reason be a truth, it will from thence necessarily follow, not only that the doctrine of Christ must be conveyed by such a means as is more unalterable than the course of nature, but also, by a clear parity of reason, that all the means of our salvation do operate towards the accomplishing of their end with greater certainty than the tire burns, or the sun shines; which they can 320never do, unless they operate more necessarily than any natural causes; how they can do so upon voluntary agents, I desire Mr. S. to inform me.
§. 3. He proceeds, by a long harangue, to shew,124124P. 34. that not only these material characters in themselves are corruptible, but, “in complexion with the causes, actually laid in the world to preserve them entire; because either those causes are material, and then they are also liable to continual alterations; or spiritual, that is, the minds of men, and from these we may with good reason hope for a greater degree of constancy than from any other piece of nature;” which, by the way, is a very strange paradox, that the actions of voluntary agents have a greater certainty and constancy in them than those of natural agents; of which the fall of angels and men, compared with the continuance of the sun and stars in their first state, is a very good evidence.
§. 4. But he adds a caution,125125P. 35. “That they are perfectly unalterable from their nature, and unerrable, if due circumstances be observed, that is, if due proposals be made to beget certain knowledge, and due care used to attend to such proposals.” But who can warrant, that due proposals will always be made to men, and due care used by them; if these be uncertain, where is the constancy and unerrableness he talks so much of?” So that, notwithstanding the constancy of this spiritual cause (the mind of man) of preserving Scriptures entire, yet, in order to this, (as he tells us126126P. 36.) “so many actions are to be done, which are compounded and made up of an innumerable multitude of several particulars to be observed, every of which may be mistaken apart, 321each being a distinct little action, in its single self, such as is the transcribing of a whole book, consisting of such myriads of words, single letters, and tittles, or stops; and the several actions of writing over each of these so short and cursory, that it prevents diligence, and exceeds human care, to keep awake and apply distinct attentions to every of these distinct actions.” Mr. Rushworth127127Dial. 2. sec. 7. much outdoes Mr. S. in these minute cavils, for he tells us, that “supposing an original copy of Christ’s words, written by one of the evangelists in the same language, let him have set down every word and syllable: yet men conversant in noting the changes of meanings in words will tell us, that divers accents in the pronunciation of them, the turning of the speaker’s head or body this or that way, &c. may so change the sense of the words, that they will seem quite different in writing from what they were in speaking.” I hope that oral and practical tradition hath been careful to preserve all these circumstances, and hath delivered down Christ’s doctrine with all the right traditionary accents, nods, and gestures, necessary for the understanding of it, otherwise the omission of these may have so altered the sense of it, that it may be now quite different from what it was at first. But to answer Mr. S. we do not pretend to be assured that it is naturally impossible that the Scripture should have been corrupted or changed, but only to be sufficiently assured that they have not received any material alteration, from as good arguments as the nature of the subject will bear. But if his reason had not been very short and cursory, he might easily have reflected, that oral tradition is equally liable to all these contingencies; for it doth as much “prevent 322diligence, and exceed human care, to keep awake and apply distinct attentions to the distinct actions of speaking, as of writing.” And I hope he will not deny, that a doctrine orally delivered, consists of words, and letters, and accents, and stops, as well as a doctrine written: and that the several actions of speaking are as short and cursory as of writing.
§. 5. Secondly, He tells us,128128P. 38. “Scripture, formally considered, as to its significativeness, is also uncertain;” First,129129Ibid. “Because of the uncertainty of the letter:”” this is already answered: Secondly,130130Ibid. “Because the certain sense of it is not to be arrived to by the vulgar, who are destitute of languages and arts.” True, where men are not permitted to have the Scriptures in their own language, and understand no other: but where they are allowed the Scriptures translated into their own language, they may understand them; all necessary points of faith and practice being sufficiently plain in any translation of the Bible that I know of. And that eminent wits cannot agree about the sense of texts which concern the main points of faith, hath been spoken to already.
§. 6. As for the reverence he pretends to Scripture in the conclusion of his fourth discourse, he might have spared that, after all the raillery and rudeness he hath used against it. It is easy to conjecture, both from his principles and his uncivil expressions concerning them, what his esteem is of those sacred oracles. Probably it was requisite in prudence to cast in a few good words concerning the Scriptures, for the sake of the more tender and squeamish novices of their religion, or (as Mr. 323Rushworth’s nephew131131Dial. 2. sec. 14. says frankly and openly) “for the satisfaction of indifferent men, that have been brought up in this verbal and apparent respect of the Scripture;” who it seems are not yet attained to that degree of catholic piety and fortitude, as to endure patiently that the word of God should be reviled or slighted. Besides that, in reference to those whom they hope hereafter to convert, (who might be too much alienated from their religion, if he had expressed nothing but contempt towards a book, which protestants and Christians in all ages, till the very dregs of popery, have been bred up to a high veneration of) it was not much amiss to pass this formal compliment upon the Bible; which the wise of his religion will easily understand, and may serve to catch the rest. But let him not deceive himself, “God is not mocked.”
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