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SECT. VI.

That the properties of a rule of faith do not belong to oral tradition.

§. 1. SECONDLY, He comes to shew,132132P. 41. “That the properties of a rule of faith belong to oral tradition.” And, First, He gives a tedious explanation of the nature of this oral practical tradition, which amounts to this: that as, in reference to the civil education of children, “they are taught their own and others names, to write and read, and exercise their trades;” so, in reference to religion, the children of Christians “first hear sounds, afterwards by degrees get dim notions of God, Christ, Saviour, heaven, hell, virtue, vice, and by degrees practise what they have heard; they are shewn to say grace, and their prayers, to hold up their hands, or perhaps 324eyes, and to kneel, and other postures.” After wards they are acquainted with the “Creed, Ten Commandments, and sacraments, some common forms of prayer, and other practices of Christianity, and are directed to order their lives accordingly, and are guided in all this by the actions and carriage of the elder faithful; and this goes on by insensible degrees, not by leaps from a hundred years to a hundred, but from month to month, and even less.” If this be all that tradition doth, this is nothing but what is done among protestants, and that with greater advantage; because we always teach children to say their prayers in a known tongue; so as they may understand them. And we also teach them the Creed, and Ten Commandments, and the sacraments, so many as Christ hath instituted, and no more. So that if this be so infallible a way of conveying the doctrine of Christianity, we have it among us: and we do over and besides instruct them in the Scriptures, which are the authentic instrument whereby Christ’s doctrine is conveyed to us. But then we do not suppose (as his hypothesis necessarily enforceth him to do) that the Christian doctrine is equally taught and learned by all; but by some more, by others less perfectly, according to the different abilities and diligence of parents and teachers, and the various capacities and dispositions of children; whereas his hypothesis falls, if all or at least the generality of parents, do not instruct their children with the like exactness, and if the generality of children do not receive this doctrine in the same perfection that it is delivered. For if it be taught or received with any variation, it must necessarily be so conveyed, and these variations will grow daily. I had thought he would have told us 325how all parents do teach their children the whole body of Christ’s doctrine, and explain to them every part of it in a hundred or a thousand several expressions signifying the same sense, and not have instanced in two set forms, such as the Creed and Ten Commandments; for, according to Mr. White,133133Apolog. p. 81. “That cannot be a tradition which is delivered down in set words.”

§. 2. Having thus explained oral tradition, he comes to shew that the properties of a rule of faith agree to it. I have already shewed, that the true properties of a rule of faith are but two: viz. That it be plain and intelligible, and that it be sufficiently certain. The first of these, that oral tradition may deliver a doctrine plainly and intelligibly, I grant him: all the difficulty is about the second property, whether we have sufficient assurance that the doctrine delivered down by oral tradition, hath received no corruption or change in its conveyance: and all that he pretends to prove in this discourse, is, That if this rule hath been followed and kept to all along, the Christian doctrine neither hath, nor can have, received any change; that is, if the next age after the apostles did truly, and without any alteration, deliver the Christian doctrine to their immediate successors, and they to theirs, and so on, then, upon this supposition, the doctrine of the present traditionary church must be the very same with that which was delivered to the apostles. All this is readily granted to him. But that this rule hath always been followed, nay, that it is impossible there should have been any deviation from it (as he pretends,) this we deny, not only as untrue, but as one of the most absurd propositions that ever yet pretended to demonstrative evidence.

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