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The second answer to his demonstration.
§. 1. SECONDLY, The main grounds of his demonstration are apparently false: for,
First, This demonstration supposeth that the generality of Christian parents in all ages perfectly understood the doctrine of Christ, and did not mistake any part of it; that they remembered it perfectly, and that they were faithful and diligent to instruct their children in it; which is as contrary to experience, as that the generality of Christians are knowing and honest. It supposeth, likewise, that this doctrine, and every substantial part of it, 345was received and remembered by the generality of children as it was taught; and was understood perfectly by them without the least material mistake: so he tells us,166166P. 53. “That the substance of faith comes clad in such plain matters of fact, that the most stupid man living cannot possibly be ignorant of it.” But whether this be reasonable enough to be supposed or not, may easily be determined, not only from every man’s own experience of the world, but from a more advantageous instance of the experience of the first age of Christianity. Was there ever a more knowing and diligent teacher of this doctrine than our Saviour?” And yet his disciples fell into many mistakes concerning it: so that, in order to the certain propagating of it, the wisdom of God thought it requisite to endue even those who had learned this doctrine from himself with an infallible Spirit, by which they might be led into all truth, and secured from error and mistake; which had been unnecessary, had it been impossible for them to mistake this doctrine. The apostles, who taught the world by an infallible Spirit and with infinitely more advantage than ordinary parents can teach their children; yet, in all the churches which they planted, they found Christians very apt to mistake and pervert their doctrine, as appears by their frequent complaints in most of their epistles. Nay, the apostle chargeth the generality of the Hebrews167167Heb. v. 11, 12. with such a degree of dulness and stupidity, that, after fitting time and means of instruction, they were still ignorant of the very principles of Christianity: so he tells them, “That when for the time they ought to be teachers of others, they had need that one should teach them again which be the first principles 346of the oracles of God.” And St. Jerome tells us,168168Advers. Luciferian. “That the primitive churches were tainted with many gross errors whilst the apostles were alive, and the blood of Christ yet warm in Judea.” But it may be there have been better teachers since, and children are more apt to learn now than men were then. Who knows how the world may be changed?”
§. 2. Secondly, This demonstration supposeth the hopes and fears which Christian religion applies to men’s minds to be certain and necessary causes of actual will in men to adhere to the doctrine of Christ; and consequently, that they must necessarily adhere to it. That he supposeth them to be necessary, I have his own word for it; for he tells169169P. 75. us, “That he hath endeavoured to demonstrate the indefectibleness of tradition as the proper and necessary effect of those causes which preserve and continue tradition on foot,” and what those causes are he told us before,170170P. 60. “That they are hopes and fears strongly applied.” But I hope that the indefectibleness of tradition cannot be a necessary effect of the strong application of those hopes and fears, unless those hopes and fears be a necessary cause of that effect. And indeed this is sufficiently implied in his saying, that “they are the causes of actual will” in Christians to adhere to tradition. For if these “causes of actual will” be constant, (as he must suppose) then they are certain, and necessary, and infallible causes of adhering to this doctrine. For whatever is in act is necessary while it is so, and if it be constantly in act, the effect is al ways necessary. But what a wild supposition is this, that moral motives and arguments working 347upon a free principle, the will of man, do necessarily produce their effect! Is it necessary that the hopes of heaven and the fears of hell should keep Christians constant to the doctrine of Christ?” And is it not as necessary that these arguments should prevail upon them to the practice of it?” It is in vain to go about to demonstrate that all men must be good who have sufficient arguments propounded to them, when experience tells us the contrary. Nay, it is in reason impossible that moral arguments should be of a necessary and infallible efficacy, because they are always propounded to a free agent, who may choose whether he will yield to them or not. Indeed, it is always reasonable that men should yield to them, and if they be reasonable they will; but so long as they are free, it can never be infallibly certain that they will. And if men be not free, it is no virtue at all in them to be wrought upon by these arguments. For what virtue can it be in any man to entertain the Christian doctrine, and adhere to it, and live accordingly, if he does all this necessarily; that is, whether he will or not, and can no more choose whether he will do so or not, than whether he will see the light when the sun shines upon his eyes, or whether he will hear a sound when all the bells in the town are ringing in his ears, or (to use Mr. S.’s171171P. 53. own similitudes) whether he will “feel heat, cold, pain, pleasure, or any other material quality” that affects his senses?” We see then how unreasonable his suppositions are, and yet without these grounds his demonstration falls: for if it be possible that Christians may mistake or forget the doctrine of Christ, or any part of it, or be defective in diligence to instruct others in it; or if it be possible that the 348will of man, which is free, may not be necessarily and infallibly swayed by the arguments of hope and fear; then it is possible that tradition may fail. And is not this a good demonstration, which supports itself upon such principles as do directly affront the constant experience and the clearest reason of mankind?”
§. 3. And here I cannot but take notice how in consistent he is to himself in laying the grounds of tradition’s certainty. In one part of his book he tells us,172172P. 53. that “tradition hath for its basis the best nature in the universe, that is, man s; not according to his moral part, defectible by reason of original corruption; nor yet his intellectuals, darkly groping in the pursuit of science, &c. but according to those faculties in him perfectly and necessarily subject to the operations and strokes of nature; that is, his eyes, ears, handling, and the direct impressions of knowledge, as naturally and necessarily issuing from the affecting those senses, as it is to feel heat, cold, pain, pleasure, or any other material quality.” So that, according to this discourse, the basis of tradition is not man’s nature considered as moral, and capable of intellectual reflection; for in this consideration it is dark and defectible: but man’s nature considered only as capable of “direct sensitive knowledge,” as acting naturally and necessarily. Which is to say, that tradition is founded in the nature of man, considered not as a man but a brute; under which consideration, I see no reason why he should call it “the best nature in the universe.” But now, how will he reconcile this discourse with the grounds of his demonstration?” where he tells us, that the stability of tradition is founded in the “arguments of hope and 349fear,” the objects of which being future and at a distance, cannot work upon a man immediately by direct impressions upon his senses, but must work upon him by way of intellectual reflections and considerations. For I hope he will not deny but that the “arguments of hope and fear” work upon man according to his moral and intellectual part, else how are they arguments?” And if man, according to his moral part, be (as he says) defectible, how can the indefectibility of tradition be founded in those arguments which work upon man only according to his moral part?” I have purposely all along (both for the reader’s ease and mine own) neglected to take notice of several of his inconsistencies; but these are such clear and transparent contradictions, that I could do no less than make an example of them.
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