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Testimonies on the behalf of Scripture.
§. 1. ALL that now remains, is to confirm the precedent discourse by testimonies of the most eminent persons of the church, in several ages; in which I shall not need to be large, being so happily prevented by that full account which is given of the sense of the ancients in this matter, in the answer to Labyrinthus Cantuariensis; which Mr. S. may, if he please, consult for his further conviction.
§. 2. I begin with the historical account which Eusebius gives of committing the gospel to writing; which is to this purpose, viz.314314Hist. Eccles. l. 2. c. 14. “That the Romans were not content with the doctrine preached, unless it were also committed to writing, and therefore did earnestly beg of Mark, Peter’s companion, that he would leave them a monument in writing of that doctrine which had been delivered to them by word of month. And this was the occasion of the writing of St. Mark’s 438Gospel. And when Peter did understand that this work was published, (being suggested by the Divine revelation of the Holy Spirit) it is said he was very much pleased with the ready and earnest desire of those persons; and that by his authority he confirmed this writing, to the end that it might be every where read in the church.” As for St. Matthew and St. John, he tells us,315315Hist. Eccles. l. 3. c. 18. that “of all the disciples, they two only have left monuments in writing; of whom it is also reported, they betook themselves to write being drawn thereto by necessity. Matthew, after he had preached the word of God to the Jews, and was resolved to go to other nations, wrote his Gospel in the language of his country; and thus, by the diligence and pains of writing, did abundantly supply the want of his presence to those whom he left. And when Mark and Luke had published their Gospels, it is reported, that John, (who had always used to preach the word without writing it) being at length wrought upon by the same reason, did betake himself to write.” From this account it is clear, that the apostles thought it necessary, for the preservation and secure conveyance of the Christian doctrine, that it should be put into writing; and, that they judged this a better way to supply the want of their presence than oral tradition. Therefore the same author tells us,316316Ibid c, 31. that “the disciples, who immediately succeeded the apostles, as they travelled to preach the gospel to those who had not yet heard the word of faith, did with great care also deliver to them the writings of the holy evangelists.” Again,317317Ibid. c. 30. that “Ignatius, as he travelled towards Rome, (where he was to suffer) exhorted the churches of every city to hold fast the tradition of 439the apostles; which (as also by writing he testified) for the greater security he held necessary to be copied in writing.”
§. 3. That the heretics of old made the same pretences which the papists make now, of oral tradition in opposition to Scripture, the same Eusebius tells us; and withal, that books are a sufficient confutation of this pretence. 318318 Hist. Eccles. l. 5. c. 27.”Those (says he) who were of the heresy of Artemon, said that all their forefathers and the apostles themselves had received and taught the same things which they also did; and had preserved the true teaching unto the time of Victor, bishop of Rome, whose successor, Zephyrinus, corrupted it. And this (saith he) would have great probability, were it not first of all contradicted by the Scripture; and next, if there did not remain the writings of other brethren much more ancient than Victor’s time, &c. in the books of all whom Christ’s divinity is acknowledged.” And afterwards he tells us, that these heretics did change and corrupt the Scriptures to bring them to their opinions; so Mr. S. tells us, that the outward letter of Scripture ought to be corrected by tradition and sense written in men’s hearts.
St. Jerome also tells us, that319319Com. in Isa. c. 19. “the heretics were wont to say, We are the sons of the wise, who did from the beginning deliver down to us the apostolical doctrine; but he adds, that the true sons of Judah adhere to the Scripture.”
§. 4. That Scripture is sufficiently plain in all things necessary.
St. Austin, having spoken of the profoundness of 440Scripture, adds,321321Epist. 3. “Not that those things which are necessary to salvation are so hard to be come at: but (saith he) when one hath there attained faith, without which there is no pious and right living, there are besides many dark and mysterious things,” &c. Again,322322Ibid. “The manner of speech in Scripture, how easy is it to all, though few can penetrate to the bottom of it! Those things which it plainly contains, it speaks without disguise like a familiar friend to the heart of the learned and unlearned.” How will Mr. S. reconcile this with his great exception against Scripture?” And what these things are, which are plainly contained in Scripture, the same father tells us elsewhere in these words:”323323De Doct. Christ. l. 2. c. 9. “Among those things which are plainly set down in Scripture, all those things are to be found which comprehend faith and good manners.” The same St. Austin, (as also Clement, in the book which Mr. White quoted) for the understanding of obscure texts of Scripture, directs us, not to tradition, but to the plain text, without which he expressly says,324324De Unitat. Ecc. l. c. 5. “There would be no way to understand them.”
§. 5. That Scripture is so plain, as to be fit to determine controversies.
Justin surely thought so, when, disputing with Trypho, concerning a point wherein the Jew had tradition on his side, he told him he would bring such proofs (to the contrary) as no man could gain say: “Attend (says he) to what I shall recite out of the Holy Scriptures, proofs which need not to be explained, but only to be heard.” Mr. White might have found likewise much to this purpose in his Clement.441
But not to tire ray reader in a point which the ancients abound with, I shall only produce the judgment of Constantine,325325Theod. Hist. l. 1. c. 7. in that solemn oration of his to the council of Nice; wherein he bewails their mutual oppositions, especially in Divine things; concerning which they had “the doctrine of the Holy Spirit recorded in writing:”” “For (says he) the books of the evangelists and apostles, and the oracles of the old prophets, do evidently teach us what we ought to think of the Di vine Majesty. Therefore, laying aside all seditious contention, let us determine the matters in question by testimonies out of the Divine writings.” Not a word of any other tradition but Scripture, which was held evident enough in those days, though now Mr. S. tells us it is not sufficient to decide that controversy about the Divinity of Christ.
§. 6. Lastly, That Scripture is the rule of faith. Irenaeus:”326326L. 3. c. 1. “The method of our salvation we have not known by any other but those men by whom the gospel came to us, which then they preached, but afterwards by the will of God delivered it to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith.”
St. Cyprian the church hath ever held a good catholic; yet Mr. S.327327P. 314. takes notice that he erred in a point of faith, and perhaps the rather, because Mr. Rushworth328328Dial. 3. sect. 13. had told him that he was not theirs in this controversy. “For (says he) St. Cyprian seems to think that the resolution of faith was to be made into Scripture, and not into tradition.” But, that we may not seem to accept of this courtesy from him, nor yet wholly to despise it, I shall offer this one testimony instead of many out of that father; who, being opposed with 442an argument from tradition, demands,329329Epist. 74. “Whence have yon that tradition?” Comes it from the authority of the Lord, and of the gospel, or from the epistles of the apostles?” For God testifies that we are to do those things which are written, &c. If it be commanded in the gospel, or contained in the Epistles or Acts of the Apostles, then let us observe it as a Divine and holy tradition.” Hilary330330Ad Constant. commends Constantius the emperor for regulating his faith only according to those things which are written. And to oblige him to deserve this commendation, he adds, “he who refuseth this is antichrist, and who dissembles in it is anathema.”
Optatus,331331Lib. 5. de Schism. Donat. concerning the controversy with the Donatists, asks, “Who shall be judge?” And answers himself, “the Scriptures:”” which he illustrates by the similitude of a father who delivered his will orally to his children while he was living, but when he was dying, caused it to be written in lasting tables, to decide all controversies that might happen among them after his death. The passage is large, and it is obvious to apply it.
Basil, maintaining the doxology as it was used in his days, says,332332De Sp. Sancto, c. 7. “Thus we received it from our fathers;” but adds immediately, “This is not enough for us, that it is the tradition of the fathers, for they followed the authority of the Scriptures, making its testimonies the principles upon which they built.” He has indeed in the same book333333C. 27. a passage much insisted on by the papists concerning unwritten traditions; but withal, he says those traditions were secretly conveyed, which makes all the rest of no to Mr. S.443
Chrysostom334334Hom. 8. in Epist. ad Heb. c. 5. having mentioned several heresies, directs how they may be avoided, viz. “By attending to the faith delivered, and looking upon all that disagrees from that as adulterate. For (says he) as those who give rules do not put men upon a curious inquiry after any measures, but bid them keep to the rule given; so it is in opinions. But nobody will attend to the Scriptures; if we did, we should not only not fall into errors ourselves, but also rescue those that are deceived.” Again,335335Hom. 52. in Joh. “If we should be thoroughly conversant in the Scriptures, we should be instructed both in right opinions and a good life.” Again, among the many “sects of Christians336336Hom. 33. in Act. Apost. it will be easy to judge of the right, if we believe the Scriptures, because they are plain and true: if any one agree with these he is a Christian; if he contradicts them, he is far from this rule.”
St. Austin calls the Scripture,337337De Bapt. cont. Donat. l. 2. c. 6. the Divine balance for the weighing of doctrines. Again, “the Holy Scripture (says he) fixeth the rule of our doctrine.” And accordingly himself uses it both in his dispute with Maximinus, to whom he says,338338Contr. Max. l. 3. “Neither ought I now to allege the Nicene council, nor thou that of Ariminum: for neither am I bound to the authority of the one, nor thou of the other. Let us both contest with the authorities of Scripture, which are witnesses common to us both:”” and also against the Donatists in these words:”339339De Unitat. Eccles. c. 16. “Let them, if they can, demonstrate their church, not by the talk or rumours [or oral tradition] of the Africans, not by the councils of their own bishops, not by the books of their disputers, not by 444deceitful miracles, &c. but by the prescript of the law, prophets, &c. i.e. by all the canonical autho rities of the holy books.”
Jerome saith,340340Comment. in Agg. c. 1. “Of these things, which, without the authorities and testimonies of the Scripture, men invent of their own heads as from apostolical tradition, they are smitten with the sword of God.”
Theophilus Alexander, whom Jerome hath translated, calls Scripture more than once341341Paschal. l. 3. the rule and the testimonies or it the firm foundations of doctrine. And again saith,342342L. 2. “It comes from a demoniacal spirit that men follow the sophisms of human minds, and think any thing Divine that wants the authority of Scripture.”
Theodoret343343Haeret. Fab. l. 5. charges all heresies upon the not following of Scripture; which he calls “the inflexible rule of truth.” Again, “We have learned the rule of opinions from the Divine Scripture.”
After the fathers, I shall produce the testimonies of two eminent persons of later times, Gerson and Lyra.
Gerson, in his344344Part 1. Consid. 2. book of the Trial of Doctrines, hath this remarkable passage: “In the trial of doctrines, that which is first and principally to be considered, is, whether a doctrine be conformable to the Holy Scripture, &c. the rule of this is, because the Scripture is delivered to us as a sufficient and infallible rule for the government of the whole ecclesiastical body and its members to the end of the world. So that it is such an art, such a rule or exemplar, that any other doctrine which is not conformable to it, is to be renounced as heretical, 445or to be accounted suspicious, or not at all appertaining to religion.” Again,345345De Distinct. Verar. Vision à falsis. “It is eviddent how pernicious the rejection of the Holy Scripture is, and how certain a preparatory for the reception of antichrist.” Once more,346346Serm. in die Circumcis. &c. “What mischief, what danger, what confusion, hath happened through contempt of the Holy Scripture! which sure is sufficient for the government of the church (else Christ must have been an imperfect lawgiver). Let us ask experience,” &c.
Lyra also writes thus:”347347Prolog. de lib. Bib. &c. “As in philosophy, truth is discovered by reducing things to their first and self-evident principles; so in the writings delivered by the holy doctors, truth is discovered, as to matters of faith, by reducing them to the canonical Scriptures.”
You know how easy it were to swell up a large volume with testimonies to this purpose; especially if I should take the course that Mr. White does, to hale in quotations, though ever so impertinent: or use the wretched importunity which Mr. S. does to persuade them to be pertinent. But these testimonies which I have nakedly set down, leaving them to speak for themselves, are enough to satisfy an unpassionate reader, such an one as dares trust himself with the use of his own eyes and reason. As for that sort of men which choose to follow noise rather than light, we must be content to leave them to the blind conduct of 446those guides, who having no better means to keep their followers to them, go hallooing in the dark, and fill their ears with the insignificant sounds of infallibility, indefectibility , self-evidence, and demonstration.
Concerning the Appendix, wherein you are particularly challenged, I hope for an account very shortly, and so take leave.
Your affectionate friend,
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