« PreviousContinue »
the controversy between us, is, to take notice briefly, and with due limitations,
1. How much the Protestants do allow to oral tradi. tion,
2. What those things are, which Mr S. thinks fit to attribute to his rule of faith, which we see no cause to attribute to ours; and when this is done, any one may easily discern how far we differ.
§ 2. First, How much Protestants do allow to oral tra. dition.
18, We grant that oral tradition, in some circumstan. ces, may be a sufficient way of conveying a doctrine ; but withal we deny, that such circumstances are now inz being. In the firlt ages of the world, when the credenda or articles of religion, and tie agenda or precepts of it, were but few, and such as had the evidence of natural light; when the world was contracted into a few families in comparison, and the age of man ordinarily extended to fix or feven hundred years; it is easy to imagine how suchi a doctrine, in such circumstances, might have been propagated by oral tradition, without any great change or alterations. Ada:n lived vill Methuselah was above two hundred years old, Methululah lived till Sim "nemi an hundred, and Sem outlived Abraham : so that this tradition need not pass through more than two hands betwixt Adam and Abraham. But though this
way was fufficient to have preserved religion in the world, if men had not been wanting to themselves; yet we find it did not prove
effectual : for through the corruption and negligence of men after the flood, (if not before), when the world began to multiply, and the age of 'man was thortened, the knowledge and worship of the one true God was generally lost in the word. And so far as appears by scripture-history, the only record we have of those times, when God called out Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, the whole world was lapsed into polytheism and idolatry. Therefore, for the greater security of religion afterwards, when the posterity of Abraham was multiplied into a great nation, the wisdom of God did not think fit to intrust the doctrine of religion any longer to the fallible and uncertain way of tradition, but committed it to writing. Now, that God pitched up
on this way, after the world had fadly experienced the unsuccessfulness of the other, seems to be a very good evidence, that this was the better and more secure way; it being the usual method of divine dispensations, not to go backwards, but to move towards perfection, and to proceed from that which is less perfect to that which is more. And the Apostle's reasoning concerning the two covenants, is very applicable to these two methods of conveying the doctrine of religion : If the first had been faultless, then should no place have been fought for the lecond, Fleb. viii. 7.
$ 3. So likewise, when Christ revealed his doétrine to the world, it was not in his lifetime committed to wri. ting; because it was entertained but by a few, who were his disciples and followers, and who, fo long as he continued with them, had a living oracle to teach them. After his death, the Apostles, who were to publish this doctrine to the world, were assisted by an infallible fpirit, fo as they were secured from error and mistake in the delivery of it. But when this extraordinary assistance fail. ed, there was need of some other means to convey it to pofterity, that so it might be a fixed and standing rule of faith and manners to the end of the world. To this end, the providence of God took care to have it committed to writing. And that Mr S. may fee this is not a conjecture of Protestants, but the sense of former times, I thall rcfer him to St Chryfoftom; who tells us, (homil. 1. in Matth.), “that Chrilt left nothing in writing to his “ Apostles; but, inftcad thereof, did promise to bestow “ upon them the grace of his Holy Spirit, saying, * John xiv. He shall bring all things to your remembrance,
But because in progress of time there were many grievous miscarriages, both in matter of opinion, or and also of life and manners; therefore it was requi“ site, that the memory of this doctrine should be pre« ferved by writing." So long then as the Apostles lived, who were thus infallibly afsifted, the way of oral tradition was fecure, but no longer; nor even then, from the nature of the thing, but from that extraordinary and supernatural afsistance which accompanied the deliverers. $4. And therefore it is no good way of argumene a.
gainst the way of tradition by writing, which he lays so much weight upon, p. 40.
“ That the Apostles, and “ their succeffors, went not with books in their hands,
to preach and deliver Christ's doctrine, but words in “ their mouths; and that primitive antiquity learned “ their faith by another method, a long time before ma“ ny of those books were universally Ipread among the
vulgar. For what if there was no need of writing this doctrine, whilst those living oracles, the Apostles, were present with the church ; dcth it therefore follow, that there was no need of it afterwards, when the ApoAtles were dead, and that extraordinary and fupernatural affiftance was ceased ? If the preachers now.a.days could give us any such assurance, and confirm all they preach by such frequent, and public, and unquestionable miracles as the Apostles did ; then we need not examine the doctrines they taught by any other rule, but ought to regulate our belief by what they deliver to us. Buc seeing this is not the case, that ought in all reason to be the rule of our faith, which hath brought down to us the doctrine of Christ with the greatest certainty; and this I shall prove the scriptures to have done.
$5. So that, in those circumstances I have mentioned, we allow oral tradition to have been a suficient way of conveying a doctrine : but now, considering the great increase of mankind, and the shortness of man's life in these latter ages of the world, and the long tract of time from the Apostles age down to us, and the innumerable accidents, whereby, in the space of ffteen hundred years, oral tradition might receive infenfible alterations, fo as at last to become quite another thing from what it was at first, by paling through many hands; in which paffage, all the mistakes and corruptions which, in the several ages through which it was transmitted, did happen, either through ignorance, or forgetfulness, or out of in. terest and design, are neceffarily derived into the last : fo that the farther it goes, the more alteration it is liable to; because, as it paffeth along, more errors and corruptions are infused into it : I fay, considering all this, we deny, that the doctrine of Christian religion could, with any probable security and certainty, have been conveyed down to us by the way of oral tradition; and
therefore do reafonably believe, that God, foreseeing this, did in his wisdom fo order things, that those perfons who were assisted by an infallible fpirit in the detivery of this doctrine, should, before they left the world, commit it to writing : which was accordingly done ; and by this instrument, the doctrine of faith hath been conveyed down to us.
$ 6. 2dly, We allow, that tradition, oral and written, do give us fufficient assurance, that the books of fcripture, which we now have, are the very books which were written by the Apoftles and Evangelifts; nay farther, that oral tradition alone is a competent evidence in this case : but withal we deny, that oral tradition is therefore to be accounted the rule of faith,
The general assurance that we have concerning books written long ago, that they are so ancient, and were written by those whose names they bear, is a constant and uncontrolled tradition of this, transmitted from one age to another, partly orally, and partly by the testimony of other books. Thus much is common to scripture with other books. But then the scriptures have this peculiar advantage above other books, that being of a greater and more universal concernment, they have been more common, and in every body's hands, more read and studied, than any other books in the world whatsoever; and confequently, they have a more universal and better grounded attestation. Moreover, they have not only been owned universally, in all ages by Christians, except three or four books of them, which for some time were questioned by some churches, but have fince been generally received; but the greatest enemies of our religion, the Jews and Heathens, never questioned the an. tiquity of them, but have always taken it for granted, that they were the very books which the Apostles writ. And this is as great an assurance as we can have concerning any ancient book, without a particular and immediate revelation.
$7. And this concession doth not, as Mr S. suppofeth, make oral tradition to be finally the rule of faith; for the meaning of this question, “ What is the rule of “ faith ?" is, What is the next and inimediate means
whereby the knowledge of Christ's doctrine is conveyed
So that although oral tradition be the means whereby we come to know, that these are the books of scripture; yet these books are the next and immediate means whereby we come to know, what is Christ's doctrine, and consequently what we are to believe.
$8. Nor doth this conceffion make oral tradition to be the rule of faith by a parity of reason; as if, because we acknowledge that oral tradition alone can with competent certainty transmit a book to after ages, we must therefore grant that it can with as much certainty convey a doctrine consisting of several articles of faith, (nay, very many, as Mr White acknowledges, Rushw. dial. 4.
9.) and many laws and precepts of life: fo becaule oral tradition sufficiently assures us, that this is magna charta, and that the statute-book, in which are contained those laws which it concerns every man to be skilfal in; therefore, by like parity of reason, it must follow, that tradition itself is better than a book, even the best way imaginable, to convey down such laws to us. Mr S. faith expressly it is, p.23. ; but how truly I appeal to experience, and the wisdom of all lawgivers, who seem to think otherwise. Tradition is already defined to us, “ a delivery down from hand to hand of the fense and “ faith of forefathers,” L. e. of the gospel or message of Christ. Now, suppose any oral message, consisting of an hundred particularities, were to be delivered to an hun. dred several persons of different degrees of understanding and memory, by them to be conveyed to an hundred more, who were to convey it to others, and so onwards to a hundred descents; is it probable, this meffage, with all the particulars of it, would be as truly conveyed through so many mouths, as if it were written down in so many letters, concerning which every bearer should need to say no more than this, that it was delivered to him as a letter written by him whose name was subscribed to it? I think it not probable, though the men's lives were concerned every one for the faithful delivery of his errand or letter : for the letter is a mesfage which no
nistake in, unless he will; but the errand so difficult, and perplexed with its multitude of particulars, that it is an equal wager against every one of the mese