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who out of fear delivered up their books, as apoftates, and renouncers of Christianity ? And if they had not thought this book to be the great instrument of their faith and salvation ; and if it had really been of no greater consideration than Mr. W. and Mr. S. would make it, why should they be so loth to part with a few “unsen“ fed characters, waxen-natured words, to be played
upon diversely by quirks of wit; that is, apt to blun« der and confound, but to clear little or nothing ?” why should they value their lives at fo cheap a rate, as to throw them away for a few insignificant scrawls, and to shed their blood for “ a little ink variously figured in “ a book ? ” Did they not know, that the safety of Christianity did not depend upon this book ? Did no Chriftian then understand that which, according to Mr. S. no Christian can be ignorant of, viz. that not the scripture, .but uninistakeable and indefectible oral tradition was the rule of faith? Why did they not consider, that though this lètter-rule of hereticks had been consumed to ashes; yet their faith would have lain safe, and “ been preserved is entire in its spiritual causes, mens minds, the noblest
pieces in nature?”P. 34. Soine of them indeed did deliver up their books, and were called traditores; and I have some ground to believe, that these were the only traditionary Christians of that time, and that the rest were confessors and martyrs for the letter-rule. And if this be not evidence enough, that the scriptures have always been acknowledged by Christians for the rule of faith, I shall, when I come to examine his testimonies for tradition, (with the good leave of his distinction between /peculators and testifiers), prove, by most express testimony, that it was the general opinion of the fathers, that“ the “ scriptures are the rule of Christian faith ;” and then, if his demonstration of the infallibility of tradition will inforce, that as testifiers they must needs have spoken otherwise, who can help it ?
How much Protestants allow to oral tra
$1. Having thus laid down the Protestant rule of faith, with the grounds of it, all that now
remains for me to do towards the clear and full ftating of the controverfy between us, is, to take notice briefly, and with due limitations,
1. How much the Protestants do allow to oral tradition.
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 tradition.
ist, We grant that oral tradition, in some circumstances, may be a sufficient way of conveying a doctrine; but withal we deny, that such circumstances are now in being. In the firit ages of the world, when the credenda or articles of religion, and the 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 seven hundred years; it is easy to imagine how such a doctrine, in such circumstances, might have been propagated by oral tradition, without any great change or alterations. Adam lived till Methuselah was above two hundred years old, Methuselah lived till Sem was near 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 shortened, the knowledge and worship of the one true God was generally lost in the world. 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 traditi
on, but committed it to writing. Now, that God pitched upon 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 fecure way; it being the usual method of the divine difpensations, not 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 fauliless, then should no place have been fought for the fecond, Heb. viii. 7.
§ 3. So likewise, when Christ revealed his doctrine to the world, it was not in his lifetime committed to writing; 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, so as they were secured from error and mistake in the delivery of it. But when this extraordinary affiftance failed, there was need of some other means to convey it to posterity, 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 see this is not a conjecture of Protestants, but the sense of former times, I shall refer him to St. Chrysostom ; who tells us, Chomil. 1. in Matth.), “ that Christ left
nothing in writing to his Apostles; but, instead " thereof, did promise to bestow upon them the grace " of his Holy Spirit, saying, John xiv. He shall bring " all things to your remembrance, &c. But becaufe in
progress of time there were many grievous miscarriages, both in niatter of opinion, and also of life and manners; therefore it was requisite, that the memo
ry of this doctrine should be preserved by writing. So long then as the Apostles lived, who were thus infallibly aslisted, the way of oral tradition was secure, but no longer ; nor even then, from the nature of the thing, but from that extraordinary and supernatural assistance which accompanied the deliverers.
$ 4. And therefore it is no good way of argument against the way of tradition by writing, which he lays so much weight upon, p. 40.
* That the Apostles and " their successors 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 many “ of those books were universally spread among the vul
gar." For what if there was no need of writing this doctrine, whilst those living oracles, the Apostles, were present with the church ? doth it therefore follow, that there was no need of it afterwards, when the Aposties were dead, and that extraordinary and supernatural afsistance was ceased? If the preachers now-a-days could give us any such assurance, and confirm all they preach by such frequent, and publick, 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. But 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 sufficient 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 țime from the Apostles age down to us, and the innumerable accidents, whereby, in the space of fifteen hundred years,
oral tradition might receive insensible alterations, soas at last to become quite another thing from what it was at first, by palling through many hands ; in which passage, 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 interest and design, are necessarily derived into the laft: so that the farther it goes, the more alteration it is liable to ; because, as it passeth along, more errors and corruptions are infused into it: I say, 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 reasonably believe, that God, foreseeing this, did in his wisdom so order things, that those persons who were allisted by an infallible spirit in the delivery of this doctrine, should, before they left the world, commit it to writing : which was according. ly 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 sufficient assurance, that the books of fcripture, which we now have, are the very books which were written by the Apostles 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 consequently, 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 since been generally received; but the greatest enemies of our religion, the Jews and Heathens, never questioned the antiquity of them, but have always taken it for granted, that they were the very books which the ApoItles 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 conceflion 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 immediate mean's