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this day from whence the succeeding popes have derived their succession? which may very much call the popedom and infallibility into question. And then as for councils, which consist of bishops, there is the same uncertainty about them, whether they be true bishops or not, as there is about the pope; and besides this, there are so many disputes what makes a general council when it is regularly called, and when they act conciliariter, in such a manner as a council ought to act, to procure the infallible directions of the Spirit, and to give authority to their decrees, that if women and busy people cannot understand the scriptures, and the reasons of their faith, I am sure they are much less able to understand what councils they may safely rely on.
But suppose we did know who this infallible judge is, whether pope or council, and this judge should give us an infallible interpretation of scripture, and an infallible decision of all controversies in religion, which the church of Rome never could be persuaded to do yet, and I believe never will, witness those many fierce disputes which are among men of their own communion; and I think no man is ever the more infallible for a judge, who will not exercise his infallibility; yet if this judge should infallibly determine all the controversies in religion, we must either hear it from his own mouth, or receive it in writing, or take it upon the report of others. As for the first of these, there is not one in the world at this day that was present at the debates of any general council, or heard them pronounce their decrees and definitions, and I believe as few ever heard the pope determine any question ex cathedra, which what it means, either they do not well understand, or have no mind to tell us. As for writing; when we see the decrees of a council written, we can have only a moral assurance that these are the decrees of the council; and when we have them, it may be they are much more obscure, and subject to as many different interpretations as the scriptures are; that we can have no better assurance what the sense of the council, than what the sense of the scripture is; as experience tells us it is in the council of Trent, which the Roman doctors differ as much about as protestants do about the sense of scripture; and though the pope of Rome be made the judge of the sense of councils, yet if he will not determine it, what are we the
better? If one pope approves cardinal Bellarmine's exposition of the council, and another M. de Meaux, though directly opposite to each other, as we see at this day, how shall we ever come to an infallible certainty what the council has determined? Has not a protestant, who studies the scripture, and uses the best reason and judgment he has to understand it, as much certainty and infallibility as this comes to? And yet how few are there that have time or learning to read the councils, which is a little more difficult than to read the scriptures in the vulgar tongue; and all these men must trust entirely to the honesty of their priest, who, if he be honest, may be very ignorant, and yet the last resolution of the people's infallibility is into the honesty and skill of their priests; for how infallible soever the pope or council be, they know no more of the matter than what their priests tell them, which is such an infallibility as the meanest protestant has no reason to
This, I think, is sufficient to shew how vain all this talk of infallibility is in the church of Rome; though protestants own themselves to be fallible creatures, yet they were too wise to change their moral certainty for the popish infallibility. Had the church of Rome as good evidence for their faith as the church of England, it might admit of a dispute whether they should reject both, or cast lots which to choose; but thanks be to God, there is no comparison between them, and while we feel ourselves certain, let who will boast of being infallible.
WHAT IS MEANT BY IT, AND WHAT TRADITION IS TO BE RECEIVED, AND WHAT TRADITION IS TO BE REJECTED.
AN obligation being laid upon us at our baptism, to believe and to do the whole will of God, revealed unto us by Christ Jesus; it concerns every one that would be saved, to inquire where that whole, entire will of God is to be found? where he may so certainly meet with it, and be so informed about it, that he may rest satisfied he hath it all?
And there would be no difficulty in this matter, had not the worldly interests of some men raised controversies about it, and made that intricate and perplexed, which in itself is easy and plain. For the rehearsal of the Apostles' Creed at baptism, and of that alone, as a summary of that faith whose sincere profession entitles us to the grace there conferred, warrants the doctrine of the church of England in its sixth article, that the "holy scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
But this strikes off so many of the doctrines of the present Roman church, which are not to be found in the scripture, nor have any countenance there, that they are forced to say, the faith once delivered to the saints (mentioned by St. Jude) is not entirely delivered in the scripture; but we must seek for the rest in the traditions of the church. Which traditions, say
they, are to be received as a part of the rule of faith, with the same religious reverence that we do the holy scripture.
Now, though this is not really the bottom of their hearts, (as will appear before I have done,) but they finally rest for their satisfaction in matters of faith somewhere else; yet this being plausibly pretended by them, in their own justification, that they follow tradition, and in their accusations of us, that we forsake tradition; I shall briefly let all our people see, who are not willing to be deceived, what they are to judge and say in this business of tradition: about which a great noise is made, as if we durst not stand to it, and as if they of the Roman church steadfastly kept it without any variation; neither of which is true, as I shall plainly shew in this short discourse,
The meaning of the word.
Which for clearness' sake shall begin with the meaning of the word tradition: which in English is no more than delivering unto another; and by a figure signifies the matter which is delivered; and among Christians, the doctrine of our religion delivered to us. And there being two ways of delivering doctrines to us, either by writing or by word of mouth, it signifies either of them indifferently; the scriptures, as you shall see presently, being traditions. But custom hath determined this word to the last of these ways, and distinguished tradition from scriptures or writings; at least from the holy writings; and made it signify that which is not delivered in the holy scriptures, or writings. For though the scripture be tradition also, and the very first tradition, and the fountain of all true and legitimate antiquity; yet in common language, traditions now are such ancient doctrines as are conveyed to us some other way; whether by word of mouth, as some will have it, from one generation to another; or by human writings, which are not of the same authority with the holy scriptures.
How to judge of them.
Now there is no better way to judge aright of such traditions, than by considering these four things:
First, the authors of them, whence they come.
Secondly, the matter of them.
Thirdly, their authority.
Fourthly, The means by which we come to know they derive themselves from such authors as they pretend unto; and consequently have any authority to demand admission into our belief.
1. For the first of these, every body knows and confesses that all traditions suppose some author, from whom they originally come, and who is the deliverer of those doctrines to Christian people; who being told by the present church, or any person in it, that such and such doctrines are to be received, though not contained in the holy scriptures, because they are traditions, ought in conscience to inquire from whom those traditions come, or who first delivered them by which means they will be able to judge what credit is to be given to them, when it is once cleared to them from what authors they really come. Now whatsoever is delivered to us in Christianity comes either from Christ, or from his apostles, or from the church, (either in general or in part,) or from private doctors in the church. There is nothing now called a tradition in the Christian world but proceeds from one or from all of these four originals.
2. And the matter which they deliver to us, (which is next to be considered,) is either concerning that faith and godly life which is necessary to salvation; or concerning opinions, rites, ceremonies, customs, and things belonging to order. Both which, as I said, may be conveyed either by writing or without writing; by the Divine writings, or by human writings: though these two ways are not alike certain.
3. Now it is evident to every understanding, that things of both sorts, which are delivered to us, have their authority from the credit of the author from whence they first come. be Divine, their authority is Divine; if it be only human, their authority can be no more. And among human authors if their credit be great, the authority of what they deliver is great; if it be little, its authority is little; and accordingly must be accepted with greater or lesser reverence.
Upon which score, whatsoever can be made to appear to come from Christ, it hath the highest authority, and ought to be received with absolute submission to it, because he is the Son of God. And likewise, whatsoever appears to have been delivered by the apostles in his name hath the same authority;