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proof of these we have nothing to do, but refer to the document itself; otherwise, the possession of written records would be useless. If, indeed, a doubt should arise about the meaning of something in the record, it would not be unreasonable to inquire, how it had been understood and practised on, by those who received it at first; but, if we should find a society acting in direct opposition to a written charter, on which their existence depended, and pretending to prove that they were right, by appealing from the written documents to vague traditions, all sensible men, not interested, would judge that the case was a very suspicious one.
4. We are, moreover, ready to acknowledge, that the Gospel was, at first, for several years, communicated orally, by the Apostles and their assistants. The churches when first planted had no written Gospels; they received the same truths, now contained in the Gospels and Epistles, by the preaching of the Apostles and others; and, doubtless, were as well instructed as those churches which had possession of the whole inspired volume. And what they had thus received, without book, they could communicate to others; and thus, if the Gospels and Epistles had never been written, the Christian religion might have been transmitted from generation to generation. Then, it may be asked, why the writing of these books should hinder the transmission of many things which might not be contained in them, to future generations ?—for it cannot be doubted that many things were said and done by Christ which were not recorded in the Gospels: and there is reason to think, that the Apostles were much fuller in their sermons than in their writings; and that they established many rules for the good order and government of the Church, of which we have, in their Epistles, either no account, or only brief hints; which, though they might be readily understood by those who had received their verbal instructions, are insufficient, without tradition, to teach us what rules and institutions were established in the churches by apostolical authority. Now if these were transmitted, by tradition, to the next generation, and by them to the following, and so on, in an uninterrupted series, until the present time, are we not as much bound to receive such traditions, and be governed by them, as by the written word?
I have now presented the argument in favour of traditions, in the strongest light in which I am able to place it; and it would be uncandid not to admit, that it wears, at first sight, a face of plausibility; and if the whole case, as here stated, could be made out with satisfactory evidence, I think we
should be constrained to receive, to some extent, this oral law of the Romish church. But before any man can reasonably be required to rest his faith on tradition, he has a right to be satisfied on several important points; as, whether it was the purpose of God to permit any part of the revelation intended for the use of the church in all future ages, to be handed down by tradition? For, as he directed every thing in the law given at Mount Sinai, intended to regulate the faith and practice of the Israelites, to be committed to writing by Moses, it is no ways improbable that the same plan was pursued, in regard to the writings of the New Covenant; especially when it is considered how much superior written communications are to verbal, as it respects accuracy. When a channel for conveying the truth had been provided, calculated to preserve
communications from corruption; and when it is acknowledged, that this was used for a part of the matter to be transmitted, how can it be accounted for, that another part should be committed to the uncertainty of oral tradition? Why not commit the whole to writing?
But it is incumbent on the advocates of tradition to show, by undoubted proofs, that what they say has come down by tradition was really received from the mouth of Christ, or from the teaching of his Apostles. As they wish to claim for this rule an authority fully equal to that which is given to the Scriptures, they ought to be able to produce the very words in which these instructions were given. But this they do not pretend to do. It may be said, indeed, that words and sentences, in their just order and connexion, cannot be conveyed by tradition; and, therefore, this demand is unreasonable. I answer, that this allegation is most true; but instead of making in favour of traditions, it is a strong argument to prove, that nothing thus received can be of equal certainty and authority with the written word. When an article of faith is proposed, which is contained in the Scriptures, we can turn to the sacred text, and read the words of Christ and his Apostles; and may be assured, that they express the truth contained in the said article; but if any article of faith be asserted to have come down by tradition, we have no opportunity of knowing the words in which it was expressed: for, while it is pretended that the doctrine or instruction has reached us, the words have been lost: for what advocate of traditions is able, in any single case, to furnish us with the words of any divine revelation, which is not contained in the Sacred Scripture?
But it is essential to the credit of traditions, that it be
AS COMING FROM CHRIST OR HIS APOSTLES.
proved clearly, that those articles of religion, or institutions of worship, said to be received from this source, have indeed been handed down without alteration or corruption, from Christ and his Apostles. It is not sufficient, that they have been long received, and have now the sanction of the belief and practice of the whole Catholic church; it ought to be shown, that they have always, from the very days of the Apostles, been received with universal consent. We know that the church has undergone many vicissitudes; that she has sometimes been almost extirpated by the sword of persecution; has been overrun with dangerous errors; has been overwhelmed with the darkness of Gothic ignorance; and, we believe, has greatly apostatized from purity of doctrine and worship: and this accords with the Prophecy of Paul, who clearly intimates, that a time would come, when there should be “a falling away. Now it may have happened, that during this long period of adversity, heresy, darkness, and corruption, many things may have crept in, and may have obtained an extensive and firm footing, which were totally unknown in the days of the Apostles, or in the primitive church; and that this has in fact occurred we are not left to conjecture. It is a matter of historical record, which cannot be disputed, and which is not denied, even by the Romanists themselves. Who, that is not insane with prejudice, could persuade himself, that all the opinions, rites, and ceremonies, which now exist in the Romish church, were prevalent in the times of the Apostles, and were received from them by tradition?
Besides, there is a multitude of other things received and held to be important, by the church of Rome, of which there is no vestige in the Scriptures, and concerning which there is no early tradition. Many rules and ceremonies which have been long in use, can be traced to their commencement, at a period much later than that of the Apostles? Now, amidst such a mass of traditions, how can it be ascertained which have come down from Christ and his Apostles ?—Perhaps we shall be told, that the infallible Head of the Church can determine, with certainty, what we ought to believe and practise; but if there be on earth an infallible judge, we have no need of traditions. All that is necessary, is, for this person to establish his claim to infallibility, and then all will be as much bound to receive his decisions, as if they were expressly written in the Holy Scriptures. On this ground, the controversy between the Romanists and Protestants first commenced. The defenders of the old system appealed to the authority of the Pope, and the infallibility of the church; but as it was impossible to sustain themselves by Scripture, on these points, they found it very convenient to have recourse to the doctrine of unwritten traditions, which they pretended had been handed down from Christ and his Apostles. Grant them this, and there is no doctrine, however absurd, which may not be supported. Grant them this, and it will be in vain to appeal any more to the Sacred Scriptures as a standard of truth; for this traditionary law not only inculcates what is not found in the Scriptures, but teaches the only true interpretation of Scripture. Traditions may, therefore, be considered as the bulwark of the Romish church. Concede to them the ground which they assume, and the whole body of their ceremonial laws, and unscriptural practices, are safe. For as they can feign what traditions they please, having the keeping of them entirely in their own hands, they are prepared to defend every part of their system: but take this away from them, and their defence is gone. Bring them to the ground of clear Scriptural testimonies, and they are weak; for it is manifest, that the Bible knows nothing of their monstrous accumulation of superstitious rites.
* 2 Thess. ii, 2.
The Council of Trent, therefore, early in their sessions, made a decree on this subject, in which, after recognising the Scriptures, they add _“Nec non traditiones ipsas, tum ad fidem, tum ad mores pertinentes, tanquam vel oretenus a Christo, vel a Spiritu Sancto, dictatas et continua successione in Ee clesia Catholica conservatas, pari pietatis affectu et reverentia, suscipit ac veneratur.” The meaning of which is, that the Holy Synod receives and venerates traditions relating both to faith and manners, as proceeding from the mouth of Christ himself, or as dictated by the Holy Spirit, and preserved in an uninterrupted succession in the Catholic church, with equal affection and reverence as the written Scriptures! This was the first decree of the fourth session of this famous Council.
Before leaving this subject, it will be proper to consider some of the other arguments, which the Romanists bring forward, in support of their beloved traditions.
And the first is imposing, as it is derived from the express declarations of Scripture, in which we are exhorted to obey traditions. “ Now we command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”* Here Paul makes express mention of tradition. And in the preceding chapter, v. 15, “ Therefore
* 2 Thess. iii, 6.
CANNOT STAND THE TEST OF SCRIPTURE.
brethren stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our Epistle.” Now all that is necessary to refute the argument derived from these and such like passages, where the word tradition is used, is to observe, that Paul employs this word in a very extensive sense, to signify whatever doctrines or institutions he had delivered to the churches, whether by his preaching or writing. And in the verse first cited, he evidently refers to what he had said to them in his First Epistle; for the words following are: “ For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us; for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man's bread for nought," &c. Now this tradition which he commanded the Thessalonians to obey, was contained in the former Epistle addressed to them, where it is said, “ And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you. in the quotation from the second chapter, it is clear, that by traditions, the Apostle did not mean merely oral communications, for he explains himself, by saying, " whether by word, or our Epistle." It is not denied, that Paul delivered many things orally to the churches, as has been already acknowledged; all the instructions given to the churches first planted were oral, for as yet no Gospels nor Epistles were written; but the true point in dispute is, whether any article of faith, or any important institution, thus originally communicated, was omitted, when the books of the New Testament were written, by divine inspiration? Whether, while a part of the revelation of God, for the use of his church, was committed to writing, another important part was left to be handed down by tradition? That the word tradition, as used by Paul, makes nothing in favour of the doctrine of the Romish church, is evident, because by this word he commonly means such things as were distinctly recorded in the Scriptures. Thus, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, he says, “ For I delivered unto you first of all,” where the word for transmitting by traditions is used; but what were those things which he had by tradition communicated to them? He informs us in the next words, “How that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures."I
It is manifest, therefore, that the argument derived from the exhortation of Paul to obey tradition, is but a shadow, and vanishes upon the slightest touch of fair examination. * 1 Thess. iv, 11. † rapidwxa, delivered. Epit. f I Cor. xv, 3, 4.