« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
veyed to the church through this channel. But if there be no satisfactory evidence of any such revelation having come down to us; nor any possibility of ascertaining what proceeded from the Apostles, and what from the fancy and superstition of men, then we are right in refusing the high claims of tradition, and adhering inflexibly to the written word, "which is able," through faith," to make us wise unto salvation."
This doctrine of traditions is most convenient and favourable to the church of Rome, in all her controversies with Protestants and others; for whatever she may assert, as an article of faith, or teach as a part of Christian duty, although there be no vestige of it in the word of God, may readily be established by tradition. For as the church alone has the keeping of this body of oral law, she only is the proper judge of what it contains, and, indeed, can make it to suit herself. If we should concede to the Romanists what they claim on this point, the controversy with them might well be brought to an end; and all we should have to do, would be, to yield implicit faith to whatever they might please to teach us. And even if we should be required to believe and practise, in direct opposition to the plain declarations of Holy Scripture; yet, as the true interpretation of Scripture, on this plan, is only in the hands of the infallible Head of the Church, and is, indeed, understood by means of unwritten traditions, we must not trust to our own understanding in the most evident matters, nor even to our own senses, although several of them should concur in giving us notice of some fact. Now, before we give ourselves up to be led blindly in such a way as this, it behoves us, diligently and impartially to inquire, whether God has required of us this implicit submission to men. We ought to be assured, that their authority over our faith and conscience has a divine warrant for its exercise; and, especially, we should be satisfied, on sufficient grounds, that these unwritten traditions, on which the whole fabric rests, are truly the commands of God; for if they are not, we have the highest authority for rejecting them. And if their claim to a divine origin cannot be made out clearly, they cannot, in reason, bind us to obedience; for, when God gives a law, he promulgates it with sufficient clearness, that all whom it concerns may know what is required of them.
To exhibit, fairly, the true point of controversy on this subject, it will be requisite to make several preliminary observations, that it may be clearly understood what we admit, and what we deny.
1. In the first place, then, it is readily admitted that a law,
revealed from Heaven and communicated to us orally, with clear evidence of its origin, is as binding, as if written ever so often. When God uttered the ten commandments on Mount Sinai, in the midst of thunderings and lightnings, it surely was as obligatory on the hearers, as after He had written them on tables of stone.
It is a dictate of common sense, that it is a matter of indifference how a divine revelation is communicated, provided it come to us properly authenticated.
2. Again, it is conceded, that for a long time, there was no other method of transmitting the revelations received from heaven, from generation to generation, but by oral tradition, and such external memorials as aided in keeping up the remembrance of important transactions. As far as appears, books were unknown, and letters not in use, until a considerable time after the flood. During the long period which preceded the time of Moses, all revelations must have been handed down by tradition. But, while this concession is willingly made, it ought, in connexion, to be remarked, that this mode was then used, because no other existed; and that, in the early ages of the world, the longevity of the patriarchs, rendered that a comparatively safe channel of communication, which would now be most uncertain; and, notwithstanding this advantage, the fact was, that in every instance, as far as we are informed, in which divine truth was committed to tradition, it was utterly lost; or soon became so corrupted by foreign mixtures, that it was impossible to ascertain what part of the mass contained a revelation from God. It is, therefore, the plausible opinion of some, that writing was revealed from heaven, for the very purpose of avoiding the evil which had been experienced, and that there might be a certain vehicle for all divine communications; and it is certain, that all that we know of the history of alphabetical writing, leads us to connect its origin with the commencement of written revelations.
It is, therefore, not an improbable supposition, that God taught letters to Moses, for the express purpose of conveying, by this means, his laws, to distant ages, without alteration; and it deserves to be well considered, that after the command was given to Moses, to write in a book the laws and statutes delivered to him, nothing was left to oral tradition, as has been shown in the former part of this work.
3. It will be granted also, that tradition, especially when connected with external memorials, is sufficient to transmit,
through a long lapse of time, the knowledge of particular events, or of transactions of a very simple nature.
Thus, it must be admitted, that if the gospels had not come down to us, we might by tradition be assured, that Christ instituted the Eucharist, as a memorial of his death; for from the time of its institution, it has in every successive age, and in many countries, been celebrated to perpetuate the remembrance of that event. And it is not credible, that such a tradition should be uniform, at all times, and every where, and be connected with the same external rite, if it was not founded in fact. Besides, the thing handed down, in this instance, is so simple in its nature, that there was no room for mistake.
There is one fact, for the truth of which we depend entirely on tradition, so far as external testimony is concerned, and that is the truth which in this work we have been attempting to establish, that the books of the New Testament were written by the persons under whose names they have come down This fact is incapable of being proved from the Scriptures, because we must first be assured that they contain the testimony of inspired men, before we can prove any thing by them. The point to be established here, is, that the Apostles wrote these books. If it were ever so often asserted in a book, that a certain person was its author, this would not be satisfactory evidence of its genuineness, because any impostor can write what falsehoods he pleases in a book, and may ascribe it to whom he will; as, in fact, many have written spurious works, and ascribed them to the Apostles. We must, therefore, have the testimony of those who had the opportunity of judging of the fact, given either explicitly, or implicitly. In most cases, where a book is published under the name of some certain author in the country in which he lived and was known, a general, silent acquiescence in the fact, by the people of that age and country, with the consent of all that came after them, may be considered as satisfactory evidence of the genuineness of such book. But where much depends on the certainty of the fact in question, it is necessary to have positive testimony; and in order that it be satisfactory, it should be universal and uncontradicted. When, therefore, a certain volume is expressly received as the work of certain individuals, by all who lived at or near the time when it was published, and all succeeding writings concur in ascribing it to the same persons, and not a solitary voice is raised in contradiction, the evidence of its genuineness seems to be as complete as the nature of the case admits. Just such is the evidence of the genuineness
of the books of the New Testament; or, at least, of most of
defer any thing to the authority of the church. The truth is, that the witnesses being of the church, is, in this inquiry, merely an incidental circumstance. A sufficient number of competent and credible witnesses, not of the church, would establish the fact just as well as those who have given testimony; and, as was before observed, such testimony, on the score of freedom from all partiality, has the advantage. The testimony of Jews and Heathens, has, on this account, been demanded by infidels, and has been sought for with avidity by the defenders of Christianity, and, in the view of all considerate men, is of great weight. But it is not just to ascribe the authority of these books to the church, because the greater number of the witnesses of their apostolical origin were members of the church. The law enacted by the supreme legislature of the state, does not owe its authority to the men who attest its genuineness. It is true, it would not be known certainly to be a law, without the attestation, but it would be absurd to ascribe the authority of the law to the persons whose testimony proved that it was really a law of the state. The cases are exactly parallel. The Scriptures cannot owe their authority to the church, for, without them, the church can have no authority; and although she may, and does, give ample testimony in favour of their divine origin, this confers no authority on them: it only proves to us, that they have authority, which is derived from the Spirit of God, by whom they were indited. It is truly wonderful how this plain case has been perplexed and darkened, by the artifice and sophistry of the writers of the church of Rome.
But if it be insisted, that if we admit tradition as sufficient evidence of a fact in one case, we ought to do so in every other, where the tradition is as clear, we answer, that to this we have no objection, provided this species of proof be as necessary, and as clear, in the one case, as the other. Let any other fact be shown to be as fully attested, as the genuineness of the books of the New Testament, and to need this kind of proof as much, and we will not hesitate to receive it as true, whatever may be the consequence. But the very fact which we have been considering, seems to raise a strong presumption against the necessity of depending on tradition for any thing else. Why were these books written? Was it not to convey to us, and to all future ages, the revelations of God to man? Because it is necessary to authenticate, by testimony, this record, must we depend on the same testimony for information on the points of which the record treats? Surely not. For the