Thirteenth Sermon on 2 Thessalonians
Chapter Two
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have beentaught, whether by word, or our epistle.—2 Thes. 2:15.
HE apostle, after he had comforted the Thessalonians, he exhorteth them toconstancy in the truth, whatever temptations they had to the contrary. The Tcomforts he propoundeth to them were taken—(1.) From their election, ver. 13; (2.) From their vocation, ver. 14. His exhortation is to perseverance:‘Therefore, brethren,’ &c.
1. The particle which introduces an inference, therefore because God hath chosen you and called you, and given you such advantages against error andseduction.
2. The duty inferred: στηκετε, stand fast. It is a military word; ,you have the same in other places: 1 Cor. 16:13, ‘Watch ye, stand ye fast,’ &c.; Eph. 6:14,‘Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.’ The word intimatethperseverance.
3. The means of perseverance: hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Where observe:—(1.) The act; (2.) The object.
1. The act: κρατευτε, hold with strong hand. The word implieth a forcible holding against assaults, whether of error or persecution. The Thessalonians were assaulted in both kinds; the heathens persecuted them, and some were gone abroad thatbegan the mystery of iniquity, and were ready to pervert them.
2. The object, which is propounded—(l.) By a common and general term: ‘The traditions which ye have been taught.’ (2.) By a distribution: ‘Whether by word, or ourepistle.’ 1. The common and general term, ‘The traditions which ye have been taught’ There are two sorts of traditions—human and divine.
First, Human traditions are certain external observances instituted by men, and delivered from hand to hand, from progenitors to their posterity. These may be eitherbesides or contrary to the word of God. (1.) Beside the word, as the institutions of thefamily of the Rechabites, in the observance of which, from father to son, they were soexact and punctual, that God produceth their example to shame the disobedience of hispeople: Jer. 35:6,7, ‘Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Yeshall drink no wine, nor build houses, nor plant vineyards,’ &c. (2.) Contrary to theword of God, such as were those of the pharisees: Mat. 15:3, ‘Why transgress yethe commandment of God by your traditions?’ Human inventions in religion are contraryto, and destructive of, divine laws.
Secondly, Traditions divine are either heavenly doctrines revealed by God, or institutions and ordinances appointed by him for the use of the church. These are therule and ground of our faith, worship, and obedience. The whole doctrine of the gospelis a tradition delivered and conveyed to us by fit messengers, such as the apostles were:1 Cor. 11:2, ‘Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keepthe ordinances [marg. traditions] as I delivered them to you.’ So that holding thetraditions is nothing else but perseverance in apostolical doctrine.
2. The distribution, that no cheats might be put upon them under any pretence; therefore he saith, ‘Whether by word, or our epistle;’ that is, by word of mouth whenpresent, or by epistle when absent; and he saith, not epistles, but epistle, as alluding tothe former he wrote unto them. They were bound to yield to both alike credence andobedience; for, whether in speaking or writing, the apostolical authority was the same.
To improve this verse for your benefit, I shall lay down several propositions.
I. That whatever assurance we have of God’s preserving us in the truth, yet we are bound to use diligence and caution.
II. Our diligence and caution is to be employed about this, that we may stand fast in the faith of Christ, and the profession and practice of godliness.
III. That the means of standing fast in the faith of Christ, and the profession and practice of godliness, is by holding the traditions which were taught bythe holy apostles.
IV. That while the apostles were in being, there were two ways of delivering the truth—by word of mouth and writing.
V. That now when they are long since gone to God, and we cannot receive from them the doctrine of life by word of mouth, we must stick to the scriptures orwritten word.
I. That whatever assurance we have of God’s preserving us in the truth, yet we are bound to use diligence and caution. For the apostle had said that ‘God had chosenand called them to the belief of the truth,’ and yet saith, ‘Therefore, brethren, standfast.’ First, Reason will tell us that when we intend an end, we must use the means; otherwise the bare intention and desire would suffice, and to the accomplishing of anyeffect, we need no more than to will it; and the sluggard would be the wisest man in theworld, who is full of wishings and wouldings, though his hands refuse to labour. Butcommon experience showeth that the end cannot be obtained without a diligent use ofthe means: Prov. 13:4, ‘The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: butthe soul of the diligent shall be made fat;’ that is, rewarded with the intended benefit.
Secondly, The business in hand is, whether God’s election, calling, or promise, doth so secure the end to us, as that we need not be so careful in the diligent use ofmeans? Such a notion or conceit there may be in the hearts of men, therefore let usattack it a little by these considerations:— 1. God’s decree is both of end and means, for all his purposes are executed by fit means. He that hath chosen us to salvation, bringeth it about by the belief of the truth,and sanctification of the Spirit, 2 Thes. 2:13; and without faith and holiness no man shallsee God, and escape condemnation. God had assured Paul that there should be ‘noloss of any man’s life among them, except of the ship,’ Acts 27:22. And yet afterwards,ver. 31, Paul telleth them, ‘Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.’ Howcould that assurance given to Paul from God, and Paul’s caution to the mariners, standtogether? Doth the purpose of God depend upon the uncertain will and actions of men ‘Ianswer—Not as a cause, from whence it receiveth its force and strength; but as ameans, appointed also by God to the execution of his decree. For by the same decreeGod appointeth the event, what he will do, and the means by which he will have it to be done: and the Lord revealing by his word this conjunction of end and means, there is anecessity of duty lying upon man to use these means, and not to expect the end withoutthem. God intended to save all in the ship, and yet the mariners must abide in the ship;therefore, what God hath joined together, let no man separate. If we separatethese things, God doth not change his counsel, but we pervert his order to our owndestruction.
2. God, that hath bidden us to believe his promises, hath forbidden us to tempt his providence, Mat. 4:7. Now we tempt God when we desire him to give an extraordinaryproof of his care over us, when ordinary means will serve the turn, or be useful to us.
3. Though the means seem to have no connection with the end, yet, if God hath enjoined them for that end, we must use them. As in the instance of Naaman; God wasresolved to cure him, but Naaman must take his prescribed way, though against his ownfancy and conceit: 2 Kings 5:10, ‘Wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall comeagain unto thee, and thou shalt be clean;’ compare ver. 13, ‘If the prophet had biddenthee to do some great thing,’ &c. So John 13:6,7, Peter must submit to be washed,though he could not see the benefit of it. So John 9:6,7, the blind man must submit tohave his eyes anointed with clay, and wash in the pool of Siloam; though the clayseemed to put out his eyes, rather than cure them, and the pool could not washaway his blindness; but means appointed by God must be used, whateverimprobabilities are apprehended by us.
4. That when God’s will is expressly declared concerning the event, yet he will have the means used. As, for instance, 2 Kings 20:5-7; God was absolutely resolved toadd fifteen years more to Hezekiah’s life, yet he must take a lump of figs and layit on the boil; which plainly showeth that no promise on God’s part, nor assurance onours, hindereth the use of means. God will work by them, not without them.
5. In spiritual things, assurance of the event is an encouragement to industry, not a pretence to sloth: 1 John 2:27, 28, ‘Ye shall abide in him: and now, little children,abide in him: The promise of perseverance doth encourage us to use endeavours thatwe may persevere, and quicken diligence rather than nourish security, or open a gap tocarnal liberty: 1 Cor. 9:26, ‘I run not as one that is uncertain.’ We are the more earnest,because we are assured the means shall not be uneffectual.
II. Our duty is to stand fast in the faith of Christ and profession of godliness, whatever temptations we have to the contrary. Stand fast being a military word, italludeth to a soldier’s keeping his ground, and is opposed to two things:—(1.) A cowardly flight; (2.) A treacherous revolt.
1. A cowardly flight implieth our being overcome in the evil day, by the many afflictions that befall us for the truth’s sake: Eph. 6:13, ‘Wherefore take to you thewhole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day;’ that after yehave done all things, ye may stand. Their temptation was the many troubles andpersecutions that befell them, called there ‘the evil day.’ Their defence lay in ‘the wholearmour of God,’ which is there made of six pieces:—The girdle of truth orsincerity, which is a strength to us as a girdle to the loins; the breastplate ofrighteousness, or a holy inclination and desire to perform our duty to God in all things;and the shield of faith, or a steadfast adhering to the truths of the gospel, whetherdelivered in a way of command, promise, or threatening; the helmet of hope, or acertain and desirous expectation of the promised glory; the shoe of thepreparation of the gospel of peace, which is a readiness to endure all encounters forChrist’s sake, who hath made our peace with God; and the sword of the Spirit, which isthe word of God. Now, if we take this armour and use it in our conflicts, what doth itserve for? To withstand and stand. The first is the act of a soldier, the second is theposture of a conqueror. Here is withstanding till the field be won, and then standingwhen the day of evil is over. Here we make our way to heaven by conflict andconquest, and hereafter we triumph.
2. A treacherous revolt, or yielding to the enemy, by complying with those things which are against the interest of Christ and his kingdom for advantage-sake: 2Tim. 4:10, ‘Demas hath forsaken us, and loved the present world.’ Backsliders in heartare the worst sort of apostates. Such as lose their affection to God, and delight in hisways, and esteem not of his glorious recompenses, for a little pleasure, profit, or pompof living; sell their birthright for one morsel of meat, Heb. 12:15,16. Some fail in theirunderstandings, but most miscarry by the perverse inclination of their wills; they arecarnal worldly hypocrites that never thoroughly mortified the fleshly mind, prize things asthey are commodious to the flesh, and will save them from sufferings. The bias of suchmen’s hearts doth easily prevail against the light of their understandings.
III. The means of standing fast is, by holding the traditions which were taught by the holy apostles. Here I will prove—(1.) That the doctrine of Christianity taught bythe apostles is a tradition; (2.) That holding this tradition by strong hand, when otherswrest it from us, is the means of our perseverance.
1. That the doctrine of Christianity is a tradition, I prove it by two arguments:— First, Matters not evident by the light of nature, nor immediately revealed to us by God, must be either an invention or a tradition. An invention is something in religion not evident by natural light, nor agreeable to sound reason, but is some cunningly-devised fable, invented by one or more, and obtruded by various artifices upon thebelief of the world. Inventions in this kind were man’s disease, not his remedy: Eccles.
7:29, ‘God made man upright, but they sought out many inventions: As when thephilosophers sat a-brood upon religion, a goodly chimera it was they hatched andbrought forth: Rom. 1:21,22, ‘They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolishheart was darkened;’ and ‘professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.’ Theinventions little became the nature of God; nor were they profitable to man, for still thegreat sore of nature was unhealed, which is a fear of death and the righteous wrath ofGod, Rom. 1:32. So that neither man’s comfort nor duty was well provided for. Surelythe gospel is none of this sort, not an invention of men, but a revelation of God; and arevelation not made to us in person, but brought out of the bosom of God by JesusChrist, and by him manifested to chosen witnesses, who might publish this mystery andsecret to others. Well, then, since the gospel is not an invention it is a tradition, or adelivery of the truth upon the testimony of one that came from God, to instruct theworld, or reduce it to him; not an invention of man, but a secret brought out of thebosom of God by our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore it is said, Heb. 2:3,4, ‘How shall weescape if we neglect so great salvation, first spoken by the Lord himself, and thenconfirmed to us by them that heard him, the Lord bearing them witness?’ &c. Christdelivered it to the apostles, and the apostles delivered it to others: 2 Tim. 2:2, ‘Thosethings which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou tofaithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.’ The apostles received the gospelfrom Christ, and the churches and ministers from the apostles, and they delivered itdown to others until it came to us, which is the means of our believing the truth, andconfessing the name of Christ. This testimony, delivered and conveyed to us by the mostcredible means, and which we have no reason to, doubt of, is as binding as if we hadheard Christ and his apostles in person; for we have their word in writing, though we didnot hear them preach and publish it with the lively voice; their authority is the same,delivered either way. And that these are their writings appeareth by the constanttradition of the church, and the acknowledgment of friends and enemies, who still appealto them as a public authentic record. And as they have been attested by the church, theyhave been owned by God, and blessed by him to the conversion and sanctifying ofmany souls throughout all successions of ages: and by this tradition Christianity hath heldup the head against all encounters of time; and the persecutions of adverse powers havenot suppressed it, nor the disputes of enemies silenced the profession of it, but from ageto age it hath been received, and transmitted to future generations, though sometimes ata very dear rate. And this is binding to us, though we saw not the persons and miracles by which they confirmed their message, and heard not the first report. Yet theuniversal tradition having handed it to us, is a sufficient ground of faith, and so webelieve through their word, and are concerned in Christ’s prayers, John 17:20; for withthem and their successors, as to, these necessary things, Christ hath promised to be tothe end of the world, Mat. 28:20.
Secondly, My next argument is—Because Christian religion must needs be a tradition, partly because matter of fact is the foundation of it, and it is in itself matter offaith. (1.) Because it is built upon matter of fact: that the Son of God came from God, tobring us to. God; that is to say, appeared in human nature, instructed the world by hisdoctrine and example, and at length died for sinners, confirming both in life and deaththe truth of his mission, by such unquestionable miracles as showed him to be the Son ofGod and the Saviour of the world. Now, a testimony, tradition, or report, is necessaryin. matters of fact, which of necessity must be confined to some determinate time andplace. It was not fit that Christ should be always. working miracles, always dying,always rising, and ascending in every place, and in the view of every man; but thosethings were to be once done in one place of the world, in sight of some particular andcompetent witnesses. But because the knowledge of them concerned all the rest of theworld, they were by them to be attested to others; matters of fact can only beproved by credible witnesses, and this was the great office put upon theapostles, Acts 1:8-22; 2:32; 3:15; 10:39-41. (2.) As it is matter of faith, or thedoctrine built upon this matter of fact. We cannot properly be said to believe a thing butupon a report and testimony. I may know a thing by sense or reason, but I cannotbelieve it, but as it is affirmed or brought to me by credible testimony. As we are said tosee those things which we perceive by the eye, or the sense of seeing, and to knowthose things which we receive by reason, or sure demonstration; so we are said tobelieve those things which are brought to us by valuable testimony, tradition, and report.
As, for instance, if any one ask you, Do you believe the sun shineth at noonday? Youwill answer, I do not believe it, but see it. So if any one ask you, Do you believe thattwice two make four, and twice three make six? You will say, I do not believe it, butknow it, because certain and evident reason telleth me that two is the half of four, andthree of six; and every whole consisteth of two halves or moieties. But if he should askyou, Do you believe that the sun is bigger than the earth? You will say, I believe it; forthough your eye doth not discover it, nor doth an ignorant man know any certaindemonstration of it, yet, having the authority of learned men, who are competent judgesin the case, you judge it a rash and foolish obstinacy not to believe it. Apply it now tothe mysteries of godliness revealed in the gospel. They cannot be seen with the eye, for they are invisible; nor found out and comprehended by any human understanding,because they exceed the reach of man’s reason, and depend upon the love andarbitrary will of God, John. 3:1 6 ; yet you believe them, because God hath revealedthem, to the prophets and apostles: and God, being truth and wisdom itself, cannotdeceive or be deceived; and therefore you believe them with the certainty of divine faith,and do no more doubt of them than you do of those things which you see with youreyes, and know and understand by a sure demonstration. The sense of seeing may bedeceived, and human reason may err, but it is impossible God should deceive or bedeceived. It oftentimes falleth out that men do prefer the authority and report of a manwhom they judge to be wise and good before their own sense and reason. As, forinstance, that man who by his eye judges the sun to be less than the earth, yet doth notobstinately stand in his opinion when he hears a knowing and skilful philosopher assertthe contrary. Now, ‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater,’ 1John 5:9. And this testimony of God is brought to us by his authorised messengers asthe ground of faith: and what is that but tradition? We believe in God by hearing of him;and we hear by a preacher, Rom. 10:14. Ordinary common preachers give us notice;but Christ and his apostles give us assurance; and by their testimony and tradition ourfaith is ultimately resolved into the veracity of God.
2. That holding this tradition is the great means of standing fast in the faith of Christ and the confession of his name. For in the word of God delivered by Christ andhis apostles, there is sure direction to walk by, and sure promises to build upon. Forwhatever they made known of Christ was not a fable but a certain truth; for they hadthe testimony of sense, 2 Peter 1:16,17; 1 John 1:2-4, and so could pleadboth the authority of his command and the certainty, of his promise, and that withuncontrollable evidence; and without this relation there can be neither faith norobedience, nor sure expectation of happiness. For we cannot trust God for what hehath not promised, nor obey God in what he hath not commanded; nor in our difficultiesand distresses expect happiness from him without his warrant and assurance. But by thisdoctrine delivered to us, we have all that belongeth to faith, obedience, and happiness,and beyond that the creature can desire no more. (1.) There can be no faith till wehave a sure testimony of God’s revelation; for faith is a believing such things asGod hath revealed, because he hath revealed them. It is not faith but fancy to believesuch things as God hath never revealed; nor is it trust and a regular confidence to thinkthat he will certainly ,give us what he hath never promised; this were to lay us open to allmanner of ‘delusion; and therefore we are never upon sure and stable ground but bysticking to such a tradition as may justly entitle itself to God. (2.) Nor obedience: for obedience is a doing what God hath commanded, because he hath commanded it. Thefundamental reason of obedience is the sight of God’s will, 1 Thes. 4:3, 5:18;1 Peter 2:15. To do what God never commanded, or not to do it upon that account, butfor other reasons, is not obedience; and in difficult cases the soul can never be held toits duty till we are persuaded that so is God’s will concerning us. Now to know his willconcerning us, we are often bidden to search the scripture; but never bidden to consultwith the church, to know what unwritten traditions she hath in her keeping to instruct usin our duty. (3.) No certain expectation of happiness. We are never safe till we know bywhat rule Christ will judge us; that is, reward or punish men at the last day.
Now he will judge us according to the gospel, Rom. 2:16; 1 Thes. 1:8. Obeythe gospel, and you have a perfect rule to guide you to happiness; but if you neglect thisgreat salvation, or be unfaithful in the profession of it, this word condemneth you, andGod will ratify the sentence of it.
IV. That whilst the apostles were in being, there were two ways of delivering the truth, and that was by word of mouth and writing. So in the text: ‘Whether by wordor our epistle.’ The apostles went up and down and preached Christ everywhere; thatneedeth no proof, unless you would have me to produce the whole book of the Acts ofthy Apostles. But they did not preach only, but write; and both by the instinct of theHoly Spirit, who guided their journeys, and moved them to write epistles. For beingoften absent from churches newly planted, and heresies arising, or some contentions,which could not be avoided among weak Christians, God overruled theseoccasions for the profit of the church in after ages: upon one occasion or anotherthey saw a necessity to write; αναγκην εσχον: Jude ver. 3, ‘It was needful for me towrite unto you.’ As, in the Old Testament, God himself delivered the law with greatmajesty and terror, and afterwards caused the same to be written in tables of stone, forthe constant use of his people; and the prophets first uttered their prophecies, and thenwrote unto them; so the apostles first preached evangelical doctrine, and then consignedit to writing for the use of all ages. And though all things delivered by them were notdelivered in one sermon or one epistle, yet by degrees the canon of the New Testamentwas constituted and made perfect by the writings of the evangelists and apostles.
V. That now, when they are long since gone to God, and we cannot receive from them the doctrine of life by word of mouth, we must stick to the scriptures orwritten word. (1.) Because we are taught to do so by Christ and his apostles. Christalways appealeth to the writings of the Old Testament, both against traditions, which hecondemneth, Mat. 15:2, and against pretended revelations: Luke 16:31, ‘If they hearnot Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded to repent, if one should come from the dead.’ And the apostles still have recourse to this proof: Acts 26:22,‘Witnessing no other things than the prophets and Moses did say should come to pass.’And when they pleaded they were eye and ear witnesses, and so their testimony wasvaluable; yet they say we have βεβαιοτερον λογον, ‘A surer word of prophecy,whereunto ye shall do well to take heed,’ 2 Peter 1:19. Now, how can we do betterthan to imitate these great examples? (2.) Because those things were written for oursakes: 1 John 1:4, ‘These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.’ Theapostles, being to leave the world, did know the slipperiness of man’s memory, and thedanger of corrupting Christian doctrine, if there were not a sure authentic record left;therefore they wrote, and so fully, that nothing is wanting to complete our joy andhappiness. (3.) Because the scriptures are perfect. The perfection of scripture is knownby its end and intended use, which is to give us a knowledge of those things whichconcern our faith, duty, and happiness. (1st.) Our faith in Christ. If there be enoughwritten for that end, we need not unwritten traditions to complete our rule. Now, StJohn telleth us ho might have written more things: ‘But these things are written thatye might believe in the Son of God, and have life through his name,’ John 20:30,31.
Certainly nothing is wanting to beget a faith in Christ. The object is sufficientlypropounded; the warrant or claim is laid down in the new covenant, and theencouragements to believe it are clear and strong. What would men have more? So thathere is a perfect rule, perfect in its kind, and for its proper use. (2dly.) For our duty; thatis sufficiently provided for. The apostle telleth us that the grace of God’—take itobjectively for the grace of the gospel, or subjectively for grace in our hearts—’teacheth us;’—if you mean objective grace, it prescribeth, directeth; if subjectivegrace, it persuadeth and exciteth; what to do? ‘To live soberly, righteously, godly in thepresent world,’ Titus 2:12. There are all the branches of man’s duty enumerated:sobriety relateth to self-government; righteously, to our carriage towards our neighbour;godly, to our commerce and communion with God. What is there wanting thatbelongeth either to worship, or justice, or personal holiness? Therefore certainly weneed no other rule; for it layeth down whatsoever men are bound to do in all ages andplaces of the world, and in whatsoever circumstances God shall put them. And so it is fitto be the law of the universal King and Lawgiver; yea, it is so perfect, that whateverother way is set up, it presently dasheth against those notions that we have, or shouldhave, of God, his service and worship; or it infringeth or perverteth the liberty andnature of man. (3dly.) For our happiness. That doctrine and institution which is able tomake us wise unto salvation is enough for us; but so the holy scriptures aresaid to do: 2 Tim. 3:15, ‘And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures,which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through the faith which is in Christ Jesus.’ Nay, afterwards, ver. 17, ‘The man of God is by them made perfect,and thoroughly furnished to every good work.’ If the scriptures do thoroughly direct men to know God in Christ, and save their own souls, why should we look any further? Now, they do not only furnish every privateChristian with this knowledge, but ‘the man of God,’ who is to instruct others, heneedeth look no further, but is furnished out of the scripture with all things necessary todischarge his office. Therefore here we fix and rest; we have a sufficient rule, and a fullrecord of all necessary Christian doctrine.
Use 1. The use of all is: Let us not seek another rule than the word of God.
Papists cry up unwritten traditions to be received with equal respect and reverence, aswe receive the holy scriptures. But you, brethren, stand fast, holding the apostolicaltradition. You cannot have it by word of mouth from them now; therefore you muststick to what is written, or else you cannot preserve yourselves from the frauds andimpostures of Antichrist. These apostolical writings have been received in all ages andtimes of the church from the beginning; and all disputes among Christians have beentried by them. None were allowed good or sincere Christians who doubted of the truthof them. But because we have to do with a people that will sacrifice all to the honourand interest of their church, and knowing they are not able to stand before the light ofscriptures, have, to the no little prejudice of the Christian cause, done all they can toweaken the authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity of them, that we might have noreligion without the testimony and recommendation of their church; therefore I shallresume the matter and declare it afresh.
1. Mankind lying in darkness and in the shadow of death, it was necessary that one way or another God should reveal his mind to them, that we may have whatbelongeth to our duty and happiness, for our chief good and last end. Being altered bysin, we strangely mistake things, and put light for darkness and darkness for light, goodfor evil and evil for good, weighing all things in the balance of the flesh, which we seekto please. We confound both the names and natures of things, and wander in a maze ofa thousand perplexities; therefore God, in pity to mankind, hath given us a sure directionin his word, which is ‘a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our paths,’ Ps.
119:105. Mark the words of light and lamp. The use of a lamp is by night, and in theday we have the light of the sun: whether it be day or night with us, here we are taughthow to carry ourselves. Mark again the words of path and feet. The one signifieth ourway and general course, the other all our particular actions; so far as religion isconcerned in them, we have directions in the word about them. Besides, man’s condition is such, that he needeth a supernatural remedy by a Redeemer; which,depending upon the mere love and free grace of God, cannot be found out by naturallight left to us; for that only can judge of things necessary, but not of such things asdepend upon the mere pleasure of God; therefore a divine revelation there must be.
2. Since it is necessary that God should some way or other reveal his mind to his people, it must be done by oracles, visions, dreams, or by extraordinary messengers,who by word of mouth might convey it to us; or else by writing, or by ordinary teachers,whose lips may preserve knowledge in the church. The former ways might sufficewhile God saw fit to reveal but a few truths, and such as do not burden the memory,and men were long-lived, and of great simplicity, and the church was confined within asmall compass of ground, and not liable to so many miseries and changes as now in thelatter ages; but when once God had spoken to us by his Son, those extraordinary waysceased Heb. 1:1,2, ‘God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in timespast to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last times spoken to us by his Son.’ Asformerly God did speak πολυτροπως, in divers manners,—that is to say, by visions,oracles, dreams; and so πολυµερως, at sundry times, by several steps and degrees,he acquainted the world with the truths necessary for man to know, delivering them outby portions, not altogether at once, till he came who had ‘The Spirit without measure,’John 3:34. The prophets to whom God revealed himself before by visions, oracles,dreams, or the coming of the Spirit upon them, had the spirit εν µετπον, by measure,to fit them for some particular errand or message on which God sent them. But whenGod sent his Son out of his bosom to reveal the whole doctrine of faith at once, and todeclare his Father’s will with full authority and power, he fixed and closed up the rule offaith. So it was not fit that after him there should come any extraordinary nuncios andambassadors from heaven, or any other should be owned as infallible messengers, butsuch as he immediately sent abroad in the world to disciple the nations. Therefore allformer extraordinary ways ceased, and we are left to the ordinary rule stated by Christ.
3. Being left to the ordinary rule, it was necessary it should be taught, not only by word of mouth, but committed to writing; for Christ is ascended into heaven, and theapostles do not live for ever; and we have no men now that are immediately and divinelyinspired; and ordinary pastors and teachers cannot make more articles of faith, but doonly build on the apostles’ foundation, 1 Cor. 3:10, or that divinely-inspired doctrinewhich they delivered to the church. Yea, that doctrine cannot well be preserved fromoblivion and corruption without writing. Therefore God accounted this the safest way:those things that are only delivered by word of mouth, or from hand to hand, may easilybe changed, corrupted, or utterly lost. Certainly, if you consider man’s sloth, treachery, levity, and the many vile affections which may easily induce him to extinguish or corruptthe truth, which is contrary to them, you will see that it is necessary there should be anauthentic record by which truth and error might be tried and distinguished; yea, that thechurch, which is dispersed throughout the world, might have truth at hand, and particularbelievers have this doctrine ever by them for their comfort and use, it being the propertyof a blessed man to ‘delight in the law of God,’ and to ‘exercise himself therein clay andnight,’ Ps. 1:2. In short, while the apostles were living, it was good to take the traditionfrom their month, but, now they are dead, we take it from their writings. Surely if Godsaw some writing necessary when those extraordinary ways we spake of before werein use, and the church of the Old Testament was in a much quieter estate thanthe church of the New, I say, if some writing were necessary then, it is more necessarynow, for the Christian church is more exposed to dreadful storms of persecution, thedeceits of heretics of all sorts, especially to the frauds of Antichrist, which we areforewarned of in this chapter, and are detected and discovered by their contrariety tothe written word.
4. This truth being written, it is both a safe and a full rule for us to walk by. It is a safe rule, because it is written by the apostles and evangelists, holy men moved by theHoly Ghost. The apostles did not lose their infallibility when they committed what theypreached to writing. The same Spirit that assisted them in delivering the doctrine byword of mouth, assisted them also when they delivered it by writing. And it is a full andsufficient rule, because it containeth all things which are necessary for men tobelieve and do in order to eternal life. Let them name what is necessary, beyondwhat is recommended there or may be delivered from thence. Yea, it doth contain notonly all the essential, but also the integral parts of the Christian religion; and thereforenothing can be any part of our religion which is not there. The direction of old was, Isa.
8:20, ‘To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it isbecause there is no light in them.’ Everything was then tried by Moses and the prophets;everything must be now tried by the prophets and apostles, which is our foundation offaith, worship, and obedience, Eph. 2:20.
5. That which we blame in the papists is, that they cry up a private, unproved, unwritten tradition of their own, as of equal authority with this safe and full rule which iscontained in this written word of God. Their crime and fault may be considered partlywith respect to the object and matter—that these traditions are not indifferent customs,but essential points necessary to faith and Christian practice. And so, though a Christianbe never so thorough and sound in his obedience to the word of God, and true to thebaptismal covenant, yet, if he submitteth not to these unwritten traditions, he wants some point necessary to faith and practice, and so to life eternal, which is contrary to Mark16:16, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth notshall be damned;’ and John 17:3, ‘This is life eternal, to know thee, the only trueGod, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.’ Partly as to the subject, as they maketheir own faction to be the only keepers of these things, and that nothing is to be ownedas apostolical tradition but what is delivered as such by their authority; which is to leavethe church to the tyranny and usurpation of a corrupt faction, to declare for apostolicaltradition anything which serveth their end and interest, and for which no true historicalevidence is produced. Now the unjust and fraudulent practices which they have used topromote this usurpation over the churches of Christ render them false men, most unfit tobe trusted in this kind. Partly with respect to the manner: they will have these things tobe received part reverentia et pietatis affectu—with the same reverence andpious affection with which we receive the holy scriptures; and so man’s post is set byGod’s, and unproved traditions equalled with doctrines of faith. Their opinion is badenough, but their practice is worse; for there they show they value these things morethan the scriptures; as superstition always aboundeth in its own things. Did ever any oftheir doctors say the same things of traditions which they take the boldness to say ofscripture? Did they ever call them pen and inkhorn, or parchment divinity, a noseof wax, a dumb rule, an obscure and ambiguous doctrine? These blasphemies they ventboldly against the scriptures; but did they ever speak these of traditions? And again,their common people are a thousand times better instructed in their traditions than in thedoctrine of salvation. They skill more of Lent and Ember-weeks, &c., than they trulyunderstand the doctrine of man’s misery and remedy. And call you this reverence andpious affection to the scriptures and traditions? Partly because they would never give usa catalogue of unwritten traditions necessary to be observed by all Christians. It may belest they should amaze the people with the multitude of them, or else that the peoplemay not know how many of their doctrines are destitute of scripture proof, and so theyplainly be discovered to be imposers on the belief of the Christian world.
6. Though we blame this in papists, yet we reject not all traditions:— [ 1 . ] Because scripture itself is a tradition, as we proved before, and is conveyed to us by the most credible means, which we have no reason to doubt of. Thescriptures of the Old Testament were preserved by the Jews, ‘to whom werecommitted the oracles of God,’ Rom. 3:2. Protestants received all the books which theyadmitted into their canon. And for the books of the New Testament, the Christianchurch hath received them as the writings of those whose names they bear. And by theconstant universal tradition of the church they are transmitted to us; and we have no more reason to doubt of them than we do of statutes and laws made by kings andparliaments who lived long before we had a being. Yea; we may be much moreconfident, as the matter is of greater weight and consequence, and these writings havethe signature and stamp of God’s Spirit on them, and have been blessed byGod to the converting and sanctifying of many souls; and have been delivered down tous by a succession of believers unto this very day. And by them Christianity hath beenpreserved in the world, notwithstanding the wickedness of it, and hath held up headagainst all the encounters of time. The persecutions of adverse powers have notsuppressed it, nor the disputes of enemies silenced the profession of it; but still from age toage God’s truth is received and transmitted to posterity.
[2] Because the truth of Christianity depending upon matter of fact, chiefly Christ’s rising from the dead, it can only be proved by a testimony which, in soextraordinary a case, must be made valuable, and authorised to the world by themiracles accompanying it. Now the notice of these things is brought to us by tradition,which, being unquestionable, giveth us as good ground of faith as it did to them thatlived in the apostles’ time, and heard their doctrine and saw their miracles.
God’s wonderful works were never intended for the benefit of that age only in whichthey were done, but for the benefit also of those that should hear of them by. anycredible means whatsoever, Ps. 145:4; Joel 1:3; Ps. 78:3-7: these things were toldthem ‘that they might set their hope in God,’ &c.
[3.] Because there are some doctrines drawn by just consequence from scripture, but are the more confirmed to us when they are backed with constant churchusage and practice; as baptism of infants, Lord’s-day, singing of psalms in our publicworship, &c.
[4.] Because there are certain words which are not found in scripture indeed, yet agreeable thereto, and are very useful to discover the frauds of heretics; as Trinity,divine providence, consubstantial, procession of the Holy Ghost, satisfaction, &c.
[5] We reject not all church history, or the records of ancient writers concerning the providences of God in their days in owning the gospel, which make much for ourinstruction in manners, and help to encourage us to put our trust in God.
[6.] There are certain usages and innocent customs or circumstances, common to sacred and other actions, which we despise not, but acknowledge and receive as faras their own variable nature and condition requireth; not rejecting them, becauseanciently practised; nor regarding them, when the general law of edification requireth theomission of them. But that which we detest is, that the traditions of men. should be made equal in dignity and authority with the express revelation of God; yea, thatmanifest corruptions and usurpations,—as making Rome the mistress of other churches,and superinducing the Pope as the head of the universal visible church, and thevicar of Christ, without his leave and appointment, and such like other points, —should be obtruded upon the world as apostolical traditions, and to be received withlike religious reverence as we do articles of faith set down in scripture. This is that wecannot sufficiently abhor, as apparently false, and destructive to Christianity.
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