« PreviousContinue »
5. The constant use of the sacred assemblies, hath been another means of sure tradition : for we have infallible proof of the successive continuation of such assemblies; and that their use was still, the solemn profession of the Christian faith, and worshipping God according to it.
6. And the constant use of reading the Scriptures in those assemblies, is another full historical tradition: for that which is constantly and publicly read, as the doctrine of their religion, cannot be changed, without the notice of all the church, and without an impossible combination of all the churches in the world.
7. And it secureth the tradition that one set day hath been kept for this public exercise of religion, from the very first ; even the Lord's day (besides all occasional times). The day itself being appointed to celebrate the memorial of Christ's resurrection, is a most current history of it; as the feast of unleavened bread, and the passover was of the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt. And the exercises still performed on that day, do make the tradition more complete.
And because some few Sabbatarians among ourselves do. keep the old sabbath only, and call still for Scripture proof for the institution of the Lord's day; let me briefly tell them, that which is enough to evince their error.
1. That the apostles were officers immediately commissioned by Christ, to disciple the nations, and to teach them all that Christ commanded, and so to settle orders in the church; Matt. xxviii. 19-21. Acts. xv. &e.
2. That Christ promised and gave them his Spirit infallibly to guide them in the performance of this commission (though not to make them perfectly free from sin); John xvi. 13.
3. That de facto’ the apostles appointed the use of the Lord's day for the church assemblies. This being all that is left to be proved, and this being matter of fact, which requireth no other kind of proof but history, part of the history of it is in the Scripture, and the rest in the history of all the following ages. In the Scripture itself it is evident that the churches and the apostles used this day accordingly. And it hath most infallible history (impossible to be false) that the churches have used it ever to this day, as that which they found practised in their times by their appointment :
and this is not a bare narrative, but an uninterrupted matter of public fact and practice ; so universal, that I remember not in all my reading, that ever one enemy questioned it, or ever one Christian or heretic denied, or once scrupled it. So that they who tell us that all this is yet but human testimony, do shew their egregious inconsiderateness, that know not that such human testimony or history in a matter of public, constant fact, may be most certain, and all that the nature of the case will allow a sober person to require. And they might as well reject the canon of the Scriptures, because human testimony is it which in point of fact doth certify us that these are the very unaltered canonical books, which were delivered at first to the churches.' Yea, they may reject all the store of historical tradition of Christianity itself, which I am here reciting to the shame of their understandings.
And consider also, that the Lord's day was settled, and constantly used in solemn worship by the churches, many and many years before any part of the New Testament was written, and above threescore years before it was finished. And when the churches had so many years been in public possession of it, who would require that the Scriptures should after all, make a law to institute that which was instituted so long ago?
If you say, that it might have declared the institution, I answer, so it hath, as I have shewed; there needing no other declaration, but 1. Christ's commission to the apostles to order the church, and declare his commands. 2. And his promise of infallible guidance therein. 3. And the history of the churches' order and practice, to shew de facto what they did: and that history need not be written in scripture for the churches that then were ; any more than we need a revelation from heaven to tell us that the Lord's day is kept in England. And sure the next age needed no supernatural testimony of it; and therefore neither do.we: but yet it is occasionally oft intimated or expressed in the Scripture, though on the bye, as that which was no further necessary.
So that I may well conclude, that we have better historical evidence that the Lord's day was actually observed by the churches, for their public worship and profession of the Christian faith, than we have that ever there was such a man
as William the Conqueror in England, yea, or King James ; much more than that there was a Cæsar or Cicero.
8. Moreover, the very office of the pastors of the church, and their continuance from the beginning to this day, is a great part of the certain tradition of this religion. For it is most certain that the churches were constituted, and the assemblies held, and the worship performed with them, and by their conduct, and not without. And it is certain by infallible history, that their office hath been still the same, even to teach men this Christian religion, and to guide them in the practice of it, and to read the same Scriptures as the word of truth, and to explain it to the people. And therefore as the judicatures and offices of the judges is a certain proof that there have been those laws by which they judge, (especially if they had been also the weekly public readers and expounders of them), so much more is it in our case.
9. And the constant use of the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, liath according to his appointment, been an infallible tradition of his covenant, and a means to keep him in remembrance in the churches. For when all the churches in the world have made this sacramental com memoration, and renewed covenanting with Christ as dead and risen, to be their constant public practice here, this is a tradition of that faith and covenant which cannot be counterfeit or false.
10. To this we may add, the constant use of discipline in these churches : it having been their constant law and practice, to inquire into the faith and lives of the members, and to censure or cast out those that impenitently violated their religion : which sheweth, that` de facto' that faith and religion was then received ; and is a means of delivering it down to us. Under which we may mention, 1. Their synods and officers. 2. And their canons by which this discipline was exercised.
11. Another tradition hath been the published confessions of their faith and religion in those apologies, which persecutions and calumnies have caused them to write.
12. And another is, all those published confutations of the many heresies, which in every age have risen up; and all the controversies which the churches have had with them, and among themselves:
13. And anather is, all the treatises, sermons and other instructing writings of the pastors of those times.
14. And another way of tradition hath been by the testimony and sufferings of confessors and martyrs, who have endured either torments or death, in the defence and owning of this religion. In all which ways of tradition, the doctrine and the matter were jointly attested by them. For the resurrection of Christ (which is part of the matter of fact) was one of the articles of their creed, which they suffered for. And all of them received the holy Scriptures, which declare the apostles' miracles; and they received their faith, as delivered by those apostles, with the confirmation of those miracles. So that when they professed to believe the doctrine, they especially professed to believe the history of the life and death of Christ, and of his apostles : and the religion which they suffered for, and daily professed, contained both: and the historical books called the Gospels, were the chief part of the Scripture which they called . The Word of God, and the records of the Christian Religion,
15. To this I may add, that all the ordinary prayers and praises of the churches, did continue the recital of much of this history, and of the apostles' names and acts, and were composed much in Scripture phrase, which preserved the memory, and professed the belief of all those things.
16. And the festivals or other days, which were kept in honourable commemoration of those apostles and martyrs, was another way of keeping these things in memory. Whether it were well done or not, is not my present inquiry (only I may say, I cannot accuse it of any sin, till it come to overdoing, and ascribing too much to them). But certainly it was a way of transmitting the memory of those things to posterity:
17. Another hath been by the constant commemoration of the great works of Christ, by the days or seasons of the year, which were annually observed, How far here also the church did well or ill, I now meddle not; but doubtless the observing of anniversary solemnities for their commemoration, was a way of preserving the memory of the acts them, selves to posterity, How long the day of Christ's nativity bath been celebrated, I know not. Reading what Selden hath said on one side ; and on the other finding no current author mention it (that Į baye read) before Nazianzen ; and
finding by Chrysostom, that the churches of the east, till his time had differed from the western churches, as far as the sixth of January is from the twenty-fifth of December. But that is of less moment, because Christ's birth is a thing unquestioned in itself. But we find that the time of his fasting forty days, the time of his passion, and of his resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Ghost, were long before kept in memory by some kind of observation by fasts or festivals. And though there was a controversy about the due season of the successive observation of Easter, yet that signified no uncertainty of the first day, or the season of the year. And though at first it was but few days that were kept in fasting at that season, yet they were enough to commemorate both the forty days fasting, and the death of Christ.
18. And the histories of the heathens and enemies of the church, do also declare how long Christianity continued, and what they were, and what they suffered who were called Christians ; such as Pliny, Celsus, Porphyry, Plotinus, Lucian, Suetonius, and others.
19. And the constant instruction of children by their parents, which is family tradition, hath been a very great means also of this commemoration. For it cannot be (though some be negligent) but that multitudes in all times would teach their children what the Christian religion was, as to its doctrine and its history. And the practice of catechising, and teaching children the creed, the Lord's prayer, and the decalogue, and the Scriptures, the more secured this tradition in families.
20. Lastly, a succession of the same Spirit which was in the apostles, and of much of the same works which were done by them, was such a way of assuring us of the truth of their doctrine and history, as a succession of posterity telleth us, that our progenitors were men. The same spirit of wisdom and goodness in a great degree continued after them to this day. And all wrought by their doctrine : and very credible history assureth us, that many miracles also were done, in many ages after them, though not so many as by them. Eusebius, Cyprian, Augustine, Victor Uticensis, Sulpitius Severus, and many others, shew us so much as may make the belief of the apostles the more easy.
And indeed, the image of God's Wisdom, Goodness and