Page images
PDF
EPUB

no man could be fo ridiculous, as from hence to infer, that I believe it possible, notwithstanding this assurance, that there should be no God. For however in many other cases an undoubted assurance that a thing is, may not exclude all fufpicion of a possibility of its being otherwise ; yet in this tenet of a Deity, it most certainly does : because, whoever is assured that ihere is a God, is assured there is a being whose existence is and always was necesary; and consequently is asured that it is impossible helhould not be, and involves in it a contradi&tion. So that my discourse is so far from being equivalent to the position he mentions, that it is a perfect contradiction to it. And he might with as much truth have affirmed, that I had expressly, and in so many words, faid, that there is no God.

The other pasage is in p. 118. [i.e. vol. 3. p.308. 309.] of my book, concerning the rule of faith. " I was discoursing, that no man can Mew by any necessary argu

ment, that it is naturally impossible that all the relations " concerning America should be false. But yet (fay I) I

suppose that, notwithstanding this, no man in his wits is

now popelled with so incredible a folly, as to doubt whe" ther there be such a place. The case is the very same as " to the certainty of an ancient book, and of the sense of plain expressions. We have no demonstration for these

things, and we expect none ; because we know the things are not capable of it. We are not infallibly certain, that

book is so ancient as it pretends to be; or that it was written by him whose name it bears ; or that this is the sense of such and such pasages in it. It is possible all

may be otherwise : but we are very well assured that it is not; nor hath any prudent man any just cause to o make the least doubt of it. For a bare possibility that a " thing may be, or not be, is no just cause of doubting whether a thing be or not. It is possible all the people in France may die this night; but I hope the possibility of ". this doth not incline any man in the least to think that it will be fo.. It is possible that the fun may not rise tomorrow morning ; yet, for all this, I suppose that 110

hath the least doubt but that it will." To avoid the cavils of this impertinent man, I have tranfcribed the whole page to which he refers. where is this avowed position of the possible fallhood of

any

66 this

man

And now,

1

faith? All that I say is this, That we are not infallible either in judging of the antiquity of a book, or of the sense of it: by which I mean, (as any man of sense and ingenuity would easily perceive I do), that we cannot demonstrate these things so as to fhew that the contrary necessarily involves a contradiction; but yet that we may have a firm assurance concerning these matters, so as not to make the least doubt of them

And is this to avow the possible fallhood of faith? and yet this position Mr. S. charges upon these words; how justly, I shall now examine.

Either by faith Mr. S. means the doctrine revealed by God; and then the meaning of the position must be, That what God says, is possible to be false ; which is so absurd a position, as can hardly enter into any man's mind; and yet Mr. S. hath the modesty all along in his book to insinuate, that in the forecited pasage I Say as much as this comes to.

Or else Mr. S. means by faith, the asent which we give to doctrines as revealed by God; and then his sense of infallibility must be, either, that whoever allents to any thing as revealed by God, cannot be deceived, upon supposition that it is so revealed; or else absolutely, that whoever assents to any thing as revealed by God, cannot be deceived. Now, although I do not, in the passage forecited, speak one syllable concerning doctrines revealed by God; yet I affirm, (and so will

any man elle), that an afsent to any doctrine as reveal. ed by God, if it be revealed by him, is impossible to be false. But this is only an infallibility upon supposition ; which amounts to no more than this, That if a thing be true, it is imposible to be false. And yet the

principal design of Mr. Si's book is to prove this, which I believe no man in the world was ever fa senseless as to deny. But if he mean abfolutely, that whoever afenis to any doctrine as revealed by God, cannot be deceived; that is, that no man can be mistaken about matters of faith, (as he must mean, if he pretend to have any adversary, and do not fight only with his own shadow): this, I confefs, is a very comfortable asertion, but I am much afraid it is not true.

Or else, lastly, by faith he understands the means and matives of faith; and then the plain state of the controversy between us is this, Whether it be necesary to a Chrifian belief, to be infallibly secured of the means whereby the

Christian

[ocr errors]

Christian do&trine is conveyed to us, and of the firmness of the motives upon which our belief of it is grounded? This indeed is something to the purpose : for though, in the palsage before cited, I say not one word concerning the motives of our belief of the Christian doctrine ; yet my discourse there was intended to be applied to the means whereby the knowledge of this doctrine is conveyed to us. However, I am contented to join issue with Mr. S. upon both these points.

1. That it is not necessary to the true nature of faith, that the motives upon which any man believes the Christian doctrine should be absolutely conclusive, and impossible to be false. That it is necessary, Mr. S. Several times affirms in his book; but how unreasonably, appears from certain and daily experience. Very many Christians, such as St. Austin speaks of, as saved, not by the quickness of their un

derstandings, but the fimplicity of their belief,do believe the Christian doctrine upon incompetent grounds; and their belief is true, though the argument upon which they ground it be not cas Mr. S. Says) absolutely conclusive of & the thing :and he that thus believes the Christian doEtrine, if he adhere to it, and live accordingly, shall undoubtedly be saved;, and yet I hope Mr. S. will not say, that any man spall be saved without true faith. I might add, that in this affertion Mr. S. is plainly contradicted by those of his own church.

For they generally grant, that general councils, though they be infallible in their definitions and conclusions, yet are not always so in their arguments and reasoning's about them. And the Guide of controversies expressly says, p:35. that it is not necessary that a divine faith should always have

an external rationally infallible ground or motive thereto (whether church-authority, or any other) on his part " that fo believes." Here is a man of their own church avowing this position, Thar faith is possible to be false. I de fire Mr. S. who is the very rule of controversy, to do justice upon this false Guide.

I must acknowledge, that Mr. S. attempts to prove this affertion, and that by a very pleasant and surprising argument; which is this. The profound mysteries of faith

Che tells us, Faith vind. p. 90.) must needs seem to " Some (viz. those who have no light but their pure natu'ral reason, as he said before, p. 89.) imposible to be

c frue;

true ;

which therefore nothing but a motive of its own nature seemingly impossible to be false, can conquer, lo

as to make them conceit them really true.What Mr.S. here means by a motive of its own nature seeming impossible to be false, I cannot_divine ; unless he means a real seeming impossibility. But be that as it will, does Mr. S. in good earnest believe, that a motive of its own nature seeming impossible to be false, is sufficient to convince any man, that has and uses the light of natural reafon, of the truth of a thing which must needs seem to him impossible to be true? In my opinion, these two seeming imposibilities are fo equally matched, that it must needs be a drawn battle between them. Suppose the thing to be believed be tranfubftantiation; this indeed is a very profound mystery, and is (to speak in Mr. S.'s phrase) of its own nature so seemingly impossible, that I know no argument in the world strong enough to cope with it. And I challenge Mr. S. to instance in any motive of faith which is, both to our understanding and our senses, more plainly imposible to be false, than their doctrine of transubstantiation is evidently imposible to be true. And if he cannot, how can he reasonably.expect that any man in the world should believe it?

2. That it is not necessary to the true nature of faith, that we should be infallibly secured of the means whereby the Christian doctrine is conveyed to us ; particularly of the antiquity and authority of the books of scripture, and that the expressions in it cannot possibly bear any other sense. And These are the very things I instance in, in the pasage fo.often mentioned. And to these Mr. S. ought to have spoken, if he intended to have confuted that passage. But he was resolved not to speak distinctly, knowing his best play to be in the dark, and that all his safety lay in the confusion and obscurity of his talk.

Now, that to have an infallible security in these particulars is not necesary to the true nature of faith, is evident upon these two accounts; because faith may be without this infallible security; and because, in the particulars mentioned, it is impossible to be had.

1. Because faith may be without this infallible security. He that is so affured of the antiquity and authority of the books of fcripture, and of the sense of those texts wherein

the

the doctrines of Christianity are plainly delivered, as to fee no just cause to doubt thereof, may really assent to those doEtrines, though he have no infallible security. And an assent so grounded I affirm to have the true nature of faith. For what degree of allent, and what security of the means which convey to us the knowledge of Christianity, are necessary to the true nature of faith, is to be estimated from the end of faith, which is, the salvation of mens fouls. And whoever is so assured of the authority and sense of scripture, as to believe the doctrine of it, and to live accordingly, shall be saved. And surely such a belief as will save a man,

hath the true nature of faith, though it be not infallible. And if God have sufficiently provided for the salvation of men of all capacities, it is no such reflexion upon the goodness and wisdom of providence as Mr. S. imagines, that he hath not taken care that every man's faith mould arrive to the degree of infallibility; nor does oar blessed Saviour, for not having made this provision, deserve to be esteemed by all the world, not a wise lawgiver, but a mere ignoramus ant impostor," as one of his fellow-controvertists (Labyrinthus Cantuarienfis, p. 77.) Speaks with reverence,

Besides, this assertion, That infallibility is necessary to the true nature of that asent which we call faith, is plainly false upon another account also; because faith admits of de

grees, but infallibility has none. The scripture speaks of a weak and a strong faith, and of the increase of faith; but I never heard of a weak and strong infallibility. Infallibility is the highest perfection of the knowing faculty, and confequently the firmest degree of allent, upon the firmesi grounds, and which are known to be go. But will Mr. S. Jay, that the highest degree of allent almits of degrees, and is capable of increase? Infallibility is an absolute impossibility of being deceived. Now, I desire Mr. S. to thew me the degrees of absolute imposibility, and if he could do that, and consequently there might be degrees of infallibility, yet I cannot believe that Mr. S. would think fit to call any degree of infallibility a weak faith or affent.

2. Because an infallible security in the particulars mentioned, is imposible to be had; I mean in an ordinary way, and without miracle and particular revelation ; because the nature of the thing is incapable of it. The utmolt security we have of the antiquity of any book, is human testimony;

« PreviousContinue »