William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Home
Sermons
 
Back
 
Thirteenth Sermon on 2 Thessalonians Chapter Two


by Thomas Manton


Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been
taught, whether by word, or our epistle.2 Thes. 2:15.

THE apostle, after he had comforted the Thessalonians, he exhorteth them to
constancy in the truth, whatever temptations they had to the contrary. The
comforts 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.

In the words observe:
1. The particle which introduces an inference, therefore because God hath chosen
you and called you, and given you such advantages against error and seduction.
2. The duty inferred: sthkete, 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 intimateth
perseverance.
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: krateute, 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 that began 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 our epistle.'

1. The common and general term, 'The traditions which ye have been taught' There
are two sorts of traditionshuman 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
either besides or contrary to the word of God. (1.) Beside the word, as the
institutions of the family of the Rechabites, in the observance of which, from
father to son, they were so exact and punctual, that God produceth their example
to shame the disobedience of his people: Jer. 35:6,7, 'Jonadab the son of Rechab
our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, nor build houses, nor
plant vineyards,' &c. (2.) Contrary to the word of God, such as were those of
the pharisees: Mat. 15:3, 'Why transgress ye the commandment of God by your
traditions?' Human inventions in religion are contrary to, 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 the rule and ground of our faith, worship, and obedience. The whole doctrine
of the gospel is 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 keep the ordinances [marg. traditions] as I
delivered them to you.' So that holding the traditions 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
when present, or by epistle when absent; and he saith, not epistles, but
epistle, as alluding to the former he wrote unto them. They were bound to yield
to both alike credence and obedience; 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 by the
holy apostles.

IV. That while the apostles were in being, there were two ways of delivering the
truthby 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 or
written 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
chosen and called them to the belief of the truth,' and yet saith, 'Therefore,
brethren, stand fast.'

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 any effect, we need no more than to will it; and the sluggard would be the
wisest man in the world, who is full of wishings and wouldings, though his hands
refuse to labour. But common experience showeth that the end cannot be obtained
without a diligent use of the means: Prov. 13:4, 'The soul of the sluggard
desireth, and hath nothing: but the 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 of means? Such a notion or conceit there may be in the hearts of men,
therefore let us attack 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 shall see God, and escape condemnation. God had assured Paul
that there should be 'no loss 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.' How could that assurance given to Paul from
God, and Paul's caution to the mariners, stand together? Doth the purpose of God
depend upon the uncertain will and actions of men 'I answerNot as a cause, from
whence it receiveth its force and strength; but as a means, appointed also by
God to the execution of his decree. For by the same decree God 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 a
necessity of duty lying upon man to use these means, and not to expect the end
without them. 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 separate these things, God doth not change his counsel, but we
pervert his order to our own destruction.

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
extraordinary proof 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
was resolved to cure him, but Naaman must take his prescribed way, though
against his own fancy and conceit: 2 Kings 5:10, 'Wash in Jordan seven times,
and thy flesh shall come again unto thee, and thou shalt be clean;' compare ver.
13, 'If the prophet had bidden thee 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 to have his eyes anointed with clay, and
wash in the pool of Siloam; though the clay seemed to put out his eyes, rather
than cure them, and the pool could not wash away his blindness; but means
appointed by God must be used, whatever improbabilities 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 to add fifteen years more to Hezekiah's life, yet he must take a lump
of figs and lay it on the boil; which plainly showeth that no promise on God's
part, nor assurance on ours, 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 that we may persevere, and quicken diligence rather than nourish
security, or open a gap to carnal 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, it alludeth 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 the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day;'
that after ye have done all things, ye may stand. Their temptation was the many
troubles and persecutions that befell them, called there 'the evil day.' Their
defence lay in 'the whole armour of God,' which is there made of six pieces:The
girdle of truth or sincerity, which is a strength to us as a girdle to the
loins; the breastplate of righteousness, 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, whether delivered in a way of command,
promise, or threatening; the helmet of hope, or a certain and desirous
expectation of the promised glory; the shoe of the preparation of the gospel of
peace, which is a readiness to endure all encounters for Christ's sake, who hath
made our peace with God; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Now, if we take this armour and use it in our conflicts, what doth it serve for?
To withstand and stand. The first is the act of a soldier, the second is the
posture of a conqueror. Here is withstanding till the field be won, and then
standing when the day of evil is over. Here we make our way to heaven by
conflict and conquest, 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: 2 Tim. 4:10, 'Demas hath forsaken us, and loved the present
world.' Backsliders in heart are the worst sort of apostates. Such as lose their
affection to God, and delight in his ways, and esteem not of his glorious
recompenses, for a little pleasure, profit, or pomp of living; sell their
birthright for one morsel of meat, Heb. 12:15,16. Some fail in their
understandings, but most miscarry by the perverse inclination of their wills;
they are carnal worldly hypocrites that never thoroughly mortified the fleshly
mind, prize things as they are commodious to the flesh, and will save them from
sufferings. The bias of such men'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 by the apostles is a tradition; (2.) That holding this tradition by
strong hand, when others wrest 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 the belief 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 the philosophers sat a-brood upon religion, a
goodly chimera it was they hatched and brought forth: Rom. 1:21,22, 'They became
vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened;' and
'professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.' The inventions little
became the nature of God; nor were they profitable to man, for still the great
sore of nature was unhealed, which is a fear of death and the righteous wrath of
God, Rom. 1:32. So that neither man's comfort nor duty was well provided for.
Surely the gospel is none of this sort, not an invention of men, but a
revelation of God; and a revelation not made to us in person, but brought out of
the bosom of God by Jesus Christ, and by him manifested to chosen witnesses, who
might publish this mystery and secret to others. Well, then, since the gospel is
not an invention it is a tradition, or a delivery of the truth upon the
testimony of one that came from God, to instruct the world, or reduce it to him;
not an invention of man, but a secret brought out of the bosom of God by our
Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore it is said, Heb. 2:3,4, 'How shall we escape if we
neglect so great salvation, first spoken by the Lord himself, and then confirmed
to us by them that heard him, the Lord bearing them witness?' &c. Christ
delivered it to the apostles, and the apostles delivered it to others: 2 Tim.
2:2, 'Those things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same
commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.' The
apostles received the gospel from Christ, and the churches and ministers from
the apostles, and they delivered it down to others until it came to us, which is
the means of our believing the truth, and confessing the name of Christ. This
testimony, delivered and conveyed to us by the most credible means, and which we
have no reason to, doubt of, is as binding as if we had heard Christ and his
apostles in person; for we have their word in writing, though we did not 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
constant tradition of the church, and the acknowledgment of friends and enemies,
who still appeal to them as a public authentic record. And as they have been
attested by the church, they have been owned by God, and blessed by him to the
conversion and sanctifying of many souls throughout all successions of ages: and
by this tradition Christianity hath held up the head against all encounters of
time; and the persecutions of adverse powers have not suppressed it, nor the
disputes of enemies silenced the profession of it, but from age to age it hath
been received, and transmitted to future generations, though sometimes at a 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 the
universal tradition having handed it to us, is a sufficient ground of faith, and
so we believe through their word, and are concerned in Christ's prayers, John
17:20; for with them and their successors, as to, these necessary things, Christ
hath promised to be to the end of the world, Mat. 28:20.

Secondly, My next argument isBecause Christian religion must needs be a
tradition, partly because matter of fact is the foundation of it, and it is in
itself matter of faith. (1.) Because it is built upon matter of fact: that the
Son of God came from God, to bring us to. God; that is to say, appeared in human
nature, instructed the world by his doctrine and example, and at length died for
sinners, confirming both in life and death the truth of his mission, by such
unquestionable miracles as showed him to be the Son of God and the Saviour of
the world. Now, a testimony, tradition, or report, is necessary in. matters of
fact, which of necessity must be confined to some determinate time and place. 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 those
things were to be once done in one place of the world, in sight of some
particular and competent witnesses. But because the knowledge of them concerned
all the rest of the world, they were by them to be attested to others; matters
of fact can only be proved by credible witnesses, and this was the great office
put upon the apostles, Acts 1:8-22; 2:32; 3:15; 10:39-41. (2.) As it is matter
of faith, or the doctrine built upon this matter of fact. We cannot properly be
said to believe a thing but upon a report and testimony. I may know a thing by
sense or reason, but I cannot believe it, but as it is affirmed or brought to me
by credible testimony. As we are said to see those things which we perceive by
the eye, or the sense of seeing, and to know those things which we receive by
reason, or sure demonstration; so we are said to believe 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? You will answer, I
do not believe it, but see it. So if any one ask you, Do you believe that twice
two make four, and twice three make six? You will say, I do not believe it, but
know it, because certain and evident reason telleth me that two is the half of
four, and three of six; and every whole consisteth of two halves or moieties.
But if he should ask you, Do you believe that the sun is bigger than the earth?
You will say, I believe it; for though your eye doth not discover it, nor doth
an ignorant man know any certain demonstration of it, yet, having the authority
of learned men, who are competent judges in the case, you judge it a rash and
foolish obstinacy not to believe it. Apply it now to the 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 and arbitrary
will of God, John. 3:16; yet you believe them, because God hath revealed them,
to the prophets and apostles: and God, being truth and wisdom itself, cannot
deceive 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 your eyes, and know and understand by a sure demonstration. The sense
of seeing may be deceived, and human reason may err, but it is impossible God
should deceive or be deceived. It oftentimes falleth out that men do prefer the
authority and report of a man whom they judge to be wise and good before their
own sense and reason. As, for instance, that man who by his eye judges the sun
to be less than the earth, yet doth not obstinately stand in his opinion when he
hears a knowing and skilful philosopher assert the contrary. Now, 'If we receive
the witness of men, the witness of God is greater,' 1 John 5:9. And this
testimony of God is brought to us by his authorised messengers as the 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
our faith 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 and his apostles, there is sure direction to walk by, and sure promises
to build upon. For whatever they made known of Christ was not a fable but a
certain truth; for they had the testimony of sense, 2 Peter 1:16,17; 1 John
1:2-4, and so could plead both the authority of his command and the certainty,
of his promise, and that with uncontrollable evidence; and without this relation
there can be neither faith nor obedience, nor sure expectation of happiness. For
we cannot trust God for what he hath not promised, nor obey God in what he hath
not commanded; nor in our difficulties and distresses expect happiness from him
without his warrant and assurance. But by this doctrine 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 we have a sure
testimony of God's revelation; for faith is a believing such things as God hath
revealed, because he hath revealed them. It is not faith but fancy to believe
such things as God hath never revealed; nor is it trust and a regular confidence
to think that he will certainly ,give us what he hath never promised; this were
to lay us open to all manner of 'delusion; and therefore we are never upon sure
and stable ground but by sticking 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. The fundamental 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, but for other reasons, is not
obedience; and in difficult cases the soul can never be held to its duty till we
are persuaded that so is God's will concerning us. Now to know his will
concerning us, we are often bidden to search the scripture; but never bidden to
consult with the church, to know what unwritten traditions she hath in her
keeping to instruct us in our duty. (3.) No certain expectation of happiness. We
are never safe till we know by what 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. Obey the gospel, and you have a perfect rule to guide
you to happiness; but if you neglect this great salvation, or be unfaithful in
the profession of it, this word condemneth you, and God 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 word or our epistle.' The apostles went up and down and preached Christ
everywhere; that needeth no proof, unless you would have me to produce the whole
book of the Acts of thy Apostles. But they did not preach only, but write; and
both by the instinct of the Holy Spirit, who guided their journeys, and moved
them to write epistles. For being often absent from churches newly planted, and
heresies arising, or some contentions, which could not be avoided among weak
Christians, God overruled these occasions for the profit of the church in after
ages: upon one occasion or another they saw a necessity to write; anagkhn escon:
Jude ver. 3, 'It was needful for me to write unto you.' As, in the Old
Testament, God himself delivered the law with great majesty and terror, and
afterwards caused the same to be written in tables of stone, for the constant
use of his people; and the prophets first uttered their prophecies, and then
wrote unto them; so the apostles first preached evangelical doctrine, and then
consigned it to writing for the use of all ages. And though all things delivered
by them were not delivered in one sermon or one epistle, yet by degrees the
canon of the New Testament was 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 or
written word. (1.) Because we are taught to do so by Christ and his apostles.
Christ always appealeth to the writings of the Old Testament, both against
traditions, which he condemneth, Mat. 15:2, and against pretended revelations:
Luke 16:31, 'If they hear not 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 was valuable; yet they say we have
bebaioteron logon, 'A surer word of prophecy, whereunto ye shall do well to take
heed,' 2 Peter 1:19. Now, how can we do better than to imitate these great
examples? (2.) Because those things were written for our sakes: 1 John 1:4,
'These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.' The apostles, being
to leave the world, did know the slipperiness of man's memory, and the danger 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
and happiness. (3.) Because the scriptures are perfect. The perfection of
scripture is known by its end and intended use, which is to give us a knowledge
of those things which concern our faith, duty, and happiness. (1st.) Our faith
in Christ. If there be enough written for that end, we need not unwritten
traditions to complete our rule. Now, St John telleth us ho might have written
more things: 'But these things are written that ye 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 sufficiently propounded; the
warrant or claim is laid down in the new covenant, and the encouragements to
believe it are clear and strong. What would men have more? So that here is a
perfect rule, perfect in its kind, and for its proper use. (2dly.) For our duty;
that is sufficiently provided for. The apostle telleth us that the grace of
God'take it objectively for the grace of the gospel, or subjectively for grace
in our hearts' teacheth us;'if you mean objective grace, it prescribeth,
directeth; if subjective grace, it persuadeth and exciteth; what to do? 'To live
soberly, righteously, godly in the present 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 that belongeth either to worship, or
justice, or personal holiness? Therefore certainly we need no other rule; for it
layeth down whatsoever men are bound to do in all ages and places of the world,
and in whatsoever circumstances God shall put them. And so it is fit to be the
law of the universal King and Lawgiver; yea, it is so perfect, that whatever
other way is set up, it presently dasheth against those notions that we have, or
should have, of God, his service and worship; or it infringeth or perverteth the
liberty and nature of man. (3dly.) For our happiness. That doctrine and
institution which is able to make us wise unto salvation is enough for us; but
so the holy scriptures are said 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
private Christian with this knowledge, but 'the man of God,' who is to instruct
others, he needeth look no further, but is furnished out of the scripture with
all things necessary to discharge his office. Therefore here we fix and rest; we
have a sufficient rule, and a full record 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, as we receive the holy scriptures. But you, brethren, stand fast,
holding the apostolical tradition. You cannot have it by word of mouth from them
now; therefore you must stick to what is written, or else you cannot preserve
yourselves from the frauds and impostures of Antichrist. These apostolical
writings have been received in all ages and times of the church from the
beginning; and all disputes among Christians have been tried by them. None were
allowed good or sincere Christians who doubted of the truth of them. But because
we have to do with a people that will sacrifice all to the honour and interest
of their church, and knowing they are not able to stand before the light of
scriptures, have, to the no little prejudice of the Christian cause, done all
they can to weaken the authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity of them, that we
might have no religion without the testimony and recommendation of their church;
therefore I shall resume 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 what
belongeth to our duty and happiness, for our chief good and last end. Being
altered by sin, we strangely mistake things, and put light for darkness and
darkness for light, good for evil and evil for good, weighing all things in the
balance of the flesh, which we seek to please. We confound both the names and
natures of things, and wander in a maze of a thousand perplexities; therefore
God, in pity to mankind, hath given us a sure direction in 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 the day we have the light
of the sun: whether it be day or night with us, here we are taught how to carry
ourselves. Mark again the words of path and feet. The one signifieth our way and
general course, the other all our particular actions; so far as religion is
concerned 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
natural light left to us; for that only can judge of things necessary, but not
of such things as depend 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 suffice while 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 a small compass of ground, and not liable to
so many miseries and changes as now in the latter ages; but when once God had
spoken to us by his Son, those extraordinary ways ceased Heb. 1:1,2, 'God, who
at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in times past to the fathers by
the prophets, hath in these last times spoken to us by his Son.' As formerly God
did speak polutropwV, in divers manners,that is to say, by visions, oracles,
dreams; and so polumerwV, at sundry times, by several steps and degrees, he
acquainted the world with the truths necessary for man to know, delivering them
out by 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
en metpon, by measure, to fit them for some particular errand or message on
which God sent them. But when God sent his Son out of his bosom to reveal the
whole doctrine of faith at once, and to declare his Father's will with full
authority and power, he fixed and closed up the rule of faith. So it was not fit
that after him there should come any extraordinary nuncios and ambassadors from
heaven, or any other should be owned as infallible messengers, but such as he
immediately sent abroad in the world to disciple the nations. Therefore all
former 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 the apostles do not live for ever; and we have no men now that are
immediately and divinely inspired; and ordinary pastors and teachers cannot make
more articles of faith, but do only build on the apostles' foundation, 1 Cor.
3:10, or that divinely-inspired doctrine which they delivered to the church.
Yea, that doctrine cannot well be preserved from oblivion 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 easily be 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 corrupt the truth, which is contrary to them, you will see that it is
necessary there should be an authentic record by which truth and error might be
tried and distinguished; yea, that the church, which is dispersed throughout the
world, might have truth at hand, and particular believers have this doctrine
ever by them for their comfort and use, it being the property of a blessed man
to 'delight in the law of God,' and to 'exercise himself therein clay and
night,' Ps. 1:2. In short, while the apostles were living, it was good to take
the tradition from their month, but, now they are dead, we take it from their
writings. Surely if God saw some writing necessary when those extraordinary ways
we spake of before were in use, and the church of the Old Testament was in a
much quieter estate than the church of the New, I say, if some writing were
necessary then, it is more necessary now, for the Christian church is more
exposed to dreadful storms of persecution, the deceits of heretics of all sorts,
especially to the frauds of Antichrist, which we are forewarned of in this
chapter, and are detected and discovered by their contrariety to the 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 the Holy Ghost. The apostles did not lose their infallibility
when they committed what they preached to writing. The same Spirit that assisted
them in delivering the doctrine by word of mouth, assisted them also when they
delivered it by writing. And it is a full and sufficient rule, because it
containeth all things which are necessary for men to believe and do in order to
eternal life. Let them name what is necessary, beyond what is recommended there
or may be delivered from thence. Yea, it doth contain not only all the
essential, but also the integral parts of the Christian religion; and therefore
nothing 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 is because 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 of faith, 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 is contained in this written word of God. Their crime and fault may
be considered partly with respect to the object and matterthat these traditions
are not indifferent customs, but essential points necessary to faith and
Christian practice. And so, though a Christian be never so thorough and sound in
his obedience to the word of God, and true to the baptismal 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 Mark 16:16, 'He
that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall
be damned;' and John 17:3, 'This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true
God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.' Partly as to the subject, as they
make their own faction to be the only keepers of these things, and that nothing
is to be owned as apostolical tradition but what is delivered as such by their
authority; which is to leave the church to the tyranny and usurpation of a
corrupt faction, to declare for apostolical tradition anything which serveth
their end and interest, and for which no true historical evidence is produced.
Now the unjust and fraudulent practices which they have used to promote this
usurpation over the churches of Christ render them false men, most unfit to be
trusted in this kind. Partly with respect to the manner: they will have these
things to be received part reverentia et pietatis affectuwith the same
reverence and pious affection with which we receive the holy scriptures; and so
man's post is set by God's, and unproved traditions equalled with doctrines of
faith. Their opinion is bad enough, but their practice is worse; for there they
show they value these things more than the scriptures; as superstition always
aboundeth in its own things. Did ever any of their doctors say the same things
of traditions which they take the boldness to say of scripture? Did they ever
call them pen and inkhorn, or parchment divinity, a nose of wax, a dumb rule, an
obscure and ambiguous doctrine? These blasphemies they vent boldly 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 the
doctrine of salvation. They skill more of Lent and Ember-weeks, &c., than they
truly understand the doctrine of man's misery and remedy. And call you this
reverence and pious affection to the scriptures and traditions? Partly because
they would never give us a catalogue of unwritten traditions necessary to be
observed by all Christians. It may be lest they should amaze the people with the
multitude of them, or else that the people may not know how many of their
doctrines are destitute of scripture proof, and so they plainly 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.
The scriptures of the Old Testament were preserved by the Jews, 'to whom were
committed the oracles of God,' Rom. 3:2. Protestants received all the books
which they admitted into their canon. And for the books of the New Testament,
the Christian church hath received them as the writings of those whose names
they bear. And by the constant 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 and parliaments who lived long before we had a
being. Yea; we may be much more confident, as the matter is of greater weight
and consequence, and these writings have the signature and stamp of God's Spirit
on them, and have been blessed by God to the converting and sanctifying of many
souls; and have been delivered down to us by a succession of believers unto this
very day. And by them Christianity hath been preserved in the world,
notwithstanding the wickedness of it, and hath held up head against all the
encounters of time. The persecutions of adverse powers have not suppressed it,
nor the disputes of enemies silenced the profession of it; but still from age to
age 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 so
extraordinary a case, must be made valuable, and authorised to the world by the
miracles 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 that lived 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 which they were done, but for the benefit also of those that
should hear of them by. any credible means whatsoever, Ps. 145:4; Joel 1:3; Ps.
78:3-7: these things were told them '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 church usage
and practice; as baptism of infants, Lord's-day, singing of psalms in our public
worship, &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 our instruction 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
far as their own variable nature and condition requireth; not rejecting them,
because anciently practised; nor regarding them, when the general law of
edification requireth the omission 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, that manifest corruptions and usurpations,as
making Rome the mistress of other churches, and superinducing the Pope as the
head of the universal visible church, and the vicar 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 with like religious reverence as
we do articles of faith set down in scripture. This is that we cannot
sufficiently abhor, as apparently false, and destructive to Christianity.


 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Discovery of the Americas