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let them take that which they think to be the safest, or the most pious, the most charitable, and the most useful; that so by collateral considerations they may determine that, which by the authority seems equal and indeterminable.
The collateral considerations are commonly these : 1. That which is more agreeable to the letter of Scripture.
2. That which does most agree with the purpose and design of it. 3. That which saints have practised. 4. That which whole nations have approved. 5. That which is agreeable to common life. 6. That which is best for the public.
7. That which is most for the glory of God, for the reputation of his name, and agreeing with his attributes.
8. That which is more holy.
12. And (in destitution of all things else) that which is most useful to ourselves. All these are good considerations, and some of them intervene in most cases, and can be considered by most men. But where nothing of these can be interwoven in the sentence, but that the authority of the teacher is the only thing that can be considered, the following measures are to be added.
2. The authority of one man wise and good, that is, who is generally so reputed, is a probable argument, and a sufficient guide to ignorant persons in doubtful matters, where there is no clear or known revelation to the contrary. When it is his best, there is no disputing whether it be good or no; only in this case, he is so far to suspend his consent, till his guide hath considered, or answered deliberately; for if his guide vomit out answers, it is better to refuse it, till it be digested better. This hath been highly abused in some places; and permissions have been given or taken to do acts of vile impiety, or horrible danger, where by interest they were persuaded; and being desirous for some pretence to legitimate the act, or to invite their conscience to it, they have been content with the opinion of one probable doctor. Such was he, whose tes
timony being required in a matter of right concerning his college, swore to a thing as of his certain knowledge, of which he had no certain knowledge, but a probable conjecture; only because he had read or been told, that one doctor said it was lawful so to do. This is to suborn a sentence, and to betray a conscience; for the sentence of one doctor is only a good or a tolerable guide, when there is no better guide for us, and no reason against us; that is, it is to be used only, when it is the best, but not when it is the worst.
3. But if divers men equally wise and good speak variously in the question, and that the inquirer. cannot be indifferent to both, but must resolve upon one, he is first to follow his parish-priest, rather than a stranger in the article, who is equal in all things else; his own confessor, his own bishop, or the laws and customs of his own country: because, next to reason, comes in place that which in order of things is next to it; that is, the proper advantages of the man, that is, learning and piety; and next to them succeed the accidental advantages of the man, that is, his authority and legal pre-eminence. There is no other reason for these things, but that which is in the proper and natural order of things : this is the natural method of persuasion, direct and indirect.
4. Where it can certainly be told that it is the more common, there the community of the opinion hath the advantage, and is in the same circumstance still to be preferred; because, where reason is not clear and manifest, there we are to go after it, where it is more justly to be presumed. Τα τοι κάλ' εν πολλοίσι κάλλιον λέγειν, said Euripides h; “ it is good, when good things are attested by many witnesses.” ο μεν πάσι δοκεί, τούτο είναι φαμεν, said Aristotle i; “ that which seems so to all men, this
is as it seems :” and so it is in proportion from some to many, from many to all. The sum of all these things is this : 1. God is to be preferred before man.
2. Our own reason, before the sayings of others. 3. Many, before few. 4. A few, before one. 5. Our superiors, or persons in just autho
Hippolytus, 606. Monk, p. 77.—Priestley's edition of Euripic'es, vol. iii.
· Eth, lib. x.
rity over us, before private persons, ' cæteris paribus. 6. Our own, before strangers. 7. Wise men, before the ignorant. 8. The godly and well meaning, and well reputed, before men of indifferent or worse lives. That is, they must do as well and wisely as they can, and no man is obliged to do better; only this is to be observed :
That, in this case, it is not necessary that truth should be found, but it is highly necessary it should be searched for. It may be, it cannot be hit, but it must be aimed at; and therefore they, who are concerned, are not to be troubled and amazed at the variety of opinions that are in the world : “ There must be heresies," that is, sects and differing opinions, “ that they who are faithful, may be approved.” Now they can be approved in nothing but what is in their power, that is, diligence to inquire, and honesty in consenting ; both which may very well be, and yet the man be mistaken in his particular sentence, in a matter not simply necessary, not plainly revealed.
There is but one thing more that concerns his duty, and that is, that in all his choices he prefer the interest of peace, and of obedience; for it ought to be a very great cause that shall warrant his dissent from authority which is appointed
Such causes may be, but the unskilled multitude (of whom we now treat) seldom find those causes, and seldom are able to judge of them; and therefore this rule is certain.
Whoever blows a trumpet, and makes a separation from the public, they who follow his authority, and know not, or understand not, a sufficient reason for the doing it, they are "highly inexcusable upon this account,-because they, following the less probable authority, have no excuse for the matter of their sin; and, therefore, if it happen to be schism, or rebellion, or disobedience, or heresy in the subject-matter, it is, in the very form of it, so imputed to the consenting person : for, though great reason may be stronger than authority, yet no private authority is greater than the public. But of this I shall have further occasion to discourse in its proper place.
Although this is the best, and therefore a sufficient advice for the ignorant, yet for the learned and the wise, there are other considerations to be added :
1. They who are to teach others, may not rely upon single testimonies, or the slight probability of one doctor's opinion. This is true ordinarily and regularly, because such persons are supposed more at leisure, more instructed, better able to inquire; and to rely finally upon such single ånd weak supports, is to do the work of the Lord negligently.
2. If the opinion be probable upon the account of a more general reception, and be the more common, and allowed by wise and good men, they who are learned, and are to teach others, may lawfully follow the opinion without examining the reasons, for which it is by those wise men entertained. For the work of learning and inquiry is so large, and of immense extension, that it is impossible all men should perfectly inquire of all things : but some especially attend to one thing, some to another; and where men have best considered, they consider for themselves and for others too, and themselves are helped by those others, in the proper matter of their consideration. A man's life is too short, and his abilities less, and, it may be, his leisure least of all, and unable so to consider all that is fit to be believed and taught, that it will be necessary we should help one another; and the great teachers and doctors in several instances may ordinarily be relied upon without danger and inconvenience.
3. But if it happens, that, by circumstances and accidents, the particular question be drawn out into a new inquiry; if a new doubt arise, or a scandal be feared, or the division of men's minds in the new inquest, then the reasons must be inquired into, and the authority is not sufficient.
1. Because the authority is, by the new doubt, made less probable, and is part of the question : and therefore ought not to be presumed right in its own case.
2. Because the duty of teachers is, by this accident, determined to this special inquiry, and called from their inactive rest, and implicit belief; because the inquirers upon this new account will be determined by nothing but by that reason that shall pretend strongest; and therefore they who are thus called upon, can no other ways give answer to them that ask.” It was the universal doctrine of the church of God for many ages, even for fourteen centuries of years, that episcopacy is of Divine, or apostolical institution: It was a sufficient warranty for a parish-priest to teach that doc
trine to his parishioners, because he found it taught every where, and questioned no where. But when afterwards this long prescribing truth came to be questioned, and reasons and Scriptures pretended and offered against it, and a schism likely to be commenced upon it, it is not sufficient then to rely upon the bare word of those excellent men, who are able to prove it, as it is supposed; but they who are to teach others, must first be instructed themselves in the particular arguments of probation, that, according to the precepts apostolical, they may “render a reason of the hope that is in them k," and may be able “ both to exhort and to convince the gain-sayers'; who, because they expressly decline the authority, and the weight of testimony, cannot be convinced but by reason, and the way of their own proceeding
In following the Authority of Men, no Rule can be antecedently
given for the Choice of the Persons, but the Choice is wholly to be conducted by Prudence, and according to the Subjectmatter.
ANCIENT writers are more venerable, modern writers are more knowing; they might be better witnesses, but these are better judges. Antiquity did teach the millenary opinion ; that infants were to be communicated, and that without baptism they were damned to the flames of hell; that angels are corporeal; that the souls of saints did not see God before doomsday; that sins once pardoned did return again upon case of relapse; that persons baptized by heretics were to be rebaptized; and they expounded Scripture, in places innumerable, otherwise than they are at this day, by men of all persuasions: and therefore no company of men will consent that in all cases the fathers are rather to be followed than their successors. They lived in the infancy of Christianity, and we in the elder ages; they practised more and knew less, we know more and practise less; passion is for younger years, and for beginning of things :
ki Pet. iii. 15.
1 Tit. i. 9.