THE NUMBER OF THE CONTROVERSIES WHICH ARE CONCERNING THE WRITTEN WORD : AND OF THE FIRST CONTROVERSY, WHETHER THE SCRIPTURE BE THE WORD OF GOD.
There be two kinds of controversies concerning the holy Scripture. The first kind is of such controversies as be more essential, that is, which concern the very essence (if I may so speak) or being of the Scripture. The second kind is of those controversies which be more accidental, and do not so nearly concern the essence of the Scripture. Of the first kind there are ten controversies or questions.
The first is, ” Whether the Scripture, prophetical and apos tolical, be the word of God ?”
The second is, ” How it may appear that this Scripture is God’s word ?”
The third is, ” Of the antiquity of it.”
The fourth is, ” Of the perspicuity or clearness of it.”
The fifth is, ” Of the simplicity or plainness of it.”
The sixth is, ” Of the vivacity, quickening power, or life of it.”
The seventh is, ” Of the simple and evident necessity of it.”
The eighth is, ” Of the perfection and sufficiency thereof, that it is sufficient and perfect in itself, without all unwritten verities or traditions what soever.”
The ninth is, ” Whether the Scripture may be the judge to determine all controversies?”
The tenth is, ” Whether the Scriptures, prophetical and apostolical, must have the chief place of excellency, and be in authority above the Church ?’
As for those eight controversies which follow the two first, they are touching the properties of the holy Scripture; and these, when we shall have proved that the Scripture is God’s word, will appear evidently, for they are necessary consequents of that theorem. For grant we this, that the Scripture is God’s word, then these things must follow necessarily; first, that it is most ancient; secondly, most clear; thirdly, most simple or pure; fourthly, most powerful; fifthly, most necessary; sixthly, most perfect; seventhly, the greatest and best judge of all controversies without exception; eighthly, most excellent. But for as much as the adversaries deny these eight properties, therefore (as is aforesaid) there is of every one of them a special controversy.
We are then to handle these controversies in order. And, first, of that which by due right and naturally is to have the first place, whether the Scripture be the word of God? The adversaries grant, generally, that the holy Scripture is the word of God; but, when they are brought from the general to a special, they break from us. To speak more plainly, the word of God at this day is twofold in the Church of God, 1. immediate, 2. mediate. I call that the immediate word of God which doth proceed immediately out of God’s own mouth ; and that I call mediate which the Lord speaks by his preacher or minister. We hold, then, and avouch, that the holy Scripture is that immediate and primary word of God, and to be unto us instead of that first immediate and lively voice of God himself; yea, that it serves us in place not only of that lively voice of God, but also of the secret and unsearchable mind of God, and of God’s unspeakable mysteries. Our arguments are these :
- For that this is the very will of God. They have Moses (saith he) and the Prophets; that is, the books of Moses and the Prophets. (Luke xvi. 29.)
- If we had nothing to supply the defect of the lively voice of God, then doubtless our state were worse than that of the old Church of the Jews, which had the oracles of God; but it is against all light of reason so to affirm.
- Our third reason is this ; the first ground of our faith must be either the lively voice of God, or the very mind and counsel of God, or something to supply the want of God’s lively voice, and of the secret mind of God, which must also be unto us no less certain and firm than if we heard God himself speak, or did behold and read the very mind of God, yea, the very divine oracles written in God’s own breast. But now we have not the lively voice of God ; now we see not the secret mind of God. Therefore it must follow that we have something to supply the want of the lively voice of God, even means to reveal unto us the secret mind of God ; and nothing can do this but the sacred Scripture. Therefore, God’s holy written word is, and must be, unto us as the very voice, and as the very mind or will of God himself manifested unto us.
- The fourth reason : The Scripture contains all those things which God hath spoken in elder ages, and what God himself hath decreed in his secret counsel, so far as is meet for us to know, concerning our life and salvation: Ergo, &c. Thus far of the immediate word of God. The mediate voice of God, we call the voice of the holy and true Church of God; for albeit men speak, yet the word spoken is the word of God himself.
Here the adversaries rise up and contend, that the voice of the Church must have the priority of excellency, and that it supplieth the want of God’s lively voice, and the manifestation of his mind, rather, or better than the Scripture: “For,” say they, “the voice of the Church is a Scripture written, not with the pen of any scribe, but by God’s own finger in the heart of the Church; therefore, the voice or testimony of the Church ought to be accounted the principal voice of God. For it is a lively voice, proceeding from the living heart of the Church, wherein God hath engraven all truth with the finger of his own Spirit; whereas the Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles, albeit they were delivered and spoken by God himself, yet they were not written by God’s own hand, but by the Prophets and Apostles, which were the penmen. Again, they were not written in the living hearts of men, but in papers and books, or tables. Hence, therefore, it followeth that this Scripture, which is found in the heart of the Church, is the principal Scripture of God, and that the voice of the holy Church is that most excellent voice of God, and ought to be unto us as the immediate voice of God, and instead of the secret counsel of God.”
I answer, true it is, the testimony of the Church is a lively voice, proceeding from a living heart, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, for we speak of the true Church. But first, I say, that the only (1) Scripture, prophetical and apostolical, is to be accounted that Scripture which was written by God’s own finger, and that immediate word of God. Next, I say, that the heart of the Church is taught and sanctified by the spirit of the Scripture; and that the Scripture, which is in the heart of the Church, is nothing else but a certain transcript, that so I may speak, or a copy, which the Holy Ghost hath written in our hearts, according to that ancient and authentical copy, which is the holy Scripture. For the Holy Ghost teacheth the Church nothing now but that which is written, and doth, by the Scripture, after a sort, beget the Church; and the Scripture is the mother, the Church the daughter; the Scripture is the mistress, the Church is the scholar. Thirdly, I add, that the knowledge of the truth which is in the heart of the Church by means of the Scripture, is not so perfect nor so absolute as is the Holy Scripture. And, lastly, I say, that the Church being enlightened and renewed but in part, may err from the truth, even in the greatest matter of weight, and that it doth err, so often as it forsakes the canon and rule of the sacred Scripture.
Their former assertion being thus cast down, it is evident that the voice of the Church,—I understand here the true Church only, not that whorish Church of Rome,—the voice of the Church, I say, is not that primary and most excellent word of God, nor ought to be unto us instead of the lively and immediate voice of God, nor to be reputed for God’s mind and counsel; but this prerogative is due only to the sacred Scripture. I add, further, that if thou doest first not so much respect the truth itself, which the Church speaketh, as the instruments of the speech uttered, which are men; next, if ye compare the voice of the Church speaking with the sacred Scripture itself, it doth not deserve at all to be called by the name of God’s word, but may more properly be called the word and testimony of man. For Christ himself calls that testimony which John the Baptist gave of him, the testimony of man. “I receive not,” (saith he,) “or desire not, the testimony of man,” (John v. 34.) Be it so, that the testimony of the Church be true, and agreeable to the holy Scripture, notwithstanding, it is truly called a human testimony, whether ye respect the men which speak, or compare their testimony with that which doth proceed from the mouth of God and Christ himself.
But it may be replied, that the very Apostles and Prophets which wrote and spake all these things which we have in the Scriptures were men in like manner; and, therefore, all the Scriptures are but a human testimony. I answer, that I deny not all is objected, if we were to esteem the words or writings of an Apostle or Prophet as they are instruments and ministers, or if this were to be compared with the very lively voice of God and Christ himself. For in respect of the instruments, if we compare the words or writings of these men with the words and writings of God himself, theirs, I say, must come after and give place unto this, and must bear the name of a human testimony; for so the testimony of John Baptist himself, as being an instrument in comparison of Christ the Lord of life, was called the record of man. Wherefore, when we avouch that the prophetical and apostolical Scripture is the immediate testimony of God himself, we make no comparison with the lively voice of God himself, neither do we so much respect what organs the Holy Ghost used to set forth the Scriptures ; but we consider the matter itself, and the divine oracles which be written, and we ponder in what estimation God himself will have us to accept the sacred Scripture, not as the writings and sayings of men, but as the writings and words of God himself. And we consider this also, as in a comparison made with the Church. For, to use that comparison again, the voice of the Scripture is God’s own voice ; but the voice of the Church of Christ is called a human testimony, as the word or writing of a Prophet or an Apostle, compared with the lively voice of God, is called the record of man, as Christ himself testifieth, (John v. 34.) And thus far of the first controversy.
“1 i. e., The Scripture alo.ie. Scripturaai solarn.”