Yet must it not be owned, on fair consideration, that Timothy's deposit did comprise matter, independent of, and distinct from, the truths which are directly Scriptural? that it contained, besides the substance of Christian doctrine, a certain form, arrangement, selection, methodizing the whole, and distinguishing fundamentals; and also a certain system of church practice, both in government, discipline, and worship; of which, whatever portion we can prove to be still remaining, ought to be religious guarded by us, even for the same reason that we reverence and retain that which is more properly scriptural, both being portions of the same divine treasure.
To these conclusions we are led by the consideration, first, that the truths and rules committed to Timothy's charge were at the time almost or wholly unwritten. This is clear from the very date of the Epistles which mention that charge: the latest of which must have been composed many years before St. John's gospel, and in the first of them the deposit in question is spoken of, not as an incomplete thing on its progress towards perfection, but as something so wholly sufficient, so unexceptionably accurate, as to require nothing but fidelity in its transmitters. The holy writings themselves intimate, that the persons to whom they were addressed were in possession of a body of truth and duty, totally distinct from themselves and independant of them. Timothy, for instance, a few verses after the text, is enjoined to take measures for the transmission, not of holy Scripture, but of the things which he had heard of St. Paul among many witnesses. The Thessalonians had been exhorted to hold the traditions which they had received, whether by word or apostolical letter. They could not be exhorted to hold the Christian Scriptures, since at that time in all probability no Christian Scriptures yet existed, except perhaps St. Matthew's gospel. Much later we find St. Peter declaring to the whole body of Oriental Christians, that in neither of his Epistles did he progress to reveal to them any new truth or duty, but to "stir up their minds by way of remembrance of the commandment of the Apostles of the LORD and SAVIOUR. St. John refers believers, for a standard of doctrine, to the word which they had heard from the beginning, and intimates that it was sufficient for their Christian communion if that word abode in them. If the Word, the Commandment, the Tradition, which the latest of these holy writers severally commend in these and similar passages, meant only or chiefly the Scriptures before written, would there not appear a more significant mention of those Scriptures; something nearer the tone of our own divines, when they are delivering precepts on the Rule of Faith? As it is, the phraseology of the Epistles exactly concurs with what we should be led to expect; that the Church would be already in possession of the substance of saving Truth, in a sufficiently systematic form, by the sole teaching of the Apostles. As long as that teaching itself, or the accurate recollection of it, remained in the world, it must have constituted a standard or measure of Christian knowledge, though it had never seemed good to the Almighty to confer on us the additional boon of the books of the New Testament.
PRIMITIVE TRADITION RECOGNISED IN HOLY SCRIPTURE by John Keble (1837)