|« Prev||II. To Mr. Gillespie, in answer to further…||Next »|
TO MR. GILLESPIE. IN ANSWER TO OBJECTIONS.
Northampton, April 2, 1750.
Rev. And Dear Sir,
I received your favour of September 19, 1748, the last summer, and would now heartily thank you for it. I suppose it might come in the same ship with letters I had from my other correspondents in Scotland, which I answered the last summer; but it did not come to hand till a long time after most of the others, and after I had finished and sent away my answers to them, and that opportunity for answering was past. I have had no leisure or opportunity to write any letters to Scotland from that time till now, by reason of my peculiar and very extraordinary circumstances, on account of the controversy that has arisen between me and my people, concerning the profession that ought to be made by persons that come to christian sacraments, which is likely speedily to issue in a separation between me and my congregation. This controversy, in the progress of it, has proved not only a controversy between me and my people, but between me and a great part of New England; there being many far and near that are warmly engaged in it. This affair has unavoidably engaged my mind, and filled up my time, and taken me off from other things. I need the prayers of my friends, that God would be with me, and direct and assist me in such a time of trial, and mercifully order the issue.
As to the epistolary controversy, dear Sir, between you and me, about faith and doubting, I am sorry it should seem to be greater than it is, through misunderstanding of one another’s meaning, and that the real difference between us is so great as it is, in some part of the controversy.
As to the dispute about believing without spiritual light or sight, I thought I expressed my meaning in my last letter very plainly, but I kept no copy, and it might perhaps be owing to my dulness that I thought so. However, I perceive I was not understood. I cannot find out by any thing you say to me on this head, that we really differ in sentiments, but only in words. I acknowledge with you that “all are bound to believe the divine testimony, and trust in Christ; and that want of spiritual light or sight does not loose from the obligation one is laid under by the divine command, to believe instantly on Christ, at all seasons, nor excuse him, in any degree, for not believing. Even when one wants the influence and grace of the Spirit, still he is bound to believe. Ability is not the rule of duty.” I think the obligation to believe, lies on a person who is remaining without spiritual light or sight, or even in darkness. No darkness, no blindness, no carnality or stupidity, excuses him a moment from having as strong and lively faith and love as ever was exercised by the apostle Paul, or rather renders it not sinful in him that he is at that same moment without such a faith and love;—and yet I believe it is absurd, and of very hurtful consequence, to urge persons to believe in the dark, in the manner and in the sense in which many hundreds have done in America, who plainly intend, a believing strongly with such a sort of strong faith or great confidence as is consistent with continuing still, even in the time of these strong acts of faith, without spiritual light; carnal, stupid, careless, and senseless. Their doctrine evidently comes to this, both in sense and effect, that it is a mere duty strongly to believe with a lightless and sightless faith, or to have a confident, although a blind, dark, and stupid faith. And such a faith has indeed been promoted exceedingly by their doctrine, and has prevailed with its dreadful effects, answerable to the nature of the cause. We have had, and have to this day, multitudes of such strong believers, whose bold, proud, and stupid confidence, attended with a very wicked behaviour, has given the greatest wound to the cause of truth and vital religion that ever it suffered in America.
As to what follows in your letter, concerning a person’s believing himself to be in a good state, and its being properly of the nature of faith: in this there seems to be some real difference between us. But, perhaps, there would be none, if distinctness were well observed in the use of words. If by a man’s believing that he is in a good estate, be meant no more than his believing that he does believe in Christ, does love God, &c. I think there is nothing of the nature of faith in it; because knowing it, or believing it, depends on our own immediate sensation or consciousness, and not on divine testimony. True believers, in the hope they entertain of salvation, make use of the following syllogism, whosoever believes shall be saved: I believe, therefore, &c. Assenting to the major proposition is properly of the nature of faith, because the ground of my assent to that is divine testimony; but my assent to the minor proposition, I humbly conceive, is not of the nature of faith, because that is not grounded on divine testimony, but my own consciousness. The testimony that is the proper ground of faith is in the word of God, Rom. x. 17.. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” There is such a testimony given us in the word of God, that “He that believeth shall be saved.” But there is no such testimony in the word of God, as that such an individual person in such a town in Scotland or New England, believes. There is such a proposition in the Scripture, as that Christ loves those that love him, and therefore, this every one is bound to believe, and affirm: believing this on divine testimony is properly of the nature of faith, and for any one to doubt of it, is properly of the heinous sin of unbelief. But there is no such proposition in the Scripture, nor is it any part of the gospel of Christ, that such an individual person in Northampton loves Christ. If I know that I have complacence in Christ, I know it the same way that I know I have complacence in my wife and children, viz. by the testimony of my own heart or inward consciousness. Evangelical faith has the gospel of Christ for its foundation; but that I love Christ is a proposition not contained in the gospel of Christ.
And therefore, that we may not dispute in the dark, it is necessary, that we should explain what we mean by a person’s believing he is in a good estate. If thereby we mean only believing the minor of the foregoing syllogism, or such like syllogisms, I believe or I love God, it is not in the nature of faith. But if by a man’s believing himself to be in a good estate, be understood his believing not only the minor, but the consequence, therefore I shall be saved, or therefore God will never leave me nor forsake me; then a man’s believing his good estate, partakes of the nature of faith; for these consequences depend on divine testimony in the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yea, I would observe farther, that a man’s judging of the faith or love he finds in himself, whether they are that sort of faith and love which he finds to be saving, may depend on his reliance on scripture rules and marks which are divine testimonies, which he may be tempted not to rely upon, from the consideration of his great unworthiness. But his judging that he has those individual inward acts of understanding, and exercises of heart, depends on inward sensations, and not on any testimony of the word of God. The knowing present acts depends on immediate consciousness, and the knowing past acts depends on memory. And therefore the fulness of my satisfaction, that I now have such an inward act or exercise of mind, depends on the strength of sensation; and my satisfaction, that I have had them heretofore, depends on the clearness of my memory, and not on the strength of my reliance on any divine testimony; and so my doubting whether I have, or have had, such individual inward acts, is not of the nature of unbelief, though it may arise from unbelief indirectly; because, if I had had more faith, the actings of it would have been more sensible, and the memory of them more clear, and so I should have been better satisfied that I had them.
God seems to have given Abraham’s servant a revelation, that the damsel in whom he found such marks, viz. coming to draw water with a pitcher to that well, her readiness to give him and his camels drink, &c. should be Isaac’s wife, and therefore his assenting to this was of the nature of .faith, having divine testimony for its foundation. But his believing that Rebekah was the damsel that had 341 these individual marks, his knowing that she came to draw water, and that she let down her pitcher, &c. was not of the nature of faith. His knowing this was not from divine testimony, but from the testimony of his own senses. (Vide Gen. xxiv.)
You speak of “a saint’s doubting of his good estate as a part of unbelief, and the opposite of faith, considered in its full compass and latitude, as one branch of unbelief, one ingredient in unbelief; and of assurance of a man’s good estate, as one thing that belongs to the exercise of faith.” I do not know whether I take your meaning in these expressions. If you mean, that a person’s believing himself to be in a good estate is one thing that appertains to the essence of saving faith, or that saving faith, in all that belongs to its essence, yea its perfection, cannot be without implying it, I must humbly ask leave to differ from you. That a believing that I am in a good estate, is no part or ingredient in the essence of saving faith, is evident by this, that the essence of saving faith must be complete in me, before it can be true that I am in a good estate. If I have not as yet acted faith, yea if there be any thing wanting in me to make up the essence of saving faith, then I am not as yet in a state of salvation, and therefore can have no ground to believe that I am so. Any thing that belongs to the essence of saving faith is prior, in the order of nature, to a man’s being in a [believing] stale of salvation, because it is saving faith that brings him into such a state. And therefore believing that he is in such a state cannot be one thing that is essential or necessary in order to his being in such a state; for that would imply a contradiction. It would be to suppose a man’s believing that he is in a good estate to be prior, in the order of nature, to his being in a good estate. But a thing cannot be both prior and posterior, antecedent and consequent, with respect to the very same thing. The real truth of a proposition is in the order of nature first, before its being believed to be true. But till a man has already all that belongs to the essence of saving faith, that proposition, that he is in a good [believing] estate, is not as yet true. All the propositions contained in the gospel, all divine testimonies that we have in God’s word, are true already, are already laid for a foundation for faith, and were laid long ago. But that proposition, I am in a good estate, not being one of them, is not true till I have first believed; and therefore this proposition cannot be believed to be true, till saving faith be first complete. Therefore the completeness of the act of saving faith will not make it take in a belief of this proposition, nor will the strength or perfection of the act cause it to imply this. If a man, in his first act of faith, has ever so great a conviction of God’s sufficiency and faithfulness, and let his reliance on the divine testimony be ever so strong and perfect, all will have no tendency to make him believe this proposition, I am in a good estate, to be true, till it be true, which it is not till the first act of faith is complete, and has made it true. A belief of divine testimony in the first act of faith, may be to any assignable degree of strength and perfection, without believing that proposition, for there is no such divine testimony then extant, nor is there any such truth extant, but in consequence of the first act of faith. Therefore, (as I said) saving faith may be, with all that belongs to its essence, and that in the highest perfection, without implying a belief of my own good estate. I do not say it can be without having this immediate effect. But it is rather the effect of faith, than a part, branch, or ingredient of faith. And so I do not dispute whether a man’s doubting of his good state may be a consequence of unbelief, (I doubt not but it is in those who are in a good state,) because, if men had the exercise of faith in such a degree as they ought to have, it could not but be very sensible and plain that they had it. But yet I think this doubting of a good state is entirely a different thing from the sin of unbelief itself, and has nothing of the nature of unbelief in it, i. e. if we take doubting one’s good state in the sense in which I have before explained it, viz. for doubting whether I have such individual principles and acts in my soul. Take it in a complex sense, and it may have the sin of unbelief in it; e. g. If, although I doubt not that I have such and such qualifications, I yet doubt of those consequences, for which have divine testimony or promise; as when a person doubts not that he loves Christ, yet doubts whether he shall receive a crown of life. The doubting of this consequence is properly the sin of unbelief.
You say, dear Sir, “The Holy Ghost requires us to believe the reality of his work in us in all its parts just as it is;” and, a little before, “The believer’s doubting whether or not he has faith, is sinful; because it is belying the Holy Ghost, denying his work in him, so there is no sin to which that doubting can so properly be reduced as unbelief.”
Here I would ask leave thus to express my thoughts in a diversity from yours. I think, if it be allowed to be sinful for a believer to doubt whether he has faith, that this doubting is not the sin of unbelief on any such account as you mention, viz. as belying or denying any testimony of the Holy Ghost. There is a difference between doubting of the being of some work of the Holy Ghost, and denying the testimony of the Holy Ghost, as there is a difference between doubting concerning some other works of God, and denying the testimony of God. It is the work of God to give a man great natural abilities; and if we suppose God requires such a man to believe the reality of his work in all its parts just as it is, and so that it is sinful for him at all to doubt of his natural abilities being just as good as they are, yet this is no belying any testimony of God, though, it be doubting of a work of God, and so is diverse from the sin of unbelief. So, if we suppose a very eminent saint is to blame in doubting whether he has so much grace as he really has; he indeed does not believe the reality of God’s work in him, in all its parts, just as it is, yet he is not therein guilty of the sin of unbelief, against any testimony of God, any more than the other. I acknowledge, that for a true saint in a carnal and careless frame, to doubt of his good state, is sinful, more indirectly, as the cause of it is sinful, viz. the lowness and insensibility of the actings of grace in him, and the prevalence of carnality and stupidity. ‘Tis sinful to be without assurance, or, (as we say.) it is his own fault, he sinfully deprives himself of it; or foregoes it, as a servant’s being without his tools is his sin, when he has carelessly lost them, or as it is his sin to be without strength of body, or without the sight of his eyes, when he has deprived himself of these by intemperance. Not that weakness or blindness of body, in their own nature, are sin, for they are qualities of the body, and not of mind, the subject in which sin is inherent. It is indirectly the duty of a true saint always to rejoice in the light of God’s countenance, because sin is the cause of his being without this joy at any time, and therefore it was indirectly David’s sin that he was not rejoicing in the light of God’s countenance, at the very time when he was committing the great iniquities of adultery and murder. But yet it is not directly a believer’s duty to rejoice in the light of God’s countenance, when God hides his face. But it rather then becomes him to be troubled and to mourn. So there are perhaps many other privileges of saints that are their duty indirectly, and the want of them is sinful, not simply, but complexly considered. Of this kind I take the want of assurance of my good estate to be.
I think no words of mine, either in my book or letter, implied that a person’s deliverance from a bad frame does not begin with renewed acts of faith or trusting in God. If they did, they implied what I never intended. Doubtless if a saint comes out of an ill frame, wherein grace is asleep and inactive, it must be by renewed actings of grace. It is very plainly impossible, that grace should begin to cease to be inactive, in any other way, than by its beginning to be active. It must begin with the renewed actings of some grace or other, and I know nothing that I have said to the contrary, but that the grace that shall first begin sensibly to revive shall be faith, and that this shall lead the way to the renewed acting of all other graces, and to the farther acting of faith itself. But a person’s coming out of a carnal, careless, dead frame, by, or in the reviving of grace in his soul, is quite another thing from a saint’s having a strong exercise of faith, or strong hope, or strong exercise of any other grace, while yet remaining in a carnal, careless, dead frame; or, in other words, in a frame wherein grace is so 342 far from being in strong exercise, that it is asleep, and in a great measure without exercise.
There is a holy hope, a truly christian hope, that the Scripture speaks of, that is reckoned among the graces of the Spirit: and I think I should never desire or seek any other hope; for I believe no other hope has any holy or good tendency. Therefore this hope, this grace of hope alone, can properly be called a duty. But it is just as absurd to talk of the exercise of this holy hope, the strong exercise of this grace of the Spirit, in a carnal, stupid, careless frame, such a frame yet remaining, as it would be to talk of the strong exercises of love to God, or heavenly-mindedness, or any other grace, remaining in such a frame. It is doubtless proper, earnestly to exhort those who are in such a frame to come out of it, in and by the strong exercises of all grace; but I should not think it proper to press a man earnestly to maintain strong hope, notwithstanding the prevailing and continuance of great carnality and stupidity (which is plainly the case of the people I opposed). For this is plainly to press people to an unholy hope, a strong hope that is no christian grace, but strong and wicked presumption; and the promoting of this has most evidently been the effect of such a method of dealing with souls in innumerable multitudes of awful instances.
You seem, Sir, to suppose, that God’s manner of dealing with his saints, while in a secure and cureless frame, is first to give assurance of their good state while they remain in such a frame, and to make use of that assurance as a mean to bring them out of such a frame. Here, again, I must beg leave to differ from you, and to think, that none of the instances or texts you adduce from Scripture, do at all prove the point. I think it is God’s manner, first to awaken their consciences, and to bring them to reflect upon themselves, and to bring them to feel their own calamity which they have brought upon themselves by so departing from God, (by which an end is put to their carelessness and security,) and again earnestly and carefully to seek God’s face before they find him, and before God restores the comfortable and joyful sense of his favour; and I think this is abundantly evident both by Scripture and experience. You much insist on Jonah as a clear instance of the thing you lay down. You observe that he says, chap. ii. ver. 5, 7. “I said, I am cast of thy sight, yet will I look again towards thy holy temple. “When my soul fainted within me; I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in unto thee, even into thine holy temple.” You speak of these words as expressing an assurance of his good state and of God’s favour; (I will not now dispute whether they do or not;) and you speak of this exercise of assurance, &c. as his practice in an evil frame, and in a careless frame; for he slept securely in the sides of the ship, manifesting dismal security, awful carelessness in a carnal frame. That Jonah was in a careless secure frame when he was asleep in the sides of the ship, I do not deny. But, dear Sir, does that prove that he remained still in a careless secure frame, when in his heart he said these things in the fish’s belly, chap. ii. 4, 7.? does it prove that he remained careless after he was awakened, and saw the furious storm, and owned it was the fruit of God’s anger towards him for his sins? and does it prove, that he still remained careless after the whale had swallowed him, when he seemed to himself to be in the belly hell? when the water compassed him about, even to the soul, and, as he says, all God’s waters and billows passed over him, and he. was ready to despair when he went down to the bottoms of the mountains, was ready to think God had cast him out of his sight, and confined him in a prison, that he could never escape, the earth with her bars was about him, for ever, and his soul fainted within him. He was brought into this condition after his sleeping securely in the sides of the ship, before he said, “I will look again towards thine holy temple,” &c. He was evidently first awakened out of carelessness and security, and brought into distress, before he was comforted.
The other place you also much insist on, concerning the people of Israel, is very much like this. Before God comforted them with the testimonies of his favour, after their backslidings, he first, by severe chastisements, together with the awakening influences of his Spirit, Drought them out of their carelessness and carnal security. It appears by many scriptures, that this was Gods way of dealing with that people. So Hos. chap. ii. God first “hedged up her ways with thorns, and made a wall that she could not find Her paths. And took away her corn and wine, and wool and flax, destroyed her vines and fig-trees, and caused her mirth to cease; and, by this means, brought her to herself, brought her out of her security, carelessness, and deep sleep, very much as the prodigal son was brought to himself. God “brought her first into the wilderness, before he spake comfortably to her, and opened to her a door of hope. By her distress first brought her to say, “I will go and return to my first husband;” and then, when God spake comfortably to her, she called him ”Ishi, my husband;” and God did as it were renewedly betroth her unto him. That passage Hosea ii. is very parallel with Jer. iii. One place serves well to illustrate and explain the other, and that it was God’s way of dealing with his people Israel, after their apostacy and carnal security, first to awaken them, and under a sense of their sin and misery to bring them solicitously to seek his face, before he gave them sensible evidence of his favour; and not to awaken out of security, by first making manifest his favour to them. 548548 This is evident by many scriptures; as. Lev. xxvi. 40-42. Deut xxxii. 36-39. 1 Kings viii. 21, 22. chap. i. 4-8. Ezek. xx. 35, 36. 37. Hos. v 15. with chap. vi. 1-3. chap. xiii. 9, 10, chap. xiv. throughout
And, besides, I would observe, that in Jer. iii. the prophecy is not concerning the recovery of backsliding saints or the mystical church, which, though she had corrupted herself, still continued to be God’s wife: it is concerning apostate Israel, that had forsaken and renounced her husband, and gone after other lovers, and whom God had renounced, put away, and given her a bill of divorce, (ver. 8.) so that her recovery could not be by giving her assurance of her good estate as still remaining his wife, and that God was already married unto her, for that was not true, and is not consistent with the context. And whereas it is said, ver. 14. “Return, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you, and I will take you one of a city,” &c. I am married, in the Hebrew, is in the preterperfect tense; but you know, Sir, that in the language of prophecy, the preter tense is very commonly put for the future; and whereas it is said, ver. 19. “How shall I put thee among the children? And I said, Thou shalt call me, My father.” I acknowledge this expression here, my Father, and that Rom. viii. 15. is the language of faith. It is so two ways: 1st, It is such language of the soul as is the immediate effect of a lively faith. I acknowledge, that the lively exercises of faith do naturally produce satisfaction of a good state us their immediate effect. 2nd, It is language which, in another sense, does properly and naturally express the very act of faith itself, yea, the first act of faith in a sinner, before which he never was in a good state. As thus, supposing a man in distress, pursued by his enemies that sought his life, should have the gates of several fortresses set open before him, and should be called to from each of them to fly thither for refuge; and viewing them all, and one appearing strong and safe, but the rest insufficient, he should accept the invitation to that one, and fly thither, with this language, “This is my fortress; this is my refuge. In vain is salvation looked for from the other. Behold I come to thee; this is my sure defence.” Not that he means that he is already within the fortress, and so in a good estate. But this is my chosen fortress, in the strength of which I trust, and to which I betake myself for safety. So if a woman were at once to be solicited by many lovers, to give herself to them in a married state, and beholding the superior excellencies of one far above all the rest, should betake herself to him, with this language, “This is my husband, behold I come unto thee, thou art my spouse. Not that she means that she is already married to him, but that he is her chosen husband, &c. Thus God offers himself to sinners as their Saviour, God, and Father; and the language of the heart of him that accepts the offer by active faith, is, “Thou art my Saviour; in vain is salvation hoped for from others that offer themselves. Thou art my God and Father.” Not that he is already his child, but he chooses him, and comes to him, that he may be one of his children; as in Jer. iii. 19. 343 Israel calls God his Father, as the way to be put among the children, and to be one of them, and not as being one already; and in ver. 21, 22, 23. she is not brought out of a careless and secure state by knowing that the Lord is her God, but she is first brought to consideration and sense of her sin and misery, weeping and supplications for mercy and conviction of the vanity of other saviours and refuges, not only before she has assurance of her good estate, but before she is brought to fly to God for refuge, that she may be in a good estate.
As to the instance of Job, I would only say this: I think while in his state of sore affliction, though he had some great exercises of infirmity and impatience under his extreme trials, yet he was very far from being in such a frame as I intended, when I spoke of a secure, careless, carnal frame, &c. I doubt not, nor did I ever question it, that the saints’ hope and knowledge of their good state, is in many cases of excellent benefit, to help them against temptation and the exercises of corruption.
With regard to the case of extraordinary temptation, and buffeting of Satan, which you mention, I do not very well know what to say further. I have often found my own insufficiency as a counsellor in such like cases, wherein melancholy and bodily distemper have so great a hand, and give Satan so great advantage, as appears to me in the case you mention. If the Lord do not help, whence should we help? If some christian friends of such afflicted and (as it were) possessed persons, would, from time to time, pray and fast for them, it might be a proper exercise of christian charity, and the likeliest way I know for relief. I kept no copy of my former letter to you, and so do not remember fully what I have already said concerning this case. But this I have often found with such melancholy people, that the greatest difficulty does not lie in giving them good advice, but in persuading them to take it. One thing I think of great importance, which is, that such persons should go on in a steady course of performance of all duties, both of their general and particular calling, without suffering themselves to be diverted from it by any violence of Satan, or specious pretence of his whatsoever, properly ordering, proportioning, and timing all sorts of duties, duties to God, public, private, and secret, and duties to man, relative duties, of business and conversation, family duties, duties of friendship and good neighbourhood, duly proportioning labour and rest, intentness and relaxation, without suffering one duty to crowd out or intrench upon another. If such persons could be persuaded to this, I think, in this way, they would be best guarded against the devil, and he would soonest be discouraged, and a good state of body would be most likely to be gained, and persons would act most as if they trusted and I rested in God, and would be most in the way of his help and blessing.
With regard to what you write concerning immediate revelations, I have thought of it, and I find I cannot say any thing to purpose, without drawing out this letter to a very extraordinary length, and I am already got to such length, that I had need to ask your excuse. I have written enough to tire your patience.
It has indeed been with great difficulty that I have found time to write much. If you knew my extraordinary circumstances, I doubt not, you would excuse my not writing any more. I acknowledge the subject you mention is very important. Probably if God spares my life, and gives me opportunity, I may write largely upon it. I know not how Providence will dispose of me, I am going to be cast on the wide world, with my large family of ten children.—I humbly request your prayers for me under my difficulties and trials.
As to the state of religion in this place and this land, it is at present very sorrowful and dark. But I must, for a more particular account of things, refer you to my letter to Mr. M’Lauren, of Glasgow, and Mr. Robe. So, asking a remembrance in your prayers, I must conclude, by subscribing myself, with much esteem and respect,
Your obliged Brother and Servant,
P. S. July 3, 1750. Having had no leisure to finish the preparation of my letters to Scotland before this time, by reason of the extraordinary troubles, hurries, and confusions of my unusual circumstances, I can now inform you, that the controversy between me and my people, that I mentioned in the beginning of my letter, has issued in a separation. An ecclesiastical council was called on the affair, who sat here the week before last, who, by a majority of one voice, determined an immediate separation to be necessary; and accordingly my pastoral relation to my people was dissolved on June 22. If I can procure the printed accounts from Boston of the proceedings of the council, I will give order to my friend there to enclose them with this letter, and direct them to you.—I desire your prayers, that I may take a suitable notice of the frowns of Heaven on me and this people, (between whom was once so great an union,) in bringing to pass such a separation between us; and that these troubles may be sanctified to me, that God would overrule this event for his own glory, (which doubtless many adversaries will rejoice and triumph in,) that God would open a door for my future usefulness, and provide for me and my numerous family, and take a fatherly care of us in our present unsettled, uncertain circumstances, being cast on the wide world.
|« Prev||II. To Mr. Gillespie, in answer to further…||Next »|