|« Prev||Lecture X. Preached February 20, 1691.||Next »|
That which we have further yet to do upon this subject, is only to say somewhat by way of answer to an objection or two; and then to conclude and shut up all in some use.
Objection 1. Some such thought may possibly arise in the minds of some, that if these books be indeed of divine revelation in order to the salvation of souls, as you have heard they are, it may seem strange that they have been confined to so little a part of the world, to so small a portion of mankind. As for the books of the Old Testament, while they only were in being, that they should be shut up in so narrow limits as Pales tine, a very little, inconsiderable spot, compared with the rest of the world. In Judah, it was said God was known, as being unknown to the rest of the world. Psalm lxxvi. 1. And he gave his word to Jacob, and his statutes and judgments, to Israel; and did not so to any nation. Psalm cxlvii. 19, 20. To the Jews were committed the oracles of God, as the apostle 484speaks. Rom. iii. 2. And afterwards, when Christianity came, in the fulness of time, to obtain in the world, how little a way, in comparison, did the Christian records reach, or have reached hitherto? According to common computation, the world being divided into thirty parts, nineteen do yet remain totally paganish in the grossest sense, and the other eleven, between mahometans and christians, and not above a sixth part of the world that are so much as christians in name, and of them how great a part have the Bible reserved and locked up from them, they not being permitted the use and knowledge of it? All this may seem very strange, if we consider these Scriptures as a divine revelation purposely vouchsafed in order to the salvation of the souls of men.
Why in reference to this I shall offer you some considerations that I hope may not be unuseful. As,
1. Suppose that there had been no saving design at all, set on foot in reference to the apostate sons of men, but that they had been left under the same remediless condition with the apostate angels, what wrong had there been clone? who could have had whereof to accuse the righteous Lord and sovereign Ruler of all this world? Why might not he have left all to sink without remedy or hope, into so deserved, yea, and a self procured ruin? It is therefore apparently, not a matter of right, but of free favour, if God afford any apt and suitable means in order to the saving of any. And what is not matter of right may surely be withheld without wrong. But,
2. When upon the fall of Adam it pleased God so graciously to reveal to him his saving design and the means of it by that eminent seed of the woman, whereof (though those words do carry but an obscure intimation, yet) undoubtedly, he did not leave Adam ignorant of the meaning and intendment of them. And it is as little to be doubted, but that Adam did transmit the knowledge of what he knew himself, in so important a matter, to his more immediate posterity. If then they had not been wanting to themselves and their posterity, it must necessarily have been, that there would have been some sufficient knowledge of a Saviour diffused all the world over, wheresoever his posterity had spread itself. But if men have herein been wanting to themselves, is the holy merciful God to be charged with this? If some very bountiful person should confer some great estate, and settle it upon some particular family, and they embezzle and lose it, is this to be charged upon the bountiful benefactor? And again,
3. Men did not only by their voluntary neglect, lose the notices that were first thus given to Adam, concerning a Saviour, 485but they lost the very notions of God himself. So that by their own negligence and malignity, they gradually and universally sunk, even into the grossest idolatry, and so by this means, not only lost the opportunity that they had of knowing somewhat how man might have been saved out of his lost and lapsed estate, but they provoked divine displeasure against them in the highest degree. And so their negligence herein, is not only the natural means of their being without such knowledge as they otherwise would have had, but the provoking cause of God’s deserting the world in so great a measure, and so generally as he hath deserted it. And thus doth the apostle plainly state the case, that because they have not been true to that light that was natural and common to them, did not follow the conduct, even of the notices of God that they had, therefore they have been abandoned and given up: “The wrath of God hath been revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” What truth was that? or what men were these? It was natural truth, the natural knowledge of God, that men had as men; and this was the pagan world that was here chiefly spoken of. And for that very reason, because that which was to be known of God in them was so manifest to them, even the invisible things of God from the creation of the world, his eternal power and Godhead, sufficiently to leave them without excuse: yet (as it after follows) they liking not to retain God in their knowledge, therefore he gave them up; as we see Rom. i. 18, 28. Here is nothing but Nemesis, just punishment, and so no cause at all to complain of any injury done to men. But,
4. When yet it pleased God, in order to the revival of the lost state of religion in the world, to form a peculiar people to himself, and there to set up an eminent light, (as it were,) upon a candlestick, to vouchsafe an express revelation of himself to that people, and to commit to them his oracles, they were so committed to them, not to be confined and hid, but preserved and kept: and that thence, light might be transmitted all round about, which accordingly must of course (if men had not been wanting to themselves) have spread further and further. It was not from any divine appointment; but from the ill spirit that ruled amongst that ill people, and from the prejudice and negligence of their neighbours, that the light they had, did not spread and extend further and further and still further and further, to circulate from nation to nation. It proceeded (I say) from the ill spirit that was among the Jews who did envy to the rest of the world the knowledge of God, which now, for the present, was peculiar to them: and to the negligence 486 and prejudice of the rest, that they looked after no suck things. Of that ill spirit that ruled among the Jews, that is a sad instance, (which I have upon some other occasion told you of) that when there was one translation of the Old Testament by the seventy elders, enjoined to be made by Ptolemy and they could not tell how to hinder it, they appointed a solemn fast universally wherever they had any thing at all to do, to lament that the knowledge of God should be so diffused amongst others; and go beyond their own bounds. Wherein, as they were guilty, no doubt, so the rest of the world were accessary too, by their negligence and disaffection to the true knowledge of God, to their own continuing ignorance. And further,
5. That when the Christian records, the books of the New Testament came to be added to those of the Old, how should it come to pass but only through the general ill temper of men, that Christian knowledge might not be as far extended as commerce was between nation and nation, kingdom and kingdom > Why might not that commodity have been carried as far as gold and silver and precious stones? the price whereof is far above all these, “more precious than rubies,” or thousands of gold and silver. And (as I told you formerly) it was never to be expected, God should do that by extraordinary means, that might have been done by ordinary. And this being the case, it is little to be expected that God (when men might so easily have transmitted such notices from nation to nation, and those that were of a greater distance, and might have heard, more obscurely, of such and such things might have inquired and sent and laboured to inform themselves) should give remedy to such an evil as this, by an extraordinary course; that when in an ordinary way such knowledge might have been conveyed from country to country, he should have sent an angel from kingdom to kingdom, and from nation to nation to carry them Bibles. It might have been as well expected that, in Christian countries, where the Bible is come, but a great many persons being illiterate, and can make no use of it, an angel should be sent from house to house to teach their children to read. Again,
6. Where there hath been both a loss of that Christian knowledge that once did obtain, and those very records do (it may be) cease from some parts of the world where they have been, this is still to be imputed to the same cause, the carelessness and negligence of men about their own concernments, even about their greatest concernments, as we are told. It is true, that of latter days, in some parts of the world, where there have been thirty christians for one pagan, there are now nearly thirty mahometans for one christian. Whence is this, 487but from the wilful degeneracy and revolt of those, amongst whom the Christian name was sometime professed? It would not have been imposed upon any, whether they would or no, to forego their religion, and to let these sacred records cease from among them, and substitute a foetid, fulsome, ridiculous Alcoran in the room of them. We are not to charge upon God these gross negligences and wickednesses of men. And again,
7. Where these holy books are shut up from people, (as they are generally in the romish church,) to what is that to be imputed, but to their own carelessness and indifferency and coldness in the concerns of their own souls and of the future state? This is a punishment, a just punishment upon stupid besotted princes and people, that they would be so imposed upon; so absurdly and without pretence; that their priests must lock up all from them, that so they might have the leading of them, the blind leading the blind into the ditch. We are to consider a penal hand in this, as is expressed, 2 Thes. ii. 11. that where the truth is not received in the love of it, there God, in judgment, should “send strong delusions that they should believe a lie that they all might be damned.” This is righteous and holy displeasure, and the act and effort of punitive justice for very gross and most provoking wickedness, that a greater value hath not been had and expressed of things so sacred, so precious and of such, concernment to men’s souls; that the greater part of the Christian world should suffer itself to be so grossly imposed upon, and cheated out of the very things wherein their very salvation is concerned. Their wickedness in this, did punish itself. And God hath most righteously permitted it to be so. And then,
8. That according to human measures, and even amongst ourselves, the government is not concerned when laws are made, to provide that every particular person should have the particular knowledge of them. Such laws as are of common concernment men are obliged, under penalties, to observe: they are to look after them themselves. The government is not to take care that every particular person, or family, or parish, or town, or country hath this or that particular act of parliament sent to them, or a statute book lodged in every such place. That is not their care, but it is expected, people should so far concern themselves and mind their interests as to acquaint themselves with things, upon which the safety of their lives as well as the common peace doth depend. And yet further,
9. Where ignorance of those great things that are contained in the Holy Scriptures is altogether invincible; and where it was impossible, in a natural way, that such knowledge should 488 come, undoubtedly God will deal with men accordingly. He will only proceed with them according to that light they had; lie will never punish them for not having that light which they never had, nor could have. “As many as sin without the law shall perish without the law: and as many as have sinned with the law shall perish by the law:” as Romans ii. 12. And,
10. In the last place, if any such were any where to be found, that did to their utmost improve the light and means of knowledge which they had, (supposing them never to have had what we have from these holy writings,) we do not know what God would have done for their further help in that case. But I doubt instances will not be found of such as have improved the light they had to the uttermost. How far are we from improving as we should and might, that greater light which we have? But God hath his ways open to him. We do not know how he did convey light of old to those that had it before the Scriptures were written: how Job came by his knowledge, and how his friends came by theirs, we do not know. But this is undoubtedly the ordinary, stated means of knowledge where it is vouchsafed; where God doth afford it. If God doth not afford it, he proceeds then by other measures of his own which we know nothing of. But certainly he will always walk punctually according to that rule, that “whosoever hath, to them shall be given, and they shall have more abundantly;” that is, whosoever hath so as to improve what he hath, that useth and enjoys what he hath, and God is pleased to trust him with, God will never be wanting to such. He will always be beforehand with them, as he is never behindhand with any, according to that known and generally approved saying of that ancient: Homini facienti quod in se est, Deus non deest: God is never wanting to them that do improve what they possess. Though he owes them nothing, and whatsoever he doth for them is of grace, he is never wanting to those that with serious diligence trade with, and improve their present talents. And I think more needs not to be said to that objection.
Objection 2. And it is of less concernment, what might be further objected in the second place. That is, it may seem somewhat more desirable (at least) that these Scriptures had contained things that are of necessity to salvation in a more distinct method, that we might have had (as it were) all the several heads belonging to religion, reduced as in a common place book, to such and such distinct topics, that every one might know whither to go presently for all things that do be long to such and such a head. But,489
1. I answer; It is enough to those that consider things modestly, and with that subjection and resignation of spirit that we ought to have, to take notice only that God hath thought another course fitter. And that is surely best which he thinks best. So submissive and resigned ought our minds and understandings to be to the divine mind. But,
2. Supposing the most accurate method that could be imagined were used in all things, as was suggested, yet however, there would have been a continual use and need of a stated office, to be continued through all the successions of time, purposely for the explaining and for the enforcing of things upon, the dull and sluggish minds of men. The state of this apostate world doth most manifestly require it, yea and even with the best, those that are upon recovery, who are in some mea sure restored out of the common apostasy, they do still need to be continually administered unto. And that being supposed, it is the business of them who are invested with such an office, to be continually searching for others, and labouring diligently to explain things to them, and to lay things together, and to apply them to particular uses and purposes as the variety of cases should need and require. And to add no more,
3. Whereas the bounty and goodness of God hath provided for the inhabitants of this earth, that the bowels of it should be replenished with things of very great usefulness and very great value, as gold, silver, precious stones and the like that are dug out of the earth, it might as reasonably be said, Why did not God so order the matter, that upon turning up of the earth, one might have found vessels of gold, flagons and dishes of silver ready made and formed? and why have we not our rubies and diamonds ready cut and polished, as they are taken out of the earth? These Scriptures do contain all needful truths in the ore, from whence they are to be beaten out. And what! is nothing to be left to the industry and diligence of those that are to be employed here a lifetime, in reference to the concernments of their salvation and the affairs of another world? must every one expect that food of this kind should drop into his mouth when, even in reference to the support of this perishing life, it seemed a just and equal law to the universal Lawgiver, that he that would not labour should not eat?
And therefore, now to make some brief Use of what hath been said upon this subject. It may be improved several ways.
1 It may very reasonably put us upon reflection, what our temper and what our practice hath been and is, in reference to these sacred writings. And,490
(1.) Let us reflect, and bethink ourselves: Are they used, are they perused as so sacred, so important and necessary things do require to be? Pray let us reflect, Are they much in our hands in our closets? do we lay it as a charge upon ourselves to search the Scriptures? You see it is given as a charge by our Lord himself, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life.” John v. 39. Is the reading of them in our families a common practice? You do best know. There is such a thing as family instruction charged upon family masters. They are to be accountable for those under their charge in this very thing. And certainly they that do but use a very ordinary understanding, would soon and easily apprehend, that I who am to maintain the lives of so many persons in my family under my care, by providing food for them for their natural lives, that I who am not to suffer a child or a servant to starve under my roof, must not surely let their sours starve: I must not let the necessary means of spiritual and eternal life be withheld from them. Let it be considered, Is such a course kept up? If there must be family instruction, this word must be the ground of it, it must be all fetched from hence. And how sad, how unaccountable a case is it, when it shall be more ordinary and familiar to have a news-book (not to say a play-book) in men’s hands, and under their eye than this holy book. But we are to inquire too,
(2.) Not only concerning the reading and perusing of these writings, but concerning the gust, the savour and relish where with we do it. With what complacency do we look into and resolve in our hearts those great and deep things of God that are contained and unfolded to us in this book? I would fain know, who of us can assign a reason why David should have a pleasanter relish of the word of God than we? Is it not of as great importance to us, as k could have been to any saint heretofore, to take these sacred truths and doctrines that are contained in this book for our meat and drink? “I found thy words and did eat them,” saith the prophet, “and they were to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” We have it given us as the common character of a good man, a fearer of the Lord of old, that the law of God was his delight, and therein he did meditate, day and night. Psal. i. 2. Let us but consider, if there be a failure and decay generally among us as to one thing, that is, the want of a savouring and relishing the word of God, the things contained in the sacred writings, whether there be not a matter of threatening abode and import to us in it, for then all our religion is proportionably languishing, and the languishment of it is a continual tendency to its being lost, and continual sickness and 491languishing is a tendency to death; and in such reflections as these, we should compare present time with former time, so far as it any way comes within the compass of our knowledge, either of what we could either of us have observed ourselves, or what is recorded to us by others. Sure the time was, that the word of God hath been a thing of much higher esteem (I doubt) than at present. I am very apt to think and do pretty certainly know, that the reading of the Bible in London was a much more common usage than now it is in families and closets. And truly, if there be symptoms of decay upon us in respect of so very important a thing as this is, it looks very threateningly: we may be sure if our esteem grow less of this book, God’s esteem doth not grow less of it: he doth not measure by us: and if he have the same estimate and value for it that ever he had, we may fear that he will some time or other (and we know not how soon} very terribly vindicate the neglect, contempt and disregard of these sacred records. If he do come to plead his own cause, in this regard, with an untoward generation, I fear it will be a very terrible day: I know not who will live when God doth this. But,
2. This should exhort us to several things. As,
(1.) That we do with serious gratitude acknowledge and adore the goodness of God, in entrusting us with such a treasure as these Oracles of his are. I am afraid this is a thing wherein there is a very general neglect and defect. We do not often enough put it into our express thanksgivings, that God hath vouchsafed the great blessing of a Bible among us. I doubt we do not explicitly enough take notice of this, as a matter of gratitude to God, nor so often as we should that he hath put this book into our hands. And,
(2.) It should exhort us to more frequent and diligent reading of the Scriptures. For what have we them for? And indeed we do but mock God when we give thanks for them, if we use them not. It should be more a business with us’; time should be chosen and reserved for it on purpose. We should contrive how to spare time from our common affairs for the perusal of this book. I am afraid that partly between the over-much business of the shop and the exchange, and partly through the no-business of the coffee house and tavern, little or no time is allowed for this important work, the reading and perusing diligently these holy writings.
(3.) And we should be exhorted next, to endeavour to get them written over again in our hearts: that this word may be to us an ingrafted word: that we may have this word of Christ dwelling richly in us: that we may be the epistles of Christ, written 492 not with ink on paper, but with the Spirit of the living God on the fleshly tables of our hearts: otherwise this word cannot but be a witness against us. If there be not a correspondent word within, if there be not an internal correspondent word, the external word must be a standing witness against the frame of our spirits and against our habitual inclination. We then have the word of Christ dwelling richly in us, when it transforms and changes us, and when we are like it, when there is something within us answerable to it, as face answers to face in the water. And,
(4.) It ought, in order to this, further to exhort us to endeavour distinctly to understand it; especially in those great things that do concern the vitals and essentials of religion. And this knowledge will be easy to them that concern themselves to understand. Wisdom is easy to him that hath understanding, that is, that sets his mind to understand, that doth aim at understanding. It must be a design driven and pursued accordingly, that we may get our minds enriched with that knowledge that is wrapt up in these holy writings. And we have greater advantages in order to it, yea much greater than our forefathers have had, though they have expressed that love to this book, which I am afraid is too little common in our time. How dear was a leaf of the Bible to some of the poor suffering martyrs! But, I say, we have much greater advantage to help us to a distinct understanding of it. How many very useful commentaries upon the Bible, are there published among us in the English tongue, which were not in the former time? As particularly the Dutch annotations, and Diodati’s annotations, and those that are called the Assembly’s annotations and Mr. Poole’s, in two volumes, and that lesser and very useful one of Mr. Clarke, single. So that they must owe it to their own great neglect and unconcernedness, who are not furnished with help at hand whereby they may in some measure understand the Bible distinctly as they read it, and know how to refer things to their use from day to day as they go on in that course. And then,
(5.) Lastly, apply it to the several uses it was written for and was designed to serve. You see here in the context, what uses it was intended to serve, and it is said to be profitable for: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” use it to these several purposes, as the case doth from time to time require. And we may add hereunto, what we find in another place, (Rom. xv. 4.) that the things that were written, were written for our learning, that we through patience and 493comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Oh! how many a sweet cordial is there in this book! Certainly they cannot be in an uncomfortable state, without a fault, that have such matter of consolation just at hand, and take no notice of it. They that go from day to day in darkness, and complain of their own doubts and fears; and will not be at the pains to consider what there is in this book suitable to the state of their case, and which by faithful application would undoubtedly in time I satisfy all unreasonable doubts, and dismiss all causeless fears and make them vanish, must needs be wanting to their own comfort and peace. It is in that respect a light, not only upon account of its instructiveness, but upon account of the pleasantness and consolations thereof. The Scriptures were written that we through patience and comfort of them might have hope. We that are following the conduct of God, and the ducture of that light which shines in this sacred word of his, towards an eternal state of glory, with what erect and raised hearts, with hearts how lifted up in the ways of God should we hold on our course, as the redeemed ones of him, having that life and immortality in view which are brought to light before our eyes in this gospel.
And a little to enforce all this, it may not be altogether use less, nay, I think it may be worth our while to tell you a short passage which was not long ago told me by a person, (whose name is well known in London and I hope savory in it yet, doctor Thomas Goodwin,) at such time as he was president of Magdalen college in Oxford: there I had the passage from him. He told me that being himself in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham, to hear him preach on his lecture day, a lecture then so strangely thronged and frequented that to those that came not very early, there was no possibility of getting room in that very spacious large church. Mr. Rogers was (as he told me) at that time he heard him, on the subject of discourse which hath been for some time the subject of mine, the Scriptures. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible: (I am afraid it is more neglected in our days:) he personates God to the people, telling them, “Well I have trusted you so long with my Bible: you have slighted it, it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs: you care not to look, into it. Do you use my Bible so? well you shall have my Bible no longer.” And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if be were going away with it and carrying it from them; but 494 immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, crys and pleads most earnestly, “Lord whatsoever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us: kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible.” And then he personates God again to the people; “Say you so? well I will try you a while longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it.” But by these actions (as the doctor told me) he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life; the place was a mere Bochim, the people generally (as it were) deluged with their own tears, and he told me that he himself, when he got out and was to take horse again to be gone, he was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount; so strange an impression was there upon him and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
And sure, if our neglect of it in our days have not been less, it is a very sad case, if our affliction and resentment of such an evil as this should be apparently and discernably less.
And nothing will signify our regardlessness of this holy book more, than if we do not strictly regulate ourselves by it as to our thoughts, and as to all our deportment. For pray, under what notion do we own this book, but as a rule to guide us to our end? how to glorify God and how to enjoy him for ever? It will be a plain testimony against us that this book hath not the esteem which is due to it, when it hath not the use made of it that it was purposely designed for. And oh! let that be but considered, its use is to be a rule, for us. Bethink we ourselves thereupon, whether we do really regulate our thoughts, our hearts, our affections and our passions by it. “I dare not allow such and such thoughts, I dare not allow such and such motions of spirit within myself, for the Bible is against them.” Let us but consider, whether we use to lay this rule to our minds and spirits and to our walkings and actions, so as to conform all to it. If not, it is impossible we can value it according to its true worth, for it is valuable but under the notion as it is a rule, and it can never regulate our external conversation as it should, if it do not regulate our spirit first. We must consider that is the great difference between the government of God and any human government whatsoever. His government is primarily mental, it is a government first exercised about minds; 495and this word is the instrument of his government as to them. This word of his “is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” And if we do not labour to get our spirits, our inward man, habitually subjected to the governing power of this word, it doth nothing upon us to any purpose; it is lost upon us, as to all the great purposes for which it should serve us. But is not this too apparently our common case, that if there be a strong inclination to this or that thing or way; or if there be a passion up that we have a mind to indulge, this shall signify more with us, to carry us this way or that, than a thousand texts of Scripture? You may as well, many times, oppose your breath to the Thames to turn the course of it, as to oppose the word of God to these inclinations. But is this to make use of the Scripture as our rule, when the plain design of it lies against such and such habitual inclination or against indulgence to such and such a passion, and we never apply it to such a purpose? If we did but get the authority of the great God (whose word this is) to be (as it were) enthroned within us, so as that our souls might stand in continual awe of him, the remembrance of a text of Scripture would presently allay passion, govern appetite, and check inclination, and so would come, with ease and pleasure, to be to us a governing rule of all the affairs and actions of our lives.
And so I have done, as to this great subject of the Scriptures, which was proper next, after we had asserted to you the existence of a Deity, that is, of an intelligent Ruler and Maker of this world, to whom such a word as this might certainly be ascribed as his word; that then we might come from this word of his to have more distinct apprehensions concerning him. It was necessary first, to know that there was one intelligent, perfect, all-comprehending, eternal Mind, the Original and Author of all things, without which it would have been a vain thing to speak of the word of God. We must know first, whence such a word was to proceed, and that being once understood and known, then we may look back again upon him, and such things through the light of the word come more clearly to be revealed to us concerning him, than we can otherwise, by mere light of nature search or find out. And so to such. things we shall go on, in our intended course, as the Lord shall enable and direct.496
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