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The subject stated — Preliminary remarks.
The principal design of that discourse whereof the ensuing treatise is a part, is to declare the work of the Holy Ghost in the illumination of the minds of men, — for this work is particularly and eminently ascribed unto him, — or the efficacy of the grace of God by him dispensed, Eph. i. 17, 18; Heb. vi. 4; Luke ii. 32; Acts xiii. 47, xvi. 14, xxvi. 18; 2 Cor. iv. 4; 1 Pet. ii. 9. The objective cause and outward means of it are the subjects at present designed unto consideration; and it will issue in these two inquiries:—
1. On what grounds, or for what reason, we do believe the Scripture to be the word of God with faith divine and supernatural, as it is required of us in a way of duty?
2. How or by what means we may come to understand aright the mind of God in the Scripture, or the revelations that are made unto us of his mind and will therein?
For by illumination in general, as it denotes an effect wrought in the minds of men, I understand that supernatural knowledge that any man hath or may have of the mind and will of God, as revealed unto him by supernatural means, for the law of his faith, life, and obedience. And this, so far as it is comprised in the first of these inquiries, is that whose declaration we at present design, reserving the latter unto a distinct discourse by itself also. Unto the former some things may be premised:—
First, Supernatural revelation is the only objective cause and means of supernatural illumination. These things are commensurate. There is a natural knowledge of supernatural things, and that both theoretical and practical, Rom. i. 19, ii. 14, 15; and there may be a supernatural knowledge of natural things, 1 Kings iv. 31–34; Exod. xxxi. 2–6. But unto this supernatural illumination it is required both that its object be things only supernaturally revealed, or 8as supernaturally revealed, 1 Cor. ii. 9, 10, and that it be wrought in us by a supernatural efficiency, or the immediate efficacy of the Spirit of God, Eph. i. 17–19; 2 Cor. iv. 6. This David prays for, Ps. cxix. 18, גַּל־עֵינַי, “‘Reveal,’ or uncover mine eyes, bring light and spiritual understanding into my mind, ‘that I may behold’ (ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ), “with open face,” or as in the Syriac, באפא גליתא, “with a revealed or uncovered face,” the veil being taken away, 2 Cor. iii. 18) ‘wondrous things out of thy law.’” The light he prayed for within did merely respect the doctrine of the law without. This the apostle fully declares, Heb. i. 1, 2. The various supernatural revelations that God hath made of himself, his mind and will, from first to last, are the sole and adequate object of supernatural illumination.
Secondly, This divine external revelation was originally, by various ways (which we have elsewhere declared), given unto sundry persons immediately, partly for their own instruction and guidance in the knowledge of God and his will, and partly by their ministry to be communicated unto the church. So was it granted unto Enoch, the seventh from Adam, who thereon prophesied, to the warning and instruction of others, Jude 14, 15; and to Noah, who became thereby a preacher of righteousness, 2 Pet. ii. 5; and to Abraham, who thereon commanded his children and household to keep the way of the Lord, Gen. xviii. 19. And other instances of the like kind may be given, chap. iv. 26, 5:29. And this course did God continue a long time, even from the first promise to the giving of the law, before any revelations were committed to writing, for the space of two thousand four hundred and sixty years; for so long a season did God enlighten the minds of men by supernatural, external, immediate, occasional revelations. Sundry things may be observed of this divine dispensation as, —
1. That it did sufficiently evidence itself to be from God unto the minds of those unto whom it was granted, and theirs also unto whom these revelations were by them communicated: for during this season Satan used his utmost endeavours to possess the minds of men with his delusions, under the pretence of divine, supernatural inspirations; for hereunto belongs the original of all his oracles and enthusiasms among the nations of the world. There was, therefore, a divine power and efficacy attending all divine revelations, ascertaining and infallibly assuring the minds of men of their being from God; for if it had not been so, men had never been able to secure themselves that they were not imposed on by the crafty deceits of Satan, especially in such revelations as seemed to contain things contrary to their reason, as in the command given to Abraham for the sacrificing his son, Gen. xxii. 2. Wherefore, these immediate revelations had not been a sufficient means to secure the faith and obedience of the 9church if they had not carried along with them their own evidence that they were from God. Of what nature that evidence was we shall afterwards inquire. For the present I shall only say, that it was an evidence unto faith, and not to sense; as is that also which we have now by the Scripture. It is not like that which the sun gives of itself by its light, which there needs no exercise of reason to assure us of, for sense is irresistibly affected with it; but it is like the evidence which the heavens and the earth give of their being made and created of God, and thereby of his being and power. This they do undeniably and infallibly, Ps. xix. 1, 2; Rom. i. 19–21. Yet it is required hereunto that men do use and exercise the best of their rational abilities in the consideration and contemplation of them. Where this is neglected, notwithstanding their open and visible evidence unto the contrary, men degenerate into atheism. God so gave out these revelations of himself as to require the exercise of the faith, conscience, obedience, and reason of them unto whom they were made; and therein they gave full assurance of their proceeding from him. So he tolls us that his word differeth from all other pretended revelations as the wheat doth from the chaff Jer. xxiii. 28. But yet it is our duty to try and sift the wheat from the chaff, or we may not evidently discern the one from the other.
2. The things so revealed were sufficient to guide and direct all persons in the knowledge of their duty to God, in all that was required of them in a way of faith or obedience. God from the beginning gave out the knowledge of his will πολυμερῶς, by sundry parts and degrees; yet so that every age and season had light enough to guide them in the whole obedience required of them, and unto their edification therein. They had knowledge enough to enable them to offer sacrifices in faith, as did Abel; to walk with God, as did Enoch; and to teach their families the fear of the Lord, as did Abraham. The world perished not for want of sufficient revelation of the mind of God at any time. Indeed, when we go to consider those divine instructions which are upon record that God granted unto them, we are scarce able to discern how they were sufficiently enlightened in all that was necessary for them to believe and do; but they were unto them “as a light shining in a dark place.” Set up but a candle in a dark room, and it will sufficiently enlighten it for men to attend their necessary occasions therein; but when the sun is risen, and shineth in at all the windows, the light of the candle grows so dim and useless that it seems strange that any could have advantage thereby. The Sun of Righteousness is now risen upon us, and immortality is brought to light by the gospel. If we look now on the revelations granted unto them of old, we may yet see there was light in them, which yields us little more advantage than the light of a candle 10in the sun; but unto them who lived before this Sun arose, they were a sufficient guide unto all duties of faith and obedience; for, —
3. There was during this season a sufficient ministry for the declaration of the revelations which God made of himself and his will. There was the natural ministry of parents, who were obliged to instruct their children and families in the knowledge of the truth which they had received; and whereas this began in Adam, who first received the promise, and therewithal whatsoever was necessary unto faith and obedience, the knowledge of it could not be lost without the wilful neglect of parents in teaching, or of children and families in learning. And they had the extraordinary ministry of such as God intrusted new revelations withal, for the confirmation and enlargement of those before received; who were all of them preachers of righteousness unto the rest of mankind. And it may be manifested that from the giving of the first promise, when divine external revelations began to be the rule of faith and life unto the church, to the writing of the law, there was always alive one or other, who, receiving divine revelations immediately, were a kind of infallible guides unto others. If it was otherwise at any time, it was after the death of the patriarchs, before the call of Moses, during which time all things went into darkness and confusion; for oral tradition alone would not preserve the truth of former revelation. But by whomsoever these instructions were received, they had a sufficient outward means for their illumination, before any divine revelations were recorded by writing. Yet, —
4. This way of instruction, as it was in itself imperfect and liable to many disadvantages, so through the weakness, negligence, and wickedness of men, it proved insufficient to retain the knowledge of God in the world: for under this dispensation the generality of mankind fell into their great apostasy from God, and betook themselves unto the conduct and service of the devil; of the ways, means, and degrees whereof I have discoursed elsewhere.142142 De Natura Theologiæ, lib. iii. Hereon God also regarded them not, but “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,” Acts xiv. 16, “giving them up to their own hearts lusts,” to “walk in their own counsels,” as it is expressed, Ps. lxxxi. 12. And although this fell not out without the horrible wickedness and ingratitude of the world, yet there being then no certain standard of divine truth whereunto they might repair, they brake off the easier from God, through the imperfection of this dispensation. If it shall be said, that since the revelation of the will of God hath been committed unto writing men have apostatized from the knowledge of God, as is evident in many nations of the world which some time professed the gospel, but are now overrun with heathenism, Mohammedanism, 11and idolatry, I say, this hath not come to pass through any defect in the way and means of illumination, or the communication of the truth unto them, but God hath given them up to be destroyed for their wickedness and ingratitude; and “except we repent we shall all likewise perish,” Rom. i. 18; 2 Thess. ii. 11, 12, Luke xiii. 3. Otherwise, where the standard of the word is once fixed, there is a constant means of preserving divine revelations, Wherefore, —
Thirdly, God hath gathered up into the Scripture all divine revelations given out by himself from the beginning of the world, and all that ever shall be so to the end thereof, which are of general use unto the church, that it may be thoroughly instructed in the whole mind and will of God, and directed in all that worship of him and obedience unto him which is necessary to give us acceptance with him here, and to bring us unto the eternal enjoyment of him hereafter; for, — 1. When God first committed the law to writing, with all those things which accompanied it, he obliged the church unto the use of it alone, without additions of any kind. Now, this he would not have done had he not expressed therein, — that is, in the books of Moses, — all that was any way needful unto the faith and obedience of the church: for he did not only command them to attend with all diligence unto his word as it was then written, for their instruction and direction in faith and obedience, annexing all sorts of promises unto their so doing, Deut. vi. 6, 7, but also expressly forbids them, as was said, to add any thing thereunto or to conjoin any thing therewith, Deut. iv. 2, xii. 32; which he would not have done had he omitted other divine revelations before given that were any way necessary unto the use of the church. As he added many new ones, so he gathered in all the old from the unfaithful repository of tradition, and fixed them in a writing given by divine inspiration. 2. For all other divine revelations which were given out to the church for its use in general under the Old Testament, they are all comprised in the following books thereof; nor was this, that I know of, ever questioned by any person pretending to sobriety, though some, who would be glad of any pretence against the integrity and perfection of the Scripture, have fruitlessly wrangled about the loss of some books, which they can never prove concerning any one that was certainly of a divine original. 3. The full revelation of the whole mind of God, whereunto nothing pretending thereunto is ever to be added, was committed unto and perfected by Jesus Christ, Heb. i. 1, 2. That the revelations of God made by him, whether in his own person or by his Spirit unto his apostles, were also by divine inspiration committed to writing, is expressly affirmed concerning what he delivered in his own personal ministry, Luke i. 4, Acts i. 1, John xx. 31, and may be proved by uncontrollable arguments 12concerning the rest of them. Hence, as the Scriptures of the Old Testament were shut up with a caution and admonition unto the church to adhere unto the law and testimony, with threatening of a curse unto the contrary, Mal. iv. 4–6; so the writings of the New Testament are closed with a curse on any that shall presume to add any thing more thereunto, Rev. xxii. 18. Wherefore, —
Fourthly, The Scripture is now become the only external means of divine supernatural illumination, because it is the only repository of all divine supernatural revelation, Ps. xix. 7, 8; Isa. viii. 20; 2 Tim. iii. 15–17. The pretences of tradition, as a collateral means of preserving and communicating supernatural revelation, have been so often evicted of falsity that I shall not farther press their impeachment. Besides, I intend those in this discourse by whom it is acknowledged that the Bible is, as a sufficient and perfect, so the only treasury of divine revelations; and what hath been offered by any to weaken or impair its esteem, by taking off from its credibility, perfection, and sufficiency, as unto all its own proper ends, hath brought no advantage unto the church, nor benefit unto the faith of believers, But yet, —
Fifthly, In asserting the Scripture to be the only external means of divine revelation, I do it not exclusively unto those institutions of God which are subordinate unto it, and appointed as means to make it effectual unto our souls; as, —
1. Our own personal endeavours, in reading, studying, and meditating on the Scripture, that we may come unto a right apprehension of the things contained in it, are required unto this purpose. It is known to all how frequently this duty is pressed upon us, and what promises are annexed to the performance of it: see Deut. vi. 6, 7, xi. 18, 19; Josh. i. 8; Ps. i. 2, cxix.; Col. iii. 16; 2 Tim. iii. 15. Without this it is in vain to expect illumination by the word; and, therefore, we may see multitudes living and walking in extreme darkness when yet the word is everywhere nigh unto them. Bread, which is the staff of life, will yet nourish no man who doth not provide it and feed upon it; no more would manna, unless it was gathered and prepared. Our own nature and the nature of divine revelations considered, and what is necessary for the application of the one to the other, make this evident; for God will instruct us in his mind and will, as we are men, in and by the rational faculties of our souls. Nor is an external revelation capable of making any other impression on us but what is so received. Wherefore, when I say that the Scripture is the only external means of our illumination, I include therein all our own personal endeavours to come to the knowledge of the mind of God therein; which shall be afterwards spoken unto. And those who, under any pretences, do 13keep, drive, or persuade men from reading and meditating on the Scripture, do take an effectual course to keep them in and under the power of darkness.
2. The mutual instruction of one another in the mind of God out of the Scripture is also required hereunto; for we are obliged by the law of nature to endeavour the good of others in various degrees, as our children, our families, our neighbours, and all with whom we have conversation. And this is the principal good, absolutely considered, that we can communicate unto others, — namely, to instruct them in the knowledge of the mind of God. This whole duty, in all the degrees of it, is represented in that command, “Thou shalt teach my words diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” Deut. vi. 7. Thus, when our Saviour found his disciples talking of the things of God by the wayside, he, bearing unto them the person of a private man, instructed them in the sense of the Scripture, Luke xxiv. 26, 27, 32. And the neglect of this duty in the world, — which is so great that the very mention of it, or the least attempt to perform it, is a matter of scorn and reproach, — is one cause of that great ignorance and darkness which yet abounds among us. But the nakedness of this folly, whereby men would be esteemed Christians in the open contempt of all duties of Christianity, will in due time be laid open.
3. The ministry of the word in the church is that which is principally included in this assertion. The Scripture is the only means of illumination, but it becometh so principally by the application of it unto the minds of men in the ministry of the word: see Matt. v. 14, 15; 2 Cor. v. 18–20; Eph. iv. 11–15; 1 Tim. iii. 15. The church and the ministry of it are the ordinances of God unto this end, that his mind and will, as revealed in the word, may be made known to the children of men, whereby they are enlightened. And that church and ministry whereof this is not the first principal design and work is neither appointed of God nor approved by him. Men will one day find themselves deceived in trusting to empty names; it is duty alone that will be comfort and reward, Dan. xii. 3.
Sixthly, That the Scripture, which thus contains the whole of divine revelation, may be a sufficient external cause of illumination unto us, two things are required:—
1. That we believe it to by a divine revelation, — that is, the word of God, or a declaration of himself, his mind and will, immediately proceeding from him; or that it is of a pure divine original, proceeding neither from the folly or deceit, nor from the skill or honesty of men. So is it stated, 2 Pet. i. 19–21; Heb. i. 1; 2 Tim. iii. 16; Isa. viii. 20. It tenders no light or instruction under any other 14notion but as it comes immediately from God; “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God,” 1 Thess. ii. 13. And whatever any one may learn from or by the Scriptures under any other consideration, it belongeth not unto the illumination we inquire after, Neh. viii. 8; Isa. xxviii. 9; Hos. xiv. 9; Prov. i. 6; Ps. cxix. 34; Matt. xv. 16; 2 Tim. ii. 7, 1 John v. 20.
2. That we understated the things declared in it, or the mind of God as revealed and expressed therein; for if it be given unto us a sealed book, which we cannot read, either because it is sealed or because we are ignorant and cannot read, whatever visions or means of light it hath in it, we shall have no advantage thereby, Isa. xxix. 11, 12. It is not the words themselves of the Scripture only, but our understanding them, that gives us light: Ps. cxix. 130, פֵּתַח־דְּבָרֶיךָ יָאִיר, the opening the door,” “the entrance of thy word, giveth light,” It must be opened, or it will not enlighten. So the disciples understood not the testimonies of the Scripture concerning the Lord Christ, they were not enlightened by them, until he expounded them unto them, Luke xxiv. 27, 45. And we have the same instance in the eunuch and Philip, Acts viii. 31, 34, 35. To this very day the nation of the Jews have the scriptures of the Old Testament and the outward letter of them in such esteem and veneration that they even adore and worship them, yet are they not enlightened by it. And the same is fallen out among many that are called Christians, or they could never embrace such foolish opinions and practice such idolatries in worship as some of them do, who yet enjoy the letter of the gospel.
And this brings me to my design, which we have been thus far making way unto; and it is to show that both these are from the Holy Ghost, — namely, that we truly believe the Scripture to be the word of God, and that we understand savingly the mind of God therein; both which belong unto our illumination.
That which I shall First inquire into is, the way how, and the ground whereon, we come to believe the Scripture to be the word of God in a due manner: for that this is required of us in a way of duty, namely, that we should believe the Scripture to be the word of God with faith divine and supernatural, I suppose will not be denied, and it shall be afterwards proved; and what is the work of the Spirit of God herein will be our first inquiry.
Secondly, Whereas we see by experience that all who have or enjoy the Scripture do not yet understand it, or come to an useful, saving knowledge of the mind and will of God therein revealed, our other inquiry shall be, how we may come to understand the word of God aright, and what is the work of the Spirit of God in the assistance which he affordeth us unto that purpose.
With respect unto the first of these inquiries, whereunto the present 15discourse is singly designed, I affirm, That it is the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to believe the Scripture to be the word of God, or the supernatural, immediate revelation of his mind unto us, and infallibly to evidence it unto our minds, so as that we may spiritually and savingly acquiesce therein. Some, upon a mistake of this proposition, do seem to suppose that we resolve all faith into private suggestions of the Spirit or deluding pretences thereof; and some (it may be) will be ready to apprehend that we confound the efficient cause and formal reason of faith or believing, rendering all rational arguments and external testimonies useless. But, indeed, there neither is nor shall be any occasion administered unto these fears or imaginations; for we shall plead nothing in this matter but what is consonant to the faith and judgment of the ancient and present church of God, as shall be fully evidenced in our progress. I know some have found out other ways whereby the minds of men, as they suppose, may be sufficiently satisfied in the divine authority of the Scripture; but I have tasted of their new wine and desire it not, because I know the old to be better, though what they plead is of use in its proper place.
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