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Sundry convincing external arguments for divine revelation.
There are sundry cogent arguments, which are taken from external considerations of the Scripture, that evince it on rational grounds to be from God. All these are motives of credibility, or effectual persuasives to account and esteem it to be the word of God. And although they neither are, nor is it possible they ever should be, the ground and reason whereon we believe it so to be with faith divine and supernatural; yet are they necessary unto the confirmation of our faith herein against temptations, oppositions, and objections. These arguments have been pleaded by many, and that usefully, and therefore it is not needful for me to insist upon them; and they are the same, for the substance of them, in ancient and modern writers, however managed by some with more learning, dexterity, and force of reasoning than by others. It may not be expected, 21therefore, that in this short discourse, designed unto another purpose, I should give them much improvement. However, I shall a little touch on those which seem to be most cogent, and that in them wherein, in my apprehension, their strength doth lie; and I shall do this to manifest that although we plead that no man can believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, with faith divine, supernatural, and infallible, but upon its own internal divine evidence and efficacy, yet we allow and make use of all those external arguments of its sacred truth and divine original which are pleaded by others, ascribing unto them as much weight and cogency as they can do, acknowledging the persuasion which they beget and effect to be as firm as they can pretend it to be. Only, we do not judge them to contain the whole of the evidence which we have for faith to rest on or to be resolved into; yea, not that at all which renders it divine, supernatural, and infallible. The rational arguments, we say, which are or may be used in this matter, with the human testimonies whereby they are corroborated, may and ought to be made use of and insisted on. And it is but vainly pretended that their use is superseded by our other assertions, as though, where faith is required, all the subservient use of reason were absolutely discarded, and our faith thereby rendered irrational. And the assent unto the divine original and authority of the Scriptures, which the mind ought to give upon them, we grant to be of as high a nature as it is pretended to be, — namely, a moral certainty. Moreover, the conclusion which unprejudiced reason will make upon these arguments is more firm, better grounded, and more pleadable, than that which is built merely on the sole authority of any church whatever. But this we assert, that there is an assent of another kind unto the divine original and authority of the Scriptures required of us, — namely, that of faith divine and supernatural. Of this none will say that it can be effected by or resolved into the best and most cogent of rational arguments and external testimonies which are absolutely human and fallible; for it doth imply a contradiction, to believe infallibly upon fallible evidence. Wherefore I shall prove, that beyond all these arguments and their effect upon our minds, there is an assent unto the Scripture as the word of God required of us with faith divine, supernatural, and infallible; and, therefore, there must be a divine evidence which is the formal object and reason of it, which alone it rests on and is resolved into, which shall also be declared and proved. But yet, as was said in the first place, because their property is to level the ground, and to remove the rubbish of objections out of the way, that we may build the safer on the sure foundation, I shall mention some of those which I esteem justly pleadable in this cause; and, —
1. The antiquity of these writings, and of the divine revelation contained in them, is pleaded in evidence of their divine original, 22and it may be so deservedly, for where it is absolute it is unquestionable; that which is most ancient in any kind is most true. God himself makes use of this plea against idols: Isa. xliii. 10–12, “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have showed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.” That which he asserts is, that he alone is God, and no other: this he calls the people to testify by this argument, that he was among them as God, — that is, in the church, — before any strange god was known or named. And so it is justly pleaded in behalf of this revelation of the mind of God in the Scripture, — it was in the world long before any other thing or writing pretended to be given unto the same end. Whatever, therefore, ensued with the like design must either be set up in competition with it or opposition unto it, above which it hath its advantage merely from its antiquity. Whereas, therefore, this writing, in the first books of it, is acknowledged to be ancienter than any other that is extant in the world, or indeed that ever was so, and may be proved so to be, it is beyond all reasonable apprehension that it should be of human original; for we know how low, weak, and imperfect, all human inventions were at the first, how rude and unpolished in every kind, until time, observation, following additions and diminutions, had shaped, formed, and improved them. But this writing coming forth in the world absolutely the first in its kind, directing us in the knowledge of God and ourselves, was at first and at once so absolutely complete and perfect, that no art, industry, or wisdom of man, could ever yet find any just defect in it, or was able to add any thing unto it whereby it might be bettered or improved. Neither from the beginning would it ever admit of any additions unto it, but what came from the same fountain of divine revelation and inspiration, clearing itself, in all ages, from all addition and superfetation of men whatever. This at least puts a singular character upon this book, and represents it with such reverend awe and majesty that it is the highest petulancy not to pay it a sacred respect.
This argument is pursued by many at large, as that which affordeth a great variety of historical and chronological observations; and it hath been so scanned and improved that nothing but the giving of it a new dress remains for present or future diligence. But the real force of it lies in the consideration of the people by and amongst whom this revelation first commenced in the world, and the time wherein it did so. When some nations had so improved and cultivated the light of nature as greatly to excel others in wisdom and knowledge, they generally looked upon the people of the Jews as ignorant and barbarous; and the more wise any of them conceived 23themselves, the more they despised them. And, indeed, they were utter strangers unto all those arts and sciences whereby the faculties of men’s minds are naturally enlightened and enlarged; nor did they pretend unto any wisdom whereby to stand in competition with other nations, but only what they received by divine revelations. This alone God himself had taught them to look upon and esteem as their only wisdom before all the world, Deut. iv. 6–8. Now, we shall not need to consider what were the first attempts of other nations in expressing their conceptions concerning things divine, the duty and happiness of man. The Egyptians and Grecians were those who vied for reputation in the improvement of this wisdom; but it is known and confessed that the utmost production of their endeavours were things foolish, irrational, and absurd, contrary to the being and providence of God, and to the light of nature, leading mankind into a maze of folly and wickedness. But we may consider what they attained unto in the fullness of time by their utmost improvement of science, wisdom, mutual intelligence, experience, communication, laborious study, and observation. When they had added and subducted to and from the inventions of all former ages from time immemorial, — when they had used and improved the reason, wisdom, invention, and conjectures, of all that went before them in the study of this wisdom; and had discarded whatever they had found by experience unsuited to natural light and the common reason of mankind, — yet it must be acknowledged that the apostle passeth a just censure on the utmost of their attainments, namely, that “they waxed vain in their imaginations,” and that “the world by wisdom knew not God.” Whence, then, was it that in one nation esteemed barbarous, and really so with respect unto that wisdom, those arts and sciences, which ennobled other nations; from that antiquity wherein it is not pretended that reason and wisdom had received any considerable improvement; without converse, communication, learning, or experience, — there should at once proceed such a law, doctrine, and instructions concerning God and man, so stable, certain, uniform, as should not only incomparably excel all products of human wisdom unto that purpose, however advantaged by time and experience, but also abide invariable throughout all generations, so as that whatever hath been advanced in opposition unto it, or but differing from it, hath quickly sunk under the weight of its own unreasonableness and folly? This one consideration, unless men have a mind to be contentions, gives sufficient satisfaction that this book could have no other original but what it pleads for itself, — namely, an immediate emanation from God.
2. It is apparent that God in all ages hath had a great regard unto it, and acted his power and care in its preservation. Were not 24the Bible what it pretends to be, there had been nothing more suitable to the nature of God, and more becoming divine providence, than long since to have blotted it out of the world; for to suffer a book to be in the world from the “beginning of times,” falsely pretending his name and authority, seducing so great a portion of mankind into a pernicious and ruinous apostasy from him, as it must do and doth if it be not of a divine original, and exposing inconceivable multitudes of the best, wisest, and soberest among them, unto all sorts of bloody miseries, which they have undergone in the behalf of it, seems not consonant unto that infinite goodness, wisdom, and care, wherewith this world is governed from above. But, on the contrary, whereas the malicious craft of Satan and the prevalent power and rage of mankind have combined and been set at work to the ruin and utter suppression of this book, proceeding sometimes so far as that there was no appearing way for its escape; yet, through the watchful care and providence of God, sometimes putting itself forth in miraculous instances, it hath been preserved unto this day, and shall be so to the consummation of all things. The event of that which was spoken by our Saviour, Matt. v. 18, doth invincibly prove the divine approbation of this book, as that doth its divine original, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law.” God’s perpetual care over the Scripture for so many ages, that not a letter of it should be utterly lost, nothing that hath the least tendency towards its end should perish, is evidence sufficient of his regard unto it. Especially would it be so if we should consider with what remarkable judgments and severe reflections of vengeance on its opposers this care hath been managed, instances whereof might easily be multiplied. And if any will not ascribe this preservation of the books of the Bible, not only in their being, but in their purity and integrity, free from the least just suspicion of corruption, or the intermixture of any thing human or heterogeneous, unto the care of God, it is incumbent on him to assign some other cause proportionate to such an effect, whilst it was the interest of heaven and the endeavour of earth and hell to have it corrupted and destroyed. For my part, I cannot but judge that he that seeth not an hand of divine Providence stretched out in the preservation of this book and all that is in it, its words and syllables, for thousands of years, through all the overthrows and deluges of calamities that have befallen the world, with the weakness of the means whereby it hath been preserved, and the interest, in some ages, of all those in whose power it was to have it corrupted, — as it was of the apostate churches of the Jews and Christians, — with the open opposition that hath been made unto it, doth not believe there is any such thing as divine providence at all. It was first written in 25the very infancy of the Babylonian empire, with which it afterwards contemporized about nine hundred years By this monarchy, that people which alone had these oracles of God committed to them were oppressed, destroyed, and carried into captivity; but this book was then preserved amongst them whilst they were absolutely under the power of their enemies, although it condemned them and all their gods and religious worship, wherewith we know how horribly mankind is enraged. Satan had enthroned himself as the object of their worship, and the author of all ways of divine veneration amongst them. These they adhered unto as their principal interest; as all people do unto that they esteem their religion. In the whole world there was nothing that judged, condemned, opposed him or them, but this book only, which was now absolutely in their power. If that by any means could have been destroyed, then when it was in the hands of but a few, and those for the most part flagitious in their fives, hating the things contained in it, and wholly under the power of their adversaries, the interest of Satan and the whole world in idolatry had been secured. But, through the mere provision of divine care, it outlived that monarchy, and saw the ruin of its greatest adversaries. So it did also during the continuance of the Persian monarchy, which succeeded, whilst the people was still under the power of idolaters; against whom this was the only testimony in the world. By some branches of the Grecian monarchy a most fierce and diligent attempt was made to have utterly destroyed it; but still it was snatched by divine power out of the furnace, not one hair of it being singed, or the least detriment brought unto its perfection. The Romans destroyed both the people and place designed until then for its preservation, carrying the ancient copy of the law in triumph to Rome, on the conquest of Jerusalem; and whilst all absolute Power and dominion in the whole world, where this book was known or heard of, was in their hands, they exercised a rage against it for sundry ages, with the same success that former enemies had. From the very first, all the endeavours of mankind that professed an open enmity against it have been utterly frustrated. And whereas, also, those unto whom it was outwardly committed, as the Jews first, and the antichristian church of apostatized Christians afterwards, not only fell into opinions and practices absolutely inconsistent with it, but also built all their present and future interests on those opinions and practices; yet none of them durst ever attempt the corrupting of one line in it, but were forced to attempt their own security by a pretence of additional traditions, and keeping the book itself, as much as they durst, out of the hands and knowledge of all not engaged in the same interest with themselves. Whence could all this proceed but from the watchful care and power of divine Providence? And 26it is brutish folly not to believe that what God doth so protect did originally proceed from himself, seeing it pleads and pretends so to do; for every wise man will take more care of a stranger than a bastard falsely imposed on him unto his dishonour.
3. The design of the whole, and all the parts of it, hath an impress on it of divine wisdom and authority: and hereof there are two parts; first, To reveal God unto men; and, secondly, To direct men to come unto the enjoyment of God. That these are the only two great concerns of our nature, of any rational being, were easy to prove, but that it is acknowledged by all those with whom I treat. Now, never did any book or writing in the world, any single or joint endeavours of mankind or invisible spirits, in the way of authority, give out a law, rule, guide, and light for all mankind universally in both these, — namely, the knowledge of God and ourselves, — but this book only; and it any other, it may be, like the Alcoran, did pretend in the least thereunto, it quickly discovered its own folly, and exposed itself to the contempt of all wise and considerate men. The only question is, how it hath discharged itself in this design? for if it have completely and perfectly accomplished it, it is not only evident that it must be from God, but also that it is the greatest benefit and kindness that divine benignity and goodness ever granted unto mankind; for without it, all men universally must necessarily wander in an endless maze of uncertainties, without ever attaining light, rest, or blessedness, here or hereafter. Wherefore, —
(1.) As it takes on itself to speak in the name and authority of God, and delivers nothing, commands nothing, but what becomes his infinite holiness, wisdom, and goodness; so it makes that declaration of him, in his nature, being, and subsistence, with the necessary properties and acts thereof, his will, with all his voluntary actings or works, wherein we may be or are concerned, so as that we may know him aright, and entertain true notions and apprehensions of him, according to the utmost capacity of our finite, limited understanding. Neither do we urge his authority in this case, but here and elsewhere resort unto the evidence of his reasonings, compared with the event or matter of fact. What horrible darkness, ignorance, and blindness, was upon the whole world with respect unto the knowledge of God, what confusion and debasement of our nature ensued thereon, whilst God “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, and winked at the times of their ignorance,” the apostle declares at large, Rom. i., from the 18th verse to the end of the chapter. The sum is, That the only true God being become unknown to them, as the wisest of them acknowledged, Acts xvii. 23, and as our apostle proved against them, the devil, that murderer from the beginning, and enemy of mankind, had, under various pretences, substituted 27himself in his room, and was become “the god of this world,” as he is called, 2 Cor. iv. 4, and had appropriated all the religious devotion and worship of the generality of mankind unto himself; for “the things which the Gentiles sacrificed, they sacrificed to devils, and not to God,” as our apostle affirms, 1 Cor. x. 20, and as may easily be evinced, and I have abundantly manifested it elsewhere.143143 Theologoumena etc., lib. ii. cap. 1, sect. 11. It is acknowledged that some few speculative men among the heathen did seek after God in that horrid darkness wherewith they were encompassed, and laboured to reduce their conceptions and notions of his being unto what reason could apprehend of infinite perfections, and what the works of creation and providence could suggest unto them; — but as they never could come unto any certainty or consistency of notions in their own minds, proceeding but a little beyond conjecture (as is the manner of them who seek after any thing in the dark), much less with one another, to propose any thing unto the world for the use of mankind in these things by common consent; so they could none of them either ever free themselves from the grossest practical idolatry in worshipping the devil, the head of their apostasy from God, or in the least influence the minds of the generality of mankind with any due apprehensions of the divine nature. This is the subject and substance of the apostle’s disputation against them, Rom. i. In this state of things, what misery and cohesion the world lived in for many ages, what an endless labyrinth of foolish, slavish superstitions and idolatries it had cast itself into, I have in another discourse particularly declared.144144 Ubi supra, lib. iii. cap. 3, de origine et progressu idololatriæ. With respect hereunto the Scripture is well called by the apostle Peter “a light shining in a dark place,” 2 Pet. i. 19. It gives unto all men at once a perfect, clear, steady, uniform declaration of God, his being, subsistence, properties, authority, rule, and actings; which evidenceth itself unto the minds and consciences of all whom the god of this world hath not absolutely blinded by the power of prejudices and lusts, confirming them in an enmity unto and hatred of God himself. There is, indeed, no more required to free mankind from this horrible darkness, and enormous conceptions about the nature of God and the worship of idols, but a sedate, unprejudiced consideration of the revelation of these things in the books of the Scripture. We may say, therefore, to all the world, with our prophet, “When they say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,” Isa. viii. 19, 20. And this, also, plainly manifests the Scripture 28to be of a divine original: for if this declaration of God, this revelation of himself and his will, is incomparably the greatest and most excellent benefit that our nature is capable of in this world, more needful for and more useful unto mankind than the sun in the firmament, as to the proper end of their lives and beings; and if none of the wisest men in the world, neither severally nor jointly, could attain unto themselves or make known unto others this knowledge of God, so that we may say with our apostle, that “in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God,” 1 Cor. i. 21; and whereas those who attempted any such things yet “waxed vain in their imaginations” and conjectures, so that no one person in the world dares own the regulation of his mind and understanding by their notions and conceptions absolutely, although they had all advantages of wisdom and the exercise of reason above those, at least the most of them, who wrote and published the books of the Scripture; — it cannot, with any pretence of reason, be questioned whether they were given by inspiration from God, as they pretend and plead. There is that done in them which all the world could not do, and without the doing whereof all the world must have been eternally miserable; and who could do this but God? If any one shall judge that that ignorance of God which was among the heathens of old, or is among the Indians at this day, is not so miserable a matter as we make it, or that there is any way to free them from it but by an emanation of light from the Scripture, he dwells out of my present way, upon the confines of atheism, so that I shall not divert unto any converse with him. I shall only add, that whatever notions of truth concerning God and his essence there may be found in those philosophers who lived after the preaching of the gospel in the world, or are at this day to be found among the Mohammedans or other false worshippers in the world, above those of the more ancient Pagans, they all derive from the fountain of the Scripture, and were thence by various means traduced.
(2.) The second end of this doctrine is, to direct mankind in their proper course of living unto God, and attaining that rest and blessedness whereof they are capable, and which they cannot but desire. These things are necessary to our nature, so that without them it were better not to be; for it is better to have no being in the world, than, whilst we have it, always to wander, and never to act towards its proper end, seeing all that is really good unto us consists in our tendency thereunto and our attainment of it. Now, as these things were never stated in the minds of the community of mankind, but that they lived in perpetual confusion; so the inquiries of the philosophers about the chief end of man, the nature of felicity or blessedness, the way of attaining it, are nothing but so many uncertain and 29fierce digladiations, wherein not any one truth is asserted nor any one duty prescribed that is not spoiled and vitiated by its circumstances and ends. Besides, they never rose up so much as to a surmise of or about the most important matters of religion; without which it is demonstrable by reason that it is impossible we should ever attain the end for which we were made, or the blessedness whereof we are capable. No account could they ever give of our apostasy from God, of the depravation of our nature, — of the cause, or necessary cure of it. In this lost and wandering condition of mankind, the Scripture presenteth itself as a light, rule, and guide unto all, to direct them in their whole course unto their end, and to bring them unto the enjoyment of God; and this it doth with such clearness and evidence as to dispel all the darkness and put an end unto all the confusion of the minds of men (as the sun with rising doth the shades of the night), unless they wilfully shut their eyes against it, “loving darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil:” for all the confusion of the minds of men, to extricate themselves from whence they found out and immixed themselves in endless questions to no purpose, arose from their ignorance of what we were originally, of what we now are, and how we came so to be, by what way or means we may be delivered or relieved, what are the duties of life, or what is required of us in order to our living to God as our chiefest end, and wherein the blessedness of our nature doth consist. All the world was never able to give an answer tolerably satisfactory unto any one of these inquiries, and yet, unless they are all infallibly determined, we are not capable of the least rest or happiness above the beasts that perish. But now all these things are so clearly declared and stated in the Scripture that it comes with an evidence like a light from heaven on the minds and consciences of unprejudiced persons. What was the condition of our nature in its first creation and constitution, with the blessedness and advantage of that condition; how we fell from it, and what was the cause, what is the nature, and what the consequences and effects, of our present depravation and apostasy from God; how help and relief is provided for us herein by infinite wisdom, grace, and bounty; what that help is, how we may be interested in it and made partakers of it; what is that system of duties, or course of obedience unto God, which is required of us, and wherein our eternal felicity doth consist, — are all of them so plainly and clearly revealed in the Scripture, as in general to leave mankind no ground for doubt, inquiry, or conjecture. Set aside inveterate prejudices from tradition, education, false notions, into the mould whereof the mind is cast, the love of sin, and the conduct of lust, — which things have an inconceivable power over the minds, souls, and affections of men, — and the light of the Scripture in these things is 30like that of the sun at noon-day, which shuts up the way unto all farther inquiry, and efficaciously necessitates unto an acquiescency in it. And, in particular, in that direction which it gives unto the lives of men, in order unto that obedience which they owe to God, and that reward which they expect from him, there is no instance conceivable of any thing conducing thereunto which is not prescribed therein, nor of any thing which is contrary unto it that falls not under its prohibition. Those, therefore, whose desire or interest it is that the bounds and differences of good and evil should be unfixed and confounded; who are afraid to know what they were, what they are, or what they shall come unto; who care to know neither God nor themselves, their duty nor their reward, — may despise this book, and deny its divine original: others will retain a sacred veneration of it, as of the offspring of God.
4. The testimony of the church may in like manner be pleaded unto the same purpose. And I shall also insist upon it, partly to manifest wherein its true nature and efficacy do consist, and partly to evince the vanity of the old pretence, that even we also, who are departed from the church of Rome, do receive the Scripture upon the authority thereof; whence it is farther pretended, that, on the same ground and reason, we ought to receive whatever else it proposeth unto us.
(1.) The church is said to be the pillar and ground of truth, 1 Tim. iii. 15; which is the only text pleaded with any sobriety to give countenance unto the assertion of the authority of the Scripture with respect unto us to depend on the authority of the church. But the weakness of a plea to that purpose from hence hath been so fully manifested by many already that it needs no more to be insisted on. In short, it cannot be so the pillar and ground of truth that the truth should be, as it were, built and rest upon it as its foundation; for this is directly contrary to the same apostle, who teacheth us that the church itself is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone,” Eph. ii. 20. The church cannot be the ground of truth, and truth the ground of the church, in the same sense or kind. Wherefore, the church is the pillar and ground of truth, in that it holds up and declares the Scriptures and the things contained therein so to be.
(2.) In receiving any thing from a church, we may consider the authority of it, or its ministry. By the authority of the church in this matter, we intend no more but the weight and importance that is in its testimony; as testimonies do vary according to the worth, gravity, honesty, honour, and reputation of them by whom they are given: for to suppose an authority, properly so called, in any church, or all the churches of the world, whereon our reception of the Scripture 31should depend, as that which gives it authority towards us, and a sufficient warranty to our faith, is a nice imagination; for the authority and truth of God stand not in need nor are capable of any such attestation from men. All they will admit of from the children of men is, that they do humbly submit unto them, and testify their so doing with the reasons of it. The ministry of the church in this matter is that duty of the church whereby it proposeth and declareth the Scripture to be the word of God, and that as it hath occasion, to all the world. And this ministry also may be considered either formally, as it is appointed of God unto this end, and blessed by him; or materially only, as the thing is done, though the grounds whereon it is done and the manner of doing it be not divinely approved.
We wholly deny that we receive the Scripture, or ever did, on the authority of the church of Rome, in any sense whatever, for the reasons that shall be mentioned immediately. But it may be granted that, together with the ministry of other churches in the world, and many other providential means of their preservation and successive communication, we did de facto receive the Scriptures by the ministry of the church of Rome also, seeing they also were in the possession of them; but this ministry we allow only in the latter sense, as an actual means in subserviency unto God’s providence, without respect unto any especial institution.
And for the authority of the church in this case, in that sense wherein it is allowed, — namely, as denoting the weight and importance of a testimony, which, being strengthened by all sorts of circumstances, may be said to have great authority in it, — we must be careful unto whom or what church we grant or allow it: for let men assume what names or titles to themselves they please, yet if the generality of them be corrupt or flagitious in their lives, and have great secular advantages, which they highly prize and studiously improve, from what they suppose and profess the Scripture to supply them withal, be they called church or what you please, their testimony therein is of very little value, for all men may see that they have an earthly worldly, interest of their own therein; and it will be said that if such persons did know the whole Bible to be a fable (as one pope expressed himself that purpose), they would not forego the profession of it, unless they could more advantage themselves in the world another way. Wherefore, whereas it is manifest unto all that those who have the conduct of the Roman church have made, and do make to themselves, great earthly, temporal advantages, in honour, power, wealth, and reputation in the world, by their profession of the Scripture, their testimony may rationally be supposed to be so far influenced by self-interest as to be of little validity.
32The testimony, therefore, which I intend is that of multitudes of persons of unspotted reputation on all other accounts in the world, free from all possibility of impeachment, as unto any designed evil or conspiracy among themselves, with respect unto any corrupt end, and who, having not the least secular advantage by what they testified unto, were absolutely secured against all exceptions which either common reason or common usage among mankind can put in unto any witness whatever. And, to evidence the force that is in this consideration, I shall briefly represent, [1.] Who they were that gave and do give this testimony, in some especial instances; [2.] What they gave this testimony unto; [3.] How, or by what means, they did so:—
[1.] And, in the first place, the testimony of those by whom the several books of the Scripture were written is to be considered. They all of them, severally and jointly, witnessed that what they wrote was received by inspiration from God. This is pleaded by the apostle Peter in the name of them all: 2 Pet. i. 16–21, “We have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” This is the concurrent testimony of the writers both of the Old Testament and the New, — namely, that as they had certain knowledge of the things they wrote, so their writing was by inspiration from God. So, in particular, John beareth witness unto his Revelation: chap. xix. 9, xxii. 6, “These are the true and faithful sayings of God.” And what weight is to be laid hereon is declared, John xxi. 24, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” He testified to the truth of what he wrote; but how was it known to the church, there intended, (“We know that his testimony is true,”) that so it was indeed? He was not absolutely αὐτόπιστος, or “one that was to be believed in merely on his own account;” yet here it is spoken in the name of the church with the highest assurance, “We know that his testimony is true.” I answer, This assurance of theirs did not arise merely from his moral 33or natural endowments or holy counsels, but from the evidence they had of his divine inspiration; whereof we shall treat afterward.
The things pleaded to give force unto this testimony, in particular, are all that such a testimony is capable of, and so many as would require a large discourse by itself to propose, discuss, and confirm them. But supposing the testimony they gave, I shall, in compliance with my own design, reduce the evidences of its truth unto these two considerations: 1st. Of their persons; and, 2dly. Of the manner of their writing:—
1st. As to their persons, they were absolutely removed from all possible suspicion of deceiving or being deceived. The wit of all the atheistical spirits in the world is not able to fix on any one thing that would be a tolerable ground of any such suspicion concerning the integrity of witnesses, could such a testimony be given in any other case; and surmises in things of this nature, which have no pleadable ground for them, are to be looked on as diabolical suggestions or atheistical dreams, or at best the false imaginations of weak and distempered minds. The nature and design of their work; their unconcernment with all secular interests; their unacquaintance with one another; the times and places wherein the things reported by them were done and acted; the facility of convincing them of falsehood if what they wrote in matter of fact, which is the fountain of what else they taught, were not true; the evident certainty that this would have been done, arising from the known desire, ability, will, and interest, of their adversaries so to do, had it been possible to be effected, seeing this would have secured them the victory in the conflicts wherein they were violently engaged, and have put an immediate issue unto all that difference and uproar that was in the world about their doctrine; their harmony among themselves, without conspiracy or antecedent agreement; the miseries which they underwent, most of them without hope of relief or recompense in this world, upon the sole account of the doctrine taught by themselves; with all other circumstances innumerable, that are pleadable to evince the sincerity and integrity of any witnesses whatever, — do all concur to prove that they did not follow cunningly-devised fables in what they declared concerning the mind and will of God as immediately from himself. To confront this evidence with bare surmises, incapable of any rational countenance or confirmation, is only to manifest what brutish impudence, infidelity, and atheism, are forced to retreat unto for shelter.
2dly. Their style or manner of writing deserves a peculiar consideration; for there are impressed on it all those characters of a divine original that can be communicated unto such an outward adjunct of divine revelation. Notwithstanding the distance of the ages and 34seasons wherein they lived, the difference of the languages wherein they wrote, with the great variety of their parts, abilities, education, and other circumstances, yet there is upon the whole and all the parts of their writing such gravity, majesty, and authority, mixed with plainness of speech, and absolute freedom from all appearance of affectation of esteem or applause, or any thing else that derives from human frailty, as must excite an admiration in all that seriously consider them. But I have at large elsewhere insisted on this consideration;145145 Exercitat. on the Epist. to the Heb., Exer. i. and have also, in the same place, showed that there is no other writing extant in the world that ever pretended unto a divine original, — as the apocryphal books under the Old Testament, and some fragments of spurious pieces pretended to be written in the days of the apostles, — but they are, not only from their matter, but from the manner of their writing, and the plain footsteps of human artifice and weakness therein, sufficient for their own conviction, and do openly discover their own vain pretensions. So must every thing necessarily do which, being merely human, pretends unto an immediate derivation from God. When men have done all they can, these things will have as evident a difference between them as there is between wheat and chaff, between real and painted fire, Jer. xxiii. 28, 29.
Unto the testimony of the divine writers themselves, we must add that of those who in all ages have believed in Christ through their word; which is the description which the Lord Jesus Christ giveth of his church, John xvii. 20. This is the church, — that is, those who wrote the Scripture, and those who believe in Christ through their word, through all ages, — which beareth witness to the divine original of the Scripture; and it may be added that we know this witness is true. With these I had rather venture my faith and eternal condition than with any society, any real or pretended church whatever. And among these there is an especial consideration to be had of those innumerable multitudes who, in the primitive times, witnessed this confession all the world over; for they had many advantages above us to know the certainty of sundry matters of fact which the verity of our religion depends upon. And we are directed unto an especial regard of their testimony, which is signalized by Christ himself. In the great judgment that is to be passed on the world, the first appearance is of “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,” Rev. xx. 4; and there is at present an especial regard unto them in heaven upon the account of their witness and testimony, chap. vi. 9–11. These were they who, with the loss of their lives by the sword, and other ways of violence, gave testimony unto the truth of the word of God. And to 35reduce these things unto a natural consideration, who can have the least occasion to suspect all those persons of folly, weakness, credulity, wickedness, or conspiracy among themselves, which such a diffuse multitude was absolutely incapable of? Neither can any man undervalue their testimony but he must comply with their adversaries against them, who were known generally to be of the worst of men. And who is there that believes there is a God and an eternal future state that had not rather have his soul with Paul than Nero, with the holy martyrs than their bestial persecutors? Wherefore, this suffrage and testimony, begun from the first writing of the Scripture, and carried on by the best of men in all ages, and made conspicuously glorious in the primitive times of Christianity, must needs be with all wise men unavoidably cogent, at least unto a due and sedate consideration of what they bear witness unto, and sufficient to scatter all such prejudices as atheism or profaneness may raise or suggest.
[2.] What it was they gave testimony unto is duly to be considered; and this was, not only that the book of the Scripture was good, holy, and true, in all the contents of it, but that the whole and every part of it was given by divine inspiration, as their faith in this matter is expressed, 2 Pet. i. 20, 21. On this account, and no other, did they themselves receive the Scripture, as also believe and yield obedience unto the things contained in it. Neither would they admit that their testimony was received if the whole world would be content to allow of or obey the Scripture on any other or lower terms; nor will God himself allow of an assent unto the Scripture under any other conception, but as the word which is immediately spoken by himself. Hence, they who refuse to give credit thereunto are said to “belie the Lord, and say, It is not he,” Jer. v. 12; yea, to “make God a liar,” 1 John v. 10. If all mankind should agree together to receive and make use of this book, as that which taught nothing but what is good, useful, and profitable to human society; as that which is a complete directory unto men in all that they need to believe or do towards God; the best means under heaven to bring them to settlement, satisfaction, and assurance of the knowledge of God and themselves; as the safest guide to eternal blessedness; and therefore must needs be written and composed by persons wise, holy, and honest above all comparison, and such as had such knowledge of God and his will as is necessary unto such an undertaking; — yet all this answers not the testimony given by the church of believers in all ages unto the Scriptures. It was not lawful for them, it is not for us, so to compound this matter with the world. That the whole Scripture was given by inspiration from God, that it was his word, his true and faithful sayings, was that which, in the first place, they gave testimony unto, and we also are obliged so to do. They never 36pretended unto any other assurance of the things they professed, nor any other reason of their faith and obedience, but that the Scripture, wherein all these things are contained, was given immediately from God, or was his word; and, therefore, they were always esteemed no less traitors to Christianity who gave up their Bibles to persecutors than those who denied Jesus Christ.
[3.] The manner wherein this testimony was given adds to the importance of it; for, — 1st. Many of them, especially in some seasons, gave it in, with sundry miraculous operations. This our apostle pleadeth as a corroboration of the witness given by the first preachers of the gospel unto the truths of it, Heb. ii. 4, as the same was done by all the apostles together, Acts v. 32. It must be granted that these miracles were not wrought immediately to confirm this single truth, that the Scripture was given by inspiration of God; but that the end of miracles is to be an immediate witness from heaven, or God’s attestation to their persons and ministry by whom they were wrought. His presence with them and approbation of their doctrine were publicly declared by them. But the miracles wrought by the Lord Christ and his apostles, whereby God gave immediate testimony unto the divine mission of their persons and infallible truth of their doctrine, might either not have been written, as most of them were not, or they might have been written and their doctrine recorded in books not given by inspiration from God. Besides, as to the miracles wrought by Christ himself, and most of those of the apostles, they were wrought among them by whom the books of the Old Testament were acknowledged as the oracles of God, and before the writing of those of the New, so that they could not be wrought in the immediate confirmation of the one or the other. Neither have we any infallible testimony concerning these miracles but the Scripture itself, wherein they are recorded; whence it is necessary that we should believe the Scripture to be infallibly true, before we can believe on grounds infallible the miracles therein recorded to be so. Wherefore, I grant that the whole force of this consideration lieth in this alone, that those who gave testimony to the Scripture to be the word of God had an attestation given unto their ministry by these miraculous operations, concerning which we have good collateral security also.
2dly. Many of them confirmed their testimony with their sufferings, being not only witnesses but martyrs, in the peculiar church notion of that word, grounded on the Scripture, Acts xxii. 20; Rev. ii. 13, xvii. 6.
So far were they from any worldly advantage by the profession they made and the testimony they gave, as that in the confirmation of them they willingly and cheerfully underwent whatever is evil, dreadful, or destructive to human nature, in all its temporary 37concerns. It is, therefore, unquestionable that they had the highest assurance of the truth in these things which the mind of man is capable of. The management of this argument is the principal design of the apostle in the whole 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews; for, having declared the nature of faith in general, namely, that it is the “substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen,” verse 1, — that is, such an assent unto and confidence of invisible things, things capable of no demonstration from sense or reason, as respects divine revelation only, whereinto alone it is resolved, — for our encouragement thereunto and establishment therein, he produceth a long catalogue of those who did, suffered, and obtained great things thereby. That which he principally insists upon is, the hardships, miseries, cruelties, tortures, and several sorts of deaths, which they underwent, especially from verse 33 to the end. These he calleth a “cloud of witnesses,” wherewith “we are compassed about,” chap. xii. 1, giving testimony unto what we do believe, that is, divine revelation, and in an especial manner to the promises therein contained, unto our encouragement in the same duty, as he there declares. And certainly what was thus testified unto by so many great, wise, and holy persons, and that in such a way and manner, hath as great an outward evidence of its truth as any thing of that nature is capable of in this world.
3dly. They gave not their testimony casually, or on some extraordinary occasion only, or by some one solemn act, or in some one certain way, as other testimonies are given, nor can be given otherwise; but they gave their testimony in this cause in their whole course, in all that they thought, spake, or did in the world, and in the whole disposal of their ways, lives, and actions, — as every true believer continueth to do at this day. For a man, when he is occasionally called out, to give a verbal testimony unto the divine original of the Scripture, ordering in the meantime the whole course of his conversation, his hopes, designs, aims, and ends, without any eminent respect or regard unto it, his testimony is of no value, nor can have any influence on the minds of sober and considerate men. But when men do manifest and evince that the declaration of the mind of God in the Scripture hath a sovereign divine authority over their souls and consciences, absolutely and in all things, then is their witness cogent and efficacious. There is to me a thousand times more force and weight in the testimony to this purpose of some holy persons, who universally and in all things, with respect unto this world and their future eternal condition, in all their thoughts, words, actions, and ways, do really experiment in themselves, and express to others, the power and authority of this word of God in their souls and consciences, living, doing, suffering, and dying in peace, assurance of 38mind, and consolation thereon, than in the verbal declaration of the most splendid, numerous church in the world, who evidence not such an inward sense of its power and efficacy. There is, therefore, that force in the real testimony which hath been given in all ages, by all this sort of persons, not one excepted, unto the divine authority of the Scripture, that it is highly arrogant for any one to question the truth of it without evident convictions of its imposture; which no person of any tolerable sobriety did ever yet pretend unto.
5. I shall add, in the last place, the consideration of that success which the doctrine derived solely from the Scripture, and resolved thereinto, hath had in the world upon the minds and lives of men, especially upon the first preaching, of the gospel. And two things offer themselves hereon immediately unto our consideration:— (1.) The persons by whom this doctrine was successfully carried on in the world; and, (2.) The way and manner of the propagation of it; both which the Scripture takes notice of in particular, as evidences of that divine power which the word was really accompanied withal. (1.) For the persons unto whom this work was committed, I mean the apostles and first evangelists, were, as to their outward condition in the world, poor, low, and every way despised; and as unto the endowments of their minds, destitute of all those abilities and advantages which might give them either reputation or probability of success in such an undertaking.
This the Jews marked in them with contempt, Acts iv. 13; and the Gentiles also generally despised them on the same account. As they afforded our apostle no better title than that of a “babbler,” chap. xvii. 18, so for a long time they kept up the public vogue in the world, that Christianity was the religion of idiots and men illiterate. But God had another design in this order of things, which our apostle declares upon an admission of the inconsiderable meanness of them unto whom the dispensation of the gospel was committed: 2 Cor. iv. 7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” The reason why God would make use of such instruments only in so great a work was, that through their meanness his own glorious power might be more conspicuous. There is nothing more common among men, or more natural unto them, than to admire the excellencies of those of their own race and kind, and a willingness to have all evidences of a divine, supernatural power clouded and hidden from them. If, therefore, there had been such persons employed as instruments in this work, whose powers, abilities, qualifications, and endowments, might have been probably pretended as sufficient, and the immediate causes of such an effect, there would have been no observation of the divine power and glory of God. But he who is not able to discern them in the bringing about of so mighty a work by means so disproportionate 39thereunto, is under the power of the unrelievable prejudices intimated by our apostle in this case, 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.
(2.) The means which were to be used unto this end, — namely, the subduing of the world unto the faith and obedience of the gospel, so erecting the spiritual kingdom of Christ in the minds of men who before were under the power and dominion of his adversary, — must either be force and arms, or eloquence, in plausible, persuasive reasonings. And mighty works have been wrought by the one and the other of them By the former have empires been set up and established in the world, and the superstition of Mohammed imposed on many nations. And the latter also hath had great effects on the minds of many. Wherefore, it might have been expected that those who had engaged themselves in so great a design and work as that mentioned should betake themselves unto the one or other of these means and ways; for the wit of man cannot contrive any way unto such an end but what may be reduced unto one of these two, seeing neither upon the principles of nature nor on the rules of human wisdom or policy can any other be imagined. But even both these ways were abandoned by them, and they declared against the use of either of them: for as outward force, power, and authority, they had none, the use of all carnal weapons being utterly inconsistent with this work and design; so the other way, of persuasive orations, of enticing words, of alluring arts and eloquence, with the like effects of human wisdom and skill, were all of them studiously declined by them in this work, as things extremely prejudicial to the success thereof, 1 Cor. ii. 4, 5. But this alone they betook themselves unto, — they went up and down, preaching to Jews and Gentiles “that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and rose again, according to the Scriptures,” chap. xv. 3, 4. And this they did by virtue of those spiritual gifts which were the hidden powers of the world to come, whose nature, virtue, and power, others were utterly unacquainted withal. This preaching of theirs, this preaching of the cross, both for the subject-matter and manner of it, without art, eloquence, or oratory, was looked on as a marvellous foolish thing, a sweaty kind of babbling, by all those who had got any reputation of learning or cunning amongst men. This our apostle at large discourseth, 1 Cor. i. 17–31. In this state of things, every thing was under as many improbabilities of success, unto all rational conjectures, as can be conceived. Besides, together with the doctrine of the gospel that they preached, which was new and uncouth unto the world, they taught observances of religious worship, in meetings, assemblies, or conventicles, to that end, which all the laws in the world did prohibit, Acts xvi. 21, xviii. 13. Hereupon, no sooner did the rulers and governors of the world begin to take notice of them and what they did, but they 40judged that it all tended to sedition, and that commotions would ensue thereon. These things enraged the generality of mankind against them and their converts; who therefore made havoc of them with incredible fury. And yet, notwithstanding all these disadvantages, and against all these oppositions, their doctrine prevailed to subdue the world to the obedience thereof. And there may be added unto all these things one or two considerations from the state of things at that time in the world, which signalize the quality of this work, and manifest it to have been of God; as, —
[1.] That in the New Testament, the writers of it do constantly distribute all those with whom they had to do in this world into Jews and Greeks, which we render Gentiles, the other nations of the world coming under that denomination because of their preeminence on various accounts. Now, the Jews at that time were in solidum possessed of all the true religion that was in the world, and this they boasted of as their privilege, bearing up themselves with the thought and reputation of it everywhere and on all occasions; it being at that time their great business to gain proselytes unto it, whereon also their honour and advantage did depend. The Greeks, on the other side, were in as full a possession of arts, sciences, literature, and all that which the world calls “wisdom,” as the Jews were of religion; and they had also a religion, received by a long tradition of their fathers, from time immemorial, which they had variously cultivated and dressed with mysteries and ceremonies, unto their own complete satisfaction. Besides, the Romans, who were the ruling part of the Gentiles, did ascribe all their prosperity and the whole raising of their stupendous empire to their gods and the religious worship they gave unto them; so that it was a fundamental maxim in their policy and rule, that they should prosper or decay according as they observed or were negligent in the religion they received; as, indeed, not only those who owned the true God and his providence, but, before idolatry and superstition had given place unto atheism, all people did solemnly impute all their achievements and successes unto their gods, as the prophet speaks of the Chaldeans, Hab. i. 11; and he who first undertook to record the exploits of the nations of the world doth constantly assign all their good and evil unto their gods, as they were pleased or provoked. The Romans, in especial, boasted that their religion was the cause of their prosperity: “Pietate et religione atque hâc una sapientia, quod deorum immortalium numine omnia regi gubernarique perspeximus, omnes gentes nationesque superamus,” says their great oracle [orator?] Orat. de Har. Resp., 9. And Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a great and wise historian, giving an account of the religion of the Romans and the ceremonies of their worship, affirms that he doth it unto 41this end, “that those who have been ignorant of the Roman piety should cease to wonder at their prosperity and successes in all their wars, seeing, by reason of their religion, they had the gods always propitious and succourable unto them,” Antiq. Rom. lib. ii. The consideration hereof made them so obstinate in their adherence unto their present religion, that when, after many ages and hundreds of years, some books of Numa, their second king, and principal establisher of their commonwealth, were occasionally found, instead of paying them any respect, they ordered them to be burnt, because one who had perused them took his oath that they were contrary to their present worship and devotion! And this was that which, upon the declension of their empire, after the prevalency of the Christian religion, those who were obstinate in their Paganism reflected severely upon the Christians; the relinquishment of their old religion they fiercely avowed to be the cause of all their calamities; — in answer unto which calumny, principally, Austin wrote his excellent discourse, De Civitate Dei.
In this state of things the preachers of the gospel come among them, and not only bring a new doctrine, under all the disadvantages before mentioned, and, moreover, that he who was the head of it was newly crucified by the present powers of the earth for a malefactor, but also such a doctrine as was expressly to take away the religion from the Jews, and the wisdom from the Greeks, and the principal maxim of polity from the Romans, whereon they thought they had raised their empire! It were easy to declare how all those sects were engaged, in worldly interest, honour, reputation, and principles of safety, to oppose, decry, condemn, and reject, this new doctrine. And if a company of sorry craftsmen were able to fill a whole city with tumult and uproar against the gospel, as they did when they apprehended it would bring in a decay of their trade, Acts xix. 23–41, what can we think was done in all the world by all those who were engaged and enraged by higher provocations? It was as death to the Jews to part with their religion, both on the account of the conviction they had of its truth and the honour they esteemed to accrue to themselves thereby; and for the Greeks to have that wisdom, which they and their forefathers had been labouring in for so many generations, now to be all rejected as an impertinent foolery by the sorry preachments of a few illiterate persons, it raised them unto the highest indignation; and the Romans were wise enough to secure the fundamental maxim of their state.
Wherefore the world seemed very sufficiently fortified against the admission of this new and strange doctrine, on the terms whereon it was proposed. There can be no danger, sure, that ever it should obtain any considerable progress. But we know that things fell out quite otherwise; religion, 42wisdom, and power, with honour, profit, interest, reputation, were all forced to give way to its power and efficacy.
[2.] The world was at that time in the highest enjoyment of peace, prosperity, and plenty, that ever it attained from the entrance of sin; and it is known how from all these things is usually made provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. Whatever the pride, ambition, covetousness, sensuality, of any persons could carry them forth to lust after, the world was full of satisfactions for; and most men lived, as in the eager pursuit of their lusts, so in a full supply of what they did require. In this condition the gospel is preached unto them, requiring at once, and that indispensably, a renunciation of all those worldly lusts which before had been the salt of their lives If men designed any compliance with it or interest in it, their pride, ambition, luxury, covetousness, sensuality, malice, revenge, must all be mortified and rooted up. Had it only been a new doctrine and religion, declaring that knowledge and worship of God which they had never heard of before, they could not but be very wary in giving it entertainment; but when withal it required, at the first instant, that for its sake they should “pull out their right eyes, and cut off their right hands,” to part with all that was dear and useful unto them, and which had such a prevalent interest in their minds and affections as corrupt lusts are known to have, this could not but invincibly fortify them against its admittance. But yet this also was forced to give place, and all the fortifications of Satan therein were, by the power of the word, cast to the ground, as our apostle expresseth it, 2 Cor. x. 4, 5, where he gives an account of that warfare whereby the world was subdued to Christ by the gospel. Now, a man that hath a mind to make himself an instance of conceited folly and pride, may talk as though there was in all this no evidence of divine power giving testimony to the Scripture and the doctrine contained in it; but the characters of it are so legible unto every modest and sedate prospect that they leave no room for doubt or hesitation.
But the force of the whole argument is liable unto one exception of no small moment, which must, therefore, necessarily be taken notice of and removed: for whereas we plead the power, efficacy, and prevalency of the gospel in former days, as a demonstration of its divine original, it will be inquired “whence it is that it is not still accompanied with the same power, nor doth produce the same effects; for we see the profession of it is now confined to narrow limits in comparison of what it formerly extended itself unto, neither do we find that it gets ground anywhere in the world, but is rather more and more straitened every day. Wherefore, either the first prevalency that is asserted unto it, and argued as an evidence of 43its divinity, did indeed proceed from some other accidental causes, in an efficacious though unseen concurrence, and was not by an emanation of power from itself; or the gospel is not at present what it was formerly, seeing it hath not the same effect upon or power over the minds of men as that had of old. We may, therefore, suspend the pleading of this argument from what was done by the gospel formerly, lest it reflect disadvantage upon what we profess at present.”
Ans. 1. Whatever different events may fall out in different seasons, yet the gospel is the same as ever it was from the beginning. There is not another book, containing another doctrine, crept into the world instead of that once delivered unto the saints; and whatever various apprehensions men may have, through their weakness or prejudices, concerning the things taught therein, yet are they in themselves absolutely the same that ever they were, and that without the loss or change of a material word or syllable in the manner of their delivery. This I have proved elsewhere, and it is a thing capable of the most evident demonstration. Wherefore, whatever entertainment this gospel meets withal at present in the world, its former prevalency may be pleaded in justification of its divine original.
2. The cause of this event lies principally in the sovereign will and pleasure of God; for although the Scripture be his word, and he hath testified it so to be by his power, put forth and exerted in dispensations of it unto men, yet is not that divine power included or shut up in the letter of it, so that it must have the same effect wherever it comes. We plead not that there is absolutely in itself, its doctrine, the preaching or preachers thereof, such a power, as it were naturally and physically, to produce the effects mentioned; but it is an instrument in the hand of God unto that work which is his own, and he puts forth his power in it and by it as it seems good unto him. And if he do at any time so put forth his divine power in the administration of it, or in the use of this instrument, as that the great worth and excellency of it shall manifest itself to be from him, he giveth a sufficient attestation of it. Wherefore, the times and seasons of the prevalency of the gospel in the world are in the hand and at the sovereign disposal of God; and as he is not obliged (for “who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?”) to accompany it with the same power at all times and seasons, so the evidence of his own power going along with it at any time, whilst under an open claim of a divine original, is an uncontrollable approbation of it. Thus, at the first preaching of the word, to fulfil the promises made unto the fathers from the foundation of the world, to glorify his Son Jesus Christ, and the gospel itself which he had revealed, he put forth that effectual divine 44power in its administration, whereby the world was subdued unto the obedience of it; and the time will come when he will revive the same work of power and grace, to retrieve the world into a subjection to Jesus Christ. And although he doth not in these latter ages cause it to run and prosper among the nations of the world who have not as yet received it, as he did formerly, yet, considering the state of things at present among the generality of mankind, the preservation of it in that small remnant by whom it is obeyed in sincerity is a no less glorious evidence of his presence with it and care over it than was its eminent propagation in days of old.
3. The righteousness of God is in like manner to be considered in these things: for whereas he had granted the inestimable privilege of his word unto many nations, they, through their horrible ingratitude and wickedness, detained the truth in unrighteousness, so that the continuance of the gospel among them was no way to the glory of God, no, nor yet unto their own advantage; for neither nations nor persons will ever be advantaged by an outward profession of the gospel whilst they live in a contradiction and disobedience to its precepts, yea, nothing can be more pernicious to the souls of men. This impiety God is at this day revenging on the nations of the world, having utterly cast off many of them from the knowledge of the truth, and given up others unto “strong delusions to believe lies,” though they retain the Scriptures and outward profession of Christianity. How far he may proceed in the same way of righteous vengeance towards other nations also we know not, but ought to tremble in the consideration of it. When God first granted the gospel unto the world, although the generality of mankind had greatly sinned against the light of nature, and had rejected all those supernatural revelations that at any time had been made unto them, yet had they not sinned against the gospel itself nor the grace thereof. It pleased God, therefore, to wink at and pass over that time of their ignorance, so as that his justice should not be provoked by any of their former sins to withhold from them the efficacy of his divine power in the administration of the gospel, whereby he “called them to repentance.” But now, after that the gospel hath been sufficiently tendered unto all nations, and hath, either as unto its profession or as unto its power, with the obedience that it requires, been rejected by the most of them, things are quite otherwise stated. It is from the “righteous judgment of God,” revenging the sins of the world against the gospel itself, that so many nations are deprived of it, and so many left obstinate in its refusal. Wherefore, the present state of things doth no way weaken or prejudice the evidence given unto the Scripture by that mighty power of God which accompanied the administration of it in the world. For what hath 45since fallen out, there are secret reasons of sovereign wisdom, and open causes in divine justice, whereunto it is to be assigned.
These things I have briefly called over, and not as though they were all of this kind that may be pleaded, but only to give some instances of those external arguments whereby the divine authority of the Scripture may be confirmed.
Now, these arguments are such as are able of themselves to beget in the minds of men sober, humble, intelligent, and unprejudiced, a firm opinion, judgment, and persuasion, that the Scripture doth proceed from God. Where persons are prepossessed with invincible prejudices, contracted by a course of education, wherein they have imbibed principles opposite and contrary thereunto, and have increased and fortified them by some fixed and hereditary enmity against all those whom they know to own the divinity of the Scripture, — as it is with Mohammedans and some of the Indians, — these arguments, it may be, will not prevail immediately to work or effect their assent. It is so with respect unto them also who, out of love unto and delight in those ways of vice, sin, and wickedness, which are absolutely and severely condemned in the Scripture, without the least hope of a dispensation unto them that continue under the power of them, will not take these arguments into due consideration. Such persons may talk and discourse of them, but they never weigh them seriously, according as the importance of the cause doth require; for if men will examine them as they ought, it must be with a sedate judgment that their eternal condition depends upon a right determination of this inquiry. But [as] for those who can scarce get liberty from the service and power of their lusts seriously to consider what is their condition, or what it is like to be, it is no wonder if they talk of these things, after the manner of these days, without any impression on their minds and affections, or influence on the practical understanding. But our inquiry is after what is a sufficient evidence for the conviction of rational and unprejudiced persons, and the defeating of objections to the contrary; which these and the like arguments do every way answer.
Some think fit here to stay, — that is, in these or the like external arguments, or rational motives of faith, such as render the Scriptures so credible as that it is an unreasonable thing not to assent unto them. “That certainty which may be attained on these arguments and motives is,” as they say, “the highest which our minds are capable of with respect unto this object, and therefore includes all the assent which is required of us unto this proposition, ‘That the Scriptures are the word of God,’ or all the faith whereby we believe them so to be.” When I speak of these arguments, I intend not them alone which I have ‘resisted on, but all others also of the same kind, some whereof 46have been urged and improved by others with great diligence; for in the variety of such arguments as offer themselves in this cause, every one chooseth out what seems to him most cogent, and some amass all that they can think on. Now, these arguments, with the evidence tendered in them, are such as nothing but perverse prejudice can detain men from giving a firm assent unto; and no more is required of us but that, according to the motives that are proposed unto us, and the arguments used to that purpose, we come unto a judgment and persuasion, called a moral assurance, of the truth of the Scripture, and endeavour to yield obedience unto God accordingly.
And it were to be wished that there were more than it is feared there are who were really so affected with these arguments and motives, for the truth is, tradition and education practically bear the whole sway in this matter. But yet, when all this is done, it will be said that all this is but a mere natural work, whereunto no more is required but the natural exercise and acting of our own reason and understanding; that the arguments and motives used, though strong, are human and fallible, and, therefore, the conclusion we make from them is so also, and wherein we may be deceived; that an assent grounded and resolved into such rational arguments only is not faith in the sense of the Scripture; in brief, that it is required that we believe the Scriptures to be the word of God with faith divine and supernatural, which cannot be deceived. Two things are replied hereunto:—
1. “That where the things believed are divine and supernatural, so is the faith whereby we believe them or give our assent unto them. Let the motives and arguments whereon we give our assent be of what kind they will, so that the assent be true and real, and the things believed be divine and supernatural, the faith whereby we believe is so also.” But this is all one as if, in things natural, a man should say our sight is green when we see that which is so, and blue when we see that which is blue. And this would be so in things moral, if the specification of acts were from their material objects; but it is certain that they are not of the same nature always with the things they are conversant about, nor are they changed thereby from what their nature is in themselves, be it natural or supernatural, human or divine. Now, things divine are only the material object of our faith, as hath been showed before; and by an enumeration of them do we answer unto the question, “What is it that ye do believe?” But it is the formal object or reason el all our acts from whence they are denominated, or by which they are specified. And the formal reason of our faith, assent, or believing, is that which prevails with us to believe, and on whose account we do so, wherewith we answer unto that question, “Why do ye believe?” If this be human authority, 47arguments highly probable but absolutely fallible, motives cogent but only to beget a moral persuasion, whatever we do believe thereon, our faith is human, fallible, and a moral assurance only. Wherefore it is said, —
2. “That this assent is sufficient, all that is required of us, and contains in it all the assurance which our minds are capable of in this matter; for no farther evidence or assurance is in any case to be inquired after than the subject-matter will bear. And so is it in this case, where the truth is not exposed to sense, nor capable of a scientifical demonstration, but must be received upon such reasons and arguments as carry it above the highest probability, though they leave it beneath science, or knowledge, or infallible assurance, if such a persuasion of mind there be.”
But yet I must needs say, that although those external arguments, whereby learned and rational men have proved, or may yet farther prove, the Scripture to be a divine revelation given of God, and the doctrine contained in it to be a heavenly truth, are of singular use for the strengthening of the faith of them that do believe, by relieving the mind against temptations and objections that will arise to the contrary, as also for the conviction of gainsayers; yet to say that they contain the formal reason of that assent which is required of us unto the Scripture as the word of God, that our faith is the effect and product of them, which it rests upon and is resolved into, is both contrary to the Scripture, destructive of the nature of divine faith, and exclusive of the work of the Holy Ghost in this whole matter.
Wherefore, I shall do these two things before I proceed to our principal argument designed:— 1. I shall give some few reasons, proving that the faith whereby we believe the Scripture to be the word of God is not a mere firm moral persuasion, built upon external arguments and motives of credibility, but is divine and supernatural, because the formal reason of it is so also. 2. I shall show what is the nature of that faith whereby we do or ought to believe the Scripture to be the word of God, what is the work of the Holy Spirit about it, and what is the proper object of it. In the first I shall be very brief, for my design is to strengthen the faith of all, and not to weaken the opinions of any.
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