« Prev Chapter IV. Next »

Chapter IV.

Moral certainty, the result of external arguments, insufficient.

1. Divine revelation is the proper object of divine faith. With such faith we can believe nothing but what is so, and what is so can be 48received no otherwise by us. If we believe it not with divine faith, we believe it not at all. Such is the Scripture, as the word of God, everywhere proposed unto us, and we are required to believe, — that is, first to believe it so to be, and then to believe the things contained in it; for this proposition, “That the Scripture is the word of God,” is a divine revelation, and so to be believed. But God nowhere requires, nor ever did, that we should believe any divine revelation upon such grounds, much less on such grounds and motives only. They are left unto us as consequential unto our believing, to plead with others in behalf of what we profess, and for the justification of it unto the world. But that which he requires our faith and obedience unto, in the receiving of divine revelations, whether immediately given and declared or as recorded in the Scripture, is his own authority and veracity: “I am the Lord;” “Thus saith the high and lofty One;” “Thus saith the Lord;” “To the law and to the testimony;” “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him;” “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;” “Believe in the Lord and his prophets.” This alone is that which he requires us to resolve our faith into. So when he gave unto us the law of our lives, the eternal and unchangeable rule of our obedience unto him, in the ten commandments, he gives no other reason to oblige us thereunto but this only, “I am the Lord thy God.” The sole formal reason of all our obedience is taken from his own nature and our relation unto him; nor doth he propose any other reason why we should believe him, or the revelation which he makes of his mind and will. And our faith is part of our obedience, the root and principal part of it; therefore, the reason of both is the same. Neither did our Lord Jesus Christ nor his apostles ever make use of such arguments or motives for the ingenerating of faith in the minds of men, nor have they given directions for the use of any such arguments to this end and purpose. But when they were accused to have followed “cunningly-devised fables,” they appealed unto Moses and the prophets, to the revelations they had themselves received, and those that were before recorded. It is true, they wrought miracles in confirmation of their own divine mission and of the doctrine which they taught; but the miracles of our Saviour were all of them wrought amongst those who believed the whole Scripture then given to be the word of God, and those of the apostles were before the writings of the books of the New Testament. Their doctrine, therefore, materially considered, and their warranty to teach it, were sufficiently, yea, abundantly confirmed by them. But divine revelation, formally considered, and as written, was left upon the old foundation of the authority of God who gave it. No such method is prescribed, no such example is proposed unto us in the Scripture, as to make use of these arguments and motives for 49the conversion of the souls of men unto God, and the ingenerating of faith in them; yes, in some cases, the use of such means is decried as unprofitable, and the sole authority of God, putting forth his power in and by his word, is appealed unto, 1 Cor. ii. 4, 5, 13, xiv. 36, 37; 2 Cor. iv. 7. But yet, in a way of preparation, subservient unto the receiving the Scripture as the word of God, and for the defence of it against gainsayers and their objections, their use hath been granted and proved. But from first to last, in the Old and New Testament, the authority and truth of God are constantly and uniformly proposed as the immediate ground and reason of believing his revelations; nor can it be proved that he doth accept or approve of any kind of faith or assent but what is built thereon and resolved thereinto. The sum is, We are obliged in a way of duty to believe the Scriptures to be a divine revelation, when they are ministerially or providentially proposed unto us; whereof afterward. The ground whereon we are to receive them is the authority and veracity of God speaking in them; we believe them because they are the word of God. Now, this faith, whereby we so believe, is divine and supernatural, because the formal reason of it is so, — namely, God’s truth and authority. Wherefore, we do not nor ought only to believe the Scripture as highly probable, or with a moral persuasion and assurance, built upon arguments absolutely fallible and human; for if this be the formal reason of faith, namely, the veracity and authority of God, if we believe not with faith divine and supernatural, we believe not at all.

2. The moral certainty treated of is a mere effect of reason. There is no more required unto it but that the reasons proposed for the assent required be such as the mind judgeth to be convincing and prevalent; whence an inferior kind of knowledge, or a firm opinion, or some kind of persuasion which hath not yet gotten an intelligible name, doth necessarily ensue. There is, therefore, on this supposition, no need of any work of the Holy Ghost to enable us to believe or to work faith in us; for no more is required herein but what necessarily ariseth from a naked exercise of reason. If it be said that the inquiry is not about what is the work of the Spirit of God in us, but concerning the reasons and motives to believing that are proposed unto us, I answer, it is granted; but what we urge herein is, that the act which is exerted on such motives, or the persuasion which is begotten in our minds by them, is purely natural, and such as requires no especial work of the Holy Ghost in us for the effecting of it. Now, this is not faith, nor can we be said in the Scripture sense to believe hereby, and so, in particular, not the Scriptures to be the word of God; for faith is “the gift of God,” and is “not of ourselves,” Eph. ii. 8. It is “given unto some on the behalf 50of Christ,” Phil. i. 29, and not unto others; Matt. xi. 25, xiii. 11. But this assent on external arguments and motives is of ourselves, equally common and exposed unto all. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,” 1 Cor. xii. 3; but he who believeth the Scripture truly, aright, and according to his duty, doth say so. No man cometh to Christ, but he that hath “heard and learned of the Father,” John vi. 45. And as this is contrary to the Scripture, so it is expressly condemned by the ancient church, particularly by the second Arausican council, can. 5, 7: “Si quis sicut augmentum ita etiam initium fidei, ipsumque credulitatis affectum, non per gratiæ donum, id est, per inspirationem Spiritus Sancti, corrigentem voluntatem nostram ab infidelitate ad fidem, ab impietate ad pietatem, sed naturaliter nobis inesse dicit, apostolicis dogmatibus adversarius approbatur.” And plainly, can. 7: “Si quis per naturæ vigorem bonum aliquod quod ad salutem pertinet vitæ eternæ, cogitate ut expedit, aut eligere, sive salutari, id est, evangelicæ prædicationi consentire posse affirmat absque illuminatione et inspiratione Spiritus Sancti, qui dat omnibus suavitatem consentiendo et credendo veritati, hæretico fallitur spiritu.

It is still granted that the arguments intended (that is, all of them which are true indeed and will endure a strict examination, for some are frequently made use of in this cause which will not endure a trial) are of good use in their place and unto their proper end, — that is, to beget such an assent unto the truth as they are capable of effecting; for although this be not that which is required of us in a way of duty, but inferior to it, yet the mind is prepared and disposed by them unto the receiving of the truth in its proper evidence.

3. Our assent can be of no other nature than the arguments and motives whereon it is built, or by which it is wrought in us, as in degree it cannot exceed their evidence. Now, these arguments are all human and fallible. Exalt them unto the greatest esteem possible, yet because they are not demonstrations, nor do necessarily beget a certain knowledge in us (which, indeed, if they did; there were no room left for faith or our obedience therein), they produce an opinion only, though in the highest kind of probability, and firm against objections; for we will allow the utmost assurance that can be claimed upon them. But this is exclusive of all divine faith, as to any article, thing, matter, or object to be believed. For instance, a man professeth that he believes Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. Demand the reason why he doth so, and he will say, “Because God, who cannot lie, hath revealed and declared him so to be.” Proceed yet farther, and ask him where or how God hath revealed and declared this so to be; and he will answer, “In the Scripture, which is his 51word.” Inquire now farther of him (which is necessary) wherefore he believes this Scripture to be the word of God, or an immediate revelation given out from him, — for hereunto we must come, and have somewhat that we may ultimately rest in, excluding in its own nature all farther inquiries, or we can have neither certainty nor stability in our faith; — on this supposition his answer must be, that he hath many cogent arguments that render it highly probable so to be, such as have prevailed with him to judge it so to be, and whereon he is fully persuaded, as having the highest assurance hereof that the matter will bear, and so doth firmly believe it to be the word of God. Yea, but, it will be replied, all these arguments are in their kind or nature human, and therefore fallible, such as it is possible they may be false; for every thing may be so that is not immediately from the first essential Verity. This assent, therefore, unto the Scriptures as the word of God is human, fallible, and such as wherein we may be deceived. And our assent unto the things revealed can be of no other kind than that we give unto the revelation itself, for thereinto it is resolved, and thereunto it must be reduced; these waters will rise no higher than their fountain. And thus at length we come to believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God with a faith human and fallible, and which at last may deceive us; which is to “receive the word of God as the word of men, and not as it is in truth, the word of God,” contrary to the apostle, 1 Thess. ii. 13. Wherefore, —

4. If I believe the Scripture to be the word of God with a human faith only, I do no otherwise believe whatever is contained in it, which overthrows all faith properly so called; and if I believe whatever is contained in the Scripture with faith divine and supernatural, I cannot but by the same faith believe the Scripture itself, which removes the moral certainty treated of out of our way. And the reason of this is, that we must believe the revelation and the things revealed with the same kind of faith, or we bring confusion on the whole work of believing. No man living can distinguish in his experience between that faith wherewith he believes the Scripture and that wherewith he believes the doctrine of it, or the things contained in it, nor is there any such distinction or difference intimated in the Scripture itself; but all our believing is absolutely resolved into the authority of God revealing. Nor can it be rationally apprehended that our assent unto the things revealed should be of a kind and nature superior unto that which we yield unto the revelation itself; for let the arguments which it is resolved into be never so evident and cogent, let the assent itself be as firm and certain as can be imagined, yet is it human still and natural, and therein is inferior unto that which is divine and supernatural. And yet, on this supposition, that which is of a superior kind and nature is wholly 52resolved into that which is of an inferior, and must betake itself on all occasions thereunto for relief and confirmation; for the faith whereby we believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God is on all occasions absolutely melted down into that whereby we believe the Scriptures to be the word of God.

But none of these things are my present especial design, and therefore I have insisted long enough upon them. I am not inquiring what grounds men may have to build an opinion or any kind of human persuasion upon that the Scriptures are the word of God, no, nor yet how we may prove or maintain them so to be unto gainsayers; but what is required hereunto that we may believe them to be so with faith divine and supernatural, and what is the work of the Spirit of God therein.

But it may be farther said, “That these external arguments and motives are not of themselves, and considered separately from the doctrine which they testify unto, the sole ground and reason of our believing; for if it were possible that a thousand arguments of a like cogency with them were offered to confirm any truth or doctrine, if it had not a divine worth and excellency in itself, they could give the mind no assurance of it. Wherefore it is the truth itself, or doctrine contained in the Scripture, which they testify unto, that animates them and gives them their efficacy; for there is such a majesty, holiness, and excellency, in the doctrines of the gospel, and, moreover, such a suitableness in them unto unprejudiced reason, and such an answerableness unto all the rational desires and expectations of the soul, as evidence their procedure from the fountain of infinite wisdom and goodness. It cannot but be conceived impossible that such excellent, heavenly mysteries, of such use and benefit unto all mankind, should be the product of any created industry. Let but a man know himself, his state and condition, in any measure, with a desire of that blessedness which his nature is capable of, and which he cannot but design, when the Scripture is proposed unto him in the ministry of the church, attested by the arguments insisted on, there will appear unto him in the truths and doctrines of it, or in the things contained in it, such an evidence of the majesty and authority of God as will prevail with him to believe it to be a divine revelation. And this persuasion is such that the mind is established in its assent unto the truth, so as to yield obedience unto all that is required of us. And whereas our belief of the Scripture is in order only to the right performance of our duty, or all that obedience which God expecteth from us, our minds being guided by the precepts and directions, and duly influenced by the promises and threatenings of it thereunto, there is no other faith required of us but what is sufficient to oblige us unto that obedience.”

53This being, so far as I can apprehend, the substance of what is by some learned men proposed and adhered unto, it shall be briefly examined. And I say here, as on other occasions, that I should rejoice to see more of such a faith in the world as would effectually oblige men unto obedience, out of a conviction of the excellency of the doctrine and the truth of the promises and threatenings of the word, though learned men should never agree about the formal reason of faith. Such notions of truth, when most diligently inquired into are but as sacrifice compared with obedience. But the truth itself is also to be inquired after diligently.

This opinion, therefore, either supposeth what we shall immediately declare, — namely, the necessity of an internal, effectual work of the Holy Spirit, in the illumination of our minds, so enabling us to believe with faith divine and supernatural, — or it doth not. If it do, it will be found, as I suppose, for the substance of it, to be coincident with what we shall afterward assert and prove to be the formal reason of believing. However, as it is usually proposed, I cannot absolutely comply with it, for these two reasons, among others:—

1. It belongs unto the nature of faith, of what sort soever it be, that it be built on and resolved into testimony. This is that which distinguisheth it from any other conception, knowledge, or assent of our minds, on other reasons and causes, And if this testimony be divine, so is that faith whereby we give assent unto it, on the part of the object. But the doctrines contained in the Scripture, or the subject-matter of the truth to be believed, have not in them the nature of a testimony, but are the material, not formal, objects of faith, which must always differ. If it be said that these truths or doctrines do so evidence themselves to be from God, as that in and by them we have the witness and authority of God himself proposed unto us to resolve our faith into, I will not farther contend about it, but only say that the authority of God, and so his veracity, do manifest themselves primarily in the revelation itself, before they do so in the things revealed; which is that we plead for.

2. The excellency of the doctrine, or things revealed in the Scriptures, respects not so much the truth of them in speculation as their goodness and suitableness unto the souls of men as to their present condition and eternal end. Now, things under that consideration respect not so much faith as spiritual sense and experience. Neither can any man have a due apprehension of such a goodness suitable unto our constitution and condition, with absolute usefulness in the truth of the Scriptures, but on a supposition of that antecedent assent of the mind unto them which is believing; which, therefore, cannot be the reason why we do believe.

But if this opinion proceed not upon the aforesaid supposition 54(immediately to be proved), but requires no more unto our satisfaction in the truth of the Scriptures, and assent thereon, but the due exercise of reason, or the natural faculties of our minds, about them when proposed unto us, then I suppose it to be most remote from the truth, and that amongst many other reasons, for these that ensue:—

1. On this supposition, the whole work of believing would be a work of reason. “Be it so,” say some; “nor is it meet it should be otherwise conceived.” But if so, then the object of it must be things so evident in themselves and their own nature as that the mind is, as it were, compelled by that evidence unto an assent, and cannot do otherwise. If there be such a light and evidence in the things themselves, with respect unto our reason, in the right use and exercise of it, then is the mind thereby necessitated unto its assent: which both overthrows the nature of faith, substituting an assent upon natural evidence in the room thereof, and is absolutely exclusive of the necessity or use of any work of the Holy Ghost in our believing, which sober Christians will scarcely comply withal.

2. There are some doctrines revealed in the Scripture, and those of the most importance that are so revealed, which concern and contain things so above our reason that, without some previous supernatural disposition of mind, they carry in them no evidence of truth unto mere reason, nor of suitableness unto our constitution and end. There is required unto such an apprehension both the spiritual elevation of the mind by supernatural illumination, and a divine assent unto the authority of the revelation thereon, before reason can be so much as satisfied in the truth and excellency of such doctrines. Such are those concerning the holy Trinity, or the subsistence of one singular essence in three distinct persons, the incarnation of the Son of God, the resurrection of the dead, and sundry others, that are the most proper subjects of divine revelation. There is a heavenly glory in some of these things, which as reason can never thoroughly apprehend, because it is finite and limited, so, as it is in us by nature, it can neither receive them nor delight in them as doctrinally proposed unto us, with all the aids and assistance before mentioned. Flesh and blood reveals not these things unto our minds, but our Father which is in heaven; nor doth any man know these mysteries of the kingdom of God, but he “unto whom it is given;” nor do any learn these things aright, but those that are taught of God.

3. Take our reason singly, without the consideration of divine grace and illumination, and it is not only weak and limited, but depraved and corrupted; and the carnal mind cannot subject itself unto the authority of God in any supernatural revelation whatever.

Wherefore, the truth is, that the doctrines of the gospel, which are 55purely and absolutely so, are so far from having a convincing evidence in themselves of their divine truth, excellency, and goodness, unto the reason of men as unrenewed by the Holy Ghost, as that they are “foolishness” and most undesirable unto it, as I have elsewhere proved at large. We shall, therefore, proceed.

There are two things considerable with respect unto our believing the Scriptures to be the word of God in a due manner, or according to our duty. The first respects the subject, or the mind of man, how it is enabled thereunto; the other, the object to be believed, with the true reason why we do believe the Scripture with faith divine and supernatural.

The first of these, must of necessity fall under our consideration herein, as that without which, whatever reasons, evidences, or motives are proposed unto us, we shall never believe in a due manner: for whereas the mind of man, or the minds of all men, are by nature depraved, corrupt, carnal, and enmity against God, they cannot of themselves, or by virtue of any innate ability of their own, understand or assent unto spiritual things in a spiritual manner; which we have sufficiently proved and confirmed before.

Wherefore, that assent which is wrought in us by mere external arguments, consisting in the rational conclusion and judgment which we make upon their truth and evidence, is not that faith wherewith we ought to believe the word of God. Wherefore, that we may believe the Scriptures to be the word of God according to our duty, as God requireth it of us, in a useful, profitable, and saving manner, above and beyond that natural, human faith and assent which is the effect of the arguments and motives of credibility before insisted on, with all others of the like kind, there is and must be wrought in us, by the power of the Holy Ghost, faith supernatural and divine, whereby we are enabled so to do, or rather whereby we do so. This work of the Spirit of God, as it is distinct from, so in order of nature it is antecedent unto, all divine objective evidence of the Scriptures being the word of God, or the formal reason moving us to believe it. Wherefore, without it, whatever arguments or motives are proposed unto us, we cannot believe the Scriptures to be the word of God in a due manner, and as it is in duty required of us.

Some, it may be, will suppose these things ἀπροσδιόνυσα, “out of place,” and impertinent unto our present purpose; for while we are inquiring on what grounds we believe the Scripture to be the word of God, we seem to flee to the work of the Holy Ghost in our own minds, which is irrational But we must not be ashamed of the gospel, nor of the truth of it, because some do not understand or will not duly consider what is proposed. It is necessary that we 56should return unto the work of the Holy Spirit, not with peculiar respect unto the Scriptures that are to be believed, but unto our own minds and that faith wherewith they are to be believed; for it is not the reason why we believe the Scriptures, but the power whereby we are enabled so to do, which at present we inquire after:—

1. That the faith whereby we believe the Scripture to be the word of God is wrought in us by the Holy Ghost can be denied only on two principles or suppositions:— (1.) That it is not faith divine and supernatural whereby we believe them so to be, but only we have other moral assurance thereof. (2.) That this faith divine and supernatural is of ourselves, and is not wrought in us by the Holy Ghost. The first of these hath been already disproved, and shall be farther evicted afterward, and, it may be, they are very few who are of that judgment; for, generally, whatever men suppose the prime object, principal motive, and formal reason, of that faith to be, yet that it is divine and supernatural they all acknowledge. And as to the second, what is so, it is of the operation of the Spirit of God; for to say it is divine and supernatural is to say that it is not of ourselves, but that it is the grace and gift of the Spirit of God, wrought in us by his divine and supernatural power. And those of the church of Rome, who would resolve our faith in this matter objectively into the authority of their church, yet subjectively acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit ingenerating faith in us, and that work to be necessary to our believing the Scripture in a due manner. “Externæ omnes et humanæ persuasiones non sunt satis ad credendum, quantumcunque ab hominibus competenter ea quæ sunt fidei proponantur. Sed necessaria est insuper causa interior, hoc est divinum quoddam lumen incitans ad credendum, et oculi quidam interai Dei beneficio ad videndum dati,” saith Canus, Loc. Theol., lib. ii. cap. 8; nor is there any of the divines of that church which dissent herein. We do not, therefore, assert any such divine formal reason of believing, as that the mind should not stand in need of supernatural assistance enabling it to assent thereunto; nay, we affirm that without this there is in no man any true faith at all, let the arguments and motives whereon he believes be as forcible and pregnant with evidence as can be imagined. It is in this case as in things natural; neither the light of the sun, nor any persuasive arguments unto men to look up unto it, will enable them to discern it unless they are endued with a due visive faculty.

And this the Scripture is express in beyond all possibility of contradiction, neither is it, that I know of, by any as yet in express terms denied; for, indeed, that all which is properly called faith, with respect unto divine revelation, and is accepted with God as such, is the work of the Spirit of God in us, or is bestowed on us by 57him, cannot be questioned by any who own the gospel. I have also proved it elsewhere so fully and largely as that I shall give it at present no other confirmation but what will necessarily fall in with the description of the nature of that faith whereby we do believe, and the way or manner of its being wrought in us.

2. The work of the Holy Ghost unto this purpose consists in the saving illumination of the mind; and the effect of it is a supernatural light, whereby the mind is renewed: see Rom. xii. 2; Eph. i. 18, 19, iii. 16–19. It is called a “heart to understand, eyes to see, ears to hear,” Deut. xxix. 4; the “opening of the eyes of our understanding,” Eph. i. 18; the “giving of an understanding,’“1 John v. 20. Hereby we are enabled to discern the evidences of the divine original and authority of the Scripture that are in itself, as well as assent unto the truth contained in it; and without it we cannot do so, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Cor. ii. 14; and unto this end it is written in the prophets that “we shall be all taught of God,” John vi. 45. That there is a divine and heavenly excellency in the Scripture cannot be denied by any who, on any grounds or motives whatever, do own its divine original: for all the works of God do set forth his praise, and it is impossible that any thing should proceed immediately from him but that there will be express characters of divine excellencies upon it; and as to the communication of these characters of himself, he hath “magnified his word above all his name.” But these we cannot discern, be they in themselves never so illustrious, without the effectual communication of the light mentioned unto our minds, — that is, without divine, supernatural illumination.

Herein “he who commanded the light to shine out of darkness shineth in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Cor. iv. 6. He irradiates the mind with a spiritual light, whereby it is enabled to discern the glory of spiritual things. This they cannot do “in whom the god of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them,” verse 4. Those who are under the power of their natural darkness and blindness, especially where there are in them also superadded prejudices, begotten and increased by the craft of Satan, as there are in the whole world of unbelievers, cannot see or discern that divine excellency in the Scripture, without an apprehension whereof no man can believe it aright to be the word of God. Such persons may assent unto the truth of the Scripture and its divine original upon external arguments and rational motives, but 58believe it with faith divine and supernatural, on those arguments and motives only, they cannot.

There are two things which hinder or disenable men from believing with faith divine and supernatural, when any divine revelation is objectively proposed unto them:— First, The natural blindness and darkness of their minds, which are come upon all by the fall, and the depravation of their nature that ensued thereon. Secondly, The prejudices that, through the craft of Satan, the god of this world, their minds are possessed with, by traditions, education, and converse in the world. This last obstruction or hinderance may be so fat removed by external arguments and motives of credibility, as that men may upon them attain unto a moral persuasion concerning the divine original of the Scripture; but these arguments cannot remove or take away the native blindness of the mind, which is removed by their renovation and divine illumination alone. Wherefore, none, I think, will positively affirm that we can believe the Scripture to be the word of God, in the way and manner which God requireth, without a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit upon our minds in the illumination of them. So David prays that God would “open his eyes, that he might behold wondrous things out of the law,” Ps. cxix. 18; that he would “make him understand the way of his precepts,” verse 27; that he would “give him understanding, and he should keep the law,” verse 34. So the Lord Christ also “opened the understanding of his disciples, that they might understand the Scriptures,” Luke xxiv. 45; as he had affirmed before that it was given unto some to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and not unto others, Matt. xi. 25, xiii. 11. And neither are these things spoken in vain, nor is the grace intended in them needless.

The communication of this light unto us the Scripture calleth revealing and revelation: Matt. xi. 25, “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes;” that is, given them to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, when they were preached unto them. And “no man knoweth the Father, but he to whom the Son will reveal him,” verse 27. So the apostle prayeth for the Ephesians, “that God would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, that, the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, they might know,” etc., chap. i. 17–19. It is true, these Ephesians were already believers, or considered by the apostle as such; but if he judged it necessary to pray for them that they might have “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to enlighten the eyes of their understanding,” with respect unto farther degrees of faith and knowledge, or, as he speaks in another place, that they might come unto “the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of 59God,” Col. ii. 2, then it is much more necessary to make them believers who before were not so, but utter strangers unto the faith.

But as a pretence hereof hath been abused, as we shall see afterward, so the pleading of it is liable to be mistaken; for some are ready to apprehend that this retreat unto a Spirit of revelation is but a pretence to discard all rational arguments, and to introduce enthusiasm into their room. Now, although the charge be grievous, yet, because it is groundless, we must not forego what the Scripture plainly affirms and instructs us in, thereby to avoid it Scripture testimonies may be expounded according to the analogy of faith; but denied or despised, seem they never so contrary unto our apprehension of things, they must not be. Some, I confess, seem to disregard both the objective work of the Holy Spirit in this matter (whereof we shall treat afterward) and his subjective work also in our minds, that all things may be reduced unto sense and reason. But we must grant that a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” to open the eyes of our understanding is needful to enable us to believe the Scripture to be the word of God in a due manner, or forego the gospel; and our duty it is to pray continually for that Spirit, if we intend to be established in the faith thereof.

But yet we plead not for external immediate revelations, such as were granted unto the prophets, apostles, and other penmen of the Scripture. The revelation we intend differs from them both in its especial subject and formal reason or nature, — that is, in the whole kind; for, 1. The subject-matter of divine, prophetical revelation by a θεοπνευστία, or “immediate divine inspiration,” are things not made known before. Things they were “hid in God,” or the counsels of his will, and “revealed unto the apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” Eph. iii. 5, 9, 10. Whether they were doctrines or things, they were, at least as unto their present circumstances, made known from the counsels of God by their revelation. But the matter and subject of the revelation we treat of is nothing but what is already revealed. It is an internal revelation of that which is outward and antecedent unto it; beyond the bounds thereof it is not to be extended. And if any pretend unto immediate revelations of things not before revealed, we have no concernment in their pretences. 2. They differ likewise in their nature or kind: for immediate, divine, prophetical revelation, consisted in an immediate inspiration or afflatus, or in visions and voices from heaven, with a power of the Holy Ghost transiently affecting their minds and guiding their tongues and hands to whom they were granted, whereby they received and represented divine impressions, as an instrument of music doth the skill of the hand whereby it is moved; the nature of which revelation I have more fully discoursed elsewhere; — but this revelation of the 60Spirit consists in his effectual operation, freeing our minds from darkness, ignorance, and prejudice, enabling them to discern spiritual things in a due manner. And such a Spirit of revelation is necessary unto them who would believe aright the Scripture, or any thing else that is divine and supernatural contained therein. And if men who, through the power of temptations and prejudices, are in the dark, or at a loss as to the great and fundamental principle of all religion, — namely, the divine original and authority of the Scripture, — will absolutely lean unto their own understandings, and have the whole difference determined by the natural powers and faculties of their own souls, without seeking after divine aid and assistance, or earnest prayer for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to open the eyes of their understandings, they must be content to abide in their uncertainties, or to come off from them without any advantage to their souls. Not that I would deny unto men, or take them off from, the use of their reason in this matter; for what is their reason given unto them for, unless it be to use it in those things which are of the greatest importance unto them? only, I must crave leave to say that it is not sufficient of itself to enable us to the performance of this duty, without the immediate aid and assistance of the Holy Spirit of God.

If any one, upon these principles, shall now ask us wherefore we believe the Scripture to be the word of God; we do not answer, “It is because the Holy Ghost hath enlightened our minds, wrought faith in us, and enabled us to believe it.” Without this, we say, indeed, did not the Spirit of God so work in us and upon us, we neither should nor could believe with faith divine and supernatural If God had not opened the heart of Lydia, she would not have attend, ed unto the things preached by Paul, so as to have received them. And without it the light oftentimes shines in darkness, but the darkness comprehends it not. But this neither is nor can be the formal object of our faith, or the reason why we believe the Scripture to be of God, or any thing else; neither do we nor can we rationally answer by it unto this question, why we do believe. This reason must be something external and evidently proposed unto us; for whatever ability of spiritual assent there be in the understanding, which is thus wrought in it by the Holy Ghost, yet the understanding cannot assent unto any thing with any kind of assent, natural or supernatural, but what is outwardly proposed unto it as true, and that with sufficient evidence that it is so. That, therefore, which proposeth any thing unto us as true, with evidence of that truth, is the formal object of our faith, or the reason why we do believe, and what is so proposed must be evidenced to be true, or we cannot believe it; and according to the nature of that evidence such is our faith, — human if 61that be human, and divine if that be so. Now, nothing of this is done by that saving light which is infused into our minds; and it is, therefore, not the reason why we believe what we do so.

Whereas, therefore, some, who seem to conceive that the only general ground of believing the Scripture to be the word of God doth consist in rational arguments and motives of credibility, do grant that private persons may have their assurance hereof from the illumination of the Holy Ghost, though it be not pleadable to others, they grant what is not, that I know of, desired by any, and which in itself is not true; for this work consisting solely in enabling the mind unto that kind of assent which is faith divine and supernatural, on supposition of an external formal reason of it duly proposed, is not the reason why any do believe, nor the ground whereinto their faith is resolved.

It remains only that we inquire whether our faith in this matter be not resolved into an immediate internal testimony of the Holy Ghost, assuring us of the divine original and authority of the Scripture, distinct from the work of spiritual illumination, before described; for it is the common opinion of protestant divines that the testimony of the Holy Ghost is the ground whereon we believe the Scripture to be the word of God, and in what sense it is so shall be immediately declared. But hereon are they generally charged, by those of the church of Rome and others, that they resolve all the ground and assurance of faith into their own particular spirits, or the spirit of every one that will pretend thereunto; and this is looked upon as a sufficient warranty to reproach them with giving countenance unto enthusiasms, and exposing the minds of men to endless delusions. Wherefore, this matter must be a little farther inquired into. And, —

“By an internal testimony of the Spirit, an extraordinary afflatus or new immediate revelation may be intended. Men may suppose they have, or ought to have, an internal particular testimony that the Scripture is the word of God, whereby, and whereby alone, they may be infallibly assured that so it is. And this is supposed to be of the same nature with the revelation made unto the prophets and penmen of the Scripture; for it is neither an external proposition of truth nor an internal ability to assent unto such a proposition, and besides these there is no divine operation in this kind but an immediate prophetical inspiration or revelation. Wherefore, as such a revelation or immediate testimony of the Spirit is the only reason why we do believe, so it is that alone which our faith rests on and is resolved into.”

This is that which is commonly imputed unto those who deny either the authority of the church, or any other external arguments 62or motives of credibility, to be the formal reason of our faith. Howbeit there is no one of them, that I know of, who ever asserted any such thing; and I do, therefore, deny that our faith is resolved into any such private testimony, immediate revelation, or inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and that for the ensuing reasons:—

1. Since the finishing of the canon of the Scripture, the church is not under that conduct as to stand in need of such new extraordinary revelations It doth, indeed, live upon the internal gracious operations of the Spirit, enabling us to understand, believe, and obey the perfect, complete revelation of the will of God already made; but new revelations it hath neither need nor use of; — and to suppose them, or a necessity of them, not only overthrows the perfection of the Scripture, but also leaveth us uncertain whether we know all that is to be believed in order unto salvation, or our whole duty, or when we may do so; for it would be our duty to live all our days in expectation of new revelations, wherewith neither peace, assurance, nor consolation is consistent.

2. Those who are to believe will not be able, on this supposition, to secure themselves from delusion, and from being imposed on by the deceits of Satan; for this new revelation is to be tried by the Scripture, or it is not. If it be to be tried and examined by the Scripture, then doth it acknowledge a superior rule, judgment, and testimony, and so cannot be that which our faith is ultimately resolved into. If it be exempted from that rule of trying the spirits, then, — (1.) It must produce the grant of this exemption, seeing the rule is extended generally unto all things and doctrines that relate unto faith or obedience. (2.) It must declare what are the grounds and evidences of its own αὐτοπιστία, or “self-credibility,” and how it may be infallibly or assuredly distinguished from all delusions; which can never be done. And if any tolerable countenance could be given unto these things, yet we shall show immediately that no such private testimony, though real, can be the formal object of faith or reason of believing.

3. It hath so fallen out, in the providence of God, that generally all who have given up themselves, in any things concerning faith or obedience, unto the pretended conduct of immediate revelations, although they have pleaded a respect unto the Scripture also, have been seduced into opinions and practices directly repugnant unto it; and this, with all persons of sobriety, is sufficient to discard this pretence.

But this internal testimony of the Spirit is by others explained quite in another way; for they say that besides the work of the Holy Ghost before insisted on, whereby he takes away our natural blindness, and, enlightening our minds, enables us to discern the 63divine excellencies that are in the Scripture, there is another internal efficiency of his, whereby we are moved, persuaded, and enabled to believe. Hereby we are taught of God, so as that, finding the glory and majesty of God in the word, our hearts do, by an ineffable power, assent unto the truth without any hesitation. And this work of the Spirit carrieth its own evidence in itself, producing an assurance above all human judgment, and such as stands in need of no farther arguments or testimonies. This faith rests on and is resolved into. And this some learned men seem to embrace, because they suppose that the objective evidence which is given in the Scripture itself is only moral, or such as can give only a moral assurance. Whereas, therefore, faith ought to be divine and supernatural, so must that be whereinto it is resolved; yea, it is so alone from the formal reason of it. And they can apprehend nothing in this work that is immediately divine but only this internal testimony of the Spirit, wherein God himself speaks unto our hearts.

But yet neither, as it is so explained, can we allow it to be the formal object of faith, nor that wherein it doth acquiesce; for, —

1. It hath not the proper nature of a divine testimony. A divine work it may be, but a divine testimony it is not; but it is of the nature of faith to be built on an external testimony. However, therefore, our minds may be established, and enabled to believe firmly and steadfastly, by an ineffable internal work of the Holy Ghost, whereof also we may have a certain experience, yet neither that work nor the effect of it can be the reason why we do believe nor whereby we are moved to believe, but only that whereby we do believe.

2. That which is the formal object of faith, or reason whereon we believe, is the same, and common unto all that do believe; for our inquiry is not how or by what means this or that man came to believe, but why any one or every one ought so to do unto whom the scripture is proposed. The object proposed unto all to be believed is the same; and the faith required of all in a way of duty is the same, or of the same kind and nature; and therefore the reason why we believe must be the same also. But, on this supposition, there must be as many distinct reasons of believing as there are believers.

3. On this supposition, it cannot be the duty of any one to believe the Scripture to be the word of God who hath not received this internal testimony of the Spirit; for where the true formal reason of believing is not proposed unto us, there it is not our duty to believe. Wherefore, although the Scripture be proposed as the word of God, yet is it not our duty to believe it so to be until we have this work of the Spirit in our hearts, in case that be the formal reason of believing. But not to press any farther how it is possible men may be deceived and deluded in their apprehensions of such an internal 64testimony of the Spirit, especially if it be not to be tried by the Scripture, — which if it be, it loseth its αὐτοπιστία, or “self-credibility,” or if it be, it casteth us into a circle, which the Papists charge us withal, — it cannot be admitted as the formal object of our faith, because it would divert us from that which is public, proper, every way certain and infallible.

However, that work of the Spirit which may be called an internal real testimony is to be granted as that which belongs unto the stability and assurance of faith; for if he did no otherwise work in us or upon us but by the communication of spiritual light unto our minds, enabling us to discern the evidences that are in the Scripture of its own divine original, we should often be shaken in our assent and moved from our stability: for whereas our spiritual darkness is removed but in part, and at best, whilst we are here, we see things but darkly, as in a glass, all things believed having some sort of inevidence or obscurity attending them; and whereas temptations will frequently shake and disturb the due respect of the faculty unto the object, or interpose mists and clouds between them, — we can have no assurance in believing, unless our minds are farther established by the Holy Ghost. He doth, therefore, two ways assist us in believing, and ascertain our minds of the things believed, so as that we may hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm and steadfast unto the end; for, —

1. He gives unto believers a spiritual sense of the power and reality of the things believed, whereby their faith is greatly established; and although the divine witness, whereunto our faith is ultimately resolved, doth not consist herein, yet it is the greatest corroborating testimony whereof we are capable. This is that which brings us unto the “riches of the full assurance of understanding,” Col. ii. 2; as also 1 Thess. i. 5. And on the account of this spiritual experience is our perception of spiritual things so often expressed by acts of sense, as tasting, seeing, feeling, and the like means of assurance in things natural. And when believers have attained hereunto, they do find the divine wisdom, goodness, and authority of God so present unto them as that they need neither argument, nor motive, nor any thing else, to persuade them unto or confirm them in believing. And whereas this spiritual experience, which believers obtain through the Holy Ghost, is such as cannot rationally be contended about, seeing those who have received it cannot fully express it, and those who have not cannot understand it, nor the efficacy which it hath to secure and establish the mind, it is left to be determined on by them alone who have their “senses exercised to discern good and evil.” And this belongs unto the internal subjective testimony of the Holy Ghost.

652. He assists, helps, and relieves us, against temptations to the contrary, so as that they shall not be prevalent. Our first prime assent unto the divine authority of the Scripture, upon its proper grounds and reasons, will not secure us against future objections and temptations unto the contrary, from all manner of causes and occasions. David’s faith was so assaulted by them as that “he said in his haste that all men were liars;” and Abraham himself, after he had received the promise that “in his seed all nations should be blessed,” was reduced unto that anxious inquiry, “Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless?” Gen. xv. 2; and Peter was so winnowed by Satan, that although his faith failed not, yet he greatly failed and fainted in its exercise. And we all know what fears from within, what fightings from without, we are exposed unto in this matter. And of this sort are all those atheistical objections against the Scripture which these days abound withal, which the devil useth as fiery darts to inflame the souls of men and to destroy their faith; and, indeed, this is that work which the powers of hell are principally engaged in at this day. Having lopped off many branches, they now lay their are to the root of faith; and hence, in the midst of the profession of Christian religion, there is no greater controversy than whether the Scriptures are the word of God or not. Against all these temptations doth the Holy Ghost give in such a continual supply of spiritual strength and assistance unto believers as that they shall at no time prevail, nor their faith totally fail. In such cases the Lord Christ intercedes for us that our faith fail not, and God’s grace is sufficient against the buffetings of these temptations; and herein the fruit of Christ’s intercession, with the grace of God and its efficiency, are communicated unto us by the Holy Ghost. What are those internal aids whereby he establisheth and assureth our minds against the force and prevalency of objections and temptations against the divine authority of the Scripture, how they are communicated unto us and received by us, this is no place to declare in particular. It is in vain for any to pretend unto the name of Christians by whom they are denied. And these also have the nature of an internal, real testimony, whereby faith is established.

And because it is somewhat strange that, after a long, quiet possession of the professed faith, and assent of the generality of the minds of men thereunto, there should now arise among us such an open opposition unto the divine authority of the Scriptures as we find there is by experience, it may not be amiss in our passage to name the principal causes or occasions hereof; for if we, should bring them all into one reckoning, as justly we may, who either openly oppose it and reject it, or who use it or neglect it at their pleasure, or who set up other guides in competition with it or above it, or otherwise 66declare that they have no sense of the immediate authority of God therein, we shall find them to be like the Moors or slaves in some countries or plantations, — they are so great in number and force above their rulers and other inhabitants, that it is only want of communication, with confidence, and some distinct interests, that keep them from casting off their yoke and restraint. I shall name three causes only of this surprising and perilous event:—

1. A long-continued outward profession of the truth of the Scripture, without an inward experience of its power, betrays men at length to question the truth itself, at least not to regard it as divine. The owning of the Scripture to be the word of God bespeaks a divine majesty, authority, and power, to be present in it and with it. Wherefore, after men who have for a long time so professed do find that they never had any real experience of such a divine presence in it by any effects upon their own minds, they grow insensibly regardless of it, or allow it a very common place in their thoughts When they have worn off the impressions that were on their minds from tradition, education, and custom, they do for the future rather not oppose it than in any way believe it. And when once a reverence unto the word of God on the account of its authority is lost, an assent unto it on the account of its truth will not long abide. And all such persons, under a concurrence of temptations and outward occasions, will either reject it or prefer other guides before it.

2. The power of lust, rising up unto a resolution of living in those sins whereunto the Scripture doth unavoidably annex eternal ruin, hath prevailed with many to cast off its authority: for whilst they are resolved to live in an outrage of sin, to allow a divine truth and power in the Scripture is to cast themselves under a present torment, as well as to ascertain their future misery; for no other can be his condition who is perpetually sensible that God always condemns him in all that he doth, and will assuredly take vengeance on him, — which is the constant language of the Scripture concerning such persona Wherefore, although they will not immediately fall into an open atheistical opposition unto it, as that which, it may be, is not consistent with their interest and reputation in the world, yet, looking upon it as the devils did on Jesus Christ, as that which “comes to torment them before the time,” they keep it at the greatest distance from their thoughts and minds, until they have habituated themselves unto a contempt of it. There being, therefore, an utter impossibility of giving any pretence of reconciliation between the owning of the Scripture to be the word of God, and a resolution to live in an excess of known sin, multitudes suffer their minds to be bribed by their corrupt affections to a relinquishment of any regard unto it.

673. The scandalous quarrels and disputations of those of the church of Rome against the Scripture and its authority have contributed much unto the ruin of the faith of many. Their great design is, by all means to secure the power, authority, and infallibility of their church. Of these they say continually, as the apostle in another case of the mariners, “Unless these stay in the ship, we cannot be saved.” Without an acknowledgment of these things, they would have it that men can neither at present believe nor be saved hereafter. To secure this interest, the authority of the Scripture must be by all means questioned and impaired. A divine authority in itself they will allow it, but with respect unto us it hath none but what it obtains by the suffrage and testimony of their church. But whereas authority is ἐκ τῶν πρός τι, and consists essentially in the relation and respect which it hath unto others, or those that are to be subject unto it, to say that it hath an authority in itself but none towards us, is not only to deny that it hath any authority at all, but also to reproach it with an empty name. They deal with it as the soldiers did with Christ: they put a crown on his head, and clothed him with a purple robe, and bowing the knee before him mocked him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They ascribe unto it the crown and robe of divine authority in itself, but not towards any one person in the world. So, if they please, God shall be God, and his word be of some credit among men. Herein they seek continually to entangle those of the weaker sort by urging them vehemently with this question, “How do you know the Scripture to be the word of God?” and have in continual readiness a number of sophistical artifices to weaken all evidences that shall be pleaded in its behalf. Nor is that all, but on all occasions they insinuate such objections against it, from its obscurity, imperfection, want of order, difficulties, and seeming contradictions in it, as are suited to take off the minds of men from a firm assent unto it or reliance on it; as if a company of men should conspire, by crafty multiplied insinuations, divulged on all advantages, to weaken the reputation of a chaste and sober matron, although they cannot deprive her of her virtue, yet, unless the world were wiser than for the most part it appears to be, they will insensibly take off from her due esteem. And this is as bold an attempt as can well be made in any case; for the first tendency of these courses is to make men atheists, after which success it is left at uncertain hazard whether they will be Papists or no. Wherefore, as there can be no greater nor more dishonourable reflection made on Christian religion than that it hath no other evidence or testimony of its truth but the authority and witness of those by whom it is at present professed, and who have notable worldly advantages thereby; so the minds of multitudes are secretly 68influenced by the poison of these disputes to think it no way necessary to believe the Scripture to be the word of God, or at least are shaken off from the grounds whereon they have professed it so to be. And the like disservice is done unto faith and the souls of men by such as advance a light within, or immediate inspiration, into competition with it or the room of it; for as such imaginations take place and prevail in the minds of men, so their respect unto the Scripture and all sense of its divine authority do decay, as experience doth openly manifest.

It is, I say, from an unusual concurrence of these and the like causes and occasions that there is at present among us such a decay in, relinquishment of, and opposition unto the belief of the Scripture, as, it may be, former ages could not parallel.

But against all these objections and temptations the minds of true believers are secured, by supplies of spiritual light, wisdom, and grace from the Holy Ghost.

There are several other especial gracious actings of the Holy Spirit on the minds of believers, which belong also unto this internal real testimony whereby their faith is established. Such are his “anointing” and “sealing” of them, his “witnessing with them,” and his being an “earnest” in them; all which must be elsewhere spoken unto. Hereby is our faith every day more and more increased and established. Wherefore, although no internal work of the Spirit can be the formal reason of our faith, or that which it is resolved into, yet is it such as without it we can never sincerely believe as we ought, nor be established in believing against temptations and objections.

And with respect unto this work of the Holy Ghost it is that divines at the first reformation did generally resolve our faith of the divine authority of the Scripture into the testimony of the Holy Spirit. But this they did not do exclusively unto the proper use of external arguments and motives of credibility, whose store indeed is great, and whose fountain is inexhaustible; for they arise from all the undubitable notions that we have of God or ourselves, in reference unto our present duty or future happiness. Much less did they exclude that evidence thereof which the Holy Ghost gives unto it in and by itself. Their judgment is well expressed in the excellent words of one of them. “Maneat ergo,” saith he, “hoc fixum, quos Spiritus sanctus intus docuit, solidè acquiescere in Scriptura, et hanc quidem esse αὐτόπιστον, neque demonstrationi et rationibus subjici eam fas ease: quam tamen meretur apud nos certitudinem Spiritus testimonio consequi. Etsi enim reverentiam sua sibi ultro majestate conciliat, tunc tamen demure seriò nos afficit, quum per Spiritum obsignata est cordibus nostria. Illius ergo veritate illuminati, jam non aut nostro, aut aliorum judicio credimus a Deo esse Scripturam; sed 69supra humanum judicium, certo certius constituimus (non secus ac si ipsius Dei numen illic intueremur) hominum ministerio, ab ipsissimo Dei ore ad nos fluxisse. Non argumenta, non verisimilitudines quærimus, quibus judicium nostrum incumbat; sed ut rei extra æstimandi aleam positæ, judicium ingeniumque nostrum subjicimus … Neque qualiter superstitionibus solent miseri homines captivam mentem addicere: sed quia non dubiam vim numinis illic sentimus vigere ac spirare, qua ad parendum, scientes so volentes, vividius tamen et efficacius quam pro humana aut voluntate aut scientia trahimur et accendimur … Talis ergo est persuasio quæ rationes non requirat: talis notitia, cui optima ratio constet, nempe, in qua securius constantiusque mens quiescit quam in ullis rationibus: talis denique sensus, qui nisi ex cœlesti revelatione nasci nequeat. Non aliud loquor quam quod apud se experitur fidelium unusquisque, nisi quod longe infra justam rei explicationem verba subsidunt.” — Calv. Instit., lib. i. cap. 7, sec. 5.

And we may here briefly call over what we have attained or passed through: for, — 1. We have showed, in general, both what is the nature of divine revelation and divine illumination, with their mutual respect unto one another; 2. What are the principal external arguments or motives of credibility whereby the Scripture may be proved to be of a divine original; 3. What kind of persuasion is the effect of them, or what is the assent which we give unto the truth of the Scriptures on their account; 4. What objective evidence there is unto reason in the doctrine of the Scriptures to induce the mind to assent unto them; 5. What is the nature of that faith whereby we believe the Scripture to be the word of God, and how it is wrought in us by the Holy Ghost; 6. What is that internal testimony which is given unto the divine authority of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, and what is the force and use thereof. The principal part of our work doth yet remain.

« Prev Chapter IV. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |