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The nature of divine revelations — Their self-evidencing power considered, particularly that of the Scriptures as the word of God.
It may be said that if the Scripture thus evidence itself to be the word of God, as the sun manifesteth itself by light and fire by heat, or as the first principles of reason are evident in themselves without farther proof or testimony, then every one, and all men, upon the proposal of the Scripture unto them, and its own bare assertion that it is the word of God, would necessarily, on that evidence alone, assent thereunto, and believe it so to be. But this is not so; all experience lieth against it; nor is there any pleadable ground of reason that so it is, or that so it ought to be.
In answer unto this objection I shall do these two things:—
1. I shall show what it is, what power, what faculty in the minds of men, whereunto this revelation is proposed, and whereby we assent unto the truth of it; wherein the mistakes whereon this objection proceedeth will be discovered.
2. I shall mention some of those things whereby the Holy Ghost testifieth and giveth evidence unto the Scripture in and by itself, so as that our faith may be immediately resolved into the veracity of God alone.
1. And, in the first place, we may consider that there are three ways whereby we assent unto any thing that is proposed unto us as true, and receive it as such:—
(1.) By inbred principles of natural light, and the first rational actings of our minds. This in reason answers instinct in irrational creatures. Hence God complains that his people did neglect and sin against their own natural light and first dictates of reason, whereas brute creatures would not forsake the conduct of the instinct of their natures, Isa. i. 3. In general, the mind is necessarily determined to an assent unto the proper objects of these principles; it cannot do otherwise. It cannot but assent unto the prime dictates of the light of nature, yea, those dictates are nothing but its assent. Its first apprehension of the things which the light of nature embraceth, without either express reasonings or farther consideration, is this assent. Thus doth the mind embrace in itself the general notions of moral good and evil, with the difference between them, however it practically complies not with what they guide unto, Jude 10. And 83so doth it assent unto many principles of reason, as that the whole is greater than the part, without admitting any debate about them.
(2.) By rational consideration of things externally proposed unto us. Herein the mind exerciseth its discursive faculty, gathering one thing out of another, and concluding one thing from another; and hereon is it able to assent unto what is proposed unto it in various degrees of certainty, according unto the nature and degree of the evidence it proceeds upon. Hence it hath a certain knowledge of some things; of others, an opinion or persuasion prevalent against the objections to the contrary, which it knows, and whose force it understands, which may be true or false.
(3.) By faith. This respects that power of our minds whereby we are able to assent unto any thing as true which we have no first principles concerning, no inbred notions of, nor can from more known principles make unto ourselves any certain rational conclusions concerning them. This is our assent upon testimony, whereon we believe many things which no sense, inbred principles, nor reasonings of our own, could either give us an acquaintance with or an assurance of. And this assent also hath not only various degrees, but is also of divers kinds, according as the testimony is which it ariseth from and resteth on; as being human if that be human, and divine if that be so also.
According to these distinct faculties and powers of our souls, God is pleased to reveal or make known himself, his mind or will, three ways unto us: for he hath implanted no power in our minds, but the principal use and exercise of it are to be with respect unto himself and our living unto him, which is the end of them all; and a neglect of the improvement of them unto this end is the highest aggravation of sin. It is an aggravation of sin when men use the creatures of God otherwise than he hath appointed, or in not using them to his glory, — when they take his corn, and wine, and oil, and spend them on their lusts, Hos. ii. 8. It is a higher aggravation, when men in sinning abuse and dishonour their own bodies; for these are the principal external workmanship of God, being made for eternity, and whose preservation unto his glory is committed unto us in an especial manner. This the apostle declareth to be the peculiar aggravation of the sin of fornication, and uncleanness of any kind, 1 Cor. vi. 18, 19. But the height of impiety consists in the abuse of the faculties and powers of the soul, wherewith we are endowed purposely and immediately for the glorifying of God. Hence proceed unbelief, profaneness, blasphemy, atheism, and the like pollutions of the spirit or mind. And these are sins of the highest provocation; for the powers and faculties of our minds being given us only to enable us 84to live unto God, the diverting of their principal exercise unto other ends is an act of enmity against him and affront unto him.
(1.) He makes himself known unto us by the innate principles of our nature, unto which he hath communicated, as a power of apprehending, so an indelible sense of his being, his authority, and his will, so far as our natural dependence on him and moral subjection unto him do require: for whereas there are two things in this natural light and these first dictates of reason; first, a power of conceiving, discerning, and assenting; and, secondly, a power of judging and determining upon the things so discerned and assented unto, — by the one God makes known his being and essential properties, and by the other his sovereign authority over all.
As to the first, the apostle affirms that τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς, Rom. i. 19, — “that which may be known of God” (his essence, being, subsistence, his natural, necessary, essential properties) “is manifest in them;” that is, it hath a self-evidencing power, acting itself in the minds of all men endued with natural light and reason. And as unto his sovereign authority, he doth evidence it in and by the consciences of men; which are the judgment that they make, and cannot but make, of themselves and their actions, with respect unto the authority and judgment of God, Rom. ii. 14, 15. And thus the mind doth assent unto the principles of God’s being and authority, antecedently unto any actual exercise of the discursive faculty of reason, or other testimony whatever.
(2.) He doth it unto our reason in its exercise, by proposing such things unto its consideration as from whence it may and cannot but conclude in an assent unto the truth of what God intends to reveal unto us that way. This he doth by the works of creation and providence, which present themselves unavoidably unto reason in its exercise, to instruct us in the nature, being, and properties of God. Thus “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard,” Ps. xix. 1–3. But yet they do not thus declare, evidence, and reveal the glory of God unto the first principles and notions of natural light without the actual exercise of reason. They only do so “when we consider his heavens, the work of his fingers, the moon and the stars, which he hath ordained,” as the same psalmist speaks, Ps. viii. 3. A rational consideration of them, their greatness, order, beauty, and use, is required unto that testimony and evidence which God gives in them and by them unto himself, his glorious being and power. To this purpose the apostle discourseth at large concerning the works of creation, Rom. i. 20, 21, as also of those of providence, Acts xiv. 15–17, xvii. 24–28, and the 85rational use we are to make of them, verse 29. So God calls unto men for the exercise of their reason about these things, reproaching them with stupidity and brutishness where they are wanting therein, Isa. xlvi. 5–8, xliv. 18–20.
(3.) God reveals himself unto our faith, or that power of our souls whereby we are able to assent unto the truth of what is proposed unto us upon testimony. And this he doth by his word, or the Scriptures, proposed unto us in the manner and way before expressed.
He doth not reveal himself by his word unto the principles of natural light, nor unto reason in its exercise; but yet these principles, and reason itself, with all the faculties of our minds, are consequentially affected with that revelation, and are drawn forth into their proper exercise by it. But in the gospel the “righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,” Rom. i. 17, — not to natural light, sense, or reason, in the first place; and it is faith that is “the evidence of things not seen,” as revealed in the word, Heb. xi. 1. Unto this kind of revelation, “Thus saith the Lord” is the only ground and reason of our assent; and that assent is the assent of faith, because it is resolved into testimony alone.
And concerning these several ways of the communication or revelation of the knowledge of God, it must be always observed that there is a perfect consonancy in the things revealed by them all. If any thing pretends from the one what is absolutely contradictory unto the other, or our senses as the means of them, it is not to be received.
The foundation of the whole, as of all the actings of our souls, is in the inbred principles of natural light, or first necessary dictates of our intellectual, rational nature. This, so far as it extends, is a rule unto our apprehension in all that follows. Wherefore, if any pretend, in the exercise of reason, to conclude unto any thing concerning the nature, being, or will of God, that is directly contradictory unto those principles and dictates, it is no divine revelation unto our reason, but a paralogism from the defect of reason in its exercise. This is that which the apostle chargeth on and vehemently urgeth against the heathen philosophers. Inbred notions they had in themselves of the being and eternal power of God; and these were so manifest in them thereby that they could not but own them. Hereon they set their rational, discursive faculty at work in the consideration of God and his being; but herein were they so vain and foolish as to draw conclusions directly contrary unto the first principles of natural light, and the unavoidable notions which they had of the eternal being of God, Rom. i. 21–25. And many, upon their pretended rational consideration of the promiscuous event of things in the world, have foolishly concluded that all things had a fortuitous beginning, 86and have fortuitous events, or such as, from a concatenation of antecedent causes, are fatally necessary, and are not disposed by an infinitely wise, unerring, holy providence. And this also is directly contradictory unto the first principles and notions of natural light; whereby it openly proclaims itself not to be an effect of reason in its due exercise, but a mere delusion.
So if any pretend unto revelations by faith which are contradictory unto the first principles of natural light or reason, in its proper exercise about its proper objects, it is a delusion. On this ground the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation is justly rejected; for it proposeth that as a revelation by faith which is expressly contradictory unto our sense and reason, in their proper exercise about their · proper objects. And a supposition of the possibility of any such thing would make the ways whereby God reveals and makes known himself to cross and interfere one with another; which would leave us no certainty in any thing, divine or human.
But yet as these means of divine revelation do harmonize and perfectly agree one with the other, so they are not objectively equal, or equally extensive, nor are they co-ordinate, but subordinate unto one another. Wherefore, there are many things discernible by reason in its exercise which do not appear unto the first principles of natural light. So the sober philosophers of old attained unto many true and great conceptions of God and the excellencies of his nature, above what they arrived unto who either did not or could not cultivate and improve the principles of natural light in the same manner as they did. It is, therefore, folly to pretend that things so made known of God are not infallibly true and certain, because they are not obvious unto the first conceptions of natural light, without the due exercise of reason, provided they are not contradictory thereunto. And there are many things revealed unto faith that are above and beyond the comprehension of reason in the best and utmost of its most proper exercise: such are all the principal mysteries of Christian religion. And it is the height of folly to reject them, as some do, because they are not discernible and comprehensible by reason, seeing they are not contradictory thereunto. Wherefore, these ways of God’s revelation of himself are not equally extensive or commensurate, but are so subordinate one unto another that what is wanting unto the one is supposed by the other, unto the accomplishment of the whole and entire end of divine revelation; and the truth of God is the same in them all.
(1.) The revelation which God makes of himself in the first way, by the inbred principles of natural light, doth sufficiently and infallibly evidence itself to be from him; it doth it in, unto, and by those principles themselves. This revelation of God is infallible, the 87assent unto it is infallible, which the infallible evidence it gives of itself makes to be so. We dispute not now what a few atheistical sceptics pretend unto, whose folly hath been sufficiently detected by others. All the sobriety that is in the world consents in this, that the light of the knowledge of God, in and by the inbred principles of our minds and consciences, doth sufficiently, uncontrollably, and infallibly manifest itself to be from him; and that the mind neither is nor can be possibly imposed on in its apprehensions of that nature. And if the first dictates of reason concerning God do not evidence themselves to be from God, they are neither of any use nor force; for they are not capable of being confirmed by external arguments, and what is written about them is to show their force and evidence, not to give them any. Wherefore, this first way of God’s revelation of himself unto us is infallible, and infallibly evidenceth itself in our minds, according to the capacity of our natures.
(2.) The revelation that God maketh of himself by the works of creation and providence unto our reason in exercise, or the faculties of our souls as discursive, concluding rationally one thing from another, doth sufficiently, yea, infallibly, evidence and demonstrate itself to be from him, so that it is impossible we should be deceived therein. It doth not do so unto the inbred principles of natural light, unless they are engaged in a rational exercise about the means of the revelation made. That is, we must rationally consider the works of God, both of creation and providence, or we cannot learn by them what God intends to reveal of himself. And in our doing so we cannot be deceived; for “the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead,” Rom. i. 20. They are clearly seen, and therefore may be perfectly understood as to what they teach of God, without any possibility of mistake. And wherever men do not receive the revelation intended in the way intended, that is, do not certainly conclude that what God teaches by his works of creation and providence, — namely, his eternal power and Godhead, with the essential properties thereof, infinite wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and the like, — is certainly and infallibly so, believing it accordingly, it is not from any defect in the revelation, or its self-evidencing efficacy, but only from the depraved, vicious habits of their minds, their enmity against God, and dislike of him. And so the apostle saith that they who rejected or improved not the revelation of God did it “because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” Rom. i. 28; for which cause God did so severely revenge their natural unbelief, as is there expressed. See Isa. xlvi. 8, xliv. 19, 20. That which I principally insist on from hence is, that the revelation which God makes of himself, by the works of 88creation and providence, doth not evince itself unto the first principles of natural light, so as that an assent should be given thereunto, without the actual exercise of reason, or the discursive faculty of our minds about them, but thereunto it doth infallibly evidence itself. So may the Scripture have, and hath, a self-evidencing efficacy, though this appear not unto the light of first natural principles, no, nor to bare reason in its exercise; for, —
(3.) Unto our faith God reveals himself by the Scripture, or his word, which he hath magnified above all his name, Ps. cxxxviii. 2; that is, implanted in it more characters of himself and his properties than in any other way whereby he revealeth or maketh himself known unto us. And this revelation of God by his word, we confess, is not sufficient nor suited to evidence itself unto the light of nature, or the first principles of our understanding, so that, by bare proposal of it to be from God, we should by virtue of them immediately assent unto it, as men assent unto self-evident natural principles, as that the part is less than the whole, or the like. Nor doth it evidence itself unto our reason, in its mere natural exercise, as that by virtue thereof we can demonstratively conclude that it is from God, and that what is declared therein is certainly and infallibly true. It hath, indeed, such external evidences accompanying it as make a great impression on reason itself; but the power of our souls whereunto it is proposed is that whereby we can give an assent unto the truth upon the testimony of the proposer, whereof we have no other evidence. And this is the principal and most noble faculty and power of our nature. There is an instinct in brute creatures that hath some resemblance unto our inbred natural principles, and they will act that instinct, improved by experience, into a great likeness of reason in its exercise, although it be not so; but as unto the power or faculty of giving an assent unto things on witness or testimony, there is nothing in the nature of irrational creatures that hath the least shadow of it or likeness unto it. And if our souls did want but this one faculty of assenting unto truth upon testimony, all that remains would not be sufficient to conduct us through the affairs of this natural life. This, therefore, being the most noble faculty of our minds is that whereunto the highest way of divine revelation is proposed.
That our minds, in this especial case, to make our assent to be according unto the mind of God, and such as is required of us in a way of duty, are to be prepared and assisted by the Holy Ghost, we have declared and proved before. On this supposition, the revelation which God makes of himself by his word doth no less evidence itself unto our minds, in the exercise of faith, to be from him, or gives no less infallible evidence as a ground and reason why we 89should believe it to be from him, than his revelation of himself by the works of creation and providence doth manifest itself unto our minds in the exercise of reason to be from him, nor with less assurance than what we assent unto in and by the dictates of natural light. And when God revealeth himself, — that is, his “eternal power and Godhead,” — by “the things that are made,” the works of creation, “the heavens declaring his glory, and the firmament showing his handywork,” the reason of men, stirred up and brought into exercise thereby, doth infallibly conclude, upon the evidence that is in that revelation, that there is a God, and he eternally powerful and wise, without any farther arguments to prove the revelation to be true. So when God by his word reveals himself unto the minds of men, thereby exciting and bringing forth faith into exercise, or the power of the soul to assent unto truth upon testimony, that revelation doth no less infallibly evidence itself to be divine or from God, without any external arguments to prove it so to be. If I shall say unto a man that the sun is risen and shineth on the earth, if he question or deny it, and ask how I shall prove it, it is a sufficient answer to say that it manifesteth itself in and by its own light. And if he add that this is no proof to him, for he doth not discern it; suppose that to be so, it is a satisfactory answer to tell him that he is blind; and if he be not so, that it is to no purpose to argue with him who contradicts his own sense, for he leaves no rule whereby what is spoken may be tried or judged on. And if I tell a man that the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handywork,” or that the “invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” and he shall demand how I prove it, it is a sufficient answer to say that these things, in and by themselves, do manifest unto the reason of every man, in its due and proper exercise, that there is an eternal, infinitely wise and powerful Being, by whom they were caused, produced, and made; so as that whosoever knoweth how to use and exercise his reasonable faculty in the consideration of them, their original, order, nature, and use, must necessarily conclude that so it is. If he shall say that it doth not so appear unto him that the being of God is so revealed by them, it is a sufficient reply, in case he be so indeed, to say he is phrenetic, and hath not the use of his reason; and if he be not so, that he argues in express contradiction unto his own reason, as may be demonstrated. This the heathen philosophers granted. “Quid enim potest,” saith Cicero, “esse tam apertum, tamque perspicuum, cùm cœlum suspeximus, cœlestiaque contemplati sumus, quàm esse aliquod numen præstantissimæ mentis, quo hæc regantur? … Quod qui dubitet, haud sane intelligo cur non idem, sol sit, an nullus sit, dubitare possit,” De Natura Deor. lib. ii. 2. 90And if I declare unto any one that the Scripture is the word of God, a divine revelation, and that it doth evidence and manifest itself so to be, if he shall say that he hath the use and exercise of his sense and reason as well as others and yet it doth not appear unto him so to be, it is, as unto the present inquiry, a sufficient reply, for the security of the authority of the Scriptures, (though other means may be used for his conviction,) to say that “all men have not faith,” by which alone the evidence of the divine authority of the Scripture is discoverable, in the light whereof alone we can read those characters of its divine extract which are impressed on it and communicated unto it.
If it be not so, seeing it is a divine revelation, and it is our duty to believe it so to be, it must be either because our faith is not fitted, suited, nor able to receive such an evidence, suppose God would give it unto the revelation of himself by his word, as he hath done unto those by the light of nature and works of providence, or because God would not or could not give such an evidence unto his word as might manifest itself so to be; and neither of these can be affirmed without a high reflection on the wisdom and goodness of God.
That our faith is capable of giving such an assent is evident from hence, because God works it in us and bestows it upon us for this very end; and God requireth of us that we should infallibly believe what he proposeth unto us, at least when we have infallible evidence that it is from him. And as he appointeth faith unto this end, and approveth of its exercise, so he doth both judge and condemn them who fail therein, 2 Chron. xx. 20; Isa. vii. 9; Mark xvi. 16. Yea, our faith is capable of giving an assent, though of another kind, more firm, and accompanied with more assurance, than any given by reason in the best of its conclusions; and the reason is, because the power of the mind to give assent upon testimony, which is its most noble faculty, is elevated and strengthened by the divine supernatural work of the Holy Ghost, before described.
To say that God either could not or would not give such a power unto the revelation of himself by his word as to evidence itself to be so is exceedingly prejudicial unto his honour and glory, seeing the everlasting welfare of the souls of men is incomparably more concerned therein than in the other ways mentioned. And what reason could be assigned why he should implant a less evidence of his divine authority on this than on them, seeing he designed far greater and more glorious ends in this than in them? If any one shall say, “The reason is, because this kind of divine revelation is not capable of receiving such evidences;” it must be either because there cannot be evident characters of divine authority, goodness, wisdom, power, implanted in it or mixed with it; or because an efficacy to manifest them cannot 91be communicated unto it. That both these are otherwise shall be demonstrated in the last part of this discourse, which I shall now enter upon.
It hath been already declared that it is the authority and veracity of God, revealing themselves in the Scripture and by it, that is the formal reason of our faith, or supernatural assent unto it as it is the word of God.
2. It remains only that we inquire, in the second place, into the way and means whereby they evidence themselves unto us, and the Scripture thereby to be the word of God, so as that we may undoubtedly and infallibly believe it so to be. Now, because faith, as we have showed, is an assent upon testimony, and consequently divine faith is an assent upon divine testimony, there must be some testimony or witness in this case whereon faith doth rest; and this we say is the testimony of the Holy Ghost, the author of the Scriptures, given unto them, in them, and by them. And this work or testimony of the Spirit may be reduced unto two heads, which may be distinctly insisted on:—
(1.) The impressions or characters which are subjectively left in the Scripture and upon it by the Holy Spirit, its author, of all the divine excellencies or properties of the divine nature, are the first means evidencing that testimony of the Spirit which our faith rests upon, or they do give the first evidence of its divine original and authority, whereon we do believe it. The way whereby we learn the eternal power and deity of God from the works of creation is no otherwise but by those marks, tokens, and impressions of his divine power, wisdom, and goodness, that are upon them; for from the consideration of their subsistence, greatness, order, and use, reason doth necessarily conclude an infinite subsisting Being, of whose power and wisdom these things are the manifest effects. These are clearly seen and understood by the things that are made. We need no other arguments to prove that God made the world but itself. It carrieth in it and upon it the infallible tokens of its original. See to this purpose the blessed meditation of the psalmist, Ps. civ. throughout. Now, there are greater and more evident impressions of divine excellencies left on the written word, from the infinite wisdom of the Author of it, than any that are communicated unto the works of God, of what sort soever. Hence David, comparing the works and the word of God, as to their instructive efficacy in declaring God and his glory, although he ascribes much unto the works of creation, yet doth he prefer the word incomparably before them, Ps. xix. 1–3, 7–9, cxlvii. 8, 9, etc., 19, 20. And these do manifest the word unto our faith to be his more clearly than the others do the works to be his unto our reason. As yet I do not know that it is denied by any, or the 92contrary asserted, — namely, that God, as the immediate author of the Scripture, hath left in the very word itself evident tokens and impressions of his wisdom, prescience, omniscience, power, goodness, holiness, truth, and other divine, infinite excellencies, sufficiently evidenced unto the enlightened minds of believers. Some, I confess, speak suspiciously herein, but until they will directly deny it, I shall not need farther to confirm it than I have done long since in another treatise.146146 In the “Divine Original of Sacred Scripture.” — Ed. And I leave it to be considered whether, morally speaking, it be possible that God should immediately by himself from the eternal counsels of his will, reveal himself, his mind, the thoughts and purposes of his heart, which had been hidden in himself from eternity, on purpose that we should believe them and yield obedience unto him, according to the declaration of himself so made, and yet not give with it or leave upon it any τεκμήριον, any “infallible token,” evidencing him to be the author of that revelation. Men who are not ashamed of their Christianity will not be so to profess and seal that profession with their blood, and to rest their eternal concernments on that security herein which they have attained, — namely, that there is that manifestation made of the glorious properties of God in and by the Scripture, as it is a divine revelation, which incomparably excels in evidence all that their reason receives concerning his power from the works of creation.
This is that whereon we believe the Scripture to be the word of God with faith divine and supernatural, if we believe it so at all: There is in itself that evidence of its divine original, from the characters of divine excellencies left upon it by its author, the Holy Ghost, as faith quietly rests in and is resolved into; and this evidence is manifest unto the meanest and most unlearned, no less than unto the wisest philosopher. And the truth is, if rational arguments and external motives were the sole ground of receiving the Scripture to be the word of God, it could not be but that learned men and philosophers would have always been the forwardest and most ready to admit it, and most firmly to adhere unto it and its profession; for whereas all such arguments do prevail on the minds of men according as they are able aright to discern their force and judge of them, learned philosophers would have had the advantage incomparably above others. And so some have of late affirmed that it was the wise, rational, and learned men who at first most readily received the gospel! — an assertion which nothing but gross ignorance of the Scripture itself, and of all the writings concerning the original of Christianity, whether of Christians or heathens, could give the least countenance unto. See 1 Cor. i. 23, 26. From hence is the Scripture so often compared unto light, called light, “a light shining 93in a dark place,” which will evidence itself unto all who are not blind, nor do wilfully shut their eyes, nor have their “eyes blinded by the god of this world, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them;” which consideration I have handled at large elsewhere.
(2.) The Spirit of God evidenceth the divine original and authority of the Scripture by the power and authority which he puts forth in it and by it over the minds and consciences of men, with its operation of divine effects thereon. This the apostle expressly affirms to be the reason and cause of faith, 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25, “If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” The acknowledgment and confession of God to be in them, or among them, is a profession of faith in the word administered by them. Such persons assent unto its divine authority, or believe it to be the word of God. And on what evidence or ground of credibility they did so is expressly declared. It was not upon the force of any external arguments produced and pleaded unto that purpose; it was not upon the testimony of this or that or any church whatever; nor was it upon a conviction of any miracles which they saw wrought in its confirmation; yea, the ground of the faith and confession declared is opposed unto the efficacy and use of the miraculous gifts of tongues, verses 23, 24. Wherefore, the only evidence whereon they received the word, and acknowledged it to be of God, was that divine power and efficacy whereof they found and felt the experience in themselves: “He is convinced of all, judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest;” whereon he falls down before it with an acknowledgment of its divine authority, finding the word to come upon his conscience with an irresistible power of conviction and judgment thereon. “He is convinced of all, judged of all;” he cannot but grant that there is θεῖόν τι, “a divine efficacy” in it or accompanying of it. Especially his mind is influenced by this, that the “secrets of his heart are made manifest” by it; for all men must acknowledge this to be an effect of divine power, seeing God alone is καρδιογνώστης, he who searcheth, knoweth, and judgeth the heart. And if the woman of Samaria believed that Jesus was the Christ because he “told her all things that ever she did,” John iv. 29, there is reason to believe that word to be from God which makes manifest even the secrets of our hearts. And although I do conceive that by “The word of God,” Heb. iv. 12, the living and eternal Word is principally intended, yet the power and efficacy there ascribed to him is that which he puts forth by the word of the gospel. And so that 94word also, in its place and use, “pierceth even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner,” or passeth a critical judgment on “the thoughts and intents of the heart,” or makes manifest the secrets of men’s hearts, as it is here expressed. Hereby, then, doth the Holy Ghost so evidence the divine authority of the word, namely, by that divine power which it hath upon our souls and consciences, that we do assuredly acquiesce in it to be from God. So the Thessalonians are commended that they “received the word not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh in them that believe,” 1 Thess. ii. 13. It distinguisheth itself from the word of men, and evidences itself to be indeed the word of God, by its effectual operation in them that believe. And he who hath this testimony in himself hath a higher and more firm assurance of the truth than what can be attained by the force of external arguments or the credit of human testimony. Wherefore, I say in general, that the Holy Spirit giveth testimony unto and evinceth the divine authority of the word by its powerful operations and divine effects on the souls of them that do believe; so that although it be weakness and foolishness unto others, yet, as is Christ himself unto them that are called, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
And I must say, that although a man be furnished with external arguments of all sorts concerning the divine original and authority of the Scriptures, although he esteem his motives of credibility to be effectually persuasive, and have the authority of any or all the churches in the world to confirm his persuasion, yet if he have no experience in himself of its divine power, authority, and efficacy, he neither doth nor can believe it to be the word of God in a due manner, — with faith divine and supernatural. But he that hath this experience hath that testimony in himself which will never fail.
This will be the more manifest if we consider some few of those many instances wherein it exerts its power, or the effects which are produced thereby.
The principal divine effect of the word of God is in the conversion of the souls of sinners unto God. The greatness and glory of this work we have elsewhere declared at large. And all those who are acquainted with it, as it is declared in the Scripture, and have any experience of it in their own hearts, do constantly give it as an instance of the exceeding greatness of the power of God. It may be they speak not improperly who prefer the work of the new creation before the work of the old, for the express evidences of almighty power contained in it, as some of the ancients do. Now, of this great and glorious effect the word is the only instrumental cause, whereby the divine power operates and is expressive of itself: for we are 95“born again,” born of God, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever,” 1 Pet. i. 23; for “of his own will doth God beget us with the word of truth,” James i. 18. The word is the seed of the new creature in us, that whereby our whole natures, our souls and all their faculties, are changed and renewed into the image and likeness of God; and by the same word is this new nature kept and preserved, 1 Pet. ii. 2, and the whole soul carried on unto the enjoyment of God. It is unto believers “an ingrafted word, which is able to save their souls,” James i. 21; the “word of God’s grace, which is able to build us up, and give us an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,” Acts xx. 32; and that because it is the “power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth,” Rom. i. 16. All the power which God puts forth and exerts, in the communication of that grace and mercy unto believers whereby they are gradually carried on and prepared unto salvation, he doth it by the word. Therein, in an especial manner, is the divine authority of the word evidenced, by the divine power and efficacy given unto it by the Holy Ghost. The work which is effected by it, in the regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of the souls of believers, doth evidence infallibly unto their consciences that it is not the word of man, but of God. It will be said, “This testimony is private in the minds only of them on whom this work is wrought,” and therefore do I press it no farther, but “he that believeth hath the witness in himself,” John v. 10. Let it be granted that all who are really converted unto God by the power of the word have that infallible evidence and testimony of its divine original, authority, and power in their own souls and consciences, that they thereon believe it with faith divine and supernatural, in conjunction with the other evidences before mentioned, as parts of the same divine testimony, and it is all I aim at herein.
But yet, although this testimony be privately received (for in itself it is not so, but common unto all believers), it is ministerially pleadable in the church as a principal motive unto believing. A declaration of the divine power which some have found by experience in the word is an ordinance of God to convince others and to bring them unto the faith; yea, of all the external arguments that are or may be pleaded to justify the divine authority of the Scripture, there is none more prevalent nor cogent than this of its mighty efficacy in all ages on the souls of men, to change, convert, and renew them into the image and likeness of God, which hath been visible and manifest.
Moreover, there are yet other particular effects of the divine power of the word on the minds and consciences of men, belonging unto this general work, either preceding or following it, which are clearly sensible, and enlarge the evidence; as, —
96(1.) The work of conviction of sin on those who expected it not, who desired it not, and who would avoid it if by any means possible they could. The world is filled with instances of this nature. Whilst men have been full of love to their sins, at peace in them, enjoying benefit and advantage by them, the word coming upon them in its power hath awed, disquieted, and terrified them, taken away their peace, destroyed their hopes, and made them, as it were, whether they would or no, — that is, contrary to their desires, inclinations, and carnal affections, — to conclude that if they comply not with what is proposed unto them in that word, which before they took no notice of nor had any regard unto, they must be presently or eternally miserable.
Conscience is the territory or dominion of God in man, which he hath so reserved unto himself that no human power can possibly enter into it or dispose of it in any wise. But in this work of conviction of sin, the word of God, the Scripture, entereth into the conscience of the sinner, takes possession of it, disposeth it unto peace or trouble, by its laws or rules, and no otherwise. Where it gives disquietment, all the world cannot give it peace; and where it speaks peace, there is none can give it trouble. Were not this the word of God, how should it come thus to speak in his name and to act his authority in the consciences of men as it doth? When once it begins this work, conscience immediately owns a new rule, a new law, a new government, in order to the judgment of God upon it and all its actions. And it is contrary to the nature of conscience to take this upon itself, nor would it do so but that it sensibly finds God speaking and acting in it and by it: see 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25. An invasion may be made on the outward duties that conscience disposeth unto, but none can be so upon its internal actings. No power under heaven can cause conscience to think, act, or judge otherwise than it doth by its immediate respect unto God; for it is the mind’s self-judging with respect unto God, and what is not so is no act of conscience. Wherefore, to force an act of conscience implies a contradiction. However it may be defiled, bribed, seared, and at length utterly debauched, admit of a superior power, a power above or over itself, under God, it cannot.
I know conscience may be prepossessed with prejudices, and, by education, with the insinuation of traditions, take on itself the power of false, corrupt, superstitious principles and errors, as means of conveying unto it a sense of divine authority; so is it with the Mohammedans and other false worshippers in the world. But the power of those divine convictions whereof we treat is manifestly different from such prejudicate opinions: for where these are not imposed on men by artifices and delusions easily discoverable, they prepossess their 97minds and inclinations by traditions, antecedently unto any right judgment they can make of themselves or other things, and they are generally wrapt up and condited [preserved] in their secular interests. The convictions we treat of come from without upon the minds of men, and that with a sensible power, prevailing over all their previous thoughts and inclinations. Those first affect, deceive, and delude the notional part of the soul, whereby conscience is insensibly influenced and diverted into improper respects, and is deceived as to its judging of the voice of God; these immediately principle the practical understanding and self-judging power of the soul. Wherefore, such opinions and persuasions are gradually insinuated into the mind, and are admitted insensibly without opposition or reluctancy, being never accompanied at their first admission with any secular disadvantage; — but these divine convictions by the word befall men, some when they think of nothing less and desire nothing less; some when they design other things, as the pleasing of their ears or the entertainment of their company; and some that go on purpose to deride and scoff at what should be spoken unto them from it. It might also be added unto the same purpose how confirmed some have been in their carnal peace and security by love of sin, with innumerable inveterate prejudices; what losses and ruin to their outward concernments many have fallen into by admitting of their convictions; what force, diligence, and artifices have been used to defeat them; what contribution of aid and assistance there hath been from Satan unto this purpose; and yet against all hath the divine power of the word absolutely prevailed and accomplished its whole designed effect. See 2 Cor. x. 4, 5; Jer. xxiii. 29; Zech. i. 6.
(2.) It doth it by the light that is in it, and that spiritual illuminating efficacy wherewith it is accompanied. Hence it is called a “light shining in a dark place,” 2 Pet. i. 19; that light whereby God “shines in the hearts” and minds of men, 2 Cor. iv. 4, 6. Without the Scripture all the world is in darkness: “Darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people,” Isa. lx. 2. It is the kingdom of Satan, filled with darkness and confusion. Superstition, idolatry, lying vanities, wherein men know not at all what they do nor whither they go, fill the whole world, even as it is at this day. And the minds of men are naturally in darkness; there is a blindness upon them that they cannot see nor discern spiritual things, no, not when they are externally proposed unto them, as I have at large evinced elsewhere; — and no man can give a greater evidence that it is so than he who denies it so to be. With respect unto both these kinds of darkness the Scripture is a light, and accompanied with a spiritual illuminating efficacy, thereby evidencing itself to be a divine revelation; for what but divine truth could recall the minds of 98men from all their wanderings in error, superstition, and other effects of darkness, which of themselves they love more than truth? All things being filled with vanity, error, confusion, misapprehensions about God and ourselves, our duty and end, our misery and blessedness, the Scripture, where it is communicated by the providence of God, comes in as a light into a dark place, discovering all things clearly and steadily that concern either God or ourselves, our present or future condition, causing all the ghosts and false images of things which men had framed and fancied unto themselves in the dark to vanish and disappear. Digitus Dei! — this is none other but the power of God. But principally it evinceth this its divine efficacy by that spiritual saving light which it conveys into and implants on the minds of believers. Hence there is none of them who have gained any experience by the observation of God’s dealings with them but shall, although they know not the ways and method of the Spirit’s operations by the word, yea, can say, with the man unto whom the Lord Jesus restored his sight, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” This power of the word, as the instrument of the Spirit of God for the communication of saving light and knowledge unto the minds of men, the apostle declares 2 Cor. iii. 18, iv. 4, 6. By the efficacy of this power doth he evidence the Scripture to be the word of God. Those who believe find by it a glorious, supernatural light introduced into their minds, whereby they who before saw nothing in a distinct, affecting manner in spirituals, do now clearly discern the truth, the glory, the beauty, and excellency of heavenly mysteries, and have their minds transformed into their image and likeness, And there is no person who hath the witness in himself of the kindling of this heavenly light in his mind by the word but hath also the evidence in himself of its divine original.
(3.) It doth, in like manner, evidence its divine authority by the awe which it puts on the minds of the generality of mankind unto whom it is made known, so that they dare not absolutely reject it. Multitudes there are unto whom the word is declared who hate all its precepts, despise all its promises, abhor all its threatenings, like nothing, approve of nothing, of what it declares or proposes; and yet dare not absolutely refuse or reject it. They deal with it as they do with God himself, whom they hate also, according to the revelation which he hath made of himself in his word. They wish he were not, sometimes they hope he is not, would be glad to be free of his rule; but yet dare not, cannot absolutely deny and disown him, because of that testimony for himself which he keeps alive in them whether they will or no. The same is the frame of their hearts and minds towards the Scripture, and that for no other 99reason but because it is the word of God, and manifesteth itself so to be. They hate it, wish it were not, hope it is not true; but are not by any means able to shake off a disquiet in the sense of its divine authority. This testimony it hath fixed in the hearts of multitudes of its enemies, Ps. xlv. 5.
(4.) It evidences its divine power in administering strong consolations in the deepest and most unrelievable distresses. Some such there are, and such many men fall into, wherein all means and hopes of relief may be utterly removed and taken away. So is it when the miseries of men are not known unto any that will so much as pity them or wish them relief; or if they have been known, and there hath been an eye to pity them, yet there hath been no hand to help them. Such hath been the condition of innumerable souls, as on other accounts, so in particular under the power of persecutors, when they have been shut up in filthy and nasty dungeons, not to be brought out but unto death, by the most exquisite tortures that the malice of hell could invent or the bloody cruelty of man inflict. Yet in these and the like distresses doth the word of God, by its divine power and efficacy, break through all interposing difficulties, all dark and discouraging circumstances, supporting, refreshing, and comforting such poor distressed sufferers, yea, commonly filling them under overwhelming calamities with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Though they are in bonds, yet is the word of God not bound; neither can all the power of hell, nor all the diligence or fury of men, keep out the word from entering into prisons, dungeons, flames, to administer strong consolations against all fears, pains, wants, dangers, deaths, or whatever we may in this mortal life be exposed unto. And sundry other instances of the like nature might be pleaded, wherein the word gives evident demonstration unto the minds and consciences of men of its own divine power and authority: which is the second way whereby the Holy Ghost, its author, gives testimony unto its original.
But it is not merely the grounds and reasons whereon we believe the Scripture to be the word of God which we designed to declare; the whole work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to believe them so to be was proposed unto consideration. And beyond what we have insisted on, there is yet a farther peculiar work of his, whereby he effectually ascertains our minds of the Scriptures being the word of God, whereby we are ultimately established in the faith thereof. And I cannot but both admire and bewail that this should be denied by any that would be esteemed Christians. Wherefore, if there be any necessity thereof, I shall take occasion in the second part of this discourse farther to confirm this part of the truth, thus far debated, — namely, that God by his Holy Spirit doth secretly and 100effectually persuade and satisfy the minds and souls of believers in the divine truth and authority of the Scriptures, whereby he infallibly secures their faith against all objections and temptations whatsoever; so that they can safely and comfortably dispose of their souls in all their concernments, with respect unto this life and eternity, according unto the undeceivable truth and guidance of it. But I shall no farther insist on these things at present.
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