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Inferences from the whole — Some objections answered.
Three things do offer themselves unto consideration from what hath been discoursed:—
1. What is the ground and reason why the meanest and most unlearned sort of believers do assent unto this truth, that the Scriptures are the word of God, with no less firmness, certainty, and assurance of mind, than do the wisest and most learned of them; yea, ofttimes the faith of the former sort herein is of the best growth and firmest consistency against oppositions and temptations. Now, no assent of the mind can be accompanied with any more assurance than the evidence whose, effect it is, and which it is resolved into, will afford; nor doth any evidence of truth beget an assent unto it in the mind but as it is apprehended and understood. Wherefore, the evidence of this truth, wherein soever it consists, must be that which is perceived, apprehended, and understood, by the meanest and most unlearned sort of true believers; for, as was said, they do no less firmly assent and adhere unto it than the wisest and most learned of them. It cannot, therefore, consist in such subtile and learned arguments, whose sense they cannot understand or comprehend. But the things we have pleaded are of another nature: for those characters of divine wisdom, goodness, holiness, grace, and sovereign authority, which are implanted in the Scripture by the Holy Ghost, are as legible unto the faith of the meanest as of the most learned believer; and they also are no less capable of an experimental understanding of the divine power and efficacy of the Scripture, in all its spiritual operations, than those who are more wise and skilful in discerning the force of external arguments and motives of credibility. It must, therefore, of necessity be granted, that the formal reason of faith consists in those things whereof the evidence is equally obvious unto all sorts of believers.
2. Whence it is that the assent of faith, whereby we believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, is usually affirmed to be accompanied 101with more assurance than any assent which is the effect of science upon the most demonstrative principles. They who affirm this do not consider faith as it is in this or that individual person, or in all that do sincerely believe, but in its own nature and essence, and what it is meet and able to produce. And the schoolmen do distinguish between a certainty or assurance of evidence and an assurance of adherence. In the latter, they say, the certainty of faith doth exceed that of science; but it is less in respect of the former. But it is not easily to be conceived how the certainty of adherence should exceed the certainty of evidence, with respect unto any object whatsoever. That which seems to render a difference in this case is, that the evidence which we have in things scientifical is speculative, and affects the mind only; but the evidence which we have by faith effectually worketh on the will also, because of the goodness and excellency of the things that are believed. And hence it is that the whole soul doth more firmly adhere unto the objects of faith upon that evidence which it hath of them, than unto other things whereof it hath clearer evidence, wherein the will and affections are little or not at all concerned. And Bonaventure giveth a reason of no small weight why faith is more certain than science, not with the certainty of speculation, but of adherence: “Quoniam fideles Christiani, nec argumentis, nec tormentis, nec blandimentis adduci possunt, vel inclinari, ut veritatem quam credunt vel ore tenus negent; quod nemo peritus alicujus scientiæ faceret, si acerrimis tormentis cogeretur scientiam suam de conclusione aliqua geometrica vel arithmetica retractare. Stultus enim et ridiculus esset geometra, qui pro sua scientia in controversiis geometricis mortem auderet subire, nisi in quantum dictat fides, non esse mentiendum.” And whatever may be said of this distinction, I think it cannot modestly be denied that there is a greater assurance in faith than is in any scientifical conclusions, until as many good and wise men will part with all their worldly concernments and their lives, by the most exquisite tortures, in the confirmation of any truth which they have received, merely on the ground of reason acting in human sciences, as have so done on the certainty which they had by faith that the Scripture is a divine revelation: for in bearing testimony hereunto have innumerable multitudes of the best, the holiest, and the wisest men that ever were in the world, cheerfully and joyfully sacrificed all their temporal and adventured all their eternal concernments; for they did it under a full satisfaction that in parting with all temporary things, they should be eternally blessed or eternally miserable, according as their persuasion in faith proved true or false. Wherefore, unto the firmitude and constancy which we have in the assurance of faith, three things do concur:—
102(1.) That this ability of assent upon testimony is the highest and most noble power or faculty of our rational souls; and, therefore, where it hath the highest evidence whereof it is capable, — which it hath in the testimony of God, — it giveth us the highest certainty or assurance whereof in this world we are capable.
(2.) Unto the assent of divine faith there is required an especial internal operation of the Holy Ghost. This rendereth it of another nature than any mere natural act and operation of our minds; and, therefore, if the assurance of it may not properly be said to exceed the assurance of science in degree, it is only because it is of a more excellent kind, and so is not capable of comparison unto it as to degrees.
(3.) That the revelation which God makes of himself, his mind and will, by his word, is more excellent, and accompanied with greater evidence of his infinitely glorious properties, — wherein alone the mind can find absolute rest and satisfaction (which is its assurance), — than any other discovery of truth, of what sort soever, is capable of; neither is the assurance of the mind absolutely perfect in any thing beneath the enjoyment of God. Wherefore, the soul by faith making the nearest approaches whereof in this life it is capable unto the eternal spring of being, truth, and goodness, it hath the highest rest, satisfaction, and assurance therein, that in this life it can attain unto.
3. It followeth from hence that those that would deny either of these two things, or would so separate between them as to exclude the necessity of either unto the duty of believing, — namely, the internal work of the Holy Spirit on the minds of men, enabling them to believe, and the external work of the same Holy Spirit, giving evidence in and by the Scripture unto its own divine original, — do endeavour to expel all true divine faith out of the world, and to substitute a probable persuasion in the room thereof.
For a close unto this discourse, which hath now been drawn forth unto a greater length than was at first intended, I shall consider some objections that are usually pleaded in opposition unto the truth asserted and vindicated:—
1. It is, therefore, objected, in the first place, “That the plea hitherto insisted on cannot be managed without great disadvantage to Christian religion; for if we take away the rational grounds on which we believe the doctrine of Christ to be true and divine, and the whole evidence of the truth of it be laid on things not only derided by men of atheistical spirits, but in themselves such as cannot be discerned by any but such as do believe, on what grounds can we proceed to convince an unbeliever?”
Ans. 1. By the way, it is one thing to prove and believe the doctrine of Christ to be true and divine; another, to prove and believe 103the Scripture to be given by inspiration of God, or the divine authority of the Scripture, which alone was proposed unto consideration. A doctrine true and divine may be written in and proposed unto us by writings that were not divinely and infallibly inspired; and so might the doctrine of Christ have been, but not without the unspeakable disadvantage of the church. And there are sundry arguments which forcibly and effectually prove the doctrine of Christ to have been true and divine, which are not of any efficacy to prove the divine authority of the Scriptures; though, on the other hand, whatever doth prove the divine authority of the Scriptures doth equally prove the divine truth of the doctrine of Christ.
2. There are two ways of convincing unbelievers, — the one insisted on by the apostles and their followers, the other by some learned men since their days. The way principally insisted on by the apostles was, by preaching the word itself unto them in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit; by the power whereof, manifesting the authority of God in it, they were convinced, and falling down acknowledged God to be in it of a truth, 1 Cor. ii. 4, 5, xiv. 24, 25. It is likely that in this their proposal of the gospel, the doctrine and truths contained in it, unto unbelievers, those of atheistical spirits would both deride them and it; and so, indeed, it came to pass, many esteeming themselves to be babblers and their doctrine to be arrant folly. But yet they desisted not from pursuing their work in the same way; whereunto God gave success. The other way is, to prove unto unbelievers that the Scripture is true and divine by rational arguments; wherein some learned persons have laboured, especially in these last ages, to very good purpose. And certainly their labours are greatly to be commended, whilst they attend unto these rules:— (1.) That they produce no arguments but such as are cogent, and not liable unto just exceptions; for if, to manifest their own skill or learning, they plead such reasons as are capable of an answer and solution, they exceedingly prejudice the truth, by subjecting it unto dubious disputations, whereas in itself it is clear, firm, and sacred. (2.) That they do not pretend their rational grounds and arguments to be the sole foundation that faith hath to rest upon, or which it is resolved into; for this were the ready way to set up an opinion, instead of faith supernatural and diving Accept but of these two limitations, and it is acknowledged that the rational grounds and arguments intended may be rationally pleaded, and ought so to be, unto the conviction of gainsayers; for no man doth so plead the self-evidencing power of the Scripture as to deny that the use of other external motives and arguments is necessary to stop the mouths of atheists, as also unto the farther establishment of them who do believe. These things are subordinate, and no way inconsistent.
104The truth is, if we will attend unto our own and the experience of the whole church of God, the way whereby we come to believe the Scripture to be the word of God ordinarily is this, and no other. God having first given his word as the foundation of our faith and obedience, hath appointed the ministry of men, at first extraordinary, afterward ordinary, to propose unto us the doctrines, truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings contained therein. Together with this proposition of them, they are appointed to declare that these things are not from themselves, nor of their own invention, 2 Tim. iii. 14–17. And this is done variously. Unto some the word of God in this ministry thus comes, or is thus proposed, preached, or declared, whilst they are in a condition not only utterly unacquainted with the mysteries of it, but filled with contrary apprehensions, and consequently prejudiced against it. Thus it came of old unto the pagan world, and must do so unto such persons and nations as are yet in the same state with them. Unto these the first preachers of the gospel did not produce the book of the Scriptures, and tell them that it was the word of God, and that it would evidence itself unto them so to be, for this had been to despise the wisdom and authority of God in their own ministry; but they preached the doctrines of it unto them, grounding themselves on the divine revelation contained therein. And this proposition of the truth or preaching of the gospel was not left of God to work itself into the reason of men by the suitableness of it thereunto; but being his own institution for their illumination and conversion, he accompanied it with divine power, and made it effectual unto the ends designed, Rom. i. 16. And the event hereof among mankind was, that by some this new doctrine was derided and scorned; by others, whose hearts God opened to attend unto it, it was embraced and submitted unto. Among those who, after the propagation of the gospel, are born, as they say, within the pale of the church, the same doctrine is variously instilled into persons, according unto the several duties and concerns of others to instruct them. Principally, the ministry of the word is ordained of God unto that end, whereon the church is the pillar and ground of truth. Those of both sorts unto whom the doctrine mentioned is preached or proposed are directed unto the Scriptures as the sacred repository thereof; for they are told that these things come by revelation from God, and that that revelation is contained in the Bible, which is his word. Upon this proposal, with inquiry into it and consideration of it, God co-operating by his Spirit, there is such evidence of its divine original communicated unto their minds through its power and efficacy, with the characters of divine wisdom and holiness implanted on it, which they are now enabled to discern, that they believe it and rest in it as the immediate word of God. Thus was it in the 105case of the woman of Samaria and the inhabitants of Sychar with respect unto their faith in Christ Jesus, John iv. 42. This is the way whereby men ordinarily are brought to believe the word of God, Rom. x. 14, 15, 17; and that neither by external arguments nor motives, which no one soul was ever converted unto God by, nor by any mere naked proposal and offer of the book unto them, nor by miracles, nor by immediate revelation or private subjective testimony of the Spirit; nor is their faith a persuasion of mind that they can give no reason of, but only that they are so persuaded.
2. But it will be yet farther objected, “That if there be such clear evidence in the thing itself, that is, in the divine original and authority of the Scriptures, that none who freely use their reason can deny it, then it lies either in the naked proposal of the thing unto the understanding, — and if so, then every one that assents unto this proposition, ‘That the whole is greater than the part,’ must likewise assent unto this, ‘That the Scripture is the word of God,’ — or the evidence must not lie in the naked proposal, but in the efficacy of the Spirit of God in the minds of them unto whom it is proposed.”
Ans. 1. I know no divine, ancient or modern, popish or protestant, who doth not assert that there is a work of the Holy Ghost on the minds of men necessary unto a due belief of the Scripture to be the word of God; and the consideration hereof ought not by any Christian to be excluded. But they say not that this is the objective testimony or evidence on which we believe the Scripture to be the word of God, concerning which alone is our inquiry.
2. We do not dispute how far or by what means this proposition, “The Scripture is the word of God,” may be evidenced merely unto our reason, but unto our understanding as capable of giving an assent upon testimony. It is not said that this is a first principle of reason, though it be of faith, nor that it is capable of a mathematical demonstration. That the whole is greater than the part is self-evident unto our reason upon its first proposal, but such none pretends to be in the Scripture, because it is a subject not capable of it; nor do those who deny the self-evidence of the Scripture pretend by their arguments for its divine authority to give such an evidence of it unto reason as is in first principles or mathematical demonstrations, but content themselves with that which they call a “moral certainty.” But it is by faith we are obliged to receive the truth of this proposition, which respects the power of our minds to assent unto truth upon testimony, infallibly on that which is infallible. And hereunto it evidenceth its own truth, not with the same, but with an evidence and certainty of a higher nature and nobler kind than that of the strictest demonstration in things natural or the most forcible argument in things moral.
1063. It will be objected, “That if this be so, then none can be obliged to receive the Scripture as the word of God who hath not faith, and none have faith but those in whom it is wrought by the Spirit of God, and thereinto all will be resolved at last.”
Ans. 1. Indeed there is no room for this objection, for the whole work of the Spirit is pleaded only as he is the efficient cause of believing, and not the objective, or reason why we do believe. But, —
2. We must not be ashamed to resolve all we do well spiritually, and in obedience to the command of God, into the efficacious operation of the Holy Ghost in us, unless we intend to be ashamed of the gospel. But this still makes his internal operation to be the efficient, and not his internal testimony to be the formal, reason of our faith.
3. It is another question, whether all obligation unto duty is and must be proportionate unto our own strength without divine assistance; which we deny, and affirm that we are obliged unto many things by virtue of God’s command which we have no power to answer but by virtue of his grace.
4. Where the proposal of the Scripture is made in the way before described, those unto whom it is proposed are obliged to receive it as the word of God, upon the evidence which it gives of itself so to be; yes, every real, true, divine revelation made unto men, or every proposal of the Scripture by divine providence, hath that evidence of its being from God accompanying it as is sufficient to oblige them, unto whom it was made to believe it, on pain of his displeasure. If this were otherwise, then either were God obliged to confirm every particular divine revelation with a miracle (which, as to its obligation unto believing, wants not its difficulty), which he did not, as in many of the prophets, nor doth at this day at the first proposal of the gospel to the heathen; or else, when he requires faith and obedience in such ways as in his wisdom he judgeth meet, — that is, in the ordinary ministry of the word, — they are not obliged thereby, nor is it their sin to refuse a compliance with his will.
5. If this difficulty can be no otherwise avoided but by affirming that the faith which God requires of us with respect unto his word is nothing but a natural assent unto it upon rational arguments and considerations, which we have an ability for, without any spiritual aid of the Holy Ghost, or respect unto his testimony, as before described, — which overthrows all faith, especially that which is divine, — I shall rather ten thousand times allow of all the just consequences that can follow on the supposition mentioned than admit of this relief. But of those consequences this is none, that any unto whom the Scripture is proposed are exempted from an obligation unto believing.
107In like manner, there is no difficulty in the usual objection which respects particular books of the Scripture, why we receive them as canonical and reject others; as, namely, the Book of Proverbs, and not of Wisdom, of Ecclesiastes, and not Ecclesiasticus: for, —
1. As to the books of the Old Testament, we have the canon of them given us in the New, where it is affirmed that unto the church of the Jews were committed the oracles of God; which both confirms all that we receive and excludes all that we exclude. And unto the New there are no pretenders, nor ever were, to the least exercise of the faith of any.
2. All books whatever that have either themselves pretended unto a divine original, or have been pleaded by others to be of that extract, have been, and may be from themselves, without farther help, evicted of falsehood in that pretence. They have all of them hitherto, in matter or manner, in plain confessions or other sufficient evidence, manifested themselves to be of a human original. And much danger is not to be feared from any that for the future shall be set forth with the same pretence.
3. We are not bound to refuse the ministry of the church, or the advantages of providence whereby the Scripture is brought unto us, with the testimonies which, either directly or collaterally, any one part of it gives unto another. Although the Scripture be to be believed for itself, yet it is not ordinarily to be believed by itself, without the help of other means.
4. On these suppositions I fear not to affirm that there are on every individual book of the Scripture, particularly those named, those divine characters and criteria which are sufficient to difference them from all other writings whatever, and to testify their divine authority unto the minds and consciences of believers. I say of believers, for we inquire not on what ground unbelievers, or those who do not believe, do believe the word of God, nor yet directly on what outward motives such persons may be induced so to do; but our sole inquiry at present is, what the faith of them who do believe is resolved into. It is not, therefore, said that when our Lord Jesus Christ (for we acknowledge that there is the same reason of the first giving out of divine revelations as is of the Scripture) came and preached unto the Jews, that these mere words, “I am the light of the world,” or the like, had all this evidence in them or with them; for nothing he said of that kind may be separated from its circumstances. But supposing the testimonies given in the Scripture beforehand to his person, work, time, and manner of coming, with the evidence of the presence of God with him in the declaration that he made of his doctrine and himself to be the Messiah, the Jews were bound to believe what he taught, and himself to be the Son of God, 108the Saviour of the world; and so did many of them upon his preaching only, John iv. 42, [viii. 30.] And in like manner they were bound to believe the doctrine of John Baptist, and to submit unto his institutions, although he wrought no miracle; and those who did not rejected the counsel of God for their good, and perished in their unbelief. But although our Lord Jesus Christ wrought no miracles to prove the Scripture then extant to be the word of God, seeing he wrought them among such only as by whom that was firmly believed, yet the wisdom of God saw it necessary to confirm his personal ministry by them. And without a sense of the power and efficacy of the divine truth of the doctrine proposed, miracles themselves will be despised; so they were by some who were afterward converted by the preaching of the word, Acts ii. 13: or they will produce only a false faith, or a ravished assent upon an amazement, that will not abide, Acts iii. 7, 8, viii. 13, 21.
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