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Causes of the ignorance of the mind of God revealed in the Scripture, and of errors about it — What they are, and how they are removed.
The supposition we proceed upon in this discourse is, that God hath revealed his mind and will unto us, as unto all things concerning his worship, with our faith and obedience therein, in the holy Scripture. Thereon do we inquire by what means we may attain the saving knowledge of the mind of God so revealed; and my principal design is, to show what aid and assistance we receive of the Holy Ghost unto that end. To further us in the knowledge hereof, I shall inquire into the causes and reasons of that ignorance and those misapprehensions of the mind of God as revealed which are amongst men, and how our minds are delivered from them.
It may be this part of our discourse might have had a more proper place assigned unto it, after we have given the truth pleaded a more full confirmation; but whereas an objection may arise from the consideration of what we shall now insist on against the truth contended for, I thought it not amiss so to obviate it as therewithal farther to illustrate the doctrine itself which we labour in.
All men see, and most men complain of, that ignorance of the mind of God, and those abominable errors, attended with false worship, which abound in the world. How few are there who understand and believe the truth aright! What divisions, what scandals, what animosities, what violence, mutual rage, and persecutions, do ensue hereon, among them that are called Christians, is likewise known. Hence some take occasion to countenance themselves in an open declension unto atheism; some, unto a great indifferency in all religion; some, to advance themselves and destroy others by the advantage of their opinions, according as they are prevalent in some times and places. A brief inquiry into the causes of that darkness and ignorance which is in the world amongst men outwardly owning the doctrine of the gospel, and especially of the errors and heresies which do abound above what they have done in most ages, may be of use to preserve us from those evils. A subject this is that would require much time and diligence unto the handling of it in a due manner; I intend only at present to point at the heads of some few things, the observation whereof may be of use unto the end designed.
Those of the Roman church tell us that the cause hereof is, the obscurity, difficulty, and perplexity of the Scripture. “If men will trust thereunto as their only guide, they are sure to miscarry.” Wherefore, the only relief in this matter is, that we give up our souls unto the conduct of their church, which neither can err nor deceive. So, 175indeed, said Adam of old, when he was charged with his sin and infidelity: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” But whereas it is an evil, yea, the greatest of evils, whose causes we inquire after, it seems in general more rational that we should seek for them in ourselves than in any thing that God hath done; for he alone is good, and we are evil.
It is granted that God hath given us his word, or the holy Scripture, as a declaration of his mind and will; and, therefore, he hath given it unto us for this very end and purpose, that we may know them and do them. But whereas many men do fail herein, and do not understand aright what is revealed, but fall into pernicious errors and mistakes, unto his dishonour and their own ruin, is it meet to say unto God that this comes to pass from hence, because the revelation he hath made of these things is dark, obscure, and intricate? or, “The Scripture which thou hast given us doth deceive us?” Would a due reverence or deferency unto the wisdom, goodness, and love of God unto mankind be preserved therein?
“Audax omnia perpeti
What will not the prejudices and corrupt interests of men carry them out unto! God will for ever preserve those that are his in an abhorrency of that religion, be it what it will, that by any means leads unto an undervaluation of that revelation of himself which, in infinite wisdom and goodness, he hath made unto us.
But is it because there is no reason to be given of this evil from the minds of men themselves that it is thus ascribed unto God? May not as well all the wickednesses that the world is filled withal be ascribed unto him and what he hath done? Doth not each one see a sufficient cause hereof even in himself, if he were not delivered from it by the power of the Spirit and grace of God? Do not other men who fail in the right knowledge of God, especially in any important truth, sufficiently evidence in other things that the root of this matter is in themselves? Alas! how dark are the minds of poor mortals, how full of pride and folly! I shall say with some confidence, he who understands not that there is reason enough to charge all the errors, ignorance, and confusions in religion, that are or ever were in the world, without the least censure of obscurity, insufficiency, or intricacy in the Scripture, on the minds of men, and those depraved affections whose prevalency they are obnoxious unto, are themselves profoundly ignorant of the state of all things above and here below.
We must, therefore, inquire after the causes and reasons of these things among ourselves; for there only they will be found.
And these causes are of two sorts: 1. That which is general, and 176the spring of all others; 2. Those which are particular, that arise and branch themselves from thence:—
1. The first and general cause of all ignorance, error, and misunderstanding of the mind and will of God, as revealed in the Scripture, among all sorts of men, whatever their particular circumstances are, is the natural vanity and darkness with which the minds of all men are depraved. The nature of this depravation of our minds by the fall, and the effects of it, I have fully elsewhere declared. Wherefore I now take it for granted that the minds of all men are naturally prepossessed with this darkness and vanity, from whence they are not, from whence they cannot be, delivered but by the saving illumination of the Spirit and grace of God. But because I have so largely treated of it both in the “Discourses of the Dispensation of the Spirit,” book iii. chap. iii.,150150 See vol iii. of the author’s works. — Ed. as also in those concerning the Apostasy of these latter times,151151 See vol. vii. of his works. — Ed. I shall not again insist upon it.
Two things I shall only observe unto our present purpose, namely, — (1.) That hereby the mind is kept off from discerning the glory and beauty of spiritual, heavenly truth, and from being sensible of its power and efficacy, John i. 5. (2.) That it is by the same means inclined unto all things that are vain, curious, superstitious, carnal, suited unto the interest of pride, lust, and all manner of corrupt affections. Hence, whatever other occasions of error and superstition may be given or taken, the ground of their reception and of all adherence unto them is the uncured vanity and darkness of the minds of men by nature. This is the mire wherein this rush doth grow.
And the consideration hereof will rectify our thoughts concerning those whom we see daily to wander from the truth, or to live in those misapprehensions of the mind of God which they have imbibed, notwithstanding the clear revelation of it unto the contrary. Some think it strange that it should be so, and marvel at them; some are angry with them; and some would persecute and destroy them. We may make a better use of this consideration; for we may learn from it the sad corruption and depravation of our minds in our estate of apostasy from God. Here lies the seed and spring of all the sin, evil, and disorder, which we behold and suffer under in religious concerns in this world. And if we consider it aright, it will serve, —
[1.] To impress a due sense of our own condition upon our minds, that we may be humbled; and in humility alone there is safety. “His soul which is lifted up is not upright in him,” Hab. ii. 4; for he draws back from God, and God hath no pleasure in him, as the apostle expounds those words, Heb. x. 38. It was in the principles of our nature to adhere sacredly unto the first truth, to discern and 177abhor every false way. We were created with that light of truth in our minds as was every way able to guide us in all that we had to believe or do with respect unto God or our own blessedness forever. But in the room thereof, through our wretched apostasy from God, our mind is become the seat and habitation of all vanity, disorder, and confusion. And no way doth this more discover itself than in the readiness and proneness of multitudes to embrace whatever is crooked, perverse, and false in religion, notwithstanding the clear revelation that God hath made of the whole truth concerning it in the Scripture. A due reflection hereon may teach us humility and self-abasement; for we are “by nature children of wrath, even as others,” neither have we any good thing that we have not received. It is better, therefore, to be conversant with such thoughts on this occasion than to be filled with contempt of, or wrath against those whom we see yet suffering under those woful effects of the general apostasy from God, wherein we were equally involved with them. Yea, —
[2.] It will teach us pity and compassion towards those whose minds do run out into the spiritual excesses mentioned. The merciful High priest of the whole church hath “compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way,” Heb. v. 2; and it is conformity unto him in all things which ought to be our principal design, if we desire to be like unto him in glory. Want hereof is the ruin of religion, and the true cause of all the troubles that its profession is encumbered withal at this day.
It is true, for the most part, there is an interposition of corrupt affections seducing the minds of men from the truth; with these are they tossed up and down, and so driven with the winds of temptations that befall them; — but is it humanity to stand on the shore, and seeing men in a storm at sea, wherein they are ready every moment to be cast away and perish, to storm at them ourselves, or to shoot them to death, or to cast fire into their vessel, because they are in danger of being drowned? Yet no otherwise do we deal with them whom we persecute because they miss the knowledge of the truth; and, it may be, raise a worse storm in ourselves as to our own morals than they suffer under in their intellectuals. Concerning such persons the advice of the apostle is, “Of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire,” Jude 22, 23. Some are so given up in their apostasy as that they “sin unto death;” with such we are not to concern ourselves, 1 John v. 16. But it is very rare that we can safely make that judgment concerning any in this world. Sometimes, no doubt, we may, or this rule concerning them had never been given. As unto all others, the worst of them, those that are in the fire, the frame of our 178minds’ acting towards them is here presented unto us; compassion of their present state, and fear of their future ruin, we ought to be possessed with and acted by. But how few are they who are so framed and minded towards them, especially to such as by their enormous errors seem to be fallen into the fire of God’s displeasure! Anger, wrath, fury, contempt, towards such persons, men think to be their duty; more contrivances there are usually how they may be temporally destroyed than how they may be eternally saved. But such men profess the truth as it were by chance. They never knew what it is to learn it aright, nor whence the knowledge of it is to be received, nor were ever under its power or conduct. Our proper work is to save such persons, what lies in us, “pulling them out of the fire.” Duties of difficulty and danger unto ourselves may be required hereunto. It is easier, if we had secular power with us, to thrust men into temporal fire for their errors than to free them from eternal fire by the truth. But if we were governed by compassion for their souls and fear of their ruin, as it is our duty to be, we would not decline any office of love required thereunto.
[3.] Hath God led us into the truth, hath he kept us from every false way? — it is evident that we have abundant cause of gratitude and fruitfulness, It is a condition more desperate than that of the most pernicious errors, to “hold the truth in unrighteousness;” and as good not know the Lord Jesus Christ as to be barren in the knowledge of him. It is not, we see, of ourselves, that we either know the truth, or love it, or abide in the profession of it. We have nothing of this kind but what we have received. Humility in ourselves, usefulness towards others, and thankfulness unto God, ought to be the effects of this consideration.
This is the first general cause of men’s misapprehension of the mind and will of God as revealed in the Scripture. The revelation itself is plain, perspicuous, and fun of light; but this “light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The natural darkness and blindness which is in the minds of men, with the vanity and instability which they are attended with, causeth them to wrest the Scriptures unto their own destruction. And for this sort of men to complain, as they do horribly in the Papacy, of the obscurity of the Scripture, is all one as if a company of blind men should cry out of an eclipse of the sun when he shineth in his full strength and glory. How this darkness is removed and taken away by the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit in our illumination, I have elsewhere at large discoursed.
2. Corrupt affections prevalent in the minds of men do hinder them from a right understanding of the mind of God in the Scripture; for hereby are they effectually inclined to wrest and pervert 179the truth, or are filled with prejudices against it. This is the next cause of all ignorance and error, where we must seek for the particular causes of them before proposed. The principal reason why the generality of men attain not a right understanding of the mind and will of God in the Scripture is, the corrupt affections that are predominant in their own minds, whereby they are exposed unto all sorts of impressions and seductions from Satan and the agents for his kingdom and interest. So one apostle tells us that “unlearned and unstable men do wrest the Scripture, unto their own destruction,” 2 Pet. iii. 16; and another, that these unlearned and unstable persons are “men of corrupt minds,” 1 Tim. vi. 5; 2 Tim. iii. 8; — that is, such whose minds are peculiarly under the power of perverse and corrupt affections: for these affections are θελήματα τῶν διανοιῶν, Eph. ii. 3, “the wills of the mind,” such as carry it with an impetuous inclination towards their own satisfaction, and such as render it obstinate and perverse in its adherence thereunto. These are the root of that “filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” which must be cast out before we can “receive with meekness the ingrafted word,” James i. 21. Some few of them may be named:—
(1.) Pride, or carnal confidence in our own wisdom and ability of mind for all the ends of our duty towards God, and this In especial of understanding his mind and will, either keeps the souls of men under the bondage of darkness and ignorance, or precipitates them into foolish apprehensions or pernicious errors. As spiritual pride is the worst sort of pride, so this is the worst degree of spiritual pride, namely, when men do not acknowledge God in these things as they ought, but lean unto their own understandings. This is that which ruined the Pharisees of old, that they could not understand the mind of God in any thing unto their advantage. It is the meek, the humble, the lowly in mind, those that are like little children, that God hath promised to teach. This is an eternal and unalterable law of God’s appointment, that whoever will learn his mind and will as revealed in the Scripture must be humble and lowly, renouncing all trust and confidence in themselves. And whatever men of another frame do come to know, they know it not according to the mind of God, nor according to their own duty, nor unto their advantage. Whatever knowledge they may have, however conspicuous it may be made by their natural and acquired abilities, however it may be garnished with a mixture of secular literature, whatever contempt it may raise them unto of others, such as the Pharisees had of the people, whom they esteemed accursed because they knew not the law, yet they know nothing as they ought, nothing unto the glory of God, nothing to the spiritual advantage of their own souls. And wherein is their knowledge to be accounted of? Indeed, the knowledge of a 180proud man is the throne of Satan in his mind. To suppose that persons under the predominancy of pride, self-conceit, and self-confidence, can understand the mind of God as revealed in a due manner, is to renounce the Scriptures, or innumerable positive testimonies given in them unto the contrary. Such persons cannot make use of any one means of spiritual knowledge that God requires of them in a way of duty, nor improve any one truth which they may know unto their good. Therefore our Saviour tells the proud Pharisees, notwithstanding all their skill in the letter and tittles of the Scripture, that “they had not heard the voice of God at any time, nor seen his shape, neither had they his word abiding in them,” John v. 37, 38. They had no right knowledge of him, as he had revealed and declared himself.
Men infected with this leaven, having their minds tainted with it, have been the great corrupters of divine truth in all ages. Such have been the ringleaders of all heresies; and such were they who have turned the knowledge of the will of God proposed in the Scripture into a wrangling science, filled with niceties, subtilties, curiosities, futilous [vain] terms of art, and other fuel for the minds of fiery contenders in wrangling disputations.
And this kind of self-confidence is apt to befall all sorts of men. Those of the meanest capacity may be infected with it no less than the wisest or most learned; and we frequently see persons whose weakness in all sound knowledge, and insufficiency for the use of proper means unto the attaining of it, might seem to call them unto humility and lowliness of mind in an eminent manner, yet lifted up unto such a degree of spiritual pride and conceit of their own understandings as to render them useless, troublesome, and offensive unto men of sober minds. But principally are they exposed hereunto who either really or in their own apprehensions are exalted above others in secular learning, and natural or acquired abilities; for such men are apt to think that they must needs know the meaning of the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures better than others, or, at least, that they can do so, if they will but set themselves about it. But that which principally hinders them from so doing is their conceit that so they do.
They mistake that for divine knowledge which is in them the great obstruction of it.
(2.) The love of honour and praise among men is another corrupt affection of mind, of the same nature and efficacy with that before named. This is so branded by our Saviour as an insuperable obstacle against the admission of sacred light and truth that no more need be added thereunto. See John v. 44, xii. 43.
(3.) A pertinacious adherence unto corrupt traditions and inveterate errors quite shuts up the way unto all wisdom and spiritual 181understanding. This ruined the church of the Jews of old, and makes at present that of the Romanists incurable. What their forefathers have professed, what themselves have imbibed from their infancy, what all their outward circumstances are involved in, what they have advantage by, what is in reputation with those in whom they are principally concerned, — that shall be the truth with them, and nothing else. Unto persons whose minds are wholly vitiated with the leaven of this corrupt affection, there is not a line in the Scripture whose sense can be truly and clearly represented; all appears in the colour and figure that their prejudices frame in their minds. When the Lord Christ came forth first unto the preaching of the gospel, there came a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him,” Matt. iii. 17, xvii. 5. Neither was this command given unto them alone who heard it immediately from the “excellent glory,” as Peter speaks, 2 Pet. i. 17, but, as recorded in the word, is given equally unto every one that would learn any thing of the mind and will of God in a due manner. No man can learn but by the “hearing of him;” unto him are we sent for the learning of our spiritual knowledge. And no other way doth he speak unto us but by his word and Spirit. But where the minds of men are prepossessed with apprehensions of what they have received from the authority of other teachers, they have neither desire, design, readiness, nor willingness to hear him. But if men will not forego all pre-imbibed opinions, prejudices, and conceptions of mind, however rivetted into them by traditions, custom, veneration of elders, and secular advantages, to hearken unto and receive whatever he shall speak unto them, and that with a humble, lowly frame of heart, they will never learn the truth, nor attain a “full assurance of understanding” in the mysteries of God. These inveterate prejudices are at this day those which principally shut out the truth, and set men together by the ears all the world over about religion and the concerns thereof. Hence is all the strife, rage, tumult, and persecution that the world is filled withal. Could men but once agree to lay down all those presumptions which either wit, or learning, or custom, or interest and advantage, have influenced them withal, at the feet of Jesus Christ, and resolve in sincerity to comply with that alone which he doth teach them, and to forego whatever is inconsistent therewith, the ways unto truth and peace would be more laid open than otherwise they are like to be.
(4.) Spiritual sloth is of the same nature, and produceth the same effect. The Scripture frequently giveth us in charge to use the utmost of our diligence in the search of and for the finding out of spiritual truth, proposing unto us the example of those that have done so before, Josh. i. 8; Ps. i. 2; Prov. ii. 2–6; John v. 39; 1 Pet. i. 10–12. 182And any rational man would judge that if it had not been so expressly given us in charge from God himself, if it had not been a means appointed and sanctified unto this end, yet that the nature of the thing itself, with its importance unto our duty and blessedness, are sufficient to convince us of its necessity. It is truth, it is heavenly truth, we inquire after; that on the knowledge or ignorance whereof our eternal blessedness or misery doth depend. And in a due perception thereof alone are the faculties of our minds perfected according to the measure which they are capable of in this life. Therein alone can the mind of man find rest, peace, and satisfaction; and without it must always wander in restless uncertainties and disquieting vanities It is a notion implanted in the minds of all men that all truth lies deep, and that there is great difficulty in the attainment of it. The minds of most are imposed on by specious appearances of falsehood. Wherefore, all wise men have agreed that without our utmost care and diligence in the investigation of the truth, we must be contented to walk in the shades of ignorance and error. And if it be thus in earthly things, how much more is it so in heavenly! As spiritual, supernatural truth is incomparably to be valued above that which relates unto things natural, so it is more abstruse and of a more difficult investigation. But this folly is befallen the minds of the generality of men, that of all things they suppose there is least need of pains and diligence to be used in an inquiry after those things which the angels themselves desire to bow down and look into, and which the prophets of old inquired and searched after with all diligence. Whatever be their notion hereof, yet practically it is evident that most men, through pride and sloth and love of sin, are wholly negligent herein; at least, they will not apply themselves to those spiritual means without the use whereof the knowledge of divine truth will not be attained. It is generally supposed that men may be as wise in these things as they need to be at a very easy rate. The folly of men herein can never be enough bewailed; they regard spiritual truth as if they had no concernment in it beyond what custom and tradition put them on, in reading chapters or hearing sermons They are wholly under the power of sloth as unto any means of spiritual knowledge.
Some, indeed, will labour diligently in the study of those things which the Scripture hath in common with other arts and sciences; such are the languages wherein it was writ, the stories contained in it, the ways of arguing which it useth with scholastical accuracy in expressing the truth supposed to be contained in it. These things are great in themselves, but go for nothing when they are alone. Men under the utmost efficacy of spiritual sloth may be diligent in them, and make a great progress in their improvement. But they 183are spiritual objects and duties that this sloth prevails to alienate the minds of men from, and make them negligent of; and what are those duties I shall afterward manifest.
The consideration, I say, of the state of things in the world gives so great an evidence of probability that, — what through the pride and self-conceit of the minds of many, refusing a compliance with the means of spiritual knowledge, and excluding all gracious qualifications indispensably required unto the attaining of it; what through the power of corrupt traditions, imprisoning the minds of men in a fatal adherence unto them, preventing all thoughts of a holy, ingenuous inquiry into the mind of God by the only safe, infallible revelation of it; what through the power of spiritual sloth indisposing the minds of the most unto an immediate search of the Scripture, partly with apprehensions of its difficulty, and notions of learning the truth contained in it by other means; and what through a traditional course of studying divinity as an art or science to be learned out of the writings of men, — the number is very small of them who diligently, humbly, and conscientiously endeavour to learn the truth from the voice of God in the Scripture, or to grow wise in the mysteries of the gospel by such ways as wherein alone that wisdom is attainable. And is it any wonder, then, if many, the greatest number of men, wander after vain imaginations of their own or others, whilst the truth is neglected or despised?
(5.) Again, there is in the minds of men by nature a love of sin, which causeth them to hate the truth; and none can understand it but those that love it. In the visible church, most men come to know of the truth of the gospel as it were whether they will or no; and the general design of it they find to be, a separation between them and their sins. This sets them at a distance from it in affection; whereon they can never make any near approach unto it in knowledge or understanding. So we are assured, John iii. 19, 20, “Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Persons under the power of this frame take up under the shades of ignorance and corrupt imaginations; and if they should attempt to learn the truth, they would never be able so to do.
Lastly, Satan by his temptations and suggestions doth variously affect the minds of men, hindering them from discerning the mind of God as revealed in the Scripture: “The god of this world blindeth the eyes of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,” 2 Cor. iv. 4. The ways and means whereby he doth so, — the instruments which he useth, the artifices and methods which he applieth unto 184his ends, with his application of himself unto them according unto all occasions, circumstances, opportunities, and provocations, in great variety, — were worth our inquiring into, but that we should too much digress from our present design.
I have but mentioned these things, and that as instances of the true original causes of the want of understanding and misunderstanding of the revelation of the mind of God in the Scripture. Many more of the same nature might be added unto them, and their effectual operations unto the same end declared; but the mention of them here is only occasional, and such as will not admit of a farther discussion. But by these and the like depraved affections it is that the original darkness and enmity of the minds of men against spiritual truth and all the mysteries of it do exert themselves; and from them do all the error, superstition, and false worship that the world is filled withal proceed: for, —
Whilst the minds of men are thus affected, as they cannot understand and receive divine, spiritual truths in a due manner, so are they ready and prone to embrace whatever is contrary thereunto. If, therefore, it be the work of the Spirit of God alone, in the renovation of our minds, to free them from the power of these vicious, depraved habits, and consequently the advantages that Satan hath against them thereby, there is an especial work of his necessary to enable us to learn the truth as we ought. And for those who have no regard unto these things, — who suppose that in the study of the Scripture all things come alike unto all, to the clean and to the unclean, to the humble and the proud, to them that hate the garment spotted with the flesh and those that both love sin and live in it, — they seem to know nothing either of the design, nature, power, use, or end of the gospel.
The removal of these hinderances and obstacles is the work of the Spirit of God alone; for, —
1. He alone communicates that spiritual light unto our minds which is the foundation of all our relief against these obstacles of and oppositions unto a saving understanding of the mind of God.
2. In particular, he freeth, delivereth, and purgeth our minds from all those corrupt affections and prejudices which are partly inbred in them, partly assumed by them or imposed on them; for the artifice of Satan, in turning the minds of men from the truth, is by bringing them under the power of corrupt and vicious habits, which expel that frame of spirit which is indispensably necessary unto them that would learn it. It is, indeed, our duty so to purify and purge ourselves. We ought to cast out “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness,” that we may “receive with meekness the ingrafted word,” James i. 21; to “purge ourselves from these things, that we 185may be vessels unto honour, sanctified and meet for our Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work,” 2 Tim. ii. 21. If it be not thus with us, let the pride and folly of men pretend what they please, we can neither learn, nor know, nor teach the mind of God as we ought. And what men may do without giving glory unto God, or the bringing of any spiritual advantage unto their own souls, we inquire not, seeing it belongeth only equivocally unto Christian religion. But although it is our duty thus to purge ourselves, yet it is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we do so. Those who, under a pretence of our own duty, would exclude in any thing the efficacious operations of the Holy Ghost, or, on the other hand, on the pretence of his grace and its efficacy, would exclude the necessity of diligence in our duties, do admit but of one half of the gospel, rejecting the other. The whole gospel asserts and requireth them both unto every good act and work. Wherefore, the purging of ourselves is that which is not absolutely in the power of our natural abilities; for these corrupt affections possess and are predominant in the mind itself, and all its actings are suited unto their nature and influenced by their power. It can never, therefore, by its own native ability free itself from them. But it is the work of this great purifier and sanctifier of the church to free our minds from these corrupt affections and inveterate prejudices, whereby we are alienated from the truth and inclined unto false conceptions of the mind of God; and unless this be done, in vain shall we think to learn the truth as it is in Jesus. See 1 Cor. vi. 11; Tit. iii. 3–5; Rom. viii. 13; Eph. iv. 20–24.
3. He implants in our minds spiritual habits and principles, contrary and opposite unto those corrupt affections, whereby they are subdued and expelled. By him are our minds made humble, meek, and teachable, through a submission unto the authority of the word, and a conscientious endeavour to conform ourselves thereunto.
It was always agreed that there were ordinarily preparations required unto the receiving of divine illuminations; and in the assignation of them many have been greatly deceived. Hence some, in the expectation of receiving divine revelations, have been imposed on by diabolical delusions; which by the working of their imaginations they had prepared their minds to give an easy admission unto. So was it among the heathen of old, who had invented many ways unto this purpose, some of them horrid and dreadful; and so it is still with all enthusiasts. But God himself hath plainly declared what are the qualifications of those souls which are meet to be made partakers of divine teachings, or ever shall be so; and these are, as they are frequently expressed, meekness, humility, godly fear, reverence, submission of soul and conscience unto the authority of God, with a resolution and readiness for and unto all that obedience which 186he requireth of us, especially that which is internal in the hidden man of the heart. It may be some will judge that we wander very far from the matter of our inquiry, namely, How we may come unto the knowledge of the mind of God in the Scripture, or how we may aright understand the Scripture, when we assign these things as means thereof or preparations thereunto; for although these are good things (for that cannot be denied), yet “it is ridiculous to urge them as necessary unto this end, or as of any use for the attaining of it. Learning, arts, tongues, sciences, with the rules of their exercise, and the advantage of ecclesiastical dignity, are the things that are of use herein, and they alone.” The most of these things, and sundry others of the same kind, we acknowledge to be of great use unto the end designed, in their proper place, and what is the due use of them shall be afterward declared; but we must not forego what the Scripture plainly instructeth us in, and which the nature of the things themselves doth evidence to be necessary, to comply with the arrogance and fancy of any, or to free ourselves from their contempt.
It is such an understanding of the Scripture, of the divine revelation of the mind of God therein, as wherein the spiritual illumination of our minds doth consist, which we inquire after; such a knowledge as is useful and profitable unto the proper ends of the Scripture towards us, that which we are taught of God, that we may live unto him. These are the ends of all true knowledge. See 2 Tim. iii. 14–17. And for this end the furnishment of the mind with the graces before mentioned is the best preparation. He bids defiance unto the gospel by whom it is denied. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” Whatever be the parts or abilities of men, whatever diligence they may use in the investigation of the truth, whatever disciplinary knowledge they may attain thereby, the Spirit of God never did nor ever will instruct a proud, unhumbled soul in the right knowledge of the Scripture, as it is a divine revelation. It is these gracious qualifications alone whereby we may be enabled to “cast out all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness,” so as to “receive with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save our souls.
Our blessed Saviour tells us, that “except we be converted, and become as little children, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. xviii. 3. We cannot do so unless we become humble, meek, tender, weaned from high thoughts of ourselves, and are purged from prejudices by corrupt affections; and I value not that knowledge which will not conduct us into the “kingdom of heaven,” or which shall be thence excluded. So God hath promised that “the meek he will guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show 187them his covenant.” “What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way,” Ps. xxv. 9, 12, 14. And so we are told plainly that “evil men understand not judgment; but they that seek the Lord understand all things,” Prov. xxviii. 5.
Now all these graces whereby men are made teachable, capable of divine mysteries, so as to learn the truth as it is in Jesus, to understand the mind of God in the Scriptures, are wrought in them by the Holy Spirit, and belong unto his work upon our minds in our illumination. Without this the hearts of all men are fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes sealed, that they can neither hear, nor perceive, nor understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
These things belong unto the work of the Holy Spirit upon our minds (as also sundry other instances might be given unto the same purpose) in our illumination, or his enabling of us rightly to understand the mind of God in the Scripture. But whereas whoever is thus by him graciously prepared and disposed shall be taught in the knowledge of the will of God, so far as he is concerned to know it in point of duty, if so be he abide in the ordinary use of outward means, so there are sundry other things necessary unto the attaining of farther useful degrees of this knowledge and understanding, whereof I shall treat afterward.
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