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EPHESIANS iii. 12.
In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
THE prosecution of these words was first cast into the discussion of these four particulars.
I. That there is a certain boldness or confidence very well consisting with and becoming of our humblest addresses to God.
II. That the foundation of this confidence is laid in the mediation of Christ.
III. To shew the reason why the mediation of Christ ought to minister such confidence to us in our access to God.
IVthly and lastly, to shew, whether there were any other ground that might rationally embolden us in these our addresses to him.
Having finished the three first of these, I proceed now to the fourth. What reason we have to raise a confidence about the success of our prayers, upon the mediation of Christ, has been already declared; but since we cannot have too many pillars for so great a superstructure to lean upon, it will not be amiss to see whether there be any other means to give efficacy and success to them.
If there is, it must be either, 1. Something within, or 2dly, Something without us.
As for any thing within us, that may thus prevail 338with God, it must be presumed to be the merit of our good actions, which by their intrinsic worth and value may lay claim to his acceptance. It cannot, I confess, be the direct business of this discourse to treat of the merit of good works. But for our direction, so far as may concern the present subject and occasion, I affirm, that it is impossible, not only for sinful men, but for any mere creature, though of never so excellent and exalted a nature, properly to merit any thing from God, and that briefly for these two reasons.
1. Because none can merit of another but by doing something of himself and absolutely by his own power, for the advantage of him from whom he merits, without that person’s help or assistance. But what can any thing that the creature can do advantage God? What can all the men and angels contribute or add to the divine happiness or perfection? And if we should suppose that any action of theirs might, yet it could not be meritorious, forasmuch as they do every thing by a power and an ability conveyed to them by God; so that in their most refined and holiest performances, they offer God but what is his own, the effect and product of his grace working within them, and raising them to do what they do. The talent they trade with was given them, nay, and what is more, the very power of trading with it was given them too: so that both in their being and operations they are another’s, and stand accountable for all to a superior bounty; and restitution surely is not merit.
2dly. To merit is to do something over and above what is due, no two things in the world being more directly contrary than debt and merit. But now it 339is impossible for any created agent to do any thing above its duty, forasmuch as its duty obliges it to do the utmost that it can. It is clear therefore that for any one, even the brightest angel in heaven, to think of meriting, is but a dream and a chimera; but then for us, who are obnoxious upon the account of several sins and breaches of the law, to entertain the least thought of it, is much more absurd and intolerable, and consequently, if we build any confidence in our addresses to God upon our merits, we build upon the sand; and what the issue of such a building is like to be, we may easily conclude.
It remains therefore that if there be any other ground of this confidence, it must be something without us. And if so, it must be the help and intercession either, 1. Of angels, or 2. Of the saints.
1. And first for the angels, that they cannot be presumed to mediate for us, and present our prayers before God, I suppose may be made evident by these reasons.
1. Because it is impossible for the angels to know and perfectly discern the thoughts, that being the incommunicable property of God; 2 Chron. vi. 30, Thou only, O Lord, know est the hearts of the children of men; and in Jeremy xvii. 10, I the Lord search the heart. But now many prayers are wholly transacted within the mind and the heart, and pass not into any outward expression. And even in those prayers that are orally delivered, that which is the chief part, and indeed the soul of prayer, is the inward disposition of the heart; which falls under the cognizance of no created understanding, it being the peculiar royalty and prerogative of omniscience.
2. The second reason is, that it also exceeds the 340measure of angelical knowledge, for any angel by himself and his own natural power of knowing, to know at once all the prayers that are even uttered in words here and there throughout the world; and that because it is impossible for him to be actually present in all places. For though the knowledge of angels is not limited just to the things of that place where they are present, yet it is certain that it cannot extend much further; since a limited nature must needs also have a limited way of knowing. Upon which account God’s omniscience is not ill founded by some upon his essential omnipresence, as the ground and reason of it. For he that is intimately present to all things, must needs have a knowledge of those things, which persons that are not thus present to them, for the same cause, are not capable of.
But for all this, some concern themselves to hold a contrary opinion about the knowledge of angels, and they pretend to ground it, 1. partly upon scripture; 2. partly upon reason.
And first as to what they produce from scripture, passing by most of their frivolous and impertinent quotations, I shall more especially single out and insist upon two, as being the most likely to speak to their purpose.
1. The first of them is that in Luke xv. 10, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. From whence they argue, that repentance being a thing chiefly situate in the heart, if the angels can know this, they must needs know the heart also.
But to this I answer, that repentance is not only immediately knowable in itself, but also mediately, 341by the outward effects of it shewing themselves in the life of the penitent; such as in Matthew iii. are called fruits meet for repentance; which whether they be sincere and genuine or no, though we perhaps cannot always discern, yet the angels, whose discernment is much greater, may well be thought able to understand and distinguish.
But it will be urged, in the second place, that though it follows not from hence that the angels can discern the heart, or the repentance of a sinner as it lies included there, yet by granting that they know and observe the outward effects of repentance, it will follow, that by the same reason they must also know all those prayers that men utter and express outwardly by word of mouth. And therefore that as to these at least we may presume, that they will be our mediators, to present them for us to God.
For reply to this I answer,
1. That it was sufficiently proved by the former argument, that the angelical knowledge cannot at the same time naturally reach itself to all things that actually happen in the world; and that for the reason then given, that an angel, being of a limited nature, cannot be actually present every where. But you will ask then, how come the angels to know the repentance of every converted sinner? Why; it must be supposed that they know it by report of those angels that God has employed as ministering spirits about that repenting person; and consequently it is not necessary that we affirm it to be universally known to all the angels in heaven, but to those only, who by converse with these come to have such a report conveyed to them; for the text speaks only of the angels indefinitely, but not of all universally.342
But upon this it may be replied further, that upon the same ground we may infer also, that the angels may know all the prayers orally put up by men throughout the whole world; forasmuch as they may be signified to them, by the like reports from those angels that have the respective care and governance of each person.
To this I answer, that it is indeed possible that they may; but that they also do, we have no ground to conclude. For although God has told us, that so eminent and remarkable a passage as the conversion of a sinner is known to the angels in heaven, whether by particular revelation from himself, or by report from other angels, it matters not; yet that therefore every action done by, or occurrence relating to such an one, must also be reported and made known to the angels too, no reason or argument can demonstrate. And unless we know that these things certainly are so, as well as that possibly they may, they can administer no sure ground to our confidence, as shall be made appear in its due place.
But after all this discourse, what if we should now affirm, that there is no necessity of our holding, that the angels know the repentance of every sinner here on earth, either by themselves or by the reports of others. For when it is said, that there is joy amongst the angels in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, is it said, that this joy happens just about the time of that repentance, or at any time of the sinner’s abode in this world? No; we find no mention of the time; and therefore what hinders but that it may be understood of the time when the penitent enters into heaven: that then there is joy 343amongst the angels who rejoice that he repented and is recovered, which repentance they then come clearly to see and know, in the visible consequent of it, his salvation. This I am sure may be the sense of the text without any force done to it at all; and if it may, there is no necessity of the former interpretation, upon a removal of which, there cannot be so much as any colour or shew of argument from hence to evince the angels’ knowledge of every particular man’s actions and affairs here upon earth. And thus much in answer to their first scripture.
2. The other is that place in Revelation viii. 3, And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense., that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar that was before the throne. From whence they say it is evident, that the angels are employed in presenting our prayers to God, nay, so invincibly evident in the judgment of some, that they wonder that any should be able to stand out against the prevailing force of it.
But to this I answer, that angel is a name not only of nature, but also of office; and signifies one peculiarly sent and employed by God about any work: upon which account Christ is several times in scripture called the angel of the Lord, the angel of the covenant; and simply without any addition the angel, as in Zechariah i. Accordingly in this sense is the word angel to be taken here, namely for Christ; to whom also the other words most appositely agree; the incense here mentioned very fitly representing the merits of his death and sufferings, by which he offered himself as a sacrifice for the 344sins of the world, by virtue of which sacrifice he is continually giving an efficacy to our prayers before the throne of grace. If therefore the angel here spoke of be Christ, and Christ be God as well as man, nothing for the mediation of any created angel can be concluded from this text.
And thus having answered what they allege from scripture for the angels’ knowledge of and concernment about men’s particular actions here upon earth, and especially their prayers, I shall now come to examine what they allege for the same from reason.
2. They argue therefore that the angels see and know our prayers, and every thing else belonging to us, because they behold the face of God, the divine essence; which essence containing in itself the exact ideas and representations of all things, by beholding that, they must by consequence behold and view all things else.
This is frequently urged and insisted upon; and yet there cannot be a more false and absurd reasoning. For if this were true, then it would follow that whosoever saw God would be also omniscient, and know as much as God himself knows, since he knows all things by the survey of his own essence. It would follow also that there could be no possibility of God’s revealing any thing to the angels: for how can any thing be said to be revealed that was known before? But yet Christ tells us, that the angels are ignorant of the day of judgment, Matth. xxiv. 36; and St. Peter tells us concerning the mysteries of Christ’s incarnation and man’s redemption, that the angels desire to look into them, 1 Pet. i. 12; and the word παρακύψαι in the original is most emphatical, as signifying a stooping down to look into a thing, which is a searching, inquisitive posture: and therefore surely the angels are capable of a further knowledge of these things, by a revelation of them from God, and consequently cannot see all things in the divine essence.
But that we may answer and remove the very ground of this reasoning, we are to consider, that the divine essence discovers itself, and what is in it, to those that behold it, not by any natural necessity, as a sensible object lays itself open to the eye, but voluntarily and freely, as the mind of one man discovers itself to another, and as we may presume one angel declares his thoughts to another. Add to this also, that the other supposition of the ideas and images of all things existing in the essence of God, seems but a mere fiction, framed only according to our gross way of apprehending things, and so by no means strictly and literally agreeable to the most spiritual, simple, uncompounded nature of God.
From both which it follows, that that device of speculum Trinitatis, the glass of the Trinity, in which they say that saints and angels behold all things, is a most senseless and ridiculous conceit; and I wonder that any persons of reason and learning should be ever brought to lay any weight upon it. For if this be a good argument, that he that sees him who sees all things, must himself also see all things; then by unavoidable consequence this will be as good, that he that sees him who sees nothing, must also himself see nothing. And then any angel may be omniscient and blind in a minute; for let him look upon God who sees all things, and then he is omniscient, and sees all things himself; 346but let him immediately after look upon a blind man, and then by a wonderful transmutation presently he sees nothing. But the truth is, such ways of discoursing are fitter to be drolled upon, than to be refuted by any serious answer.
And thus I have shewn, that we have no ground to repose any confidence in the mediation of angels, for the promoting of our petitions before God. I come now to see whether we have any greater ground of confidence from any thing that the saints are like to do for us in this particular.
Concerning which we must observe, that the foregoing arguments brought against the angels interceding for us, by reason of their unacquaintance with our spiritual affairs, proceed much more forcibly against the intercession of the saints, who are of much more limited and restrained faculties than the angels, and know fewer things, and even those that they do know in a much lesser degree of clearness than the angelical knowledge rises to.
But yet for the further proof of the saints’ unacquaintedness with what is done here below, these reasons may be added over and above.
1. As first, it is clear that God sometimes takes his saints out of the world for this very cause, that they may not see and know what happens in the world. For so says God to king Josiah, 2 Chron. xxxiv. 28, Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and the inhabitants thereof. Which discourse would have been hugely absurd and inconsequent, if so be the saints’ separation from the body gave them a fuller and a clearer prospect 347into all the particular affairs and occurrences that happen here upon earth. But if they are ignorant of these, as this scripture sufficiently proves, then can there no reason be assigned, why we should not also judge them ignorant of our prayers.
Some indeed are not ashamed to say, that God reveals the prayers of men here below to the saints above, that they may present those prayers to him; which assertion as it is utterly groundless, so it is also apparently absurd. For to what purpose should God reveal a prayer made to him, to any of the saints, that he might pray it over to him again? Can he make the matter plainer and more evident to God than it was before? Or can he add merit and value to it, when it is impossible for any creature to merit from God? Or lastly, can he prevail with God more than God’s own mercy and Christ’s intercession? Thus when men first take up an opinion, and then afterwards seek for reasons for it, they must be contented with such as the absurdity of it will afford.
2. But 2dly, we have yet further an express declaration of the saints’ ignorance of the state of things here below in those words in Isaiah lxiii. 16, where the church thus utters itself to God; Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not. Abraham and Jacob surely were saints, and those too none of the lowest rank; yet it seems they knew nothing of the condition of their posterity, understood none of their wants and necessities. And if so, how they should pray and be concerned for those of whom they had no knowledge, is hard to comprehend.348
But notwithstanding these places, the sons of the Romish communion are taught to believe otherwise; and accordingly allege several things, which they are pleased to think, or at least to call arguments to the contrary: the foundation of most of which being overthrown by what has been disputed about the angels, I shall only mention two more, the first from scripture, the second, as they pretend, from reason.
1. As for scripture, they allege, Luke xvi. where Abraham, a beatified saint in heaven, could yet know the estate and hear the words of the rich man in hell; as also what befell him and Lazarus in their lifetime, as that one received good things, and the other evil things; from whence they say it is clear, that the saints in heaven know the condition of those that live here, and consequently may be thought particularly to intercede for them.
But to this I answer, 1. That supposing this to be a real history, and literally to be understood, yet this proves no more, than that Abraham might come to know from Lazarus, after his assumption into heaven, what the condition of that rich man was, as also what miseries he himself lay under, during his life: but that is no argument that Abraham knew any thing of this, while Lazarus and the rich man were yet living upon earth. 2. But in the second place we are to know, that this whole relation is but a parable, and so cannot be argumentative for the proof of any thing.
2. Their next argument, which is drawn from reason, proceeds thus. That if the saints here upon earth pray for one another, then certainly those in heaven, whose charity is more perfect and consummate, must be thought much more to pray for those 349here below. But the former is evident from several examples, and there is also an express command for it in James v. 16.
To this I answer first, that the charity of the saints who live in this world putting them to pray for one another, does not infer, that the saints in heaven (whose charity is greater) must do so too, unless it were proved that the charity of a glorified person must needs have the very same way of acting and exerting itself in heaven, that it had in the same person while he was a member of the church militant here on earth.
2. But in the second place, not to deny wholly that the charity of the blessed souls prompts them to pray for those that live yet in the body, we may distinguish of a twofold intercession of the saints, 1. General, 2. Particular. The general is that by which the saints pray for the good and happiness of the whole body of the church, which they well know upon a general account, during its warfare in this world, to be surrounded with temptations, and so in need of the continual assistance of divine grace; whereupon their charity may well engage them thus to pray for it. But as for any particular intercession, by which any saint intercedes in the behalf of any particular person here below, recommending his personal case to God, this follows not from the former; for it has been proved that they know not these particularities, and if so, though they be in never so high a degree charitable, yet their charity is not to outrun their knowledge.
Now in order to any man’s establishing a rational confidence upon the intercession of the saints for us, these three things are required.350
1. That they be able thus to intercede for us.
2. That they accordingly will.
3. And lastly, that a man certainly know so much. A failure in any of which conditions renders all such hope and reliance upon them most absurd and unreasonable. For what foundation of hope can there be, where there is no power to help? And what help can he afford me, who knows not whether I need help or no? But suppose that he does fully know my condition, yet knowledge is not the immediate principle of action, but will; and no man goes about the doing of any thing because he knows it may be done, but because in his mind he has resolved to do it. And then as for the saints’ will to pray for us, since the measure of their will is the will of God calling and commanding them to undertake such or such a work, where there is no such call or command to the thing we are speaking of, we are to presume also, that neither have they any will to it. But lastly, admitting that there is in them really both a knowledge, and an actual will fitting the saints for this office of interceding, yet unless we are sure of it by certain infallible arguments, we cannot build our practice upon it, which is itself to be built upon faith, that is, a firm persuasion of both the reasonableness and the fitness of the thing that we are to do. But now what arguments have we to ascertain us of the saints’ ability and proneness to intercede for us? We have weighed what has been brought from scripture and from reason, and found it wanting; so that we have nothing solid to bottom ourselves upon in this matter. But God requires that our boldness should commence upon knowledge; for he neither approves the sacrifice nor the confidence of fools.351
And now in the last place, if we view this doctrine in the consequence of it, we shall find that it speaks aloud against the folly and impiety of a practice so much used by some, namely, the invocation of saints, and praying to the souls of holy men departed this life.
It is possible indeed that men may believe that the saints in heaven particularly intercede for men here below, and yet not hold that they are to be prayed to: but it is certain, that none hold that the saints ought to be prayed to, who deny their particular intercession with God for us. All the arguments therefore that have been hitherto produced for the disproving of this, do by consequence utterly destroy the invocation of the saints.
But before I examine any of their arguments for it, it will not be amiss to consider the original grounds of this practice; of which, I think, I may reckon these three for the principal.
1. The solemn meetings used by the primitive Christians at the places of the saints’ sepulchres, and there celebrating the memory of their martyrdom. In which panegyrical speeches there were used frequent apostrophes and figurative addresses to the souls of the saints, as if they were actually present, and heard what was spoke: and these expressions the vulgar, not being able to distinguish between things spoke figuratively and properly, easily drank in, according to the literal meaning of the words; though indeed they no more proved that the saints heard them, or that those that so spoke thought they did, than those exclamations, Hear, O heaven! and hearken, O earth! prove that the heaven and earth can hear what is thus spoke to them.352
2. The second thing that induced this belief were those seeds of the Platonic philosophy, that so much leavened many of the primitive Christians: which philosophy teaches, that the souls of good and virtuous men after the decease of the body are turned into angels or good demons, and fly about the world helping men, and defending them from evils and mishaps: whereupon it was easy with a little change to transfer and apply these things to the souls of the saints.
For the confirmation of which, it is remarkable that Origen, a person excessively addicted to the philosophy of Plato, was the first of the Christians that brought this opinion into the church: though it was long after his time that the invocation of the saints came to be practised; the practice beginning first amongst the Greek Eremites, who transfused it to Nyssen, Basil, and Nazianzen, their great admirers and disciples; who afterwards made a shift to insinuate it into the minds of the credulous vulgar.
3. The third cause of this was the people’s being bred in idolatry: whereupon what worship they gave to devils, and to their heroes before, they very readily applied, upon their conversion to Christianity, to good angels, and to the souls of the martyrs; which also the unwariness and facility of many of their teachers and bishops was willing enough to humour them in, as being desirous upon any terms to gain them from heathenism to the profession of Christian religion; and being also in those times otherwise took up and busied with disputes against such heretics as more directly struck at the foundations of Christianity.353
But nothing can be more evident than that the primitive fathers of the church held no such thing as the invocation of the saints, and that from this one consideration, that they still used this as an argument against the Arians for the proof of the deity of Christ, that he was to be invoked and prayed unto. Which worship, might it have been communicated to the saints, or any besides God, had been no proof of the thing for which they brought it at all.
And moreover, the weak grounds that the patrons of this opinion have found for it in scripture, have been the cause, that even those that hold and practise it cannot yet unanimously agree about the terms upon which they are to hold it. For some will have invocation of the saints necessary, some pious and profitable, and others only lawful or allowable. And the council of Trent, that pretended to determine the case, has been so wise as to put the world off with an ambiguity that might indifferently serve the defenders of either opinion, by denouncing an anathema against those qui negant sanctos invocandos esse, who deny that the saints were to be prayed to. Which expression is very ambiguous: for to deny that the saints are to be prayed to, may signify either to deny that it is necessary to pray to them, or that it is lawful to pray to them. But the truth is, it is their best course to state it upon this, that it is useful and profitable. Profitable, I say, not to those that practise, but to those that teach and assert it.
But since the practice has now prevailed amongst those of the Romish communion, let us see what reason they allege for it. Why, they argue,
From the custom used in the courts of princes, 354where petitioners presume not to petition their prince immediately by themselves, but by the intercession of such as attend about him.
But to this pretence, which, as St. Ambrose affirms in his comment upon the 1st of the Romans, and St. Austin in his 8th book De Civitate Dei, was the very same that the heathens alleged for their worshipping of good demons and their heroes; that is, famous men departed this life, and supposed by them to have attained a state or condition of being and power next to their gods.
To this, I say, this is a full answer; that God is not man, nor are we in all things to argue the manner of our behaviour to God from what we use to men. God will himself determine the way by which he will be worshipped; and, consequently, the only rule of the worship we tender him must be his own prescription and command.
But besides, let the comparison be put equally, and so even upon these terms their argument will not proceed. For should even an earthly prince constitute and appoint one certain person to receive all petitions, and bring them to him, surely it would be an arrogance to presume to petition him by the mediation of any other. Now God has actually constituted Christ our mediator, and our sole mediator, which appears from that one text, which the patrons of praying to the saints will never solidly answer, 1 Tim. ii. 5, There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Upon which account, for us to put our prayers into any other hands, is to affront God in his command, and Christ in his office.
If it be here further alleged, that our sins render 355us very unworthy to come immediately even to Christ himself; whereupon it is but a due humility for us to make our way to him by the mediation of his friends, such as the blessed saints are:
To this also I answer; that Christ, who knew better than we ourselves, whether we were fit to come to him or no, has expressly commanded us to come: in which case we are to learn, that the best and most refined humility is obedience: and when Christ commands us to come to him, and with the jealousy almost of a rival forbids us all address to others, if we repair to any but himself, it is the sacrifice of fools, seasoned with ignorance and wilfulness; and not so much a veneration of his majesty, as a despisal of his mercy. For should any noble or great person command me personally to represent my wants immediately to himself, surely it would be but little modesty or civility in me to present my petitions to him by the intercession of his porter.
As for those that judge or practise otherwise, there is this only to be alleged for the reasonableness of what they do; that having so much injured Christ the great mediator, it is not to be wondered, (should we respect their behaviour, and not his mercy,) if they stand in need of a mediator to Christ himself. But as gold upon gold is absurd in heraldry; so I am sure, a mediator to a Mediator is a greater absurdity in Christianity.
I conclude therefore, that Christ is the only person through whose mediation we may with confidence make our access to God: and that to share this work of mediation with any, either saints or angels, is an injurious and sacrilegious encroachment upon that office, that neither admits of equal nor companion. 356It is also a senseless invention, grounded upon that which is not; namely, their particular knowledge of our affairs here below: and if it were not so, yet is the practice hugely useless and superfluous; for there cannot be imagined any kindness or concernment in the saints for us, that is not infinitely greater and more abundant in Christ. And therefore let men please themselves as they will in their imaginary fantastic by-ways of address, yet Christ is the only true way, the way that has light to direct, and life to reward those that walk in it; and consequently there is no coming to the Father but by him.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore.357
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