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THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores.—Luke xvi. 19, 20.
I PROCEED to our second observation, that a man may be poor and miserable in this world, and yet dear to God. This beggar, Lazarus, though he was so much slighted and despised in his life-time by this great rich man, yet it appeared, when he came to die, that he was not neglected by God, for he gave his angels charge concerning him, to convey him to happiness; (ver. 22.) “The beggar died, and was carried into Abraham’s bosom.”
But this truth is not only represented to ns in a parable, but exemplified in the life of our blessed Saviour. Never was any man so dear to God as he was, for he was his “only-begotten Son, his beloved Son, in whom he was well-pleased:” and yet, how poor and mean was his condition in this world; insomuch, that the Jews were offended at him, and could not own one that appeared in so much meanness for the true Messias. He was born of mean parents, and persecuted as soon as he was born; he was destitute of worldly accommodations: “The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay his head. He was despised 214and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
God could have sent his Son into the world with majesty and great glory, and have made all the kings of the earth to have bowed before him, and paid homage to him: but the wisdom of God chose rather that he should appear in a poor and humble, in a suffering and afflicted condition, to confound the pride of the world, who measure the love of God by these outward things, and think that God hates all those whom he permits to be afflicted.
Now it was not possible to give a greater and clearer demonstration of this truth, that goodness and suffering may meet together in the same person, than in the Son of God, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief.”
Afflictions in this world are so far from being a sign of God’s hatred, that they are an argument of his love and care; “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Those he designs for great things here after he trains up by great hardships in this world, and by many tribulations prepares them for a kingdom. This course God took more especially in the first planting of Christianity; the poor chiefly were those that received the gospel. “Not many mighty, nor many noble; but the base things of the world, and the things that were despised, did God choose.” “Hearken, my beloved brethren, (saith St. James, chap. ii. 5.) hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which he hath promised to them that love him?”
Now this consideration should persuade to patience under the greatest sufferings and afflictions in 215this world. God may be our Father, and chasten us severely; nay, this very thing is rather an argument that he is so. God may love us, though the world hate us. It is but exercising a little patience, and these storms will blow over, and we shall be removed into a calmer region, where “all tears shall be wiped from our eyes; and death and sorrow shall be no more.” This was the portion of the Son of God here; but it is a faithful saying, that “if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him; if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.” Therefore, those who suffer in this world ought not to be moved, “as though some strange thing happened unto them; but they should rather rejoice, inasmuch as they are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed, they also may be glad with exceeding joy,” (1 Pet. iv. 12, 13.) I proceed, to a
Third observation, which is the different estate of good and bad men after this life; “Lazarus died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man died,” and went to hell. This the justice of Divine Providence seems to require; so that if there had been no revelation of God to this purpose, it is a thing very credible to natural reason, whether we consider God or ourselves. If we consider God, our reason tells us, that he is the holy and righteous governor of the world, and consequently, that he loves goodness, and hates sin; and therefore is concerned to countenance the one, and discountenance the other, in such a solemn and public manner, as may vindicate his holiness and justice to the world. Now the dispensations of his providence are promiscuous in this world; and therefore 216it seems very reasonable, that there should be a general assize, a fair and open trial; when “God will render to every man according to his works.”
And if we consider ourselves, this will appear very credible; for this has been the constant opinion, not only of the common people, but of the wisest persons, who had only the light of nature to guide them. Nay, if we do but search our own consciences, we shall find an inward and secret acknowledgment of this, in that inward peace and satisfaction we find in any good action, and in that shame, and fear, and horror, that haunts a man after the commission of any, though never so secret a sin.
And as reason and Scripture together do assure us of a future judgment; so likewise, that men, when they pass out of this world, shall meet with the proper consequences and rewards of their actions in the other. And though the happiness or misery of men be not so complete as it shall be after the public judgment, yet it is unspeakably great. Lazarus is represented as very happy immediately after his passing out of this world; he is said to be carried into Abraham’s bosom: by which the Jews express the happiness of the future state. And the rich man is represented as in great anguish and torment. But what the happiness of good men, and the misery of wicked men, shall be in the other state, we can but now imperfectly and unskilfully describe. Each of these I have in another discourse spoken some thing to. I proceed, to a
Fourth observation, the vast difference between men’s conditions in this world, and the other. The rich man prospered here, and was afterwards tormented: 217Lazarus was poor and miserable in this world, and happy in the other; (ver. 25.) “Remember, that thon in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” And it is very agreeable to the wisdom of God, to make such a difference between men’s conditions in this world and the other; and that for these two reasons:
1st, For the trying of men’s virtue.
2dly, In order to the recompensing of it,
1. For the trial of men’s virtue. For this end principally God ordains the sufferings of good men, and permits the best of his servants many times to be involved in the greatest calamities, to try their faith in him, and love to him; to improve their virtue, and to prevent those sins into which the mighty temptations of a perpetual prosperity are apt to draw even the best of men; to take off their affections from the love of this vain world, and to engage and fix them there, where they shall never repent that they have placed them; to prove their sincerity towards God, and to exercise their patience and submission to his will; to prepare them for the glory of the next life, and to make the happiness of heaven more welcome to them, when they shall come to it.
2. In order to the recompensing of men: that they who will take up with the pleasures and enjoyments of this present world, and take no care for their future state; that they who will gratify their senses, and neglect their immortal souls, may inherit the proper consequences of their wretched choice. And, on the other hand, they w ho love God above all things, and had rather endure the greatest evils, than do the least; that they who look beyond the present scene of things, and believe the reality 218and eternity of the other state, and live accordingly, may not be disappointed in their hopes, and serve God and suffer for him for nothing. From this consideration of the difference between the condition of men in this world and the other, we may infer,
1. That no man should measure his felicity or unhappiness by his lot in this world. If thou receivest thy good things, art rich and honourable, and hast as much of the things of this world as thine heart can wish; art splendidly attired, and farest sumptuously every day; art in no trouble like other men, neither art plagued like other folk; do not upon this bless thyself as the happy man. On the other hand, art thou poor and miserable, destitute of all the conveniences and accommodations of this life; do not repine at thy lot, and murmur at God for having dealt hardly with thee. No man can be pronounced happy or miserable for what befals him in this life; “no man knows love or hatred by these things;” this is but a short and inconsiderable duration, and it matters not much what entertainment we meet withal, as we are passing through this world: the state of eternity is that wherein the happiness or misery of man shall be determined. He is the happy man who is so in that life which shall never have an end; and he is miserable that shall be so for ever.
2. We should not set too great a value upon the blessings of this life. We may receive our good things here, and be tormented hereafter; nay, this very thing will be no inconsiderable part of our torment, none of the least aggravations of our misery, that we did receive our good things. Nothing afflicts a man more, and toucheth him more sensibly when he is in misery, than the remembrance of his 219former prosperity; had he never been happy, his misery would be the less.
Therefore we should be so far from applauding ourselves in the prosperity of this world, that we should rather be afraid of receiving our good things here; lest God should put us off with these things, and this should be all our portion, and lest our misery in the next world be the greater for our having been happy.
The felicities of this world are transient, and though our happiness were never so complete, yet it is going off, and passing away; and when it is gone and past, if misery succeed it, it had better never have been. “Remember, thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things;” these things are only for our life time, and how short is that! Did men seriously consider this, they would not set such a price upon any of the transient enjoyments of this life, as for the sake of them to neglect the great concernments of another world. We are apt to be dazzled with the present glittering of worldly glory and prosperity: but if we would look upon these things as they will be shortly gone from us, how little would they signify! the rich man here in the parable did, no doubt, think himself a much happier man than poor Lazarus that lay at his door; and yet, after a little while, how glad would he have been to have changed conditions with this poor man! when he was in torments, then, no doubt, he wished that he had suffered all the misery and want in this world which Lazarus did, provided he might have been comforted as he was, and “carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom.” We should value this world, and look upon it, as this rich man did, not when he enjoyed it, but when he was taken from it; and we 220should esteem it, and use it while we may, as he wished he had done when it was too late.
3. We should not be excessively troubled if we meet with hardship and affliction here in this world; because those whom God designs for the greatest happiness hereafter, may receive evil things here. Thus our blessed Saviour, “the Captain of our salvation, was made perfect through sufferings:” this was the method which God used towards his own Son, first “he suffered, and then entered into glory/ He suffered more than any of us can bear; and yet he supported himself under all his sufferings, by the consideration of the glory that would follow; “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, and despised the shame.”
The same consideration should arm us with patience and constancy under the greatest evils of this life. The evils that we lie under are passing and going off; but the happiness is to come. And if the happiness of the next world were no greater, nor of longer continuance, than the miseries of this world; or if they did equally answer one another; yet a wise man would choose to have misery first, and his happiness last. For if his happiness were first, all the pleasure and comfort of it would be eaten out by dismal apprehensions of what was to follow: but his sufferings, if they were first, would be sweetened by the consideration of his future happiness, and the bitterness of his sufferings would give a quicker relish to his happiness when it should come, and make it greater.
But a good man under the sufferings of this life, hath not only this comfort, that his happiness is to come, but likewise that it shall be infinitely greater than his sufferings; that these are but short, but 221that they shall never have an end. And this was that which fortified the first Christians against all that the malice and cruelty of the world could do against them. They thought themselves well paid, if, through many tribulations they might, at last, “enter into the kingdom of God;” because they believed that the joys of the next life would abundantly recompense all their labours and sufferings in this world. They expected a mighty reward, far be yond all their sufferings; they were firmly persuaded that they should be vast gainers at the last. So the apostle tells us of himself, (Rom. viii. 18.) “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.” And to the same purpose, (2 Cor. iv. 17, 18.) “Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us an eternal weight of glory, whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” If we would consider all things together, and fix our eyes as much upon the happiness and glory of the next world, as upon the pomp and splendour of this; if we would look as much at “the things which are not seen,” as “the things which are seen,” we should easily perceive, that he who suffers in this world does not renounce his happiness, only puts it out to interest, upon terms of the greatest advantage.
4. We should do all things with a regard to our future and eternal state. It matters not much what our condition is in this world, because that is to continue but for a little while: but we ought to have a great and serious regard to that state that never shall have an end. Therefore, whenever we 222are doing any thing, we should consider what influence such an action will have upon the happiness or misery of the next life. We should measure every action and every condition of our lives by the reference of them to eternity. To be rich and great in this world, will contribute nothing to our future happiness; all these things which we so much doat upon, and pursue with so much eagerness, will not commend any man to God; they will signify nothing when we come to appear before our Judge. Death will strip us of these things, and in the other world, the soul of the poorest man that ever lived, shall be upon equal terms with the richest. Nothing but holiness and virtue will then avail us; and it is but a little while, and we shall all certainly be of this mind, that the best thing men can do in this world is to provide for the other. I proceed, to a
Fifth observation, that the state of men in the next world is fixed and unchangeable; which I ground upon ver. 26. “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; so that they that would pass from hence to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would come from thence.” By which words our Saviour seems, not only to intend, that they that are in heaven and hell can have no communication and intercourse with one another; but like wise that they are lodged in an immutable state. Those that are happy, are like to continue so; and those that are miserable, are immutably fixed in that state.
1. As to those that are in happiness, there can be no great doubt. For what can tempt men that have so narrowly escaped the dangers and temptations of a wicked world, and are possessed of so great a happiness by the free grace and mercy of God, to 223do any thing whereby they may forfeit their happiness; or so much as entertain a thought of offending that God, to whom they cannot but be sensible how infinitely they are obliged? In this imperfect state few men have so little goodness as to sin without temptation, but in that state where men are perfectly good, and can have no temptation to be other wise, it is not imaginable that they should fall from that state.
2. As to the state of the damned, that that like wise is immutable, the Scripture does seem plainly enough to assert, when it calls it “an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord,” and uses such expressions to set forth the continuance of their misery, as signify the longest and most interminable duration, expressions of as great an extent, as those which are used to signify the eternal happiness of the blessed; and as large and unlimited, as any are to be had in those languages wherein the Scriptures are written.
Besides that, wicked men in the other world are in Scripture represented, as in the same condition with the devils, of whom there is no ground to believe that any of them ever did or will repent. Not because repentance is impossible in its own nature to those that are in extreme misery; but because there is no place left for it. Being under an irreversible doom, there is no encouragement to repentance, no hope of mercy and pardon, without which repentance is impossible. For if a man did utterly despair of pardon, and were assured upon good ground that God would never shew mercy to him, in this case a man would grow desperate, and not care what he did. He that knows that whatever he does, he is miserable and undone, will not matter 224how he demeans himself. All motives to repentance are gone, after a man once knows it will be to no purpose. And this the Scripture seems to represent to us, as the case of the devils and damned spirits. Because their state is finally determined, and they are concluded under an irreversible sentence, therefore repentance is impossible to them.
Sorry no doubt they are, and heartily troubled, that, by their own sin and folly, they have brought this misery upon themselves, and they cannot but conceive an everlasting displeasure against themselves, for having been the cause and authors of their own ruin; and the reflection of this will be a perpetual spring of discontent, and fill their minds with eternal rage and vexation; and so long as they feel the intolerable punishments of sin, and groan under the insupportable torments of it, and see no end of this miserable state, no hope of getting out of it, they can be no otherwise affected, than with discontent at themselves, and rage and fury against God.
They are indeed penitent so far, as to be troubled at themselves for what they have done; but this trouble works no change and alteration in them; they still hate God who inflicts these punishments upon them, and who they believe is determined to continue them in this miserable state. The present anguish of their condition, and their despair of bettering it, makes them mad; and their minds are so distracted by the wildness of their passions, and their spirits so exasperated and set on fire by their own giddy motions, that there can be no rest and silence in their souls, not so much the liberty of one calm and sedate thought.
Or if at any time they reflect upon the evil of their sins, and .should entertain any thoughts of returning 225to God and their duty, they are presently checked with this consideration, that their case is determined, that God is implacably offended with them, and is inexorably and peremptorily resolved to make them miserable forever; and during this persuasion, no man can return to the love of God and goodness, without which there can be no repentance.
This consideration of the immutable state of men after this life, should engage us with all seriousness and diligence to endeavour to secure our future happiness. God hath “set before us good and evil, life and death, “and we may yet choose which we please; but in the other world we must stand to that choice which we have made here, and inherit the consequences of it.
By sin mankind is brought into a miserable state; but our condition is not desperate and past remedy. God hath sent his Son “to be a prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins “So that though our case be bad, it need not continue so, if it be not our own fault. There is a possibility now of changing our condition for the better, and of laying the foundation of a perpetual happiness for ourselves. The grace of God calls upon us, and is ready to assist us; so that no man’s case is so bad, but there is a possibility of bettering it, if we be not wanting to ourselves, and will make use of the grace which God offers, who is never wanting to the sincere endeavours of men. Under the influence and assistance of this grace, those who are “dead in trespasses and sins, “may “pass from death to life;” may be “turned from darkness to light,” and “from the power of Satan unto God.” So long as we are in this world there is a possibility of being translated 226from one state to another, from the dominion “of Satan into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” But if we neglect the opportunities of this life, and stand out against the offers of God’s grace and mercy, there will no overtures be made to us in the other world. After this life is ended, God will try us no more; our final miscarriage in this world will prove fatal to us in the other, and we shall not be permitted to live over again to correct our errors. “As the tree falls so it shall lie;” such a state as we are settled in when we go out of this world, shall be fixed in the other, and there will be no possibility of changing it. We are yet “in the hand of our own counsel,” and by God’s grace we may mould and fashion our own fortune: but if we trifle away this advantage, we shall “fall into the hands of the living God,” out of which there is no redemption. God hath yet left heaven and hell to our choice, and we had need to look about us; and choose well, who can choose but once for all, and for ever. There is yet a space and opportunity left us of repentance; but so soon as we step out of this life, and are entered upon the other world, our condition will be sealed, never to be reversed: and because, after this life, there will be no further hopes of mercy, there will be no possibility of repentance. “This is the accepted time, this is the day of salvation; therefore to-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; lest God swear in his wrath that ye shall not enter into his rest.” I proceed, to a
Sixth observation; that a standing revelation of God is evidence sufficient for Divine things. “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;” that is, they have the books of Moses and the prophets, written by men divinely inspired, these do 227sufficiently declare to them the will of God, and their duty; and it is unreasonable to demand or expect that God should do more for their conviction and satisfaction.
I know very well the text speaks only of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, those of the New being not then extant when this parable was delivered. But what is here said concerning the Scriptures of the Old Testament, is equally applicable to the New: and though Abraham do only recommend Moses and the prophets, there is no doubt but he would have said the same concerning Christ and his apostles, if the books of the New Testament had been then extant. So that what shall say upon this observation, does indifferently concern the whole Scripture.
And that I may make out this observation more fully, I shall take these five things into consideration:
1st, What we are to understand by a Divine revelation.
2dly, Give a brief account of the several kinds of it.
3dly, Shew what advantage this standing revelation of the Scriptures hath above any other way of conveying the will of God to the world.
4thly, That there is sufficient evidence for the divinity of the Scriptures.
5thly, That it is unreasonable to expect that God should do more for our conviction, than to afford such a standing revelation of his mind and will. I shall go over these as briefly as I can. I begin with the
1st, What we are to understand by a Divine revelation. 228By a Divine revelation we are to understand a supernatural discovery, or manifestation of any thing to us; I say supernatural, because it may either be immediately by God, or by the mediation of angels, as most, if not all the revelations of the Old Testament were. A supernatural discovery or manifestation, either immediately to our minds, by our understandings and inward faculties, (for I do not so well understand the distinction between understanding and imagination, as to be careful to take notice of it,) or else immediately to our understandings by the mediation of our outward senses, as by an external appearance to our bodily eyes, or by a voice and sound to the sense of hearing: a discovery or manifestation of a thing, whether it be such as cannot be known at all by the use of our natural reason and understandings; or such as may be discovered by natural light, but is more clearly revealed or made known, or we are awakened to a more particular and attentive consideration of it. For it is not at all unsuitable to the wisdom of God, to make a supernatural discovery to us of such things as may be known by the light of nature, either to give us a clearer manifestation of such truths as were more obscurely known, and did, as it were, lie buried in our understandings; or else to quicken our minds to a more serious and lively consideration of those truths.
2dly, For the several kinds of Divine revelations. That they were various, the apostle to the Hebrews tells us; (chap. i. 1.) “God who, at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake to the fathers by the prophets;” where, by prophets, we are to understand not only those who did foretel future 229things, but any person that was divinely inspired, and to whom God was pleased to make any supernatural discovery of himself.
Now the several kinds of revelation taken notice of by the Jews, are visions, dreams, prophecy, oracle, inspiration, or that which they call the Holy Ghost; voice Bath-col, or that which was highest of all, which they call gradus Mosaicus, the degree of revelation which was peculiar to Moses. The Jewish writers, especially Maimonides, have many subtle observations about the differences of these several kinds of revelation, which depend upon subtle and philosophical distinctions of the faculties of perception; as that some of these revelations were by impression only upon the understanding; some only upon the imagination; some upon both; some upon the outward senses; but the simple and plain difference between them, so far as there is any ground in Scripture to distinguish them, seems to be this:—vision was a representation of something to a man when he was waking, in opposition to dreams, which were representations made to men in their sleep. Prophecy might be either dream or vision; and the Jews observe, that it was always one of these two ways, which they grounded upon Numb. xii. 6. “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” But prophecy, in the strict notion of it, had this peculiarly belonging to it, that it was not only monitory or instructive, but did foretel some event of concernment to others; and the Jewish doctors tell us, that it was a clearer revelation, and carried a greater assurance along with it; and that this was common to 230all the three, that there was something of ecstasy and transport of mind in all these.
The fourth sort of revelation, which was by oracle which is called Urim and Thummim, was a rendering of answers to questions, by the high-priest looking upon the stones in the breast-plate; which how it was done, is uncertain.
The fifth sort of revelation is that which they call the Holy Ghost, which was a more calm and gentle inspiration, without any extraordinary transport of mind or ecstasy, such as David had in the writing of the Psalms.
The lowest of all was that which they called Bath-col, which was by a voice from heaven; and this is the way of revelation, which the Jews observed, did only continue among them from the days of the prophet Malachi to our Saviour.
The highest of all was that which they called gradus Mosaicus to which the Jews give several prerogatives above all the other ways of revelation; as, that it was done by impression merely upon the understanding, without ecstasy, or rapture, or transport, when he was waking, and in his ordinary temper, and his senses not bound up either by ecstasy or sleep; that it was a revelation immediately from God himself, and not by the mediation of an gels, without any fear, or amazement, or fainting, which was incident to other prophets; and the spirit of prophecy rested upon him, and he could exert it arbitrarily, and put it forth when he would. Of which thus much is evidently true from the story of him, that the spirit of prophecy did rest more constantly upon him, and that he could exert it with greater freedom, and without any discernible amazement 231or transport from his ordinary temper. But that it was by impression merely upon his understanding, as that is a distinct faculty from the imagination, is not so certain: that it was always by an immediate communication from God, without the mediation of angels, seems not to be true; for St. Stephen tells us, that “the law was given by the disposition of angels,” (Acts vii. 53.) And St. Paul, that it was “ordained by the angels in the hand of a mediator,” that is, Moses, (Gal. iii. 19.) But that the revelation which was made to him, had some singular prerogatives above those of other prophets, is plain from Scripture, (Numb. xii. 5-8.) when Aaron and Miriam contended with Moses as being equal to him, God tells them that there was a vast difference between him and other prophets; “Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so—With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches,” &c. (Exod. xxxiii. 11.) “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Deut. xxxiv. 10.) “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” All which signify at least this, that God made the clearest, and most familiar, and most perfect discoveries to Moses of any of the prophets; only our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom God hath discovered his will to us under the New Testament, did excel Moses; Moses being but a faithful servant, that is, humilis amicus, “a meaner sort of friend;” but the Lord Jesus Christ, “the only-begotten Son of God,” who came from the bosom of his Father, and was intimately acquainted 232 with the secrets of his will, and “had not the Spirit given him by measure,” but the most plentiful effusion of it, being “anointed above his fellows.”
Now these being the several sorts and degrees of revelation, which God hath made of himself to the world, the Holy Scriptures are a system or collection of these, the authentic instrument or record, by which the things revealed any of these ways are transmitted to us, and is, therefore, called “the word of God,” as containing those things which God, in several ages, hath spoken to the world; that is, matters of Divine revelation, which are necessary to be known by men, in order to their eternal happiness. And this being now the great and standing revelation of God, which is to continue to the end of the world, I intend to limit my discourse solely to this, as being the only revelation which we are concerned to in quire after.
And, therefore, in the third place, to shew yon, what advantages this standing revelation of the Scriptures hath above private revelations made to particular persons, and frequently repeated and renewed in several ages; that so it may appear both agreeable to the wisdom of God to settle revelations in this way, as being more commodious; and like wise to his goodness, it being a real privilege which these latter ages of the world enjoy, that they have a more fixed and certain way of being acquainted with the will of God, than those ages had, which were governed by such private revelations, as were now and then made to particular persons: and the advantages are these:
1. It is a more certain way of conveyance of things, and more secure and free from imposture. Suppose a revelation made to a particular person, 233which is of general concernment; that this may have a general and lasting effect, he must impart it to others, as many as he can, and give them the best assurance he can of it; and these must relate it to others; and so it must pass from hand to hand, to be delivered from parents to their children. Now this way of conveying a revelation by oral report must needs be liable to many uncertainties, both by involuntary mistakes, through weakness of memory or understanding, and wilful falsifications and impostures, out of malice and design. So that the effect of an unrecorded revelation can neither be large nor lasting; it can but reach a few persons, and continue a little while in its full credibility; and the further it goes the weaker, like circles made in water, which the more they enlarge themselves, and the longer they continue, the less discernible they are, till at length they quite disappear. Whereas, being once recorded by persons secured from error, by supernatural and Divine assistance, they are not liable to those easy falsifications or mistakes, which traditional reports and relations are necessarily, through human malice or weakness, liable to.
2. It is a more general and universal way of conveyance; which is evident from the common experience of the world, who have pitched upon this way of writing things in books, as that which doth most easily convey the knowledge and notice of things to the generality of men.
3. It is a more uniform way of conveyance; that is, things that are once written and propagated that way, lay equally open to all, and come in a manner with equal credit to all; it being not morally possible, that a common book, that passeth through all 234hands, and which is of vast importance and concernment, should be liable to any material corruption, without a general conspiracy and agreement; which cannot be, but that it must be generally known. So that considering the commonness, and universal concernment of this book of the Scriptures, all men are in a manner equally, that is, every man is sufficiently and competently assured of the credit of it; that is, that we are not in any material thing imposed upon by false copies. But in traditional revelation it is quite otherwise; tradition being a very unequal and ununiform way of conveyance. For seeing it may be of general concernment, and all cannot have it at the first hand; that is, immediately from him to whom it was made, but some at the second, others at the third, fourth, or fifth hand, or much further off; the credit of it will be necessarily weakened by every remove. A report that comes through many hands, being like the argument we call induction; and as the strength and goodness of that depends upon the truth of every one of those instances that make it up, so that if any of them fail, the whole argument is nought; so the credit of a report that passeth through twenty hands, depends upon the integrity and sufficiency of all the relators; and whatever there is either of falsehood and malice, or of incapacity of understanding, or frailty of memory, in any of the relators, so much of weakness is derived into the report or testimony; and consequently, the assurance which we can have of a private revelation, which is delivered traditionally through a great many persons, must needs be very unequal.
4. It is a more lasting way of conveyance. Which likewise appears by experience, we having now nothing 235at all of the history of ancient times, but what is conveyed down to us in writing.
5. It is a more human way of conveyance, which requires less of miracle and supernatural interposition for the preservation of it. This book of the Scriptures may with ordinary human care be transmitted entire, and free from any material error, to all succeeding ages: but revelations unwritten, if they have any lasting and considerable effect, they must, at least, in every age, be renewed and repeated; otherwise, in a very short space, either through the unfaithfulness, or carelessness, and frailty of men, they will either be quite lost, or so corrupted and depraved, that they will signify nothing.
From all which it appears, that we have so little cause to murmur and repine at the providence of God, which in these latter ages of the world does not make those more immediate discoveries and manifestations of himself to us, that he did to former ages; that we have rather great reason to admire the wisdom and goodness of God’s providence, which hath privileged us with this standing revelation of his written word, which hath so many ways the advantage of frequent and extraordinary revelation, and in respect of the generality of mankind, is much more useful and effectual to its end. I know there are some that have endeavoured to persuade the world, that doctrines may much better be preserved by common rumour and report, than by writing and record; but I hope there is no man so destitute of common sense as to believe them, contrary to the experience of all men.
I come now to the fourth thing I proposed to be considered; namely, That there is sufficient evidence of the divinity of the Scriptures. By the divinity 236of the Scriptures, I mean that they were revealed by God, and that the things contained in them were not invented by men, but discovered to men by God; and that the penmen of these books did not write their own private conceptions, but were inspired by the Holy Ghost. Now, if we can be satisfied of this, we ought to receive the Scriptures with the same reverence as if an angel from heaven should declare these things unto us, or as if God should immediately reveal them to our minds; for nothing can come with greater authority than this, that we believe it to be revealed by God; and provided we be assured of this, it matters not which way; the thing hath the same authority.
Now that we have sufficient evidence of the divinity of the Scriptures, will best appear by considering what is sufficient to give authority to a book, so that no prudent or reasonable man can question but that the book was writ by him whose name it bears. For what evidence we would accept of for the authority of other books, we must not refuse in this case for the Scriptures; if we do, we deal unequally, and it is a sign that we do not want evidence for the authority of the Scriptures, but that we have no mind to believe them.
Now the utmost authority that any book is capable of, is, that it hath been transmitted down to us by the uncontrolled testimony of all ages, and that the authority of it was never questioned in that age wherein it was written, nor invalidated ever since.
And this evidence we have for the authority of the Scriptures. As for the Old Testament, I shall not now labour in the proof of that by arguments proper to itself, but shall take the divinity of them upon the authority of the New; which, if it be 237proved, is sufficient evidence for it, though there were no other.
Now for the Scriptures of the New Testament, I desire hut these two things to be granted to me at first:
1. That all were written by those persons whose names they bear: and for this we have as much authority as for any books in the world, and so much as may satisfy men in other cases, and therefore not to be rejected in this.
2. That those who wrote those books were men of integrity, and did not wilfully falsify in any thing; and this cannot reasonably be denied, because these very persons gave the utmost evidence that men could give of their integrity. The highest attestation that any man can give of the truth of what he relates, is to lay down his life for the testimony of it; and this the apostles did.
Now if this be granted, that they did not falsify in their relations concerning the miracles of Christ, and his resurrection, and the miraculous gifts which were bestowed upon the apostles after his ascension; this is as great an evidence as the world can give, and as the thing is capable of, that our Saviour was “a teacher come from God,” and that the apostles were extraordinarily assisted by the Holy Ghost; and if this be granted, what can be desired more to prove the divinity of their writings?
But it may be said, that though the apostles were granted to be men of integrity, and that they did not wilfully falsify in their relations, yet they might be mistaken about those matters: but that they were not, we have as much evidence as can be for any thing of this nature; namely, that the things which are related are plain sensible matters of fact, about which 238no man need mistake, unless he will; and they did not write things upon the report of others, who might possibly have designs to deceive, but upon the surest evidence in the world, their own knowledge, and the testimony of their senses: “the things that we have seen and heard, testify we unto you.” So that if they were mistaken in these things, no man can be sure of any thing; and by the same reason that we disbelieve the authority of the Scriptures upon this account, we must believe nothing at all. This is, in short, the whole force of the argument for the divinity of the Scriptures, which I might have enlarged infinitely upon; but I design now only briefly to represent to you, that we, who live at the distance of so many ages from the time of this revelation, are not destitute of sufficient evidence for the authority of the Scriptures, and such evidence, as they who reject in other cases, are esteemed unreasonable.
I should come now to the
5th, and last thing; namely, That it is unreason able to expect that God should do more for our conviction, than to afford us a standing revelation of his mind and will, such as the books of the Holy Scriptures are. But this I shall refer to another opportunity, in a particular discourse upon the 31st verse, which contains the main design, the sum and substance of this whole parable.239
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