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OF THE COMING OF THE HOLY GHOST, AS A GUIDE TO THE APOSTLES.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but you can not Lear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.—John xvi. 12, 13.
OUR Saviour having before declared to his disciples the great expediency of his leaving the world, in order to the coming of the Holy Ghost, (ver. 7.) he tells them, in the next place, what the office of the Holy Ghost should be. In reference to Christ, he should be an advocate: and in reference to them, he should be a guide or teacher.
1. In reference to Christ, he should be an advocate to plead the cause of Christ and of his doctrine, and to vindicate them to the world: (ver. 8-11.) “And when he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believed not in me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” All which I have formerly handled and explained at large.
2. In regard to the apostles; the Holy Ghost is promised to be a guide and teacher, to reveal to them, and instruct them in some truths which our Saviour, whilst he was with them, had not so fully acquainted them withal, because of their present incapacity 417and unfitness at that time to receive them. “I have many things to say unto you, but you can not bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.”
In the handling of these words, I shall do these two things:
First, I shall endeavour to explain the meaning of them.
Secondly I shall draw some inferences from them.
First, I shall begin with the explication of them; in order whereunto, it will be requisite to inquire into these two things:
I. What those things probably were, which our Saviour did not reveal and declare to his disciples, because they could not then bear them.
II. What is the meaning of this promise, that “the Spirit of truth shall guide them into all truth.”
I. What those things probably were, which our Saviour did not reveal and declare to his disciples, because they could not then bear them. Our Saviour does not express particularly what those things were, nor can it be expected he should have done so: for then he had declared them to them, which he tells us he would not do: but the text gives us two marks to direct our inquiry concerning them.
1. That they were such things as the disciples at that time were incapable of. “I have many things yet to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” So that it seems they were such truths, as the disciples were prejudiced against upon some account or other; most probably by reason of their education in the Jewish religion, and some principles which they had imbibed from the teachers and interpreters of their law.
2. They were such truths as, after the Holy Ghost 418 did descend upon them, they should be instructed in. So that if we can find out what those truths were which the disciples were fully instructed in after the coming of the Holy Ghost, which either were not at all, or not so clearly revealed to them before, because of their prejudice against them; we may then certainly conclude, that these were the things which our Saviour here speaks of, when he says, “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
And upon inquiry into this matter by these two marks, it will appear that they were principally these three:
1. That our Saviour did not design the setting up of any temporal kingdom in this world; but that his kingdom and government was to be spiritual, not managed by any external force or compulsion, or by laws, the violation whereof he would vindicate by the temporal sword; but bylaws, the sanction and penalty whereof should take hold of the minds and spirits of men, and relate unto another world.
And this was a truth which the disciples were incapable of, whilst our Saviour was here upon earth; against which they were so prejudiced by the general tradition which the Jews had entertained, that the Messias was to be a great temporal prince, and to subdue all nations to them, that they were in a continual expectation, when he would lay aside his mean condition, and appear in that glory and majesty which they expected; when like the sun he would break through all those clouds wherewith he was muffled and obscured, and shine forth in his full strength and glory. For it appears very plain, that they had a hankering expectation after some 419such thing, and that after he had so plainly declared to them his death and sufferings. For the text tells us, that “they could not understand these things, but they were hid from them;” that is, they were so possessed with the conceit of his temporal kingdom, that they could not imagine that any such thing could befal him. And to shew how deeply this conceit was rooted in them, immediately after Christ had told them so plainly of his sufferings, James and John put up a petition to him, that one of them might sit on his right hand, and the other on his left, in his kingdom. This opinion of his temporal kingdom did so run in their minds, that they could not understand any thing that seemed to contradict it.
And though our Saviour had so expressly declared, but a little before his death, that his “kingdom was not of this world,” and therefore he should make no resistance to the violence that was offered to him, yea, though the disciples saw him put to death; yet they did not lay aside this opinion, but still expected that he would rise again, and then begin his kingdom in this world. For so we find the two disciples discoursing together, as they were going to Emmaus: (Luke xxiv. 21.) “We trusted,” say they one to another, “that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” And, after his resurrection, this was that which lay uppermost in their minds, and which their thoughts were still upon; as appears by that question which they put to him just before his ascension, as St. Luke tells us: (Acts i. 6.) “When therefore they were come together, they asked of him, saying, Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
No wonder then, if, being possessed with so strong 420a prejudice about this matter, our Saviour did not strive to convince them of it, whilst he was upon earth; because they could not then have borne it: but we find that, after the coming of the Holy Ghost, they were fully instructed in it, and quitted the conceit which they had formerly entertained, and were satisfied that he was ascended into heaven, and “set at the right hand of the majesty of God;” and that from thence he had sent his Spirit to instruct and govern his church, and that this was the kingdom of the Messias.
They were so possessed before with another apprehension, that they would almost have rejected him, had they understood that the Messias was to have no other kingdom than this; but after that glorious confirmation was given to him, by his resurrection from the dead, and visible ascension into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Ghost in such wonderful and miraculous gifts, then at last they were capable of understanding and receiving this truth, which could not sink into their hearts before.
2. Another truth which our Saviour here probably intended, was the abrogating the Jewish dispensation. And this likewise they must needs be extremely prejudiced against; because their law was given by God, and looked upon by them, not as a temporary, but a perpetual institution. And this truth we find that the apostles were afterwards instructed in, when the Holy Ghost was come upon them. And, therefore, in the council at Jerusalem, the apostles released the gentiles from the observance of Moses’s law, as a thing which they were perfectly instructed in by the Holy Ghost. (Acts xv. 28.) “It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us,” &c.421
3. Another truth which our Saviour probably here intended, was, that the salvation of the Messias belonged to the gentiles as well as to the Jews. The Jews had a strong conceit of their own privileges, and looked upon all the world, besides themselves, as a company of reprobates, that had no share or interest in the promise of God, or in those great blessings which their Messias was to bring to the world. And we find that the disciples had so deeply imbibed this prejudice in their education, that they wondered at our Saviour, when they found him talking with the Samaritan woman. And though before his ascension he had given them an express command to “go and teach all nations,” yet it seems it was a good while before they understood this command in the latitude in which our Saviour in tended it. For it is plain, from the history of the Acts, that until Peter was sent to Cornelius, and better instructed in this matter by a vision from heaven, they had not at all preached the gospel to the gentiles, being persuaded that it was unlawful to do it: but, by the command of our Saviour to “go and teach all nations,” they understood that they were to preach to the Jews dispersed in all nations. But after this vision to Peter, and when they saw that the Holy Ghost fell upon the gentiles, in the same manner that it had done upon them, then, and not before, they were instructed in this truth.
That these are all or some of the principal of those truths which our Saviour here means, when he says, that he had yet many things to say unto his disciples, which they could not then bear, does, I hope, sufficiently appear; because they were such truths as the disciples were most vehemently prejudiced against, and which afterwards they were fully instructed 422in by the descent of the Holy Ghost, and not before.
II. I shall inquire what is the meaning of this promise in the text, that “the Spirit of truth will guide them into all truth.”
That these words are not to be understood in the greatest latitude which they are capable of, I think any one will grant. For certainly no man ever sup posed, that our Saviour here promised that his Spirit should lead his disciples into the knowledge of all natural truths, and instruct them in all the depths of philosophy, and in the mysteries of all arts and sciences. Plain it is then, that some limitation must be put upon this general and universal promise of “leading them into all truth.” All the difficulty is, how far it is to be limited, and what bounds are to be set to this general promise.
Now in all reason it ought to be limited by the context; and if we go that way, which is the only reasonable way of limiting general words, then the plain meaning of this promise will be this: that because our Saviour had forborne to reveal several truths to his disciples, which they were not then capable of, he would supply this difficulty after wards by his Holy Spirit, who, after that he was risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, should descend upon them, and instruct them fully in those truths, which he, in condescension to their prejudice and incapacity, had in his life-time for borne to do; that is, he would take a fitter season to instruct them fully by his Spirit, in all those truths which, whilst he was upon earth, they were not so capable of receiving. “I have yet many things to say unto you:” that is, besides what I have already declared to you, there are several other things, 423which ye are not now so capable of receiving, which the Holy Ghost, whom I will send in my name, shall take a more convenient time to instruct you in. And our Saviour speaks much to the same purpose: (John xv. 25, 26.) “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you; but the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things;” that is, he shall make up and supply what is wanting, and instruct you in those things which ye are not now so capable of receiving.
I shall now, in the second place, make some inferences from the words thus explained. As,
First, That it is not necessary at all times to preach all truths, which are of importance to be99 Utile ste ut taceatur aliquod verum, propter incapaces. Aug. Persev. 1. ii. c. 16. known. For these were great truths which our Saviour forbore for some time to reveal to his disciples, and were of great importance to the planting and propagating of the gospel: and yet he thought it better at present to forbear the pressing of them, than by an unseasonable declaration of them to do no good, but only stir up prejudice against himself, and those other necessary truths which he had instructed them in.
Secondly, That there ought to be a due regard had to what people can bear; and where men are possessed with a violent prejudice against some truths, we ought, in imitation of our Saviour’s example, patiently to expect and endeavour the removal of that prejudice; and, first, to apply all fit ting means for the conquering and subduing it, be fore we expose truth to be rejected by those who 424have taken up a violent prejudice against it. And this rule holds universally, where we have to deal with persons who are tractable and willing to learn, but do at present lie under some prejudice of education, or some false principles which they entertained unawares, which, by time and patience, and gradual progress of truth, may be removed, but are not to be conquered and borne down at once. There are some prejudices which cannot be plucked out of the minds of men at once, but yet may be so loosened by degrees, that they will fall off of themselves; as there are many knots untied with patience and leisure, which by a violent pulling are fixed so much the faster.
And this course we find the apostles took, in imitation of our Saviour; (1 Cor. iii. 2.) “I have fed you (saith St. Paul there) with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it.” He was contented to instil truth into them by degrees, and as they were capable of it. The minds of most men are strait and narrow, and cannot receive that at once which may be instilled by degrees; like narrow-mouthed vessels, into which liquor may be poured by degrees; but if we strive to put it in faster than they can receive it, it runs by, and is lost.
But where men are not of a teachable disposition, but the prejudice against truth is wilful and affected, there we are bound to propose great and important truths to men, notwithstanding their prejudice against them, and to urge upon them those things which are necessary and fit for them to know, “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” And if in that case they will resist truth, fairly and with full evidence proposed to them, 425they do it at their peril. God is not obliged to do more, than to offer men sufficient means of conviction; and if they will be obstinate and pertinacious, God is not bound in that case to provide any farther remedy.
III. Another inference, and which I principally intended from this text, is this: that from the explication which I have given of this promise of our Saviour’s, of sending his Spirit to lead his disciples into all truth, it very plainly appears, that there is no ground or colour of ground from this text, for the pretended infallibility of the Romish church: and yet this is one of those texts, which their great masters of controversy do urge us withal, for the proof of their infallibility; a sign that they are much at a loss for good arguments to prove it by, otherwise they would never summon a text so very remote from their purpose. And how far this text is from proving their church to be infallible, will very clearly appear, if we consider these five things:
1. That the plain and obvious sense of this promise (as I have already shewn) is this; that because there was some truths fit for the apostles to know, which they were not at that time capable of receiving, whilst our Saviour was upon earth, there fore, after his ascension, he would send his Holy Spirit to instruct them in those things, and to guide them into all those truths, which it was not then, seasonable to acquaint them withal. Now by what art can any man infer from hence, that our Saviour would give the infallible assistance of his Holy Spirit to the church of Rome, to the end of the world?
2. Let it also be considered, that this promise 426was made personally to the apostles, and therefore ought not to be extended beyond them, unless it evidently appear, that it ought to be so extended; unless it evidently appear, either from the tenor of the promise, or from some other reason, that it was the intention of the promiser that this should equally extend to others as well as to them. It is true, that this promise was made to the apostles, not merely for their own sakes, but for the benefit of the church; for God thereby promiseth, that his Spirit should reveal those truths to them, that they might declare them to the church: but it does not from hence follow, that any other persons, in succeeding ages of the church, should have the same immediate assistance of the Holy Ghost which the apostles had; because, being once revealed to the church, there was no need of a new revelation of those truths in every age.
3. There is nothing in the tenor of this promise, nor any other reason, from whence it may appear, that this promise ought to be extended any farther than to the persons to whom it was made; because this promise was made with a peculiar respect to the apostles, and their employment, and for reasons proper to the first state of the church; and not common to all ages; therefore it cannot with reason be extended to all after-ages of the church.
Let it be granted, then, that this promise, taken together with other promises of our Saviour made to the apostles, does signify an infallible assistance to them, so as to secure them from error, in the delivery of the doctrine of Christ; yet why should any church afterwards, much less the church of Rome, apart from all others, pretend to be heir general to the apostles in this infallible assistance? 427the apostles gave sufficient evidence of their infallibility, by the miracles which they wrought: and let the pope and general councils give this testimony of their infallibility, and we are ready to acknowledge it. There was reason why this assistance should be afforded to the apostles in the first preaching of the gospel; but after it was planted, and the doctrine of Christianity consigned to writing, there was no need of such an infallible assistance afterwards.
But they of the church of Rome tell us, that this infallible assistance was necessary after wards for the perpetuity of the church, and for the government of it, and for the decision of controversies amongst Christians. To this I answer two things:
First, If this infallible assistance be necessary to these ends, then it is also necessary, that it should have been declared, what that church or society is, which was to be so infallible; else how should men know, whither to have recourse for the government of the church, and the decision of controversies in matters of difficulty? As good the Christian church be without infallibility, as that no man should know where it is.
And will any man have the confidence to say, that God hath any where in Scripture declared, that the church of Rome hath this infallibility annexed to her? Hath the Scripture any where told us, that the church of Rome is the catholic church; that is, that a particular church is the church universal; if we should suppose the universal church to be infallible in matters of faith and practice, is it any where said in the Bible, that the pope, or a general council, or both together are infallible? Are we any where there directed to have recourse to 428Rome, and the bishop of that city, either with or without a general council, for the determination of controversies in religion? And yet if infallibility be necessary for the ends mentioned, then certainly it is as necessary, that we should have been plainly directed where to find it, that we may make use of it upon occasion. What man living can persuade himself, that the belief of the infallibility of the Romish church; that is, of the pope, or of the pope and council, should be so fundamental an article of faith as they would make it; and yet that neither Christ nor his apostles should say one word about it? How comes it to pass, that when there were so many schisms and dissensions in the primitive church, St. Paul should never so much as once mention this effectual remedy of all those evils, to send them to St. Peter, who was the only infallible judge of controversies? If Christ had appointed this way, then certainly St. Paul could not have been ignorant of it. Besides that, it would have been an excellent direction to the church in after ages, what to have done in the like cases; if our Saviour, or any of his apostles, would have given us the least signification, that the heir of infallibility had been fixed at Rome, and that thither we were to have recourse for the deciding of all differences in religion.
Especially it must needs seem very wonderful, that St. Paul in his Epistle to the Roman church, should not acquaint them what a singular privilege that church had above all other churches, that it was the seat of infallibility, and that the bishop of that church was the great judge of controversies, and that there could no difference arise among them, about any matter of faith, but they might 429speedily have it decided from that chair. Nay, on the contrary, there are shrewd intimations given, that the church of Rome herself should apostatize from the faith, and that her haughtiness would be her ruin. (Rom. xi. 20, 21.) Where, speaking of the Jews, that were broken off by their unbelief, he gives this caution to the church of Rome; “Well: because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches; take heed lest he also spare not thee.” “Be not high-minded, but fear.” What needed they to fear, who had the privilege of infallibility? Their faith must needs be unshaken. But St. Paul seems to think that church to be in as much danger of falling from the faith, as any other. From whence we may certainly conclude, that he knew nothing of its infallibility. Nay, he seems to have foreseen their arrogant pretence to it, and that that very thing would be the occasion of their falling, when he gives them that caution, “Be not high-minded, but fear.” For what greater instance could there possibly be of a proud and high mind, than to assume to themselves to be infallible? But,
Secondly, The ends mentioned may be sufficiently attained without infallibility. As for the perpetuity of the church, that may continue to the end of the world, by virtue of the infallibility of Christ’s promise, though there be no infallibility either in the church of Rome, or any where else. For setting aside Christ’s promise, the church may fail; and his promise signifies only that it shall not fail, not that it cannot. All that can be inferred from the promise of Christ, concerning the perpetuity of the church, is only the certainty of the event, but not 430the infallibility of the cause; not that the church shall be infallible, but only that it shall not fail.
In like manner for the government of the church, and decision of controversies, there is no need of infallibility; because the church may be governed well enough, as other societies are, without an in fallibility: and all controversies that are necessary to be decided, may be decided by the infallible rule of faith, the Holy Scriptures, which are plain in all things necessary; and there is no necessity, that controversies about matters not necessary should be decided.
To conclude this point; if the pope and a general council be the seat of infallibility, (which is the most general opinion in the church of Home) then how was the Christian church governed, and controversies decided, before the council of Nice, which was the first general council; that is, for three hundred years? And if the church did well enough for three hundred years without an infallible judge, this is a demonstration that there is no absolute need of it.
4. This promise here in the text signifies a revelation of some new truths to the apostles, which they were not instructed in before, and therefore cannot belong to any church in after-ages. For the church of Rome herself does not pretend to any revelation of objects of faith not known before, and therefore can challenge nothing by virtue of this promise.
5. Suppose infallible assistance were here promised to the church in all ages, and that the church of Rome were the catholic church, and that the pope and a council were the Roman church, and consequently the catholic: I say, suppose all this 431granted; yet the church of Rome, according to her principles, can never be certain that this is the meaning of this promise. For they profess to receive both the Scripture and the interpretation of it from the church, and consequently to believe this text to be scripture, and this to be the meaning of this text, because their church which is infallible tells them so: and if so, then they do not believe their church to be infallible, because this text says so; but they believe this to be the meaning of this text, because their church is infallible and tells them so. So that of necessity they must first believe their church to be infallible, before they can prove it from this or any other text; and consequently, they must either prove things in a circle, or else take the meaning of this text of the infallibility of their church for granted, without any proof. And thus much may suffice to have spoken to this text.432
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