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OF THE NATURE OF FAITH IN GENERAL.
But without faith it is impossible to please God.—Heb. xi. 6.
BEFORE I come to the words themselves, in order to our better understanding of them, we will take into consideration the design of this Epistle, that so we may see more clearly the relation that these words have to the foregoing discourse. Who the penman of this Epistle was, I shall not tell you, be cause I do not know, nor is it much material to know it; but whoever wrote it, he had this very good design in the writing of it, to persuade the Jews to hold fast the profession of the gospel, not withstanding all the sufferings and persecutions it exposed them to. And to this purpose he shews, at large, what prerogatives the gospel had above the legal administration. “The law was given by the disposition of the angels, in the hand of a mediator,” that is, Moses: but the gospel is revealed to us by the Son of God; a person, not only above Moses, who was a mere man; but above angels. The gospel is the substance and reality of the types and ceremonies, and the very good things themselves, that were obscurely represented by those shadows. It is “a testament established upon better promises,” the clear promises of eternal life, which were but darkly revealed in the Old Testament, that being established either solely or principally 174upon temporal promises; and it is a perfect and complete dispensation, that hath in it all things requisite to attain its end, and therefore shall never stand in need of any farther change or alteration. These are the heads of those arguments which the author of this Epistle does largely discourse upon.
Now the gospel having in these respects the advantage of the legal dispensation, the apostle doth all along in this Epistle earnestly exhort the Jews to a constant profession and steadfast belief of the gospel, and not to return back from Christianity to Judaism, which was a fur less perfect institution: (chap. ii. 1.) “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip;” παραῤῥυῶμεν, “lest we should fall away,” so the word may be rendered. And, (chap. iii. 12.) “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” And, (chap. iv. 1.) “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” And, (chap. x. 23.) “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.
After which he declares the danger of apostacy, or falling off from the belief and profession of the gospel which they had entertained; (ver. 26.) “For if we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” He tells them they would be shrewdly tempted to apostacy by the reproaches, afflictions, and persecutions, that they would meet withal: but the promises of the gospel were sufficient to sup port and bear up good men under these, if they 175were but firmly persuaded of the truth of them; and though they did not for the present receive the things promised, yet a firm belief of them would carry them through all sufferings, and make them hold out under them. “The just shall live by faith,” (ver. 38.)
And having mentioned the power of faith; that is, of a confident persuasion of the truth and reality of the promises of the gospel to support men under sufferings, he gives an account how faith uses to have this influence; (ver. 1.) “Faith is the substance of things hoped for;” so we render the word ὑπόστασις: but it might be much better rendered, both according to the frequent use of it in the Septuagint, and in the New Testament, “a confidence of things hoped for;” that is, a confident expectation of things hoped for, or a firm persuasion that our hopes will not be frustrated. And as this is more agreeable to the scope and design of the apostle, so likewise to the common acceptation of this word in the New Testament, for which I will appeal to two places: (2 Cor. ix. 4.) “that we be not put to shame in this confidence of boasting,” ἐν τῆ ὑποστάσει ταύτη. The other text is in this Epistle, (chap. iii. 14.) “That we hold fast the beginning of our confidence,” τὴν ἀρχὴν τὴς ὑποστάσεως, which is of the very same sense with παῤῥησία, at the sixth verse. “If we hold fast the confidence,” παῤῥησίαν, “and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. And the evidence of things not seen,” ἔλεγχος, “the conviction,” as being convinced, or persuaded of the truth of those things, for which we have no ocular or sensible demonstration. Now if faith in the promises of the gospel do persuade us and give us satisfaction that we shall receive a reward, which 176will outweigh and countervail our present sufferings, then faith is likely to support us under sufferings.
And, that this is no strange thing which the apostle speaks of faith, he shews that, in all ages, faith hath been the principle of all holy and heroic actions. “By it the elders obtained a good report;” it is that which made the holy men of the Old Testament so famous; and this he proves throughout this chapter, by a large induction of particular instances, in which we see the power of faith, the wonderful effects of it, and the mighty works it hath done in the world.
But because he had said before, that “faith is the evidence (or conviction) of things not seen,” as well as a confident expectation of things hoped for, before he comes to instance in the effects of faith, upon particular persons in the Old Testament, he proves it to be “the evidence of things not seen,” that is, being convinced and persuaded of things of which we have no sensible and ocular demonstration: (ver. 3.) “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear;” that is, though we were not present at the making of the world, nor did see it framed; yet we are satisfied, and do believe that it was made by the powerful word of God, and that all those things which we see, were not produced out of things which do now appear, but either immediately out of nothing, or a dark confused chaos.
And having thus proved that we may be persuaded of things we do not see, of things past or future, he comes to the particular instances of the holy men of the Old Testament, in whom the power 177of faith did appear. He begins with Abel, who being persuaded of the being of God, and the perfection and excellency of the Divine nature, and consequently that he was worthy to be served with the best, by virtue of this faith “offered up to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” The second instance is in Enoch, who being persuaded of the being of God, and of his goodness to reward them that serve him, was a righteous man, and studious to please God; and as a reward of this faith and obedience, “God translated him, that he should not see death;” upon which the apostle assumes, (ver. 6.) “but without faith it is impossible to please God.” As if he had said, Unless a man do believe, and be persuaded of some principles, it is impossible any man should be religious, or endeavour to do any thing that is pleasing or acceptable to God: for religion, and the service of God, and an endeavour to please him, do suppose at least that I believe and am persuaded of these two things—of the being, and of the goodness of God; that there is such a being as I serve and seek to please, and that his goodness is such, that it will not be in vain to serve him, he will not let me be a loser by it.
And that here, by pleasing, we are to understand in general, the performing any action of religion, is evident from the equivalent terms which are used in the next words; “For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him;” where coming to God, and seeking of him, are of the same importance with pleasing him. Now, to come to God, and seek him, in Scripture phrase, signify the sum of religion, it being usual in the language of the Scripture, to express the whole of religion by any eminent principle, 178or part, or effect of it, as by the knowledge, remembrance, or fear of God, in the Old Testament; by the love of him, and faith in him, in the New, by coming to him, seeking him, calling upon his name, and pleasing of him.
Now, that coming to God, and seeking him, are of the same importance here with pleasing him, will be clear to any that consider the apostle’s reasoning here in the text, which supposeth those to be the same, otherwise there would be no force in his argument. For the proposition which he proves, is, that “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” The argument he useth is this, “If every one that comes to God must believe that he is,” &c. then “without faith it is impossible to please him;” but “every one that comes to God must believe that he is.” Now, unless coming to God, and seeking him, be the same thing with pleasing him, this would be no good argument; for there would be four terms in it; but if these phrases be made equivalent, then the argument is good. Thus, if “every one that comes to God,” that is, that will please him, “must believe that he is,” &c. then “without faith it is impossible to please him:” but “every one that comes to God,” that is, that will please him, “must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” or that endeavour to please him; therefore “without faith it is impossible to please him.”
Which proposition doth not only signify that faith is necessary to religion, and a condition with out which it cannot be; but implies likewise, that it is a cause or principle of it; not only the foundation upon which all religion must be built; but the fountain from whence it springs. For this I take to 179be implied in the words—not only that there can be no religion unless we believe a God; but supposing this truth firmly believed, that there is a God, it will have a great influence upon men to make them religious. For the apostle having before spoken of the power of faith upon Abel and Enoch, that it put them upon pleasing God, he assumes in the next words, “but without faith,” &c. As if he had said, That ye may know what was the principle of their religion, of their holiness and obedience, let us imagine that a man should believe nothing concerning the being of a God, or the blessedness of those that serve him; what would be the issue? Why this, certainly—there would be no religion, no such thing as serving of God, or endeavouring to please him; for unless we believe that he is, and that he will reward those that seek to please him, it is impossible, that is, it is unreasonable to think men should attempt to please him. So that faith is the cause and principle of religion; it is the thing, quo posito, ponitur effectus; et quo sublato, tollitur. Do but suppose and admit that a man truly believes there is a God, and he will seek to please him: but if you suppose a man believes no such thing, he will cast off all religion. This is the plain meaning of the words; not, as some have thought, that with out faith a man may perform religious actions, but then they would not be accepted, or pleasing to God: but that which the apostle means is, Without faith it is impossible there should be any religion: not that religious acts should be performed in an acceptable manner; as if Cain had offered as good a sacrifice as Abel, only faith made the difference; but Cain did not believe, was not persuaded of the being of God and his excellency, therefore thought to put 180God off with any thing; Abel believed, and did offer a more excellent sacrifice, not more excellent because it was mixed with faith, but it was more excellent in itself.
The observation therefore from these words is this: that faith is one great principle of all religious actions.
In the handling of this, I shall endeavour,
First, To fix and settle the true notion of faith, whereby we may come to understand the general nature of it.
Secondly, To confirm the truth of the proposition.
Thirdly, Draw some inferences from hence.
First, To settle and fix the true notion of faith, whereby we may come to understand the general nature of it. I find that most who write upon this subject have marvellously puzzled themselves with the various acceptations of this word πίστος, and the verb πιστεύειν, insomuch that some have undertaken to enumerate above twenty distinct significations of this word. I cannot find so many, it may be others may; but hereby, instead of clearing the notion of faith, they have involved it, and made it more intricate, and have made men believe, that it is a notion very remote from common understanding: whereas there is not any word that is in common use that is more plain and easy, and which any one may understand better than this of faith and believing.
Therefore, in the explication of it, I shall attend to the use of it in common speech, and in all authors, as well profane as sacred: and I shall not guide myself by terms of art, which have been received in the schools, and have confounded the 181meaning of words, by distorting them from the common and received use of them; but shall govern myself by the nature of the things to which this word in common use is applied.
I shall remove two acceptations of it which are less usual, and then fix the common and general notion of it, to which all the other more particular significations may be referred. The two less usual acceptations are these:
First, It is sometimes put for the particular grace or virtue which is called fidelity, or faithfulness in our promises and contracts; and in this sense it is sometimes used in common discourse, and in all sorts of writers. I shall only mention a text or two where it is so taken: (Matt. xxiii. 23.) “And have omitted the weightier things of the law, judgment, and mercy, and faith/ that is, fidelity. And (Rom. iii. 3.) with relation to God, “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God of none effect?” that is, his faithfulness in his promises. (Tit. ii. 10.) “Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity,” πίστιν πᾶσαν, “all faith.”
Secondly, It is sometimes put for spiritual gifts, and particularly the gift of miracles, which were wrought by the power of faith. (Rom. xii. 3.) “According as God hath dealt to every man the mea sure of faith;” that is, of spiritual gifts of prophesying, or ministry, or exhortation, as it is explained afterward. (1 Cor. xii. 2.) “To another is given faith by the same Spirit;” that is, a power of miracles in general, as learned interpreters think. Nor doth that which is added afterwards, that “to an other is given the working of miracles,” prejudice this interpretation; for ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, “the operation of powers,” which we render “of miracles,” seems 182to signify some special sort of miracles, not the power of miracles in general. And this seems to be favoured by the acceptation of it in the next chapter, ver. 2. “And though I had all faith, so that I could remove mountains;” where faith is undoubtedly taken for the power of miracles.
These being removed, as very alien and remote from the common and usual acceptation of the word, I come now to fix the general notion of faith, to which all other acceptations of it may easily be reduced; and it is this:
Faith is a persuasion of the mind concerning any thing; concerning the truth of any proposition; concerning the existence, or futurition, or lawfulness, or convenience, or possibility, or goodness, of any thing, or the contrary; or concerning the credit of a person, or the contrary. And this notion is not only agreeable to the proper notion of the word πίστις, which comes from πέιθω, to persuade, but is war ranted from the common use of it in this latitude. It is ordinary for men to say, they believe, or are persuaded, such a proposition is true or false, such a thing is or is not, such an event will be or will not be; that such an action is lawful or unlawful, such a thing is good or bad, convenient or inconvenient, possible or impossible to be done; or that they believe such a person, or do not believe him. And I could shew from Scripture, that believing is applied to all these matters, and many more; I will only instance in one or two.
That faith is frequently used for the persuasion of the truth of a doctrine, or of the veracity of God or Christ, I shall not need to produce any texts, there are so many.
That faith is used for a persuasion of the lawfulness 183of an action, the 14th chapter to the Romans doth abundantly testify. (Ver. 2.) “One believeth that he may eat all things;” that is, is persuaded in his mind that all sorts of meat are lawful without distinction. (Ver. 22.) “Hast thou faith?” that is, art thou persuaded or satisfied in thy mind of the lawfulness of those indifferent things he had been speaking of? (Ver. 23.) “He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith, is sin;” that is, what ever is not done with the persuasion and satisfaction of our minds that we may lawfully do it, “is sin.” I shall trouble you with no more instances.
Now this being the general notion of faith, that it is a persuasion of the mind concerning any thing, from hence by a metonymy it comes to be put for the argument whereby this persuasion is wrought in us. Hence it is, that among the rhetoricians πίστεις are any kind of argument or proof which orators make use of to persuade men; and there is one place in the New Testament, where in πίστις seems to be used in this sense, or very near it, (Acts xvii. 31.) “Because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world,” &c. “whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead,” πίστιν παρασχὼν πᾶσιν, “having offered faith to all men;” that is, having given ns this argument for the proof of it, that “he raised Christ from the dead.”
Sometimes it is put for the object of this persuasion, or the matter or thing whereof we are persuaded. And thus frequently in the New Testament, the gospel, which is the object of our faith, the thing which we believe, is called faith. And thus you find it used in that phrase of “obedience to the faith,” that is, to the gospel, (Acts vi. 7. 184Rom. i. 5; xvi. 26.) And in this sense faith, that is the gospel, is frequently opposed to the dispensation of the law, (Rom. iii. 27, 31, and x. 16, Gal. i. 23.) “He that persecuted us in times past, now preacheth the faith which he once destroyed.” (Gal. iii. 2.) The hearing of the gospel is called the “hearing of faith;” (ver. 23.) “Before faith came;” (and ver. 25.) “But after that faith is come.” (Eph. iv. 5.) “There is one faith,” that is, one gospel which we believe. (1 Tim. iv. 6.) “Nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine.”
The opposites to faith, are unbelief and credulity. Unbelief, which is a not being persuaded of a thing, is the deficient extreme: or doubting, if it prevail to a degree of unbelief: and credulity, which is an easiness to believe things without any probable argument to induce our persuasion, is the redundant extreme.
The seat or subject of faith is the mind, or the heart, as the Scripture usually calls it. “With the heart man believes,” that is, with the soul: for I do not understand any real distinction of faculties; but if you will distinguish them, the proper seat of this persuasion is the understanding; the immediate effect of it is upon the will; by which it works upon the affections and the life.
And faith in this general notion is not opposed to error, and knowledge, and opinion: but comprehends all these under it. For if a man be persuaded of that which is false, he “believes a lie,” as the Scripture expresseth it; a man may be certainly persuaded of a thing, that is, firmly believe it, which is knowledge; a man may be probably persuaded of a thing, that is, believe it with some diffidence and uncertainty, and that is opinion.
But for our better understanding of this general 185notion of faith, we will take into consideration these four things:
I. The cause of it, or the argument whereby it is wrought.
II. The degrees of it, and the difference of them.
III. The natural efficacy and operation of it.
IV. The several kinds of it.
I. We will consider the cause of faith, or the argument whereby it is wrought. Now all the arguments whereby faith may be wrought in us, that is, a persuasion of any thing, will I think fall under one of these four heads; sense, experience, reason drawn from the thing, or the authority and testimony of some person.
1. Sense. Hence it is commonly said, that “seeing is believing,” that is, one of the best arguments to persuade us of any thing. That faith may be wrought by this argument, appears both from the nature of the thing, nothing being more apt to persuade us of any thing than our senses; and from several expressions in Scripture. I will instance in one for all. (John xx. 8.) “Then went in also the other disciple into the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.” And whereas Scripture opposeth faith to sight, as, (2 Cor. v. 7.) “We walk by faith, and not by sight;” (Heb. xi. 1.) “It is the evidence of things not seen;” we are to understand that only concerning a belief of the things. of another world, which are futurities, and invisible, which the apostle is there speaking of; or of things which are of the same nature with these, as things past: not but that a man may very well be induced to believe a thing by his senses.
2. Experience; which, though it may be sensible, and then it is the same argument with 186sense; yet sometimes it is not, and then it is an argument distinct from it. As for example: a man may by experience be persuaded or induced to believe this proposition—that his will is free, that he can do this, or not do it; which is a better argument than a demonstration to the contrary, if there could be one.
3. Reasons drawn from the thing; which may either be necessary and concluding, or else only probable and plausible.
4. The authority and testimony of some credible person. Now two things give authority and credit to the relation, or testimony, or assertion of a person concerning any thing; ability and integrity. Ability, if he can be presumed to have a competent knowledge of what he relates, or asserts, or testifies; and integrity, if he may be presumed to be honest in his relation, and free from any design, or will to deceive. And to these heads, I think all arguments of belief may be reduced.
II. The second thing to be considered is the degrees of faith, and the difference of them. And that there are degrees, I take for granted, though I shall afterwards have occasion to prove it in a Divine faith; and these depend perfectly upon the capacity of the person that believes, or is persuaded. Now the capacity, or incapacity of persons are infinitely various, and not to be reduced to theory; but sup posing a competent capacity in the person, then the degrees of faith or persuasion take their difference from the arguments, or motives, or inducements which are used to persuade. Where sense is the argument, there is the highest and firmest degree of faith, or persuasion. Next to that is experience, which is beyond any argument or reason from the thing. The faith or 187persuasion which is wrought in us by reasons from the thing, the degrees of it are as the reasons are: if they be necessary and concluding, it is firm and certain in its kind; if only probable, according to the degrees of probability, it hath more or less of doubting mixed with it. Lastly, the faith which is wrought in us by testimony or authority of a person, takes its degrees from the credit of a person, that is, his ability and integrity. Now because “all men are liars,” that is, either may deceive, or be deceived, their testimony partakes of their infirmity, and so doth the degree of persuasion wrought by it: but God being both infallible and true, and consequently it being impossible that he should either deceive, or be deceived, his testimony begets the firmest persuasion, and the highest degree of faith in its kind. But then it is to be considered, that there not being a revelation of a revelation in infinitum; that this is a Divine testimony and revelation, we can only have rational assurance; and the degree of the faith or persuasion which is wrought by a Divine testimony will be according to the strength of the arguments which we have to persuade us that such a testimony is Divine.
III. For the efficacy or operation of faith we are to consider, that the things we may believe or be persuaded of are of two sorts. Either, 1. They are such as do not concern me; and then the mind rests in a naked and simple belief of them, and a faith or persuasion of such things has no effect upon me; but is apt to have, if ever it happen that the matter do concern me: or else, 2. The thing I believe or am persuaded of doth concern me; and then it hath several effects according to the nature of the thing 188I am persuaded of, or the degree of the persuasion, or the capacity of the person that believes or is persuaded. If the thing believed be of great moment, the effect of the faith is proportionable, cæteris paribus; and so according to the degree of the persuasion: but if the person be indisposed to the proper effects of such a persuasion by the power of contrary habits, as it often happens, the effect will be obtained with more difficulty, and may possibly be totally defeated, by casting off the persuasion: for while it remains, it will operate, and endeavour and strive to work its proper effect. For example: a man may believe that wine is very pernicious to him; and yet a strong inclination to it may render it very difficult for this persuasion to work its proper effect upon him, which is to leave off wine, and may at length wholly defeat it, by furnishing him with some colour of argument that may persuade him otherwise.
IV. For the kinds of faith, they are several, according to the variety of objects or things believed. I shall reduce them all under these two general heads:
1. Faith is either civil or human, under which I comprehend the persuasion of things moral, and natural, and political, and the like: or,
2. Divine and religious; that is, a persuasion of things that concern religion. I know not whether these terms be proper, nor am I very solicitous, be cause I know none fitter, and tell you what I mean by them.
The first kind of faith, concerning things human and civil, I shall not speak of, it being besides my design.189
The second, which I call a religious and Divine faith, comprehends three things under it, which are distinctly to be considered.
1. A persuasion of the principles of natural religion, which are known by the light of nature; as, the existence of a God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state.
2. A persuasion of things supernatural and revealed.
3. A persuasion of supernatural revelation.—These I design fully to handle. Thus I have prepared materials for a large discourse; which, though it be necessary, is, I am sensible, but too tedious, and yet possibly more tedious to me than you.190
OF A RELIGIOUS AND DIVINE FAITH.
But without faith it is impossible to please God.—Heb. xi. 6.
IN my last discourse I came to treat of a religious and Divine faith, which, I told you, comprehends under it three things, which I now proceed to consider distinctly.
First, A persuasion of the principles of natural religion which are known by the light of nature.
Secondly, A persuasion of things supernatural and revealed.
Thirdly, A persuasion of supernatural revelation.
First, A persuasion of the principles of natural religion, such as the light of nature could discover; such are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state. The things to be inquired concerning this kind of faith are these:
I. Whether this be truly and properly called faith.
II. What are the arguments whereby it is wrought.
III. Whether it admit of degrees or not, and what differences are observable in them.
IV. What are the proper and genuine effects of it.
V. In what sense it may be said to be Divine faith.
I. Whether it may truly and properly be called faith, or not? If the general notion of faith which I 191have fixed before, viz. That it is a persuasion of the mind concerning any thing, be a true notion of faith, then there is no doubt but this may as properly be called faith, as any thing can be; because a man may be persuaded in his mind concerning these things, that there is a God, that our souls are immortal, that there is another state after this life.
But besides this, if the Scripture speaks properly, as we have reason to believe it does, especially when it treats professedly of any thing, as the apostle here does, then this question is fully decided: for it is evident to any one that will but read this verse, out of which I have taken my text, that the apostle doth here in this place speak of this kind of faith; that is, a belief or persuasion of the principles of natural religion. For after the apostle had said, that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” he immediately instanceth in the belief of the principles of natural religion, as necessary to the pleasing of God, that is, to make a man religious. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is;” there is the existence of God, the first principle of natural religion; “and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;” which implies the other two, the immortality of the soul, and a future state; for if good men shall be rewarded, there must be a subject capable of such rewards, which brings in the immortality of the soul; and there must be a season for these rewards, which because they are seldom bestowed in this world, there must be a season when they shall, which brings in a future state after this life. So that whoever denies that a persuasion of these principles of natural religion may properly be called 192faith, he quarrels with the apostle, and does not correct me, but the Scriptures.
II. What are the arguments whereby this faith, or the persuasion of these principles of natural religion, is wrought? You may remember that I reduced all those arguments, whereby any kind of faith or persuasion is wrought in us, to these four heads; sense, experience, reasons drawn from the thing, and the testimony or authority of some person. Now a faith or persuasion of these principles cannot be wrought in us by sense; for “no man hath seen God at any time,” and being a pure spirit, he cannot be the object of any corporeal sense. Nor can the soul, or any mode of its existence, fall under any of our senses; nor a future state; because sense is only of things present. Nor can it be wrought in us merely by experience: for no man can conclude from any thing he experienceth in himself that there is a God, unless he be first persuaded of it by other arguments: and the immortality of the soul, and a future state, are things which none in this life can experience. Nor can the authority or testimony of any person be the argument that induceth that persuasion. Not any human authority: for these things are of such consequence, and so much depends upon them, that is, the belief of them puts us upon so many things which men would not do if they did not believe them; as particularly the venturing of our lives upon the account of religion, and all our worldly interests, if occasion call for it; that it were a fond thing to take matters of such moment and importance upon any man’s bare word, without other assurance of them. Nor can the testimony or authority of God be the argument that persuades 193me of the existence of a God. I grant that for the other two, the immortality of the soul, and a future state, it is an excellent, and may be a sufficient argument. Though that these may be proved like wise by other arguments without a revelation, is evident in the heathens, who by the light of nature did assent to them without a revelation. But a Di vine revelation cannot possibly be an argument inducing me to believe the existence of a God, for this plain reason; because a Divine revelation can be no argument to any that is not persuaded that it is a Divine revelation: but before I can be persuaded that any revelation is from God, I must be persuaded there is a God; and if so, there is no need of this argument to prove to me that there is one: and therefore, you do not find it any where revealed in all the Scripture, that there is a God. The Scripture often declares that Jehovah is the true and living God, and that “besides him there is no other:” but it doth not reveal, but every where suppose, that there is one.
It remains, then, that it must be another kind of argument whereby we must be persuaded of the existence of a God, and that is, by such reasons as may be drawn from things themselves to persuade us hereof; as, either from the notion and idea which we have of a God; that he is a being that hath all perfections, whereof necessary existence is one, and consequently that he must be; or else from the universal consent of all nations, and the generality of persons agreeing in this apprehension, which cannot be attributed reasonably to any other cause, than to impressions stamped upon our understandings by God himself; or (which is most plain of all) from this visible frame of the world, which we cannot, 194without great violence to our understandings, impute to any other cause than a Being endowed with infinite goodness, and power, and wisdom, which is that we call God.
As for the other two principles of natural religion, the immortality of the soul, and a future state, after we believe a God, we may be persuaded of these from Divine revelation; and that doth give us the highest and firmest assurance of them in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Yet I do not find but that these also are rather supposed, than expressly revealed, in the Bible. Indeed, the immortality of the soul may be inferred from several places of Scripture, and the tenor of the whole Bible: and so a future state, which, as for the thing itself, seems to be supposed as a thing acknowledged by natural light; only the Scripture hath revealed the circumstances of it more particularly to us, and given us higher assurance of the thing: but if there were no revelation, men might be persuaded of these; and so the heathens were by arguments drawn partly from the operations of the soul, which would almost persuade any man that the soul is immortal; it being altogether unimaginable how a principle that is nothing else but matter, can either understand, or determine itself by its own will; all the motions of matter that we know of, or can imagine, being necessary; and partly from the justice and goodness of God. The consideration of God’s goodness would persuade a man, that as he made all things very good, so he made them of the longest duration they were capable of; and the justice of God would easily induce a man to believe, seeing the providence of God doth generally in this life deal promiscuously with good 195and bad men, that there shall be a day which make a difference, and every man shall receive according to his works.
But J do not intend to insist upon these arguments; all that I design is, to shew what kind of arguments do work a faith and persuasion in men concerning these principles of natural religion; and they are reasons drawn from the thing.
And it is not always necessary to the working of this faith or persuasion, that these reasons should necessarily, yea, or truly conclude the principle to be believed; if they do it probably, and it appear so to me, it is enough to beget a persuasion in me of such a thing. There are many men entertain the greatest truths, and are firmly persuaded of them, upon an incompetent argument, and such as might persuade them of any thing else as well; and such persons, if they have capacity and understanding, they are rather happy than wise in their religion. It falls out well that they happen to be in the right; for they might have been in the wrong upon the same terms. But if the persons who believe the principles of religion on insufficient arguments, and their belief have a real effect upon them, as it will if it be true and permanent, if they be ignorant, and such as want the ordinary advantage of improving their knowledge, they are wise enough; that is, they are as wise as God’s providence hath made them, and the circumstances of their education, and the condition of their life, will let them be.
The third thing to be inquired is, Whether this faith or persuasion of the principles of natural religion admit degrees or not? And what differences are observable in them? That it does admit degrees, that is, that a man may be more or less persuaded 196of the truth of those principles, is evident from the heathens; some of whom did yield a more firm and unshaken assent to them; others entertained them with a more faint persuasion of them, especially of the immortality of the soul, and a future state, about which most of them had many qualms and doubts. Of all the heathens, Socrates seems to have had the truest and firmest persuasion of these things; which he did not only testify in words, but by the constancy, and calmness, and sedate courage which he manifested at his death. Indeed in his discourse before his death, he says, “He did not know whether his soul shall remain after his body, and whether there be a happiness reserved for good men in another world: but he thought so, and had such hopes of it, that he was very willing to venture his life upon these hopes.” Which words, though they seem to be spoke doubtingly, as the manner of the Academy was; yet, considering his manner of speaking, which was modest, and not peremptory and dogmatical, they signify as great a confidence as he had of any thing, and they are high expressions of assurance. For we may believe that the man who dies for any thing, how modestly soever he may express himself, is very well assured of the truth of it. So that this faith and persuasion admits of degrees, the difference whereof is to be resolved partly into the capacity of the persons who believe, and partly into the strength, or at least appearance of strength, in the arguments whereby it is wrought.
The fourth thing to be inquired is, What are the proper and genuine effects of this faith or persuasion? Now that, in a word, is natural religion, which consists in apprehensions of God suitable to his nature, 197and affections towards him suitable to these apprehensions, and actions suitable to both. He that believes there is such a being in the world as God, that is, one infinitely good, and wise, and powerful, and just, and holy, and (in a word) clothed with all excellency, will have a great esteem and reverence for him, and love to him, which he will testify in those outward expressions of respect which we call worship. He that believes that this being is the original of all good, that he made the world, and all the creatures in it, and preserves and governs them, he will depend upon him, and seek to him for every good thing, and acknowledge him for the author of them; which brings in prayer and thanks giving. He that believes that he owes his being to God, and all the blessings of his life, will think it reasonable that he should be at his disposal, will be willing to be governed by his laws, and ready to submit to his pleasure; which brings in obedience and submission to the will of God. He that believes there is another life after this, wherein men shall be rewarded or punished, according as they have demeaned themselves well or ill in this world, he will be encouraged to piety and virtue, and afraid to do any thing which his own reason tells him is displeasing to the Deity, as he cannot but believe every thing is, that is contrary to the nature of God, or the perfection of his own nature, or the good order and happiness of the world; which brings in temperance and justice, and all other real virtues. And that the belief of these principles had this effect upon several of the heathens, to make them in a good degree religious and virtuous, I doubt not; the moral and honest lives of many of them, give real testimony of this; which natural religion 198and morality of theirs, how far it may avail them for their good, we are not concerned to determine. This we are sure of, that it will make their condition more tolerable in another world; and if they fall under condemnation, it will mitigate and allay their misery.
V. In what sense this faith or persuasion of the principles of natural religion may be said to be Divine? In these two respects:
1. In respect of the object of it, or matters to be believed, which are Divine, and do immediately concern religion, in opposition to that which I call a civil and human faith, which is of such things as do not immediately concern God and religion.
2. In respect of the Divine effect of it, which are to make men religious, and like God. And a faith may as properly be said to be Divine in respect of the object of it, as in respect of the argument whereby it is wrought; so that a faith of the principles of natural religion is as truly Divine, though it be not wrought in us by the arguments of Divine testimony and authority, as a faith of the matters of Divine revelation contained in the Holy Scriptures: for why a faith may not as well be said to be Divine for its relation to God as the object of it, as for its relation to the testimony of God, as the cause of it, I cannot understand.
Secondly, The second sort of faith, which I call Divine or religious, is a persuasion of things supernaturally revealed, of things which are not known by natural light, but by some more immediate manifestation and discovery from God. Thus we find our Saviour (Matt. xvi. 15-17.) opposeth Divine revelation to the discovery of natural reason and light. He asks his disciples whom they believed 199him to be, “Whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, (that is, the Messias) the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee; but my Father which is in heaven;” where a revelation or discovery from flesh and blood, is opposed to a revelation from God; “flesh and blood” being a Hebrew phrase or manner of speaking, signifying a mere man, or some thing merely human; so we mid the phrase used, Eph. vi. 12. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood; but against principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness;” that is, the enemies we are to contend with, are not only men, but devils; and which is nearer to our purpose, (Gal. i. 16.) where the apostle would express to us, that he received not his commission from men, but immediately from the Lord Jesus Christ, he tells us, that “when it pleased God, who separated him from his mother’s womb, and called him by his grace, to reveal his Son in him, that he might preach him among the heathen, immediately he conferred not with flesh and blood;” the word is προσανεθέμην, “I did not apply myself to flesh and blood;” that is, I did not go to men to receive my commission from them: for so he explains it in the next words, “neither went I up to Jerusalem, to them that were apostles before me:” that is, I did not apply myself to the apostles, to derive any authority from them to preach the gospel, because he had no need of that, being called immediately by Christ to this work; which words are nothing else but a farther explication of what he had said before, (ver. 11, 12.) “I 200certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me, is not after men: for I neither received it of man, neither was taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” So accordingly here our Saviour tells Peter, that this truth, that Christ was the Messias, the Son of the living God, was not revealed to him by man, nor by any mere human principle or testimony, “but by his Father which was in heaven;” that is, by the testimony which God himself gave of him in the holy and Divine gospel which he taught, and those miracles which he wrought in confirmation of it.
So that this kind of faith is a persuasion of such things, as are not known by natural light, nor discovered to us by men; but some way or other revealed by God: I say, some way or other, for the ways of God’s revealing and manifesting himself to us, are various and arbitrary. God may choose what ways he pleaseth to discover himself to us by. So the apostle tells us, (Heb. i. 1.) “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets.” God revealed himself, as at several times, by several steps and degrees, so in various manners; sometimes by visions, sometimes by dreams, sometimes by oracles, sometimes by a spirit of prophecy, sometimes by a voice from heaven, and sometimes by a secret and gentle inspiration. Now it matters not which of these ways God chooseth to reveal himself to us, provided we have sufficient evidence and grounds of assurance that the thing is revealed by God.
As to us, these extraordinary ways of revelation are now ceased, and we have a fixed and a standing revelation, that is, the records of those revelations 201which God formerly made to holy men; and this is the Holy Scriptures, or the Bible, which is a system or collection of things supernaturally revealed.
Now if this faith be considered as restrained to a part of Divine revelation, viz. the doctrine of the gospel, revealed to the world by Jesus Christ, then it is properly Christian faith, which frequently, in the New Testament, is called faith, κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν, by way of excellency and eminency, this being the most eminent and perfect revelation which God hath made of himself to the world, which the apostle, at the beginning of this Epistle, advanceth above all those former revelations which God had made of himself to the fathers, those being by his servants and ministers, prophets and angels: “But in these last days God hath revealed himself to us by his Son, whom he hath made heir of all things,” and advanced to a dignity above that of men or angels.
And with relation to this faith of the gospel, Christians are peculiarly and eminently called believers: (I Thess. ii. 10.) “You know how unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe,” that is, among you Christians. (2 Thess. i. 10.) “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe,” meaning the Christians that entertain the gospel. And upon the same account, the apostle calls the whole society, or body of Christians, “the household of faith,” (Gal. vi. 10.)
But now I am considering faith, not in this more narrow and restrained sense, for a belief or persuasion of the doctrine of the gospel; but in a more large and comprehensive sense, for a persuasion of all things that are supernaturally revealed, that is, of all things contained in the Holy Scriptures.
Now, all the matters of Divine revelation, which 202are contained in the book of Holy Scripture, may, I think, be reduced to one of these six heads:
1. They are either a history or relation of some person, or matter of fact; and a faith of the historical part of Scripture, is nothing else but a persuasion that those narrations, or relations, are true. Or,
2. A prophecy, or prediction of some event. Now a faith of the prophetical part of Scripture, is a persuasion that the event foretold will certainly come to pass. Or,
3. A doctrine: such as are all those propositions in Scripture, which declare to us the nature or properties of God, the nature and office of Christ, that he is the eternal Son of God, that is, true God, the Messias, or Saviour of the world, the king, priest, and prophet of his church, and the like. Now a faith of the doctrinal part of Scripture, is a persuasion, that those propositions which contain these doctrines are true. Or,
4. Laws for the ordering and governing of our spirits and lives, under which I comprehend all the precepts and prohibitions of Scripture, which are the matter of our duty. Now a faith of these, is a persuasion, that God hath commanded, and forbid den such things; and consequently that they are necessary to be observed by us. Or,
5. Promises of good things, either with relation to this life or the other. Now a faith of the promises, is a persuasion or confident expectation that they will be accomplished. And thus the apostle describes the faith of the promises of another world, at the first verse of this chapter, that it is “the substance of things hoped for.” ὑπόστασις, that is, a “confident expectation” that the promises of the gospel, 203which are the matter of our hope, shall be accomplished; “and the evidence of things not seen,” a being convinced of the certainty and reality of future and invisible things. And thus likewise, the apostle explains to us the faith of Abraham, in reference to the promises of God, to give him a son: (Rom. iv. 21.) “He was fully persuaded, that what he had promised he was able to perform.” Or,
6. Threatenings. Now a faith of the threatenings, is a persuasion of the danger we incur, if we neglect our duty; that is, a belief that God justly may, and will (having confirmed his threatenings with an oath, which is a sign of the immutable determination of the Divine will) inflict those punishments upon us, which he hath threatened, in case we disobey his laws. These six heads do, I think, contain all, I am sure the most principal matters of Divine revelation, which I have the more care fully distinguished, because some of them are of a distinct and peculiar consideration from the rest, as will afterwards appear.
Having thus, as plainly and briefly as I could, opened to you, what I mean by this second sort of Divine faith, which is a persuasion of things supernaturally revealed, I come now to satisfy such inquiries about this as may be most material. And here I shall proceed upon those heads of inquiry which I handled when I spake of the first sort of Divine faith.
I. Whether this may truly and properly be called faith?
II. What is the argument whereby this faith is wrought?
III. Whether it admit of degrees, and what are the differences of them?204
IV. What are the proper and genuine effects of this faith?
V. In what respects it may be said to be Divine?
I. Whether this may truly and properly be called faith? And that it may, is evident, because the general definition of faith agrees to it; for a man may be persuaded in his mind concerning things supernaturally revealed; and the Scripture every where calls a persuasion of these matters by the name of faith. But besides this, it seems this is the adequate and only notion of faith, as it hath been fixed by the schools, and is become a term of art. For the definition that the schools give of faith is this; that it is an assent to a thing credible, as credible. Now, say they, that is credible which relies upon the testimony of a credible person; and consequently, a human faith is that which relies upon human testimony; and a Divine faith, that which relies upon the testimony or authority of God; which definition, though it be short and imperfect, (being, indeed, not a definition of faith in general, but of a particular kind of faith, viz. that which is wrought by the argument which we call testimony or authority, and consequently excludes a belief of the principles of natural religion, and a belief that the Scriptures are the word of God, from being faith), yet this shews thus much, that all agree in this, that a persuasion of things supernaturally revealed is truly and properly faith.
II. What is the argument whereby this faith or persuasion of things supernaturally revealed is wrought in us? And this, by the general consent of all, is the testimony or authority of God, some way or other revealing these things to us; whose infallible and unerring knowledge, together with his 205goodness and authority, gives us the highest assurance, that he neither can be deceived himself, nor will deceive us in any thing that he reveals to ns. I say, the testimony or authority of God some way or other revealing things to us, is the argument whereby a faith of any supernatural revelation is wrought in us: but if we restrain all supernatural revelations to the Bible, as I told you we know of no other, then the particular kind of testimony whereby this faith is wrought in us, is the written word of God.
III. As to the degrees of this faith. Supposing men sufficiently satisfied that the Scriptures are the word of God, that is, a Divine revelation; then all those who are sufficiently satisfied of this, do equally believe the things contained in the Scriptures. For if men be once fully satisfied that God hath spoken any thing, I think no man makes the least doubt but what God says is true. Now, there can be no degrees of faith where there is no doubt of the contrary; all the degrees that are in faith arising from a greater or less mixture of doubting. So that those who do not at all doubt but that the Scriptures are the word of God, have the same degree of persuasion concerning the matters contained in them; and that no man doubts whether what God says is true, ariseth from the fixed and constant notion which men universally have of God, that he is infallible and true. Therefore, we find, (Matt. xxi. 25.) when our Saviour puts the dilemma to the pharisees concerning the baptism of John, “whether it were from heaven, or of men?” that “they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why then did ye not believe him?” Which kind of reasoning 206imports thus much: that it is universally acknowledged, that no man can in reason make the least doubt of that which he believes to be from God. Therefore, a man would wonder what Becanus, the Jesuit, meant, unless it were to abuse the prophets and apostles, when he says, (tom. iii.) of his school divinity, that the prophets and apostles had evidentiam revelationis, non autem evidentiam primæ veritatis: tametsi enim evidenter cognoscerent Deum esse, qui ipsis revelabat mysteria fidei, non tamen evidenter cognoscebant Deum esse summe veracem, qui nec falii potuit, nec fallere: that is, “Though it was sufficiently evident to the prophets and apostles, that those revelations which they had were from God, yet it was not evident to them, that Divine revelations are true; for though they did evidently know, that there was a God, who revealed to them the mysteries of faith, yet they did not evidently know that God was in fallible and true, who could neither deceive nor be deceived.” By which he doth not only make the prophets and apostles idiots, and destitute of one of the most common notions of human nature, which is, that God is infallible and true; but he doth likewise make all Divine revelation useless, and to no purpose. For, to what purpose is it for a man to be satisfied, that God reveals such a thing to him; if he be in the mean time unsatisfied, whether what God reveals is true? for no man that is unsatisfied, whether what God reveals be true, can, upon any tolerable ground of reason, yield a firm assent to Divine revelation. But it is pity to spend time in confuting any thing which confutes itself by its own absurdity, and its direct contradiction to the common notions of human nature. I proceed, therefore.207
Supposing any man be unsatisfied, and do make any doubt whether these books called the Holy Scriptures, or any of them, be the word of God, that is, a Divine revelation; proportionably to the degree of his doubting concerning the Divine authority of the Scriptures, there will be an abatement of his faith, as to the things contained in them: for he that believes a thing merely upon the credit or testimony of such a person; so much reason as he hath to doubt, whether such a person did speak, or testify such a thing, so much reason he hath to doubt whether the thing be true.
And upon this account I think it is, that the Scripture speaks of degrees of faith; of growing and increasing in faith; of a strong faith, that is, such a faith as was either wholly, or in a great measure, free from doubting; and of a weak faith, that is, such a faith as had a great mixture of doubting; by which we are not to understand, that they doubted of the truth of any thing of which they were satisfied by a Divine revelation; but that they doubted whether such things were Divine revelations or not. So that the great doubt of the disciples was, whether Christ were the true Messias, and really the Son of God; for so far as they were satisfied of that, they could not doubt of any thing he said.
IV. What are the proper and genuine effects of this faith? The proper and genuine effects of the belief of the Scriptures in general, is the conformity of our hearts and lives to what we believe; that is, to be such persons, and to live such lives, as it becomes those who do heartily believe, and are really persuaded of the truth of the Scriptures. And if this be a constant and abiding persuasion, it will produce this effect; but with more or less difficulty, 208according to the disposition of the subject, and the weakness or strength of contrary habits and inclinations. More particularly the effects of this faith are according to the nature of the matter believed. If it be a history or relation of things past, or prophecy of things to come; it hath an effect upon men so far as the history or prophecy doth concern them. If it be a doctrine; it hath the effect which the particular nature and tendency of such a doctrine requires. For instance: the doctrine of God’s goodness is apt to inflame us with love to him; of his power and justice, with a fear and awe of him. This doctrine, that Christ is the Saviour of the world, the proper effect of it is to make men rely upon him for salvation; and so of the rest. If it be a precept, the proper effect of it is obedience: and hence it is that unbelief and disobedience are frequently put for one another in Scripture; and disobedience is opposed to faith; (1 Pet. ii. 7.) “Unto you therefore which believe, he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient,” &c. where the disobedient are opposed to them that believe. And so likewise those who neglect any duty of religion, and do any thing notoriously unworthy of their profession, are said to deny the faith. (1 Tim. v. 8.) “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.” How does he deny the faith? In disobeying the precepts of the Christian religion, which chargeth us with such natural and moral duties. If it be a promise, the proper effect of it is encouragement to obedience by hopes of the thing promised: if a threatening, the proper effect of it is to restrain men from sin and disobedience.
V. In what sense this faith of things supernaturally 209revealed, may be said to be a Divine faith? Answer.—Not only in respect of the matter and object of it, which are Divine things, such as concern God and religion and in respect of the Divine effects it hath upon those who believe these things; (for in these two respects a persuasion of the principles of natural religion, may be said to be a Divine faith;) but likewise in respect of the argument whereby it is wrought, which is a Divine testimony. As for the efficient cause, the Spirit of God, that does not immediately belong to this: for the Spirit of God doth not, speaking properly, persuade us immediately of the truth of things supernaturally revealed; but mediately, by persuading us of the truth of the revelation: for to believe a thing to be true, which we are persuaded is revealed by God, is so natural and consequent upon such a persuasion, that it doth not seem to require any new work of the Spirit. And if this be all the work of the Spirit, to persuade men that such a revelation is Divine; it will be most proper to speak of this when I come to the third sort of faith, which is, a persuasion of a Divine revelation that it is such: which because it hath many difficulties in it, deserves a more large and particular consideration.210
OF THE FAITH OR PERSUASION OF A DIVINE REVELATION.
But without faith it is impossible to please God.—Heb. xi. 6.
I HAVE observed, that a religious and Divine faith comprehends under it three things:
First, A persuasion of the principles of natural religion, which are known by the light of nature.
Secondly, A persuasion of things supernatural and revealed.
Thirdly, A persuasion of supernatural revelation.
The two former of these I have considered, and now proceed to the
Third sort of faith, which I call Divine or religious; viz. a persuasion concerning a Divine revelation, that it is such: which I distinguish from the former thus. The former is a persuasion concerning the things which are revealed from God, that they are true: this is a persuasion concerning the revelation itself, that it is Divine and from God.
For the opening of this there are many things to be taken into consideration.
I. What we understand by a Divine revelation.
II. The several kinds of it.
III. Whether a persuasion concerning a Divine revelation be properly faith.
IV. How we may come to be assured of a Divine revelation, or by what arguments a faith or persuasion of a Divine revelation is wrought in us.211
V. The degrees of this persuasion or assurance.
VI. The effects of it.
VII. In what sense it may be said to be a Divine faith; under which I shall speak something concerning the testimony of the Spirit.
I. What we are to understand by a Divine revelation.—Answer. A supernatural discovery or manifestation of things 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 super natural discovery, or manifestation, either immediately to our minds, 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 mediately to our understandings, by the mediation of our outward censes; as, by an external appearance to our bodily eyes, or by a voice and sound to the sense of hearing. But of this I have discoursed in a former sermon,44 See Sermon CXXVI. vol. vi. p. 213. and therefore shall add no more here.
III. Whether a persuasion of a Divine revelation may properly be called faith? To this I answer, that, according to the strait and narrow notion of faith which the schools have fixed, which is an as sent to any thing grounded upon the testimony and authority of God revealing it, a persuasion of a Divine revelation cannot properly be called faith; because it is irrational to expect that a man should have another Divine revelation to assure him that this is a Divine revelation: for then, for the same 212reason, I must expect another Divine revelation to assure me of that, and so without end. But I have sufficiently shewn, that this is not the true notion of faith in general, but only of a particular kind of faith; viz. that which is wrought by the argument, which we call testimony or authority. But according to the true and general notion of faith, which is a persuasion of the mind concerning any thing, a persuasion of the mind concerning a Divine revelation, may as properly be called faith, as any thing else, if men will but grant, that a man may be so satisfied, Concerning a Divine revelation, as verily to believe and be persuaded that it is so.
IV. How we may come to be persuaded of a Divine revelation, that it is such; or by what arguments this persuasion is wrought in us? For answer to this, it will be requisite distinctly to consider,
First, The persons to whom a Divine revelation is immediately made, what assurance they can have of it. And,
Secondly, What assurance other persons can have of it. I say these are distinctly to be considered, because there is a very different account to be given of them.
First, As to those persons to whom the revelation is immediately made, the question is, by what arguments or means they may come to be assured, that any revelation which they have, is really and truly such, and not a delusion or imposture. The Jewish doctors tell us, that some kind of Divine revelations do not carry full assurance along with them that they are Divine; such are dreams and visions, as they are distinguished from prophecy: and as to that kind of revelation, which they strictly 213call prophecy, they give several characteristical notes to distinguish true Divine revelation from delusion; such as these that the spirit of delusion only works upon the imagination, and the lower faculties; the Divine spirit of prophecy upon the understanding and reasonable part of the soul: that delusive inspirations were accompanied with alienation of mind, which did discover itself either in rage and fury, or melancholy; but the true prophetical spirit is always consistent with the use of reason and understanding. They distinguish them likewise by the manner of their seizing upon them; that in the beginning of inspirations the prophets use to have some apparition, or to hear some voice, either articulate in words, or inarticulate by thunder, or the sound of a trumpet, which in the Revelations doth frequently precede St. John’s visions; and by these they were assured that they were Divine. And, lastly, that a Divine inspiration did always carry along with it a strong evidence of its original, and that by the vigour and strength of its impression, they were fully assured and satisfied beyond all doubt and hesitation: thus they. But all that I shall say by way of answer to this question, shall be in these two propositions:
1. If we believe any such thing as Divine revelation, we cannot doubt but those who have it are some way or other fully satisfied of it. The reason is evident; because otherwise it would be in vain, and to no purpose, and could not possibly attain its end. A Divine revelation cannot possibly signify any thing, or in reason have any effect upon a man, unless he be satisfied it is such: for so long as he does not know but that it is a delusion, he will not attend to it, or regard it. So that the distinction 214of the Jewish doctors between dreams and visions, and prophecy, that this carries always full assurance with it, the other not, is vain and unreasonable.
2. The means whereby this assurance of a Divine revelation is wrought, is most probably the evidence it carries along with it, whereby it did fully satisfy the person that had it of its Divine original. That God can accompany his own revelations with such a clear and overpowering light as shall discover to us the divinity of them, and satisfy us be yond all doubt and scruple, I think no man can doubt, that considers the vast power and influence which he must needs have over our understandings who made them, and knows the frame of them: and if this be granted, it is not necessary to explain the particular way how it is done, it being a thing not to be expressed in words, but to be felt and experienced. So that the argument, whereby this persuasion of a Divine revelation is wrought in those that have it, is inward experience of the full satisfaction and assurance, which they find to be supernaturally wrought in them; that is, of which they can give no account from themselves. And this is not a stubborn belief, and an obstinate conceit of a thing: but a good man, who is inspired, when he reflects upon himself, and this assurance which he finds in himself, he can give a rational account of it to himself. Thus he finds that it is a foreign impression, and doth not spring from himself, nor hath its rise from thence; therefore he ascribes it to some spirit without himself; and he believes that there is a God that can communicate himself to the minds and spirits of men: and that his goodness is such, that he will not suffer them to be under 215a necessity of delusion, which they must be, if, when they have the highest assurance and satisfaction, that such a thing is a Divine revelation, they maybe deceived. And then likewise he considers the matter of the revelation, which if it do not contradict any essential and necessary fundamental notion of his understanding, he thinks himself bound to entertain it upon this assurance.
I say, good men may give themselves this rational satisfaction: for I grant a wicked man, that rejects and disobeys the truth of God, may so provoke him, as “to give him up to strong delusions, to believe lies;” and he may be as confident of a lie, as a good man is of truth. But as this is not unjust from God in reference to the persons, so it is no prejudice to the assurance which good men may have of Divine revelation.
And this assurance is such, as it is not in the power of any evil spirit to convey to us, concerning a delusion; or if it be in his power, he is not permitted to do it to any who have not highly provoked God, by rejecting the truth, “to give them up to strong delusions, to believe lies:” and that such persons should be obnoxious to such delusions, as it is not unjust in reference to them, so neither is it any prejudice to the assurance which good men may have of such revelations which are truly and really Divine.
But for the other ways of discerning true revelation from false, which the Jews mention; as, that the Spirit of God always works upon the under standing, as well as the imagination, and in consequence with the use of reason and understanding, and gives some sensible notice of its seizing upon men, I think all these to be uncertain if they be examined. 216And if the last which they mention, viz. this that I have insisted upon, be true, all the other are superfluous. For what need of any other sign to assure a man that that is a Divine revelation, which carries along with it a clear satisfaction and full assurance that it is such?
So that it remains now, that we fix upon some particular ways where by the person that hath a Di vine revelation may be assured of it; and this I shall do by these propositions.
First, That God can work in the mind of man a firm persuasion of a thing, by giving him a clear and vigorous perception of it; and if so, then God can accompany his own revelations with such a clear and overpowering light, as shall discover to us the divinity of them, and satisfy us thereof be yond all doubt and scruple. And this no man can doubt of, that considers the vast power and influence which God, who made the soul of man, and perfectly knows the frame of it, must needs have upon the mind and understanding of man.
Secondly, God never persuades a man of any thing that contradicts the natural and essential notions of his mind and understanding. For this would be to destroy his own workmanship, and to impose that upon the understanding of a man, which, whilst it retains its own nature, and remains what it is, it cannot possibly admit. For instance: we cannot imagine that God can persuade any man that there is no God; for he that believes any thing as from God, must necessarily believe there is a God; therefore it is impossible that he can be persuaded of this as from God, that there is no God; and that he is not wise and just, and good and powerful; and that he is not to be honoured and 217loved by all reasonable creatures: because these do clearly and immediately contradict the most essential and fundamental notions of our minds concerning God, and the respect which is due to him: not only because it is unworthy of God to go about to persuade a man of a falsehood; but be cause it is impossible in the nature of the thing, that the mind of man, which is naturally prepossessed with contrary notions, should, whilst it retains its own nature, admit of such as do clearly and immediately contradict them. For if these be natural notions, that there is a God, that he must be wise and just and good and powerful, and ought to be honoured and loved by his creatures; the mind of man cannot possibly admit of any contrary persuasions and impressions: for the former persuasions being natural to us, will always remain while our nature remains, and if any persuasions contrary to these could be wrought upon our minds, they would signify nothing, but would mutually destroy one another. For if any man that is persuaded that God is good, (as every man is, that is persuaded he is at all) could, during the persuasion, be likewise of a contrary persuasion, that he is not good; this latter persuasion would signify nothing: for he is not persuaded that God is not good, whilst he retains this persuasion that he is good.
Thirdly, Supposing the thing revealed do not contradict the essential notions of our minds, no good and holy man hath reason to doubt of any thing, whether it be a revelation from God or not, of which he hath a clear and vigorous perception, and full satisfaction in his own mind that it is such. For if a man may have reason to doubt of any thing, whereof he hath a clear perception, then no man can 218be certain of any thing. Now that there is such a thing as certainty, is now supposed and not to be proved. I say, a good and holy man can have no reason to doubt: for a wicked man (I grant) may, by a sinful rejection of, and disobedience to, the truth, so far provoke God, as “to give him up to strong delusions to believe lies;” and he may be as confident of a lie, as any good man is of the truth.
And as this is not unjust from God in reference to wicked men, so it is no prejudice to the assurance which good men may have concerning a Divine revelation.
Fourthly, A good and holy man reflecting upon this assurance and persuasion that he hath, may be able to give himself a reasonable account of it, and satisfy himself that it is not a stubborn belief and an obstinate conceit of things without any ground or reason. A good man is secretly and within him self persuaded, that God hath revealed to him such a thing; reflecting upon this persuasion, he finds that it is a foreign impression, and doth not spring from his own mind: how he believing that there is a God, who can, and probably doth communicate and reveal himself to the minds of good men; and being withal satisfied that his goodness is such, that he will not suffer good men, who do heartily and sincerely desire to know his will, to be under a necessity of delusion, (which they unavoidably are, if they may then be deceived, when they have the greatest assurance and clearest satisfaction that such a thing is revealed to them of God;) from hence he reasonably concludes, that he ought not to question the matter any farther. I might instance in the revelation made to Abraham, concerning the 219sacrificing his son, which hath the greatest difficulty in it of any case I know of: but of that I have else where discoursed at large.66 See Sermon LVI. vol. iv. p. 26. Thus much for the first.
Secondly, What assurance can other persons, who have not the revelation immediately made to them, have of a Divine revelation? To this I shall answer by these propositions:
1. That there are some means whereby a man may be assured of another’s revelation that it is Divine. For,
(1.) Otherwise it would signify nothing, but only to the person that immediately had it; which would make void the chief end of most revelations, which are seldom made to particular persons for their own sakes only, but, for the most part, on purpose that they may be made known to others, which could not effectually be done, unless there be some means whereby men may be assured of revelations made to another.
(2.) None could be guilty of unbelief but those who had immediate revelation made to them. For no man is guilty of unbelief that is not obliged to believe: but no man can be under any obligation to believe any thing, who hath not sufficient means whereby he may be assured that such a thing is true.
2. The private assurance and satisfaction of another concerning a revelation made to him, can signify nothing at all to me, to assure me of it. For what satisfaction is it to me, that another may say, he hath a revelation, unless I have some means to be assured that what he saith is true? For if I 220must believe every spirit, that is, every man that says he is inspired, I lie open to all possible impostures and delusions, and must believe every one that either foolishly conceits, or falsely pretends, that he hath a revelation: for both the conceited and pretended enthusiast will say they have revelations, with as much confidence as those who are truly and divinely inspired: and to take every man’s word in matters of such huge consequence and importance as revelation from God ought to be presumed to be, would not be faith, but credulity, that is, an ungrounded persuasion; which how severely God punished, you may see in that famous instance, (1 Kings xiii.) where the prophet that was sent to Bethel, is upon his return torn in pieces by a lion, because of his credulity and easy belief of a pretended revelation. I confess this case is somewhat different from theirs who simply believe a pretended revelation, as being complicated with some other aggravating circumstances. For he had an immediate revelation from God, “not to eat, nor drink at Bethel; nor to return the same way that he came:” upon his return an old prophet meets him, and tells him that an angel had appeared to him, and had bid him to bring him back, and to cause him to eat and drink; he believes him, and turns in with him. Now this was the aggravation of his credulity that when he himself had had an express revelation from God, concerning which he was satisfied, he hearkened to the pretended revelation of another, concerning which he had no assurance, in contradiction to a Divine revelation, which he knew to be such. Not but that the command which God had given him was in its own nature revokable, and God might have countermanded it by another immediate revelation to him, or by an 221equivalent, that is, a miracle wrought by the prophet who pretended to countermand it from God; Unumquodque dissolvitur eo modo qui ligatur, the obligation which was brought upon him by an immediate revelation, could not be dissolved but by another immediate revelation, or evidence equivalent to it. However, this instance serves in the general to my purpose, that a man may be faulty by credulity as well as by unbelief: and as a man ought not to disbelieve where there is sufficient evidence; so neither ought he to believe any thing without sufficient grounds of assurance.
3. That miracles wrought for the confirmation of any Divine testimony or revelation made to another, are a sufficient means, whereby those who have not the Divine revelation immediately made to them, may be assured that it is Divine; I say, these are sufficient means of assurance in this case. I do not say they are the only means (for it does not become men to limit the power and wisdom of God), but I do not know of any other means of assurance upon which men can securely rely; and it is a great presumption that this is the best and fittest, if not the only means, because the wisdom of God has always pitched upon it, and constantly made use of it, and no other. Under miracles I comprehend the prediction of future events, which God claims as a peculiar prerogative to himself, because such things are out of the reach of any created understanding; and therefore in the prophet Isaiah he challengeth the idols of the heathens to give this testimony, or argument of their divinity; “Shew us things that are to come, that we may know that ye are gods.”
But here we must distinguish between doubtful and unquestionable miracles. I call those doubtful 222miracles, which, though a man cannot tell how they can be done by any natural power, yet do not carry that full conviction with them, as to be universally owned and acknowledged for arguments of a Di vine power. Such were those which the magicians did by their enchantments. I call those unquestionable, which, considering their quality and number, and the public manner of doing them, are out of all question. Such were the miracles of Moses, and our Saviour. Now a doubtful, and a single, and a private wonder, or miracle, as I may call it, can give no confirmation to any thing, in opposition to a revelation, or a doctrine, confirmed by many, and public and unquestionable miracles.
Upon this account Moses forbids the children of Israel to hearken to any prophet that should come to seduce them to idolatry; yea, though he should give a sign or wonder, and the “sign or wonder should come to pass,” (Deut. xiii. 1-4.) Now here lies the strength of the reason, “Because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage;” that is, because he contradicts the great revelation which God made of himself, and confirmed by such a succession of so many, and so great miracles; the credit of which revelation ought not in reason to be called in question upon the working of a single and a private wonder, which we could not distinguish from a miracle. Upon the same account St. Paul (Gal. i. 8.) says, “Though an angel from heaven should preach any other doctrine than that which had been preached unto them, he should be accursed;” that is, after so clear and great confirmation, 223as was given to the gospel, a contrary doctrine, though it should come from an angel, should be rejected as execrable.
But you will say, Suppose such a prophet as Moses speaks of here, such an angel as St. Paul mentions, should work as many and as great miracles as Moses and Christ wrought, should we then believe them?
I answer; This is not to be supposed: for sup posing the providence of God in the world, it can not be imagined that an equal attestation should be given to a false doctrine and a true. But that the greatest and most unquestionable miracles are to carry it, is evident; because this is all the reason why Moses was to be credited above the magicians, because he wrought more and greater wonders than they did. But if it could be supposed, that any one could work as great miracles for the confirmation of idolatry, as were wrought by way of attestation to the true worship of God, then there would be no difference, but what the reason of the thing makes; the belief of one God being more reasonable than many; and not to make an image or sensible representation of a spirit, being more reasonable than to make one. But if this could be supposed, the natural issue and consequence of it would be atheism; a man would believe neither that nor the other, nor that there is any God at all.
But a farther account of the nature and difference of miracles, I reserve to some 77 See Sermons CCXXVIII. &c. on Heb. ii. 4. in this volume. particular discourses on that subject. At present, for the fuller opening of this matter, it will be proper to shew,—224
1. That the Divine authority both of the doctrine of Moses and Christ is resolved into miracles.
2. What assurance of miracles is sufficient to persuade men to believe that testimony, for the confirmation of which they are wrought.
3. What assurance they give us, that the Scriptures are a Divine revelation.
But the consideration of these I refer to the next opportunity.225
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