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OF THE FAITH OR PERSUASION OF A DIVINE REVELATION.
But without faith it is impossible to please God.—Heb. xi. 6.
IN discoursing of the faith or persuasion of a Divine revelation, I proposed the considering these seven things:
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.
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.
I was upon the fourth of these, viz. considering by what arguments a faith or persuasion of a Divine revelation is wrought in us; which led me to consider the evidence of miracles; and I proposed to shew particularly these three things:
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 continuation of which they are wrought.226
3. What assurance they give us that the Scriptures are a Divine revelation.
I proceed to treat of these in their order.
1. I shall shew that the Divine authority both of the doctrine of Moses and of Christ, is resolved into miracles. We find the Scripture lays the whole weight of the Divine authority, both of the law and gospel, of the revelation of the Old and New Testament, upon this evidence. (Exod. iv. 13.) When God sends Moses, he objects, “that they will not believe him, nor hearken to him, but will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto him.” Thereupon God gives him a power of miracles, that they may believe “that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hath appeared unto him;” and by the evidence of those miracles which he wrought, he prevailed over the magicians. And generally, throughout the story of the Old Testament, we find all persons yielding to the evidence of miracles, as a sufficient attestation to a prophet and his message. When Elijah had prevailed with God in a miraculous manner to confirm his own worship, and confute the worship of Baal, by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice, the people yield to this evidence, and cry out, “The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God,” (1 Kings xviii. 39.) When Elijah raised the woman’s son, then she owned him for a prophet; (1 Kings xvii. 24.) “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is true.” So like wise Naaman was convinced by the miraculous cure which the prophet Elisha wrought on him: (2 Kings v. 15.) “Behold! now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”227
And so likewise the divinity of our Saviour and his doctrine is resolved into the evidence of his miracles. This is the evidence Christ gives of himself, when John sent his disciples to inquire whether he was the Messias; (Matt. xi. 2.) “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.” So John v. 36. “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” (Chap. x. 25.) “Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed it not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” (Ver. 37, 38.) “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (Chap. xiv. 11.) “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works sake.” (Chap. xx. 30, 31.) “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, ye might have life through his name.” And from hence our Saviour aggravates the unbelief, and the impenitency of the Jews, because they 228resisted this highest evidence: (Matt. xi. 20 24.) “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida: for if the mighty works which were done in yon, had been done in Tyre and Si don, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for yon. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell. For if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee.” (John xv. 24.) “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” And so the apostle tells us, that miracles are the great confirmation of the gospel, and are so clear an evidence of the truth of it, that they render all unbelievers inexcusable: (Heb. ii. 2, 3.) “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?”
In particular, the great weight of the gospel is laid upon the miracle of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which our Saviour mentions as the “only sign that should be given to that generation,” that is, the clearest. And the apostle (Rom. i. 4.) saith, that “he was declared to be the Son of God, with 229power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” This puts it out of all question. And St. Paul, in his sermon to the Athenians, (Acts xvii. 30, 31.) insists upon this as the great evidence; “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” And this was the proper work of the apostles, to be witnesses to the world of this great miracle: (Acts i. 21, 22.) “Wherefore, of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” So St. Peter, in his sermon, (Acts ii. 32.) “Him hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.” And to mention no more, (Acts x. 38-41.) “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil: for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did, both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.”
2. What assurance of miracles is sufficient to persuade men to believe the revelation or testimony, for the confirmation of which they are wrought. 230Of this assurance there are three degrees, all which do oblige men to believe the Divine revelation for which they are wrought.
(1.) If we have the evidence of our own senses for it, that is, if we see them wrought. This evidence the disciples of our Lord had, and the Jews, and therefore their unbelief was inexcusable; and the blaspheming the Spirit whereby they saw such miracles to be wrought, was the sin against the Holy Ghost.
(2.) If we have the credible report of eye-witnesses of those miracles, who are credible persons, and we have no reason to doubt of their testimony; that is, if we have the report of them immediately from the mouth of those who were eye-witnesses of them. That this lays likewise an obligation on men to believe, appears by our Saviour’s reproof of Thomas, who would not believe except he himself saw: but most expressly from that text, (Mark xvi. 14.) “He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”
(3.) If the credible report of eye-witnesses concerning such miracles be conveyed to us in such a manner, and with so much evidence, as we have no reason to doubt of it. For why should we not believe a credible report conveyed to us in such a manner, as we have no reason to question, but that it hath been faithfully conveyed and transmitted to us? St. John thought this to be assurance sufficient to induce belief: (John xx. 31.) “But these things were written that ye might believe,” &c. And this is that assurance which we, who live at this distance from the age of Christ and his apostles, have of the miracles wrought in confirmation of the 231gospel. I shall have occasion to enlarge upon these heads hereafter.
3. What assurance miracles give us, that the Scriptures are a Divine revelation. And this contains four distinct questions in it.
(1.) What assurance we have from hence, that the doctrine contained in the Scripture is from God? To which the answer is easy; because these miracles were wrought for the confirmation of this doctrine.
(2.) The question is, What assurance the miracles give us, that those persons who are said to be the penmen of the several books of Scripture, were really so? To this I answer: None at all: for I do not know of any miracle that was wrought to prove Moses wrote the Pentateuch, or that St. Matthew wrote the Gospel which goes under his name. But if the question be, How then am I assured of this? I answer, by credible and uncontrolled report. It bears his name; and hath always been received for his: and if this will not satisfy, I cannot prove it farther; it is too late now to prove it by any other argument. St. Matthew is dead, and those who saw him write it, and those who received it from them; so that we cannot go to inquire of them in order to our satisfaction: but the best of it is, that as it cannot now be proved at this distance other wise than by constant and uncontrolled report; so no man at this distance can have any reason to doubt of it; and so long as no man can have reason to doubt of it, there can be no need of proving it; especially considering, that it is by no means necessary to salvation, to believe that St. Matthew wrote the history of the gospel; but only to believe what he wrote.
(3.) The question is, What assurance miracles give, 232that those persons who are said to be the penmen of the books of Scripture were divinely inspired? The miracles (under which I comprehend the prediction of future events) which Moses and the prophets and the apostles wrought, were testimonies from heaven, that they were Divine persons, and that what they said was to be credited, and consequently if they gave out themselves for such, that they were such. That the penmen of the New Testament were persons endued with a miraculous power, is plain, because they were most of them apostles: and for the rest we have no reason to doubt of it; those extraordinary gifts being so common in the primitive times: however, so long as there is nothing in the rest, that is dissonant from, or contrary to, what those wrote, of whose inspirations we are assured, and these their writings have always been received in the church as of Divine inspiration, which we may well presume was not rashly done, and without grounds, we have no reason to doubt as to them: or if they were, so long as they contain nothing that is contrary to those who were unquestionably inspired, the matter is of no dangerous consequence. And as for the penmen of the Old Testament, we are assured that they were all inspired, by one in the New Testament, that was unquestionably so; St. Paul, who tells us, “That all Scripture is of Divine inspiration,” meaning the books of the Old Testament which were called by that name, κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν, or by way of eminency.
But if any one inquire farther, how far the pen men of Scripture were inspired in the writing of those books? whether only so far as to be secured from mistake in the delivery of any message or 233doctrine from God, or in the relation of any history, or matter of fact; yet so, as they were left every man to his own style and manner of expression? or that every thing they wrote was immediately dictated to them, and that not only the sense of it, but the very words and phrases by which they express things, and that they were merely instruments or penmen—I shall not take upon me to determine; I shall only say this in general, that considering the end of this inspiration, which was to inform the world certainly of the mind and will of God, it is necessary for every man to believe that the inspired penmen of Scripture were so far assisted as was necessary to this end: and he that thinks upon good grounds that this end cannot be secured, unless every word and syllable were immediately dictated, he hath reason to believe it was so; but if any man upon good grounds thinks the end of writing the Scripture may be sufficiently secured without that, he hath no reason to conclude, that God, who is not wanting in what is necessary, is guilty of doing what is superfluous. And if any man is of opinion, that Moses might write the history of those actions which he himself did or was present at, without an immediate revelation of them; or that Solomon by his natural and acquired wisdom might speak those wise sayings which are in his Proverbs; or the evangelists might write what they heard and saw, or what they had good assurance of from others, as St. Luke tells he did; or that St. Paul might write for his cloak and parchments at Troas, and salute by name his friends and brethren, or that he might advise Timothy to drink a little wine, &c. without the immediate dictate of the Spirit of God—he seems to have reason on his side. For that men may, 234without an immediate revelation, write those things which they think without a revelation, seems very plain. And that they did so, there is this probable argument for it, because we find that the evangelists in relating the discourses of Christ, are very far from agreeing in the particular expressions and words, though they do agree in the substance of the discourses: but if the words had been dictated by the Spirit of God, they must have agreed in them. For when St. Luke differs from St. Matthew, in relating what our Saviour said, it is impossible that they should both relate it right as to the very words and form of expression; but they both relate the substance of what he said. And if it had been of concernment, that every thing that they wrote should be dictated ad apicem, to a tittle, by the Spirit of God, it is of the same concernment still, that the providence of God should have secured the Scriptures since to a tittle from the least alteration: which, that it is not done, appears by the various readings both of the Old and New Testament, concerning which, no man can infallibly say, that this is right, and not the other. It seems sufficient in this matter to assert, that the Spirit of God did reveal to the penmen of the Scriptures what was necessary to be revealed: and as to all other things, that he did superintend them in the writing of it, so far as to secure them from any material error or mistake in what they have delivered. Or,
4. If the question be, What assurance we have from miracles, that all those books which we receive are canonical? To this I answer, I do not know of any miracle that was ever written on purpose to confirm the canon of the Scriptures: but as for the books of the Old Testament, we have sufficient 235assurance, that those which we now receive, are those which the Jews received for such in our Saviour’s time; and he doth not any where find fault with any of them as not canonical, which we have no reason to doubt but he would have done, if any one of them had been otherwise. And that these are the same the Jews then received, appears sufficiently, because both Jews and Christians to this day agree in them. And as for the books of the New Testament, we are sufficiently assured, that these and no other are the books which the ancient church received for canonical and of Divine authority, and though some of them were for a time controverted, yet upon farther inquiry and examination they were received.
V. Whether this faith concerning a Divine revelation made to others, do admit of degrees? That it doth, is evident from these expressions which the Scripture useth, of “increasing faith,” of “growing in it,” of “a weak and strong faith,” all which plainly supposeth degrees. And that these degrees of faith which the Scripture speaks of, are to be understood of a higher and lower degree of assurance concerning a Divine revelation as such, and concerning the things revealed, I shewed before. For all the doubts which the disciples had concerning what our Saviour taught, did resolve itself into this whether he was the Messias, and sent by God to teach those things; which, had they been fully satisfied of, they could have made no doubt of any thing that he taught.
And here it will be proper to inquire, what is the highest degree of assurance which we can have concerning a Divine revelation made to another, that it is such; whether it be an infallible assurance, or 236only an undoubted certainty. The difference between them is this: an infallible assurance is such as excludes all possibility of error and mistake; an undoubted certainty doth not exclude all possibility of mistake, but only all just and reasonable cause why a prudent and considerate man should doubt. And the reason why I make this inquiry, is, in order to be satisfied of a clear and firm way for the resolution of our faith, against the papists, who say it is impossible for us to give any satisfactory account of our faith, because we do finally resolve it into fallible grounds, and consequently our faith must be fallible, and consequently cannot be Di vine, because all Divine faith is infallible; for, say they, when we inquire why you believe the doctrines of Christian religion; you say, upon Divine authority, or the revelation of God in Scripture. This is granted to be an infallible ground, if we can be infallibly assured that the Scriptures are a Di vine revelation; therefore they inquire in the second place, Why do you believe the Scriptures to be a Divine revelation? We say, because the persons who delivered the doctrines contained in them, had the greatest attestation from God, that they were employed by him, to reveal and make known his mind; and this attestation was miracles. But then they ask, What assurance have you that such miracles were wrought? Have you an infallible assurance, or not? If not, then it cannot be a sufficient ground for a Divine faith, which is always infallible. In opposition therefore to them, I shall not now attempt to shew the insufficiency of their way of resolving faith; but vindicate ours as sufficient, by laying down and proving, if I can, these propositions:—237
1. That infallibility is not essential to Divine faith, and necessarily included in the notion of it: which I prove thus. Divine faith admits of degrees, as I have shewed before: but there can be no degree of infallibility. Infallibility is an impossibility of being deceived; but there are no degrees of impossibility, one thing is not more impossible than another: but all things that are impossible, are equally so.
2. That the assurance which we have of the miracles wrought for the confirmation of the gospel, is not an infallible assurance. I shewed before, that there are three ways whereby we may be assured of matter of fact, such as the working of miracles is.
First, By our own senses.
Secondly, By the report of credible witnesses.
Thirdly, By credible history. But none of these ways give us infallible assurance. That it is possible our senses may deceive us, I think nobody will deny; and if so, then the testimony of witnesses, and the report of history, which likewise depends originally upon our senses, may deceive us. I do not know a fourth way whereby we may be assured of matter of fact.
3. That an undoubted assurance of a Divine revelation, that it is such, is as much as in reason can be expected. I deny not, but that a Divine revelation is an infallible ground of faith; because what ever God says is infallibly true, and a faith built upon a Divine revelation would be infallible, if we could be infallibly assured that it is a Divine revelation; but that we cannot be without another Divine revelation to assure us infallibly that this is one, and that other would require a third, and so without end; which being absurd and unreasonable, 238t remains that an infallible assurance of a Divine revelation is impossible; and consequently, that we can have no more than an undoubted assurance; and this is as much as in reason we can expect to have; for it is unreasonable to expect that we should have any greater assurance that such a revelation is from God, than we have that there is a God, because that there is a God, is the first and most fundamental principle in religion, and it is unreasonable to expect greater assurance of any thing in religion, than we have of that which is the first principle of it. And indeed it is impossible; for no man can be infallibly assured, that a revelation is from God, unless he be first infallibly assured, that there is a God, but no man hath more than undoubted assurance that there is a God. No man pretends to a Divine revelation that there is a God; but only to have rational satisfaction of it, such as leaves no just or reasonable cause to doubt of it. And why then should any desire greater assurance of a Divine revelation, than he hath of a God?
4. An undoubted assurance is sufficient to constitute a Divine faith. Mark xvi. 14, it is said, Christ upbraided his disciples with their unbelief; because they believed not on them, who had seen him after he was risen. Suppose now the disciples had believed, which they ought to have done, this faith of theirs would have been a truly Divine faith; but by no means infallible. For that cannot be an infallible faith which is built but upon fallible grounds: now the ground upon which they ought to have believed, was the report of credible witnesses; but the report of credible witnesses is by no means infallible: it is indeed undoubted, for I have no reason to doubt of a credible report; for that is credible which 339I have just cause to believe; but I can have no just cause to doubt of that which I have just cause to believe.
As an undoubted assurance i$ sufficient to constitute a Divine faith, so it is sufficient to all the ends and purposes of a Divine faith. To instance in the faith of the promises of eternal life. What is the end and design of this faith, but to encourage our obedience, and make us continue in it, notwithstanding the hazard of any thing in this world? Now I say, an undoubted assurance is abundantly sufficient to this end. Do not men venture their estates in traffic to places they never saw, because they have it from credible persons, that there are such places, and they have no reason to doubt their testimony: and why should not the same assurance serve in greater matters; if an undoubted assurance of a lesser benefit and advantage will make men venture as much? Why should any man desire greater assurance, of any thing than to have no just reason to doubt of it; why more than so much as the thing is capable of? I cannot possibly under stand why every man should not be contented with sufficient assurance, or for what reason a man should desire more than enough; and why a man should not be satisfied that a thing is so, when he hath as great assurance of it, and as good evidence for it, as he could have, supposing it were.
And for men to say, Nothing less than infallible assurance can satisfy a man’s mind, that men will always doubt so long as there is a possibility of the contrary; and there will be a possibility of the contrary, until we have infallible assurance, is as unreasonable as can be imagined. I ask any man whether he be infallibly assured that there was such 240a man as William the Conqueror? or that there is such a country as Spain? If he say he is, I ask where is his infallible evidence for this? He will cite several historians; but all this is human testimony, and that is fallible. It seems then he is not infallibly certain there was such a man, or there is such a country; and consequently there is a possibility of the contrary. It is granted there is: but is any sober man unsatisfied in his mind about these things? I would fain meet with the man that will tell me in good earnest, that he hath reason to doubt, whether there was such a man or not; and whether there be such a place as Spain or not? So that it is fond for any man to allege a bare possibility of the contrary, as a reasonable cause of doubting concerning any thing, for which we have as good evidence as the thing is capable of.
Upon these grounds we can easily resolve our faith. We believe the doctrine of Christian religion, because it is revealed by God; we believe it to be revealed by God, because it was confirmed by unquestionable miracles: we believe such miracles were wrought, because we have as great assurance of this, as any matter of fact, at such a distance from the time it was done, is capable of. Now if the papists say, this doth at last amount to no more than moral assurance; I grant it doth not: but then I have proved this assurance to be as much as in reason can be expected, and as much as is sufficient to the nature and ends of a Divine faith, and that an infallible assurance is not agreeable to a human understanding; but an incommunicable attribute and prerogative of the Divine nature, which whoever pretends to, he hath not the modesty of a creature, but doth by a sacrilegious ambition attempt the 241throne of God, and equal himself to the Most High. And, therefore, it is no wonder that the popes of Rome, after they had once assumed to themselves to be infallible, did presently arrogate to themselves the titles of God, there being such strict connexion between the attribute of infallibility, and the Divine nature, that whoever challengeth the first, may with equal reason claim the other.
I shall only add this: that nothing hath been more pernicious to Christian religion, than the vain pretences of men to greater assurance concerning things relating to it, than they can make good; the mischief of which is this that when discerning and inquisitive men find that men pretend to greater matters than they can prove, this makes them doubt of all they say, and to call in question the truth of Christianity itself. Whereas if men would be contented to speak justly of things, and pretend to no greater assurance than they can bring evidence for, considerate men would be apt to believe them. Every knowing man being more ready to listen to a modest man, whose confidence bears a proportion to the reason and arguments he brings for what he says, than to a confident pretender, who calls every weak saying a demonstration. And, indeed, such men are but justly dealt withal, since the experience of the world hath sufficiently taught us, that usually those who speak modestly of things, are furnished with the best arguments for their assertions; and that those who have made the strongest pretences to infallibility in any thing, have the weakest reasons for what they have said; of which this account may be given, that good reasons and arguments are requisite to beget in men a rational assurance; but 242a strong conceit is sufficient to beget in men an opinion of infallibility.
VI. What is the proper and genuine effect of this faith of a Divine revelation? I answer, A compliance with the design and intention of it.
VII. In what respect this may be called a Divine faith? To this I answer, Not only in respect of the object of it, and the argument whereby it is wrought, and the effect of it: but, likewise, in respect of the author and efficient of it, which is the Divine Spirit. And here, if time would permit, I should speak of the testimony of the Spirit; not as an argument whereby a persuasion of a Divine revelation, viz. that the Scriptures are the word of God, is wrought; but, also, as he is the author and efficient cause of it. I do most readily grant the great influence that the Spirit of God hath upon the minds of men in this work of faith, as well as in every spiritual act: but it is to be inquired, how the Spirit of God may be said to work this faith in us; whether by strengthening the faculty, or by holding the mind intent upon the argument, whereby this persuasion is wrought; or discovering the object, or removing the impediments, or furthering and helping forward the efficacy of it upon our hearts and lives. But of this, God willing, in my next discourse.243
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