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Faith, as it denotes the faculty, power, or ability of our minds to perceive the evidence of, and assent to, divine testimony, is again either natural or supernatural. That naturally, we have a faculty capable of assenting in some sort to divine testimony, is denied by none, so far as I know. But that ability whereby we are at least habitually fitted, disposed, and enabled to assent in a due manner to, and receive with just regard, the testimony of God, no man by nature has. "This is a supernatural gift. Several questions I know are moved concerning this ability. It belongs not to my subject, neither doth my inclination lead me to dip much in them at present. I shall only suggest the few remarks ensuing.
I. It seems unquestionably clear, that man originally had a power, ability, or faculty capable of perceiving, discerning, and assenting, to divine revelations upon their proper evidence; for it is plain, that God did reveal himself to man in innocency, and that he made man capable of converse with himself; but if such a faculty as this we speak of had been wanting, he had neither been capable of those revelations, nor fitted for converse with God."
II. It may most convincingly be made out, that all our faculties have suffered a dreadful shock, and are mightily impaired by the entrance of sin, and corruption of our natures thereon ensuing; and particularly our understandings are so far disabled, especially in things pertaining unto God, that we cannot in a due mar ner, perceive, discern, or entertain divine revelations upon their proper evidence, unto the glory of God, and our own advantage, unless our natures are supernaturally renewed. But this notwithstanding, the faculty of assenting to divine testimony is not quite lost, though it is impaired and rendered unfit for performing its proper work in a due manner. I know none who assert, that any of our faculties were entirely lost by the fall. In renovation our faculties are renewed, but there is no word of implanting new ones.
It is certain, unrenewed men, such as Balaam, and others, have had reve. lations made to them, and did assent to those revelations. Nor is it less clear, “ that the devils believe and tremble."
III. Whether men, in a state of nature, whose minds are not renewed, may not so far discern and be affected by the characters and evidences of God impressed upon divine revela
• We cannot conceive how reason should be prejudiced by the adancement of the rational faculties of our souls with respect unto their exrrcise toward their proper objects; which is all we assign unto the work of the Holy Spirit in this matter.---Ir Owen on the Spirit, preface, p. 9.
tions, particularly the Scriptures, where those evidences shine brightly, as thereby to be obliged, and actually drawn to give some sort of assent unto the testimony of God, I shall not positively determine; though the affirmative seems probable to me. The impress of a deity is no less evident in the Scriptures than his other works. He has magnified his word above all his name. Besides, I do not see, how the very faculty itself can be thought to remain, if it is not capable of discerning any thing of God, where he gives the most full and convincing evidence of himself, as unquestionably he doth in the Scriptures. Nor do I doubt but multitudes of sober persons, trained up within the church, and thereby drawn to a more attentive and less prejudicial* perusal of the Scripture revelation, do upon sundry occasions find their minds affected with the evidence of God in them, and thereby are drawn to assent to them as his word, though not in a due manner, and that even where they remain strangers unto a work of renovation. And sure I am, if it is so, it will leave the rejecters of the Scripture remarkably without excuse.
IV. Whether some transient act of the Spirit of God is always necessary upon the mind, to draw forth even such an assent as that last mentioned, I shall not determine; that in some cases it is so, is not to be doubted. The faith of temporary believers undoubtedly requires such an action as its cause: and, where any thing of this evidence affects the minds of persons, at present deeply prejudiced, as they were who were sent to apprehend Christ, and went away under a conviction, “ that never man spake as he did;" there such a transient work of the Spirit of God seems necessary to clear their minds of prejudices, and make them discern the evidences of a Deity. But whether it is so in other cases, I shall not conclude positively.
V. But were it granted, that faith-that is the faculty or power of believing, which is nothing else save the mind of man considered as a subject capable of assenting to testimony-still remains; and that though wofully impaired, weakened and disabled, it yet continues in so far able for its proper office or work, that either by the assistance of some transient operation of God's Spirit, breaking in some measure the power of its prejudices, and fixing it to the consideration of its proper objects, or even without this, upon a more sedate, sober, less prejudicial observation, it may, though less perfectly, perceive the impress and evidences of God, appearing in the revelations he
By “ less prejudicial," the author obviously means less ir fluenced by prejudice--mor
makes of himself, and that thereon it may be actually so affected as to give some sort of assent, and reach some conviction, “ that it is God who speaks. Were, I say, all this granted, it will amount to no great matter; since it is certain, that every sort of faith or assent to divine testimony is not sufficient to answer our duty, obtain acceptance with God, and turn to our salvation. Nor is it so much of our concernment to inquire after that sort of faith which fails of answering these ends; and therefore I shall dip no further into any questions about any faith of this sort, or our ability for it.
VI. It is more our interest to understand what that faith is, which God requires us to give to his word, which he will ac cept of, and which therefore will turn to our salvation; and whence we have the power and ability for this faith. Of these things, therefore, we shall discourse at more length in the next chapter.
WHEREIN THE NATURE OF THAT FAITH, WHICH IN DUTY WE ARE OBLIGED
TO GIVE TO THE WORD OF GOD, OUR OBLIGATION TO, AND OUR ABILITY FOR ANSWERING OUR DUTY, ARE INQUIRED INTO.
We have above insinuated, and of itself it is plain, that every sort of faith or assent to divine testimony answers not our duty, nor will amount to that regard which we owe to the authority and truth of God, when he speaks, or writes his mind to us. We must therefore, in the first place, inquire into the nature of that faith which will do so. Nor is there any other way wherein this may be better cleared, than by attending to the plain Scripture accounts of it.
Now, if we look into the Scriptures, we find, 1. The apostle Paul, 1 Thes. ii. 13, when he is commending the Thessalonians, and blessing God on their behalf, gives a clear description of that faith which is due unto the word of God. this cause also," says he," thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men; but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” If we advert to this description, we cannot but see these things in it, First, that some special sort of assent is here intended. The Thessalonians did not think it enough to give such credit, or yield such an assent as is due to the word of men, even the best of men. Secondly, in particular it is plain, that such an assent is intended as some way answers the unquestionable firmness of the testimony of the God of truth, which is the ground whereon it leans. Thirdly, it is obvious, that somewhat more is intended than a mere assent, of whatsoever sort it is. The words plainly import such an assent, or receiving of the word of God, as is attended with that reverence, submission of soul, resignation of will, and subjection of conscience, which is due to God. This, the use of the word
elsewhere in Scripture strongly pleads for, and the manner wherein the apostle expresses himself here, is sufficient to convince any man that no less is intended. Less than this would scarcely have been a ground for the apostle's thanksgiving to God, and for his doing this without ceasing. And indeed we find that this expression, elsewhere used, imports not only people's assent to, but their consent and approbation of, the word of God; yea, and their embracing in practice the gospel, Acts viii. 14, and xi. 1. 2. We are told, Heb. xi. 1, that it is the evidence of things not seen; sheyxos, which we render “evidence," signifies properly a convincing demonstration, standing firmly against, and repelling the force of contrary objections. Faith, then, is such an assent as this; it is a firm conviction leaning upon the strongest bottom, able to stand against and withstand the strongest objections. 3. The apostle more particularly describes the ground whereon it rests, or what that demonstrative evidence is whereon this conviction is founded, and that both negatively and positively, 1 Cor. ii. 5. It stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God: that is, it neither leans upon the eloquence nor reasonings of men, but upon the powerful evidence of the Spirit's demonstration, mentioned in the verse preceding.
Having given this short and plain account of faith from the Scripture, we must in the next place prove, that in duty we are bound to receive the word of God with a faith of this sort. Nor will this be found a matter of any difficulty; for,
I. The Scriptures hold themselves forth to us as the oracles of God, which holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Spirit of God, and wrote by divine inspiration, and the Holy Ghost is said to speak to us by them. Now the very light of nature teaches us, that when God utters oracles, speaks and writes his mind to us, we are in duty bound, readily to assent, give entire credit to, and rely with the firmest confidence on, the veracity of the speaker; and further, we are obliged to attend to what is spoken with the deepest veneration, reverence, and subjection of soul, and yield an unreserved practical compliance with every intimation of his mind.
II. The Scriptures were written for this very end, that we might so believe them as to have life by them, John xx. 30, 31. And again, Rom. xvi. 25, 26, The Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, are said to be made known to all nations for the obedience of faith. Certainly then we are in duty obliged to yield this obedience of faith.