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III. The most dreadful judgments, yea, eternal ruin, and that of the most intolerable sort, are threatened against those who do not thus receive the words of God from his servants; whether by word or writ, is no matter. “ Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet: Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that city,” Matt. x. 14, 15. Accordingly, we find the apostles preach the word at Antioch in Pisidia, Acts xiii.; demand acceptance of it both of Jews and Gentiles; and upon their refusal, they testify against them in this way of the Lord's appointment, verse 51. And all this severity they used without offering miracles or any other proof for their doctrine, so far as we can learn, besides the authoritative proposal of it in the name of God.
IV. We find the apostle, in the words above quoted, commending the Thessalonians for receiving the word in this manner, which is proof enough that it was their duty to do so.
This much being clear, it remains yet to be inquired, Whence we have power or ability for yielding such an assent, whether it is natural or supernatural? Now, if we consult the Scripture upon this head, we find,
I. That this ability to believe and receive the things of God to our salvation and his glory, is expressly denied to unrenewed man, or man in his natural estate: 2 Thes. iii. 2, “ All men have not faith.” 1 Cor. ii. 14, “ The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” John viii. 47, “ Ye therefore hear not God's words, because ye are not of God.”
II. This is expressly denied to be of ourselves, and asserted to be a supernatural gift of God. Eph. ii. 8, “ By grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."
III. The production of it is expressly ascribed unto God: he it is that “ fulfils in his people the work of faith with power,” 2 Thes. i. 11. He it is that gives them, that is, that enables them,
the behalf of Christ to believe and suffer for his name,” Phil. i. 29. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit, Gal. v. 22. And of it Christ is the author, Heb. xii. 2. The further proof and vindication of this truth Í refer to polemical writers.
But here possibly some may inquire, how it can be our duty thus to believe the Scriptures, since we are not of ourselves
able to do so? In answer to this, I shall only say, 1. The very light of nature shows that it is our duty to yield perfect obedience, but yet certain it is, we are unable to discharge our duty. 2. The Scriptures plainly require us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear,” and with the same breath tells us, we must have grace to enable us to do it, Heb. xii. 28. 3. We have destroyed ourselves, and by our own fault impaired the powers God originally gave us, and brought ourselves under innumerable prejudices and other evils, whereby the entrance of light is obstructed: but this cannot reasonably prejudge God's right to demand credit to his word, on which he has impressed sufficient objective evidence of himself, which any one that has not thus culpably lost his eyes, may upon attention discern. 4. It is therefore our duty to justify God, blame ourselves, and wait in the way he has prescribed for that grace which is necessary to enable us; and if thus we do his will, or at least aim at it, we have no reason to despair, but may expect in due time to be enabled to understand and know, whether these truths are of God, or they who spoke them did it of themselves, John vii. 17; though yet we cannot claim this as what is our due.
From what has hitherto been discoursed it is evident, that this faith, whereby we assent to the Scripture, is supernatural, or may be so called upon a twofold account,because the power or ability for it, is supernaturally given, and the evidence whereon it rests is supernatural.
In this chapter we have directly concerned ourselves only in the proof of the first of these, viz. “ That our ability thus to believe is supernaturally given;" and this has been the constant doctrine of the church of God, which we might confirm by testimonies of all sorts, did our designed brevity allow.' But our modern rationalists do resolutely oppose this. The author of a late atheistical pamphlet, that truly subverts all religion, may be allowed to speak for all the rest; for he says no more than what they do assent to.
66 That when once the mystery of Christ was revealed, even human reason was able to behold and confess it; not that grace had altered the eye-sight of reason, but that it had drawn the objects nearer to it.” † To the same purpose speak the Socinians. Schlich
• See Mr Wilson's Scripture's Genuine Interpreter asserted, Appendix, p. 4, 5, &c.
† Treatise of Human Reason, p. 58, published 1674, and to the credit of the Church of England with an Imprimatur, quoted by Mr Wilson, uhi supra, p. 13.
He tells us,
tingius tells us, “ man endued with understanding is no otherwise blind in divine mysteries, than as he who hath eyes, but sits in the dark: remove the darkness, and bring him a light, and he will see. The eyes of a man are his understanding, the light is Christ's doctrine.” To the same purpose doth the paradoxical Belgic exercitator, that sets up for philosophy as the interpreter of the Scripture, express himself frequently. Nor is his pretended answerer, Volzogius, differently minded; though he is not so constant to his opinion as the other.
But these gentlemen may talk as they please; we are not obliged to believe them in this matter, the Scriptures plainly teaching us, that our minds are blind, our understandings impaired and obstructed in discerning the evidence of truth, by prejudices arising from the enmity of the will, and depravity of the affections. Nor were it difficult to demonstrate from Scripture, that no man can believe or understand the word of God aright till, 1. The Spirit of God repair this defect of the faculty, or, "give us an understanding,” 1 John v. 20. 2. Break the power of that enmity that rises up against the truths of God as foolishness. 3. Cure the disorder of our affections that blind our minds. And, 4. Fix our minds, otherwise vain and unstable, to attend to what God speaks, and the evidence he gives of himself. But this is not what we principally design, and therefore we shall insist no longer upon this head. Our present question is not about our ability or power to believe, but the ground whereon we do believe. What has been spoken of the former hitherto, is only to prepare
for the consideration of the latter, to which we now proceed.
Wilson, ibid. p. 7, ibid. p. 11. † See note A.
THE GROUND, OR THE FORMAL REASON, WHEREON FAITH ASSENTS TO TIIE
SCRIPTURES IS INQUIRED AFTER; THE OPINION OF THE RATIONALISTS ABOUT IT, AND PARTICULARLY AS STATED BY MR LOCKE IN HIS BOOK O! HUMAN UNDERSTANDING, IS PROPOSED AND CONSIDERED.
Though we have spoken somewhat concerning our ability to believe the Word of God, and the supernatural rise thereof, in the preceding chapter, wherein we have offered our thoughts of that which goes under the name of “subjective light;" yet this is not the question mainly intended in these papers. That which we aim more particularly to inquire after, is the ground whereon the mind, thus subjectively enlightened, or by the Spirit of God, disposed, fitted, and enabled to discern and assent to divine revelations, builds its assent, and wherein it rests satisfied, or acquiesces. The question, then, before us is this, What is that ground whereon our reason moves, and determines us to receive the Scriptures as the word of God? What is the formal reason whereon our faith rests, or what is the proper answer to that question, "Wherefore do ye believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, and receive truths therein proposed as the word of God and not of man?”
It is in general owned by all who believe the Scriptures to be a divine revelation, that the authority, truth, and veracity of God, who is truth itself, and can neither deceive nor be deceived, is the ground whereon we receive and assent to propositions of truth therein revealed. But this general answer satisfies not the question; for, though it is of natural and unquestionable evidence, that God's testimony is true, cannot but be so, and as such must be received; yet certain it is, that divine testimony, abstractly considered, cannot be the ground of our assent unto any truth in particular: but that whereon we must rest, and whereon our faith must lean, is “the testimony of God to it, evidencing itself, or, as it gives evidence of itself unto the mind. The knot of the question then lies here, What is that evidence of God speaking or giving testimony to truths supernaturally revealed, whereby the mind is satisfied that God is the revealer? Or, when God speaks or intimates any truth to us, how or in what way doth he evidence to us, that he is the revealer; what ground is it whereon we are satisfied as to this precise point?”
Now, whereas there are persons of three sorts, who may be called to assent to divine revelations, the question proposed may be considered with respect to each of them.
İ. The question may be moved concerning those persons to whom the Scripture revelations were originally made; and as to them it may be inquired, when God did reveal his mind unto the prophets, what was that evidence, what were those Toxune.ce or certain signs, whereby they were infallibly assured, that the propositions they found impressed upon their minds were from God?
II. As to the persons to whom they did immediately reveal these truths, it may be questioned, what evidences they had to move them to assent, and give faith to those truths which were proposed to them as divine revelations? On what ground did they rest satisfied that really they were so ?
III. Whereas we, who now live, neither had these revelations made to us originally, nor heard them from the persons to whom they were so given; but being comprised and put together in the Bible, they are offered to us as a divine revelation, and we are in duty, upon pain of God's displeasure in case of refusal, called and required to believe, and assent to whatever is therein revealed, "ås the word of God, and not of man;" hereon it may be moved, what is that evidence which this book gives of itself, that it is of God, whereon our minds may rest assured that really it is so?
As to the question, in so far as it concerns the first sort of persons mentioned, we shall not dip much into it; all I shall say is this, in the words of the judicious and learned Doctor Owen, “ In the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and his actings on the minds of holy men of old, he gave them infallible assurance that it was himself alone by whom they were acted. Jer. xxiii. 28. If any shall ask by what terungsce or infallible tokens they might know assuredly the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and be satisfied with such a persuasion as was not liable to mistake, that they were not imposed upon ? I must say plainly, that I cannot tell; for these are things whereof we have no experience."*
* Dr Owen of the Spirit, book 2, chap. 1, $ 10, p. 104.