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and wait for the witness in himself;" the Author's object, in prefixing them to this pub lication, will be thus far attained.
We must next proceed to consider the nature of a divine revelation, and the reception to which it is entitled.-Knowledge, in different degrees, may be acquired by us in various ways. We know some things by intuition, or the testimony of our senses; and other things by demonstration, or undeniably conclusive arguments. Many things, which do not admit of this kind of proof, may be shewn to be probable, in so great a degree that it would be absurd to doubt of them, and madness not to regulate our conduct according to them. A very small proportion of men's actions are directed by intuitive knowledge, by demonstration, or even by the higher degrees of probability. A moderate degree of probability is generally sufficient to excite them to activity, and to direct their conduct. Testimony, especially, influences by far the greatest part of human actions; and forms the main spring of men's vigorous, self-denying exertions, their daring attempts, and their persevering labors. By crediting the assertions, and relying on the engagements, express or implied, of one another, all the grand concerns of nations are conducted; causes, in which life and death are involved, receive their final determination; and commerce, in all its branches, is directed and influenced: and the same regard to testimony, and confidence in our fellow-creatures, is inseparable from the most ordinary affairs of human life.
Now, "if the testimony of man be great, the testimony of God is greater,"* infinitely greater. Indeed his testimony, when fully ascertained, is the highest possible degree of demonstration: and when the Bible is proved, by adequate evidence, to be “the testimony of God," the information contained in it is sure, far beyond all other information, from whatever quarter or in whatever manner it is obtained.-The judge and the jury in court the merchant on the exchange, the commander of a fleet or army, the minister of state in council, (not to mention cases of subordinate importance,) are fully aware, that no tes timony or information can be useful to direct their conduct, in their respective concerns except it be credited. To appreciate its credibility and its import, is the first considera tion; and the next, when it is believed and understood, should be to form the plan of con duct according to it. Thus almost all human actions, and those especially of the great est importance, are performed and regulated by faith, by that same principle, which is the main spring of human activity, in the great concerns of religion: with this sole differ ence, that belief of human testimony, and reliance on human faithfulness to promises and engagements, by word or on paper, and in very many cases, as in that of physicians, law yers, and even those who prepare our food, by what is regarded as a professional engage ment, influence men in their secular concerns; the belief of God's testimony, and reli ance on his faithfulness to his promises, as written in the Scriptures, influence Christians in their spiritual and eternal concerns. These things are obvious: but they are seldom duly considered, in this connexion.
The Bible is the “testimony of God” to truths and facts, many of which are not otherwise discoverable; or not with sufficient clearness and certainty, to become principles of our habitual conduct. Things past, future, and invisible; truths most important, sublime, and mysterious, are thus brought to our knowledge, attested by him, who cannot mistake, who cannot deceive. But faith is the only exercise of our rational faculties, the only operation of the human mind, by which we can avail ourselves of this information. Faith, receiving and appropriating the testimony of God, is to reason, not unlike what the telescope is to the eye of the astronomer; who by it discerns objects invisible to all others; and sees, clearly and distinctly, those things, which to others appear obscure and confused.
Reason, thus appropriating, by faith, the information communicated by revelation from the only wise God," adds immensely to her former scanty stock of knowledge; possessing at the same time certainty instead of conjecture: and thus, in the posture of a humble disciple, she receives that instruction, which must be for ever with held from her, while she proudly affects to be the teacher. Thus, even the most illiterate of mankind, believing and becoming more and more acquainted with the sacred oracles, acquire a knowledge in the things of God and religion, far more certain and useful, than ever was possessed by the wisest and most learned unbeliever in the same magner as the bosom friend or confidential counsellor of the prince, who is informed of his real purposes and designs, exceeds in practical knowledge of state-affairs the most sagacious speculating politician; who merely supposes that those things have been done, or will be done, which he thinks ought to be done, or in some way conjectures to be most probable.
When, relying on the veracity of God, we receive the Scriptures, as in every proposition infallibly true; the whole of the instruction contained in them becomes our own, and we may consider them as a mine of precious ore, which will more and more enrich us, in proportion to our diligence in exploring them, and, so to speak, in working the mine. But this faith differs widely from the mere assent of the understanding to any proposi
*Note, 1 Joha 5:9,10.
tion, without respect to its importance, and to our own concern in it. Noah, for instance, was informed, that the deluge would come; and we are informed that it actually came: but he was immediately interested in the event; we are not. We may therefore assent to the truth of it, as an historical fact, without being influenced by it in our habitual conduct; but if he truly believed the divine testimony and monition, this belief must necessarily influence his conduct. “By faith, Noah, moved with fear, prepared the ark." The truths of revelation, (wholly unlike the reports of the day, which, whether true or false, are of little consequence to us,) all relate to our eternal interests; and therefore have an inseparable connexion with our practice. The Bible, received in true faith, becomes the foundation of our hope, the standard of our judgment, the source of our comfort, “the lantern of our feet, and the light of our paths:” and implicit faith always produces unreserved obedience.
The province of reason therefore, in respect to revelation, is, first to examine and decide, (with modesty and caution,) on the evidences by which it is supported; to understand and explain the language in which it is conveyed; to discern, in many things, the excellency of the things revealed to us; and to use them as motives, encouragements, and rules of obedience: and, in things evidently mysterious, to bow in humble submission to the divine teaching; to receive in a:loring faith and love what we cannot comprehend; to rest satisfied with what is revealed; and to leave sacred things with God, to whom alone they belong -Should any one indeed presume to interpret a text of Scripture, in a sense which contradicts the testimony of our senses or clear demonstration; we may venture to reject this interpretation: for nothing can possibly prove that to be true, which we certainly know to be false. But when the doctrines of revelation, or the obvious interpretations of them, according to the common use of language, are only mysterious, but involve no real contradiction; when they are merely above our comprehension, or contrary to the general notions, and preconceptions, or ordinary reasonings, of mankind; but are not opposite to the testimony of our senses, or to any demonstrated truth: to reject, on such grounds, the testimony of God, must be irrational in the highest degree; unless man be indeed wiser than his Creator.
Seeing therefore, that the Bible may be unanswerably proved to be the word of God, we should reason from it, as from self-evident principles, or demonstrated truths: for “His Testimony is sure, making wise the simple."
Many parts of Scripture accord so well with the conclusions of our rational powers, when duly exercised, that either they might have been known without revelation, or else men have mistaken the capacity of perceiving truth, for that of discovering it. Hence various controversies have arisen about natural religion, which many suppose to be rather taken for granted by revelation, than made known by it. But the term is ambiguous: for the word natural includes the propensities of our hearts, as well as the powers of our understandings; and the same truths, which accord to the latter, are often totally opposite to the former. The Gentiles might have known many things concerning God and his will, if they had "liked to retain him in their knowledge;" but their alienation of heart from him prevailed to keep them in ignorance, or entangle them in error. So that the term, “The religion of reason," would express the idea much more intelligibly, if any such distinction be deemed necessary.
This however is obvious, that many truths and precepts, which are found in the Bible, have been maintained by persons who were ignorant of that divine revelation, or who did not choose to own their obligations to it: and many others, professing to receive the Scriptures as the word of God, assent to some truths contained in them, not so much because they are revealed, as because they think that they may be proved by other arguments; while they reject, neglect, or explain away those doctrines, which are not thus evident to their reason, or level with their capacities. So that at last it comes to this, that they discard all which is deemed peculiar to revelation; and refuse to believe the testimony of God," if their own reason will not vouch for the truth of what he says.*
It may indeed be questioned, whether those opinions, which men so confidently magnify, as "The oracles of reason,' were not originally, without exception, borrowed from revelation, as far as there is any truth in them: and it is evident, that they cannot possess sulficient certainty, clearness, and authority, to render them efficacious principles of action, except as enforced by revelation and its awful sanctions. And the wildest enthusiast never dreamed of a grosser absurdity, than those persons maintain, who suppose that the only wise God has given a revelation to man, confirmed by miracles and prophecies, and established in the world by the labors and sufferings of his servants, and by the cru. cifixion of his well-beloved Son; and that this revelation at last is found to contain nothing, but what we might have known as well without it! Nay, that it is expressed in such language, as has given occasion to those, who have most implicitly believed and reveren
tially obeyed it, to maintain sentiments and adopt practices, erroneous and evil in them selves, and of fatal consequence to mankind!
We might therefore have previously expected, that the revelation from God should illustrate, confirm, and enforce such things, as seem more level to our natural powers: and that it should make known to us many important matters, which we could not have otherwise discovered; and which would be found exceedingly different from all our notions and imaginations; seeing that our contracted views and limited capacities are infinitely distant from the omniscience of God. So that it is most reasonable to conclude, that the doctrinal truths, which more immediately relate to the divine nature, perfections, providence, and government, to the invisible and eternal world and the mysteries of redemption, constitute by far the most important part of revelation; as discovering to us such things, “as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man;" and yet they are essentially connected with our present hope, worship, and duty, and with our future happiness or misery.*
He therefore cannot, according to the common use of language, be called a believer, who only holds those doctrines, which he deems the dictates of reason as well as of revelation; whilst he rejects the testimony of God, whenever he deems it unreasonable. And we may hence learn what judgment we ought to form of those, who affirm, without hesitation, that the moral precepts with the annexed penal sanctions, and the more evident truths of the Bible, are the only important part of it; that it is of little consequence what men believe, especially concerning those things which are in any degree mysterious; and that none but narrow-minded bigots, and weak and ignorant people, lay any stress upon speculative opinions.—“He that believeth not, maketh God a liar;" especially “he that believeth not the testimony, which God hath given of his Son," and of eternal life bestowed on sinners through him. This is the uniform doctrine of Scripture; and to contradict it is equivalent to a total rejection of divine revelation. Can it be supposed, that the prophets and apostles were commissioned, and that the Son of God was “manifested in the desh,” died on the cross and rose from the dead, merely to inform mankind, that the Lord approved honesty, temperance, truth, and kindness; and disapproved the contrary vices? or, that the unnumbered testimonies which the Scriptures contain to the mysteries of the Divine Nature, the Person of the Redeemer, the work of Redemption, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, may, without any criminality, be disbelieved, derided, or reviled; provided men are moral in their conduct towards one another? Or, that God is equally pleased with those who thus affront his veracity, as with those who implicitly submit to his teaching and credit his testimony? If this be the case, in what does the difference between the infidel and the believer consist? All, except avowed atheists, will allow the propriety of many precepts, and the truth of some doctrines, coinciding with those contained in Scripture: but the infidel admits them as the dictates of reason, not as “the testimony of God;" and many professed believers reject all, without hesitation, that does not appear to accord to the same standard. So that both of them believe their own reasonings, “lean to their own understandings," and "make God a liar," when his testimony contradicts their self-confident decisions! The prevailing notion therefore, of the comparatively small importance of doctrinal truth, is subversive of revelation; and in fact is only a more plausible and more dangerous species of infidelity. The decided belief of the sure testimony of God," on the most important doctrines of revelation, and those most intimately connected with our eternal salvation, our rejoicing hope, and our adoring gratitude; is often, under the word speculative or speculation, confounded with the boldest investigation of things unrevealed, by the most presumptuous efforts and conclusions of reasoning unbelievers: and this sometimes by pious men, whose excessive antipathy to controversy will not allow them to admit the difference, or come near enough to perceive it.
If we believe the Scriptures to have been written by "inspiration from God," and have any suitable apprehensions of his omniscience, veracity, and perfections; we must be convinced, that it is the height of arrogance for us, short-sighted, erring creatures of yesterday, to speak of any doctrine contained in them as false or doubtful, because it is not coincident with our reasonings or conceptions. Surely, a small portion of modesty and humility might suffice to induce a confession, that we are more likely to be mistaken, than that the only wise God should attest what is not exactly true! In rejecting his authenticated testimony, we must either advance our knowledge above his omniscience, or impeach his veracity, or deny the Scriptures, altogether or in part, to be his word; reserving to ourselves the determination, what part is of divine authority, and what is not! If, on the other hand, we deem any part of the Scriptures, though true, to be of little or no importance, or of dangerous tendency; what do we, but afront the infinite wisdom or goodness of God, as if he did not know what truths were proper to be revealed to man; or as if he purposely discovered those matters, which it would have been better
* Notes, John 3:12,13. 1 Cor. 2:6-9.
| Notes, John 3:17–21,91_38. 1 Joba 5:2 12.
for mankind never to have known? And, seeing it is evident that the Lord has, in the Scriptures, required the belief of certain doctrines, as absolutely necessary to salvation;* to insinuate that these doctrines are either false, doubtful, or of no value, must involve in it the grossest and most affronting blasphemy imaginable.
We do not indeed maintain, that all the truths of revelation are of equal importance, because they are not stated in Scripture to be so: but none can be wholly unimportant, and we are not always competent to decide upon their comparative value. Some things are more obvious than others; and such as are more hard to be understood, are not so well adapted to those persons, “who are unstable and unlearned” in the school of Christ: yet we are not authorized to reject, or even to doubt, any of them. We may indeed demur as to the true interpretation of them, whilst, in bumble, reverent teachableness and prayer, we wait for clearer light upon the subject: and we must remain for some time in partial ignorance or error, because we cannot at once become acquainted with all the truths which are revealed, even when we possess a disposition implicitly to believe them. There are some things, which relate to the very life and essence of true religion; and others are rather necessary to our stability, comfort, and holy conduct: these we must by no means reject, or treat with indifference; but it is possible, even that the teachable and diligent Christian may to the last be mistaken or ignorant about some of them, and yet be found among the heirs of salvation:" nay, there is ground to conclude, that this is indeed the case with great numbers, in one way or other.
The importance of revealed truth may be shewn in another way; for it is the seed or principle in the soul, whence all inward or real holiness proceeds. "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.”? “Beholding as in a glass,” (namely in the person, redemption, and doctrine of Christ,) "the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image.”“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manitest in the flesh.” This doctrine was, in the judgment of the apostle, “the great mystery of godliness;" and indeed all the holy dispositions and affections towards God, all the genuine spiritual worship, all the willing obedience of filial love, and all the cheerful acquiescence in the divine will, and affiance on the divine truth and mercy, which have been found in the world since the fall of man, have arisen from a proper reception of this great truth, and the doctrines connected with it.|| Spirituality, which consists in a supreme valuation of the holy excellence of spiritual things, and a disposition to seek pleasure and satisfaction in religion, is intimately connected with a believing dependence on the promised influences of the Holy Spirit. And that view of the worth of the soul, the evil of sin, the justice and mercy of God, the vanity of the world, and the believer's obligations to a Savior, “who loved him, and redeemed him to God with his blood,” which the doctrine of the cross communicates; is fundamental to deep repentance, genuine humility, gratitude, patience, meekness, forgiveness of injuries, love of enemies, and other parts of the Christian temper and character. Without this, a proud morality, and a pharisaical task and form of godliness, will comprise the sum total of man's religion; except as he is brought under those impressions and that guidance, which will in due time influence him to embrace the truth as it is in Jesus;" or as he is carried away, into the mazes of anti-scriptural enthusiasm and delusion.
The Holy Scriptures should likewise be considered as a complete revelation; so that nothing needs be known, believed, or practised, as essential to religion, except wbat may be plainly proved from them. On the other hand, it should be carefully observed, that the whole word of God is our rule; and that all preference of one part to another, (except as some parts are more immediately connected with our faith and practice, than others,) derogates from the credit of the whole; and implies a latent and indulged doubt, whether the Bible be altogether of divine authority; and whether only that part of it be so, which coincides with the favorite tenets of the person concerned. True and intelligent faith receives the whole "testimony of God;" gives every part its proper place and measure of attention, and applies it to its proper use: for "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
But all unwritten tradition, and apocryphal additions to the word of God, must be decidedly rejected. Tradition is so uncertain a way of conveying the knowledge either of truths or facts, that no dependence whatever can be placed on it; so that it is highly improbable, that, without written revelation, any one thing revealed to the prophets and apostles, would have been transmitted to us uncorrupted. Indeed there is some probability in the opinion, that the art of writing was first communicated by revelation, to Moses, in order to perpetuate, with certainty, those facts, truths, and laws, which he was employed to deliver to Israel. Learned men find no traces of literary or alphabetical writing, in the history of the nations, till long after the days of Moses; unless the book of Job be regarded
Notes, Mark 16:14-16. John 3:27-36, d. 36. 1 John 2:20_25. 5:11,12.
Notes, Deut. 29:29. 2 Tim. 3:14-17.
1 Note, Jobe 17.17-18 1 Pet. 1:29%25.
as an exception.* The art of expressing almost an infinite variety of sounds, by the interchanges of a few letters or marks, seems more like a discovery made to man from heaven, than a human invention; and its beneficial effects, and almost absolute necessity, for the preservation and communication of true religion, favor the conjecture.
But however that may be decided, all who love the Bible, will be thankful to God for this most important advantage; and also for the invention of printing, by which copies of the Scriptures are rendered cheap and plentiful, beyond all calculation, or comparison with the state of things, before printing was discovered. This gives modern Christians advantages for disseminating the knowledge of divine truth among the nations, in some respects even beyond what the apostles themselves possessed: and how noble and Christian is that grand design, which has lately been grounded on this circumstance by The British and Foreign Bible Society,' which is no less, than that of causing prophets and apostles to speak to the inhabitants of every country on earth, to each in their own language! May God accomplish to its full extent this grand, pious, and beneficent purpose!
We do not need any apocryphal additions to the Scripture. Considered as human writings, the apocryphal books have their use: but if custom sanction any of them being bound up in the same volume with the sacred oracles; truth requires that we explicitly declare, that they are not THE WORD OF God. Should it be inquired, how we may distinguish between the genuine books of Scripture, and those which are apocryphal; we answer, that not only some, but all the books, contained in our authorized version of the Scriptures, have many or all of those evidences of a divine original, which have been insisted on: but there is not one, of those called the Apocrypha, which may not be proved destitute of such evidence; and most of them contain internal proof that they are spurious.
The sacred writers often express themselves in language, taken from their own habits of life and the scenes with which they were conversant. Knowledge therefore, of various kinds, must be very advantageous, and in some instances necessary, in order fully to understand them: and the knowledge of eastern manners, and the local customs of the nations, in that part of the world, is doubtless useful to an expositor; though not to that degree, which many suppose. But I own, I am deliberately of opinion, that what is called Rabbinical learning, is rather a hindrance than a help to the understanding of the sacred writings, in their spiritual meaning and practical import:f and this conviction grows stronger, in proportion to the opportunity which I have had in later years, of becoming more acquainted with it. The writers, as their predecessors of old did, “make void the commandment of God, that they may keep their own tradition.”
We are, in the sacred Scriptures, addressed as rational creatures, endued with under standing; and as required to employ it, with diligence and earnestness, in deducing instruction, both doctrinal and practical, from what we read; "comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” If we do not so value divine truth, as willingly to apply labor in "searching for it, as for hid treasure;” revelation must be “a price put into the hands of a fool to get wisdom, who has no heart to it.” A humble and teachable spirit is above all things requisite; for "except we receive" the testimony of God, concerning "the kingdom of heaven, as little children, we shall not enter into it.” This will lead us to ask heavenly wisdom from God, by daily fervent prayer; and as she giveth liberally to all men, and upbraideth not,” we shall in this way "be made wise unto salvation:” and this will appear in our habitual conduct; for all our researches will be found vain, unless we endeavor to practise what we have already learned.
The Author of Revelation, “the Giver of every good and perfect gift,” has endued men with talents, differing both in their nature and degree. He has also afforded some men far more advantages, by education, by leisure, and by opportunities for study, than others have. Some of these persons, in every age, are induced, by divine grace, to devote their endowments and advantages to the acquisition and communication of religious knowledge, for the benefit of those, who are necessarily employed in another manner, whose talent is of another kind, whose time is otherwise occupied, and who need exciting to consider, and help in understanding, those things which belong to their eternal peace.
This is, especially, the object and service of the Christian ministry, when conscientiously and ably fullilled. Men, previously endowed with suitable qualifications of mind and heart, by the great Source of all good, giving themselves up wholly to this one thing, become mighty in the Scriptures," "scribes well instructed in the kingdom of God:” and are made useful, in diverse ways, in calling the attention of mankind to the sacred Scriptures, and assisting them to understand the things contained in them, and in animating them to a correspondent tenor of conduct.
The bare reading of the Scriptures, no doubt, is frequently blessed to the souls of men, in making them “wise unto salvation;" and few more egregious absurdities have by Antichrist been palmed upon mankind; than the persuasion, that unlearned men will learn heresy from the Scriptures, if put into their hand (without note or comment, or without
• Prefo se to the Book of Job.
| Notes, Lev. 1:5-9. 18:11–14.