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Archive for December, 2011

Book 1, Chapter 10: In Scripture, the true God opposed, exclusively, to all the gods of the heathen.

Section 1. Explanation of the knowledge of God resumed. God as manifested in Scripture, the same as delineated in his works.

Section 2. The attributes of God as described by Moses, David, and Jeremiah. Explanation of the attributes. Summary. Uses of this knowledge.

Section 3. Scripture, in directing us to the true God, excludes the gods of the heathen, who, however, in some sense, held the unity of God.

Section 1. Explanation of the knowledge of God resumed. God as manifested in Scripture, the same as delineated in his works.

We formerly observed that the knowledge of God, which, in other respects, is not obscurely exhibited in the frame of the world, and in all the creatures, is more clearly and familiarly explained by the word. It may now be proper to show, that in Scripture the Lord represents himself in the same character in which we have already seen that he is delineated in his works. A full discussion of this subject would occupy a large space. But it will here be sufficient to furnish a kind of index, by attending to which the pious reader may be enabled to understand what knowledge of God he ought chiefly to search for in Scripture, and be directed as to the mode of conducting the search. I am not now adverting to the peculiar covenant by which God distinguished the race of Abraham from the rest of the nations. For when by gratuitous adoption he admitted those who were enemies to the rank of sons, he even then acted in the character of a Redeemer. At present, however, we are employed in considering that knowledge which stops short at the creation of the world, without ascending to Christ the Mediator. But though it will soon be necessary to quote certain passages from the New Testament, (proofs being there given both of the power of God the Creator, and of his providence in the preservation of what he originally created,) I wish the reader to remember what my present purpose is, that he may not wander from the proper subject. Briefly, then, it will be sufficient for him at present to understand how God, the Creator of heaven and earth, governs the world which was made by him. In every part of Scripture we meet with descriptions of his paternal kindness and readiness to do good, and we also meet with examples of severity which show that he is the just punisher of the wicked, especially when they continue obstinate notwithstanding of all his forbearance.

Section 2. The attributes of God as described by Moses, David, and Jeremiah. Explanation of the attributes. Summary. Uses of this knowledge.

There are certain passages which contain more vivid descriptions of the divine character, setting it before us as if his genuine countenance were visibly portrayed. Moses, indeed, seems to have intended briefly to comprehend whatever may be known of God by man, when he said, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation,” (Exo 34: 6, 7) Here we may observe, firsts that his eternity and selfexistence are declared by his magnificent name twice repeated; and, secondly, that in the enumeration of his perfections, he is described not as he is in himself, but in relation to us, in order that our acknowledgement of him may be more a vivid actual impression than empty visionary speculation. Moreover, the perfections thus enumerated are just those which we saw shining in the heavens, and on the earth – compassion, goodness, mercy, justice, judgement, and truth. For power and energy are comprehended under the name Jehovah. Similar epithets are employed by the prophets when they would fully declare his sacred name. Not to collect a great number of passages, it may suffice at present to refer to one Psalm, (145) in which a summary of the divine perfections is so carefully given that not one seems to have been omitted. Still, however, every perfection there set down may be contemplated in creation; and, hence, such as we feel him to be when experience is our guide, such he declares himself to be by his word. In Jeremiah, where God proclaims the character in which he would have us to acknowledge him, though the description is not so full, it is substantially the same. “Let him that glorieth,” says he, “glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, in the earth,” (Jer 9: 24) Assuredly, the attributes which it is most necessary for us to know are these three: Loving-kindness, on which alone our entire safety depends: Judgement, which is daily exercised on the wicked, and awaits them in a severer form, even for eternal destruction: Righteousness, by which the faithful are preserved, and most benignly cherished. The prophet declares, that when you understand these, you are amply furnished with the means of glorying in God. Nor is there here any omission of his truth, or power, or holiness, or goodness. For how could this knowledge of his loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, exist, if it were not founded on his inviolable truth? How, again, could it be believed that he governs the earth with judgement and righteousness, without presupposing his mighty power? Whence, too, his loving-kindness, but from his goodness? In fine, if all his ways are loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, his holiness also is thereby conspicuous. Moreover, the knowledge of God, which is set before us in the Scriptures, is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation, viz., that we may thereby learn to worship him with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, and also to depend entirely on his goodness.

Section 3. Scripture, in directing us to the true God, excludes the gods of the heathen, who, however, in some sense, held the unity of God.

Here it may be proper to give a summary of the general doctrine. First, then, let the reader observe that the Scripture, in order to direct us to the true God, distinctly excludes and rejects all the gods of the heathen, because religion was universally adulterated in almost every age. It is true, indeed, that the name of one God was everywhere known and celebrated. For those who worshipped a multitude of gods, whenever they spoke the genuine language of nature, simply used the name god, as if they had thought one god sufficient. And this is shrewdly noticed by Justin Martyr, who, to the same effect, wrote a treatise, entitled, On the Monarchy of God, in which he shows, by a great variety of evidence, that the unity of God is engraven on the hearts of all. Tertullian also proves the same thing from the common forms of speech[1]. But as all, without exception, have in the vanity of their minds rushed or been dragged into lying fictions, these impressions, as to the unity of God, whatever they may have naturally been, have had no further effect than to render men inexcusable. The wisest plainly discover the vague wanderings of their minds when they express a wish for any kind of Deity, and thus offer up their prayers to unknown gods. And then, in imagining a manifold nature in God, though their ideas concerning Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Minerva, and others, were not so absurd as those of the rude vulgar, they were by no means free from the delusions of the devil. We have elsewhere observed, that however subtle the evasions devised by philosophers, they cannot do away with the charge of rebellion, in that all of them have corrupted the truth of God. For this reason, Habakkuk, (2: 20) after condemning all idols, orders men to seek God in his temple, that the faithful may acknowledge none but Him, who has manifested himself in his word.

[1] In his book, De Idolatria. See also in Augustine, a letter by one Maximus, a grammarian of Medaura, jesting at his gods, and scoffing at the true religion. See, at the same time, Augustine’s grave and admirable reply. Ep. 43.44.

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I am still working my way through this one.  I am only able to take it in bite sized chunks and digest it a little at a time.  I will admit that I have a major bias against organized religion and organized meetings in what we call churches.  So I am taking this in very slowly. 

Here it is in it’s entirety:

 

Public Worship to be Preferred Before Private

December 27, 2011

 

The following is a discourse from the venerable David Clarkson discussing the necessity of Public Worship and its more immediate value over private worship. In other words, he is by no means denigrating or denying the necessity of private religion, but noting how without Public Worship, such private duties are eclipsed and weakened. I have updated the Scripture references from Roman Numerals to current standards for quicker reference. Please note that Cant. in the discourse is referring to the Song of Solomon. I hope you will be edified by this as professing a system of faith which has a very high view of God’s public ordinances and means of grace.
 

Public Worship to be Preferred Before Private

By David Clarkson

The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. – Psalm 87.2

That we may apprehend the meaning of these words, and so thereupon raise some edifying observation, we must inquire into the reason why the Lord is said to love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. This being manifest, the words will be clear. Now the reason we may find assigned by the Lord himself, Deut. 8.5, 6, 11. The gates of Zion was the place which the Lord had chosen to cause his name to dwell there, i.e. as the following words explain, the place of his worship. For the temple was built upon, or near to, the hill of Zion. And this, you know, was in peculiar the settled place of his worship. It was the Lord’s delight in affection to his worship, for which he is said to love the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

But it may be replied, the Lord had worship, not only in the gates of Zion, in the temple, but also in the dwellings of Jacob. We cannot suppose that all the posterity of Jacob would neglect the worship of God in their families; no doubt the faithful among them resolved with Joshua, ‘I and my house will serve the Lord.’ Since, therefore, the worship of God was to be found in both, how can this worship be the reason why one should be preferred before the other? Sure upon no other account but this, the worship of God in the gates of Zion was public, his worship in the dwellings of Jacob was private. So that, in fine, the Lord may be said to love the gates of Zion before all the dwellings of Jacob, because he prefers public worship before private. He loved all the dwellings of Jacob, wherein he was worshipped privately; but the gates of Zion he loved more than all the dwellings of Jacob, for there he was publicly worshipped. Hence we have a clear ground for this

Observation. Public worship is to be preferred before private. So it is by the Lord, so it should be by his people. So it was under the law, so it must be under the gospel. Indeed, there is difference between the public worship under the law and gospel in respect of a circumstance, viz., the place of public worship. Under the law, the place of public worship was holy, but we have no reason so to account any place of public worship under the gospel; and this will be manifest, if both we inquire what were the grounds of that legal holiness in the tabernacle or temple, and withal observe that none of them can be applied to any place of worship under the gospel.

1. The temple and tabernacle was [set] apart, and separated for a holy use, by the special express command of God, Deut. 7.13, 14. But there is no such command for setting apart this or that place under the gospel. The worship is necessary, but the place where is indifferent, undetermined; it is left to human prudence to choose what place may be most convenient. We find no obliging rule, but that in general, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order.’ Men’s consecrations cannot make that holy which God’s institution does not sanctify.

2. The temple was pars cultus, a part of the ceremonial worship under the law, but there is no such ceremonial worship under the gospel, much less is any place a part of gospel-worship; and therefore no such holiness in any place now as in the temple then.

3. The temple was medium cultus, a mean of grace, of worship, under the law. Thereby the Lord communicated to those people many mysteries of religion and godliness; thereby was Christ represented in his natures, offices, benefits. But there is no place under the gospel of such use and virtue now; no such representations of Christ, or communications of religious mysteries by any place of worship whatever; ergo, no such holiness.

4. The temple was a type of Christ, John 2.19; but all the shadows and types of Christ did vanish when Christ himself appeared; and there is no room for them in any place under the gospel.

5. The temple did sanctify the offerings, the services of that people. The altar did sanctify the gift, Mat. 23.19. The worship there tendered was more acceptable, more available, than elsewhere, as being the only place where the Lord would accept those ceremonial services, as also because there is no acceptance but in Christ, who was hereby typified. But these being ceased, to think now that our worship or service of God will be sanctified by the place where they are performed, or more available or acceptable in one place than another, merely for the place’s sake, is a conceit without Scripture, and so superstitious; nay, against Scripture, and so profane. The prophet foretold this: Mal. 1.11, ‘In every place incense shall be offered unto my name;’ in every place, one as well as another, without distinction. The Lord Christ determines this in his discourse, John 4.21. The hour is at hand when all such respects shall be taken away, and all places made alike, and you and your services as acceptable in every place of the world as at Jerusalem. Hence the apostle’s advice, 1 Tim. 2.8, ‘I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands,’ not in this or that place only. And the promise of Christ is answerable, Mat. 18.20. He says not, when two or three are gathered together in such a place, but only ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’ Observable is that of Origen upon Matthew, Tract. 35, Vir quidem Judaicus non dubitat de hujusmodi, A Jew indeed doubts not but one place is more holy than another for prayer, but he that has left Jewish fables for Christ’s doctrine doth say that the place doth not make one prayer better than another. So in Homil. 5 on Levit., Locum sanctum in terris non require positum, sed in corde, I seek no holy place on earth, but in the heart. This we must take for the holy place rather (quam si putemus structuram lapidum) than a building of stones. So Augustine, Quid supplicaturus Deo locum sanctum requiris, &c., When thou hast a mind to pray, why dost thou inquire after a holy place? Superstition had not yet so blinded the world but these ancients could see reason to disclaim that holiness of places which after-ages fancied. And well were it if such superstitious conceits were not rooted in some amongst us. Those who have a mind to see, may, by what has been delivered, discern how groundless that opinion is. But I must insist no longer on it.

Hence it appears that there is a circumstantial difference betwixt the public worship of God under the law and under the gospel. But this can be no ground to conclude that public worship is not to be preferred before private, as well under the gospel as under the law; for the difference is but in circumstance (the place of worship), and this circumstance but ceremonial (a ceremonial holiness); whereas all the moral reasons why public worship should be preferred before private, stand good as well under the gospel as under the law.

But before I proceed to confirm the observation, let me briefly explain what worship is public. Three things are requisite that worship may be public, ordinances, an assembly, and an officer.

1. There must be such ordinances as do require or will admit of public use; such are prayer, praises, the word read, expounded, or preached, and the administration of the sacraments. The word must be read, and prayer is necessary both in secret and private, but they both admit of public use, and the use of them in public is required and enjoined. These must be used both publicly and privately; the other cannot be used duly but in public.

2. There must be an assembly, a congregation joined in the use of these ordinances. The worship of one or two cannot be public worship. Of what numbers it must consist we need not determine; but since what is done in a family is but private, there should be a concurrence of more than constitute an ordinary family.

3. There must be an officer. The administrator of the ordinances must be one of public quality, one in office, one set apart by the Lord, and called to the employment by the church. If a private person in ordinary cases undertake to preach the word or administer the sacraments, if it be allowed as worship, which is not according to ordinary rule, yet there is no reason to expect the blessing, the advantage, the privilege of public worship.

This for explication; now for confirmation. Observe these arguments.

1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private. God is then glorified by us when we acknowledge that he is glorious. And he is most glorified when this acknowledgment is most public. This is obvious. A public acknowledgment of the worth and excellency of any one tends more to his honour than that which is private or secret. It was more for David’s honour that the multitude did celebrate his victory, 1 Sam. 18.7, than if a particular person had acknowledged it only in private. Hence the psalmist, when he would have the glory of God most amply declared, contents not himself with a private acknowledgment, but summons all the earth to praise him, Ps. 96.1-3. Then is the Lord most glorified, when his glory is most declared, and then it is most declared when it is declared by most, by a multitude. David shews the way whereby God may be most glorified, Ps. 22.22, 23, 25. Then he appears all glorious when publicly magnified, when he is praised in the great congregation. Then he is most glorified when a multitude speaks of and to his glory: Ps. 29.9, ‘In his temple does every one speak of his glory.’ The Lord complains as if he had no honour from his people, when his public worship is despised, neglected: Mal. 1.6, ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour? If I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord God of hosts unto you, O priests that despise my name.’ By name of God here is meant his worship and ordinances, as plainly appears by what follows, ver. 7, 8, 11. And he here expostulates with them as tendering him no honour, because they despised his worship and ordinances. Then shall Christ be most glorified, when he shall be admired in all them that believe, in that great assembly at the last day, 2 Thess. 1.10. And it holds in proportion now; the more there are who join together in praising, admiring, and worshipping him, the more he is glorified: and therefore more in public than in private.

2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private. He is present with his people in the use of public ordinances in a more especial manner, more effectually, constantly, intimately.

For the first, see Exod. 20.24. After he had given instructions for his public worship, he adds, ‘In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.’ Where I am publicly worshipped, for the name of God is frequently put for the worship of God, I will come; and not empty-handed, I will bless thee: a comprehensive word, including all that is desirable, all that tends to the happiness of those that worship him. Here is the efficacy.

For the constancy of his presence, see Mat. 28: ‘I am with you always to the end of the world.’ Where, after he had given order for the administration of public ordinances, he concludes with that sweet encouragement to the use of them, pasaVtaV hmeaV, I am with you always, every day, and that to the end of the world. Here is the constancy.

See the intimacy of his presence: Mat. 18.20, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ He says not, I am near them, or with them, or about them, but in the midst of them; as much intimacy as can be expressed. And so he is described, Rev. 1.18, to be in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, in the midst of the church; there he walks and there he dwells; not only with them, but in them. For so the apostle, 2 Cor. 6.16, renders that of Lev. 26.12, which promise he made, upon presupposal of his tabernacle, his public worship amongst them, ver. 11. Hence it is, that when the public worship of God is taken from a people, then God is departed, his presence is gone; as she, when the ark was taken from the Israelites, cried out, ‘The glory is departed.’ And why, but because the Lord, who is the glory of his people, is then departed? Public ordinances are the sign, the pledge of God’s presence; and in the use of them, he does in a special manner manifest himself present.

But you will say, Is not the Lord present with his servants when they worship him in private? It is true; but so much of his presence is not vouchsafed, nor ordinarily enjoyed, in private as in public. If the experience of any find it otherwise, they have cause to fear the Lord is angry, they have given him some distaste, some offence; if they find him not most, where ordinarily he is most to be found, and this is in public ordinances, for the Lord is most there where he is most engaged to be, but he has engaged himself to be most there where most of his people are. The Lord has engaged to be with every particular saint, but when the particulars are joined in public worship, there are all the engagements united together. The Lord engages himself to let forth as it were, a stream of his comfortable, quickening presence to every particular person that fears him, but when many of these particulars join together to worship God, then these several streams are united and meet in one. So that the presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God. The Lord has a dish for every particular soul that truly serves him; but when many particulars meet together, there is a variety, a confluence, a multitude of dishes. The presence of the Lord in public worship makes it a spiritual feast, and so it is expressed, Isa. 25.6. There is, you see, more of God’s presence in public worship, ergo public worship is to be preferred before private.

3. Here are the clearest manifestations of God. Here he manifests himself more than in private, ergo public worship is to be preferred before private. Why was Judah called a valley of vision, but because the Lord manifested himself to that people in public ordinances? Which he not vouchsafing to other nations, they are said to ‘sit in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death.’ Here are the visions of peace of love, of life; and blessed are those eyes that effectually see them. Here are the clearest visions of the beauty, the glory, the power of God, that can be looked for, till we see him face to face. David saw as much of God in secret as could then be expected, but he expected more in public, and, therefore, as not satisfied with his private enjoyments, he breathes and longs after the public ordinances, for this reason, that he might have clearer discoveries of the Lord there: Ps. 27.4, ‘One thing have I desired, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.’ Why did he affect this, as the one thing above all desirable? Why, but to behold the beauty of the Lord? &c. So, Ps. 63.1, 2, though David was in a wilderness, a dry and thirsty land, where was no water, yet he did not so much thirst after outward refreshments as after the public ordinances; and why? ‘To see thy power and thy glory.’

If we observe how Christ is represented when he is said to be in the midst of the churches, we may thereby know what discoveries of Christ are made in the assemblies of his people, Rev. 1.13, &c.

Clothed with a garment down to the foot. That was the priests’ habit. Here is the priestly office of Christ, the fountain of all the saints’ comfort and enjoyments.

Girt about the paps with a golden girdle. This was the garb of a conqueror. So Christ is set forth as victorious over all his people’s enemies.

His head and hairs white like wool. Here is his eternity; whiteness is the emblem of it. Therefore, when the Lord is expressed as eternal, he is called the Ancient of days.

His eyes as a flame of fire. Here is his omnisciency; nothing can be hid from his eye. The flame scatters darkness, and consumes or penetrates whatever to us might be an impediment of sight.

His feet like to fine brass. Here is his rower; to crush all opposers of his glory and his people’s happiness; they can no more withstand him, than
earthen vessels can endure the force of brass.

His voice as the sound of many waters. Here his voice is most loud and powerful; so powerful, as it can make the deaf to hear, and raise the dead out of the grave of sin. His voice in private is a still voice, here it is as the sound of many waters.

He had in his right hand seven stars. Here is his providence, his tender care of his messengers, the ministers of the gospel, the administrators of public ordinances; he holds them in his hand, his right hand, and all the violence of the world, all the powers of darkness, cannot pluck them thence.

Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. His word publicly preached, sharper than a two-edged sword, as described, Heb. 4.12, 18, pierces the heart, searches the soul, wounds the conscience. With this Christ goes on, conquering and to conquer, maugre all opposition.

His countenance was as the sun that shineth in his strength. Here the face of Christ is unveiled, the fountain of light and life, the seat of beauty and glory, such as outshines the sun in his full strength. So he appears, as he becomes the love, the delight, the admiration, the happiness, of every one whose eyes are opened to behold him.

Now, as he is here described in the midst of the churches, so does he in effect appear in the assemblies of his people. No such clear, such comfortable, such effectual representations of the power and wisdom, of the love and beauty, of the glory and majesty of Christ, as in the public ordinances: ‘We all here, as with open face, behold the glory of the Lord.’

4. There is more spiritual advantage to be got in the use of public ordinances than in private, ergo they are to be preferred. Whatever spiritual benefit is to be found in private duties, that, and much more, may be expected from public ordinances’ when duly improved. There is more spiritual light and life, more strength and growth, more comfort and soul refreshment. When the spouse (the church) inquires of Christ where she might find comfort and soul nourishment, food and rest, he directs her to public ordinances: Cant. 1.7, 8, ‘Go by the footsteps of the flock,’ walk in the path of God’s ancient people. And feed the kids beside the shepherds’ tents. Shepherds are (in the phrase of the New Testament) pastors or teachers, those to whom the Lord has committed the administration of his public ordinances. To them is the church directed for food and rest, for spiritual comfort and nourishment; and it is commended to her as the known way of the whole flock, that flock whereof Christ is chief shepherd.

That is a pregnant place for this purpose, Eph. 4, where the apostle declares the end why the Lord Christ gave public officers, and consequently public ordinances. He gave them, ver. 12, ‘for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ Here is edification, even to perfection: ver. 13, ‘Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ Here is knowledge and unity, even in a conformity to Christ: ver. 14, ‘That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro; and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.’ There is strength and stability, maugre all the sleight and craftiness of seducers: ver. 15, ‘But speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.’ There is growth and fruitfulness, and that in all things. These are the ends for which the Lord Jesus gave his church public officers and ordinances; and they will never fail of these ends if we fail not in the use of them. What more can be desired? Here doubts are best resolved, darkness scattered, and temptations most effectually vanquished. David had private helps as well as we, but how strangely did a temptation prevail against him, till he went into the sanctuary: Ps.73.16, 17, ‘When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.’ Nothing was effectual to vanquish this temptation, till he went into the sanctuary. Thus you see there is more spiritual advantage in public worship than in private, and therefore it is to be preferred.

5. Public worship is more edifying than private, ergo, &c. In private you provide for your own good, but in public you do good both to yourselves and others. And that is a received rule, Bonum, quo communius, eo melius, that good is best which is most diffusive, most communicative. Example has the force of a motive; we may stir up others by our example: Zech. 8.20, 21, ‘There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts.’ This was frequent with David: Ps. 34.8, ‘Oh magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together;’ Ps. 96.7, 8, ‘Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.’ Live coals, if ye separate them, and lay them asunder, will quickly die; but while they are continued together, they serve to continue heat in one another. We may quicken one another, while we join together in worshipping God; but deadness, coldness, or lukewarmness may seize upon the people of God, if they forsake the assembling of themselves together. It is more edifying; therefore to be preferred.

6. Public ordinances are a better security against apostasy than private, and therefore to be preferred: an argument worthy our observation in these backsliding times. He that wants the public ordinances, whatever private means he enjoy, is in danger of apostasy. David was as much in the private duties of God’s worship as any, while he was in banishment; yet, because he was thereby deprived of the public ordinances, he looked upon himself as in great danger of idolatry. Which is plain from his speech, 1 Sam. 26.19, ‘They have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go serve other gods.’ There was none about Saul so profane as to say expressly unto him, Go serve other gods. Why then does he thus charge them? Why, but because by banishing him from the inheritance of the Lord, and the public ordinances, which were the best part of that inheritance, they exposed him to temptations which might draw him to idolatry, and deprive him of that which was his great security against it. They might as well have said plainly, Go and serve other gods, as drive him out from the public worship of the true God, which he accounted the sovereign preservative from idolatry.

But we have too many instances nearer home to confirm this. Is not the rejecting of public ordinances the great step to the woful apostasies amongst us? Who is there falls off from the truth and holiness of the gospel into licentious opinions and practices, that has not first fallen off from the public ordinances? Who is there in these times that has made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, who has not first cast the public worship of God overboard? The sad issue of forsaking the public assemblies (too visible in the apostasy of divers professors) should teach us this truth, that public ordinances are the great security against apostasy, a greater security than private duties, and therefore to be preferred.

For this end were they given, that we might not be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, Eph. 4.14. No wonder if those that reject the means fall so wofully short of the end; no wonder if they be tossed to and fro, till they have nothing left but wind and froth. This was the means which Christ prescribed to the church, that she might not turn aside to the flocks of those companions, hypocrites, or idolaters: Cant. 1, ‘Feed by the shepherds’ tents.’ No wonder if those who shun those tents become a prey to wolves and foxes, to seducers and the destroyer. Public ordinances are a more effectual means to preserve from apostasy, and therefore to be preferred before private.

7. Here the Lord works his greatest works; greater works than ordinarily he works by private means, ergo. The most wonderful things that are now done on earth are wrought in the public ordinances, though the commonness and spiritualness of them makes them seem less wonderful. It is true, we call not conversion and regeneration miracles, but they come nearest to miracles of anything that is not so called. Here the Lord speaks life unto dry bones, and raises dead souls out of the grave and sepulchre of sin, wherein they have lain putrefying many years. Here the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and his messengers, and those that hear do live. Here he gives sight to those that are born blind; it is the effect of the gospel preached to open the eyes of sinners, and to turn them from darkness to light. Here he cures diseased souls with a word, which are otherwise incurable by the utmost help of men and angels. He sends forth his word, and heals them; it is no more with him but speaking the word, and they are made whole. Here he dispossesses Satan, and casts unclean spirits out of the souls of sinners that have been long possessed by them. Here he overthrows principalities and powers, vanquishes the powers of darkness, and causes Satan to fall from heaven like lightning. Here he turns the whole course of nature in the souls of sinners, makes old things pass away, and all things become new. Wonders these are, and would be so accounted, were they not the common work of the public ministry. It is true indeed, the Lord has not confined himself to work these wonderful things only in public; yet the public ministry is the only ordinary means whereby he works them. And since his greatest works are wrought ordinarily by public ordinances, and not in private, therefore we should value and esteem the public ordinances before private duties.

8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven, therefore to be preferred. In heaven, so far as the Scripture describes it to us, there is nothing done in private, nothing in secret, all the worship of that glorious company is public. The innumerable company of angels, and the church of the first-born, make up one general assembly in the heavenly Jerusalem, Heb. 12.22, 28. They make one glorious congregation, and so jointly together sing the praises of him that sits on the throne, and the praises of the Lamb, and continue employed in this public worship to eternity.

9. The examples of the most renowned servants of God, who have preferred public worship before private, is a sufficient argument. It was so in the judgment of those who were guided by an infallible Spirit, those who had most converse with God, and knew most of the mind of God; and those who had experience of both, and were in all respects the best, the most competent judges. If we appeal to them, this truth will quickly be put out of question. David, who has this testimony, that he was a man after God’s own heart, shews by his practice and testimony that this was God’s own mind. To what I have formerly produced to this purpose, let me add but one place, wherein he pregnantly and affectionately confirms this truth: Ps. 84.1, ‘How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!’ He speaks by way of interrogation, insinuating that they were amiable beyond his expression. You might better read this in his heart than in his language. Accordingly he adds, ver. 2, ‘My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.’ Oh what expressions! Longing; nothing else could satisfy. Fainting; it was his life; he was ready to faint, to die, for want of it: ver. 10, ‘I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.’ David was at this time a king, either actually or at least anointed; yet he professes he had rather be a door-keeper where he might enjoy God in public, than a king where deprived of public worship. He would choose rather to sit at the threshold, as the original is, than to sit on a throne in the tents of wickedness, in those wicked, heathenish places where God was not publicly worshipped. Hezekiah and Josiah were the two kings of Judah of highest esteem with God, as he has made it known to the world by his testimony of them. Now what was their eminency but their zeal for God? And where did their zeal appear, but for the public worship of God? See it of Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29.2, 8, ‘He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He, in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them.’ Of Josiah, chap. 34 and 35. The apostles also, and primitive Christians bear record of this. How careful were they of taking all opportunities that the word might be preached, and the Lord worshipped in public! How many hazards did they run, how many dangers, how many deaths did they expose themselves to, by attempting to preach Christ in public! Their safety, their liberty, their lives, were not so dear to them as the public worship; whereas, if they would have been contented to have served the Lord in secret, it is probable they might have enjoyed themselves in peace and safety as well as others. The Lord Christ himself, how much soever above us, did not think himself above ordinances, though he knew them then expiring; nor did he withdraw from public worship, though then corrupted. Nay, he exhorts his disciples to hear them who publicly taught in Moses’s chair, though they had himself, a far better teacher. You find him frequently in the synagogues, frequently in the temple, always at the passover; and his zeal for public worship was such, as they apply that of the psalmist to him, ‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.’

10. Public worship is the most available for the procuring of the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments. The greatest, i.e. those that are most extensive, of universal consequence to a whole nation or a whole church. It is most effectual for the obtaining public mercies, for diverting public calamities, therefore to be preferred before private worship. This is the means the Lord prescribes for this end; and he encourages his people to the use thereof with promises of success: Joel 2.15, 16, ‘Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders, sanctify the people,’ &c. There is the means prescribed: See the success, ver. 18, 19, ad finem. He assures them the issue hereof should be mercies of all sorts, temporal and spiritual, ordinary and extraordinary, and that to the whole nation. Jehoshaphat used this means, and found the success answerable: 2 Chron. 20.8, 4, ‘He set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah,’ &c. This is the argument he uses, ‘Thy name is in this house,’ ver. 9. Immediately the Lord despatches a prophet with a gracious answer: ver. 15, 17, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Stand still, and see the salvation of God.’ The event was wonderful: ver. 28, 24, ‘The children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them. And when Judah came toward the watch-tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies.’ Nineveh bears witness to this, who hereby prevented her utter destruction, threatened by the prophet within forty days. Nor want we instances in the New Testament. Hereby the church prevailed for the miraculous deliverance of Peter, Acts 7.5. And wonderful were the effects hereof to the whole church: Acts 4.31, ‘When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word of God with boldness.’ So Rev. 8.4. There you have mention of the prayers of all saints, in a description after the form of public prayers, offered in the temple at the time of incense. And an answer is immediately returned, such an one as brought with it the destruction of that domineering Roman state which then persecuted them. Now, that which is of most public and universal advantage is worthily to be preferred; but such is public worship, and therefore to be preferred before private.

11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship, and that must needs be most valuable which has most interest in that which is of infinite value. The blood of Christ has most influence upon public worship, more than on private; for the private duties of God’s worship, private prayers, meditation, and such like, had been required of, and performed by, Adam and his posterity, if he had continued in the state of innocency; they had been due by the light of nature, if Christ had never died, if life and immortality had never been brought to light by the gospel. But the public preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the federal seals, have a necessary dependence upon the death of Christ. As they are the representations, so they are the purchase of that precious blood; as Christ is hereby set forth as crucified before our eyes, so are they the purchase of Christ crucified, so are they the gifts of Christ triumphant. Conquerors used on the day of triumph, spargere missilia, to scatter gifts amongst the people. Answerably the apostle represents to us Christ in his triumph, Eph. 4, distributing gifts becoming such a triumph, such a conqueror: ver. 8, ‘When he ascended upon high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.’ And those gifts, he tells us, ver. 12, are public officers, and consequently public ordinances to be administered by those officers. How valuable are those ordinances, which are the purchase of that precious blood, which are the gifts Christ reserved for the glory of his triumph!

12. The promises of God are more to public worship than to private. Those exceeding great and precious promises, wherever they are engaged, will turn the balance; but public worship has most interest in them, and therefore more to be valued than private. If I should produce all those promises which are made to the several ordinances, the several parts of public worship, I should rehearse to you a great part of the promissory part of Scripture. I shall but briefly touch some generals. The Lord promises his presence, in the places before alleged: Exod. 20.24, ‘In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.’ Protection and direction: Isa. 4.5, ‘Upon all the glory shall be a defence.’ The Lord will be to the assemblies of his people as a pillar of cloud and fire. His presence shall be as much effectually to his people now as those pillars were then. ‘Upon all their glory.’ As formerly in the wilderness, the Lord, having filled the inside of the tabernacle with his glory, covered the outside of it with a thick cloud, Exod. 40.34, so will he secure his people and their glorious enjoyments in public worship. His presence within shall be as the appearance of his glory, to refresh them; his presence without shall be as a thick cloud to secure them, ver. 6, a tent. His presence shall be that to the assemblies of his people which the outward tent or coverings were to the tabernacle, Exod. 26.7.

Light, and life, and joy, and that in abundance, even to satisfaction, Ps. 36.8, 9. Satisfied abundantly, and drink spiritual delights as out of a river. Life and growth: Isa. 55.2, 3, ‘Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness,’ &c. Life and blessedness: Prov. 8.34, 35, ‘Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me, findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.’ Acceptance, Ezek. 20, 44.4. Spiritual communion and nourishment: Rev. 3.20, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock,’ &c. He speaks there to a church, and in public ordinances he knocks hardest. Grace and glory, yea, all things that are good. There is not a more full and comprehensive promise in the Scripture than that, Ps. 84.11, ‘No good thing will be withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ But what is this to public worship? Why, the whole psalm speaks of public worship; and therefore, by the best rule of interpretation, we must take this as promised to sincere walking with God in public worship. Besides, the particle for tells us this is given as the reason why David had such a high esteem of public worship, why he preferred one day in God’s house before a thousand; and therefore this promise must have reference to public worship, else there is no reason to use this as a reason. This promise is to public worship; and what is there in heaven or earth desirable that is not in this promise?

It is true, you may say, there are many great and precious promises to public worship, but are there not promises also to private duties?

It is granted there are, but not so many, and the argument runs so. The promises are more to public worship than to private; besides, those which seem to be made to private duties are applicable to public worship, and that with advantage. If the interest of one saint in a promise be prevalent with God, how prevalent then are the united interests of many assembled together? So that all the promises which the people of God make use of to support their faith in private duties will afford us much support, nay more, in public. Then add to these the promises which are peculiar to public worship, and the sum will appear far greater, and this reason of great force to prove the truth propounded; that is most valuable which has the greatest share in those exceeding great and precious promises, but public worship has the greatest share in these, and therefore most valuable.

Obj. But notwithstanding all the arguments brought to prove public worship is to be preferred, I find something to the contrary in experience; and who can admit arguments against experience? I have sometimes in private more of God’s presence, more assistance of his Spirit, more joy, more enlargement, more raised affections; whereas in public I often find much dullness of heart, much straitness and unaffectedness, therefore I cannot so freely yield that public worship is to be preferred.

Ans. I shall endeavour to satisfy this in many severals.

1. Experience is not a rule for your judgment, but the word of God; that is a fallible guide, this only infallible. If you press your judgment always to follow experience, Satan may quickly afford you such experience as will lead you out of the way. Be scrupulous of following experience when it goes alone, when it is not backed by the word, countenanced by Scripture. It has deceived many. Empirics are no more tolerable in divinity than in physic. As there reason and experience, so here Scripture and experience, should go together. Those that live by sense may admit this alone to be their guide, but the event has often proved it a blind one. Those that live by faith must admit no experiments against Scripture. Nay, those that are but true to reason will not admit a few experiments against many arguments. You find this sometimes true in private, but do you find it so ordinarily? If not, here is no ground to pass any judgment against what is delivered. It may be a purge or a vomit does sometimes tend more to your health than your meat and drink; will you therefore prefer physic before your ordinary food? It may be in some extremity of cold you find more refreshment from a fire than from the sun; will you therefore prefer the fire, and judge it more beneficial to the world than the sun? Experience must not rule your judgment here, nor must you be confident of such apprehensions as are only granted upon some few experiments.

2. It may be your enjoyments in private were upon some special occasion. Now some special cases make no general rule; nor are they sufficient promises to afford an universal conclusion. For instance, it may be you enjoyed so much of God in private, when you were necessarily and unavoidably hindered from waiting upon the Lord in public ordinances. Now in this case, when the people of God bewail the want of public liberties as an affliction, and seek the Lord in special manner to supply that want in private, he is graciously pleased to make up what they are deprived of in public, by the vouchsafements of his quickening and comforting presence in private. So it was with David in his banishment, yet this did nothing abate his esteem of or desires after the public ordinances; far was he from preferring private duties before public, though he enjoyed exceeding much of God in private. Nor must we from such particular cases draw an universal conclusion; either affirmatively, that private is to be preferred; or negatively, that public is not to be preferred.

3. These enjoyments of God in private may be extraordinary dispensations. These the Lord does sometimes use, though seldom, though rarely. Now, such extraordinary cases are exceptions from the general rule, and such exceptions do limit the rule, but not overthrow it. They take off something from the extent, nothing from the truth of it. It holds good still, more of God is enjoyed in public than private; except in rare extraordinary cases, ordinarily it is so. And this is sufficient, if there were no other argument to establish the observation as a truth, public worship is to be preferred before private.

4. It may be thy enjoyments in private are the fruits of thy attendance upon God in public. It may be the assistance, the enlargement, the affections thou findest in private duties, are the returns of public worship. The benefits of public ordinances are not all, nor always, received while ye are therein employed; the returns of them may be continued many days after. The refreshment the Lord affords his people in public worship is like the provision he made for Elijah in the wilderness, 1 Kings 19.18, ‘He arose and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days.’ When the Lord feasts his people in public, they may walk with the Lord in the strength thereof in private duties with more cheerfulness, with more enlargedness, more affection, many days after. Those that know what it is to enjoy communion with God in his ordinances, know this by experience. When the Lord meets you in public, find ye not your hearts far better disposed to, and in, private duties? Now, if the assistance you find in private be the fruits of your waiting upon God in public, this should rather raise your esteem of public worship than abate it. That which is objected tends to confirm this truth, so far should it be from hindering you to subscribe it.

5. There may be a deceit in thy experience. All those joys, affections, enlargements, which men find in duties, are not always from the special presence of God. There may be a great flash of spirit, and much cheerfulness and activeness from false principles; some flashes of fleeting affections, some transient and fading impressions, may fall upon the hearts of men, and yet not fall from above. The gifts of men may be sometimes carried very high, even to the admiration of others, whenas there is little or no spiritual life. Vigour of nature, strength of parts, enforcement of conscience, outward respects, delusive joys, delusive visions, ungrounded fancies, deceiving dreams, yea, superstitious conceits, may work much upon men in duties when there is little or nothing of God. When men seem to be carried out with a full gale of assistance, it is not always the Spirit of God that fills the sails. A man may move with much life, freedom, cheerfulness, in spiritual duties, when his motion is from other weights than those of the Spirit.

Nay, further, not only those potent workings which are ordinary, but extraordinary, such as ecstasies and raptures, wherein the soul is transported, so as to leave the body without its ordinary influence, so as it seems without sense or motion; such inward operations on the soul as work strange effects upon the body, visible in its disordered motions and incomposed gestures. Such workings as these have been in all ages, and may be now, from the spirit of darkness transforming himself into an angel of light; and therefore, if such private experiences be produced to disparage the public worship, the public ministry, or any other public ordinance of God (however they pretend to the Spirit of God), they are to be rejected. The deceits of our own hearts, or the delusions of that envious spirit, who has always shewed his malice against God’s public worship, should not be admitted, to render this Scripture truth questionable, that public worship is to be preferred before private. And, indeed, the experiences of ordinary personal assistance in private duties, if it be made use of to this end, is to be looked upon as suspicious; you may suspect it is not as it seems, if this be the issue of it. Those assistances which come from the Spirit of God have a better tendency than to disparage the public worship of God, which himself is so tender of. And this should be the more regarded, because it is apparent Satan has a design against God’s public worship, and he drives it on in a subtler way than in darker times. He would thrust out one part of God’s worship by another, that so at last he may deprive us of all. Mind it, then, and examine thy experiences, if there be a deceit in them, as many times there is. They are of no force against this truth, public worship is to be preferred before private.

6. It may be the Lord seems to withdraw from thee, and to deny thee, spiritual assistance in public worship for trial; to try thy love to him, and the ways which most honour him; to see whether thou wilt withdraw from him and his worship, when he seems to withhold himself from thee; to try whether thou wilt serve God for nothing, when thou seemest to find nothing answerable to thy attendance and endeavours. This is the hour of England’s temptation in other things, and probably it is so in this as well as others. If it be so with thee, thy resolution should be that of the prophet, Isa. 8.17, ‘I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob.’ If this be thy case, thy esteem of his public worship should hereby be rather raised than abated, since this is the way to comply with the Lord’s design in this dispensation, the way to procure more comfortable returns, more powerful assistance than ever.

7. You may enjoy more of God in public, and not observe it. As there may be a mistake in thinking you enjoy much of God in private when you do not, so there may be a mistake in thinking you want the presence of God in public when indeed you have it. It is not the improvement of parts, enlargement of heart, flashes of joy, stirrings of affections, that argue most of God’s presence; there may be much of these when there is little of God. It is a humble soul, one that is poor in spirit, that trembles at the word, that hungers and thirsts after Christ, that is sensible of spiritual wants and distempers, that is burdened with his corruptions, and laments after the Lord and freer enjoyments of him. He whose heart is soft and pliable, whose conscience is tender, it is he who thrives and prospers in the inward man. And if these be the effects of thy attendance upon God in public worship, thou dost there enjoy much of God’s presence, whatever thou apprehend to the contrary. These are far more valuable than those affections and enlargements by which some judge of the Lord’s presence in his ordinances; for these are the sound fruits of a tree of righteousness, whereas those are but the leaves or flourishes of it, which you may sometimes find in a barren tree. So far as the Lord upholds in thee a poor and hungering spirit, a humble and thirsting heart, so far he is graciously present with thee; for this is it to which he has promised a gracious presence in his ordinances, Isa. 66.1, 2. The Lord speaks here as though he were not so much taken with the glory of the temple, no, not with the glow of heaven, as with a spirit of this temper. As sure as the Lord’s throne is in heaven, this soul shall have his presence. The streams of spiritual refreshments from his presence shall water these valleys, whenas high-flown confidents, that come to the ordinances with high conceits and carnal boldness, shall be as the mountains, left dry and parched. See Mat. 5.8-6. You may enjoy the presence of God in public, and not observe it. Now, if thy experience be a mistake, no reason it should hinder thee from yielding to this truth, that public worship is to be preferred before private.

8. It is to be suspected that what you want of God’s presence, in public worship, is through your own default. Not because more of God is not to be enjoyed, more spiritual advantage is not to be gained in public ordinances, but because, through some sinful miscarriage, you make yourselves incapable thereof. Let this be observed, and your ways impartially examined; and you will find cause to accuse yourselves, instead of objecting anything against the pre-eminence of public worship. There is so much self-love in us, as we are apt to charge anything, even the worship of God itself, rather than ourselves; yea, when ourselves ought only to be charged and accused. The Lord’s hand is not straitened, &c. The worship of God is the same, the Lord as much to be enjoyed in it; no less comfort and advantage to be found in it than formerly (and formerly more has been enjoyed therein than in private); how comes it, then, that there is any occasion to object against it? Why, our iniquities have separated between us and our God.

Let our hearts and ways be searched, and all, or most of all those, who have any temptation to object against it, will find it thus, and may discern the reason in themselves.

Do ye not undervalue the public worship, and the enjoyment of God in it? Are ye not many times indifferent, whether ye enjoy it or no? Is it a sad affliction to your souls, when ye leave the ordinances, without enjoying God in them? Have ye bewailed it accordingly? If not, you have too low thoughts of spiritual enjoyments to have much of them. Do ye think God will cast such pearls before swine, such precious things before those who trample on them, who contemn them?

Do ye not entertain some prejudice against some public ordinances, or against the public minister? Even this is enough to render them less comfortable, less effectual. Why was the public ministry of Christ less effectual amongst his own countrymen? Why were they possessed with prejudices against him? Mat. 13.55.

Have ye not neglected the public worship? Have ye absented yourselves from the ordinances without any necessary occasion? Oh how common is this sin! and how justly chastised, when the Lord absents himself from them, who are so willingly absent from his public worship. When you withdraw from the public ordinances, you withdraw from God; and is not here reason enough for the Lord to withdraw from you?

Come ye not unprepared, with slight and careless hearts, without due apprehensions, either of the Lord or of yourselves? This is to affront his majesty, this lays his honour low, Mal. 1.6. No wonder if ye find not that power and quickening virtue in the ordinances; you may find the reason in yourselves; you hereby provoke the Lord to withdraw from them, and you in them.

Where are your desires after public ordinances, after the presence of God in them, after the spiritual advantages of them? Can ye say with him, ‘One thing I have desired, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord,’ &c. Can ye say, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God? My soul thirsteth for God, when shall I come and appear before God?’ Can you say, ‘My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, to see thy glory,’ &c. Can ye say, ‘My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.’ Oh, were there but such desires, there would be few such complaints, few such objections. Were there such desires, the Lord would quickly clothe his public ordinances with their wonted glory and power, cause to say, Nunquam abs te, absque te. But is it not reason they should not enjoy much, who desire so little?

Do ye not give way to deadness, slothfulness, carelessnes in public worship? Do you stir up yourselves to lay hold on God? It is the diligent hand that makes rich. ‘He becomes poor that dealeth with a slack hand,’ Prov. 10.4. If the ordinances come not to you, as a ship laden with precious treasures, blame your negligence: Heb. 11.6, ‘He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’

Do ye come in faith? Do your thoughts and hearts work upon a promise, when you are going to public ordinances? You know who said it, ‘Except ye believe, ye shall not see the power of God.’ If Christ could do no mighty works, because of their unbelief, what think ye the ordinances can do?

Do ye not come for by-ends, come for something else, something worse, than that which you complain you find not? Come ye not for custom, because it is the fashion, and shame not to come to it? Come ye not to avoid the censure, the offence, the displeasure of others? Come ye not to stop the mouth of conscience, to avoid its clamours? Come ye not for niceties, notions, novelties, as those who seek a fine weed rather than the ears of corn? Come for what you will, if ye come not to meet with God, to get life, to be filled with the Spirit, is it not reason why you should go without them?

Do ye not neglect the after improvement of public ordinances? Neglect ye not to draw out the efficacy of them in secret, by prayer, meditation, and the exercise of faith? Think ye the act done is sufficient, labouring for nothing but what ye find in the present exercise? Do ye think your work done when the minister has done? Oh no. If you would enjoy God in the word, then your work should begin. The ordinances are like grapes; it is not enough that they are given into your hands; if you would have the sweetness and nourishment of them, they must be pressed, that is your work in secret. The negligence, carelessness, slothfulness of men in not improving public ordinances in secret, causes him to withdraw himself, and his blessing in public.

These, and such evils, provoke the Lord to deny his presence, withhold the comforts and blessed advantages of public worship; so as others may enjoy more hereof in private than those that are herein guilty do find in public. You need but read your own hearts for an answer to this objection; it is not because the Lord is less to be found in public than in private, that you find less of him there, but because you make yourselves uncapable of enjoying him, unfit to find him.

9. Suppose what is alleged were true, that you did find more joys, enlargement, assistance in private, that there was no mistake in these experiences, and that they were ordinary, which I am far from granting, yet, allowing all the advantage imaginable in this respect to private duties, this notwithstanding, public worship is to be preferred, for divers other unanswerable reasons formerly given. I will but now instance in two. Public worship is a more public good, it is more edifying, the advantage more common and extensive, the benefit more universal, and therefore to be preferred before private, as much as an universal benefit is to be preferred before a particular, a public good before a private. He is a man unworthy to live in a commonwealth, who will prefer his private interests before the public good. It is a nobleness of spirit to be public-spirited; the light of nature discovers an excellency in it, religion and gospel principles much more require it, and the Lord himself does commend and encourage it with special rewards. Those that profess themselves to be servants of God should be ashamed to be curried herein by heathen. Our first question should not be, Where may I receive most good? But where may I do most good? The saving of souls should be preferred before our comforts, and that advantage most valued which is most extensive and universal. Such is the advantage of public ordinances, and therefore they are as far to be preferred before private, as the public good before a man’s private interest.

Then suppose you found more comfort, enlargement in private than in public worship, yet the glory of God is to be preferred before your advantages; and therefore that whereby his glory is most advanced, before that wherein your particular interest is most promoted. But God is most glorified in public worship; here is given the most ample testimony to his glorious excellencies, here is the most public acknowledgment of his glory. No otherwise can we glorify him than by acknowledging his glory, and the more public this acknowledgment is, the more is he glorified; but it is most public in public worship, and therefore this is as much to be preferred before private, as the glory of God before your private advantage.

Use 1. Reproof to those that undervalue public worship. Too many there are worthy of this reproof, especially two sorts:

1. Those that prefer worse things before public worship. If it be to be preferred before private duties, which are excellent and singularly advantageous in themselves, how heinously do they sin who prefer things that are base and sinful before public ordinances; those who prefer their ease, their worldly employments, their lusts or unlawful recreations, before them!

Do not they prefer their ease before the worship of God, who will not take the pains, who will excuse themselves by very slight and trivial occasions from coming to the place of public worship? The Lord has not made the way to his worship so tedious, so toilsome, as it was under the law; there is not the distance of many miles betwixt us and it, nor will it cost us divers days’ journey to have the opportunities of public worship; we have it at our doors. And yet such slothfulness, such contempt there is of it, as we will scarce sometimes stir out of doors to enjoy these blessed liberties; a little rain, a little cold, anything of like moment, we take for a sufficient excuse to be absent. The people of God, in former times, counted it their happiness that they might come to the public ordinances, though through rain, and cold, and wearisome journeys, Ps. 84. But where is this zeal for God’s worship now? Is there not much less, when the gospel engages us to much more? May not even the unbelieving Jews rise up in judgment against the slothfulness of this generation, and condemn it? No such thing would hinder them from coming to the gates of Zion at the appointed seasons, how far soever their habitations were distant from it, how unseasonable soever the season seemed; yet many amongst us make every sorry thing a lion in the way, prefer their sloth and ease before God’s public worship.

Others prefer their worldly occasions before the public worship of God, willingly embrace any earthly business offered to stay from the ordinances. Esau was stigmatised as a profane person for preferring the pottage before his birthright; but they exceed Esau in profaneness who prefer the things of the world before this singular prerogative, of worshipping God in public. What a special privilege is this! How few are they in the world enjoy it! Does the Lord vouchsafe this honour, to have it, and himself in it contemned? Of thirty parts, into which the world may he divided, twenty-five are pagans or Mahometans, wholly without the true worship of God; but five bear the name of Christian. And of those, when you have discounted the Greeks, papists, Abassines, amongst whom the worship of God is wofully corrupted, you may judge to how small a part of mankind the Lord has vouchsafed his public worship in its purity. It is a special, a peculiar favour, a singular prerogative. Oh what profaneness is it, to prefer outward things, such as are common to all, to the worst of all, before this peculiar blessing! Yet how common is this profaneness! The thinness of our assemblies does daily testify it. One part of the day is thought enough by some, too much by others, for God’s public worship; whereas we think nothing too much for the world. Oh the Lord’s infinite patience!

Others prefer their lust before it; had rather sit in an ale-house, or in the seat of scorners, than wait at the posts of wisdom. Many had rather spend that time which the Lord has allotted for their souls, in sports and recreations, than in the public worship; think one whole day in seven too much, will rob God of all, or part of it, to recreate themselves. Oh that such profaneness should be so common where the light of the gospel has so long shined! The Lord prefers the gates of Zion, but these prefer Meshech and the tents of Kedar. I beseech you, consider the heinousness of this sin. The Lord styles his worship his name frequently in Scripture, as though his worship were as dear to him as himself. What do ye then but contemn God himself, while ye despise his worship? He that speaks it of his officers has the same account of his ordinances: he that despiseth them despiseth me, &c. And what do ye think it is to despise Christ? How jealous has the Lord always shewed himself of his worship! Some of the most remarkable judgments we meet with in Scripture have been inflicted for some miscarriage about his worship. For this Nadab and Abihu consumed with fire from heaven, for this Eli’s family utterly ruined, for this Uzziah smitten with leprosy and Uzzah with sudden death, Michal with barrenness, for an error in the outward part of worship. The Lord is a jealous God, jealous especially over his worship. If you despise that, you are in danger; his jealousy will burn like fire against you. Now, do ye not despise it, when you prefer your ease, worldly affairs, lusts, idleness, recreations before it? This is to profane the holy, the glorious name of God. And the Lord will not hold him guiltless; it is a meiwsiV; the Lord will certainly judge, surely condemn, him that does so.

2. They deserve reproof who prefer private before public worship, or equal with it. I shall but instance in two particulars, wherein this is evident.

(1.) When private duties are used in the time and place of public worship. Now, how ordinary is this amongst us! When you come too late to wait upon God, after the public worship is begun, I see it is common to fall to your private prayers, whatever public ordinance be in hand. Now, what is this but to prefer your private praying before the public worship, and so to despise the ordinance in hand? What is it but to thrust public worship out of its season, and put private in its room? It is held indeed a great point of devotion and reverence, that is the pretence for it; but this pretended reverence casts a real disrespect upon the public ordinance then used. For the mind is withdrawn from it in the sight of God, and the outward man in the sight of men; and so public worship is hereby disrespected, in the sight both of God and men.

The intention may be good indeed, but that cannot justify what is sinful, what is evil; for we must not do evil that good may come of it. And this is evil, it is sinful, since it is sinful to prefer a private duty before a public ordinance.

It is against the apostle’s rule, which he prescribes for the regulating of public assemblies: 1 Cor. 14.40, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order.’ Now that is not done in order, which is not done in its place and season; but this is neither the place nor season for private prayers; it is the time of public worship, therefore private is now unseasonable. Nor is this the place of private prayer; that is thy closet, according to Christ’s direction, Mat. 6.6; and he makes it the badge of hypocrites, to use their private prayers in public places, ver. 5. A good thing, out of its place and season, may become evil, evil in the worst sense, that is, sinful. This is not the place, the time for your private prayers, therefore it is a disorder here to use them; and what is here disorderly, is, by the apostle’s rule, sinful, and therefore I beseech you let it be avoided. Do not expect the Lord will accept your private devotion, when it casts disrespect upon his public worship, which he himself prefers, and will have us to prefer before private.

(2.) When men absent themselves from public worship, under pretence that they can serve the Lord at home as well in private. How many are apt to say, they see not but their time may be as well spent at home, in praying, reading some good book, or discoursing on some profitable subject, as in the use of ordinances in public assemblies! They see not but private prayer may be as good to them as public, or private reading and opening the Scripture as profitable as public preaching; they say of their private duties, as Naaman of the waters of Damascus, 2 Kings 5.12. May I not serve the Lord as acceptably, with as much advantage, in private exercises of religion? May I not wash in these and be clean? They see not the great blessings God has annexed to public worship more than to private. Oh, but if it be thus, if one be as good as the other, what means the Lord to prefer one before the other? To what purpose did the Lord choose the gates of Zion, to place his name there, if he might have been worshipped as well in the dwellings of Jacob? How do men of this conceit run counter to the Lord? He prefers the gates of Zion, not only before one or some, but before all the dwellings of Jacob; and they prefer one such dwelling before the gates of Zion. What is this but to disparage the wisdom of God, in preferring one before another when both are equal; in preferring that which is unworthy to be preferred? What presumption is this, to make yourselves wiser than God, and to undertake to correct him? He says the gates of Zion are to be loved, public worship before private; you say no, you see no reason but one should be loved as well as the other. Who art thou, O man, who thus disputest against God?

To conclude this use, let me shew you the sinfulness of preferring private worship before public, in the fore-mentioned or other respects, by applying what has been delivered. To prefer private before public, or by not preferring public before private, in your judgment, affection, or practice, you neglect the glory of God, which is here most advanced; you slight the presence of God, which is here most vouchsafed, that presence which is the greatest happiness the people of God can expect, in heaven or on earth. You undervalue the manifestation of God, those blessed visions of life and peace, which are most evidently, most comfortably, here represented; those manifestations which are the dawnings of approaching glory, the first glimpses of the beatifical vision. You contemn those blessed soul advantages which are here more plentifully gained; you prefer a private supposed benefit before public edification; you expose yourselves to the danger of backsliding, which is here more effectually prevented; you contemn the Lord’s greatest works upon the souls of sinners, which are here ordinarily effected; you slight heaven, which is here in a more lively manner resembled; you disparage the judgment of the most renowned servants of God, who in all ages have confirmed this truth by their testimony or practice; you make yourselves less capable of procuring public mercies, or diverting public calamities, slighting the means most conducible to this end; you undervalue the blood of Christ, whose influence is here most powerful; you despise those great and precious promises of the gospel, which are more engaged for public worship than private. Oh, consider how heinous that sin is, which involves the soul in so much guilt, which is attended with so many provoking evils; bewail this sin, so far as thou art guilty of it, and let the sinfulness thereof engage thee to be watchful against it.

Use 2, of exhortation. Be exhorted to give to the public worship of God the glory that is due to it; let it have the pre-eminence which the Lord has given it; prefer it before private, in your thoughts, in your affections, in your practice. Get higher thoughts of public ordinances, get affections answerable to those apprehensions; manifest both by a frequent affectionate use of these ordinances, by your praises for the enjoyment, by your prayers for the continuance of them. A duty this is which the text requires, a duty which these times call for. When there is so much disrespect cast upon the worship of God, your endeavours should be more for the advancement of it. This is the way to shew yourselves faithful to God, stedfast and upright, in the midst of a declining generation. This duty always finds acceptance with God; but now he will take it better, because there is a stream of temptation, of opposition against it. Oh let not your souls enter into their secret, who dishonour God, by despising his public worship; who blaspheme God, by speaking contemptibly of his name, that name which he records amongst us, and thereby does graciously distinguish us from the neglected world. I might enforce this with many motives; but what more forcible than this in the text? ‘The Lord loves the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob.’ Those that thus do are herein like the Lord. This is the highest pitch of excellency that angels or men can aspire to, to be conformable to the Lord, to be like him, to have any resemblance of him. Why, this is the way; when we thus love, prefer the public worship, the like mind is in us that is in the Lord (so far as likeness may be admitted, where there is an infinite distance), herein you will be followers of God as dear children. Whereas those who despise the public worship of God, despise God himself, comply with Satan in one of his most mischievous designs against God and his people, and hereby do what in them lies to lay his honour in the dust. It is not out of any respect of private duties that Satan endeavours to advance them above public worship; his design is to withdraw professors from both, he knows they stand or fall together, and the event proves it. You will find those that withdraw from public worship will not long make conscience of private; except the Lord break Satan’s design, by a sudden reducing them. If you will not be carried away with the error of the wicked, and fall into the snare of the devil, keep up the honour of public worship. To that end observe these directions.

1. Get high thoughts of God. The Lord and his worship are so nearly related, as they are either esteemed or despised together. He that has high thoughts of God, will have suitable apprehensions of his worship, wherein his glory most appears, Ps. 102.16. We see it in David. None had higher apprehensions of God; see with what raised expressions he extols him, Ps. 146. And none had a higher esteem of public worship, as appears in those affectionate expressions formerly alleged. If you have high thoughts of God, that will be of high esteem with you, wherein he most appears, wherein he is most enjoyed. ‘In the temple will every one speak of his glory,’ for in public worship he appears most glorious. If ye have low thoughts of God, no wonder if you undervalue his worship! If you have a high esteem of God, you will have an answerable esteem of his name, of his worship. So Ps. 48, they profess their high thoughts of Zion, the public ordinances, ver. 2, 3, and the reason you may see: ver. 9, ‘We have thought of thy loving-kindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple!’ If you apprehend God as great, and holy, and fearful, and glorious, it will help you to such thoughts of his worship as becomes his great, and holy, and fearful name. His worship is his name.

2. Get due apprehensions of those things, whereupon the pre-eminence of public worship is grounded. It follows, ver. 3, ‘Glorious things,’ &c., i.e. of the church and ordinances of God. It was the city of God in these respects, and in no other respect could so glorious things be spoken of it. Here is the sweetest enjoyment of God, the clearest discoveries of his glory, the powerful workings of the Spirit, the precious blood of Christ in its force and efficacy, the exceeding great and precious promises in their sweetest influences, spiritual life and strength, soul comforts and refreshments, the conversion of sinners, the edification of the body of Christ, the salvation of souls. These are the glorious things that are spoken of public worship; get a high esteem of these, and public worship will be highly valued. Look upon public ordinances in their glory, as they give the greatest glory to the God of heaven, as they are the greatest glory of his people on earth, and this will raise a spiritual mind to high apprehensions of them. Will you not honour that which is most honourable to God, that which is your greatest honour? Here the Lord, if anywhere in the world, receives the glory due unto his name, Ps. 29.1, 2. To worship God in public is the way to give him the glory due to his name; and is not this of highest value? It is your glory too. Public ordinances are the glory of the people that enjoy, that improve them. Where the Lord has placed his name, there his honour dwells. When the Lord has erected his public worship in a place, then glory dwells in that land; when this is removed, the glory is departed. That which is most your glory, challenges your highest esteem. Look upon this as your glory, and then you will account it highly valuable.

3. Delight in the worship of God. We soon disrespect that which we take no pleasure in; and, therefore, when the Lord is commanding the sanctifying of his Sabbath, he joins these: Isa. 58.13, ‘If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable,’ &c. If it be not your delight, it will not be honourable. If you be of their temper who say, ‘When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn; and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?’ Amos 8.5; if public ordinances, praying, preaching, be a burden to you: not only private duties, but the base things of the world, will take place of it in your minds and hearts. When we are weary of a thing, take no pleasure in it, we easily give way to any suggestion that may disparage it. Let the worship of God be your delight, the joy and solace of your souls. Be glad of all opportunities to worship God in public, in season, and out of season, like David: Ps. 122.1, ‘I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord.’ Let it be your meat and drink to he thus employed; go, as to a feast; sit down under the shadow with great delight, while the fruits of ordinances, the shadow of heavenly enjoyments, are sweet.

4. Get spiritual hearts. All the glory of public worship is spiritual, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned, 1 Cor. 2.14. A carnal man cannot discern that which renders the public ordinances so highly valuable. Custom, and other respects, may persuade him to use them, but he will never perceive the glory, the spiritual value of God’s worship, till he have a spiritual eye. Christ himself was foolishness to the Greeks, because they saw no further than his outside, 1 Cor. 1.23. So was the preaching of Christ to carnal Jews and Gentiles; so it is, more or less, to all natural men, except some outward respect, some plausible ornament commend it. A spiritual eye can discern a glory in public worship, when the outside seems mean and contemptible. As the unbelieving Jews of Christ, so carnal men of his ordinances; there is no form nor comeliness therein to command any extraordinary respect; they see no beauty therein that they should desire them.

5. Look upon the public ordinances with the eye of faith. If you consult only with sense, you will be apt to say as the Assyrian, What are the waters of Jordan more than the rivers of Damascus? What is there in public reading the word, more than reading at home? What is there in public preaching, more than in another good discourse? Sense will discern no more in one than in the other; but the eye of faith looks through the prospect of a promise, and so makes greater, more glorious discoveries; passes through the mean outside, to the discovery of a special, an inward glory; sees a special blessing, a special assistance, a special presence, a special advantage, in public worship; no way so discoverable as by the eye of faith through a promise. Unbelievers want this perspective, and therefore see no further than the outside.

Faith can see the wisdom of God in that preaching, which the blind world counts foolishness, as they did the apostle’s; can see a glory in those ordinances which, in the eyes of carnal men, are mean and contemptible. When the child Jesus lay in the manger, a poor, despicable condition, the wise men saw, through those poor swaddling clothes, such a glory as commanded their wonder and adoration, whenas many others, in the same inn, saw no such thing. And why so? The wise men looked upon the child Jesus through that intimation, that word from heaven, whereby he was made known to them. The outside of public worship, now under the gospel, is but like those poor swaddling clothes; but Christ is wrapped in them, there is a spiritual glory within, which a believer discerns, and accordingly values them, whenas an unbeliever sees no such thing. That worship, which, to sense and unbelief is mean and contemptible, is to faith, looking through a promise, the most glorious administration under heaven. The eye of faith must be opened, else the ordinances will not be valued. The Lord has given more encouragements to faith under the gospel, and therefore may expect more exercise of it, than under the law. And his dispensations are answerable. His children under the law were in their minority and nonage, Gal. 4.1. The outside of his worship was then glorious, the administration of it in state and pomp, he allowed the children that which would please their senses; but now, under the gospel, they are come to riper age, he allows no such gay outside, prescribes no such pomp as sense is taken with; the glory is spiritual, and such as is only visible to faith. And yet the glory of the second temple is greater than the first, the public worship under the gospel is more glorious than under the law. Though there be no golden censer in the ark, overlaid with gold, no cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy-seat, no such ornament to take the senses, yet there is a far more exceeding glory, 2 Cor. 3.11, but it is such a glory as is only discerned by the eye of faith. This you must exercise if you would give to the public worship of God the glory that is due to it.

6. Labour to draw out the virtue and efficacy of public ordinances, to make the utmost improvements of them. When you find the refreshing comforts, the blessedadvantages of public worship, you will not need many motives to give them their due honour: Ps. 48.8, ‘As we have heard, so have we seen,’ &c. When they had not only heard, but seen, what God was to his people in his public worship, no wonder if they express their high esteem of it: ver. 1-3, ‘Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion,’ &c.

Now, that you may reap such advantage by them as may raise your esteem of them,

1. Come not unprepared. No wonder if unfruitfulness under the ordinances be so common, when neglect of preparation is so ordinary: Eccles. 5.2, ‘Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.’ Come not rashly, without due consideration with whom you have to do, and what you are a-doing. Come not with guilt and pollution upon your consciences, Ezek. 23.21, 29. This is it from which we must be separate, if we would have God receive us, 2 Cor. 6.17. Come not with minds and affections entangled in the world: ‘Put off thy shoes,’ &c. Come not with careless, indisposed spirits, with hearts unfixed, Ps. 57.7. Come not with that carnal, dull temper, which your hearts contract by meddling with the world. Plough up the fallow ground. If you sow among thorns, you will reap little to raise your esteem: Ps. 26.6, ‘I will wash mine hands in innocency, so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.’ He alludes to the custom of the priests, enjoined under the law to wash their hands and feet, when they went about the service of the tabernacle. And this was exemplary to the people then, to us now, to teach us with what preparedness we should approach God.

2. Get acquainted with your spiritual condition. Come apprehensive of the state of your souls, whether it be the state of grace or nature, what your spiritual wants, what your inward distempers, what your temptations are; else you may hear much to little purpose, not discerning what is seasonable; else many a petition may pass unobserved, when you know not what most concerns you. Oh, if professors knew their soul’s condition punctually, and were throughly affected with it, the word would come in season, it would be like apples of gold, the ordinances would be as rain upon the new-mown grass, they would distil a fruitful influence, and their souls would grow as the lily.

3. Come with hearts hungering after the enjoyment of Christ in his ordinances. This affection has the promise: Mat. 5, ‘He filleth the hungry with good things.’ Sense of emptiness and indigency brings you under the aspect of this promise, under the sweet and gracious influences of it; whereas conceitedness of our own abundance, senselessness of our spiritual poverty, shuts up the treasury of heaven against us, ‘The rich he sends empty away,’ Ps. 81.10. Our souls should stretch themselves wide open, in earnest longings after God; this is the way to be filled with the rich blessings of spiritual ordinances.

4. Use the ordinances with holy fear and reverence, Ps. 2.11, and 3.7. That confidence which the Lord approves in his children is not a carnal boldness, such as some mistake in the room of it. When we are admitted to most intimacy and familiarity with Christ, when we are invited to kiss the Son; yet there is a holy fear required: ‘Serve the Lord with fear,’ &c. When we have cause to rejoice in the Lord’s gracious condescension to us poor worms, yet then we must tremble in apprehension of that overpowering glory and excellency to which we approach, Heb. 12.28. The house, which the Lord prefers before the temple, is a trembling heart, Isa. 66. And if he choose it for his habitation, he will richly furnish it; his presence will be to it light and life, joy and strength, grace and glory.

5. What you do in public worship, do it with all your might. Shake off that slothful, indifferent, lukewarm temper, which is so odious to God. Let your whole man tender this worship. Think it not enough to present your bodies before the Lord. Bodily worship profits as little as bodily exercise. The worship of the body is but the carcase of worship; it is soul worship that is the soul of worship. Those that draw near with their lips only shall find God far enough from them; not only lips, and mouth, and tongue, but mind, and heart, and affections; not only knee, and hand, and eye, but heart, and conscience, and memory, must be pressed to attend upon God in public worship. David says, not only ‘my flesh longs for thee,’ but ‘my soul thirsts for thee.’ Then will the Lord draw near, when our whole man waits on him; then will the Lord be found, when we seek him with our whole heart.

Let your whole man wait upon God; serve him so with all your might. Let his worship be your work, and be as diligent in it for your souls, as you are in other employments for your bodies. Spiritual slothfulness is the ruin of souls, it brings them to consumptions, it leaves them languishing under sad distempers. Those that will not stir up themselves to lay hold on God, will be bowed down under many infirmities. Soul-poverty will be the issue of spiritual sloth, Prov. 18, ‘a great waster.’ So far from increasing the stock of grace, as he will greatly waste it, Prov. 20.4. It holds in a spiritual sense. His soul shall be in a beggarly condition, as though it had nothing, even in harvest, in the midst of plenty, when others are reaping the sweet fruits of public ordinances, and laying up store against winter, against an evil day. In the midst of their plenty, the spiritual sluggard shall have nothing, Prov. 12.17. It is the diligent man that shall be enriched with precious substance, even the precious advantages of public worship. The Lord is the rewarder of those that seek him diligently. Those that are diligent in preparing for it, diligent in attending on it, diligent in user improvement of the ordinances, this man’s soul shall be rich, rich towards God. The Lord will bless him with such spiritual riches, in the use of public ordinances, as will raise his esteem of them.

 

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Public Worship to be Preferred Before Private.

 

Note: The Link has been renewed 6/3/13

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Book 1, Chapter 9: All the principles of piety subverted by fanatics, who substitute revelations for Scripture.

Section 1. The temper and error of the Libertines, who take to themselves the name of spiritual, briefly described. Their refutation. I. The Apostles and all true Christians have embraced the written Word. This confirmed by a passage in Isaiah; also by the example and words of Paul. II. The Spirit of Christ seals the doctrine of the written Word on the minds of the godly.

Section 2. Refutation continued. III. The impositions of Satan cannot be detected without the aid of the written Word. First Objection. The Answer to it.

Section 3. Second Objection from the words of Paul as to the letter and spirit. The Answer, with an explanation of Paul’s meaning. How the Spirit and the written Word are indissolubly connected.

Section 1. The temper and error of the Libertines, who take to themselves the name of spiritual, briefly described. Their refutation. I. The Apostles and all true Christians have embraced the written Word. This confirmed by a passage in Isaiah; also by the example and words of Paul. II. The Spirit of Christ seals the doctrine of the written Word on the minds of the godly.

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men[1] have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter. But I wish they would tell me what spirit it is whose inspiration raises them to such a sublime height that they dare despise the doctrine of Scripture as mean and childish. If they answer that it is the Spirit of Christ, their confidence is exceedingly ridiculous; since they will, I presume, admit that the apostles and other believers in the primitive Church were not illuminated by any other Spirit. None of these thereby learned to despise the word of God, but every one was imbued with greater reverence for it, as their writings most clearly testify. And, indeed, it had been so foretold by the mouth of Isaiah. For when he says, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever,” he does not tie down the ancient Church to external doctrine, as he were a mere teacher of elements[2]; he rather shows that, under the reign of Christ, the true and full felicity of the new Church will consist in their being ruled not less by the Word than by the Spirit of God. Hence we infer that these miscreants are guilty of fearful sacrilege in tearing asunder what the prophet joins in indissoluble union. Add to this, that Paul, though carried up even to the third heaven, ceased not to profit by the doctrine of the law and the prophets, while, in like manner, he exhorts Timothy, a teacher of singular excellence, to give attention to reading, (1Ti 4: 13) And the eulogium which he pronounces on Scripture well deserves to be remembered, viz., that “it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect,” (2Ti 3: 16) What an infatuation of the devil, therefore, to fancy that Scripture, which conducts the sons of God to the final goal, is of transient and temporary use? Again, I should like those people to tell me whether they have imbibed any other Spirit than that which Christ promised to his disciples. Though their madness is extreme, it will scarcely carry them the length of making this their boast. But what kind of Spirit did our Saviour promise to send? One who should not speak of himself, (John 16: 13) but suggest and instil the truths which he himself had delivered through the word. Hence the office of the Spirit promised to us, is not to form new and unheard-of revelations, or to coin a new form of doctrine, by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the gospel recommends.

Section 2. Refutation continued. III. The impositions of Satan cannot be detected without the aid of the written Word. First Objection. The Answer to it.

Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God, (just as Peter praises those who attentively study the doctrine of the prophets, (2Pe 1: 19) though it might have been thought to be superseded after the gospel light arose) and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s Word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood. Since Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark? And assuredly he is pointed out to us by the Lord with sufficient clearness; but these miserable men err as if bent on their own destruction, while they seek the Spirit from themselves rather than from Him. But they say that it is insulting to subject the Spirit, to whom all things are to be subject, to the Scripture: as if it were disgraceful to the Holy Spirit to maintain a perfect resemblance throughout, and be in all respects without variation consistent with himself. True, if he were subjected to a human, an angelical, or to any foreign standard, it might be thought that he was rendered subordinate, or, if you will, brought into bondage, but so long as he is compared with himself, and considered in himself, how can it be said that he is thereby injured? I admit that he is brought to a test, but the very test by which it has pleased him that his majesty should be confirmed. It ought to be enough for us when once we hear his voice; but lest Satan should insinuate himself under his name, he wishes us to recognise him by the image which he has stamped on the Scriptures. The author of the Scriptures cannot vary, and change his likeness. Such as he there appeared at first, such he will perpetually remain. There is nothing contumelious to him in this, unless we are to think it would be honourable for him to degenerate, and revolt against himself.

Section 3. Second Objection from the words of Paul as to the letter and spirit. The Answer, with an explanation of Paul’s meaning. How the Spirit and the written Word are indissolubly connected.

Their cavil about our cleaving to the dead letter carries with it the punishment which they deserve for despising Scripture. It is clear that Paul is there arguing against false apostles, (2Co 3: 6) who, by recommending the law without Christ, deprived the people of the benefit of the New Covenant, by which the Lord engages that he will write his law on the hearts of believers, and engrave it on their inward parts. The letter therefore is dead, and the law of the Lord kills its readers when it is dissevered from the grace of Christ, and only sounds in the ear without touching the heart. But if it is effectually impressed on the heart by the Spirit; if it exhibits Christ, it is the word of life converting the soul, and making wise the simple. Nay, in the very same passage, the apostle calls his own preaching the ministration of the Spirit, (2Co 3: 8) intimating that the Holy Spirit so cleaves to his own truth, as he has expressed it in Scripture, that he then only exerts and puts forth his strength when the word is received with due honour and respect.

There is nothing repugnant here to what was lately said, (1.7) that we have no great certainty of the word itself, until it be confirmed by the testimony of the Spirit. For the Lord has so knit together the certainty of his word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us there to behold the face of God; and, on the other hand, we embrace the Spirit with no danger of delusion when we recognise him in his image, that is, in his word. Thus, indeed, it is. God did not produce his word before men for the sake of sudden display, intending to abolish it the moment the Spirit should arrive; but he employed the same Spirit, by whose agency he had administered the word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the word. In this way Christ explained to the two disciples, (Luk 24: 27) not that they were to reject the Scriptures and trust to their own wisdom, but that they were to understand the Scriptures. In like manner, when Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Quench not the Spirit,” he does not carry them aloft to empty speculation apart from the word; he immediately adds, “Despise not prophesying,” (1Th. 5: 19, 20) By this, doubtless, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is quenched the moment prophesying fall into contempt. How is this answered by those swelling enthusiasts, in whose idea the only true illumination consists, in carelessly laying aside, and bidding adieu to the Word of God, while, with no less confidence than folly, they fasten upon any dreaming notion which may have casually sprung up in their minds? Surely a very different sobriety becomes the children of God. As they feel that without the Spirit of God they are utterly devoid of the light of truth, so they are not ignorant that the word is the instrument by which the illumination of the Spirit is dispensed. They know of no other Spirit than the one who dwelt and spake in the apostles – the Spirit by whose oracles they are daily invited to the hearing of the word.

[1] Lactantius: Coelestes literas corruperunt, ut novam sibi doctrinam sine ulla radice ac stabilitate componerent. Vide Calvin in Instruct. adv. Libertinos, cap. ix and x.

[2] For the Latin, “ac si elementarius esset”, the French has, “comme s’ils eussent etepetis enfans al’A,B,C” – as if they were little children at their A,B,C.

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Book 1, Chapter 8: The credibility of Scripture sufficiently proved in so far as natural reason admits

Section 12. Proofs from Church history. I. Perpetual consent of the Church in receiving and preserving the truth. II. The invincible power of the truth itself. III. Agreement among the godly, not withstanding of their many differences in other respects.

Section 13. The constancy of the martyrs. Conclusion. Proofs of this description only of use after the certainty of Scripture has been established in the heart by the Holy Spirit.

Section 12. Proofs from Church history. I. Perpetual consent of the Church in receiving and preserving the truth. II. The invincible power of the truth itself. III. Agreement among the godly, not withstanding of their many differences in other respects.

Add, moreover, that, for the best of reasons, the consent of the Church is not without its weight. For it is not to be accounted of no consequence, that, from the first publication of Scripture, so many ages have uniformly concurred in yielding obedience to it, and that, notwithstanding of the many extraordinary attempts which Satan and the whole world have made to oppress and overthrow it, or completely efface it from the memory of men, it has flourished like the palm tree and continued invincible. Though in old times there was scarcely a sophist or orator of any note who did not exert his powers against it, their efforts proved unavailing. The powers of the earth armed themselves for its destruction, but all their attempts vanished into smoke. When thus powerfully assailed on every side, how could it have resisted if it had trusted only to human aid? Nay, its divine origin is more completely established by the fact, that when all human wishes were against it, it advanced by its own energy. Add that it was not a single city or a single nation that concurred in receiving and embracing it. Its authority was recognised as far and as wide as the world extends – various nations who had nothing else in common entering for this purpose into a holy league. Moreover, while we ought to attach the greatest weight to the agreement of minds so diversified, and in all other things so much at variance with each other – an agreement which a Divine Providence alone could have produced – it adds no small weight to the whole when we attend to the piety of those who thus agree; not of all of them indeed, but of those in whom as lights God was pleased that his Church should shine.

Section 13. The constancy of the martyrs. Conclusion. Proofs of this description only of use after the certainty of Scripture has been established in the heart by the Holy Spirit.

Again, with what confidence does it become us to subscribe to a doctrine attested and confirmed by the blood of so many saints? They, when once they had embraced it, hesitated not boldly and intrepidly, and even with great alacrity, to meet death in its defence. Being transmitted to us with such an earnest, who of us shall not receive it with firm and unshaken conviction? It is therefore no small proof of the authority of Scripture, that it was sealed with the blood of so many witnesses, especially when it is considered that in bearing testimony to the faith, they met death not with fanatical enthusiasm, (as erring spirits are sometimes wont to do,) but with a firm and constant, yet sober godly zeal. There are other reasons, neither few nor feeble, by which the dignity and majesty of the Scriptures may be not only proved to the pious, but also completely vindicated against the cavils of slanderers. These, however, cannot of themselves produce a firm faith in Scripture until our heavenly Father manifest his presence in it, and thereby secure implicit reverence for it. Then only, therefore, does Scripture suffice to give a saving knowledge of God when its certainty is founded on the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit. Still the human testimonies which go to confirm it will not be without effect, if they are used in subordination to that chief and highest proof, as secondary helps to our weakness. But it is foolish to attempt to prove to infidels that the Scripture is the Word of God. This it cannot be known to be, except by faith. Justly, therefore, does Augustine remind us, that every man who would have any understanding in such high matters must previously possess piety and mental peace.

[1] Exod. 24:18; 34:29; 19:16; 40:34; Numb. 16:24; 20:10; 11:9

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Book 1, Chapter 8: The credibility of Scripture sufficiently proved in so far as natural reason admits

II. Special proofs taken from the Old Testament, viz., the antiquity of the books of Moses, their authority, his miracles and prophecies, Section 3 7; also, the predictions of the other prophets and their wondrous harmony, Section 8. There is subjoined a refutation of two objections to the books of Moses and the Prophets, Section 9, 10.

III. Exhibits proofs gathered out of the New Testament, e. g., the harmony of the Evangelists in their account of heavenly mysteries, the majesty of the writings of John, Peter, and Paul, the remarkable calling of the Apostles and conversion of Paul, Section 11.

Section 8. The predictions of other prophets. The destruction of Jerusalem; and the return from the Babylonish captivity. Harmony of the Prophets. The celebrated prophecy of Daniel.

Section 9. Objection against Moses and the Prophets. Answer to it.

Section 10. Another objection and answer. Of the wondrous Providence of God in the preservation of the sacred books. The Greek Translation. The carefulness of the Jews.

Section 11. Special proofs from the New Testament. I. The harmony of the Evangelists, and the sublime simplicity of their writings. II. The majesty of John, Paul, and Peter. III. The calling of the Apostles. IV. The conversion of Paul.

 

Section 8. The predictions of other prophets. The destruction of Jerusalem; and the return from the Babylonish captivity. Harmony of the Prophets. The celebrated prophecy of Daniel.

In the case of the other prophets the evidence is even clearer. I will only select a few examples, for it were too tedious to enumerate the whole. Isaiah, in his own day, when the kingdom of Judah was at peace, and had even some ground to confide in the protection of the Chaldeans, spoke of the destruction of the city and the captivity of the people, (Isaiah 55: 1) Supposing it not to be sufficient evidence of divine inspiration to foretell, many years before, events which, at the time, seemed fabulous, but which ultimately turned out to be true, whence shall it be said that the prophecies which he uttered concerning their return proceeded, if it was not from God? He names Cyrus, by whom the Chaldeans were to be subdued and the people restored to freedom. After the prophet thus spoke, more than a hundred years elapsed before Cyrus was born, that being nearly the period which elapsed between the death of the one and the birth of the other. It was impossible at that time to guess that some Cyrus would arise to make war on the Babylonians, and after subduing their powerful monarchy, put an end to the captivity of the children of Israel. Does not this simple, unadorned narrative plainly demonstrate that what Isaiah spoke was not the conjecture of man, but the undoubted oracle of God? Again, when Jeremiah, a considerable time before the people were led away, assigned seventy years as the period of captivity, and fixed their liberation and return, must not his tongue have been guided by the Spirit of God? What effrontery were it to deny that, by these evidences, the authority of the prophets is established, the very thing being fulfilled to which they appeal in support of their credibility! “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them,” (Isa 42: 9) I say nothing of the agreement between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who, living so far apart, and yet prophesying at the same time, harmonise as completely in all they say as if they had mutually dictated the words to one another. What shall I say of Daniel? Did not he deliver prophecies embracing a future period of almost six hundred years, as if he had been writing of past events generally known? (Dan 9, &c.) If the pious will duly meditate on these things, they will be sufficiently instructed to silence the cavils of the ungodly. The demonstration is too clear to be gainsaid.

Section 9. Objection against Moses and the Prophets. Answer to it.

I am aware of what is muttered in corners by certain miscreants, when they would display their acuteness in assailing divine truth. They ask, how do we know that Moses and the prophets wrote the books which now bear their names? Nay, they even dare to question whether there ever was a Moses. Were any one to question whether there ever was a Plato, or an Aristotle, or a Cicero, would not the rod or the whip be deemed the fit chastisement of such folly? The law of Moses has been wonderfully preserved, more by divine providence than by human care; and though, owing to the negligence of the priests, it lay for a short time buried, – from the time when it was found by good King Josiah, (2Kn 22: 8; 2Ch 34: 15) – it has continued in the hands of men, and been transmitted in unbroken succession from generation to generation. Nor, indeed, when Josiah brought it forth, was it as a book unknown or new, but one which had always been matter of notoriety, and was then in full remembrance. The original writing had been deposited in the temple, and a copy taken from it had been deposited in the royal archives, (Deu 17: 18, 19) the only thing which had occurred was, that the priests had ceased to publish the law itself in due form, and the people also had neglected the wonted reading of it. I may add, that scarcely an age passed during which its authority was not confirmed and renewed. Were the books of Moses unknown to those who had the Psalms of David in their hands? To sum up the whole in one word, it is certain beyond dispute, that these writings passed down, if I may so express it, from hand to hand, being transmitted in an unbroken series from the fathers, who either with their own ears heard them spoken, or learned them from those who had, while the remembrance of them was fresh.

Section 10. Another objection and answer. Of the wondrous Providence of God in the preservation of the sacred books. The Greek Translation. The carefulness of the Jews.

An objection taken from the history of the Maccabees (1 Maccab. 1: 57, 58) to impugn the credibility of Scripture, is, on the contrary, fitted the best possible to confirm it. First, however, let us clear away the gloss which is put upon it: having done so, we shall turn the engine which they erect against us upon themselves. As Antiochus ordered all the books of Scripture to be burnt, it is asked, where did the copies we now have come from? I, in my turn, ask, In what workshop could they have been so quickly fabricated? It is certain that they were in existence the moment the persecution ceased, and that they were acknowledged without dispute by all the pious who had been educated in their doctrine, and were familiarly acquainted with them. Nay, while all the wicked so wantonly insulted the Jews as if they had leagued together for the purpose, not one ever dared to charge them with having introduced spurious books. Whatever, in their opinion, the Jewish religion might be, they acknowledged that Moses was the founder of it. What, then, do those babblers, but betray their snarling petulance in falsely alleging the spuriousness of books whose sacred antiquity is proved by the consent of all history? But not to spend labour in vain in refuting these vile calumnies, let us rather attend to the care which the Lord took to preserve his Word, when against all hope he rescued it from the truculence of a most cruel tyrant as from the midst of the flames – inspiring pious priests and others with such constancy that they hesitated not, though it should have been purchased at the expense of their lives, to transmit this treasure to posterity, and defeating the keenest search of prefects and their satellites.

Who does not recognise it as a signal and miraculous work of God, that those sacred monuments which the ungodly persuaded themselves had utterly perished, immediately returned to resume their former rights, and, indeed, in greater honour? For the Greek translation appeared to disseminate them over the whole world. Nor does it seem so wonderful that God rescued the tables of his covenant from the sanguinary edicts of Antiochus, as that they remained safe and entire amid the manifold disasters by which the Jewish nation was occasionally crushed, devastated, and almost exterminated. The Hebrew language was in no estimation, and almost unknown; and assuredly, had not God provided for religion, it must have utterly perished. For it is obvious from the prophetical writings of that age, how much the Jews, after their return from the captivity, had lost the genuine use of their native tongue. It is of importance to attend to this, because the comparison more clearly establishes the antiquity of the Law and the Prophets. And whom did God employ to preserve the doctrine of salvation contained in the Law and the Prophets, that Christ might manifest it in its own time? The Jews, the bitterest enemies of Christ; and hence Augustine justly calls them the librarians of the Christian Church, because they supplied us with books of which they themselves had not the use.

Section 11. Special proofs from the New Testament. I. The harmony of the Evangelists, and the sublime simplicity of their writings. II. The majesty of John, Paul, and Peter. III. The calling of the Apostles. IV. The conversion of Paul.

When we proceed to the New Testament, how solid are the pillars by which its truth is supported! Three evangelists give a narrative in a mean and humble style. The proud often eye this simplicity with disdain, because they attend not to the principal heads of doctrine; for from these they might easily infer that these evangelists treat of heavenly mysteries beyond the capacity of man. Those who have the least particle of candour must be ashamed of their fastidiousness when they read the first chapter of Luke. Even our Saviour’s discourses, of which a summary is given by these three evangelists, ought to prevent every one from treating their writings with contempt. John, again, fulminating in majesty, strikes down more powerfully than any thunderbolt the petulance of those who refuse to submit to the obedience of faith. Let all those acute censors, whose highest pleasure it is to banish a reverential regard of Scripture from their own and other men’s hearts, come forward; let them read the Gospel of John, and, willing or unwilling, they will find a thousand sentences which will at least arouse them from their sloth; nay, which will burn into their consciences as with a hot iron, and check their derision. The same thing may be said of Peter and Paul, whose writings, though the greater part read them blindfold, exhibit a heavenly majesty, which in a manner binds and rivets every reader. But one circumstance, sufficient of itself to exalt their doctrine above the world, is, that Matthew, who was formerly fixed down to his money-table, Peter and John, who were employed with their little boats, being all rude and illiterate, had never learned in any human school that which they delivered to others. Paul, moreover, who had not only been an avowed but a cruel and bloody foe, being changed into a new man, shows, by the sudden and unhoped-for change, that a heavenly power had compelled him to preach the doctrine which once he destroyed. Let those dogs deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, or, if not, let them refuse credit to the history, still the very circumstances proclaim that the Holy Spirit must have been the teacher of those who, formerly contemptible among the people, all of a sudden began to discourse so magnificently of heavenly mysteries.

 

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Book 1, Chapter 8: The credibility of Scripture sufficiently proved in so far as natural reason admits.

II. Special proofs taken from the Old Testament, viz., the antiquity of the books of Moses, their authority, his miracles and prophecies, Section 3 7;

Section 3. Special proofs from the Old Testament. I. The antiquity of the Books of Moses.

Section 4. This antiquity contrasted with the dreams of the Egyptians. II. The majesty of the Books of Moses.

Section 5. The miracles and prophecies of Moses. A profane objection refuted.

Section 6. Another profane objection refuted.

Section 7. The prophecies of Moses as to the sceptre not departing from Judah, and the calling of the Gentiles.

Section 3. Special proofs from the Old Testament. I. The antiquity of the Books of Moses.

As this subject has been treated at large by others, it will be sufficient here merely to touch on its leading points. In addition to the qualities already mentioned, great weight is due to the antiquity of Scripture, (Euseb. Prepar. Evang. lib. 2 c. 1) Whatever fables Greek writers may retail concerning the Egyptian Theology, no monument of any religion exists which is not long posterior to the age of Moses. But Moses does not introduce a new Deity. He only sets forth that doctrine concerning the eternal God which the Israelites had received by tradition from their fathers, by whom it had been transmitted, as it were, from hand to hand, during a long series of ages. For what else does he do than lead them back to the covenant which had been made with Abraham? Had he referred to matters of which they had never heard, he never could have succeeded; but their deliverance from the bondage in which they were held must have been a fact of familiar and universal notoriety, the very mention of which must have immediately aroused the attention of all. It is, moreover, probable, that they were intimately acquainted with the whole period of four hundred years. Now, if Moses (who is so much earlier than all other writers) traces the tradition of his doctrine from so remote a period, it is obvious how far the Holy Scriptures must in point of antiquity surpass all other writings.

Section 4. This antiquity contrasted with the dreams of the Egyptians. II. The majesty of the Books of Moses.

Some perhaps may choose to credit the Egyptians in carrying back their antiquity to a period of six thousand years before the world was created. But their garrulity, which even some profane authors have held up to derision, it cannot be necessary for me to refute. Josephus, however, in his work against Appion, produces important passages from very ancient writers, implying that the doctrine delivered in the law was celebrated among all nations from the remotest ages, though it was neither read nor accurately known. And then, in order that the malignant might have no ground for suspicion, and the ungodly no handle for cavil, God has provided, in the most effectual manner, against both dangers. When Moses relates the words which Jacob, under Divine inspiration, uttered concerning his posterity almost three hundred years before, how does he ennoble his own tribe? He stigmatises it with eternal infamy in the person of Levi. “Simon and Levi,” says he, “are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly mine honour be not thou united,” (Gen. 49: 5, 6) This stigma he certainly might have passed in silence, not only that he might spare his own ancestor, but also save both himself and his whole family from a portion of the disgrace. How can any suspicion attach to him, who, by voluntarily proclaiming that the first founder of his family was declared detestable by a Divine oracle, neither consults for his own private interest, nor declines to incur obloquy among his tribe, who must have been offended by his statement of the fact? Again, when he relates the wicked murmuring of his brother Aaron, and his sister Miriam, (Num 12: 1) shall we say that he spoke his own natural feelings, or that he obeyed the command of the Holy Spirit? Moreover, when invested with supreme authority, why does he not bestow the office of High Priest on his sons, instead of consigning them to the lowest place? I only touch on a few points out of many; but the Law itself contains throughout numerous proofs, which fully vindicate the credibility of Moses, and place it beyond dispute, that he was in truth a messenger sent forth from God.

Section 5. The miracles and prophecies of Moses. A profane objection refuted.

The many striking miracles which Moses relates are so many sanctions of the law delivered, and the doctrine propounded, by him[1]. His being carried up into the mount in a cloud; his remaining there forty days separated from human society; his countenance glistening during the promulgation of the law, as with meridian effulgence; the lightnings which flashed on every side; the voices and thunderings which echoed in the air; the clang of the trumpet blown by no human mouth; his entrance into the tabernacle, while a cloud hid him from the view of the people; the miraculous vindication of his authority, by the fearful destruction of Korah, Nathan, and Abiram, and all their impious faction; the stream instantly gushing forth from the rock when struck with his rod; the manna which rained from heaven at his prayer; – did not God by all these proclaim aloud that he was an undoubted prophet? If any one object that I am taking debatable points for granted, the cavil is easily answered. Moses published all these things in the assembly of the people. How, then, could he possibly impose on the very eye-witnesses of what was done? Is it conceivable that he would have come forward, and, while accusing the people of unbelief, obstinacy, ingratitude, and other crimes, have boasted that his doctrine had been confirmed in their own presence by miracles which they never saw?

Section 6. Another profane objection refuted.

For it is also worthy of remark, that the miracles which he relates are combined with disagreeable circumstances, which must have provoked opposition from the whole body of the people, if there had been the smallest ground for it. Hence it is obvious that they were induced to assent, merely because they had been previously convinced by their own experience. But because the fact was too clear to leave it free for heathen writers to deny that Moses did perform miracles, the father of lies suggested a calumny, and ascribed them to magic, (Exo 9: 11) But with what probability is a charge of magic brought against him, who held it in such abhorrence, that he ordered every one who should consult soothsayers and magicians to be stoned? (Lev 30: 6) Assuredly, no impostor deals in tricks, without studying to raise his reputation by amazing the common people. But what does Moses do? By crying out, that he and Aaron his brother are nothing, (Exo 16: 7) that they merely execute what God has commanded, he clears himself from every approach to suspicion. Again, if the facts are considered in themselves, what kind of incantation could cause manna to rain from heaven every day, and in sufficient quantity to maintain a people, while any one, who gathered more than the appointed measure, saw his incredulity divinely punished by its turning to worms? To this we may add, that God then suffered his servant to be subjected to so many serious trials, that the ungodly cannot now gain anything by their glamour. When (as often happened) the people proudly and petulantly rose up against him, when individuals conspired, and attempted to overthrow him, how could any impostures have enabled him to elude their rage? The event plainly shows that by these means his doctrine was attested to all succeeding ages.

Section 7. The prophecies of Moses as to the sceptre not departing from Judah, and the calling of the Gentiles.

Moreover, it is impossible to deny that he was guided by a prophetic spirit in assigning the first place to the tribe of Judah in the person of Jacob, especially if we take into view the fact itself, as explained by the event. Suppose that Moses was the inventor of the prophecy, still, after he committed it to writing, four hundred years pass away, during which no mention is made of a sceptre in the tribe of Judah. After Saul is anointed, the kingly office seems fixed in the tribe of Benjamin, (1Sa 11: 15; 16: 13) When David is anointed by Samuel, what apparent ground is there for the transference? Who could have looked for a king out of the plebeian family of a herdsman? And out of seven brothers, who could have thought that the honour was destined for the youngest? And then by what means did he afterwards come within reach of the throne? Who dare say that his anointing was regulated by human art, or skill, or prudence, and was not rather the fulfilment of a divine prophecy? In like manner, do not the predictions, though obscure, of the admission of the Gentiles into the divine covenant, seeing they were not fulfilled till almost two thousand years after, make it palpable that Moses spoke under divine inspiration? I omit other predictions which so plainly betoken divine revelation, that all men of sound mind must see they were spoken by God. In short, his Song itself (Deu 32) is a bright mirror in which God is manifestly seen.

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Book 1, Chapter 8: The credibility of Scripture sufficiently proved in so far as natural reason admits.

This chapter consists of four parts.

I. General proofs which may be easily gathered out of the writings both of the Old and New Testament, viz., the arrangement of the sacred volume, its dignity, truth, simplicity, efficacy, and majesty, Section 1, 2.

Section 1. Secondary helps to establish the credibility of Scripture. I. The arrangement of the sacred volume. II. Its dignity. III. Its truth. IV. Its simplicity. V. Its efficacy.

Section 2. The majesty conspicuous in the writings of the Prophets.

Section 1. Secondary helps to establish the credibility of Scripture. I. The arrangement of the sacred volume. II. Its dignity. III. Its truth. IV. Its simplicity. V. Its efficacy.

In vain were the authority of Scripture fortified by argument, or supported by the consent of the Church, or confirmed by any other helps, if unaccompanied by an assurance higher and stronger than human judgement can give. Till this better foundation has been laid, the authority of Scripture remains in suspense. On the other hand, when recognising its exemption from the common rule, we receive it reverently, and according to its dignity, those proofs which were not so strong as to produce and rivet a full conviction in our minds, become most appropriate helps. For it is wonderful how much we are confirmed in our belief, when we more attentively consider how admirably the system of divine wisdom contained in it is arranged – how perfectly free the doctrine is from every thing that savours of earth – how beautifully it harmonises in all its parts – and how rich it is in all the other qualities which give an air of majesty to composition. Our hearts are still more firmly assured when we reflect that our admiration is elicited more by the dignity of the matter than by the graces of style. For it was not without an admirable arrangement of Providence, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have cavilled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

Hence there was good ground for the Apostle’s declaration, that the faith of the Corinthians was founded not on “the wisdom of men,” but on “the power of God,” (1Co 2: 5) this speech and preaching among them having been “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1Co 2: 4) For the truth is vindicated in opposition to every doubt, when, unsupported by foreign aid, it has its sole sufficiency in itself. How peculiarly this property belongs to Scripture appears from this, that no human writings, however skilfully composed, are at all capable of affecting us in a similar way. Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any other of that class: you will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, pleased, moved, enchanted; but turn from them to the reading of the Sacred Volume, and whether you will or not, it will so affect you, so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow, that, in comparison of the impression so produced, that of orators and philosophers will almost disappear; making it manifest that in the Sacred Volume there is a truth divine, a something which makes it immeasurably superior to all the gifts and graces attainable by man.

Section 2. The majesty conspicuous in the writings of the Prophets.

I confess, however, that in elegance and beauty, nay, splendour, the style of some of the prophets is not surpassed by the eloquence of heathen writers. By examples of this description, the Holy Spirit was pleased to show that it was not from want of eloquence he in other instances used a rude and homely style. But whether you read David, Isaiah, and others of the same class, whose discourse flows sweet and pleasant; or Amos the herdsman, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, whose rougher idiom savours of rusticity; that majesty of the Spirit to which I adverted appears conspicuous in all. I am not unaware, that as Satan often apes God, that he may by a fallacious resemblance the better insinuate himself into the minds of the simple, so he craftily disseminated the impious errors with which he deceived miserable men in an uncouth and semi-barbarous style, and frequently employed obsolete forms of expression in order to cloak his impostures. None possessed of any moderate share of sense need be told how vain and vile such affectation is. But in regard to the Holy Scriptures, however petulant men may attempt to carp at them, they are replete with sentiments which it is clear that man never could have conceived. Let each of the prophets be examined, and not one will be found who does not rise far higher than human reach. Those who feel their works insipid must be absolutely devoid of taste.

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Book 1, Chapter 7: The testimony of the Spirit necessary to give full authority to Scripture. The impiety of pretending that the credibility of scripture depends on the judgement of the church.

Section 1. The authority of Scripture derived not from men, but from the Spirit of God. Objection, That Scripture depends on the decision of the Church. Refutation, I. The truth of God would thus be subjected to the will of man. II. It is insulting to the Holy Spirit. III. It establishes a tyranny in the Church. IV. It forms a mass of errors. V. It subverts conscience. VI. It exposes our faith to the scoffs of the profane.

Section 2. Another reply to the objection drawn from the words of the Apostle Paul. Solution of the difficulties started by opponents. A second objection refuted.

Section 3. A third objection founded on a sentiment of Augustine considered.

Section 4. Conclusion, That the authority of Scripture is founded on its being spoken by God. This confirmed by the conscience of the godly, and the consent of all men of the least candour. A fourth objection common in the mouths of the profane. Refutation.

Section 5. Last and necessary conclusion, That the authority of Scripture is sealed on the hearts of believers by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The certainty of this testimony. Confirmation of it from a passage of Isaiah, and the experience of believers. Also, from another passage of Isaiah.

Section 1. The authority of Scripture derived not from men, but from the Spirit of God. Objection, That Scripture depends on the decision of the Church. Refutation, I. The truth of God would thus be subjected to the will of man. II. It is insulting to the Holy Spirit. III. It establishes a tyranny in the Church. IV. It forms a mass of errors. V. It subverts conscience. VI. It exposes our faith to the scoffs of the profane.

Before proceeding farther, it seems proper to make some observations on the authority of Scripture, in order that our minds may not only be prepared to receive it with reverence, but be divested of all doubt.

When that which professes to be the Word of God is acknowledged to be so, no person, unless devoid of common sense and the feelings of a man, will have the desperate hardihood to refuse credit to the speaker. But since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only records in which God has been pleased to consign his truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognised, unless they are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them. This subject well deserves to be treated more at large, and pondered more accurately. But my readers will pardon me for having more regard to what my plan admits than to what the extent of this topic requires.

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed; viz., that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. Thus profane men, seeking, under the pretext of the Church, to introduce unbridled tyranny, care not in what absurdities they entangle themselves and others, provided they extort from the simple this one acknowledgement, viz., that there is nothing which the Church cannot do. But what is to become of miserable consciences in quest of some solid assurance of eternal life, if all the promises with regard to it have no better support than man’s judgement? On being told so, will they cease to doubt and tremble? On the other hand, to what jeers of the wicked is our faith subjected – into how great suspicion is it brought with all, if believed to have only a precarious authority lent to it by the good will of men?

Section 2. Another reply to the objection drawn from the words of the Apostle Paul. Solution of the difficulties started by opponents. A second objection refuted.

These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression of an apostle. Paul testifies that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” (Eph 2: 20) If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and prophets, until her judgement is interposed. For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed[1]. Nothings therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends. When the Church receives it, and gives it the stamp of her authority, she does not make that authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted but, acknowledging it as the truth of God, she, as in duty bounds shows her reverence by an unhesitating assent. As to the question, How shall we be persuaded that it came from God without recurring to a decree of the Church? it is just the same as if it were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their colour, sweet and bitter of their taste.

Section 3. A third objection founded on a sentiment of Augustine considered.

I am aware it is usual to quote a sentence of Augustine in which he says that he would not believe the gospel, were he not moved by the authority of the Church, (Aug. Cont. Epist. Fundament. c. 5) But it is easy to discover from the context, how inaccurate and unfair it is to give it such a meaning. He was reasoning against the Manichees, who insisted on being implicitly believed, alleging that they had the truth, though they did not show they had. But as they pretended to appeal to the gospel in support of Manes, he asks what they would do if they fell in with a man who did not even believe the gospel – what kind of argument they would use to bring him over to their opinion. He afterwards adds, “But I would not believe the gospel,” &c.; meaning, that were he a stranger to the faith, the only thing which could induce him to embrace the gospel would be the authority of the Church. And is it any thing wonderful, that one who does not know Christ should pay respect to men?

Augustine, therefore, does not here say that the faith of the godly is founded on the authority of the Church; nor does he mean that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it; he merely says that unbelievers would have no certainty of the gospel, so as thereby to win Christ, were they not influenced by the consent of the Church. And he clearly shows this to be his meaning, by thus expressing himself a little before: “When I have praised my own creed, and ridiculed yours, who do you suppose is to judge between us; or what more is to be done than to quit those who, inviting us to certainty, afterwards command us to believe uncertainty, and follow those who invite us, in the first instance, to believe what we are not yet able to comprehend, that waxing stronger through faith itself, we may become able to understand what eve believe – no longer men, but God himself internally strengthening and illuminating our minds?” These unquestionably are the words of Augustine, (August. Cont. Epist. Fundament. cap. 4) and the obvious inference from them is, that this holy man had no intention to suspend our faith in Scripture on the nod or decision of the Church[2], but only to intimate (what we too admit to be true) that those who are not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God, become teachable by reverence for the Church, and thus submit to learn the faith of Christ from the gospel. In this way, though the authority of the Church leads us on, and prepares us to believe in the gospel, it is plain that Augustine would have the certainty of the godly to rest on a very different foundation[3].

At the same time, I deny not that he often presses the Manichees with the consent of the whole Church, while arguing in support of the Scriptures, which they rejected. Hence he upbraids Faustus (lib. 32) for not submitting to evangelical truth – truth so well founded, so firmly established, so gloriously renowned, and handed down by sure succession from the days of the apostles. But he nowhere insinuates that the authority which we give to the Scriptures depends on the definitions or devices of men. He only brings forward the universal judgement of the Church, as a point most pertinent to the cause, and one, moreover, in which he had the advantage of his opponents. Any one who desires to see this more fully proved may read his short treatises De Utilitate Credendi, (The Advantages of Believing,) where it will be found that the only facility of believing which he recommends is that which affords an introduction, and forms a fit commencement to inquiry; while he declares that we ought not to be satisfied with opinion, but to strive after substantial truth.

Section 4. Conclusion, That the authority of Scripture is founded on its being spoken by God. This confirmed by the conscience of the godly, and the consent of all men of the least candour. A fourth objection common in the mouths of the profane. Refutation.

It is necessary to attend to what I lately said, that our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author. Hence, the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it is. The prophets and apostles boast not their own acuteness or any qualities which win credit to speakers, nor do they dwell on reasons; but they appeal to the sacred name of God, in order that the whole world may be compelled to submission. The next thing to be considered is, how it appears not probable merely, but certain, that the name of God is neither rashly nor cunningly pretended. If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, judgements, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit. It is true, indeed, that if we choose to proceed in the way of arguments it is easy to establish, by evidence of various kinds, that if there is a God in heaven, the Law, the Prophecies, and the Gospel, proceeded from him. Nay, although learned men, and men of the greatest talent, should take the opposite side, summoning and ostentatiously displaying all the powers of their genius in the discussion; if they are not possessed of shameless effrontery, they will be compelled to confess that the Scripture exhibits clear evidence of its being spoken by God, and, consequently, of its containing his heavenly doctrine. We shall see a little farther on, that the volume of sacred Scripture very far surpasses all other writings. Nay, if we look at it with clear eyes, and unblessed judgement, it will forthwith present itself with a divine majesty which will subdue our presumptuous opposition, and force us to do it homage.

Still, however, it is preposterous to attempt, by discussion, to rear up a full faith in Scripture. True, were I called to contend with the craftiest despisers of God, I trust, though I am not possessed of the highest ability or eloquence, I should not find it difficult to stop their obstreperous mouths; I could, without much ado, put down the boastings which they mutter in corners, were anything to be gained by refuting their cavils. But although we may maintain the sacred Word of God against gainsayers, it does not follow that we shall forthwith implant the certainty which faith requires in their hearts. Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted. This connection is most aptly expressed by Isaiah in these words, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever,” (Isa. 59: 21) Some worthy persons feel disconcerted, because, while the wicked murmur with impunity at the Word of God, they have not a clear proof at hand to silence them, forgetting that the Spirit is called an earnest and seal to confirm the faith of the godly, for this very reason, that, until he enlightens their minds, they are tossed to and fro in a sea of doubts.

Section 5. Last and necessary conclusion, That the authority of Scripture is sealed on the hearts of believers by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The certainty of this testimony. Confirmation of it from a passage of Isaiah, and the experience of believers. Also, from another passage of Isaiah.

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit[4]. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgement or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it – that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it as too transcendent for us to estimate. This, however, we do, not in the manner in which some are wont to fasten on an unknown object, which, as soon as known, displeases, but because we have a thorough conviction that, in holding it, we hold unassailable truth; not like miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it – an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly and effectually than could be done by human will or knowledge. Hence, God most justly exclaims by the mouth of Isaiah, “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he,” (Isa. 43: 10).

Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such, a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely knowledge in which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; such in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in himself, though my words fall far short of the reality. I do not dwell on this subject at present, because we will return to it again: only let us now understand that the only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts. Nay, the modest and teachable reader will find a sufficient reason in the promise contained in Isaiah, that all the children of the renovated Church “shall be taught of the Lord,” (Isaiah 54: 13) This singular privilege God bestows on his elect only, whom he separates from the rest of mankind. For what is the beginning of true doctrine but prompt alacrity to hear the Word of God? And God, by the mouth of Moses, thus demands to be heard: “It is not in heavens that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart,” (Deu 30: 12, 14.) God having been pleased to reserve the treasure of intelligence for his children, no wonder that so much ignorance and stupidity is seen in the generality of mankind. In the generality, I include even those specially chosen, until they are ingrafted into the body of the Church. Isaiah, moreover, while reminding us that the prophetical doctrine would prove incredible not only to strangers, but also to the Jews, who were desirous to be thought of the household of God, subjoins the reason, when he asks, “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53: 1) If at any time, then we are troubled at the small number of those who believe, let us, on the other hand, call to mind, that none comprehend the mysteries of God save those to whom it is given.

[1] The French adds, “Comme le fondement va deuant l’edifice”, – as the foundation goes before the house.

[2] The French adds, “La destournant du seul fondement qu’elle a en l’Escriture” – diverting it from the only foundation which it has in Scripture.

[3] Augustin. De Ordine, lib. ii.c.9. “Ad discendum dupliciter movemur, auctoritate atque ratione: tempore auctoritas, re autem ratio prior.. &c.”. Itaque quam quam bonorum auctoritas imperitae multitudini videatur esse salubrior, ratio vero aptior eruditis: tamen quia nullus hominum nisi ex imperito peritus fit..&c. evenit ut omnibus bona magna, occulta discere cupientibus, non aperiat nisi auctoritas januam..&c.” He has many other excellent thins to the same effect.

[4] The French adds, “Car jacoit qu’en sa propre majeste elle ait assez de quoy estre reueree, neantmoins elle commence lors a nous vrayement toucher, quand elle est scellee en nos coeurs par le Sainct Esprit” – For though in its own majesty it has enough to command reverence, nevertheless, it then begins truly to touch us when it is sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

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Book 1, Chapter 6: The need of Scripture, as a guide and teacher, in coming to God as a Creator.

Section 1. God gives his elect a better help to the knowledge of himself, viz., the Holy Scriptures. This he did from the very first.

Section 2. First, By oracles and visions, and the ministry of the Patriarchs. Secondly, By the promulgation of the Law, and the preaching of the Prophets. Why the doctrines of religion are committed to writing.

Section 3. This view confirmed, I. By the depravity of our nature making it necessary in every one who would know God to have recourse to the word; II. From those passages of the Psalms in which God is introduced as reigning.

Section 4. Another confirmation from certain direct statements in the Psalms. Lastly, From the words of our Saviour.

Section 1. God gives his elect a better help to the knowledge of himself, viz., the Holy Scriptures. This he did from the very first.

Therefore, though the effulgence which is presented to every eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human race under the same condemnation, holds forth to all, without exception, a mirror of his Deity in his works, another and better help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. Not in vain, therefore, has he added the light of his Word in order that he might make himself known unto salvation, and bestowed the privilege on those whom he was pleased to bring into nearer and more familiar relation to himself. For, seeing how the minds of men were carried to and fro, and found no certain resting-place, he chose the Jews for a peculiar people, and then hedged them in that they might not, like others, go astray. And not in vain does he, by the same means, retain us in his knowledge, since but for this, even those who, in comparison of others, seem to stand strong, would quickly fall away. For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly. God therefore bestows a gift of singular value, when, for the instruction of the Church, he employs not dumb teachers merely, but opens his own sacred mouth; when he not only proclaims that some God must be worshipped, but at the same time declares that He is the God to whom worship is due; when he not only teaches his elect to have respect to God, but manifests himself as the God to whom this respect should be paid.

The course which God followed towards his Church from the very first, was to supplement these common proofs by the addition of his Word, as a surer and more direct means of discovering himself. And there can be no doubt that it was by this help, Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs, attained to that familiar knowledge which, in a manner, distinguished them from unbelievers. I am not now speaking of the peculiar doctrines of faith by which they were elevated to the hope of eternal blessedness. It was necessary, in passing from death unto life, that they should know God, not only as a Creator, but as a Redeemer also; and both kinds of knowledge they certainly did obtain from the Word. In point of order, however, the knowledge first given was that which made them acquainted with the God by whom the world was made and is governed. To this first knowledge was afterwards added the more intimate knowledge which alone quickens dead souls, and by which God is known not only as the Creator of the worlds and the sole author and disposer of all events, but also as a Redeemer, in the person of the Mediator. But as the fall and the corruption of nature have not yet been considered, I now postpone the consideration of the remedy, (for which, see 2.617.) Let the reader then remember, that I am not now treating of the covenant by which God adopted the children of Abraham, or of that branch of doctrine by which, as founded in Christ, believers have, properly speaking, been in all ages separated from the profane heathen. I am only showing that it is necessary to apply to Scripture, in order to learn the sure marks which distinguish God, as the Creator of the world, from the whole herd of fictitious gods. We shall afterward, in due course, consider the work of Redemption. In the meantime, though we shall adduce many passages from the New Testament, and some also from the Law and the Prophets, in which express mention is made of Christ, the only object will be to show that God, the Maker of the world, is manifested to us in Scripture, and his true character expounded, so as to save us from wandering up and down, as in a labyrinth, in search of some doubtful deity.

Section 2. First, By oracles and visions, and the ministry of the Patriarchs. Secondly, By the promulgation of the Law, and the preaching of the Prophets. Why the doctrines of religion are committed to writing.

Whether God revealed himself to the fathers by oracles and visions[1], or, by the instrumentality and ministry of men, suggested what they were to hand down to posterity, there cannot be a doubt that the certainty of what he taught them was firmly engraven on their hearts, so that they felt assured and knew that the things which they learnt came forth from God, who invariably accompanied his word with a sure testimony, infinitely superior to mere opinion. At length, in order that, while doctrine was continually enlarged, its truth might subsist in the world during all ages, it was his pleasure that the same oracles which he had deposited with the fathers should be consigned, as it were, to public records. With this view the law was promulgated, and prophets were afterwards added to be its interpreters. For though the uses of the law were manifold, (2.7 and 2.8) and the special office assigned to Moses and all the prophets was to teach the method of reconciliation between God and man, (whence Paul calls Christ “the end of the law,” Rom. 10: 4) still I repeat that, in addition to the proper doctrine of faith and repentance in which Christ is set forth as a Mediator, the Scriptures employ certain marks and tokens to distinguish the only wise and true God, considered as the Creator and Governor of the world, and thereby guard against his being confounded with the herd of false deities. Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has been assigned him in this most glorious theatre that he may be a spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the Word, that he may the better profit[2]. Hence it is not strange that those who are born in darkness become more and more hardened in their stupidity; because the vast majority instead of confining themselves within due bounds by listening with docility to the Word, exult in their own vanity. If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect God has with singular Providence provided for mankind in all ages.

Section 3. This view confirmed, I. By the depravity of our nature making it necessary in every one who would know God to have recourse to the word; II. From those passages of the Psalms in which God is introduced as reigning.

For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God; – we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved judgement, but by the standard of eternal truth. If, as I lately said, we turn aside from it, how great soever the speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we are off the course. We should consider that the brightness of the Divine countenance, which even an apostle declares to be inaccessible, (1Ti 6: 16) is a kind of labyrinth, – a labyrinth to us inextricable, if the Word do not serve us as a thread to guide our path; and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with the greatest swiftness out of it. Hence the Psalmist, after repeatedly declaring (Psa 93, 96, 97, 99, &c.) that superstition should be banished from the world in order that pure religion may flourish, introduces God as reigning; meaning by the term, not the power which he possesses and which he exerts in the government of universal nature, but the doctrine by which he maintains his due supremacy: because error never can be eradicated from the heart of man until the true knowledge of God has been implanted in it.

Section 4. Another confirmation from certain direct statements in the Psalms. Lastly, From the words of our Saviour.

Accordingly, the same prophet, after mentioning that the heavens declare the glory of God, that the firmament sheweth forth the works of his hands, that the regular succession of day and night proclaim his Majesty, proceeds to make mention of the Word: – “The law of the Lord,” says he, “is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes,” (Psa 19: 1-9) For though the law has other uses besides, (as to which, see 2.7.6, 10, 12) the general meaning is, that it is the proper school for training the children of God; the invitation given to all nations, to behold him in the heavens and earth, proving of no avail. The same view is taken in the 29th Psalm, where the Psalmist, after discoursing on the dreadful voice of God, which, in thunder, wind, rain, whirlwind, and tempest, shakes the earth, makes the mountains tremble, and breaks the cedars, concludes by saying, “that in his temple does every one speak of his glory,” unbelievers being deaf to all God’s words when they echo in the air. In like manner another Psalm, after describing the raging billows of the sea, thus concludes, “Thy testimonies are very sure; holiness becometh thine house for ever,” (Psa 93: 5) To the same effect are the words of our Saviour to the Samaritan woman, when he told her that her nation and all other nations worshipped they knew not what; and that the Jews alone gave worship to the true God, (John 4: 22) Since the human mind, through its weakness, was altogether unable to come to God if not aided and upheld by his sacred word, it necessarily followed that all mankind, the Jews excepted, inasmuch as they sought God without the Word, were labouring under vanity and error.

[1] The French adds, “C’est a dire, temoignages celestes”, – that is to say, messages from heaven.

[2] Tertullian, Apologet. adv. Gentes: “Quae plenius et impressius tam ipsum quam dispositionesn ejus et voluntates adiremus, instrumentum adjecit literaturae.

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