ABOUT the beginning of 1814, Mr. Fuller, in compliance with the request of Dr. Ryland, began a Series of Letters, intending to prepare one every month, till he had gone through a BODY of DIVINITY. He was, however, prevented by ill health and his many pressing engagements from punctually fulfilling his design; and only the following NINE Letters had been completed when he was called to his reward.
IMPORTANCE OF SYSTEMATIC DIVINITY
MY DEAR BROTHER, RESPECTING your request of a monthly letter, I acknowledge I have wished for several years past to give, as far as I was able, a connected view of the gospel; but have hitherto wanted either sufficient leisure, or sufficient inducement, seriously to set about it. The difficulty of giving every part of Divine truth its due importance, and of placing it in the system where it will have the greatest effect, is such that I have no expectation of doing it to my own satisfaction; but I am willing to try. May the Holy Spirit of God preserve my heart and mind, that I may neither be misled, nor contribute to the misleading of others. Pray that this may be the case; and, as you receive my letters, make free remarks upon them, and let me see them.
Before I enter upon particulars, I wish to obviate some objections to the study of systematic divinity, and to show its importance to a just and enlarged view of the gospel. For this purpose, I must beg leave to introduce part of a sermon, which I printed nearly eighteen years ago, "On the Importance of a Deep and Intimate Acquaintance with Divine Truth." *
* As the sermon referred to appears as the fifth in the volume now before the reader, it is considered unnecessary to quote the passage, which forms the fourth subdivision of the first part of the discourse. -- B.
IMPORTANCE OF A TRUE SYSTEM
IN my last I endeavoured to show the importance of system: in this I shall attempt to show the importance of a true system; and to prove that truth itself, by being displaced from those connexions which it occupies in the Scriptures, may be perverted, and prove injurious to those that hold it. No system can be supposed to be wholly erroneous; but if a considerable part of it be false, the whole will be vitiated, and that which is true will be divested of its salutary influence. "If ye be circumcised," said the apostle to the Galatians, "Christ shall profit you nothing." As one truth, thoroughly imbibed, will lead to a hundred more, so will one error. False doctrine will eat as doth a gangrene, which, though it may seem to be confined to one part of the body, infects the whole mass, and, if not extracted, must issue in death.
If one put on the profession of Christianity without cordially believing it, it will not sit easy upon him; his heart will not be in it: and if, at the same time, he live in the indulgence of secret vice, he will soon feel it necessary to new-model his religious opinions. It degrades him, even in his own esteem, to be a hypocrite, avowing one thing and practising another. In order to be easy, therefore, it becomes necessary for him to have a new creed, that he may answer the reproaches of his conscience, and it may be those of his acquaintance, by the assumption that his ideas are changed. He begins by doubting; and having by criminal indulgence effaced all sense of the holiness of God from his mind, he thinks of him only in respect of what he calls his goodness, which he hopes will induce him to connive at his frailties. With thoughts like these, of God and of sin, he will soon find himself in possession of a system. A new field of thought opens to his mind, in which he finds very little need of Christ, and becomes, in his own eyes, a being of consequence. Such, or nearly such, was the process of those who perished, "because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sent them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." But, passing these delusive systems, truth itself, if viewed out of its Scriptural connexions, is vitiated and injurious. The members of our bodies are no otherwise beneficial than as they occupy the places in which the Creator has fixed them. If the foot were in the place of the hand, or the ear of the eye, instead of being useful, they would each be injurious; and the same is true of a preposterous view of Scripture doctrines. The Jews, in the time of our Saviour, professed the same creed, in the main, as their forefathers; they reckoned themselves to believe Moses; but, holding with Moses to the exclusion of Christ, their faith was rendered void. "If ye believed Moses," said our Lord, "ye would believe me; for he wrote of me." Thus it is with us: if we hold the law of Moses to the exclusion of Christ, or any otherwise than as subservient to the gospel, or Christ and the gospel to the exclusion of the law of Moses, neither the one nor the other will profit us.
To illustrate and confirm these observations, I shall select, for examples, three of the leading doctrines of the gospel; namely, election, the atonement, and the influence of the Holy Spirit.
If the doctrine of election be viewed in those connexions in which it stands in the Scriptures, it will he of great importance in the Christian life. The
whole difference between the saved and the lost being ascribed to sovereign grace, the pride of man is abased: the believer is taught to feel and acknowledge that by the grace of God he is what he is; and the sinner to apply for mercy, not as being on terms with his Maker, but absolutely at his discretion. It is frequently the last point which a sinner yields to God. To relinquish every claim and ground of hope from his own good endeavours, and fall at the feet of sovereign mercy, requires that he be born of God. If we take our views of this great subject in its connexion with others, I need not say we shall not consider it as founded on any thing good foreseen in us, whether it be faith or good works: this were to exclude the idea of an election of grace; and to admit, if not to establish, boasting. Neither shall we look at the end in such a way as to lose sight of the means. We shall consider it as we do other Divine appointments, not as revealed to us to be a rule of conduct, but to teach us our entire dependence upon God. We are given to believe that, whatever good or evil befalls us, we are thereunto appointed, 1 Thess. iii. 3. The time of our continuance in the world is as much an object of Divine purpose as our eternal destiny: but we do not imagine, on this account, that we shall live though we neither eat nor drink; nor presume that though we leap headlong from a precipice no danger will befall us. Neither does it hinder us from exhorting or persuading others to pursue the way of safety, and to flee from danger. In these things we act the same as if there were no Divine appointments, or as if we believed nothing concerning them; but when we have done all that can be done, the sentiment of an all-disposing Providence recurs to mind, and teaches us that we are still in the hands of God. Such were the views of good men, as recorded in Scripture. They believed the days of man to be appointed, and that he could not pass his bounds; yet, in time of famine, the patriarch Jacob sent to Egypt to buy corn, "that they might live, and not die." Elisha knew of a certainty that Benhadad would die; yet, speaking of him in respect of his disease, he did not scruple to say, "He may recover." The Lord assured Paul, in his perilous voyage, that "there should be no loss of any man's life;" yet, when he saw the ship-men making their escape, he said to the centurion, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved."
A fleshly mind may ask, "How can these things be?" How can Divine predestination accord with human agency and accountableness? But a truly humble Christian, finding both in his Bible, will believe both, though he may be unable fully to understand their consistency; and he will find in the one a motive to depend entirely on God, and in the other a caution against slothfulness and presumptuous neglect of duty. And thus a Christian minister, if he view the doctrine in its proper connexions, will find nothing in it to hinder the free use of warnings, invitations, and persuasions, either to the converted or the unconverted. Yet he will not ground his hopes of success on the pliability of the human mind, but on the promised grace of God, who (while he prophesies to the dry bones, as he is commanded) is known to inspire them with the breath of life.
Thus it was that the apostle, while in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, he traces the sovereignty of God in calling some from among the Jews, and leaving others to perish in unbelief, never thought of excusing that unbelief, nor felt any scruples in exhorting and warning the subjects of it, nor in praying for their salvation. Even in his preaching to the Gentiles, he kept his eye on them, if by any means he might provoke to emulation those who were his flesh, and might save some of them.
But whatever this doctrine is in itself, yet if viewed out of its connexions,
or in connexions which do not belong to it, it will become another thing. God's election of the posterity of Abraham was of sovereign favour, and not on account of any excellence in them, natural or moral; in which view it was humbling, and no doubt had a good effect on the godly Israelites. But the Jews in our Saviour’s time turned this their national election into another kind of doctrine, full of flattery towards themselves, and of the most intolerable contempt and malignity towards others. And thus the doctrine of eternal and personal election viewed in a similar light becomes a source of pride, bitterness, sloth, and presumption. Conceive of the love of God as capricious fondness – imagine, because it had no inducement from the goodness of the creature, that therefore it was without reason, only so it was and so it must be – view it, not as a means by which God would assert the sovereignty of his grace, but as an end to which every thing must become subservient – conceive of yourself as a darling of Heaven, a favourite of Providence, for whom Divine interpositions next to miracles are continually occurring – and, instead of being humbled before God as a poor sinner, you will feel like a person who in a dream or a reverie imagines himself a king, takes state to himself, and treats every one about him with distant contempt.
If the doctrine of atonement be viewed in the connexions in which it stands in the sacred Scriptures, it is the lifeblood of the gospel system. Consider it as a method devised by the infinite wisdom of God, by which he might honour his own name by dispensing mercy to the unworthy in a way consistent with righteousness, and we shall be furnished with considerations at once the most humiliating and transporting that were ever presented to a creature's mind.
But there are ways of viewing this doctrine which will render it void, and even worse than void. If, for instance, instead of connecting it with the Divinity of Christ, we ascribe its efficacy to Divine appointment, the name may remain, but that will be all. On this principle it was possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should have taken away sin, and that the cup should have passed away from the Saviour without his drinking it. As there would on this principle be no necessity for the death of Christ, so neither could there be any great love displayed by it; and as to its constraining influence, we need not look for it.
Or if the atonement be considered as a reparation to man for the injury done him by his being connected with his first parents, it is rendered void. Whatever evil we derive from our first parents, while we ourselves choose it, we are no more injured than if we derived it from our immediate parents; and it will no more bear to he pleaded at the last judgment, than it will bear to be alleged by a thief, at an earthly tribunal, that his father had been a thief before him. To argue, therefore, as some have done, that if Christ had not come into the world and given us grace, so as to remove the inability for doing good under which we lay as the descendants of Adam, we should not have been blameworthy for not doing it, is to render grace no more grace, and the atonement a satisfaction to man rather than to God. If man would not have been blameworthy without the gift of Christ and a provision of grace, it would seem a pity that both had not been withheld, and that we had not been left to the justice of our Creator, who surely might be trusted not to punish for that in which we were not in fault.
Or if the doctrine of atonement lead us to entertain degrading notions of the love of God, or to plead an exemption from its preceptive authority, we may be sure it is not the Scripture doctrine of reconciliation. Atonement has respect to justice, and justice to the law, or the revealed will of the sovereign, which has been violated, and its very design is to repair its
honour. If the law which has been transgressed were unjust, instead of an atonement being required for the breach of it, it ought to have been repealed, and the lawgiver have taken upon himself the disgrace of having enacted it. Every instance of punishment among men is a sort of atonement to the justice of the country, the design of which is to restore the authority of good government, which transgression has impaired. But if the law itself is bad, or the penalty too severe, every sacrifice made to it must be an instance of cruelty. And should a prince of the blood royal, in compassion to the offenders, offer to suffer in their stead, for the purpose of atonement, whatever love it might discover on his part, it were still greater cruelty to accept the offer, even though he might survive his sufferings. The public voice would be, There is no need of any atonement; it will do no honour, but dishonour, to the legislature: and to call the liberation of the convicts an act of grace is to add insult to injury. The law ought not to have been enacted, and, now it is enacted, ought immediately to be repealed. It is easy to see from hence, that, in proportion as the law is depreciated, the gospel is undermined, and both grace and atonement rendered void. It is the law as abused, or as turned into a way of life in opposition to the gospel, (for which it was never given to a fallen creature,) that the sacred Scriptures depreciate it; and not as the revealed will of God, the immutable standard of right and wrong. In this view, the apostle delighted in it; and if we be Christians, we shall delight in it too, and shall not object to be under it as a rule of duty; for no man objects to be governed by laws which he loves.
Finally, If the doctrine of Divine influence be considered in its Scriptural connexions, it will be of essential importance in the Christian life; but if these be lost sight of, it will become injurious.
To say nothing of extraordinary influence, I conceive there is what may be termed an indirect influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, having inspired the prophets and apostles, testified in and by them, and often without effect. "Many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them, by thy Spirit, in thy prophets, yet would they not give ear." The messages of the prophets being dictated by the Holy Spirit, resistance of them was resistance of him. It was in this way, I conceive, that the Spirit of God strove with the antediluvians, and that unbelievers are said always to have resisted the Holy Spirit. But the Divine influence to which I refer is that by which sinners are renewed and sanctified; concerning which two things require to be kept in view.
First, It accords with the Scripture. Is it the work of the Holy Spirit, for example, to illuminate the mind, or to guide us into truth? In order to try whether that which we account light be the effect of Divine teaching, or only a figment of our own imagination, we must bring it to the written word. "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." The Holy Spirit teaches nothing but what is true, and what was true antecedently to his teaching it, and would have been true though we had never been taught it. Such are the glory of the Divine character, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, our own guilty and lost condition as sinners, and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The test of Divine illumination, therefore, is whether that in which we conceive ourselves to be enlightened be a part of Divine truth as revealed in the Scriptures. Further, Is it the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in the "paths of righteousness?" This also must be tried by the written word. The Holy Spirit leads us into nothing but what is right antecedently to our being led into it, and which would have been so though we had never been led into it. He that teacheth us to profit leadeth us
"by the way that we should go." The paths in which he leads us for his name's sake are those of righteousness. Such are those of repentance for sin, faith in Christ, love to God and one another, and every species of Christian obedience. One test, therefore, of our being led by the Spirit of God, in any way wherein we walk, is, whether it be a part of the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. As the Holy Spirit teaches us nothing but what was previously true, so he leads us into nothing but what was previously duty.
Secondly, Divine influence not only accords with the sacred Scriptures, but requires to be introduced in those connexions in which the Scriptures introduce it. We have heard it described as if it were a talent, the use or abuse of which would either issue in our salvation or heighten our guilt. This is true of opportunities and means of grace, or of what is above described as the indirect influence of the Holy Spirit; but not of his special influence. The things done for the Lord's vineyard, concerning which he asks, "What more could I have done?" include the former, and not the latter. The mighty works done in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, relate, not to the special influences of the Spirit on their minds, but to the miracles wrought before their eyes, accompanied as they were by the heavenly doctrine. I do not remember an instance in the sacred Scriptures in which the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Spirit are thus represented. Divine influence has been introduced as an excuse for sin committed previously to our being the subject of it, as if, because it is necessary to any thing truly good being done by us, therefore it must be necessary to its being required of us. But if so, there would have been no complaints of Simon the Pharisee for his want of love to Christ; nor of unbelievers at the last judgment for the same thing; nor would Paul have carried with him so humbling a sense of his sin in having persecuted the church of God, while in unbelief, as to reckon himself the chief of sinners on account of it. The want of Divine influence has been introduced as an apology for negligence and slothfulness in the Christian life. What else do men mean when they speak of this and the other duty as "no further binding upon them than as the Lord shall enable them to discharge it?" If it be so, we have no sin to confess for "not doing that which we ought to have done;" for as far as the Lord enables us to discharge our obligations, we discharge them. The doctrine of Divine influence is introduced in the sacred Scriptures as a motive to activity: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his own good pleasure."
Finally, We have often heard this doctrine introduced in the pulpit in such a way as to weaken the force of what has been previously said on behalf of God and righteousness. When the sacred Scriptures speak of the cause of good, they ascribe every thing to God's Holy Spirit. The writers seem to have no fear of going too far. And it is the same with them when they exhort, or warn, or expostulate; they discover no apprehension of going so far as to render void the grace of God. In all their writings, the one never seems to stand in the way of the other; each is allowed its full scope, without any apparent suspicion of inconsistency between them. But is it so with us? If one dares to exhort sinners in the words of Scripture, to "repent and believe the gospel," he presently feels himself upon tender ground; and if he does not recede, yet he must qualify his words, or he will be suspected of disbelieving the work of the Spirit! To prevent this he must needs introduce it, though it be only to blunt the edge of his exhortation – "Repent and believe the gospel I know, indeed, you cannot do this of yourselves; but you can pray for the Holy Spirit to enable you to do it."
It is right to pray for the Holy Spirit, as well as for every thing else that we need, and to exhort others to do so; and it may be one of the first petitions of a mind returning to good, "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned:" but to introduce it instead of repenting and believing, and as something which a sinner can do, though he cannot do the other, is erroneous and dangerous. __________________
PLAN PROPOSED TO BE PURSUED
I WISH, in this letter, to state the principle and general outlines of what I shall attempt. In observing different systematic writers, I perceive they have taken different methods of arrangement. The greatest number proceed on the analytical plan, beginning with the being and attributes of God, the creation of the world, moral government, the fall of angels and man, and so proceed to redemption by Jesus Christ, and the benefits and obligations resulting from it. One eminent divine, you know, has treated the subject historically, tracing the gradual development of Divine truth as it actually took place in the order of time. * These different methods have each their advantages; but it has for some time appeared to me that the greater number of them have also their disadvantages; so much so as to render truth, in a systematic form, almost uninteresting.
I do not know how it may prove on trial, but I wish to begin with the centre of Christianity – the doctrine of the cross, and to work round it; or with what may be called the heart of Christianity, and to trace it through its principal veins or relations, both in doctrine and practice. If Christianity had not been comprehended in this doctrine, the apostle, who shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God, could not have determined to know nothing else in his ministry. The whole of the Christian system appears to be presupposed by it, included in it, or to arise from it: if, therefore, I write any thing, it will be on this principle. In its favour, the following things may be alleged:
First, It accords with truth. All things are said to have been created not only by Christ, but for him. All things in creation, therefore, are rendered subservient to his glory as Redeemer; and, being thus connected, they require to be viewed so, in order to be seen with advantage.
Secondly, By viewing all Divine truths and duties as related to one great object, as so many lines meeting in a centre, a character of unity is imparted to the subject which it would not otherwise possess, and which seems properly to belong to the idea of a system. A system, if I understand it, is a whole, composed of a number of parts, so combined and arranged as to show their proper connexions and dependencies, and to exhibit every truth and every duty to the best advantage. The unity of a number in one great object, and so forming a whole, gives an interest to the subject which it would not otherwise possess. It is interesting, no doubt, to view the works of nature as revolving round the sun as their centre; but to view nature and providence as centering in the glory of the Redeemer is much more interesting.
Thirdly, The object in which all the parts of the system are united being CHRIST must tend to shed a sweet savour on the whole. We have often
* President Edwards's History of Redemption.
heard the epithet dry applied to the doctrines of the gospel, especially when systematically treated; but this must have arisen from the faults or defects of the system, or from the uninteresting manner of treating it, or from a defect in the hearer or reader. The doctrine of the gospel, if imparted in its genuine simplicity, and received in faith and love, "drops as the rain, and distils as the dew upon the tender herb." I may not be able thus to impart it: but, whether I do or not, it may be done; and so far as I or any other may fail, let the fault be imputed to us, and not to the doctrine of God our Saviour.
Fourthly, There is a singular advantage attending the study of other truths through this medium. We might know something of God and of ourselves through the medium of the Divine law; and it is necessary for some purposes to understand this subject as distinct from the gospel. But a sense of the holiness and justice of God, contrasted with our depravity and guilt, might be more than we could bear. To view these great subjects, on the other hand, through the cross of Christ, is to view the malady through the medium of the remedy, and so never to want an antidote for despair.
With the idea of all Divine truth bearing an intimate relation to Christ agrees that notable phrase in Eph. iv. 21, "The truth as it is in Jesus." To believe the truth concerning Jesus is to believe the whole doctrine of the Scriptures. Hence it is that in all the brief summaries of Christian doctrine the person and work of Christ are prominent. Such are the following: "Brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also you have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you, among the first principles, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. – Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. – This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. – This is the record, that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. – He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. – Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Fully aware that this golden link would draw along with it the whole chain of evangelical truth, the sacred writers seem careful for nothing in comparison of it. It is on this ground that faith in Christ is represented as essential to spiritual life: see John vi. 53-56, "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." We may be Christians by education, may be well versed in Christianity as a science, may be able to converse, and preach, and write, in defense of it; but if Christ crucified be not that to us which food is to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, we are dead while we live. It is on this ground that error concerning the person and work of Christ is of such importance as frequently to become death to the party. We may err on other subjects and survive, though it be in a maimed state; but to err in this is to contract a disease in the vitals, the ordinary effect of which is death. When Peter confessed him to be the Son of the living God, Jesus answered, "Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Upon this principle,
as a foundation, Christianity rests; and it is remarkable that, to this day, deviation concerning the person and work of Christ is followed by a dereliction of almost every other evangelical doctrine, and of the spirit of Christianity. How should it be otherwise? If the foundation be removed, the building must fall.
What is it that is denominated the great mystery of godliness? Is it not that "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory?" It is this that the apostle John introduces at the beginning of his gospel under the name of "the Word:" "The Word was with God, and was God; by whom all things were made, and who was made flesh, and dwelt among us."* It is this upon which he dwells in the introduction of his First Epistle: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the world of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Christ is here described, 1. As to what he was in his pre-incarnate state; namely, as that which was from the beginning, the word of life, and that eternal life which was with the Father. 2. As to what he became by his incarnation: he was so manifested that his disciples could see him, and look on him, and handle him; and thus be qualified to bear witness of him, and to show unto others that eternal life that was with the Father. 3. As having opened a way in which those who believed in him were admitted to fellowship with God, and with him, and were commissioned to invite others to partake with them. I have long considered this passage as a decisive proof of the Divinity of Christ, and as a summary of the gospel.
* Whether we read God, or the Son of God, or the Lord, or the Word, the idea is the same. There is no meaning in saying of any one who was not God, that the was manifest in the flesh, or that he was made flesh, &c.
ON THE BEING OF GOD
HAVING in the foregoing letters endeavoured to show the importance of system, and of that system being the true one, and proposed the plan of what I may communicate, I shall now proceed to execute it as well as I am able. In the last letter it was stated, concerning the doctrine of the cross, that every thing pertaining to Christianity was presupposed by it, included in it, or arose out of it. This threefold distribution will form the three parts into which what I write will be divided. Under the first, namely, principles presupposed by the doctrine of the cross, I begin with the being of God, to which fundamental principle this letter will be devoted. God is the first cause and last end of all things. "Of him, and through him, and to him are all things; to him be glory for ever. Amen." To undertake to prove his existence seems to be almost as unnecessary as to go about to prove our own. The Scriptures at their outset take it for granted; and he that calls it in question
is not so much to he reasoned with as to be reproved. His error belongs to the heart rather than to the understanding. His doubts are either affected, or arise from a wish to free himself from the idea of accountableness. The things that are seen in the visible creation contain so clear a manifestation of the things that are not seen, even of his eternal power and Godhead, as to leave atheists and idolaters "without excuse," Rom. i. 20.
All reasoning must proceed upon some acknowledged principles; and what can deserve to be so considered more than our own existence, and that of the great First Cause? There are truths among men which it is indecorous to attempt to prove. To discuss the question whether a parent ought to be acknowledged and obeyed by his children, whatever proof might be alleged for it, would tend to agitate a subject which ought to be at rest. I question whether argumentation in favour of the existence of God has not made more sceptics than believers. An Orissa pundit, not being able to see God, required of a missionary a proof of his existence. He was asked, in answer, whether he could see his own soul; and whether he had any doubts of his possessing one. "Certainly not," said the pundit. "Such," said the missionary, "is the living God; he is invisible to us, but he is every where present."
In the early ages of the world there appears to have been a much stronger persuasion of Divine interposition in human affairs than generally prevails in our times. Even heathens, whose gods were vanity, put their trust in them. In all their wars, they not only took counsel with their wise men, but consulted their oracles. Rollin, from Xenophon, holds it up as one of the great virtues of Cyrus that he respected the gods. "In the sight of all his army," says he, "he makes mention of the gods, offers sacrifices and libations to them, addresses himself to them by prayer and invocation, and implores their succour and protection. What a shame, then, and a reproach, would it be to a Christian officer or general, if, on a day of battle, he should blush to appear as religious and devout as a pagan prince; and if the Lord of hosts and God of armies, whom he acknowledges as such, should make a less impression on his mind than a respect for the false deities of paganism did upon the mind of Cyrus!" Yet this is the fact. Now and then, on an occasion of great success, God is acknowledged; but in general he is disregarded. How is this to be accounted for? Cyrus's gods were according to his mind; but, with the true God, the dispositions of the greater part of mankind are at perfect variance. Real Christians still acknowledge him in all their ways, and he directs their paths; but merely nominal Christians, having a God who is not according to their minds, think but little of him, feel ashamed to own him, and thus sink into practical atheism. To know that there is God is necessary, indeed, to true religion; but if we stop there, it will be of no use. What is the Supreme Being of modern unbelievers? and of what account is their knowledge of him? As the Author of the machinery of the universe, he is admired, and magnified in such a way as to render it beneath him to interfere with the affairs of mortals, or to call them to account.
The true knowledge of God is less speculative than practical. It is remarkable with what deep reverence the inspired writers speak of God. Moses, when relating his appearance at the bush, did not attempt to explain his name, but communicated it in the words which he heard. "And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you, and they will say unto me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent me unto you." This sublime
language suggests not only his self-existence, but his incomprehensibleness. It is beyond the powers of a creature even to be taught what he is.
"As to the being of God," says Dr. Owen, "we are so far from a knowledge of it, so as to be able to instruct one another therein by words and expressions of it, as that to frame any conceptions in our own mind, with such species and impressions of things as we receive the knowledge of all other things by, is to make an idol to ourselves, and so to worship a god of our own making, and not the God that made us. We may as well and as lawfully hew him out of wood and stone, as form him a being in our minds suited to our apprehensions. The utmost of the best of our thoughts of the being of God is, that we can have no thoughts of it. Our knowledge of a being is but low when it mounts no higher but only to know that we know it not. – There be some things of GOD which he himself hath taught us to speak of, and to regulate our expressions of them; but when we have so done, we see not the things themselves, we know them not; to believe and to admire is all that we can attain to. We profess, as we are taught, that God is infinite, omnipotent, eternal; and we know what disputes and notions there are about omnipresence, immensity, infinity, and eternity. We have, I say, words and notions about these things; but as to the things themselves, what do we know? what do we comprehend of them? Can the mind of man do any thing more but swallow itself up in an infinite abyss, which is as nothing? give itself up to what it cannot conceive, much less express? Is not our understanding brutish in the contemplation of such things? and is as if it were not? Yea, the perfection of our understanding is, not to understand, and to rest there: they are but the back parts of eternity and infinity that we have a glimpse of. What shall I say of the Trinity, or the subsistence of distinct persons in the same individual essence; a mystery by many denied, because by none understood; a mystery whose very letter is mysterious. – 'How little a portion is heard of him!'"
In the Epistles of Paul there are various instances in which, having mentioned the name of GOD, he stops to pay him adoration. Thus when describing the dishonour put upon him by worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, he pauses, and adds, "Who is blessed for ever. Amen!" Thus also, speaking of Christ as having "given himself to deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father," he adds, "To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen!" And thus, when having spoken of the exceeding abundant grace shown to himself as the chief of sinners, he adds, "Now unto the King eternal; immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen!"
It is the name of God that gives authority, importance, and glory to every person or thing with which it stands connected. The glory of man, above the rest of the creatures, consisted in this: "God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him." This, and not merely the well-being of man, is the reason given why murder should be punished with death. "He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man." This is the great sanction to the precepts and threatenings of the law: "That thou mayest fear that fearful name, the Lord thy God." Herein consists the great evil of sin; and of that sin especially which is committed immediately against God. "Know thou therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing, and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?" The sin of the men of Sodom, though it had reached to heaven, yet was not completed till
they persevered in it, when smitten of God with blindness. Pharaoh and the Egyptians had grievously oppressed Israel; but it was by persevering in their sins notwithstanding the judgments of God, and presuming to follow his people into the sea, that they brought upon themselves destruction. Of this nature was the disobedience of Saul, the boasting of Sennacherib and Rabshakeh, the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, the profanation of the sacred vessels by Belshazzar, and the shutting up of John in prison by Herod. Each of these men had done much evil before; but, by setting themselves directly against GOD, they sealed their doom. It is on this principle that idolatry and blasphemy were punished with death under the theocracy, and that, under the gospel, unbelief and apostacy are threatened with damnation.
GOD manifested himself in creation, in giving laws to his creatures, in the providential government of the world, and in other ways; but all these exhibited him only in part: it is in the gospel of salvation, through his dear Son, that his whole character appears; so that, from invisible, he in a sense becomes visible. "No one had seen God at any time; but the only begotten Son, who dwelleth in the bosom of the Father, he declared him." What is it that believers see in the gospel when their minds are spiritually enlightened? It is "the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ." Whatever is visible in an object is called its face. Thus we speak of the face of the heavens, of the earth, and of the sea; and in each of these the glory of God is to be seen; but in the face of Jesus Christ, that is, in that which has been manifested to us by his incarnation, life, preaching, miracles, sufferings, resurrection, and ascension, the glory of God is seen in a degree that it has never been seen in before. The apostle, when speaking of God in relation to the gospel, uses the epithet "blessed" with singular propriety: "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God." The gospel is the grand emanation – from the fountain of blessedness, an overflow of the Divine goodness. It is the infinitely happy God, pouring forth his happiness upon miserable sinners, through Jesus Christ. The result is, that, as God is the Great Supreme, he must in all things occupy the supreme place. Thus we are required, by his law, to love him first, and then to love our neighbour as ourselves; and thus the coming of Christ is celebrated, first as giving "glory to God in the highest," and then "peace on earth and good-will to men."
ON THE NECESSITY OF A DIVINE REVELATION
IT would be improper, I conceive, to rest the being of God on Scripture testimony; seeing the whole weight of that testimony must depend upon the supposition that he is, and that the sacred Scriptures were written by holy men inspired by him. Hence the Scriptures, at their outset, take this principle for granted; yet in the way that the works of nature imply a Divine First Cause, so does the work of revelation. Men were as morally unable to write such a book as they were naturally unable to create the heavens and the earth. In this way the sacred Scriptures prove the being of a God.
I wish to offer a few remarks on the necessity of a Divine revelation – on the evidence of the Bible being written by inspiration of God, so as to answer this necessity – and on its uniform bearing on the doctrine of salvation through the cross of Christ; but as this is more than can be comprehended in a single letter, I must divide it into two or three.
First, I shall offer a few remarks on the necessity of a revelation from God. In establishing this principle, let it be observed, we are not required to depreciate the light of nature. The word of God is not to be exalted at the expense of his works. The evidence which is afforded of the being and perfections of God by the creation which surrounds us, and of which we ourselves are a part, is no more superseded by revelation than the law is rendered void by faith. All things which proceed from God are in harmony with each other. If all the evidence which the heathen have of the being and perfections of God consist of traditional accounts, derived originally from revelation, there must be great uncertainty in it, as in every thing else that comes through such an uncertain medium; and if so, though they should disbelieve it, how are they without excuse? and how are we to understand the reasonings of the apostle on the subject? He appears to represent the wrath of God as revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, "because that which may be known is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him, that is, his eternal power and Godhead, are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made; so that they are without excuse." This is equal to saying, God is invisible, but his works are visible: his eternal power and Godhead are manifest from the things which he has created. All things which have a beginning must originate in a cause without beginning; so that they are without excuse. Whether the heathen in any instance have, or have not, actually perceived the eternal power and Godhead of the Creator, merely from the works of his hands, is a question that I shall not undertake to answer. If such a case never occurred, it is sufficient for my argument that it has not been for want of objective light, but of a state of mind to receive it. In pleading for the necessity of Divine revelation, as the means of enlightening and saving sinners, we should beware of imitating those who, in arguing for the necessity of Divine grace to renew and sanctify them, represent them as physically unable to do good without it, and so excuse them in their sins. "Every mouth will be stopped, and all the world," whatever advantages or disadvantages they may have possessed in these respects, "will be found guilty before God." It is true that the guilt of those who have lived in sin without the light of revelation will be much less than theirs who have continued in their sins under it; but all are without excuse before God. Divine revelation is necessary to a competent knowledge of God, and of his will concerning us. This principle will be evident by a review of two others; namely, the insufficiency of human reason for these important purposes, and the connexion between revelation and faith.
1. Let us review the insufficiency of human reason to obtain from the mere light of nature a competent knowledge of God, and of his will concerning us. The light of nature furnishes us with little or no knowledge of the moral character and government of God. While man was in a state of innocence, indeed, he might, by reflecting on his own mind, understand something of the character of that Divine original after whose image he was created; but, having sinned, this image is effaced. It is also true that the judgments of God against sinners are manifest in all the earth; and every man's conscience bears witness that what is wrong in another towards him must be wrong in him towards another; and that, having felt and acted contrary to this equitable principle, in innumerable instances, he is a sinner; but as to the evil nature of sin as committed against God, and his own lost condition, conscience itself can yield him little or no information. And as to an hereafter, whether there be any, and, if there be, what it will prove; whether we shall have to give account of the deeds done in the body; whether there will be any hope of forgiveness; and what we must do to be saved – all is darkness.
The light of nature, though sufficient to bear witness for God, and so to leave sinners without excuse, was never designed in any state to furnish man with all he needed. Even in innocence man was governed by a revealed law. It does not appear that he was left to find out the character or will of his Creator by his reason, though reason, being under the influence of rectitude, would lead him, as he understood the mind of God, to love and obey it. But if revelation was necessary in innocence, much more now man's foolish heart is darkened by sin.
The state of the heathen, who are without Divine revelation, furnishes awful proof of its necessity. The grossness of their thoughts of God, and of an hereafter, is such, that those who have received the light of revelation can scarcely think it possible for rational beings to entertain them. To say nothing of the uncivilized heathen, even the polished sons of Greece and Rome, though prodigies in science, yet, in relation to these things, were the subjects of the most sottish stupidity. Well is it said, "The world by wisdom knew not God." That small portion of real light which on these subjects appears in the writings of our modern deists, is borrowed from those very writings which they mean to depreciate. They live in the neighbourhood of revelation, and, whether they will own it or not, are enlightened by it. The speculations of those who have had only the light of nature to guide them are, in respect of God and religion, absurd in the extreme.
Man is said to be wiser than the beasts of the field; but it is principally by means of instruction. We are born, it is true, with an immortal mind; but, uninformed, what is it? Knowledge chiefly enters in at the door of the senses. To what do we owe the gift of speech? It seems to be natural to us; but if we look at one who is born deaf, we shall find him dumb also; and if to this be added blindness, there will be but little difference between him and the beasts of the field. But if we need human instruction for the attainment of knowledge in things of this life, is it surprising that we should need a Divine instructor for things heavenly and Divine? It is true that God instructs us, as has been said, by his works; but they contain only a few of the rudiments of Divine knowledge; like the parables of our Saviour, they were not designed to furnish perfect information on the subject, but merely a general intimation, tending to excite humble inquiry for further instruction; which, when asked, was readily granted, but, when set at nought, it was "seeing and not perceiving, hearing and not understanding; lest they should be converted and healed." The apostle, in his address to the Athenians, represents it as the design of God, in his works of creation and providence, to lead men to seek him; but though he was not far from every one, seeing all live, and move, and have their being in him, yet the light of nature could only enable them "to feel after him, if haply they might find him." Though "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork;" though "day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge," and though their voice is heard in every language and in every clime, even to the end of the world; yet it is not by them, but by the word of Jehovah, that souls are converted, and the simple made wise. Some of the wisest among the old heathens felt and acknowledged the need there was of a revelation from heaven; and heathens of the present day acknowledge the same thing. A Hindoo fakeer, who was a brahmin goroo, being lately asked by one of his disciples, who had heard a missionary at Balasore, whether he could make known to him the living and only God, answered, "We know there is one living God, besides Kreshnoo, Seeb, and Ram; but we do not know his way." The disciple replied, "Come to the Sahib, Fakeer; he will tell you of the God of heaven, whose way he knows."
2. The necessity of Divine revelation will further appear, if we consider its relation to faith.
Supposing mankind to be in a guilty and perishing condition, and that "God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," a revelation from heaven was necessary as the ground of faith. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God:" without revelation, therefore, there would be no faith, and so no salvation.
Both revelation and faith may, however, exist in widely different degrees. Revelation was first given in obscure intimations, afterwards in types and shadows, in promises and in prophecies; and under each it was the office of faith to keep pace with it. The faith of Abel and that of Paul, though as to their nature and object the same, yet, as to degree, must have been widely different, on account of the difference of the degrees of Divine revelation which each possessed. Revelation, like the shining light, shone "more and more unto the perfect day," and such was the "path of the just," which corresponded with it.
From these remarks, we may see the force of such passages as the following: "He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as to his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the Lord." – "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision? Much every way; chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." – "At that time ye were without Christ, (being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise,) having no hope, and without God in the world; but now, in Christ Jesus, ye who some time ago were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ."
We may also learn, from these remarks, to make allowance for the small degrees of faith where the light of revelation has been but little known. It is not for us to say how small a portion of Divine truth may irradiate the mind, nor by what means the Holy Spirit may impart it. According to the ordinary way of the Divine proceeding under the gospel, it may be asked, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent!" But this has not been the uniform method of the Divine proceeding from the beginning. Previously to the time of Moses, there was no written revelation, and till the coming of Christ no ordinance for preaching the word. No missionaries till then were sent among the heathen. Good men under the Old Testament stood on much lower ground than those under the New Testament. Cornelius, the Roman centurion, being stationed in Judea, learned enough of the God of Israel to be just and devout, giving much. alms to the people, and praying to God alway; and, before he had heard of Jesus being the Messiah, his prayers and his alms were approved of God. Yet the words spoken to him by Peter were those by which he was saved: a proof this, not of there being another way of acceptance with God than that which the gospel reveals, nor of its being possible without faith to please God; but that faith may exist while as yet there is no explicit revelation of the Saviour. Finally, It is not for us to say what maybe effected in an extraordinary way upon the minds of men. A ray of Divine revelation shot athwart the darkness of paganism into the minds of the Eastern magi, and led them to worship the new-born Saviour. ________________
ON THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
IN my last, I endeavoured to show the necessity of a Divine revelation. In this, I shall offer evidence of the Bible being written by inspiration of God, so as to answer to this necessity. It is certain that those who wrote the books which compose the Old and New Testaments profess to have been Divinely inspired. "The Spirit of God spake by me, and his word was in my tongue: the God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me. – The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, &c. – Thus saith the Lord. – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. – Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. – The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." We must, therefore, either admit these writings to be the word of God, or consider them as mere imposture. To pretend to "venerate them as authentic, records of the dispensation of God," and yet deny their inspiration, is absurd; it is believing the writers in what they say of other subjects, and disbelieving them in what they say of themselves. If their writings be not what they profess them to be, they are imposture, and deserve to be rejected. There is no consistent medium between faith and unbelief.
But though all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, it does not follow that it is so in the same sense and degree. It required one degree of inspiration to foretell future events, and another to narrate facts which fell under the writer’s knowledge. The one required less exercise of his own judgment, the other more. Inspiration, in the latter case, might be little more than a Divine superintendence, preserving him from error, and from other defects and faults, to which ordinary historians are subject. Divine inspiration, of whatever kind or degree, must have carried in it its own evidence to the party, or he could not with propriety have declared, 'Thus saith the Lord" and, "The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." And it appears, in some cases, to have been equally evident to those who were present. Thus, when the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel, and he foretold the overthrow of the Moabites and Ammonites, Jehoshaphat and the people appear to have been as certain that it was by inspiration of God as he himself was; and therefore fell before the Lord, and worshiped, 2 Chron. xx.
The only question is, whether that which was evident to them can be so to us, at this distance of time and place; if not in the same degree, yet with sufficient certainty to warrant our unreserved dependence upon it. Some of the principal grounds on which the affirmative may be maintained, I conceive to be the following: the truth of the things contained in the sacred writings, their consistency, their perfection, their pungency, and their utility. Let us review these particulars.
1. The truth of the things contained in the sacred writings. It requires that a book professing to be a revelation from God should contain truth, and nothing but truth such particularly must be its history, its prophecies, its miracles, and its doctrines. Now, as the Scriptures abound with these, if they be untrue, it can be no difficult undertaking to prove them so. The facts being stated, with the evidence accompanying them, it lies upon those who disbelieve them to show cause. It certainly has not been for want of adversaries, nor of adversaries of talent, that this work has never been accomplished. How is it that, out of all those who have written against the
Bible, not an individual has soberly and modestly undertaken to answer the evidence which has been adduced for the veracity of its history, the fulfilment of its prophecies, the reality of its miracles, and the purity and consistency of its doctrines? Instead of this, many of them have meanly pretended to believe the Bible, while yet they have been deceitfully undermining it; and those who have avowed their hostility have commonly dealt in ridicule, rather than in reason. Verily, it is to the honour of the Bible to have such men for its adversaries.
2. Their consistency. A book written by more than thirty men, of different talents and stations in life, living in different ages, the greater part of whom, therefore, could have no communication with each other, must, had it not been written under the inspiration of God, have been full of contradictions. Let any other production be named which has preserved a consistency under such circumstances. To suppose a succession of writings, the work of designing impostors, or at least of weak-headed fanatics, capable of maintaining that harmony which is apparent in the sacred Scriptures, is no less absurd than the notion of Epicurus, that the world was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, without a designing cause. Great as are the differences between Jews and Christians, there is none between their sacred writings. The Old and New Testaments are dictated by one and the same Spirit. Paul was hated by his unbelieving countrymen, and treated as an apostate from the religion of his ancestors; but he was not an apostate. "I thank God," says he to Timothy, "whom I serve from my forefathers." He speaks also of the same faith which was in Timothy as having dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and then in his mother Eunice; the former of whom lived and died under the former dispensation. The same God who, "at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets," in the "last days spoke unto us by his Son." Consistency, it is true, may not in every instance be a test of truth; since error and falsehood may, in some particulars, be made to agree: but, in a subject whose bearings are multifarious and minute, they cannot escape detection; nothing but truth in such cases will be found consistent throughout.
3. Their perfection. If the Bible be of God, perfection must be one of its properties; for "He is a Rock, and his work is perfect." This property, however, belongs to it, not as having been begun and ended at once. This the work of creation was not; each day had its proper work; which, on review, was pronounced very good, and all together, when finished, formed a glorious whole. Such was the work of inspiration: the sacred Scriptures were upwards of fifteen hundred years from their commencement to their completion; but, being completed, they form a whole, and every part of them is very good. There is this peculiar property belonging to the sacred Scriptures, that if you are in possession of only a single book, you may generally learn from it the leading principles which run through all the rest. The strong language of David concerning the sacred Scriptures, such as their being "more to be desired than thousands of gold and silver, sweeter than honey and the honey-comb," and the like, could have reference to little more than the Pentateuch of Moses. Even a leaf from the sacred oracles would, in innumerable instances, teach him that should find it, and read it with a humble mind, the way to everlasting life; and this not as possessing any thing like a charm, but as containing principles which, if understood and followed, will lead the inquirer to God.
4. Their pungency. There is nothing in the sacred Scriptures to gratify an idle curiosity; but much that commends itself to the conscience, and that interests the heart. They are a mirror, into which he that seriously looks
must, in a greater or less degree, see his own likeness, and discover what kind of character he is. That which was said of Jesus by the Samaritan woman, might be said of them, in thousands of instances: "He told me all that ever I did." They are "the words of the wise, which are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies." They not only prick the sinner in his heart, but stick so fast that he is incapable of extracting them. It has been remarked, that they who heard the preaching of the apostles were generally moved by it, either to repent and be converted, or to oppose the truth with bitter resentment. Their doctrine was a savour of life unto life in them that believed, and of death unto death in them that resisted. Surely, if we preached more in the spirit and power of the apostles, the effects of our ministry would more resemble theirs, and our hearers would not be able to sit year after year easy in their sins. "The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." If our preaching be but, little adapted to produce these effects, surely it contains but little of the word of God.
5. Their utility. There is much in the sacred Scriptures that is entertaining and pleasing to the ingenious, and more to console the sorrowful: it was not, however, to please, nor merely to comfort, but to profit us that they were written. That which is given by inspiration of God is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Unbelievers may declaim against the Bible; but universal experience proves that, in respect of the present life only, they who believe it and form their lives on its principles are, beyond all comparison, the best members of society; while they who disbelieve and traduce it are the worst, And if to this be added the life to come, it is no longer a subject of comparison, but of contrast; for the former ordinarily die in peace and hope, the latter either blinded by insensibility, or, if awakened to reflection, in fearful forebodings of the wrath to come.
I shall conclude this letter with a few remarks on the properties and tendencies ascribed to the sacred Scriptures in the nineteenth Psalm. Having declared the glory of God, as manifested by his works, the writer proceeds to exhibit another medium of the Divine glory, less magnificent, but more suited to the cases of sinful men, namely, his word. The law, the testimony, the statutes, the commandments, the fear, and the judgments of the Lord, are but different names given to the Scriptures.
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." – The book of nature declares the “eternal power and Godhead" of the Creator; but that of Scripture represents his whole character; not only as the Creator, but as the moral Governor and Saviour of men. Hence it is "able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
"The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." – The opinions of the greatest men, formed merely from the works of nature, are full of uncertainty, and but ill adapted to instruct the illiterate part of mankind in their best interests; but the sacred Scriptures contain the true sayings of God, which may be safely depended upon.
"The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart." – The principles inculcated in the sacred Scriptures accord with the nature and fitness of things. That which they require approves itself to the conscience; and that which they teach, though foolishness in the account of unbelievers, is, to those who understand and believe it, the wisdom of God. This property
gives joy to every upright mind; for the friends of righteousness must needs rejoice in that which is right.
"The commandments of the Lord are pure, enlightening the eyes." – Their freedom from every mixture of corruption renders them fit to illuminate the mind and cheer the heart. Wearied with the discordant opinions of men, we turn to the Scriptures, and, like Jonathan on tasting the honey, our eyes are enlightened.
"The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever." – The worship of God, as taught in the sacred Scriptures, is chaste and uncorrupt; and therefore shall continue when idolatry, and every abomination which has passed under the name of religion, shall be no more.
"The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether." – The sacred Scriptures contain the decisions of the Judge of all, both as to things and characters, from which there is no appeal: nor is it fit there should be; seeing they are not only formed in wisdom, but perfectly accord with truth and equity. "More to be desired are they than gold; yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb." – There is a rich, a valuable, I might say an invaluable, quality in these writings, which is not to be found in any other; and which so interests the heart that the things most valued in the world lose all their attractions in comparison of it.
"Moreover, by them is thy servant warned; and in keeping of them there is great reward." – They are adapted at the same time to preserve us from evil, and to lead us in the good and the right way; and, as we follow it, yield inexpressible satisfaction. If in reading these holy oracles we make the proper use of them, we shall, according to the remaining verses in the Psalm, perceive that our errors are innumerable; shall feel the need of keeping grace to preserve us even from the worst of crimes; and shall aspire to a conformity in our words and thoughts to the will of God.
May the blessing of God attend the various attempts to translate and circulate the sacred Scriptures. A few years ago, a certain infidel braggadocio pretended to have gone through the wood and cut down the trees, which the priests, he said, might stick in again, but they would not grow! And have the sacred Scriptures been less in request since that time than they were before? Rather have they not been much more so? Infidelity, by overacting its part, has given itself a wound; and its abettors, like Herod, have been eaten of worms, and have died. But the word of the Lord has grown and been multiplied. _________________
ON THE UNIFORM READING OF THE SCRIPTURES ON THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST
IN the two preceding letters I have endeavoured to show the necessity of Divine revelation, and to give evidence of the Bible’s being written by inspiration of God, so as to answer to that necessity; in this I shall add a few thoughts on its uniform bearing on the person and work of Christ.
We need not follow those who drag in Christ on all occasions. To suppose, for instance, that all the Psalms of David refer to him, is to establish the gospel on the ruins of common sense. Still less need we see him prefigured
by every thing in which a heated imagination may trace a resemblance. This were to go into a kind of spiritual Quixotism, finding a castle where others would only find a windmill. Nevertheless, the sacred Scriptures are full of Christ, and uniformly lead to him. The holy book begins with an account of the creation of the world: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." But they elsewhere inform us that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." Yea more, that all things were made not only by him, as the first cause, but for him, as the last end. The creation seems to have been designed as a theatre on which he should display his glory, particularly in the work of redemption. Surely it was in this view that he "rejoiced in the habitable parts of the earth, and his delights were with the sons of men."
The history contained in the sacred Scriptures is that of the church or people of God: other nations are introduced only in an incidental manner, as being connected with them: and this people were formed for Christ. Him God appointed to be "heir of all things." All that was done by the patriarchs and prophets, under the Old Testament, was preparatory to his kingdom. It was in his field that they laboured, and therefore his apostles "entered into their labours." God's calling Abraham, and blessing and increasing him, had all along a reference to the kingdom of his Son. He was the principal Seed in whom all the kindreds of the earth were to be blessed. Why did Melchizedek, on meeting Abraham, when he returned from the slaughter of the kings, bless him with so much heart? Was it not as knowing that he had the promises, especially that of the Messiah? Why is Esau’s despising his birthright reckoned profaneness, but on account of its referring to something sacred? The promises made to Abraham's posterity chiefly related to things at a great distance; but Esau longed for something nearer at hand, and therefore sold his birthright for a present enjoyment. Why is the reproach which Moses preferred to the treasures of Egypt called "the reproach of Christ," but that Israel being in possession of the promise of Him, and Moses believing it, cast in his lot with them, though in a state of slavery? Were not these the "good things" to which he referred, in persuading Hobab to go with them? All that was done for Israel from their going down into Egypt to their settlement in Canaan, and from thence to the coming of Christ, was in reference to him. The conquest of the seven nations was authorized, and even commanded by JeHoVaH, for the purpose of re-establishing his government in his own world, from which he had in a manner been driven by idolatry. It was setting up his standard with the design of ultimately subduing the world to the obedience of faith. What but the promise of Christ, as including the covenant that God made with David, rendered it all his salvation and all his desire? It was owing to the bearing which the Old Testament history had on the person and work of Christ that Stephen and Paul, when preaching him to the Jews, made use of it to introduce their subject, Acts vii., xiii.
The body of the Jewish institutions was but a shadow of good things to come, of which Christ was the substance. Their priests, and prophets, and kings were typical of him. Their sacrifices pointed to him who "gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." The manna on which they fed in the wilderness referred to him, as the "bread of God that should come down from heaven." The rock, from whence the water flowed that followed them in their journeys, is said to be Christ, as being typical of him. Their cities of refuge represent him, "as the hope set before us." The whole dispensation served as a
foil, to set off the superior glory of his kingdom. The temple was but as the scaffolding to that which he would build, and the glory of which he would bear. The moral law exhibited right things, and the ceremonial law a shadow of good things; but "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The Christian dispensation is to that of the Old Testament as the jubilee to a state of captivity. It might be in reference to such things as these that the psalmist prayed, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wonderful things out of thy law!"
Of the prophecies with which the Scriptures abound, the person and work of Christ form the principal theme. "To him gave all the prophets witness," either in what they wrote or spoke. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." From the first mention of the woman's Seed, to his appearance in the flesh, the language of prophecy concerning him became more explicit and distinct. The blessing on JeHoVaH the God of Shem seems to intimate designs of mercy towards his descendants. The promise to Abraham and his seed is more express. Abraham, understanding it as including the Messiah, believed, and it was counted to him for righteousness. He earnestly desired to see his day; he saw it, and rejoiced. Jacob’s prophecy is still more explicit and distinct. He foretells his being of the tribe of Judah, and that under his reign the Gentiles should be gathered. After this, the house of David is specified, as that from which the Messiah should spring. The Psalms abound in predictions concerning him. Isaiah tells of his being miraculously born of a virgin – of his humble and gentle character, "not breaking the bruised reed, nor quenching the smoking flax" – of his sufferings, death, and everlasting kingdom, which implied his resurrection, Acts xiii. 34. Micah named the town of Bethlehem as the place where he should be born. Zechariah mentioned the beasts on which he should make his public entry into Jerusalem. The Spirit of inspiration in the prophets is called "the Spirit of Christ," because it "testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." But if the Old Testament had a uniform bearing on the person and work of Christ, much more the New. This is properly entitled, "The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The one abounds with prophecies; the other relates to their accomplishment. The ordinances of the former were prefigurative; those of the latter are commemorative. But both point to the same object. Every Divine truth bears a relation to him: hence the doctrine of the gospel is called "the truth as it is in Jesus." In the face of Jesus Christ we see the glory of the Divine character in such a manner as we see it no where else. The evil nature of sin is manifested in his cross, and the lost condition of sinners in the price at which our redemption was obtained. Grace, mercy, and peace are in him. The resurrection to eternal life is through his death. In him every precept finds its most powerful motive, and every promise its most perfect fulfilment. The Jews possessed the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament, and searched them,* thinking that in them they had eternal life; but they would not come to him that they might have it. What a picture does this present to us of multitudes in our own times! We possess both the Old and the New Testament; and it is pleasing to see the zeal manifested of late in giving them circulation. All orders and degrees of men will unite in applauding them. But they overlook Christ, to whom they uniformly bear testimony; and, while thinking to obtain eternal life, will not come to him that they might have it.
* See Dr. Campbell’s translation of John v. 39, 40.
ON THE PERFECTIONS OF GOD
I NEED not say to you that just views of the Divine character lie at the foundation of all true religion. Without them, it is impossible, in the nature of things, to love God, or to perceive the fitness of our being required to love him, or the evil of not loving him, or the necessity of such a Saviour and such a salvation as the gospel reveals. We may be terrified by the fear of the wrath to come, and delighted with the hope of escaping it through Christ; but if this terror and this hope have no respect to the character of God, as holy, just, and good, there can be no hatred of sin as sin, nor love to God as God, and consequently no true religion. "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." God is a Spirit, and cannot be known by sense, nor by any means but those in which he has been pleased to manifest himself. These are his works and his word. Every thing that meets our eyes, or accosts our ears, in heaven or in earth, is full of his glory. "The invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead;" so that were there no other revelation of himself, this were sufficient to leave sinners without excuse. But besides this silent mode of manifesting himself, God has displayed himself by his word. Even in a state of innocence, man was governed by the revealed will of his Creator; and the revelation of God, from first to last, manifests the glory of his perfections.
The perfections of God require to be distinguished into natural and moral: the former respect his greatness, the latter his goodness; or, more particularly, the one refers to his infinite understanding, his almighty power, his eternity, immensity, omnipresence, immutability, &c.; the other, to his purity, justice, faithfulness, goodness, or, in one word, to his holiness. The former are necessary to render him an object of respect, the latter of love, and both together of holy fear. The natural perfections of God are principally manifested in the creation and providential government of the world; his moral perfections in the creation, moral government, and salvation of intelligent beings. The former are glorious as connected with the latter, but the latter are glorious in themselves. Power and knowledge, and every other attribute belonging to the greatness of God, could they be separated from his righteousness and goodness, would render him an object of dread, and not of love; but righteousness and goodness, whether connected with greatness or not, are lovely.
Correspondent with this is what we are taught of the "image of God" in the soul of man; it is partly natural and partly moral. The moral image of God, consisting in “righteousness and true holiness,” was effaced by sin; but the natural image of God, consisting in his rational and immortal nature, was not. In this respect, man, though fallen, still retains his Creator’s image, and therefore cannot be murdered or cursed without incurring his high displeasure, Gen. ix. G; James iii. 9.
The same distinction is perceivable in the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. He emptied or disrobed himself; he laid aside his glory for a season: yet not his goodness, but his greatness: not his purity, justice, faithfulness, or holiness; but the display of his eternity, supremacy, immensity, wisdom, power, omniscience, and omnipresence becoming a mortal man, subject to his parents, supported by the ordinary aliments of life, and ascribing his
doctrine and miracles to the Father. It was thus that, "being rich, he became poor, that through his poverty we might be made rich." And this it is that accounts for the ascriptions given him after his exaltation: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." Each of these terms has respect to that glory of which he had disrobed himself, and with which he was therefore worthy now to be doubly invested.
As it is not talent, but morality, that constitutes character among men, so it is not the natural, but the moral perfections of God, which properly constitute his character. Holiness is the glory of the Divine nature. Thus, when he would show Moses his glory, he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee." Yet, as greatness illustrates goodness among men, so does the greatness of God illustrate his goodness. His being "the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity," illustrates the holiness of his name, and the unexampled condescension of his nature towards the poor and contrite. It is by the union of these Divine excellences that he stands opposed to all the deities of the heathen. His greatest enemies have often confessed him to be the "Most High" and "Most Holy." Hence Moses could say, "Their rock is not as our Rock, our adversaries themselves being judges."
The precepts, prohibitions, and promises of the Divine law, are a mirror in which we may perceive the moral perfections of the Lawgiver. They each express his heart; or what he loves, and what he hates. They moreover show his goodness to his creatures, granting them every thing that would do them good, and withholding nothing but that which would prove their ruin. The sum of all his requirements was love to God and one another. And as his promises to the obedient would express his love of righteousness, so his threatenings against transgressors show his great abhorrence of sin. On no other principle can we account for such tremendous curses being denounced, by a Being full of goodness, against the work of his hands. Moreover, to show that these are not mere words given out to deter mankind, without any design of carrying them into execution, but that, in all his threatenings of future punishment to the ungodly, he means what he says, he inflicts numerous and sore judgments upon his enemies, even in this world. In one instance, he destroyed, with the exception of a single family, the whole race of man which he had created. In many others, by war, by famine, by pestilence, and other means, his displeasure against sin has been expressed in almost every age. Yet has he never failed to maintain his character, as "the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and in truth." Often has he pardoned those who have sought his mercy; and even when the parties have not sought it, he has wrought for his great name’s sake. These are a few of the expressions of the Divine mind; but, as Job says, they are "but a part of his ways," and exhibit only a part of his character. The only display of the Divine perfections which can be denominated perfect is in the salvation of sinners, through the obedience and death of his beloved Son. After all the preceding manifestations of his glory, it may be said, "No one hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." In his undertaking, every Divine perfection meets and harmonizes. There were, in former ages, various displays of truth and righteousness on the one hand, and of mercy and peace on the other; but there does not appear to have been a point in which they could meet and be united. If one prevailed, the other receded, or gave place. It was thus at the flood, and at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; truth and righteousness prevailed; but mercy and peace retired, leaving the transgressors to suffer. And thus, when Israel was pardoned at
the intercession of Moses, mercy and peace prevailed; but justice was suspended. It was reserved for the only begotten of the Father to unite them in the same instance. In him "mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other."
When the appointed time was come, justice awoke and smote the Shepherd, that mercy might turn its hand towards the little ones. It is thus that every perfection in the Divine nature, natural and moral, is declared; wisdom, and power, and faithfulness, and justice, and love, and mercy all meet and blend their rays. God is "just, and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus." A greater honour is conferred on the Divine law, both as to its precept and penalty, than is sufficient to counterbalance the utmost disgrace upon it, by man’s rebellion; and a greater display afforded of the Divine displeasure against sin than if the whole world had suffered the reward of their deeds. And now love to sinners, which wrought unsolicited in the gift of Christ, flows without any impediment towards all who come unto God by him.
The struggles of justice and mercy, and the triumphs of the latter, are very affectingly represented in Jer. iii. 19, &c.; Hos. xi. 8: "But I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land?" "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim I shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah I shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within me, and my repentings are kindled together." In the former of these passages, it is intimated, that though God was disposed to show mercy, yet their conduct put his very perfections to the proof. In the latter, we must conceive an offended father as having hold of his son with one hand, and holding up a rod in the other, making alternate appeals, first to his own compassion, then to the conscience of the offender. Justice requires him to be delivered over to punishment, to be made as Admah, and set for an example as Zeboim. But mercy pleads in arrest of judgment, and overcomes. To such a case as this the Divine conduct towards Israel might be compared; but all this mercy, and all that followed, and all that shall yet follow, is through the atonement of Christ. His sacrifice has furnished the answers to these hard questions. _________________
ON THE TRINITY – OR ON THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT BEING ONE GOD
A SUBJECT SO great and so much above our comprehension as this is requires to be treated with trembling. Every thing that we can think or say, concerning the ever blessed God, requires the greatest modesty, fear, and reverence. Were I to hear two persons engaged in a warm contest upon the subject, I should fear for them both. One might in the main be in the right, and the other in the wrong; but if many words were used, they might both be expected to incur the reproof of the Almighty: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?"
The people of Israel were forbidden to break through the bounds which were set for them, and to gaze on the visible glory of Jehovah. The Bethshemites, for looking into the ark, were smitten with death. Such judgments may not befall us in these days; but we may expect others, more to be dreaded. As the gospel is a spiritual dispensation, its judgments, as well as its blessings, are chiefly spiritual. Where men have employed
themselves in curiously prying into things too high for them, they have ordinarily been smitten with a blast upon their minds and upon their ministry.
There is a greater importance in the doctrine of the Trinity than commonly appears on a superficial inspection of it; chiefly, perhaps, on account of its affecting our views of the doctrine of the person and work of Christ; which doctrine, being the foundation on which the church is built, cannot be removed without the utmost danger to the building.
It is a subject of pure revelation. If the doctrine be not taught in the oracles of God, we have nothing to do with it; but if it be, whether we can comprehend it or not, we are required humbly to believe it, and to endeavour to understand so much as God has revealed concerning it. We are not required to understand how three are one; for this is not revealed. If we do not consider the Father, Son, and Spirit as being both three and one in the same sense, which certainly we do not, then we do not believe a contradiction. We may leave speculating minds to lose themselves and others in a labyrinth of conceits, while we learn what is revealed, and rest contented with it.
In believing three Divine persons in one essence, I do not mean that the distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the same as that between three human persons: but neither is there any other term that answers to the Scriptural idea; and since Christ is said to be "the express image of his Father's person," I see nothing objectionable in using this.
The doctrine was certainly less explicitly revealed in the Old Testament than it is in the New. When the Messiah came, it was expected that he would tell us all things. If the degree in which the doctrine was made known in the Old Testament bears a proportion to that of other important truths, it is sufficient. From the beginning of the creation the name of God is represented under a plural form; with which agrees the moving of the Spirit of God upon the face of the waters; and all things being made by the Word, and without him nothing made that was made. The angel of the Lord which appeared to Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, &c., in the form of man, was considered and treated by them as God, and received Divine worship at their hands. In reference to this, I conceive, it is said in the New Testament, that, "being in the form of God, he thought it no usurpation to be as God."
In the New Testament the doctrine is more explicitly revealed; particularly in Christ’s commission to his apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, he invokes the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit to be with them. And John, in his First Epistle, introduces the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, as bearing witness to the gospel; or that God had given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. If, in the first of these passages, the Son and Holy Spirit be considered as Divine persons, and as one with the Father, both in nature and in the economy of redemption, there is a fitness in our being baptized into this individual name; but to be baptized into the name of God, a creature, and an energy, must be the height of incongruity. The next passage shows the importance of the doctrine to the existence and progress of vital godliness. It is not a subject of mere speculation, but one on which depends all the communications of grace and peace to sinful men; and it is remarkable that they who reject it are seldom known to acknowledge any spiritual communion with God, but treat it as fanaticism. The last of these passages has been strongly opposed as an interpolation. It is
not for me to decide this question by a reference to ancient versions of the New Testament; but there are two or three considerations which, after all that I have seen on the other side, weigh with me in its favour. First, From the seventh verse being wanting in some copies and found in others, all that can be fairly inferred is, that there must have been either an interpolation by some copyist, or an omission by some other. The question is, Which is the most probable? If it is an omission in the copies where it is wanting, it might not have been from design, but from mere oversight, especially as the eighth verse begins so much like the seventh; whereas, if it be an interpolation, no oversight can account for it, but it must have arisen from wicked, wilful imposture. To which of these suppositions will candour give its vote?
Secondly, Supposing the omission or interpolation, whichever it was, to have arisen from design; which is the most probable, and the least likely to have escaped detection – that the antitrinitarians should omit what was unfavourable to them, or that the trinitarians should introduce what was favourable? An omission would escape detection seven times where an interpolation would escape it once.
Thirdly, The connexion of the passage is altogether in its favour. The phraseology is that of the apostle John; so that if the words are not his, it must have been the most successful imitation of him that can be imagined. As it stands in our translation, there is evidently a gradation of ideas, forming a kind of climax of witnesses; namely, that of the Three in heaven, of the three on earth, and the testimony which a believer has within himself. To leave out the first were to weaken the passage and destroy its beauty. Besides, it is not the omission of the seventh verse only that is necessary, to make any thing like sense of the passage. The words on earth, in the eighth verse, must also be left out, if not the whole of the ninth verse, in which the witness of God is supposed to have been introduced; but which, if the seventh verse be left out, had not been introduced. Those who are now for new-modelling the passage leave out some of these, but not all; nor can they prove that those words which they do leave out were uniformly left out of even those copies in which the seventh verse is omitted. As the Father is allowed on all hands to be a Divine person, whatever proves the Divinity and personality of the Son proves a plurality of Divine persons in the Godhead. I need not adduce the evidences of this truth; the sacred Scriptures are full of them. Divine perfections are ordinarily ascribed to him, and Divine worship is paid to him, both by angels and men. If Jesus Christ is not God, equal with the Father, Christianity must have tended to establish a system of idolatry, more dangerous, as being more plausible, than that which it came to destroy. The union of the Divine and human natures, in the person of Christ, is a subject on which the sacred writers delight to dwell; and so should we, for herein is the glory of the gospel. "Unto us a child is born; and his name shall be called – the mighty God." He was born in Bethlehem; yet his "goings forth were from of old, from everlasting." He was made "of the seed of David according to the flesh," and "declared to be the Son of God with power." "Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." In his original nature, he is described as incapable of death, and as taking flesh and blood upon him to qualify himself for enduring it, Heb. ii. 14. He was the "Son of God," yet "touched with a feeling of our infirmities;" – "the root and the offspring of David." The sacred Scriptures lay great stress on what Christ was antecedently to his assumption of human nature, and of the official character of a Mediator and Saviour. "The Word was with God, and the Word was God. – He who was rich for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich. – Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image
of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, &c. – Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery," or usurpation, "to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." If Divine personality be not essential to Deity, distinct from all office capacity, and antecedent to it, what meaning is there in this language? An economical trinity, or that which would not have been but for the economy of redemption, is not the trinity of the Scriptures. It is not a trinity of Divine persons, but merely of offices personified; whereas Christ is distinguished from the Father as the express image or character of his person, while yet in his pre-incarnate state.
The sacred Scriptures lay great stress on the character of Christ as "the Son of God." It was this that formed the first link in the Christian profession, and was reckoned to draw after it the whole chain of evangelical truth. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." From this rises the great love of God in the gift of him: "God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son" – the condescension of his obedience: "Though he was a son yet learned he obedience" – the efficacy of his blood: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" – the dignity of his priesthood: We have a great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God – the greatness of the sin of unbelief: "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God" – the greatness of the sin of apostacy: "Who have trodden under foot the Son of God." The incarnation, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ declared, but did not constitute, him the Son of God; nor did any of his offices, to all which his Sonship was antecedent. God sent his Son into the world. This implies that he was his Son antecedently to his being sent, as much as Christ's sending his disciples implies that they were his disciples before he sent them. The same may be said of the Son of God being made of a woman, made under the law. These terms no more express that which rendered him a Son, than his being made flesh expresses that which rendered him the Word. The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil; he must therefore have been the Son of God antecedently to his being manifested in the flesh. I have heard it asserted that "Eternal generation is eternal nonsense." But whence does this appear? Does it follow that, because a son among men is inferior and posterior to his father, therefore it must be so with the Son of God? If so, why should his saying that God was his own Father be considered as making himself equal with God? Of the only begotten Son it is not said he was, or will be, but he is in the bosom of the Father; denoting the eternity and immutability of his character. There never was a point in duration in which God was without his Son: he rejoiced always before him. Bold assertions are not to be placed in opposition to revealed truth. In Christ's being called the Son of God, there may be, for the assistance of our low conceptions, some reference to sonship among men; but not sufficient to warrant us to reason from the one to the other. The sacred Scriptures often ascribe the miracles of Christ, his sustaining the load of his sufferings, and his resurrection from the dead, to the power of the Father, or of the Holy Spirit, rather than to his own Divinity. I have read in human writings, "But the Divinity within supported him to bear." But I never met with such an idea in the sacred Scriptures. They represent the Father as upholding his servant, his elect in whom his soul delighted; and as sending his angel to strengthen him in the conflict. While acting as the Father's servant, there was a fitness in his being supported by him, as well as his being in all things obedient to his will. But when the value, virtue,
or efficacy of what he did and suffered are touched upon, they are never ascribed either to the Father or the Holy Spirit, but to himself. Such is the idea suggested by those forequoted passages. "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." – "Ye are not redeemed by corruptible things, but by the precious blood of Christ." – "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin." Much less is said in the sacred Scriptures on the Divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit, than on those of the Son. The Holy Spirit not having become incarnate, it might be less necessary to guard his honours, and to warn men against thinking meanly of him. All judgment was committed to the Son, because he was the Son of man. Yet there is enough said against grieving the Spirit, blasphemy against him, lying against him, doing despite to him, and defiling his temple, to make us tremble. In the economy of redemption it is the office of the Holy Spirit, not to exhibit himself, but to "take of the things of Christ, and show them to us." He is the great spring-head of all the good that is in the world; but, in producing it, he himself appears not. We are no otherwise conscious of his influences than by their effects. He is a wind which bloweth where it listeth: we hear the sound, and feel the effects; but know nothing more of it.
The Holy Spirit is not the grand object of ministerial exhibition; but Christ, in his person, work, and offices. When Philip went down to Samaria, it was not to preach God the Holy Spirit unto them, but to preach Christ unto them. While this was done, the Holy Spirit gave testimony to the word of his grace, and rendered it effectual. The more sensible we are, both as ministers and Christians, of our entire dependence on the Holy Spirit’s influences, the better; but if we make them the grand theme of our ministry, we shall do that which he himself avoids, and so shall counteract his operations. The attempts to reduce the Holy Spirit to a mere property, or energy, of the Deity, arise from much the same source as the attempts to prove the inferiority and posteriority of Christ as the Son of God; namely, reasoning from things human to things Divine. The Spirit of God is compared to the spirit of man; and as the latter is not a person distinguishable from man, so, it has been said, the former cannot be a person distinguishable from God the Father. But the design of the apostle, in 1 Cor. ii. 11, was not to represent the Spirit of God as resembling the spirit of man in respect of his subsistence, but of his knowledge; and it is presumptuous to reason from it on a subject that we cannot understand.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you, and your affectionate brother. – A. F. ===================
[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, 684-711. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]
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