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Particular graces considered, the internal principles of perfection. Divine
faith doctrinal, justifying, and in the disposal of providence, Doctrinal faith is not imagination, nor reason. The objects of it, The motives considered. The essential perfections of God. Faith in divine revelation, is the most reasonable act of the human mind, God's truth a principle immediately evident. His jurisdiction reaches to men's understandings. God never requires our assent to supernatural truths, but he atfords sufficient conviction, that they are revealed by him. God reveals himself in scripture by human expressions according to our capacity.
We are obliged to believe supernatural doctrines no farther than they are revealed, To attempt the comprehensive knowledge of them, is perfectly vain; it is impossible, impertinent, and dangerous. Curiosity often fatal to faith. An answer to objections, that supernatural doctrines are not reconcileable
That when men use all means sincerely to know the truth of them, and are not convinced of it, they shall not be condemned for involuntary, speculative errors,
I will now particularly consider those graces that are of a more excellent nature, and have a more powerful causality and influence in the lives of christians. Faith and love, hope and fear, are the internal principles of the christian religion.
I. I will first discourse of divine faith, the first principle and foundation of religion, as the apostle declares : “ he that comes to God, must believe that he is, and the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. 11. The belief of his being and bounty, is the motive of holy worship:
This grace is most honourable to God, and beneficial to us. The understanding is our supreme faculty, and by submitting it to divine revelation, we pay the most humble homage to him. By faith we conceive of God, becoming his divine perfections : in believing the revelation he has made of his nature, which is as incomprehensible as it is invisible, and the declaration of his will, though the things promised are encompassed with opposition and seeming impossibilities, we glorify his perfect veracity and omnipotence in the highest manner. He that believes the divine testimony, “ sets his seal that God is true; ratifies his word in the most solemn manner.
Faith is most beneficial to us. It is the root of the spiritual life, from whence all other graces derive their flourishing and fruitfulness. It is not only productive of its own acts, but excites and animates every grace in its distinct exercise: like the animal spirits, that give motion and vigour to all the senses. Faith in Christ conveys to a weak christian a kind of omnipotence : the apostle declares, “ I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” Heb. 11. The most eminent effects of other graces, either active or suffering, fortitude, zeal, self-denial, patience, are attributed to faith ; as the honour of a victory is ascribed to the general, by whose conduct and courage the battle is managed, though it is obtained by the valour of the soldiers.
“ By faith we are justified” Rom. 5. 1. from the guilt of our many and mighty sins. “ We are purified from their deep pollutions :" Acts 15. we are adopted into the line of heaven; and are saved from misery extreme and eternal. I will consider divine faith under three heads. 1. Doctrinal
2. Justifying faith. 3. Faith in the disposal of all things, by the ruling providence of God.
1. Doctrinal faith I will consider, 1. In its nature. 2. The objects of it. 3. The motives. 4. The efficacy.
The nature of it. All the notions of faith agree in this; it is a dependance upon the truth of another. Thus trust is called faith; because it relies upon the truth of a promise: and one is said to keep his faith inviolate, when he performs the promise that another relied on. Faith in the propriety of expression, is an assent for the veracity of the speaker : accordingly, divine faith is a firm assent of the mind to things, upon the authority of divine revelation. It is distinguished from imagination, and from comprehensive reason.
Fancy draws a copy of those objects that are perceived by the external senses, or compounds many copies together, but creates no images of things not perceptible by the senses. We can imagine mountains of gold, because we have seen gold and mountains : we conceive monstrous mixtures in dreams; but no actors can appear on the theatre of fancy, but in borrowed habits from sensible things. But the objects of faith are such things,
hath not seen, nor ear heard,” and transcend the capacity of the imagination to conceive, and of the external senses to
represent : yet infidels blaspheme the eternal truths of divine things, as the fictions of fancy.
Faith is distinguished from science, acquired by study, and from reason. Reason implies a progress from one degree of knowledge to another, by consequences drawn from the first to the second: but faith assents to things upon the account of superior authority that reveals them, and commands us to believe them. · The same things may be the objects of faith and of reason, but in different respects : reason may discover them, by ascending from effects to their causes, or descending from causes to their effects : faith receives them as revealed in scripture;
by faith we know the worlds were made;" Heb. 11. which may be proved by clear reason.
The objects of faith. The general object of faith is the word of God; the special, are those doctrines, and promises, and things, that reason cannot discover by its own light, nor perfectly understand when revealed. The word of God contains a narrative of things past, and predictions of things to come: the destruction of the old world by a deluge of waters, and the consumption of the present world by a deluge of fire, are objects of faith : but the unity of the divine nature, and the trinity of divine persons, the incarnation of the Son of God, his eternal counsels respecting man's redemption, never entered into the heart of man to conceive; but are as far above our thoughts, as the heavens are above the earth, and cannot be comprehended.
God may be considered absolutely in himself, or as revealing himself and his will to us. We have some knowledge of his being and divine attributes, wisdom, power, goodness in his works of creation and providence; but we believe in him, as declaring his mind and will to us in his word. We may know a person, and his excellent virtues intellectual and moral, but we cannot believe in him without some discovery of his thoughts and affections to us.
The motives of belief are to be considered. Divine faith must have a divine foundation. Faith may be absolutely true, and relatively false. Many believe the doctrine of the gospel, upon no other grounds than the Turks believe the alcoran ; because it is the reigning religion of their country, and by the impression of example: from hence their faith is like the house built on the sand; and when a storm arises, is in danger of falling. The firm foundation of faith is the essential supreme perfections of God; unerring knowledge, immutable truth, infinite goodness, almighty power. It is equally impossible that he should be deceived or deceive. His infinite understanding is the foundation of his perfect veracity. And whatsoever is the object of his will, is the object of his power ; for to will and to do are the same thing in him.
It is true, the knowledge of things by experimental sense, is a clearer perception than the persuasion of them by faith. . The first is to see the original, the other is to see the copy, that usually falls short of it. It is therefore said, “ we now see in a glass darkly:" but the divine testimony in itself has the most convincing evidence, above the assurance we can have by the report of our senses, which often deceive us, through the indisposition of the faculty, or the unfitness of the medium, or distance of the objects, or the knowledge of things by discursive ratiocination. The objective certainty of faith is infallible. We know with the highest assurance, that God can no more lie, than he can die. : It is said, “ all things are possible with God;” but to lie or die are not possibilities, but passibilities; not the effects of power, but proceed from weakness. We know the sacred scriptures are the word of God, by the signatures of his perfections, wisdom, holiness, goodness, justice; and by the miracles performed by the penmen of them, that proved they were divinely inspired; and consequently infallible in what they wrote.
From hence faith is often expressed by knowledge. Nicodemus gives this testimony of our Saviour, we know thou art a teacher come from God, John 3. 2. ( We believe and are sure, thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” “ We know that if the house of this earthly tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building made without hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Cor. 5. 1. “We know that he was manifested, that he might take away
sin.” John 1. 5. “ We know that when Christ shall appear, we shall be like him ; for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3. 3.
I will not insist upon the particular supernatural doctrines revealed in the gospel, for there is little new to be said upon these points: if men with renewed minds and hearts considered the testimony of scripture, there would need no more arguing : but I will lay down some considerations, that prove divine faith to be the reasonable act of the human understanding. 2. Answer the objections alledged to justify the disbelief of divine doctrines, that we are not able to conceive nor comprehend.
1st. That God is true, is a principle immediately evident, not dependently upon an antecedent motive. This, by its native irresistible evidence, is beyond all dispute, and exempted from all critical inquiries. There is no principle written in the minds of men with clearer characters. It was the saying of a wise heathen, “ if God would converse visibly with men, he would assume light for a body, and have truth for his soul.” God is most jealous of the honour of his truth.”
« Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” Truth is the supreme character of the Deity. The apostle builds the assurance of christians upon the promises, and their strong consolation upon this infallible rock, “ God that cannot lie.” Heb. 6. From hence it follows, that in supernatural doctrines, we must first consider the authority of the revealer, and then the nature of doctrines.
2dly. God's jurisdiction extends to our understandings, as well as to our wills : he rules our understandings by light, our wills by empire. If God did command us to believe only truths in themselves evident, our receiving them would not be an undoubted respect to his authority; but to believe his testimony without the evidence of things, is an obedience worthy of him. And we are equally obliged to believe his testimony concerning the truth of things, notwithstanding the reluctancy of the carnal mind, and their seeming repugnance to the natural notions of reason ; as to obey his precepts, notwithstanding the reluctancy of the corrupt will, and the inclinations to forbidden things.
3dly. God never requires our assent to supernatural things revealed in his word, but affords sufficient conviction that they are divine revelations. When God deputed any by commission for an extraordinary work, he always afforded a light to discover the commission was uncounterfeit. Moses was sent from God with a command to Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their cruel servitude ; and he had the wonder-working rod, to authorize his commission, and confirm the truth of his message by miracles. The divinity of the scripture, the rule of faith, shines with that clear and strong evidence, that only those whose minds are prevented with a conceit of the impossibility of the doctrines contained in it, and perverted by their passions, can resist it. Co