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loured objects are not discerned more clearly by their colours, nor light by its lustre, than that the scriptures are of divine revelation.
Reason is an essential faculty of man, and by it we are directed why to believe, and what things are revealed as objects of faith. To believe, and not to understand the reason of our belief, is to turn faith into folly and extravagance. The men of Samaria were first induced to believe in Christ, “ for the testimony of the woman that told them, come and see the man that hes told me all that ever I did:” John 4. but when they heard Christ speak, they said, “ now we believe, not for thy words, for we have heard, and know, that he is the true Saviour of the world." The understanding is convinced by reason of the divinity of the scriptures: and as a pole supports a vine, but does
not give life and virtue to its root, so reason assists faith in directing it to the scriptures, the rule of it, but faith in the teries of the gospel derives its life from God the author of them. By reason we discover the relation, order, distinction, and dependance of revealed truths : and reject the vain opinions of men, when proposed as divine oracles; and the fruits of fancy, that are proposed as mysteries of faith.
4thly. God reveals himself to us in scripture by humane expressions, according to our capacity of receiving the knowledge of divine things : and we are to understand them in their apparent sense, unless the precise literal sense contains an evident contradiction to what is certainly known by reason, and disparaging the divine perfections. The sure rule of interpreting them, is to separate whatever is defective in them, and apply them to God in the highest degree of perfection. We read of the hands and eyes of God in scripture, which signify the perfection of God's knowledge and power : they are the organs by which men do and know things : but it is infinitely unworthy of God to think that the divine operation has need of such instruments.
Thus the communicating of the divine nature from the Father to the Son, is expressed by generation, which is the most noble production of one living creature from another, especially of an intelligent creature, with all its properties : “but who can declare his generation ?" We must not conceive it with the imperfection of human generation, wherein the effect is separate from the cause, and successive to it. For it is a contradiction,
that God should beget a Son in his most perfect image, but he must be eternal as the Father; otherwise, he would be defective in the resemblance of the first perfection of the Deity. All resemblances of God in scripture have their disparity and defects, which must be separated from him. But excepting such cases, the word of God is to be understood in its proper sense. For we must suppose that God speaks to us with an intention that we should understand him, otherwise it were not just to require us to believe it : our minds could not firmly assent to his word, but would be floating between faith and doubts. And if God intends we should understand his meaning, how can we reconcile' his wisdom with his will, if he does not speak to us in the same sense as men do to one another.
5thly. We are obliged to believe supernatural doctrines no farther than they are revealed. God does not require our assent to an object beyond the merit of it: that is, the degrees of its revelation. We cannot see an object more fully than it is visible. The truth of evangelical mysteries is clearly revealed, the manner of them is not discovered. To attempt the comprehensive knowledge of them, is perfectly vain : for it is impossible, impertinent, and of dangerous consequence.
It is impossible. Supernatural truths cannot be primarily and immediately discovered by reason, but are only known to the divine mind, and communicated to created understandings according to the pleasure of God. “ No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has declared him.” John 1. 18. The gospel is called the mystery of “ Christ, the mystery of God the Father, and of Christ," Eph. 3. 4. Col. 4. 3. Because God and Christ is the author, and revealer of it. God contrived in the secret of his eternal wisdom, the design of our redemption, and revealed it in his own time: it is therefore “ called the mystery of his will.” Eph. 1. 9. It is called “ the mystery of faith :" I Tim. 3. 9. that is, it is received by faith. It is called “ the mystery of the kingdom of God; Mark 4. 11. Rom. 1. 19, 20. concealed from the world, and only known in the church. The sublime doctrines of the gospel it is impossible for the clearest spirits of men to discover, without special revelation, were they as pure as they are corrupt, and as sincere as they are perverse. This word mystery is never applied to the revelation that God has made of his wisdom in the framing the world, and in the
effects of his providence, because since the creation, it has been exposed to the sight of all reasonable creatures. Men were not commanded to believe in order to salvation, till by experience they were convinced of the insufficiency of reason to direct them how to be restored to the favour of God. The apostle declares, “ for after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdoin knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." I Cor. 1. 21. The doctrine of the Trinity is purely supernatural: for the internal distinction of the persons in the divine nature, by their incommunicable characters, is only proper to God. The counsels of the divine will are above any created understanding : “ who knows the things of a man, but the spirit of a man ? so none knows the things of God but the spirit of God.” The angels are superior spirits to us, and excel us in sublimity and perspicacity of understanding, but they could never know the decrees of God, though in his immediate presence, but as gradually revealed : it is said of the mysteries of his counsels, “ they desire to look into them.” We cannot form a conception in our minds, but what takes its rise from sensible things.
The attempt is impertinent: for God has revealed those great mysteries sufficiently for saving faith, though not to satisfy rash curiosity. There is a knowledge of curiosity and discourse, and a knowledge of doing and performance. The art of navigation requires a knowledge how to govern a ship, and what seas are safe, what are dangerous by rocks and sands, and terrible tempests, that often surprise those who sail in them: but the knowledge of the causes of the ebbing and flowing of the sea is not necessary. To believe savingly in Christ, we must know that he is the living and true God, and true man, that died for our redemption; but it is not necessary that we should know the manner of the union of his two natures. It is prudent to confine our inquiries to things which are possible and profitable to be known. The discovery of the manner of divine mysteries is not suitable to the nature of faith, “ for it is the evidence of things not seen :" the obscurity of the object is consistent with the certainty of the assent to it: and it is contrary to the end of revelation: which is to humble us in the modest ignorance of divine mysteries which we cannot comprehend, and to enlighten us in those things which are requisite to be known. “ It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” He saveth us by the submission of
faith, and not by the penetration of reason.
The meanest understanding, as well as the most raised, are equally capable of salvation. The light of faith is as much below the light of glory, as it is above the light of nature.
It is of dangerous consequence. There is an hydropic curiosity, that swells the mind wih pride, and is thirsty after the knowledge of things unsearchable. This curiosity has often been fatal to faith. It is like a man's endeavour to climb up to the inaccessible point of a rock that is very hazardous, to see the sun in its brightness, which may safely be seen from the plain ground. The searching into the unsearchable things of God's nature and decrees, has been the occasion of many pernicious er
It is like the silly moth's fluttering about the burning light, till its wings are singed. Beside, the affecting to be wise above what is written, and to attempt to make supernatural doctrines more receivable to reason by insufficient arguments, weakens the authority and credit of revelation : the endeavour to make them more easily known, makes them more hard to be believed. To venture to explicate them beyond the revelation of them in scripture, is like a man's going out of a fortress wherein he is safe, into an open field, and expose himself to the assaults of his enemies.
I will now consider the objections against supernatural doctrines.
First. It is alledged they are irreconcileable with reason ; and it is not possible for the understanding to believe against its own light and judgment. In answer to this specious objection, the following particulars are to be considered.
Ist. Sense, reason and faith, are the instruments of our obtaining knowledge. Sense is previous to reason, and reason prepares the way to faith. By our senses we come to understand natural things, by our understandings we come to believe divine things. Reason corrects the errors of sense, faith reforms the judgment of reason. The stars seem but glittering points; but reason convinces us they are vast bodies, by measuring the distance, that lessens their greatness to our sight. We cannot imagine that there are men whose feet are directly opposite to ours, and are in no danger of falling; but reason demonstrates there are Antipodes. It is as absurd for reason to reject divine testimony, and violate the sacred respect of faith, as for sense to contradict the clearest principles of reason. To deny supernatural truths, because they are above our conception and capacity, is not only against faith, but against reason, that acknowledges its own imperfection.
It is true, reason and faith are emanations from the father of lights, and consequently there cannot be a real repugnance between them ; for “ God cannot deny himself :" errors
are often contrary; but truth is always harmonious with truth: if there seem to be an opposition, it proceeds not from the light of the reasonable mind, but from the darkness that encompasses it. It is certain, that a proposition that contradicts right reason, the general light of nations, that have nothing common between them but the human nature, cannot be true : as the doctrine of Epicurus, “ that God was not to be worshipped, because he had no need of our service;" and the popish doctrine of transubstantiatio:1, that imputes contradictions to God.
We must distinguish between things that cannot be discovered by reason, nor comprehensively known when they are revealed, and those that are contrary to reason. . In paradise reason was an inferior and imperfect light : Adam could not perfectly know God. lle dwells in light inaccessible, not only to mortal eyes, but to the immortal angels : they cannot penetrate to the centre of his perfections. The propositions that involve a contradiction, have the plain characters of falsity; but the doctrines of the gospel, that are incompreliensible, have the characters of sublimity. Reason cannot measure the extent, nor reach the “height of the love of Christ, that passes knowledge. Eph. 3. 19. That supernatural doctrines are incomprehensible now they are revealed, is one argument to prove they could never be invented and discovered by men : for that which naturally cannot enter into the mind of man, cannot naturally proceed out of it.
2dly. Since the fall reason is weakened, and its light is clouded. In'the narrow and low spliére of natural things, how eften is reason mistaken and lost in a labyrinth? There is not a flower, a Ay, a stone, but is a mystery: we cannot fully understand the vegetation of the one, nor the sensation of the other, nor the motion of the other. Let us make a trial of the light of reason upon ourselves, and we shall discover its defects. - Who can discern the vital bands wherewith the soul and body are combined ? By what power does the soul represent absent objects ? Sounds with