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The word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.—Ver. 105.
HERE I shall answer five objections that are made by cavillers.
Object 1. First, If it be so clear a light, why do men so often mistake that have the scriptures, and consult with them? yea, why is there such differences among good men?
Ans. I answer, in general, there is light in the scriptures, but there is darkness in men that are conversant about them. The object may be well represented when the faculty is not well disposed. There are defects in them to whom this discovery is made; though they have light, yet they want eyes. The sun giveth light enough, though blind men cannot see it; the word doth whatsoever is necessary on its own part. To the beholding of anything by the outward sense, there must not only be light to make the object conspicuous, but also a faculty of seeing in the eye; blind men cannot see at noonday, nor the sharpest-sighted at midnight. There is light in the scriptures surely, for God would not deal hypocritically with us that are his people; if he hath given us a rule, he would not wrap it up in darkness, so as we should not know his meaning; so that the defect is in us. This in general.
But, secondly, there are many causes of men’s mistake.
1. Some come to the word with a presumption of their own wit, and leaning upon their own understanding, as if that should discover the whole counsel of God, and these God never undertook to teach: Ps. xxv. 9, ‘The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way.’ Those that, in a humble sense of their own nothingness, depend upon his direction, them will he teach: James i. 21, ‘Receive with meekness the ingrafted word of God.’ We have caution given us, and admonitions against pride and arrogance and self-dependence, Prov. iii. 3-6.
2. Many bring their prejudicate opinions along with them, and are biassed and prepossessed before they come to the word of God, and so do not so much take up the sense which the scriptures offer, as seek to impose their own sense on them, and regulate the scriptures to their own hearts, not regulating their hearts and principles and senses according to the word of God. Optimus ille lector est, saith Hilary, qui dictorum intelligentiam expectat, &c. That mind which is preoccupied with evil opinions, and enslaved to preconceived conclusions, they do not take anything from the word, but impose something upon it which God never revealed there. If the weights be equal, yet if the balance be not equipendent, wrong may be done. They come with an idol in their own hearts, Ezek. xiv. 2, as those that would ask counsel of the Lord, that were resolved beforehand, Jer. xlii. While we look through the spectacles of our own fancies and preconceptions, the mind, poisoned with error, seemeth to see what we see not.
3. Some search the scriptures not out of any love to the truth, or to know the mind of God, but to oppose it rather, and so seek a pretence from thence to justify their private faction in way of opposition against God. The devil gets scripture to wrest it to his own purpose, Mat. iv. 6. They read not to be better, but to cavil, and put a greater varnish upon the devil’s cause, as Julian did search the scriptures to pick an advantage against the true religion, and scoff at them that professed it; and Herod inquired after the place where Jesus was born, not to adore him, but to kill him, Mat. ii. 8. Our great rule is, John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.’ When you come to study the scriptures, to be the better for them, and not to cavil, then you are in the way to find profit from them.
4. Some come to the word leavened with some carnal affections, and so their hearts are blinded by their lusts and passion: 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4, ‘If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.’ There is evidence enough in the truth, but their hearts are wedded to their sins, and so cannot see it; they are ambitious, and seek after honour and worldly greatness; and the whole bent and scope of the scripture being against their design, they can never have a perfect understanding of it; their hearts are full of avarice, earthly-mindedness, and some other beloved sin that they cherish, which doth defile all that they touch, even the very word of God. Hag. ii. 13, A man that was unclean by a dead body, whatsoever he touched was also unclean, even holy things; and, Titus i. 15, ‘To the impure all things are impure;’ and so by the just judgment of God are blinded and hardened in their own prejudices, for the light they have hindereth them from discerning the truth.
5. Some content themselves with some superficial apprehensions, and do not dig deep in the mines of knowledge, and therefore no wonder they mistake in many things: Prov. ii. 4, 5, ‘If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.’ No excellent things are to be had without pain and industry and search; certainly the knowledge of God’s word must cost us great pains.
6. Where men are right in the main, and give diligence to know God’s mind, there will be mistakes in lesser things. All have not parts alike, and gifts and graces alike, and therefore there is some variety of opinions and interpretations of scripture among the godly wise. Every man is not so happy to be so well studied, nor hath not that ability to understand, nor so furnished with acquired helps of arts and tongues, nor such a degree of the Spirit. There is a difference in age, growth, and experience among good men; some are babes, and some grown in years in Christianity, Phil. iii. 15. Grace is bewrayed in knowledge, as well as in holiness.
Object. 2. If there be such a light in the scriptures, what need is thereof the Spirit?
Ans. I answer—The scriptures are the means of light, the Spirit is the author of light, both together enlighten the eyes, Ps. xix. 8. These two must be taken in conjunction, not in exclusion. To pretend to the Spirit and neglect the scriptures, makes way for error and fond conceits: Isa. viii. 20, ‘To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.’ Light is not contrary to light; so to study the scriptures, and neglect the Spirit, who ‘searcheth out the deep things of God,’ 1 Cor. ii. 11, leaveth us in darkness about God’s mind. The object to be known is fixed in the scriptures, but the faculty that knoweth must be enlightened by the Spirit. There is a literal understanding of the scriptures and a spiritual understanding, 1 Cor. ii. 14. Now, as to the spiritual understanding of them, there needs the Spirit, ‘for the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit;’ so that here is a fair correspondence between the word and the Spirit.
Object. 3. If the scriptures be so plain, what need of the ministry?
Ans. 1. I answer—It is God’s institution, and we must submit to it, though we could see no reason for it. That it is God’s institution is plain, for he hath set some in the church, not only apostles and prophets, but pastors and teachers, to apply scriptures to us; and, 1 Cor. i. 21, ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.’ If there were no reason but this, because it is God’s institution, we should submit to it.
2. The use of the ministry is to explain and vindicate truth. Men darken counsel with words, and render plain things obscure by their litigations and unprofitable debates. Now they are set for the defence of the truth, εἰς ἀπολόγιαν, Phil. i. 7. And the ministry must be ἀντεχόμενος, Titus i. 9, ‘Able to convince the gainsayers;’ good at holding and drawing; it is the human help for weak understandings. The eunuch was reading, and could not tell what to make of it, then God sent him an interpreter, Acts viii. Now God’s help should not be despised; when he will employ men to solve doubts, to guide us in our way to heaven, we should thankfully accept of it, rather than quarrel at the institution.
3. They are of use to apply generals to particular cases, and to teach us how to deduce genuine inferences from those truths laid down in the scriptures. Mal. ii. 7, in this sense it is said, ‘The priest’s lips should preserve knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.’ God hath appointed this office to some, to solve the doubts that do arise about particular exigencies and cases, and to make out the mind of God to his people, otherwise they need go no farther than the tables and books of Moses to seek the law; but God hath appointed some in the church that are skilled in consequences and deductions, to raise matter therefrom, so that it is a minister’s work to open and explain scripture.
4. There is a use of the ministry to keep doctrines still afoot in the church, and to keep us in remembrance. Ministers are the Lord’s remembrancers; it is a great part of their office to mind people of their duty. The word is a light, but it must be set in the candlestick of the church; they are to hold out the light for our direction and guidance.
5. There is a peculiar blessing and efficacy to a Christian from their calling: Mat. xxviii. 20, ‘Lo, I am with you to the end of the world.’
Object. 4. It is said, 2 Peter iii. 16, that there are some things hard to be understood, therefore how should it be a clear rule to us? There upon many take occasion to tax the scriptures of obscurity, and cry out that nothing is certain in religion, and so hinder and discourage men from the study of the word.
Ans. 1. I answer—The apostle saith there are δυσνόητα, some things hard to be understood, but doth not say there are ἀνόητα, things that cannot be understood; not there are things impossible to be understood, but there is some difficulty in them, to exercise our diligence, to subdue our pride, for the humbling of us, for the prevention of the contempt of things easy and plain, that are soon despised, to excite us to prayer for knowledge, to avoid satiety in this holy banquet.
2. The second thing that I answer is this; he doth not say there are πολλὰ, but τίνα; many things, but some. Though there are some things propounded which are difficult, to exercise our diligence, yet other things are plainly delivered, to invite our search. Multa sunt aperta et manifesta (saith Austin) unde aperiuntur, &c. Though there are some things obscure, there are many things will help to clear them, and whatsoever is necessary to salvation is clear. There are some things hidden like spots in the moon and stones in the earth, things that serve for plenitude of knowledge and curiosity. He saith these things are hid, but now things necessary to salvation are made obvious to us; as water and bread, they are not hard to come by, but gold and silver is hid in the bowels of the earth; and therefore though there be some things hard to be understood, he doth not say they are not to be understood. Now the question between us and the papists is not, whether some things in the scripture be obscure, but whether they be so obscure as that people ought not to read them, or cannot with any profit, and that there can be no certainty thence deduced? As to the defining things controverted in matters necessary to salvation, we say there are some things hard to be understood, to keep us humble, to quicken us to pray for the Spirit, yet for the most part God’s mind is plain and easy to be understood by them that humbly depend upon Christ teaching in the use of the appointed means.
Object. 5. Another objection is from experience; a poor Christian complaineth, as Job xix. 8, ‘He hath set darkness in my path that I cannot pass.’ They would fain know the mind of God in some particular cases, but they cannot see it.
Ans. I answer—This darkness of ours should not be urged to the disparagement of the word. We are under many doubts, we are divided between light and interest, we puzzle and grope, and would reconcile the light of the scriptures and our interests together, but this should not disparage the word. The scriptures complain of our darkness, not of its own, and the saints always say, Lord, do not make a plainer law; but open our eyes, in the 18th verse of this psalm; this is Chrysostom’s gloss upon that place. When a man walketh in the way of his own heart, his way may be darkness, and he may stumble, and know not whither he goeth. But you that give up yourselves sincerely to the directions of his word, he will make your path clear and plain before you; that is, when you seek nothing but God’s glory, and your own eternal salvation for your end, and come with a humble meek mind to seek God’s counsel, being free from the preoccupations of self-conceits, being resolved to follow God’s directions whatever they be, and use that diligence which is necessary; you will not be long kept in the dark.
Use 1.—[1.] To inform us how to answer this question, how to know whether the scriptures be the word of God. It shows itself, and evidenceth itself to be so; for it is a light that discovers itself, and all things else, without any other testimony. When the sun is up, there needs no witness and proof that it is light. Let the least child bring a candle into a room, and as it discovers other things, so it discovers itself. So the word of God is that which discovers itself to us, yea, it hath a self-evidencing light.
[2.] If the word be a light, it informs us, then, there is none that are above the scriptures. There is a fond conceit that men take up, that the scriptures are for novices and young beginners, not for strong Christians. David was no novice, yet he saith, ‘Thy word is a light.’ And Daniel was no novice, yet he got understanding by the prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah, Dan. ix. 2. Timothy was no novice, who was to ‘give attendance to reading, and exhortation, and doctrine,’ 1 Tim. iv. 13. Aye! but what is meant by that place, 2 Peter i. 19? ‘We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.’ From thence many gather that as soon as Christ is revealed in us, we should not look after the scriptures, for it is said, ‘until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.’ Some understand this place of the light of glory, and others of the light of the gospel; you do well to take heed to the Old Testament light, till you have the New Testament light, which is most agreeable to the mind of God. For my part, I pitch upon the former, and shall understand it of the dawning of eternity, or Christ’s second coming, which is called in scripture a day which shall then begin and never be ended, after which there is no night, nor any other day, but a blessed eternity; and sometimes it is called ‘the day,’ 2 Tim. iv. 8, and ‘that day,’ 1 Thes. v.4; and Christ is called ‘the bright morning star,’ Rev. xxii. 16, and ‘the glorious77Qu. ‘wise’?—ED. shall shine like the morning stars,’ Dan. xii. 3, and Rev. ii. 28. Our happiness is expressed by a day-star; so that the meaning is, take heed unto this word until the day of eternity dawn upon you, till you come to the light of glory, till you have a greater light than that of the gospel.
Now, I rather pitch upon this interpretation, because they to whom the apostle wrote were converted Jews, and did not only own the Old Testament, but had already received the gospel light, the day-star was risen upon their hearts, so that he bids them take heed to the sure word of prophecy, till the light of glory was revealed to them. I know there are some divines understand it of a more clear and plentiful knowledge of the gospel, who take prophecy to be the scriptures of the Old Testament that they were to take heed to, till the gospel light did arise upon them; and the times of the Old Testament were called night, Rom. xiii. 12, but now the gospel time is called day. But if it be understood thus, then some say that the law must be cast off when the gospel appeared to them, because it is said, ‘until the day.’ Those divines explain themselves safely enough herein, for, say they, until doth not always note terminum temporis, the end of time, but continuationem actus, the continuation of the act, until the time, and afterwards, as it is spoken in other scriptures, ‘their sin shall not be blotted out till they die,’ that is never; but for the former reason that I have given before, I think it is meant of the light of glory.
Use 2. Reproof.—[1.] Of those that walk in the midst of this light, and yet perceive no more of the things of God, than if they were in darkness, these lose the benefit which God vouchsafeth to them: John i. 5, ‘The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not;’ and John iii. 19, ‘The light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.’ It had been better for them they had never heard of the scriptures, and that God had never set up such a lamp in the church. These men believe the word of God is a light and a lamp, yet never take care of, nor give heed to it; they are careless, and never measure their actions according to this rule.
[2.] It reproves those that set up another rule, and look for an infallible interpreter.
(1.) Those that set up reason instead of the word of God. Alas! this is an imperfect rule; these men would bring down all things before the tribunal of their own reason; these are not disciples of Christ, but masters; they will not be taught by the directions of the word, but by their own dark hearts. I have told you the candle of the Lord did burn bright within us; but alas! now it is weakened by sin, it is an imperfect irrational thing, we can never be saved by it.
(2.) Others are guided by their passions and lusts; this is their direction and their lamp; this will surely lead them to utter darkness: ‘If you live after the flesh, you shall die,’ Rom. viii. 13.
(3.) Some take the counsel and example of others, this will leave them comfortless, and make them fall into the snare.
(5.) Others expect new revelations from heaven to counsel them; they would converse with angels now God hath spoken to us by his Son: Gal. i. 8, ‘If an angel from heaven should bring another gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.’
Use 3. Caution to enterprise nothing but what you have a warrant for out of the word of God. When you are going about any action, say, Where is my warrant? If I do it upon my own brain, I must stand to my own hazard; and all the evil that comes upon me, it is the fruit of my own counsel. Num. xxvii. 21, the priest was to ask counsel of the Lord, who shall go out, and who shall go in; and 1 Sam. xxiii. 9. 10. To do things with a doubting conscience, with an uncertainty, whether it be good or bad, it is a sin; for ‘whatsoever is not of faith, is sin;’ still seek your direction from the word.
Use 4.—[1.] It exhorts us to bless God, and be thankful for this light: Isa. ix. 2, ‘The people that sat in darkness saw great light.’. There is the same difference between the church and other places, as there was between Egypt and Goshen, Exod. x. 23. Here is light, and in other places thick darkness. What a mercy it is that we have present direction, a light to guide us here in grace, that will bring us to glory. Give thanks to God for so great a benefit.
[2.] Walk according to the directions of the word; walk in the light,’ Eph. v. 8; believe it, Heb. iv. 2, the true and infallible truth that came out of God’s mouth; and then apply it; say, This truth which is spoken is spoken to me, Mat. xiii. 37, and urge thy heart with the duties of it; this was spoken for our learning, be persuaded of this truth, and so walk and so do, and you shall not find any miscarriage, 1 Cor. xv. 58. Here is my warrant and my direction, I will keep to it, though it expose me to many hazards and straits, I know it will be made up at last, it will not be lost labour to do what God biddeth thee to do.
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