That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.—2 Thes. II. 2.
WE come now to the matter of the apostle’s caution, which is in the second verse: ‘That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.’ In which words take notice:—
1. Of the error disproved: that the day of Christ is at hand.
2. The effect which this error might produce; trouble and unsettled ness of mind: that ye be not soon shaken in mind or troubled.
3. A removal of all the supposed foundations of this error, or the means which these impostors used to entice them to embrace it. Three are mentioned—spirit, word, and letter.
[1.] Nor by spirit; that is, pretence of spiritual revelation; be not soon shaken in mind by it.
[2.] Nor by word; some word of the apostle, which they pretended to have heard—and that is another sleight of deceivers; some tradition or doctrine delivered by the apostle by word of mouth.
[3.] Nor by letter as from us. This may be understood—(1.) Either of some passage in the former epistle; for the apostle saith there, 1 Thes. iv. 17, ‘Then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air ;’ and because he joins himself with them, they thought he should survive until that day. Or else those warnings which the apostle gives them: 1 Thes. v. 1-3, ‘ Of the times and seasons I need not write unto them, for yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night,’ &c. Now these warnings they might abuse; and this is one way by which men may be unsettled and unshaken, i.e., by false glosses and interpretations of scripture. (2.) Or rather the sense may be, some spurious and counterfeit writings, which was one means of deceit used in the primitive times; supposititious or apocryphal legends, wherein the apostle might be said to write something, as if Christ should come in that age wherein they lived. Now, to obviate this, the apostle is supposed to insert that passage, chap. iii. 17, ‘The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.’
First, From the error disproved, observe:—
Doct. That the time of Christ’s coming to judgment must be patiently expected, not rashly defined or determined; for this is the error which the apostle with such earnestness opposeth here.
But you will say, Is this such an error? Do not the holy apostles themselves say, in effect, the same, as the apostle James, chap. v. 8, ‘The coming of the Lord draweth nigh;’ and the apostle Peter, 1 Peter iv. 7; ‘The end of all things is at hand.’ Yea, Paul himself, 1 Cor. x. 11, ‘These are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come;’ and Rom. xiii. 12, ‘The night is far spent, and the day is at hand;’ where by night is meant the state of Ignorance, sin, and paganism before conversion; and by the day is meant the state of our full regeneration and illumination in eternal glory, when the corrupt world shall come to an end, and all shadows shall fly away. As if he had said, The morning of the resurrection is at hand, the night is far spent—not quite past—and the day is at hand; the night is not thoroughly gone, nor the day wholly come, yet, he saith, it is at hand. What evil was in this opinion, that the apostle should with such vehemency argue and reason against it ? Ans. There is some difference in the words, for hggikensignifies, it draweth near; enesthken it is begun already. But the sense is vastly different; for by these and such like expressions the apostle only did intend that the last dispensation was then on foot—no other change of dispensation or worship was to be expected till the coming of Christ. But I shall more clearly and distinctly show—
1. What reason the apostle had to speak at this rate.
2. What little reason these seducers had to pervert this speech to countenance their hypothesis or supposition.
1. For the first, the apostle had reason to say the day of the Lord was at hand.
[1.] With respect of faith; for faith gives a kind of presence to things: Heb. xi. 1, ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen;’ that is, it gives a being, a kind of existence, to things future and afar off, and sets them before the eyes of our mind, and gives us some sight of them, as if they were already come. And therein it agrees with the light of prophecy. Look, as by the light of prophecy John saith, Rev. xx. 12, ‘I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened,’ &c., so faith doth in effect see what it believes. Well, then, faith looking upon things distant and absent as near at hand, the apostle had reason to use this language to believers, as if the judge were at the door: Phil. iv. 5, ‘Let your moderation be known unto all men; the Lord is at hand,’ not only in regard of his present providence, but also with respect to his second coming to judgment; it is as certain to faith as if he were already come.
[2.] With respect of love: love will not account it long to endure the hardships of this present world until Christ come to set all things at rights. Jacob served seven years for Rachel ‘for the love he bare to her, and it seemed to him but a little while,’ Gen. xxix. 20. If we had any love for Christ, we should be contented to suffer a while for his sake. The time is coming when the wicked shall persecute no more, when the mouth of iniquity shall be stopped, when the desire and hope of all believers shall be satisfied, when the Redeemer’s work shall be consummated, when the kingdom shall be delivered up to the Father, when those that made a jest of this day shall be fully confuted. Faith sees the certainty of it, and love makes us hold out till the time come about.
[3.] The apostle might speak so, as comparing time with eternity: Ps. xc. 4, ‘A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is past, and as a watch in the night;’ 2 Peter iii. 8, ‘One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.’ The longest time to eternity is but as a drop lost and spilt in the ocean; and all the tediousness of the present life is but like one rainy day to an everlasting sunshine: 2 Cor. iv. 17, ‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ Though troubles are lengthened as long as our lives are, yet they are but a moment in respect of eternity; we reckon by time, and not by
eternity, and therefore these expressions may seem strange to us.
[4.] The apostle speaks this to particular men, whose abode in the world is not very long. Eternity and the judgment is at hand, though Christ tarry long till the church be completed, and the elect be gathered: 2 Peter iii. 9, ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.’ Now, what is long, and what is afar off to the whole church, considered in several successions of ages, it is short to particular persons. Death soon puts an end to their conflict, and then their triumph ensues. And so Christ is ready to judge at all times, though the world be not ready to be judged. The coming of Christ is uncertain, and hidden for this very purpose, that men in all ages might be quickened to faithfulness and watchfulness, and make that preparation which is necessary. Now, therefore, it concerns the messengers of God to bind men’s duty upon them, by showing the nearness of it in all the fore-mentioned considerations, that they might be always ready; for so we find our Lord himself pressing it: Luke xii. 40, ‘Be ye therefore ready, for the Son cometh at an hour when ye think not;’ Mat. xxiv. 42, ‘Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh.’ He may come in a moment; our duty is unquestionable, but the time of his coming is uncertain. And to please ourselves with the thoughts of a delay, is a mighty deadening thing, and quencheth our duty; yea, it is an enticement to all evil; Mat. xxiv. 48, the wicked servant took liberty to beat his fellow-servants because of his lord’s delay. We are bid to be sober and watchful, and always to be looking for the coming of the Lord.
2. The seducers had little reason to pervert this speech to the countenance of their hypothesis or supposition, and therefore the apostle had very good reason to be zealous in the confutation of this hypothesis of the seducers, who maintained that Christ would come in that age.
[1.] To inquire after the time is curiosity: Acts i. 7, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put into his own power.’ Those things which God hath reserved to himself, for us to inquire after is sinful. It is a great evil to pry into our Master’s secrets, when we have so many revealed truths to busy our minds about. We take it to be a piece of ill-manners to pry into that which is purposely concealed; as to break up a secret letter and the like. The practising of known duties would prevent this curiosity. These things tend not to our profit and edification.
[2.] Much more was it a sin to fix the time; it was an arrogant presumption: Mat. xxiv. 36, ‘For of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.’ The peremptory time of the day of judgment God keeps to himself, and it is arrogance for any to define it and set a time, when God has resolved to keep it secret.
[3.] The fixing of that time did a great deal of hurt.
1.) For the present it drew away their minds from their calling, because they expected a sudden coming of the Lord. Ill impressions either destroy or weaken necessary duties.
2.) The least error doth gratify Satan and the interest of his kingdom, for he is the father of lies.
3.) It might shake their faith in other things when their credulity was disproved by the event; the gospel might be brought into contempt when their error only was confuted; as many men, who have been peremptory in fixing times, afterwards have thrown off their religion.
4.) It showed a diseased mind, that they were sick of questions; as the apostle speaks, 1 Tim. vi. 4, ‘Doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy,’ &c., when they had so much wholesome food to feed upon.
5.) It did but engender strife among Christians, begat wranglings and disputes in the church: I Tim. vi. 4, ‘he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting (or sick) about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railing, evil surmisings.’
Use 1. Let us not fix times. Many of the ancients were too bold this way, and we are apt to it. Lactantius peremptorily said, the world would endure but two hundred years after his time. So many will fix the time of the calling of the Jews, and the destruction of Antichrist without evident grounds and reasons. What God hath revealed is enough to bear us out in our duty and suffering. In other things let us patiently wait; we see reason to do so, when we consider how many men have proved false prophets.
2. Let us not put off the time, and set it at too great a distance. Distant things, though never so great, will hardly move us; that which men put off they do in effect put away; they put far off the evil day, they would not let it come near their minds to have any operation upon them. Look, as the stars, those vast globes of light, by reason of the distance between us and them, do seem but as so many spangles, so we have but a weak sight of what is set at a great distance, and their operation on us will be but small; the closer things are, the more they will work upon us. One that looks upon what God hath revealed of this as sure and near, is more affected with it than others are. Therefore set yourselves at the entrance of that world, where you: must everlastingly be, and watch and be ready. They that put it off are apt to loiter in their work. If Christ’s coming be not near at hand, certainly the time of our departure is at hand, and it will not be long ere it come about. But this is but introductive to the doctrine of Antichrist. Therefore I come to the second thing.
Secondly, The effect that this error might produce, trouble and unsettledness of mind: ‘That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or troubled.’ In the words there is a twofold metaphor; the one taken from a tempest, or sea-storm, as the word plainly implies, ‘that ye be not shaken in mind; and the other word is taken from the sudden alarm of a land-fight, which breeds trouble.
Doct. 1. That errors breed trouble of mind: they do not only trouble the church’s peace: Gal. v. 12, I would they were even cut off which trouble you; but they hinder tranquillity of mind: Gal. i. 7, ‘There be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.’
How do errors hinder tranquillity of mind? Partly because it is an unsound foundation; it can never yield solid peace. We only find rest for the soul in a true religion, and there where it is purely professed others are left to great doubts and uncertainties. The Lord seems direct us in this course when we are upon consultation about the taking up of a religion: Jer. vi. 16, ‘Stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ Soul-rest is only found in God’s way, find where it is most clearly professed. Partly because whatever false peace is bred there, it will at last end in trouble. The apostle compares seducers, Jude 13, to ‘raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame;’ and we are told of the locusts that came out of the bottomless pit, Rev. ix. 5, that they ‘stung like scorpions.’ Every erroneous way of religion is comfortless; yea, their doctrine breeds anxiety, and vexes the spirit; for they have no true way of quieting the conscience; let us therefore detest error, because it is so much our interest. It is the property of truth to beget a delectation of mind; it is ‘ sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.’ Verum est bonum intellectus—truth is the good of the understanding. Now when we understand truth satisfyingly, it breeds an incredible delight; when we have been in some perplexities, and begin to find out a truth: Prov. xxiv. 13, 14, ‘My son, eat thou honey, because it is good, and the honeycomb, which is sweet unto thy taste: so shall the knowledge of wisdom be when thou hast found it.’ Honey is not so sweet to thy taste as this is to thy understanding. When a man hath found out any truth, though it be but a natural truth, it breeds its oblectation: much more spiritual truth; it is very pleasing, to the understanding, and most of all when spiritual. Truth is obeyed and practised; for the understanding gives us but a sight of it, but obedience gives a taste thereof. Our Saviour saith, Mat. xi. 28-30, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ If you will but come under Christ’s blessed yoke and sceptre, and that way of religion he hath recommended to you, you will find an incredible peace, joy, and oblectation in your mind.
Doct. 2. That Christians should be so established, and have such constancy of mind, that
they should not be easily shaken and moved from the faith.
1. Let us see how this is pressed. Sometimes it is pressed from the encouragement of your great hope: 1 Cor. xv. 58, ‘Be stedfast, and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as you know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.’ First, he would have them stedfast and unmoveable; these two words have their special signification, the one is a degree above the other. A man may be stedfast in a thing, though he be moved a little in some by-matters; but now, since your innocency will bear you out, be not only stedfast but immoveable, which is a higher degree; but take it thus, be stedfast in yourselves, and unmoveable by the storms of temptation from without: a man is stedfast in himself, settled upon his own foundation; and you are unmoved when you are strengthened against outward assaults: Acts xx. 24,’ None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so I might finish my course with joy.’ A man may be settled in the knowledge of the truth, but he is not unmoveable except he be fortified against all temptations that may draw him off from his profession. Such constancy of mind may be well enforced because of our great hope; thus it is pleaded for there. Then the absolute necessity of it is urged at other times, as Col. i. 23, ‘If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.’ The same condition is required to continue as to begin our right in the privileges of the gospel. There are some conditions required for the beginning, others for the continuing of our right, Now this is absolutely required for the continuing of our right, both for present reconciliation with God, and future glory; it is upon this condition, ‘if ye continue in the faith.’
2. Let us inquire what is necessary to this constancy and establishment of mind, that we may not be soon troubled and shaken; partly that our minds may be enlightened to know the truth, and our hearts renewed to believe and love the truth; for without this there can never be any constancy of mind in religion.
[1.] A clear conviction of the truth, or certainty of knowledge, a rooted assent, or well-grounded persuasion; not some fluctuating opinion about it. A half light maketh us very uncertain in our course: James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways’—diyucoV akatastatoV; first ‘try all things,’ 1 Thes. v. 21, then ‘hold fast that which is good.’ When men resolve upon evidence, or after due examination, the truth sticketh the closer and faster by them; but when they take up things hand—over—head, they have no firm principles, and therefore waver hither and thither, as vessels without ballast are tossed with every wave: 2 Peter iii. 16, 17, ‘ Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness’—idion sthrigmon, substantial grounds within themselves. They do not stand by the knowledge of others, or the faith of others, and consent of others: light chaff is carried about with every wind, periferomenoi: Eph. iv. 14, ‘ That ye henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.’ They go through all parts of the compass; sometimes this wind of error taketh them up, sometimes that; sometimes taking up one opinion, then changing it for another: this is the fruit of half-convictions.
[2.] The other part of our basis is a resolution to adhere to the truth. What likelihood is there that we should continue, who are not so much as resolved so to do? The heart must be established by grace, as well as the mind soundly convinced: Heb. xiii. 9, ‘Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines, for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;’ as the apostle speaketh of a purpose not to marry: 1 Cor. vii. 37, ‘ He that standeth stedfast in his own heart,’ &c. So here, Acts xxi. 13, ‘I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ A firm, thorough resolution is requisite to fortify us against all changes in religion; otherwise we are but as trees without a root, or a house without a foundation. Now this resolution of the heart is by faith and love. Faith: Heb. xiii. 12, ‘Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.’ Love: 2 Thes. ii. 10, They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and for this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they shall believe a lie.’ We are not only rooted and grounded in faith, but ‘rooted and grounded in love:’ Eph. iii. 17, ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye being rooted and grounded in love,’ &c.
1. The opposite to this is levity and inconstancy of mind, that soon quitteth truth without difficulty, or without much hesitancy and resistance yields to the temptation. The scripture often taketh notice of this sudden embracing of error: Gal. i. 6, ‘I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel;’ and in the text, ‘soon shaken in mind.’ Credulity is a lightness in believing, when we are like reeds shaken with every wind, Mat. xi. 7, and have a faulty easiness, ready to be carried away with every doctrine which pretendeth to truth: ‘The simple believeth every word,’ Prov. xiv. 15. There is a readiness of mind which is good, but it goeth on sufficient evidence; so ‘the wisdom that is from above is gentle, and easy to be entreated,’ James iii. 17; and the Bereans were proqumoi: Acts xvii. 11, ‘They received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures, whether these things were so or no.’ But a readiness of mind differs from a weakness of mind, or a lightness in believing upon slender and insufficient grounds: they never receive the truth with thorough efficacy, and are prone to error.
2. The causes of this levity and inconstancy of mind are these:—
[1.] Want of solid rooting in the truth; they receive it hand—over—head, as the stony ground forthwith sprang up: Mat. xiii. 5, 20, ‘Anon they receive it with joy;’ they do not so soon receive the word, but they as soon quit it.
[2.] Want of mortification: 2 Tim. iv. 10, ‘Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present world.’ Lusts are uncertain; fear of men, favour of men, carnal hopes will easily prevail.
[3.] A certain readiness of mind which disposeth men to conform and comply with their company, as the looking-glass representeth every face that looketh on it; so they are very changeable, and unstable as water; as Zedekiah, Jer. xxxviii. 5, ‘The king is not he that can say you nay;’ soon turned this way and that way.
[4.] Want of a thorough inclination to God, so that they are right for a while, or in some things, yet they are not universally true to his interest: 1 Kings ii. 28, ‘Joab turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absolom;’ Hosea vii. 8, ‘Ephraim is a cake not turned.’
[5.] Want of holiness and living up to the truths we know: 1 Tim. iii. 9, ‘Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience.’ Choice liquors are best kept in a clean vessel; men provoke God to desert them and leave them to a vertiginous spirit.
[6.] Libertinism. Men think they may run from one sect of Christians to another, as the wind of interest bloweth. If they were to turn to Ethnicism, Turcism, or Judaism, they would die rather than change their religion; but they think the differences among Christians are not of such moment as to venture anything upon that account. Every truth is precious, and must be owned in its season, and it is damnable in itself to do anything against conscience, and he that giveth way to a small temptation will entertain a greater; as a man that hangeth over a precipice, when he lets go his hold, will sink further and further till he come to the bottom; therefore, it is good to be faithful in a little.
Use. Let us take heed of this evil credulity and lightness.
1. Till Christians get a settled and sound judgment they never have peace within themselves, for fears and scruples arise in the dark, and those that live in error are full of perplexities, and have not that tranquillity of spirit which they have who are fully persuaded in their own mind: Rom. xiv. 5, ‘Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.’
2. If hardened in error, consider your opinions will ordinarily have an influence upon your whole religion, and ‘will pervert your carriage towards God and men; your prayers will smell of your opinions, and be like Balaam’s sacrifice, offered to God to engage him against his own people; your love will be dispensed according to the interests of your faction: 1 Cor. i. 12, 13, ‘Every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?’
3. The danger of error to others. Vice is like a duel, error a war: 2 Tim. ii. 17, ‘Their word will eat as doth a canker;’ ‘All in Asia have turned from me,’ 2 Tim. i. 15.
4. There is danger to yourselves, though the error be not damnable, 1 Cor. iii. 13. You have not so full communion with God.
Thirdly, The third thing is the means which these impostors used to seduce them from the faith,—spirit, word, letter; by all which the apostle would not have them troubled and shaken in mind; none of these engines which the seducers used should draw them from the truth. What should poor Christians do thus assaulted? Ans. Stick to the apostolical doctrine. I shall observe:—
Doct. That a Christian should be so persuaded in religion that neither spirit, nor word, nor writing, should be able to shake or unsettle his mind. I shall show you:—
1. What ways or what means God hath appointed whereby a man may settle his choice as to opinions in religion.
2. That the word of God will sufficiently fortify him against all these false ways by which error is wont to be insinuated.
3. For the first, if a Christian would be established and guided aright in the choice of a religion, he must follow both the light of nature and scripture.
[1.] The light of nature, antecedently to any external revelation will sufficiently convince us of the being of God and our dependence upon him: Rom. i. 19, 20, ‘That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it to them; for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.’ For I must know there is a God, or else I cannot be certain that he hath given us a rule or revelation of his mind. We begin with what is natural, and then go on to what is spiritual. Nature will tell us that there is one God, the first cause of all things, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; that it is reasonable he should be served by those whom he hath made; that he will reward and punish men as they disobey or serve and please him: but how God will be served, how they shall be rewarded or punished, or how they shall escape punishment, if after a breach they are willing to return to their duty and obedience to him, this is revealed in the word of God.
[2.] The written word shows us the true way of worshipping and pleasing God, and being accepted with him; therefore it is a sufficient direction to us: there is enough to satisfy conscience, though not to please wanton curiosity; as that may quench the thirst of a sober man that will not satisfy the lust of a drunkard: there we are ‘made wise unto salvation,’ 2 Tim. iii. 15—‘Thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation;’ and Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a light unto my feet, and a lantern to my paths.’ There we have the knowledge of many things evident by the light of nature discovered with more clearness and certainty; and that which could ‘not be found out by natural light, as salvation by a Redeemer, or the remedy of our lapsed estate, which, depending on the sole will and good pleasure of God, could not be known till it was manifested and revealed by him. When man sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, it was necessary that God should some way or other reveal his mind to him by word of mouth or by writing. By word of mouth, that is, either by oracles or extraordinary messengers. That sufficed while God saw fit to reveal but a few truths, or such as did not much burden the memory; and men were long-lived, and the church confined within a small compass of ground, and not liable to so many miseries and changes as now in the latter ages; and then he put it into writing, that men may not obtrude upon us their own conceits, but we might have a standard or rule of Faith and manners: Gal. vi. 16, ‘As many as walk according to this rule,’ &c.
[3.] The natural truths contained in the word of God are evident by their own light. The supernatural truths, though they are above natural light, yet they are not against it, or contrary to it, and do fairly accord with those principles which are naturally known; and are confirmed,—partly by an antecedent testimony, which is prophecy; partly by an innate evidence in their own frame and contexture; partly by a subsequent evidence, which is valuable testimony as to matter of fact. The antecedent testimony: John v. 39, ‘Search the scriptures, for in them ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me;’ 2 Peter i. 19, ‘We have a more sure word of’ prophecy, to which we do well to give heed, as to a light shining in dark places.’ The innate and concomitant evidence: 2 Cor. iv. 2-4, ‘We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of’ God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. For 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, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.’ The subsequent testimony, the apostles: Acts v. 32, ‘We are witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.’ They were eye and ear witnesses of great fidelity and credit; their religion forbiddeth them to lie for God, and they were accompanied with the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, not only in giving them success in the face of the learned world, hunting out the devil everywhere, but also by miracles, divers signs, and wonders; and they and their followers endured all manner of torments and death to witness to the truth of these things, and transmitted them to us with assurance of God’s owning this doctrine.
[4.] The word being thus stated and put into a sure record, it is intelligible enough, in all necessary matters at least; for if God should speak or write darkly to his people, especially in necessary things, it is because he could not or would not speak otherwise. The former is direct blasphemy: Exod. iv. 11, ‘Who hath made man’s mouth? have not I, the Lord ?’ The latter cannot be said, because that is contrary to his goodness: Ps. xxv. 8, ‘Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners the way.’ It is not to be imagined that the great and universal king should give a law to mankind, and speak so darkly that we should have no sure direction from thence, nor be able to know his mind in any of the duties God hath required of us, or expose us to great difficulties and hardships in the world. And if he had not plainly expressed his will to us, man would never leave writing and distinguishing himself out of his duty. Surely he that will venture his all for Christ’s sake had need of a clear warrant to bear him out, for none will hazard all that is near and dear to him but for weighty reasons.
[5.] Besides, the illumination of the Holy Spirit doth accompany this word, and make it effectual to us, to show us God as revealed in Christ: 2 Cor. iv. 6, ‘God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;’ and for heaven, Eph. i. 17, 18, ‘Praying that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.’ He sanctifieth and healeth our souls, and prepareth us for the entertainment of the truth, that as natural things are naturally discerned, so spiritual things are spiritually discerned: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’
[6.] There are promises of direction made to humble and sincere minds: Ps. xxv. 9, ‘The meek shall he guide in judgment, the meek shall he teach his way;’ to the industrious: 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;’ to the godly and well-disposed: John vii. 17, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself;’ so to them that pray much: James i. 5, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.’ They that thus sincerely endeavour to know the will of God, will come to a sound, established judgment in the truth.
2. A Christian that is thus established, is fortified against spirit, word, or writing, or all suggestions that may perplex his mind.
[1.] Against pretended revelations, called here spirit.
1.) Because having his mind thus settled, he may boldly defy all revelations pretended to the contrary: Gal. i. 8, ‘Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than we have preached, let him be accursed.’ Any doctrine, if diverse, or different from, or besides the written word, much more contrary to it, a Christian may reject it, and account it cursed doctrine; therefore neither church, nor angel, nor spirit is to be heard against it.
2.) Because a Christian is upon better terms, having the written word, than if God dealt with him by way of revelations: 2 Peter i. 19, ‘We havebebaioteron logon, a more sure word of prophecy;’ comparing it with the voice from heaven, of which he spake before; not as if there could be any uncertainty in the Lord s voice speaking from heaven, but because a transient voice is more easily mistaken or forgotten than an authentic standing record; as Samuel thought Eli called him, when it was the Lord. It is quoad nos; though God gave evidence of the truth of such revelations as he made, yet we have more accommodate means. Our Lord intimateth such a thing: Luke xvi. 3l, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.’ This is the surest ground for faith to rest upon of any that ever hath been or can be given to sinners, subject to forgetfulness, jealousies, and mistakes.
3.) Because it is not rational to expect new revelation, now the canon and rule of faith is closed up: Heb. ii. 1, 2, ‘Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip,’ &c.; Mat. xxviii. 20, ‘Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you;’ John xvii. 29, ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them which shall believe on me through their word.’
4.) Because if any such be pretended, it must be tried by the word: Isa. viii. 20, ‘To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because they have no light in them;’ so 1 John iv. 1, ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone abroad into the world.’
5.) Because they that despise ordinary means, and pretend to vision, revelation, or inspiration, are usually such as are given up by God to a vertiginous spirit, and cast into the dungeon of error, for the punishment of other sins: Micah ii. 11, ‘If a man walking in the spirit of falsehood do lie, he shall be the prophet of this people;’ God will permit those that are both deceivers and deceived themselves to come amongst them for a plague to them. Sleidan giveth sad instances of some given up to this fantastical frenzy, that killed their own relations on pretence of inspiration, and of others that murdered fifty thousand in one day.
[2.] By word or unwritten tradition. This also should not shake the mind of settled Christian, for this hath no constat—no evidence of its certainty, and would lay us open to the deceits of men, blinded by their own interest and passions; and if such tradition could be produced as hath unquestionable authority, it must be tried by the scripture, which is everywhere commended as the public standard, and true measure and rule, both of faith and manners.
[3.] Not by epistle as from us.
1.) Supposititious writings, which the church in all ages hath exploded, having received only those which are unquestionably theirs whose names they bear.
2.) False expositions. These are confuted by inspection of the context, scope of the writer, comparing of obscure places with plain and clear. Thus you see what certainty God hath provided for us to guide us in the way to eternal life.