Of New Lights, and How to Keep Off from Splitting Either Upon the Charybdis of Pertinacy and Tenaciousness, or Upon the Scylla of Levity, Wavering, and Scepticism.
To the Assembly of Divines
It is pleaded by some, who pretend to more tenderness of conscience than others, that to establish, by the law of the land, a confession of faith, or a directory of the worship of God, and of the government of the church, and to appoint penalties or punishments upon such as maintain the contrary doctrines or practices, is to hold out, and shut the door upon new light; that as the state and church hath discovered the evil of divers things which were sometime approved and strengthened by the law of the land, so there may be afterwards a discovery made by the light of experience, and a further search of the Scripture, to make manifest the falsehood of those doctrines which are now received as true, and the evil of that government and way which is now embraced as good, for ἁι δευτέραι φροντίδες σοφώτεραι.
For satisfaction in this difficulty, First of all, I do not deny, but most willingly yield, yea, assert, as a necessary truth, that as our knowledge (at its best in this world) is imperfect (for we know but in part), so it ought to be our desire and endeavour to grow in the knowledge of the mind of Christ, to follow on to know the Lord, to seek after more and more light, For the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day, Prov. 4.18. Secondly, I acknowledge that this imperfection of our knowledge is not only in degrees, but in parts; that is, we may know afterwards not only more of that good or evil, or truth or error, of which we knew somewhat before, but we may happily come to know the evil of that whereof we knew no evil before, or the good of that in which we knew no good before; so may we come to know diverse truths which before we knew not. Thirdly, I acknowledge there is not only this imperfection, but ofttimes a great mistake, misunderstanding, error, and unsoundness, in the judgment of Christian persons or churches, so that godly men and true churches may come to know that to be evil which they sometime thought good, and that to be false which sometime they thought true, or contrariwise; which experience hath taught, and may teach again. Fourthly, I confess it is no shame for an Augustine to write a book of retractations. It is the duty, not only of particular Christians, but of reforming, yea, reformed, yea, the best reformed churches, whensoever any error in their doctrine, or any evil in their government or form of worship, shall be demonstrated to them from the Word of God (although it were by one single person, and one, perhaps, of no great reputation for parts or learning, like Paphnutius among the many learned bishops in the Council of Nice), to take in, and not to shut out further light; to embrace the will of Christ held forth unto them, and to amend what is amiss, being discovered unto them. Fifthly, I also believe that, towards the evening of the world, there shall be more light, and knowledge shall be increased, Dan. 12.4, and many hid things in Scripture better understood, when the Jews shall be brought home, and the Spirit of grace and illumination more abundantly poured forth. We have great cause to long and pray for the conversion of the Jews; surely we shall be much the better of them.
But, on the other hand, the greatest deceits and depths of Satan have been brought into the world under the name or notion of new lights. Did not the serpent beguile Eve with this notion of a new light? Gen. 3.5. Which example the Apostle setteth before our eyes, 2 Cor. 11.3, plainly warning us that Satan is transformed into an angel of light, and his apostles into the apostles of Christ, ver. 13,14; so, Rev. 2.2. Did not Jeroboam make Israel to sin by a false new light? It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, &c., 1 Kings 12.28. He would show to the ten tribes how they might, in all matters of religion, be independent upon Jerusalem; howbeit (to note that by the way) he did not erect independent churches without an independent commonwealth. He would show them also that they were abused with a pretended sacred order of the priests, the ministers of the Lord, therefore no jure divino men, but ministers dependent, 2 Chron. 11.14, 15; and so he would needs make priests of the lowest of the people, ver. 31, for all which he had a pretence of power or liberty from God, 1 Kings 11.37. His new light made an independent church, and a dependent ministry. The Gnostics had their name from the profound knowledge and greater light which they pretended to above all others, yet the ancient writers tell us they were but a profane sect. Mahomet himself pretended that the angel Gabriel taught him his Alcoran, that so he might purchase the greater credit to it.
Now, it is to be observed, there are many cautions necessary, and that there is much to be said against many of those things which now go under the name of new lights among those who plead for liberty of conscience.
New light is now become a beguiling word, as once among the Grecians, Νέα χελιδὼν, a new swallow. A beguiling word I may well call it; for most of those things which are now cried up as new lights are neither lights nor new. Not lights, because not according to the Word, from whence all true light must be derived; not new, because the very same things have been before moved and maintained. Antinomianism, Anabaptism, universal atonement by the death of Christ, universal salvation, a temporal and earthly kingdom of Christ, and the saints’ liberty of conscience, &c., have been maintained and confuted also before this age. Independency itself, if it be a light, yet it is no new one lately struck out, for it was long since a known tenet of the Arminians, that synods or councils ought only to debate, deliberate, consult, and advise, but not to exercise any jurisdiction, to inflict any censure, or to enjoin anything under pain of censure. See the propositions offered by the Arminians in the 25th session of the Synod of Dort; see also Episcopii Disp. Theol., part 2, disp. 54, thes. 9,10; part 3, disp. 32, thes. 4,5,11. But I come to the particular cautions concerning new lights.
First, It is but a false new light which expelleth not only the old darkness, but much of the good old light. As in medicines the Paracelsian way is most dangerous when it is destructive to the Galenic way, and overthroweth the old approved principles, yet it is of very good use when prudently and skillfully managed, for perfecting the Galenic way, and for doing things more speedily, easily, and pleasantly, than the Galenic way could do. So in divinity, such new lights as do not expel, but retain, improve, and perfect the old, may be of singular good use; but those new lights which are destructive and expulsive of the old true lights, those new ways which lead us away from the old and the good way, are to be utterly disliked and avoided. 2 John, ver. 8, Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have gained. He speaks it against those deceivers who would have seduced them from the doctrine of Christ, as is evident, both from the preceding verse, and from that which followeth, Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God, &c. Rom. 16.17, Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. A bishop, saith Paul, Tit. 1.9, must hold fast the faithful word, as he hath been taught. Phil. 3.16, Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. This he adds as a prevention of a dangerous mistake and abuse of that which he had said immediately before, And if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Behold a reserve for any new light, might some say. Nay, but take heed, saith the Apostle, you do not shut forth, but keep fast, the light you have already attained unto; you must not, under pretense of new light, lose what you have gained. Col. 2.6-8, As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him; rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit, &c. These apostolical rules are very far contrary to the academical; yea, Pyrrhonian demur and dubitation, by which some call in question the most received doctrines in the Christian church. If scepticism be tolerable in the Christian faith, why are we bidden stand fast in the faith? 1 Cor. 16.13; and again, Heb. 10.23, Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering. And why did Jesus Christ himself write to those who had not received the false doctrines of that time, That which ye have already, hold fast till I come? Rev. 2.24. It was a foul error in Balaam, the false prophet, that after God had said to him concerning Balak’s messengers, Thou shall not go with them, thou shall not curse the people, for they are blessed, Num. 22.12, yet, at the next sending of messengers, he would needs seek (forsooth) a new light from God, ver. 18,19, If Balak would give me his houseful of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more. Now, therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more. God gave him a new light, indeed, but in wrath and judgment, quite extinguishing and expelling judicially that light which the false prophet himself had not entertained, but wickedly forsaken, ver. 20, And God came to Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them. Behold the fruit of not entertaining light once received from God. So likewise the young prophet, 1 Kings 13., for not holding fast what he had received from God, but taking in a new false light from the old prophet, was most exemplarily and severely punished for it. This is the first caution most necessary for the sectaries of this time, whose new lights are such, that among them, vetera deperdita and nova reperta go hand in hand together, and are almost convertible terms, as if a man should not keep what he had, because he finds somewhat which he had not.
Secondly, Many of those new lights which some brag of, not only expel much of the good old light, but bring in gross Egyptian darkness. There is a woe denounced against those who put darkness for light, as well as against those who put light for darkness, Isa. 5.20. I may well say that gross darkness is introduced, when the fundamental articles of faith are called in question, denied, and oppugned,—as the Godhead of Jesus Christ, the divine authority of the Scriptures, the immortality of the soul, the eternity of glory to the elect and of torments to the reprobate, &c. If the foundations be shaken, what can the righteous do? If we hold not fast this gospel, if we embrace not this Saviour, we cannot have another, 1 Cor. 3.11, For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Gal. 1.6,8, I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Thirdly, Beware of those new lights which make any certain truth (although neither fundamental nor circumstantial) to be uncertain; as we ought not to say of any sin, so neither of any truth, Is it not a little one? Let every truth be highly valued. Buy the truth, and sell it not. Say not, This truth is but a matter of discipline, let it go, it is not worth the buying. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much, Luke 16.10. Melchior Adamus, both in the life of Carolostadius, and in the life of Luther, observeth the great evil which grew out of Luther’s dislike of Carolostadius’s strictness, zeal, and forwardness in abolishing auricular confession, and difference of meats, and casting out images out of churches, at which things Luther was the more offended, because done by Carolostadius in Wittenberg, during Luther’s absence, and without his knowledge and counsel. Luther did also allege that Carolostadius’s strictness and zeal in these things, hindered and retarded the reformation in more substantial points of doctrine. However, the story noteth, that hence was the first rise of that deplorable sacramentarian controversy, which hath ever since made so great a rupture in Germany. I could never yet observe, or read, or hear of controversies about discipline in any Christian church, but still they grew higher and higher; and those who rejected or slighted the will of Christ in smaller things, did afterwards slight it in greater things.
Fourthly, Beware of those new lights which not only refuse to admit some certain truths, but refuse to admit any truth now held or professed in the reformed churches, as sure, and certain, and infallible; as if, because men’s judgments are not infallible, but subject to error, therefore we cannot be sure, nor infallibly persuaded, of this or that article. The holy Scripture will teach us, that believers may attain to a certain and infallible knowledge of some truths; for it was no impossible thing that Paul prayed for, when he prayed that the Colossians might have all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ. The mystery of God, that he is, and that he is eternal, invisible, omnipotent, &c., his nature and attributes; the mystery of the Father, or that there is a distinction of persons in the Holy Trinity, and an eternal generation; the mystery of Christ, his person, natures, offices, birth, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession; these are things of which the Apostle would have us most fully and certainly persuaded. Timothy was assured of the things he had learned, 2 Tim. 3.14; so was Theophilus, Luke 1.4. A mariner is not infallible in his judgment, yet he may be assured infallibly, that such a thing is a rock which he must avoid, and such a way is the way he must direct his course. A physician is not infallible in his judgment concerning the symptoms, causes, and cures of diseases, yet he may be most certainly persuaded such a disease is deadly, and there is no cure for it, or such a thing may be cured, and this is the cure; so, in divinity, the obnoxiousness of men’s judgment to error hindereth not but they may be infallibly persuaded of this and the other truth.
Fifthly, Beware of those new lights which come not from the Sun of righteousness. To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isa. 8. 20. When men walk in the light of their own sparks they shall lie down in darkness. New fancies are not new lights. It is no truth which cannot be grounded upon the word of truth.
It was a wild fancy of the Weigelians, that there is a time to come (which they call seculum Spiritus Sancti) in which God shall, by his Spirit, reveal much more knowledge and light than was revealed by Christ and his apostles in the Scriptures. There is so much revealed in Scripture, as the Apostle calls the wisdom of God, and the hidden wisdom of God, 1 Cor. 2.7. The things which are preached and written to us are the things which the very angels desire to look or pry into, 1 Pet. 1.12; and saith not Christ, That which ye have already hold fast till I come? Rev. 2.25. More of this error, see in Brochmand. System. Theol., com. 1, art. 6, cap. 2, quest. 12.
Sixthly, Take heed of proud, and lofty, and self-conceited new lights, 1 Cor. 14. 32,33, And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. If the spirits of the prophets must be so subject, how much more the spirits of private persons. Wherefore, in a reformed church, all pretended new lights, which are against the received doctrine, government, or form of worship, ought to be, in all humility and submission, offered to be tried by a learned and godly synod. The Locrean severity was such, that no man might move for a new law but with a rope about his neck, that if his motion were thought good, he might be spared, but if bad, hanged. So Demosthenes (Advers. Timocr.) tells us. I will not allow this severity against such as offer new lights, or move for new changes in the church; but I may well apply here the Athenian law recorded by Demosthenes in the same oration. The Athenians went not so far as the Locri, yet no man might move for a new law in Athens unless the motion were offered and submitted to the senate, who were to judge whether the old or the new were better.
Seventhly, Beware of separating new lights. To separate from, or gather new churches out of the true reformed or reforming churches, hath not the least warrant from the word of God. When we see this or that amiss in a church, we are bidden to exhort one another, and provoke one another to good, but not to separate, Heb. 10.24,25. Zuinglius conferred amicably with the Anabaptists in Zurich, as with dissenting brethren, and no course was taken to suppress or restrain them by the secular power, till they grew to gather churches out of the true reformed churches; but when it came to that, they could not be suffered or forborne, it was thought necessary to restrain them.
Eighthly, Beware of these new lights which dare not be seen, and are kept up in corners. Truth seeks no corners: light doth not shun light. A candle is not lighted to be put under a bushel, but on a candlestick, Matt. 5.15; 1 John 3.20,21, Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved; but he that doeth truth cometh to the light; Prov. 4.19, The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble; I add, to make up the antithesis to verse 18, their way is darkened more and more until the dark night. I have heard, when the Arminians were put to it in the Synod of Dort, to declare their judgment and sense which they would hold at, they declined it, and Episcopius answered in the name of the rest, Dies diem docet. And is it not so with the sectaries of this time, from whom you cannot draw a clear model of what they hold?
Ninthly, Refuse such new lights as have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, Eph. 5.11. It is a deceitful new light which makes men forbear to reprove, speak, or petition, against those evils in a state which their consciences know to be sinful, and to wink at such things as publicly dishonour God in a nation, upon hopes that themselves shall be winked at and tolerated. But what communion hath light with darkness? 2 Cor. 6.14. There are some who pretend to new light, and to tenderness of conscience, who yet are content to combine and associate themselves with those of another and different way (which themselves condemn as a sinful way), in that common cause of theirs, for crying up their great Diana, liberty of conscience, and for opposing the church government by presbyteries and synods. How they who would not assist the Presbyterians, for the purging of their congregations, and keep off all scandalous persons from the sacrament, and yet do assist and strengthen Separatists, Anabaptists, Antinomians, Socinians, Erastians, Seekers, in seeking after toleration, how, I say, they will answer this to God and their own consciences, let them look to it. Again, many of the pretended new lights have communion with darkness in another respect, because they are borrowed from heresies buried in darkness. How many new lights are now brought from the Arians, Manichees, Novatians, Donatists, the Contemplative Monks and Friars, the Photinians, Socinians, Arminians, &c. These are no more new lights than a beggar’s cloak is a new garment, being newly made up out of many old riven and rotten clouts sewed together.
Tenthly, Away with those new lights which let men see nothing better, which bring no edification; those Bœotia ænigmata, those nonsense and haughty high nonsense in which some frothy spirits evanish. Let all things be done unto edifying, 1 Cor. 14.26. There are vain babblings, and science, falsely so called, which hath made men err from the faith, 1 Tim. 6.20,21.
Lastly, Take good heed of those new lights which follow new interests. Such was that of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 12.26 to the end; and that of Balaam; Num. 22. 15-20. There are some who suppose that gain is godliness, saith the Apostle, 1 Tim. 6.5; and so there are some who suppose new interests to be new lights.