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Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." John v. 39.
I take this opportunity of producing the sentiments of some of our most devout and enlightened writers on two subjects, at all times of deep importance, and well deserving of peculiar attention in the present day.
I. The sufficiency of Holy Scripture as a rule of faith and duty.
We ought to have the Holy Scriptures for the only rule of faith. When Paul made allegation for himself before Felix, the high deputy, he did not extend his faith beyond the Word of God written: "Believing all things," saith he, "which are written in the law and the prophets;" making no mention of the rabbins. Moreover, "they have Moses and the prophets," saith Abraham in the parable; not their persons, but their writings. Also "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." And again, "Blessed are they which hear the Word of God." "The things which have not their authority of the Scriptures, may as easily be despised as allowed," saith Jerome.
"Therefore, whether it be of Christ, or of his Church, or of any other manner of thing which belongeth to our faith and life, I will not say if we," saith Augustine, (" who are not worthy to be compared to him that said 'if we,') but (that which also forthwith he addeth) if an angel from heaven shall teach anything besides that which ye have received in the Scriptures of the law and gospel, accursed be he."
But how are the Scriptures to be understanded? Augustine answereth, giving this rule, "The circumstances of the Scrip
tures," saith he, "lighten the Scriptures; and so one Scripture doth expound another, to a man that is studious, well willing, and often calling upon God in continued prayer, who giveth his Holy Spirit to them that desire it of him." So that the Scripture is not of any private interpretation at any time. For such a one, though he be a layman, fearing God, is much more fit to understand Holy Scripture, than any arrogant and proud priest, yea, than the bishop himself, be he never so great and glistering in all his pontificals.—But what is to be said of the Fathers? How are they to be esteemed? Augustine answereth, (Epist. xix. ad Hieron.), giving this rule also; that we should not therefore think it true because they say so, do they never so much excel in holiness or learning; but if they be able to prove their saying by the canonical Scriptures, or by good probable reason; meaning that to be a probable reason, as I think, which doth orderly follow upon a right collection and gathering out of the Scriptures.
Let the Papists go with their long faith; be you contented with the short faith of the saints, which is revealed unto us in the word of God written. Adieu to all Popish fantasies. Amen. For, one man, having the Scripture and good reason for him, is more to be esteemed himself alone, than a thousand such as they, either gathered together, or succeeding one another. The Fathers have both herbs and weeds; and Papists commonly gather the weeds, and leave the herbs. HUGH LATIMER.
There is nothing laudable, nothing righteous, nothing honest or acceptable in God's sight, nothing to be done, for the which he hath not left in his Scriptures either some commandment, or some promise of reward, or some example. By his promises, by his threatenings, by his precepts, and through
the examples of godly men and women, we know good from evil; we know what is to be done, and what is to be left undone; what is to be praised, and what is to be dispraised; what delighteth and pleaseth, and what discontenteth and displeaseth, the Divine Majesty. God's book is no imperfect work, but a perfect book, containing all things to be done, the whole duty of a Christian man, and sufficient doctrine to instruct a God's-man in all good works, and to make him perfect: as St. Paul witnesseth, writing to Timothy. And he must needs accuse God either of ignorancy, or of folly, or of negligence, which saith that he hath left anything untouched and undeclared which concerneth a Christian man's office, and is needful and necessary unto salvation. All such things be expressed in God's book. For in the writing of the prophets he requireth the observation of his law only concerning religion; and he threateneth great plagues and grievous punishments to those that do add anything to his Word, that is, to those which teach any other doctrine, or any work to be necessary unto salvation, which is not commanded in his Word.-HUTCHINSON.
II. The Word of God in Holy Scripture is the means or instrument of spiritual regeneration, and of the growth and increase of grace.
The natural state of the soul is darkness, and the word, as a Divine light shining into it, transforms the soul into its own nature; so that as the word is called light, so is the soul that is renewed by it. "Ye were darkness, but now are ye," not only enlightened, but "light in the Lord," Eph. v. 8. All the evils of the natural mind are often comprised under the names of darkness and error; and therefore is the whole work of
conversion likewise signified by light and truth: "He begat us by the word of truth." James i. 8. So 2 Cor. iv. 6, alluding to the first Fiat Lux, or, "Let there be light," in the creation. The word, brought within the soul by the Spirit, lets it see its own necessity, and Christ's sufficiency, convinceth it thoroughly, and causeth it to cast over itself upon him for life: and this is the very begetting of it again to eternal life.
If we look more particularly into the strain and tenour of the word, it will appear most fit for increasing the graces of the Spirit in a Christian; for there are in it particular truths relative to them, that are apt to excite them, and set them on work, and so to make them grow, as all habits do, by acting. This it doth, both by particular exhortation to the study and exercise of those graces (sometimes pressing one, and sometimes another), and by right representing to them their objects. The word feeds faith, by setting before it the free grace of God, his rich promises, and his power and truth to perform them all; shews it the strength of the new covenant, not depending upon itself, but holding in Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yea and amen; and drawing faith still to rest more entirely upon his righteousness. It feeds repentance, by making the vileness and deformity of sin daily more clear and visible. Still as more of the word hath admission into the soul, the more it hates sin, sin being the more discovered and the better k nown in its own native colour: as the more light there is in a house, the more anything in it that is uncleanly or deformed is seen and disliked. Likewise it increaseth love to God, by opening up still more and more of his infinite excellency and loveliness. As it borrows the resemblance of the vilest things in nature to express the foulness and hatefulness of sin, so all the beauties and digniti es
that are in all the creatures are called together in the word, to give us some small scantling of that Uncreated Beauty, which alone deserves to be loved. Thus might its fitness be instanced in respect to all other graces.
But, above all other considerations, this is observable in the word as the increaser of grace, that it holds forth Jesus Christ to our view to look upon, not only as the perfect pattern, but as the full fountain of all grace, from "whose fulness we all receive." The contemplating of him as the perfect image of God, and then drawing from him as having in himself a treasure in us,—these give the soul more of that image in which consists truly spiritual growth. This the Apostle expresseth excellently, 2 Cor. iii. 18, speaking of the ministry of the Gospel revealing Christ, that, "beholding in him," as it is, chapter iv. 6, "in his face," "the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord:" not only that we may take the copy of his graces, but have a share of them.-LEIGHTON.
1 December 26th, 1842.
J. E. R.