THE REASON OF FAITH; OR AN ANSWER UNTO THAT INQUIRY, “WHEREFORE WE BELIEVE THE SCRIPTURE TO BE THE WORD OF GOD;”
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WITH THE CAUSES AND NATURE OF THAT FAITH WHEREWITH WE DO SO:
WHEREIN THE GROUNDS WHEREON THE HOLY SCRIPTURE IS BELIEVED TO BE THE WORD OF GOD WITH FAITH DIVINE AND SUPERNATURAL ARE DELCARED AND VINDICATED.
BY JOHN OWEN, D.D. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead — LUKE 16:31.
T HE subject of this treatise belongs to the office of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the minds of believers. It is the first part of what may be regarded as the sixth book in the work of our author on the dispesation and operations of the Spirit, and is occupied with an answer to the question, on what grounds, or for, what reason, we believe the Scripture to be the word of God. When it was published, the novel views of the Friends, to whom Owen frequently in his work on the Spirit alludes, had become extensively known. Barclay’s famous “Apology for the True Christian Divinity” had just appeared; in which their views received the advantage of a scientific treatment and formal exhibition. The essential principle of the system is “the inward light” ascribed to every man, consequent upon a peculiar tenet, according to which the operation of the Holy Spirit in his office of illumination is universal, — so universal that even where the facts of the gospel are utterly unknown, as in heathen countries, this light exists in every man, and by due submission to its guidance be would be saved.
How far this notion was simply a mistaken recoil to an opposite extreme from the high views of ecclesiastical prerogative which certain divines of the Church of England were fond of urging, is an inquiry scarcely within our province. It is an instructive fact, however, that mysticism, in claiming a special immigration for every man, manifests no very remote affinity with the modern scepticism that admits the inspiration of Scripture, but only in such a sense as makes inspiration common to all authorship.
However wide and vital may be the discrepancy in other respects between the mystic and the sceptic, in this principle they seem as one; and they are as one also to some extent in the practical tendencies it engenders, such as the disparagement of the Scriptures as an objective rule of faith and life.
In opposition to such principles, the authority, sufficiency, and infallibility, of the Scriptures, were ably proved by many write writers of the Church of England; whose services in this department are freely acknowledged, in this treatise. Somewhat rationalistic in their spirit, however, and driven perhaps to a greater rationalism of tone by the fanatical excesses which they sought to rebuke, they stated the question in such terms as superceded the necessity of supernatural influence in order to the production of saving faith in the divine word; and even such a writer as Tillotson speaks vaguely about “the principles of natural religion” governing all our reasonings about the evidence and interpretation of revealed truth. If Owens therefore, affirmed the necessity of the Spirit for the dual credence of revelation, he might be confounded with “the professors of the inward light;” and he actually was charged by divines of the class to which we have alluded with this and kindred errors. If, on the other hand, he affirmed the competency of the external evidences of revelation to produce a conviction of its divine authority, It might be insinuated or fancied that he was overlooking the work of the spirit as the source of faith. It is his object to show that, in truth, he was committed to neither extreme; that while external arguments deserve and must be allowed their proper weight, the faith by which we receive Scripture must be the same in origin and essence with the faith by which we receive the truths contained in it; that faith of this description implies the affectual illumintaion of the Holy Spirit; and that in this illumination there is no particular and internal testimony, equivalent to inspiration or to an immediate revelation from God, to each believer personally. The Sprit is the efficient cause by which faith is implanted; but not the objective groud on which our faith rests. The objective ground or reason of faith, according to our author, is “the authority and veracity of God revealing themselves in the Scripture and by it;” and Scripture must be received for its own sake, as the word of God, apart from external arguments and authoritative testimony. The grounds on which it is thus to be received resolve themselves into what is now known by the designation of the experimental evidence in favor of Christianity, — the renewing and sanctifying effect of divine truth on the mind. It might be objected, that if the Spirit be requisite to appreciate the force of the Christian evidence, so as to acquire true and proper faith in Scripture as the word of God, men who do not enjoy spiritual enlightenment would be free from any obligation to receive it as divine. The treatise is fitly closed by a brief but satisfactory reply to this and similar objections.
It has sometimes been questioned if Owen, with all his excellencies and gifts, has any claim to be regarded as an original thinker. This treatise of itself substantiates such a claim in his behalf. It is the first recognition of the experimental evidence of Christianity, — that great branch in the varied evidences of our faith to which the bulk of plain Christians, unable to overtake or even comprehend the voluminous authorship on the subject of the external evidences, stand indebted for the clearness and strength of their religious convictions. It. could not be the first discovery of this evidence, for its nature implies that it had been in operation ever since revelation dawned on the race; but Owen has the merit of first distinctly and formally recognising its existence and value. He seems to have been himself quite aware of the freshness and importance of the line of thought on which he had entered, for, anxous to his argument clear, he has himself in the appendix supplied an abstract and analysis of it, and acoompanied it with some testimonies from various authors in confirmation of the premises on which his conclusions rest. The treatise was published in 1577, without any division into chapters. We borrow, from a subsequent edition, a division of this sort, by which the steps in the reasoning are indictated. —ED.
HAVING added a brief account of the design, order, and method of the ensuing discourse in an appendix at the close of it, I shall not here detain the reader with the proposal of them; yet some few things remain which I judge it necessary to mind him of. Be he who he will, I am sure we shall not differ about the weight of the argument in hand; for whether it be the truth we contend for or otherwise, yet it will not be denied but that the determination of it, and the settling of the minds of men about it, are of the highest concernment unto them. But whereas so much hath been written of late by others on this subject, any farther debate of it may seem either needless or unseasonable. Something, therefore, may be spoken to evidence that the reader is not imposed on by that which may absolutely fall under either of these characters. Had the end in and by these discourses been effectually accomplished, it had been altogether useless to renew an endeavor unto the same purpose; but whereas an opposition unto the Scripture, and the grounds whereon we believe it to be a divine revelation, is still openly continued amongst us, a continuation of the defense of the one and the other cannot reasonably be judged either needless or unseasonable. Besides, most of the discourses published of late on this subject have had their peculiar designs, wherein that here tendered is not expressly engaged: for some of them do principally aim to prove that we have sufficient grounds to believe the Scripture, without any recourse unto or reliance upon the authoritative proposal of the church of Rome; which they have sufficiently evinced, beyond any possibility of rational contradiction from their adversaries. Others have pleaded and vindicated those rational considerations whereby our assent unto the divine original of it is fortified and confirmed, against the exceptions and objections of such whose love of sin and resolutions to live therein tempt them to seek for shelter in an atheistical contempt of the authority of God, evidencing itself therein. But as neither of these are utterly neglected in the ensuing discourse, so the peculiar design of it is of another nature; for the inquiries managed therein, — namely, What is the obligation upon us to believe the Scripture to be the word of God? What are the causes and what is the nature of that faith whereby we do so? What it rests on and is resolved into, so as to become a divine and acceptable duty? — do respect the consciences of men immediately, and the way whereby they may come to rest and assurance in believing. Whereas, therefore, it is evident that ‘many are often shaken in their minds with those atheistical objections against the divine original and authority of the Scripture which they frequently meet withal, [and] that many know not how to extricate themselves from the ensnaring questions that they are often attacked withal about them, — not for want of a due assent unto them,, but of a right understanding what is the true and formal reason of that assent, what is the firm basis and foundation that it rests upon, what answer they may directly and peremptorily give unto that inquiry, Wherefore do you believe the Scripture to be the word of God? — I have endeavored to give them those directions herein, that, upon a due examination, they will find compliant with the Scripture itself, right reason, and their own experience.
I am not, therefore, altogether without hopes that this small discourse may have its use, and be given out in its proper season. Moreover, I think it necessary to acquaint the reader that, as I have allowed all the arguments pleaded by others to prove the divine authority of the Scripture their proper place and force, so where I differ in the explication of any thing belonging unto this subject from the conceptions of other men, I have candidly examined such opinions, and the arguments wherewith they are confirmed, without straining the words, cavilling at the expressions, or reflections on the persons of any of the authors of them. And whereas I have myself been otherwise dealt withal by many, and know not how soon I may be so again, I do hereby free the persons of such humors and inclinations from all fear of any reply from me, or the least notice of what they shall be pleased to write or say. Such kind of writings are of the same consideration with me as those multiplied false reports which some have raised concerning me; the most of them so ridiculous and foolish, so alien from my principles, practices, and course of life, as I cannot but wonder how any persons pretending to gravity and sobriety are not sensible how their credulity and inclinations are abused in the hearing and reception of them. The occasion of this discourse is that which, in the last place, I shall acquaint the reader withal. About three years since I published a book about the dispensation and operations of the Spirit of God. That book was one part only of what I designed on that subject. The consideration of the work of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of illumination, of supplication, of consolation, and as the immediate author of all spiritual offices and gifts, extraordinary and ordinary, is designed unto the second part of it. Hereof this ensuing discourse is concerning one part of his work as a Spirit of illumintaion; which, upon the earnest requests of some acquainted with the nature and substance of it, I have suffered to come out by itself, that it might be of the more common use and more easily obtained. May 11, 1677.