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SUHESIS PNEUMATIKH OR THE CAUSES, WAYS, AND MEANS OF UNDERSTANDING THE MIND OF GOD AS REVEALED IN HIS WORD, WITH ASSURANCE THEREIN;
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and A DECLARATION OF THE PERSPICUITY OF THE SCRIPTURES, WITH THE EXTERNAL MEANS OF THE INTERPRETATION OF THEM. Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. — <19B918>Psalm 119:18.
Give me understanding, and I shall live. — <19B9144>Psalm 119:144.
THE following work is the latter part of our author’s treatise on the operations of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the minds of believers, and relates to the method by which we are to understand and interpret Scripture aright, as the former part of it was occupied exclusively with a discusson of the evidence or grounds on which we receive it as divine.
In the preceding treatise, on “The Reason of Faith,” Owen, while defending the objective authority of the Word, in opposition to the principle of an “inward light,” asserted and proved the necessity of spiritual influence for the due reception of the Word in its divine authority. His argument in the present treatise has “especial respect unto the Church on Rome,” and, on the principle that every man has a right to interpret Scripture, opens with a denial of the claim of that church to be the only interpreter of Scripture. The Quaker and the Romanist agree in holding the subordination of Scripture to another authority in matters of faith, — the former finding this authority in his inward light, the latter vesting it in the church. Our author, in common with the general body of Protestants, asserts the sufficiency of revelation in itself as a rule of faith and duty, provided it be read and understood in the enjoyment of the enlightening influence of the Spirit, and in the use of certain divinely appointed means.
This treatise, if not among the best known, is among the most useful, of our author’s works. The subject is of confessed importance, and he handles it with all his characteristic sagacity. Singularly coherent, and comprehensive in its details, less prolix than most of his works, and free from irrelevant digressions, it is not to this day superseded by any similar treatise on the same subject, and forms an excellent manual for all who are engaged in sacred studies as a profession. Dr Pye Smith, in his “Scripture Testimony to the Messiah,” quotes from it copiously, in illustration of the spirit with which the study of the divine Word should be prosecuted, nor has he by any means exhausted the noble and weighty sentiments which occur in this work, expressive of humble reverence for its supreme authority. Owen in himself exemplifies the benefit sure to accrue from the prostration or every claim and gift before the throne of revealed truth Few have surpassed him in “the full assurance of understanding.”
The presumptuous claim of the Romish Church to the infallible interpretation of the Word is denied, and the right of private judgement in the interpretation of it asserted; the question considered is declared to relate to the method by which we attain to a right perception of the mind of God in Scripture, and this method is described as twofold: — I. Through a principal efficient cause; and, II. Auxiliary means, internal and external, appointed of God, chap. 1.
I. The Holy, Spirit is represented as the EFFICIENT CAUSE, and an inquiry follows: — I. Into the evidence of the work of the Spirit in the communication of spiritual understanding; — various testimonies from Scripture are adduced, involving a minute discussion of <19B918> Psalm 119:18, 2 Corinthians 3:13-18, Isaiah 25:7, Luke 24:44,45, Ephesians 1:17-19, Hosea 14:9, II. ; John 16:13,1 John 2:20,27, Ephesians 4:14, Job 36:22, John 6:45, III. ; and, 2. Into the especial nature of the Spirit’s work in enlightening us into a knowledge of the mind of God in Scripture. Its nature is first considered by a reference to several scriptural expressions descriptive of it, such as “opening the eyes,” “translating out of darkness into light,” “giving understanding,” “teaching,” and “shining into our hearts,” IV. As preparatory to what follows in explanation of the Spirit’s work in enlightening the mind, a digression is introduced on the causes of spiritual ignorance, which are classified into three divisions: — the natural vanity of the depraved mind; the working of corrupt affections; and the deceitful influence of Satan. The way in which the Spirit operates directly on our minds for the removal of all those causes of spiritual ignorance, by communicating spiritual light, purging from corrupt affections, and implanting spiritual habits and principles, is explained, V.
His work for the production of the same effect by means of Scripture itself next comes under review; and under this head three points in regard, (1.) To the arrangement, (2.) The subject-matter of Scripture, and (3.) Difficulties in Scripture, are considered. (1.) On the first of these points, advantages are exhibited as resulting from the want of formal system in revelation; the ministry of the gospel is felt to be of value, faith and obedience are brought into special exercise and search into the whole of Scripture is rendered necessary (2.) the subject-matter of revelation is proved to contain all things requisite for faith and practise. (3.) The difficulties in Scripture include, first, things “hard to be understood,” and secondly, things “hard to be interpreted.” Rules for the management of these difficulties are supplied, VI.
II. As to the MEANS for the understanding of Scripture, two kinds are specified: — 1. Such as are general and necessary, as the reading of Scripture; and, 2. Such as are expedient and conducive to the improvement of it. And the latter are threefold: — (1.) Spiritual means, such as prayer, suscptibiity of gracious impressions, practical obedience, desire for progress in knowledge, and attention to the ordinances of worship, VII. (2.) Disciplinary, skill in the original languages of Scripture, acquaintance with history, geography, and chronology, and expertness in reasoning, VIII; and, (3.) Ecclesiastical, under which the deference due to catholic tradition, the consent of the fathers, and pious authorship, is estimated, IX. —ED.
I SHALL in a few words give the reader an account of the occasion and design of the small ensuing discourse. Some while since I published a treatise about the “Reason of Faith, or the Grounds whereon we Believe the Scripture to be the Word of God,” with that faith which is our duty, and pre-required unto all other acceptable obedience. But although this be the first fundamental principle of supernatural religion, yet is it not sufficient unto any of the ends thereof (that we believe the Scripture to bedivine revelation), unless we understand the mind and will of God therein revealed. At least, the knowledge and understanding of those things wherein our present duty and future state of blessedness or misery are immediately concerned, are no leas indispensably necessary unto us than is the belief of the Scripture to be the word of God. To declare the ways and means whereby we may assuredly attain that understanding is the design of the ensuing discourse, as those whereby we come infallibly to believe the Scripture with faith divine and supernatural are the subject of the former. My principal scope in both hath been, to manifest that such is the abundant goodness, wisdom, and grace of God, in granting unto us the inestimable benefit of his word, that no persons whatever shall or can come short of the advantage intended by it but through their own sinful negligence and ingratitude, — the highest crimes in things of a spiritual and eternal concernment; for he hath given such convincing evidences of the procedure or emanation of the Scripture from himself, by the divine inspiration of the penmen thereof, and so plainly declared his mind and will therein as unto the faith and obedience which he requires of any or all sorts of persons in their various circumstances, that every one who takes care of his own present and eternal welfare may and shall, in the due use of the means by him appointed, and discharge of the duties by him prescribed unto that end, with a due dependence on the aid and assistance which he will not withhold from any who diligently seek him, infallibly attain such measure of the knowledge of his mind and will, with full assurance therein, as will be sufficient to guide him unto eternal blessedness. The same measure of divine knowledge is not required in all and every one, that they may live unto God and come unto the enjoyment of him. The dispensation of God towards mankind, in nature, providence, and grace, is an invincible spring of such variety among them, as will not allow a prescription of the same measures of knowledge unto all who haveconsistency with divine wisdom and goodness; and a supposition of it would bring confusion into all the order of things and persons which is of divine constitution. Nor is it pretended that any one man may or can have, in the use of any means whatever, a full comprehension of all divine revelations in this life, nor perhaps of any one of them; or that all men, in the use of the same means prescribed unto them, shall have the same conceptions of all things revealed. The Scripture was given for the use of the whole church, and that in all ages, states, and conditions, with respect unto that inconceivable variety of circumstances which all sorts of causes do distribute the whole multitude of them into. Wherefore, the wisdom of God therein hath suited itself unto the instruction of every individual believer, unto the moment of his entrance into eternity. That any one of them, that any society of them, should have a perfect comprehension of the entire revelation of God, or a perfect understanding of the whole Scripture, and every part of it, with all that is contained therein, was never required of them in a way of duty, nor ever designed unto them in a way of privilege: for besides that he hath replenished it with unfathomable stores, unsearchable treasures of divine mysteries, wherein we cannot find out the Almighty unto perfection, and hath provided another state for the comprehension of that by sight which is the object of adoration and admiration in believing such knowledge is not necessary unto any that they may lead the life of faith, and discharge the duties thereof, in all holy obedience unto God; yea, such a knowledge and comprehension would be inconsistent with that state and condition wherein we are to walk with God, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, and during the continuance thereof. But the substance of what we plead for is, that such is the wisdom, goodness, and love of God towards mankind, in the grant that he hath made unto them of the revelation of himself, his mind and will, in the Scripture, as that no one person doth or can fail of attaining all that understanding in it and of it which is any way needful for his guidance to live unto God in his circumstances and relations, so as to come unto the blessed enjoyment of him, but by the sinful neglect of the means and duties prescribed by him for the attainment of that understanding, and want of a due dependence on those spiritual aids and assistances which he hath prepared for that end. By what ways and means he hath thus provided for the assurance and security of all men, in things of their eternal concernment, and what are those acts of his wisdom, power, and grace, which he exerts for that end — namely, that they may both believe the Scripture to be his word, and understand his mind revealed therein, both according unto what is required of them in a way of duty, so as in both they may be accepted with him, — is the design of this and the other forementioned discourse to declare. And they are both of them principally intended for the use of the ordinary sort of Christians, who know it their concernment to be established in the truth of those things wherein they have been instructed; for they are frequently attacked with these questions, “How do you know the Scriptures to be the word of God? and what assurance have you that you understand any thing contained in them, seeing all sorts of persons are divided about their sense and meaning, nor do you pretend unto any immediate inspiration to give you assurance?”
And if, on these ensnaring inquiries, they are cast under any doubts or perplexities in their minds, as it often falls out amongst them who have not diligently weighed the principles of their own profession, the next insinuation is, that they ought to betake themselves either to some other present guide, as their own light and reason, or make a complete resignation of themselves and the conduct of their souls unto the pretended authority and guidance of other men. To give assurance and security unto their minds that they neither are nor can be deceived in the belief of the Scriptures to be the word of God, and [as to] the understanding of his mind and will therein, so far as their present obedience and eternal happiness are concerned, and that unto this end they need not be beholding unto any, nor depend on any but God himself, in the use of known and obvious means or duties, is designed in these small treatises. And upon the principles evinced and confirmed in them, I have yet proposed a farther inquiry, — namely, What conduct, in these times of great contests about the assurance of faith, and the causes of it, every one that takes care of his own salvation ought to betake himself unto, that he may not be deceived nor miscarry in the end: and this is designed with especial respect unto the church of Rome, which vehemently pretends unto the sole infallible conduct in these things. But probably the near appreach of the daily-expected and earnestly-desired hour of my discharge from all farther service in this world will prevent the accomplishment of that intention. In the continual prospect hereof do I yet live and rejoice; which, among other advantages unspeakable, hath already given me an unconcernment in those oppositions which the passions or interests of men engage them in, of a very near alliance unto, and scarce distinguishable from, that which the grave will afford. I have but one thing more to acquaint the reader withal, wherewith I shall close this preface, and it is the same with that where. with the preface unto the former discourse is concluded: — This also belongeth unto the second part of my discourse concerning the dispensation and operations of the Holy Spirit. The first volume on that subject, some years since published, having found good acceptance among them that are godly and learned, both at home and abroad, I have been desired to give out what yet remaineth for the complete accomplishment of what I had designed thereon in this way of lesser discourses, that may have their use before the whole be finished, or whether ever it be so or no.