« PreviousContinue »
and his sentiments upon the scripture proposed; I hope he will do me the justice to admit that I have no reference to him in this paper; but only took occasion from the question, to communicate my sentiments on a subject of considerable importance; and to bear testimony against an evil, which appears of dangerous tendency. My idea, of the interpretation that had been given of this text, was not conjecturally drawn from any thing in the query; but from what I have seen and heard advanced upon it. I can assure the reader, not only that I most firmly believe the doctrines known by most readers of the “ Theological Miscellany,” under the title of the doctrines of grace, but also that real regard to these doctrines inspires my zeal against such things as deform their beauty, or weaken their evidence.
ON SPECULATIVE AND SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE.
The questions which Fervidus proposes, concerning the law of God, tend to ascertain the precise distinction between the highest attainments of nature with its utmost advantages, and the least measure of true grace under every disadvantage. . The difficulty of giving an exact, perspicuous, and satisfactory solution is therefore equal to the
1« Under the law to Christ.” 1 Cor. ix. 21.-J. S.
importance of the subject. Not so much from the nature of the subject itself, as from the state of mind peculiar to him, for whom the solution seems chiefly wanted ; namely, the feeble believer. For, as has been observed in a former paper, the object to be discerned and distinguished is so minute; the discerning faculty so dim and unaccustomed to its office; and the counterfeits SO plausible; that it is hardly possible to render the distinction so plain, and marked, as to give the desired satisfaction. Indeed it seems to be the Lord's purpose, that the reality of grace should ordinarily be ascertained only by increase; and, as he requires us to“ press forward,” and “ to give “ diligence to make our calling and election
so he seldom allows the comfortable privilege of assurance to be attained or enjoyed in any other way.
The scriptural discussion, however, of such subjects cannot fail of being useful in various ways; especially by cautioning persons under serious impressions against being imposed on by Satan with a counterfeit conversion, and a destructive confidence; and by forming the judgment, encouraging the diligence, and awakening the vigilance of true converts, in their first setting out; as well as by obviating prejudices, and removing stumblingblocks. Should I therefore fail of giving full satisfaction to Fervidus, I hope some good may arise from the following observations on a subject which has for many years exceedingly occupied my thoughts, and engaged my most serious attention.
There are three distinct questions proposed by Fervidus.
I. “May not an unregenerate man know a great deal speculatively about the spirituality of the law of God?' The word speculatively is carefully to be adverted to; for both in the scriptures, and in the writings of many eminent divines on this subject, many things are spoken of the incapacity of the natural man to know spiritual things, which ought indisputably to be interpreted of a spiritual knowledge of them ; but which are often explained of speculative knowledge, to the unspeakable prejudice of the cause of God. This premised, I observe, that an unregenerate man is capable of knowing speculatively, or scientifically any subject in divinity, in proportion to his capacity, opportunity or application; as well as in other sciences. Let a man of great abilities be induced by a prospect of reputation or worldly advantages, or by a fatal mistake of the “ form of knowledge for a saving religion, to turn his studies into this channel; and, with every advantage afforded, let him closely apply himself, and he will arrive at great eminence in theology as a science, as well upon the Calvinistical, or orthodox scheme, as on any other. Consequently he will be able to state more exactly, to distinguish more accurately, and to dispute more acutely about any given subject, where speculation, not experience, is concerned, than most of the real children of God; who are destitute of such abilities, and have not time or opportunity for such information, or application.
According to St. Paul, if a man have the know
ledge of all mysteries, and the gifts of prophecy and miracle, and have not love, he is “ nothing.” And Christ declares that many of those, who have actually prophesied and cast out devils in his name, will be ordered to depart from him as “ workers of
iniquity,” whom he “ never knew.” And, in fact, every age has produced persons, whose knowledge and gifts have not only rivalled, but eclipsed, those of the most illustrious servants of God; and even imposed upon them : whose detected wickedness, and awful catastrophes, have shewn whose children they were. Thus Ahithophel imposed on David ; Judas on the apostles ; and Demas on St. Paul. And the false teachers at Corinth, and other places, so dazzled the minds of the primitive Christians, that they even undermined the authority of the apostles themselves, .and alienated the minds of the people from them; which they never could have done, without much real, as well as much pretended knowledge. Nay, it is undeniable, however mysterious, that, besides that knowledge attainable by ordinary means, the Spirit of God has often communicated supernatural knowledge, and other gifts to unregenerate men ; and how far he may do so still, it is not for us to determine. But, without taking this into the account, it will, I suppose, be allowed that Satan possesses as large a share of doctrinal knowledge as any believer upon earth ; and could, if permitted and inclined, discourse as eloquently and acutely on religious subjects.
There is evidently mentioned in scripture a twofold knowledge. The one is spoken of in degrading language : “ Knowledge puffeth up:"the
latter in the highest terms: “ This is life eternal, “ to know thee the only true God, and Jesus « Christ whom thou hast sent." The former is attainable, in any degree, by a natural man ; the latter in the least degree, is the effect of regeneration, and inseparably connected with eternal life. Suffice it now to say, that the difference is not so much in the things known, as in the manner of knowing them, and in the effects produced by our knowledge.
An unregenerate man may understand speculatively the strictness and extent of the law of God, as requiring perfect love, and taking cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart. By arguments, which he cannot answer or evade, he may be constrained to allow the reasonableness and equity of the precept, and the justice of its awful sanction : as this confession was extorted from Pharaoh, “ The Lord is righteous, and I and
my people are wicked.” Whether this be properly what is meant by the word spirituality, I will not positively decide : but this is enough for my present purpose : and leads me to another question.
II. May not an unregenerate man be led to strive against sins of the heart, in consequence of this knowledge?'
When a man seriously apprehends that he must either part with his sins, or endure everlasting misery for them; as long as this conviction continues, the fear of such a punishment, joined to some hope of escaping it, and of obtaining eternal happiness, must influence him both to abstain