And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.
~ Isaiah 29:18
I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.
~ Hosea 8:12
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
~ 1 John 5:20-21
The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.
~ Proverbs 10:21
Understanding the Mind of God, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “UHESIS PNEUMATIKH, Or the Causes, Ways and Means of Understanding the Mind of God As Revealed in His Word, With Assurance Therein; 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. — Psalm 119:18.
Give me understanding, and I shall live. — Psalm 119:144.
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 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.
Usurpation of the church of Rome with reference unto the interpretation of the Scripture, or right understanding of the mind of God therein — Right and ability of all believers as to their own duty herein asserted — Importance of the truth proposed — The main question stated — The principal efficient cause of the understanding which believers have in the mind and will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, the Spirit of God himself — General assertions to be proved — Declared in sundry particulars — Inferences from them.
Our belief of the Scriptures to be the word of God, or a divine revelation, and our understanding of the mind and will of God as revealed in them, are the two springs of all our interest in Christian religion. From them are all those streams of light and truth derived whereby our souls are watered, refreshed, and made fruitful unto God. It therefore concerneth us greatly to look well to those springs, that they be neither stopped nor defiled, and so rendered useless unto us. Though a man may have pleasant streams running by his habitation and watering his inheritance, yet if the springs of them be in the power of others, who can either divert their course or poison their waters, on their pleasure he must always depend for the benefit of them.
Thus hath it fallen out in the world in this matter; so hath the church of Rome endeavoured to deal with all Christians. Their main endeavour is, to seize those springs of religion into their own power. The Scripture itself, they tell us, cannot be believed to be the word of God with faith divine but upon the proposal and testimony of their church; thereby is one spring secured. And when it is believed so to be, it ought not to be interpreted, it cannot be understood, but according to the mind, judgment, and exposition of the same church; which in like manner secures the other. And having of old possessed these springs of Christian religion, they have dealt with them according as might be expected from unjust invaders of other men’s rights and malæ fidei possesoribus. So when the Philistines contended for the wells which Abraham and Isaac had digged, when they had got possession of them they stopped 122them up; and when the scribes and Pharisees had gotten the key of knowledge, they would neither enter into the kingdom of God themselves, nor suffer those that would, so to do, as our Saviour tells us. For the one of these springs, which is the letter of the Scripture itself, when it ought to have gone forth like the waters of the sanctuary, to refresh the church and make it fruitful unto God, they partly stopped it up and partly diverted its course, by shutting it up in an unknown tongue and debarring the people from the use of it. And in the exercise of their pretended right unto the other spring, or the sole interpretation of the Scripture, they have poisoned the streams with all manner of errors and delusions, so as that they became not only useless, but noxious and pernicious unto the souls of men; for under the pretence hereof, — namely, that their church hath the sole power of interpreting the Scriptures, and cannot err therein, — have they obtruded all their errors, with all their abominations in worship and practice, on the minds and consciences of men.
The first of these springs I have in a former discourse on this subject taken out of their hand, so far as we ourselves are concerned therein, or I have vindicated the just right of all Christians thereunto, and given them possession thereof. This I did by declaring the true grounds and reasons whereon we do, and whereon any can, truly believe the Scripture to be the word of God with faith divine and supernatural; for besides other advantages wherewith the knowledge of that truth is accompanied, it dispossesseth the Romanists of their claim unto this fountain of religion, by evidencing that we do and ought thus to believe the divine original of the Scripture, without any regard to the testimony or authority of their church.
That which now lieth before us is, the vindication of the right of all believers unto the other spring also, or a right understanding of the mind and will of God as revealed in the Scripture, suitably unto the duty that God requireth of them in their several capacities and conditions.
What is necessary unto the interpretation of difficult places and passages in the Scripture, and what measure of understanding of the mind and will of God as revealed therein is required of persons in their various conditions, as they are teachers of others or among the number of them that are to be taught, shall, among other things, be afterward spoken unto. My principal design is, to manifest that every believer may, in the due use of the means appointed of God for that end, attain unto such a full assurance of understanding in the truth, or all that knowledge of the mind and will of God revealed in the Scripture, which is sufficient to direct him in the life of God, to deliver him from the dangers of ignorance, darkness, 123and error, and to conduct him unto blessedness. Wherefore, as unto the belief of the Scripture itself, so as unto the understanding, knowledge, and faith of the things contained therein, we do not depend on the authoritative interpretation of any church or person whatever. And although ordinary believers are obliged to make diligent and conscientious use of the ministry of the church, among other things, as a means appointed of God to lead, guide, and instruct them in the knowledge of his mind and will revealed in the Scripture, which is the principal end of that ordinance; yet is not their understanding of the truth, their apprehension of it and faith in it, to rest upon or to be resolved into their authority, who are not appointed of God to be lords of their faith, but helpers of their joy. And thereon depends all our interest in that great promise, that we shall be all taught of God; for we are not so unless we do learn from him and by him the things which he hath revealed in his word.
And there is not any truth of greater importance for men to be established in; for unless they have a full assurance of understanding in themselves, unless they hold their persuasion of the sense of Scripture revelations from God alone, if their spiritual judgment of truth and falsehood depend on the authority of men, they will never be able to undergo any suffering for the truth or to perform any duty unto God in a right manner. The truths of the gospel and the ways of religious worship, for which any believer may be called to suffer in this world, are such as about whose sense and revelation in the Scripture there is great difference and controversy among men; and if there be not an assured, yea, infallible way and means of communicating unto all believers a knowledge of the mind and will of God in the Scripture concerning those things so controverted, the grounds whereof are fixed in their own minds, but that they do wholly depend on the expositions and interpretations of other men: be they who they will, they cannot suffer for them either cheerfully or honourably, so as to give glory to God, or to obtain any solid peace and comfort in their own souls; for if a man under his sufferings for his profession can give himself no other account but this, that what he suffers for is the truth of God revealed in the Scripture, because such or such whom he hath in veneration or esteem do so affirm and have so instructed him, or because this is the doctrine of this or that church, the papal or the reformed church, which it hath prescribed unto him, he will have little joy of his suffering in the end. Yea, there is that which is yet worse in this matter, as things are stated at this day in the world. Truth and error are promiscuously persecuted, according unto the judgment, interest, and inclinations of them that are in power; yea, sometimes both truth 124and error are persecuted in the same place and at the same time, upon errors differing from both. Dissent is grown almost all that is criminal in Christian religion all the world over. But in this state of things, unless we grant men an immediate understanding of their own in the mind and will of God, yea, a full assurance therein, there will be nothing whereby a man who suffers for the most important truths of the gospel can in his own soul and conscience distinguish himself from those who suffer in giving testimony unto the most pernicious errors; for all outward means of confidence which he hath, they may have also.
It therefore behoveth all those who may possibly be called to suffer for the truth in any season, or on any occasion, to assure their minds in this fundamental truth, that they may have in themselves a certain undeceiving understanding of the mind and will of God as revealed in the Scripture, independent on the authority of any church or persons whatsoever; the use of whose ministry herein we do yet freely and fully allow.
Nor, indeed, without a supposition hereof, can any man perform any duty to God in an acceptable manner, so as that his obedience may be the obedience of faith, nor can upon good grounds die in peace, since the just shall live by his own faith alone.
Wherefore, our present inquiry is, —
How believers, or any men whatever, may attain a right understanding in their own minds of the meaning and sense of the Scriptures, as to the doctrine or truths contained in them, in answer unto the design of God, as unto what he would have us know or believe; or, —
How they may attain a right perception of the mind of God in the Scripture, and what he intends in the revelation of it, in opposition unto ignorance, errors, mistakes, and all false apprehensions, and so in a right manner to perform the duties which by it we are instructed in.
In answer unto the inquiry proposed concerning the knowledge and understanding of believers in the mind of God as revealed in the Scriptures, I shall consider, —
First, The principal efficient cause; and, secondly, All the means, internal and external, which are appointed of God thereunto.
As to the first of these, or the principal efficient cause of the due knowledge and understanding of the will of God in the Scripture, it is the Holy Spirit of God himself alone; for, —
There is an especial work of the Spirit of God on the minds of men, communicating spiritual wisdom, light, and understanding unto them, necessary unto their discerning and apprehending aright the mind of God in his word, and the understanding of the 125mysteries of heavenly truth contained therein. And I shall add hereunto, that among all the false and foolish imaginations that ever Christian religion was attacked or disturbed withal, there never was any, there is none more pernicious than this, that the mysteries of the gospel are so exposed unto the common reason and understanding of men as that they may know them and comprehend them in a useful manner, and according to their duty, without the effectual aid and assistance of the Spirit of God.
It is the fondest thing in the world to imagine that the Holy Ghost doth any way teach us but in and by our own reasons and understandings. We renounce all enthusiasms in this matter, and plead not for any immediate prophetical inspirations. Those who would prohibit us the use of our reason in the things of religion would deal with us as the Philistines did with Samson, — first put out our eyes, and then make us grind in their mill. Whatever we know, be it of what sort it will, we know it in and by the use of our reason; and what we conceive, we do it by our own understanding: only the inquiry is, whether there be not an especial work of the Holy Spirit of God, enlightening our minds and enabling our understandings to perceive and apprehend his mind and will as revealed in the Scripture, and without which we cannot so do. The substance, therefore, of the ensuing discourse may be reduced unto these heads:—
I. That we stand not in need of any new divine afflations, or immediate prophetical inspirations, to enable us to understand the Scripture, or the mind and will of God as revealed therein; neither did the prophets or holy penmen of the Scripture learn the mind of God in the revelations made unto them, and by them unto the church, merely from the divine inspiration of them. Those immediate inspirations unto them were in the stead and place of the written word, and no otherwise. After they did receive them, they were by the same means to inquire into the mind and will of God in them as we do it in and by the written word, 1 Pet. i. 10, 11.
II. That as to the right understanding of the mind of God in the Scripture, or our coming unto the riches of the full assurance of understanding in the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, we do not, nor need to depend on the authoritative instruction or interpretation of the Scripture by any church whatever, or all of them in the world, though there be great use of the true ministry of the church unto that end.
III. That in the mere exercise of our own natural reason and understanding, with the help of external means, we cannot attain that knowledge of the mind and will of God in the Scripture, of the sense and meaning of the Holy Ghost therein, which is required of 126us in a way of duty, without the special aid and assistance of the Holy Spirit of God. Wherefore, principally, it is asserted, —
IV. That there is an especial work of the Holy Spirit, in the supernatural illumination of our minds, needful unto the end proposed, — namely, that we may aright, and according unto our duty, understand the mind of God in the Scripture ourselves, or interpret it unto others.
V. That hereby alone is that full assurance of understanding in the knowledge of the mystery of God, his truth and grace, to be obtained, whereby any man may answer the mind and will of God, or comply with his own duty in all that he may be called to do or suffer in this world in his especial circumstances. Wherefore, —
VI. The certainty and assurance that we may have and ought to have of our right understanding the mind of God in the Scripture, either in general or as to any especial doctrine, doth not depend upon, is not resolved into, any immediate inspiration or enthusiasm; it doth not depend upon nor is resolved into the authority of any church in the world; nor is it the result of our reason and understanding merely in their natural actings, but as they are elevated, enlightened, guided, conducted, by an internal efficacious work of the Spirit of God upon them.
VII. That whereas the means of the right interpretation of the Scripture, and understanding of the mind of God therein, are of two sorts, — first, such as are prescribed unto us in a way of duty, as prayer, meditation on the word itself, and the like; and, secondly, disciplinary, in the accommodation of arts and sciences, with all kind of learning, unto that work, — the first sort of them doth entirely depend on a supposition of the spiritual aids mentioned, without which they are of no use; and the latter is not only consistent therewith, but singularly subservient thereunto. Wherefore, the nature and use of all these means shall be afterward declared.
This being the substance of what is designed in the ensuing discourse, it is evident that the positions before laid down concerning the especial work of the Spirit on the minds of men, in communicating spiritual wisdom, light, and knowledge unto them, is in the first place and principally to be confirmed, as that whereon all the other assertions do absolutely depend.
It is the Scripture itself alone from whence the truth in this matter can be learned, and by which alone what is proposed concerning it must be tried; therefore, as unto this first part of this work, I shall do little more than plead the express testimonies thereof. When we come to consider the way and manner of the communication of these spiritual aids unto us, the whole matter will be more fully stated, and such objections as may be laid against our assertion removed out of the way.
127And there are two ends designed in this undertaking:—
First, That which the evangelist Luke proposed in his writing the Gospel unto Theophilus, — namely, “That he might know the certainty of the things wherein he had been instructed,” Luke i. 4. When we have been instructed in the truth of the gospel, and do give our assent thereunto, yet it is needful that we should examine the grounds and reasons of what we do believe thereon, that we may have a certainty or full assurance of them. This, therefore, we shall direct, — namely, how a man may come to an undeceiving persuasion and full assurance that the things wherein he hath been instructed, and which he knows, are true and according to the mind of God, so as that he may thereon be “no more tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
Secondly, We design to inquire what conduct unto this end a man that takes care of his salvation, and who is convinced that he must give an account of himself unto God, ought in this matter, as to the right understanding of the mind and will of God in the Scripture, to betake himself unto. And as I shall show that there is no safety in depending on enthusiasms, or immediate pretended infallible inspirations, nor on the pretended infallibility of any church, so the Holy Spirit of God, enlightening our minds in the exercise of our own reason or understanding, and in use of the means appointed of God unto that end, is the only safe guide to bring us unto the full assurance of the mind and will of God as revealed in the Scripture.
Wherefore, the whole foundation of this work lies in these two things:—
1. That there is such an especial work of the Holy Spirit on our minds, enabling them to understand the Scriptures in a right manner, or to know the mind of God in them;
2. In showing what is the especial nature of this work, what are the effects of it upon our minds, and how it differs from all enthusiastical inspirations, and what is the true exercise of our minds in compliance therewith. And these things we shall first inquire into.