A PACIFIC ADDRESS.
To the very reverend, learned, and celebrated Professors of Divinity in the Universities of the United Provinces of Holland; Pastors of the Reformed Churches, and zealous Defenders of the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
THE present age furnishes such a number of books, that the world is almost weary of them, and the church certainly groans under their weight: as this never flourished more than when, in the pure simplicity of faith and love, and without any fondness for disputatious, it regarded the doctrine of our Lord alone, and drew the pure and undefiled truth from those writings only which could "make David wiser than all his teachers, and the man of God perfect, thoroughly instructed to every good work." It is, indeed, very difficult to write anything now-a-days which can please. For so great is everywhere the fruitfulness of learning, or the vain imagination of science; so obstinate the attachment to once received hypotheses, so fixed the study of particular parts, and so malevolent the judgment passed on other peopleís works, (which even sometimes affects the minds of good men against their wills,) that whoever thinks by his writings to satisfy your delicate minds, or those who are engaged in a more general search after knowledge, seems to attribute too much to his own capacity, and to be ignorant of the disposition of the times. But I am conscious of the slenderness of my own abilities: and it is impossible for a person not to know the world, who is at all conversant with it. It therefore seems proper to assign some reasons for my appearing in public again; and to show the design of the work I now offer to the churches.
And to whom, reverend and learned Sirs, should I render the reasons rather than to you, who are competent judges of what I write; and by whom, next to God and my own conscience, I
long to have my studies, approved. In the first place, then, I sincerely declare, that it is not an incurable itch of writing, a raging thirst after vain glory, an envious disposition of mind, a detestable desire of widening the wounds already made in the churches, the odious pleasure of blackening anotherís character, by giving a wrong turn to what is really right; nor lastly, the infamous desire to make, increase, or continue strifes which have occasioned my writing at this time. Besides my own declaration to the contrary, the whole work itself, though but slightly attended to, will acquit me of acting on such motives.
To see the minds of the godly disturbed by the inconsiderate assertions of some, and their uncommon interpretations of the scriptures; or the suspicions of others, (not at all times dictated by charity, whatever share prudence may have in the case,) gave me indeed the greatest concern. And forasmuch as the doctrine of the covenant of grace, by which the manner of the reconciliation of sinners to God is shewn, and the manifold dispensation of that covenant, have been the unhappy object of controversy in the Netherlands, so that whatever points are now disputed upon, (if we except the new method of interpreting the prophecies, and the opinions of the modern philosophy, which are imprudently introduced into the present system of divinity, may, and ought to be referred to this,) I have thought this subject in the first place deserving my notice. But I have treated it in such a manner as is agreeable to the truths hitherto received in the churches; and without that levity or severity, which is not consistent with the law of love. On which account I have not confined myself to bare disputatious, which are generally unprofitable; and if it were not that they were seasoned with a degree of acrimony, would be destitute of every kind of elegance.
I have chosen to enter on this subject from its very beginning, and have endeavoured, as far as I could, to explain it methodically and clearly, enlightening the obscurer passages of scripture, carefully examining the phrases used by the Holy Ghost, and referring the whole to the practice of faith and godliness, to the glory of God in Christ, that my exposition might be the more useful and entertaining. And as nothing was more profitable and delightful to myself, so nothing could more evident and fully convince the minds of others, than a clear and sober demonstration of the truth to the conscience; which, by pleasing advances, beginning with plain and acknowledged truths, and connecting them together, gradually leads to the more abstruse points, and forces an assent to them not less strongly than to those we are obliged to agree to at the first view; and at the same time by its efficacy, presents some before unknown truths to the inmost soul, fixing it with a degree of astonishment on the contemplation of the admirable perfections of God.
I have found it absolutely necessary to oppose different opinions; either those of the public adversaries of the reformed churches, amongst whom I reckon first the Socinians and the Remonstrants, who, by their daring comments have defiled the doctrine of Godís covenants; or those of some of our brethren, who have taken it into their heads to form new hypotheses, and thereby almost root out all true divinity. I persuade myself, it is not in the power of malice to deny that I have acted with candour and modesty: I have stated the controversy justly, not attributing to anyone any opinion which he ought not to allow to be his own; and have made use of such arguments as had before satisfied my own conscience; as if these
were not of themselves convincing, I could not think that any force would be added to them by great warmth: especially, I thought that the opinions of our brethren were to be treated with candour. And I have never sought after any inaccurate word, harsh phrase, or crude expression, in order to criticise on them; esteeming it much better to point out how far all the orthodox agree, and how the more improper ways of expression may be softened; remarking only on those sentiments which are really different and these, I dare affirm, will be found to be fewer, and of less moment, than they are generally thought to be, provided we examine them without prejudice. Yet, I cannot pass over in silence some uncouth expressions, foreign interpretations, or contradictory theses: and sometimes I note the danger attending some of them; but without any malevolence to their authors. For, I confess, I am of their opinion, who believe that the doctrine of the covenant has long since been delivered to the churches on too good a foundation, to stand in need of new hypotheses; in which I cannot find that solidity or usefulness, as is necessary to establish their divinity.
The observation of the threefold covenant of grace; the first, under the promise, in which grace and liberty prevailed, with out the yoke, or the burden of an accusing law; the second, under the law, when the Old Testament took place, subjecting the faithful to the dominion of angels, and the fear of death all their lives; and last of all, to the curse, not allowing to the fathers true and permanent blessings ; the third, under the gospel, when the godly began to be set at liberty from the dominion of the angels, from the fear of temporary death, and the curse which an exact observance of the ceremonial law carried with it, and at length enjoyed true and lasting blessings the circumcision of the heart, the law written there, the full and true remission of sins, the spirit of adoption, and such like things; this observation, I say, does not seem to me worthy to he insisted on in so many academical lectures, so many sermons, and such a number of books, as have been published in the Latin and our own languages, as though the whole of theological learning consisted in these. For, in the following work I have shewn, that, however those doctrines are explained, they are horrible to be mentioned; and are not to be defended with out wresting the scriptures.
But I esteem much more dangerous the opinions of some men, in other respects very learned, who deny that a covenant of works was made with Adam; and will scarce allow that by the death with which he was threatened, in case he sinned, a corporeal death is to be understood; and deny that spiritual and heavenly blessings, such as we now obtain through Christ, were promised to Adam on condition of perfect obedience: and by a musty distinction dividing the sufferings of Christ into painful and judiciary, affirm, that the latter only, or, as they sometimes soften the expression, chiefly were satisfactory: excluding by this means his sorrows in the garden, the sentence passed on him both by the Jewish council, and the Roman governor, the stripes with which his body was wounded, his being nailed to the cursed cross, and last of all his death itself. On these subjects I have given my mind freely and candidly, as became "a defender of the truth, and an opposer of falsehood:" which laudable character was given of the emperor Constantine the Fourth, by the sixth Oecumenical Synod, which met at Constantinople; and which is what all of our order ought to endeavour to deserve.
I have also made remarks on some things of less moment, which did not seem to have a solid scriptural interpretation, or are less accurately conceived of than they ought to be. Nor has my labour been without profit. Amphilochius is justly commended by Basilius, because he thought that "no word which was used concerning God, should be passed over with out the most careful inquiry into its meaning." But I have done this without rancour or raillery: "not with a view of reproving the authors, but that the studious reader might be benefited by having their errors shewn him," as I remember Polibius somewhere expresses himself. And I hope it will not be taken ill by the learned and ingenious, to whom I grant the same liberty I myself take, if, (to use nearly the same words which Augustine uses, when he declares his dissent from Cyprian) whilst "I cannot arrive at their degree of merit, acknowledge my writings inferior to many of theirs, love their ingenuity, am delighted with what they say, and admire their virtues; yet, I cannot in all things agree with them, but make use of the liberty wherewith our Lord has called us." Especially when they see, that I have willingly adopted their own ingenious inventions, what they have happily found out by searching into the original languages, have learnedly recovered from the reliques of hitherto unknown antiquity, have judiciously confirmed, or clearly explained; and have highly recommended them to the reader.
They will also find that, wherever I think them right, however they may be censured by others, I have cordially defended them, and have wiped off the stamp of absurdity and novelty. And this I have done so frequently and solicitously, that, without doubt, some will say, I have done it too much. But I cannot yet allow myself to be sorry for having dealt so ingenuously by them. For how could any one have done otherwise, who is not attached to any faction, or is not a slave to his own or anotherís affections but has dedicated himself to truth alone, and regards not what any particular person says, but what is said. He who loves the peace of Jerusalem, had rather see controversies lessened than increased; and will with pleasure hear that several things are innocent, or even useful, which had sometimes been made the matter of controversy.
All good men indeed are justly offended with that wantonness of wit, which now-a-days, by dogmatical attacks, rashly aims to overturn wise opinions; and insolently offers a bold, and often ludicrous, interpretation of prophecy, ridiculously hawling into their assistance, what contains nothing but the doctrine of our common faith and holiness; by which the public and our sacred functions are not a little abused: and it is not to be wondered at, if the warmer zeal of some has painted this wantonness as it deserves, or, perhaps, in too strong colours. But yet, a medium is to be regarded in all things: and I do not approve the pains of some, who, whilst they discourse on their differences, not only name some decades of our controversies, but centuries of them ; and frequently with cruel eloquence are very violent on some innocent subjects. Whether this method of disputing greatly conduces to the promoting of saving knowledge, or the edification of souls, I will not now say: but I am certain of this; the enemies of our church are hereby greatly delighted and secretly rejoice, that there are as many and as warm disputes amongst ourselves, as with them. And this, not very secretly neither: for they do not nor will ever cease to cast this reproach upon us; which, I grieve to say, is not so easily wiped away.
O! how much better would it be to use our utmost endeavours, to lessen, make up, and, if it could be, put an end to all controversy! Make this reverend and learned Sirs, your great concern. This all the godly who mourn for the breaches in Joseph; this the churches who are committed to your care; this Jesus himself, the king of truth and peace, require and expect from you; in the most earnest manner they entreat it of you. "If therefore there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any bowels, and mercies: fulfil ye my joy, fulfil ye the joy of all saints, fulfil ye the joy of our Lord Jesus himself, that ye may be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." There have been already more than enough quarrels, slanders, and suspicions; more than enough of contentions amongst brethren, which, I engage for it, will afford no just cause of triumph; more than enough intestine divisions, by which we destroy one another; and more than enough of passion. Let the love of divisions, a thirst after pre-eminence, and schismatical names be henceforward banished from amongst us. Let all litigious, satirical, and virulent writings be blotted out; "as they only serve to revive the fires of hurtful questions." But if we must write on those controversies, let us lay aside all evil dispositions, which are hinderances to us in our enquiries, and mislead our readers. Let us fight with arguments, not railings, bearing in our minds this saying of Aristophanes, "it is dishonourable, and by no means becoming poets, to rail at each other." How much less does it become Christians to do so! The streams of divinity are pure: they rise only from the fountain of sacred learning, and should be defiled with none of the impure waters of the ancient or modern philosophy. Let us abstain from harsh and unusual expressions, and from crude and rash assertions; from whence arise envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. The instruments of both covenants should be handled diligently by all, but with sacred fear and trembling. Let none please himself with his commentaries, because they contain something new and unknown by our predecessors. Let him who thinks he has found out something preferable to the received opinion, offer it to the public with modesty, without vilifying the brethren; not asserting or determining rashly, but submitting his thoughts to the censure of the learned, and the judgment of the church; not forcing them on the common people to the distraction of their minds; nor hastily offering them to incautious youth, who are improper judges of such weighty matters. Nor let any reject, on account of its novelty, what is agreeable to the meaning of the words, to scripture phrases, to the analogy of faith, or to the relation the text bears to others. Cajetan, who is commended by our Chameir, has not badly expressed himself on this head: "If a new sense of the text offer itself, though it be different from that of divines in general, let the reader judge of it for himself." And in another place he says, "Let none refuse assenting to a new sense of sacred writ, because it differs from that given by the ancients; for God has not bound himself to the truth of their expositions of the scriptures." Let the depths of prophecy be also diligently searched into; but reverently, without wresting the scriptures, without violating those bounds wherewith it has pleased God to keep them from human intuition; lest he who attempts to search into the majesty should be overwhelmed by the glory.
Let no one, of however great name, by his authority bind the free consciences of the faithful: but, as Clemens Romanus once said, "Let the truth be taken from the scriptures themselves;" by these alone it should stand or fall in religious affairs; by these are all controversies to be
settled. And it was by the sacred and undefiled gospels of our Lord Jesus Christ, that the ancient councils were influenced, nevertheless, let not any one inconsiderately on this pretence, withhold his assent to such forms of expression which are taken from the word of God, and are agreeable to the scriptures, are the bonds of church union, the marks of orthodoxy, the bars of heresy, and the limits of wanton wits; as though they were the remains of the Babylonish tower, which obliged men to think and speak alike in religion.
Let no one choose for himself a guide out of the modern divines; all whose dictates he is determined to receive and defend as celestial oracles; as one who is given as a new teacher and light of the world, as the ancients said of Basilius; and in comparison of whom, all others appear as little children or dwarfs; when he himself; perhaps, protests that he would not be thought the author of any thing new, and made the head of a sect. On the other hand, let no one despise such a man, as if nothing true or good, nothing useful to the understanding of the scriptures could be learned from him: for God has not put it into the heart of any pious persons to search the Scriptures night and day, without opening to them those treasures of his sacred wisdom.
Let us preach the good tidings of the gospel, let us congratulate the church on account of them; and make the best use of them ourselves we can. Let no one who has in general expressed the truth in eloquent language, be heinously censured on account of an improper word, or harsh expression which has slipped from his pen: "Poison does not lie hid in syllables; nor does truth consist in sound, but in the intention: nor godliness in the tinkling of brass, but in the meaning of the things signified." Yet, let us all endeavour to express ourselves as accurately as possible; and not take upon us to defend what has been imprudently said by our friends, or ourselves, lest others blame us for it; but as far as ingenuousness, truth, charity, and all good men will allow of it, let us pass by, cancel or correct any mistakes; which has been the practice of some great men, both among the ancients and moderns, to their very great credit. Let none of our brethren be stigmatized with the brand of heresy, on account of what is supposed to follow from any of their expressions, when they themselves deny and detest the consequence. Solid learning, manners conformable to Christian sanctity, a peaceable disposition, and a faithful discharge of our duty without noise and confusion, will procure favour much more than inconsiderate warm zeal, and the violent efforts of a passionate mind; which are designed for the most part, to heighten our own glory and seeming importance, though the cause of God be made the pretence for them.
Let some liberty also be given to learned men, in explaining texts of scripture, in the choice of arguments for the defence of the common truth, in the use of phrases and terms, and in resolving problematic questions, (for in this our state of darkness, it is not to be expected that all men should think and speak alike): but let this liberty be confined within the bounds of modesty, prudence, and love; lest it degenerate into petulent licentiousness, and turn our Zion into a Babel.
These, reverend and learned Sirs, are my earnest wishes; these my sentiments which I recommend to your prudence, faith, and piety; as I do yourselves and your pious labours, to the grace of our Great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ; "Who can make you perfect to every good work, to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight;" and, at last, "when you happily have fought the good fight of faith, can bless you with an everlasting crown of glory." This was long since, and is now, the most earnest wish of, Reverend and learned Sirs, Your fellow labourer, and Servant in the Lord,
Oct. 20. 1693
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