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The Quakers believe, that there can be no spiritual knowledge of G.o.d, but through the medium of his holy spirit; or, in other words, that if men have not a portion of the same spirit which the holy men of old, and which the Evangelists and Apostles, and which Jesus himself had, they can have no true or vital religion.
In favour of this proposition, they usually quote those remarkable words of the Apostle Paul; "for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so the things of G.o.d knoweth no man, but the spirit of G.o.d. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of G.o.d, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of G.o.d." And again--"but the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of G.o.d, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
[Footnote 11: 1 Cor. 2.11, &c.]
By these expressions the Quakers conceive that the history of man, as explained in the last chapter, is confirmed; or that the Almighty not only gave to man reason, which was to a.s.sist him in his temporal, but also superadded a portion of his own spirit, which was to a.s.sist him in his spiritual concerns. They conceive it also to be still farther confirmed by other expressions of the same Apostle. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he says, "Know ye not that your body is the _temple of the Holy Ghost_, which _is in you_, which ye have of G.o.d;"
and in his letter to Timothy he desires him "to hold fast that good thing which was committed to him by means of the _holy_ Ghost, which _dwelled in him_" Now these expressions can only be accurate on a supposition of the truth of the history of man, as explained in the former chapter. If this history be true, then they are considered as words of course: for if there be a communication between the supreme Being and his creature man, or if the Almighty has afforded to man an emanation of his own spirit, which is to act for a time in his mortal body, and then to return to him that gave it, we may say, with great consistency, that the divinity resides in him, or that his body is the temple of the holy spirit.
[Footnote 12: 1 Cor. 6. 19.]
[Footnote 13: 2 Tim. 1. 14.]
The Quakers conceive again from these expressions of the Apostle, that these two principles in man are different from each other; they are mentioned under the distinct names of the spirit of man, and of the spirit of G.o.d. The former they suppose to relate to the understanding: the latter conjointly to the understanding and to the heart. The former can be brought into use at all times, if the body of a man be in health.
The latter is not at his own disposal. Man must wait for its inspirations. Like the wind, it bloweth when it listeth. Man also, when he feels this divine influence, feels that it is distinct from his reason. When it is gone, he feels the loss of it, though all his rational faculties be alive. "Those, says Alexander Arscott, who have this experience, certainly know that as at times, in their silent retirements and humble waitings upon G.o.d, they receive an understanding of his will, relating to their present duty, in such a clear light as leaves no doubt or hesitation, so at other times, when this is withdrawn from them, they are at a loss again, and see themselves, as they really are, ignorant and dest.i.tute."
The Quakers again understand by these expressions of the Apostle, which is the point insisted upon in this chapter, that human reason, or the spirit of man which is within him, and the divine principle of life and light which is the spirit of G.o.d residing in his body or temple, are so different in their powers, that the former cannot enter into the province of the latter. As water cannot penetrate the same bodies, which fire can, so neither can reason the same subjects as the spiritual faculty.
The Quakers, however, do not deny, that human reason is powerful within its own province. It may discover in the beautiful structure of the Universe, and in the harmony and fitness of all its parts, the hand of a great contriver. It may conclude upon attributes, as belonging to the same. It may see the fitness of virtue, and deduce from thence a speculative morality. They only say that it, is incompetent to spiritual discernment. But though they believe the two spirits to be thus distinct in their powers, they believe them, I apprehend, to be so far connected in religion that the spirit of G.o.d can only act upon a reasonable being.
Thus light and the power of sight are distinct things. Yet the power of sight is nothing without light, nor can light operate upon any other organ than the eye to produce vision.
This proposition may be farther elucidated by making a comparison between the powers of men, and those of the brute-creation. An animal is compounded of body and instinct. If we were to endeavour to cultivate this instinct, we might make the animal tame and obedient. We might impress his sensitive powers, so that he might stop or go forward at our voice. We might bring him in some instances, to an imitation of outward gestures and sounds. Bat all the years of his life, and centuries of life in his progeny would pa.s.s away, and we should never be able so to improve his instinct into intellect, as to make him comprehend the affairs of a man. He would never understand the meaning of his goings in, or of his goings out, or of his pursuits in life, or of his progress in science. So neither could any education so improve the reason of man into the divine principle of light within him, as that he should understand spiritual things; for the things of G.o.d are only discernible by the spirit of G.o.d.
This doctrine, that there is no understanding of divine things except through the medium of the divine principle, which dwells in the temple of man, was no particular notion of George Fox, or of the succeeding Quakers, though undoubtedly they have founded more upon it than other Christians. Those, who had the earliest access to the writings of the evangelists and apostles, believed the proposition. All the ancient fathers of the church considered it as the corner stone of the Christian fabric. The most celebrated of the reformers held it in the same light.
The divines, who followed these, adopted it as their creed also; and by these it has been handed down to other Christian communities, and is retained as an essential doctrine by the church of England, at the present day.
The Quakers adduce many authorities in behalf of this proposition, but the following may suffice.
"It is the inward master, says St. Augustine, that teacheth. Where this inspiration is wanting, it is in vain that words from without are beaten in."
Luther says, "no man can rightly know G.o.d, unless he immediately receives it from his holy spirit, except he finds it by experience in himself; and in this experience the holy spirit teacheth as in his proper school, out of which school nothing is taught but mere talk."
Calvin, on Luke 10. 21. says, "Here the natural wisdom of man is so puzzled, and is at such a loss, that the first step of profiting in the school of Christ is to give it up or renounce it. For by this natural wisdom, as by a veil before our eyes, we are hindered from attaining the mysteries of G.o.d, which are not revealed but unto babes and little ones.
For neither do flesh and blood reveal, nor doth the natural man perceive, the things that are of the spirit. But the doctrine of G.o.d is rather foolishness to him, because it can only be spiritually judged.
The a.s.sistance therefore of the holy spirit is in this case necessary, or rather, his power alone is efficacious."
Dr. Smith observes, in his select discourses, "besides the outward Revelation of G.o.d's will to men, there is also an inward impression of it in their minds and spirits, which is in a more especial manner attributed to G.o.d. We cannot see divine things but in a divine light.
G.o.d only, who is the true light, and in whom there is no darkness at all, can so shine out of himself upon our glossy understandings, as to beget in them a picture of himself, his own will and pleasure, and turn the soul (as the phrase is in Job) like wax or clay to the seal of his own light and love. He that made our souls in his own image and likeness, can easily find a way into them. The word that G.o.d speaks, having found a way into the soul, imprints itself there, as with the point of a diamond, and becomes (to borrow Plato's expression) 'a word written in the Soul of the learner.' Men may teach the grammar and rhetoric; but G.o.d teaches the divinity. Thus it is G.o.d alone that acquaints the soul with the truths of revelation."
The learned Jeremy Taylor, bishop of Down and Connor, speaks in a similar manner in his sermon de Via Intelligentiae. "Now in this inquiry, says he, I must take one thing for granted, which is, that every good man is taught of G.o.d. And indeed, unless he teach us, we shall make but ill scholars ourselves, and worse guides to others. No man can know G.o.d, says Irenaeus, except he be taught of G.o.d. If G.o.d teaches us, then all is well; but if we do not learn wisdom at his feet, from whence should we have it? It can come from no other spring."
Again--"those who perfect holiness in the fear of G.o.d, have a degree of divine knowledge more than we can discourse of, and more certain than the demonstration of Geometry; brighter than the sun, and indeficient as the light of heaven--A good man is united to G.o.d--As flame touches flame, and combines into splendour and into glory, so is the spirit of a man united to Christ by the spirit of G.o.d. Our light, on the other hand, is like a candle; every word of doctrine blows it out, or spends the wax, and makes the light tremulous. But the lights of heaven are fixed and bright and shine for ever."
Cudworth, in his intellectual system, is wholly of the same opinion: "All the books and writings which we converse with, they can but represent spiritual objects to our understanding, which yet we can never see in their own true figure, colour, and proportion, until we have a divine light within to irradiate and shine upon them. Though there be never such excellent truths concerning Christ and his Gospel, set down in words and letters, yet they will be but unknown characters to us, until we have a living spirit within us, that can decypher them, until the same spirit, by secret whispers in our hearts, do comment upon them, which did at first indite them. There be many that understand the Greek and Hebrew of the scripture, the original languages in which the text was written, that never understood the language of the spirit."
_Neither can a man, except he has a portion of the same spirit which Jesus and the Apostles and the Prophets had, know spiritualty that the scriptures are of divine authority, or spiritually understand them--Explanation of these tenets--Objection, that these tenets set aside human reason--Reply of the Quakers--Observations of Luther--Calvin--Owen--Archbishop Usher--Archbishop Sandys--Milton --Bishop Taylor._
As a man cannot know spiritual things but through the medium of the spirit of G.o.d; or except he has a portion of the same spirit, which Jesus and the Prophets and the Apostles had, so neither can he, except he has a portion of the same spirit, either spiritually know that the writings or sayings of these holy persons are of divine authority, or read or understand them, to the promotion of his spiritual interests.
These two tenets are but deductions from that in the former chapter, and may be thus explained.
A man, the Quakers say, may examine the holy scriptures, and may deduce their divine origin from the prophecies they contain, of which many have been since accomplished; from the superiority of their doctrines beyond those in any other book which is the work of man; from the miraculous preservation of them for so many ages; from the harmony of all their parts, and from many other circ.u.mstances which might be mentioned. But this, after all, will be but an historical, literal, or outward proof of their origin, resulting from his reason or his judgment. It will be no spiritual proof, having a spiritual influence on his heart; for this proof of the divine origin of the scriptures can only be had from the spirit of G.o.d. Thus, when the Apostle Paul preached to several women by the river side near Philippi, it is said of Lydia only, "the Lord opened her heart, that she attended to the things that were spoken by Paul." The other women undoubtedly heard the gospel of Paul with their outward ears, but it does not appear that their hearts were in such a spiritual state, that they felt its divine authority; for it is not said of them, as of Lydia, that their hearts were opened to understand spiritually that this gospel was of G.o.d. Again, when Jesus Christ preached to the Jews in the temple, many believed on him, but others believed not, but were so enraged that they took up stones to cast at him. It appears that they all heard his doctrine with their outward ears, in which he particularly stated that he was from above; but they did not receive the truth of his origin in their hearts, because they were not in a state to receive that faith which cometh from the spirit of G.o.d. In the same manner persons hear sermon after sermon at the present day, but find no spiritual benefit in their hearts.
[Footnote 14: Acts 16.13]
[Footnote 15: John 188.8.131.52.]
Again--a man, by comparing pa.s.sages of scripture with other pa.s.sages, and by considering the use and acceptation of words in these, may arrive at a knowledge of their literal meaning. He may obtain also, by perusing the scriptures, a knowledge of some of the attributes of G.o.d. He may discover a part of the plan of his providence. He may collect purer moral truths than from any other source. But no literal reading of the scriptures can give him that spiritual knowledge of divine things, which leads to eternal life. The scriptures, if literally read, will give him a literal or corresponding knowledge, but it is only the spiritual monitor within, who can apply them to his feelings; who can tell him "thou art the man; this is thy state: this is that which thou oughtest or oughtest not to have done;" so that he sees spiritually, (the spirit of G.o.d bearing witness with his own spirit) that his own situation has been described. Indeed, if the scriptures were sufficient of themselves for this latter purpose, the Quakers say that the knowledge of spiritual things would consist in the knowledge of words. They, who were to get most of the divine writings by heart, would know spiritually the most of divine truths. The man of the best understanding, or of the most cultivated mind, would be the best proficient in vital religion. But this is contrary to fact. For men of deep learning know frequently less of spiritual Christianity, than those of the poor, who are scarcely able to read the scriptures. They contend also, that if the scriptures were the most vitally understood by those of the most learning, then the dispensations of G.o.d would be partial, inasmuch as he would have excluded the poor from the highest enjoyments of which the nature of man is susceptible, and from the means of their eternal salvation.
These tenets, which are thus adopted by the Quakers, are considered by many of the moderns as objectionable, inasmuch as they make reason, at least in theology, a useless gift. The Quakers, however, contend that they consider reason as one of the inestimable gifts of G.o.d. They value it highly in its proper province. They do not exclude it from religion.
Men, by means of it, may correct literal errors in the scriptures; may restore texts, may refute doctrines inconsistent with the attributes of the Almighty. The apology of Robert Barclay, which is a chain of reasoning of this kind from the begining to the end, is a proof that they do not undervalue the powers of the mind. But they dare not ascribe to human reason that power, which they believe to be exclusively vested in the spirit of G.o.d.
They say, moreover, that these tenets are neither new nor peculiar to themselves as a society. They were the doctrines of the primitive Fathers. They. were the doctrines also of the protestant reformers. And though many at the present day consider that scripture, interpreted by reason, is the religion of protestants, yet it was the general belief of these reformers, that the teaching of the Holy spirit was necessary to the spiritual understanding of the scriptures, as well as to the spiritual establishment of their divine origin.
Luther observes--"It is not human reason, or wisdom, nor the law of G.o.d, but the work of divine grace freely bestowed upon me, that teacheth me and showeth me the gospel: and this gift of G.o.d I receive by faith alone."
"The scriptures are not to be understood but by the same spirit by which they were written."
"No man sees one jot or t.i.ttle in the scriptures, unless he has the spirit of G.o.d."
"Profane men, says Calvin, desire to have it proved to them by reason, that Moses and the prophets spoke from G.o.d. And to such I answer, that the testimony of the spirit exceeds all reason. For as G.o.d alone is a sufficient witness of himself in his word, so will his word not find credit in the hearts of men, until it is sealed by the inward testimony of his spirit. It is therefore necessary, that the same spirit which spake by the mouth of the prophets, enter into our hearts to persuade us, that they faithfully declared what was commanded them by G.o.d."
Again--"Unless we have the a.s.surance which is better and more valid than any judgment of man, it will be in vain to go about to establish the authority of scripture, either by argument or the consent of the church; for except the foundation be laid, namely, that the certainty of its divine authority depends entirely upon the testimony of the spirit, it remains in perpetual suspense." Again--"The spirit of G.o.d, from whom the doctrine of the Gospel proceeds, is the only true interpreter to open it to us."
"Divines, says the learned Owen, at the first reformation, did generally resolve our faith of the divine authority of the scriptures, into the testimony of the Holy Spirit;" in which belief he joins himself, by stating that "it is the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to believe the scripture to be the word of G.o.d."
In another place he says, "our Divines have long since laid it down, that the only public, authentic, and infallible interpreter of the holy scriptures, is the author of them, from whose inspiration they receive all their truth, clearness, and authority. This author is the Holy Spirit."
Archbishop Sandys, in one of his Sermons, preached before Queen Elizabeth, has the following observations:
"The outward reading of the word, without the inward working of the spirit, is nothing. The precise Pharisees, and the learned Scribes, read the scriptures over and over again. They not only read them in books, but wore them on their garments. They were not only taught, but were able themselves to teach others. But because this heavenly teacher had not instructed them, their understanding was darkened, and their knowledge was but vanity. They were ignorant altogether in that saving truth, which the prophet David was so desirous to learn. The mysteries of salvation were so hard to be conceived by the very apostles of Christ Jesus, that he was forced many times to rebuke them for their dulness, which unless he had removed by opening the eyes of their minds, they could never have attained to the knowledge of salvation in Christ Jesus.
The ears of that woman Lydia would have been as close shut against the preaching of Paul, as any others, if the finger of G.o.d had not touched and opened her heart. As many as learn, they are taught of G.o.d."
Archbishop Usher, in his sum and substance of the Christian Religion, observes, "that it is required that we have the spirit of G.o.d, as well to open our eyes to see the light, as to seal up fully in our hearts that truth, which we can see with our eyes: for the same Holy Spirit that inspired the scripture, inclineth the hearts of G.o.d's children to believe what is revealed in them, and inwardly a.s.sureth them, above all reasons and arguments, that these are the scriptures of G.o.d." And farther on in the same work, he says, "the spirit of G.o.d alone is the certain interpreter of his word written by his Spirit; for no man knoweth the things pertaining to G.o.d, but the Spirit of G.o.d."
Our great Milton also gives us a similar opinion in the following words, which are taken from his Paradise Lost:
----"but in their room---- Wolves shall succeed for teachers, grievous wolves, Who all the sacred mysteries of Heaven To their own vile advantages shall turn Of lucre and ambition, and the truth With superst.i.tion's and tradition's taint, Left only in those written records pure, Though not but by the spirit understood."
Of the same mind was the learned bishop Taylor, as we collect from his sermon de Via Intelligentiae. "For although the scriptures, says he, are written by the spirit of G.o.d, yet they are written within and without.
And besides the light that shines upon the face of them, unless there be a light shining within our hearts, unfolding the leaves, and interpreting the mysterious sense of the spirit, convincing our consciences, and preaching to our hearts; to look for Christ in the leaves of the gospel, is to look for the living among the dead. There is a life in them; but that life is, according to St. Paul's expression, 'hid with Christ in G.o.d;' and unless the spirit of G.o.d first draw it, we shall never draw it forth."
"Human learning brings excellent ministeries towards this. It is admirably useful for the reproof of heresies, for the detection of fallacies, for the letter of the scripture, for collateral testimonies, for exterior advantages; but there is something beyond this that human learning, without the addition of divine, can never reach. Moses was learned in all the learning of the Egyptians; and the holy men of G.o.d contemplated the glories of G.o.d in the admirable order, motion, and influences of the heaven; but, besides all this, they were taught something far beyond these prettinesses. Pythagoras read Moses' books, and so did Plato, and yet they became not proselytes of the religion, though they were the learned scholars of such a master."