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der some foregoing answers, had occasion to speak of the word of God as contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and considered it as the only rule of faith and obedience, and as having all the properties that are necessary thereunto, so that we may depend upon it as a perfect and infallible revelation of all things necessary to be believed and done, in order to our enjoying God here, and attaining eternal life hereafter*. And now we are to consider the word as made the subject of our study and enquiry; without which it would be of no use to us. Accordingly we may observe in this answer,
I. Something supposed; namely, that the word of God is to be read by us, and explained by those who are qualified and called hereunto, by whom it is to be preached. We are not, indeed, to conclude, that the explications of fallible men, how much soever they are fitted to preach the gospel, are of equal authority with the sacred oracles, as transmitted to us by those who received them, by infallible inspiration from the Spirit of God; and therefore, the text is much more to be depended on than the comment upon it; the truth whereof is to be tried thereby, Isa. viii. 20. 1 Thess. v. 21. Acts xvii. 11. Nevertheless, this is to be reckoned a great blessing, which God is pleased to bestow upon his church, in order to our understanding and making a right use of the written word. Accordingly, preaching, as well as the reading of the word, is an ordinance which the Spirit of God makes subservient to the salvation of them that believe; and in order thereunto, it is farther supposed, that the word is to be read by us, and we are to attend to the preaching thereof; to neglect either of which, is to despise our own souls, and deprive ourselves of the advantage of God's instituted means of grace. Therefore, we are not to content ourselves, barely, with the reading of the word of God, in our closets or families; but we must embrace all opportunities, in which we may hear it preached in a public manner, one being no less an ordinance of God than the other.
Obj. It is objected, by some, that they know as much as ministers can teach them; at least, they know enough, if they could but practise it.
Answ. This objection, sometimes, savours of pride and selfconceit, in those who suppose themselves to understand more, of the doctrines of the gospel, than they really do; and it can hardly be said, concerning the greatest number of professors, that they either know as much as they ought, or that it is not possible for them to make advances in knowledge, by a dili
See Vol. I. 48. 69. Quest. iii. and iv.
gent attendance on an able and faithful ministry. However, that we may give the utmost scope to the objection, we will allow, that some Christians know more than many ministers, who are less skilful than others in the word of truth. Nevertheless, it must be observed that there are other ends of hearing the word, besides barely the gaining of knowledge, viz. the bringing the doctrines of the gospel to our remembrance, John xvi. 26. and their being impressed on our affections; and for this reason the wisest and best of men have not thought it below them, to attend upon the ministry of those who knew less than themselves. Our Saviour was an hearer of the word before he entered on his public ministry, Luke ii. 46. and though it might, I think, truly be said of him, that though he was but twelve years old, he knew more than the doctors, in the midst of whom he sat, in the temple, yet he heard and asked them questions. And David, though he pofesses himself to have more understanding than all his teachers, Psal. cxix. 99. yet he was glad to embrace all opportunities, to go up into the house of the Lord; this being God's appointed means for a believer's making advances in grace.
II. There are several things particularly mentioned in this answer, in which the Spirit of God makes the word, read or preached, effectual to salvation.
1. Hereby the mind is enlightened and furnished with the knowledge of divine truths, which is a very great privilege, for as faith is inseparably connected with salvation; the knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel is necessary to faith; and this is said to come by hearing, Rom. x. 17. Acts viii. 30, 31. However, we must not content ourselves with a bare assent to what is revealed in the word of God; but must duly weigh the tendency thereof, to our sanctification and consolation, and admire the beauty, excellency, and glory that there is in the great doctrines of the gospel, as the divine perfections shine forth therein, to the utmost. We must also duly consider the importance of those doctrines that are contained therein, and how they are to be improved by us, to our spiritual advantage; and when we find our hearts filled with love to Jesus Christ, in proportion to those greater measures of light, that he is pleased to impart to us, so that we grow in grace as well as in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. iii. 18. then the word may be said to be made effectual to our salvation, as our minds are very much enlightened and improved in the knowledge of those things that lead there
2. The word is made effectual to bring us under conviction, by which means we see ourselves sinful and miserable creatures; particularly we are hereby led to see those depths of
wickedness that are in our hearts, by nature, which otherwise could not be sufficiently discerned by us, much less improved to our spiritual advantage, Jer. xvii. 9. Rom. vii. 9. Would we take a view of the manifold sins committed in our lives, with all their respective aggravations, so as to lay to heart the guilt that we have contracted hereby, or, if we would be effected with the consideration of the misery that will ensue hereupon; as that, hereby, we not only deserve the wrath and curse of God, but without an interest in forgiving grace, are bound to conclude ourselves liable to it: These things we are led into by the word of God. And if we would know whether these convictions of sin are such as have a more immediate reference to salvation; let us enquire, whether they are attended with that grief and sorrow of heart for the intrinsic evil that there is in sin, as well as the sad consequences thereof? Psal. xxxviii. 18. compared with ver. 4. or, whether, when we have taken this view thereof, we are farther led to enquire after the remedy, and seek forgiveness through the blood of Christ, and strength against those corruptions that we have ground to charge ourselves with, which have so much prevailed over us? Acss xvi. 30. Psal. xix. 13. xxv. 11. Jer. viii. 22.
3. The word is made effectual to salvation, when what is contained therein tends to humble and lay us low at the foot of God; when we acknowledge, that all his judgments are right, or whatever punishments have been inflicted, pursuant to the threatenings which he has denounced, have been less than our iniquities deserve, Ezra ix. 13. And when we receive reproofs for sins committed, with a particular application thereof to ourselves, and are sensible of the guilt we have contracted thereby.
But that we may make a right use of the word, to answer this great end, let us consider, what humbling considerations are contained therein, that may have a tendency to answer this end.
(1.) The word of God represents to us that infinite distance that there is between him and us; so that the best of creatures are, in his sight, as nothing, Isa. xl. 17. less than nothing, and vanity. Herein we behold God as infinitely perfect, and men as very imperfect, and unlike to him; and in particular, we behold him as a God of infinite holiness, spotless purity, and ourselves as impure, polluted creatures; which is a very humbling consideration, Prov. xxx. 2. Isa. Ixiv. 6.
(2.) The word of God discovers to us the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness that there is in our hearts, whereby we are naturally inclined to rebel against him; and should, had it not been for his preventing and renewing grace, have run with
the vilest of men, in all excess of riot. It also leads us into the knowledge of the various kinds of sin, which we have ground to charge ourselves with, in the course of our lives; the frequent omission of those duties which are required of us; our great neglect of relative duties, in the station in which God has fixed us; and the injury we have done to others hereby, whom we have caused to stumble, or fall by our example, or, at least, by our unconcernedness about their spiritual welfare. It also discovers to us the various aggravations of sins committed, as they are against light, love, mercies, and manifold engagements, which we are laid under; and the great contempt which we have cast on the blessed Jesus, in disregarding, or not improving, the benefits of his mediation. All these things duly considered, have a tendency to humble us, and we are led into the discovery hereof by the word of God.
4. The word of God is made effectual to salvation, as it has a tendency to drive sinners out of themselves, and to draw them to Jesus Christ. On the one hand, it shews them the utter impossibility of their saving themselves, by doing any thing that may bring them into a justified state, and so render them accepted in the sight of God; and, on the other hand, it draws or leads them to Christ, whom they are enabled to behold by faith, as discovered in the gospel, to be a merciful and all-sufficient Saviour. The former of these is not only antecedent, but necessary to the latter: For, so long as we fancy that we have a sufficiency in ourselves, to recommend us to God, and procure for us a right and title to eternal life, we shall never think of committing our souls into Christ's hand, in order to our obtaining salvation from him in his own way. Thus the prophet brings in a self-conceited people as saying, We are lords, we will come no more to thee, Jer. ii. 31. No one will seek help or safety from Christ, who is not sensible of his own weakness, and being in the utmost danger without him. The first thing then that the Spirit of God does in the souls of men, when he makes the word effectual to salvation, is, his leading them into a humble sense of their utter inability to do what is spiritually good, or acceptable to God, or to make atonement for the sins that they have committed against him; that so they might be brought into a justified state. It is, indeed, an hard matter to convince the sinner of this; for he is very prone to be full of himself, sometimes to glory with the Pharisee, Luke xviii. 11. in some religious duties he performs; at other times in his abstaining from those gross enormities that others are chargeable with: Or, if he will own himself to have exceeded many in sin; yet he is ready to think, that, by some expedient or other, he shall be able to make atonement for it. This sets
him at a great distance from Christ; as it is said, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick, Matt. ix. 12. So these do not see their need of a Saviour, till they are convinced that they have nothing in themselves that can afford any relief to them, so as to deliver them from the guilt of sin, and the misery that will ensue thereupon. On this account our Saviour observes, that publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God, chap. xxi. 31. i. e. are more easily made sensible of their need of Christ, being convinced of sin, when the chief priests and elders, who thought they had a righteousness of their own to justify them, and therefore refused to comply with the method of the gospel, in having recourse to Christ alone for this privilege.
Now the word of God is made use of by the Spirit, to drive the sinner out of these strong holds, and to shew him that he cannot, by any means recover himself out of that state of sin and misery, into which he is plunged. It is a very hard thing for a person to be convinced of the truth of what our Saviour says, viz. That which is highly esteemed amongst men, is an abomination in the sight of God, Luke xvi. 15. when it is put in the room of Christ and his righteousness. This is one of the great ends to which the word is made subservient when rendered effectual to salvation.
Moreover, the word of God draws the soul to Christ, so that it is persuaded and induced, from gospel-motives, to come to him; and, at the same time, enabled so to do by the almighty power of God, without which he cannot come to him, John vi. 44. the former draws objectively, the latter subjectively and internally.
As to what the gospel does in order hereunto, let it be considered, that it sets before us the excellency and glory of Christ, as our great Mediator; represents him as a divine person, and, consequently, the object of faith, and as such, able to save, to the uttermost, them that come unto God by him, Heb. vi. 25. It considers him as having purchased salvation for his people; so that they may obtain forgiveness through his blood. It also discovers him as not only able, but willing to save all that come to him by faith; so that he will in no wise cast them out, John vi. 37. It also represents him as having a right to us; we are his by purchase; and therefore it is our indispensible duty to give up ourselves unto him. It also makes known to us the greatness of his love, as the highest inducement hereunto; the freeness, riches and extensiveness of his grace, as ready to embrace the chief of sinners, and pass by all the injuries that they have done against him, and as giving them the utinost assurance, that, having loved them in the world, he will love them to the end. Thus Christ is set forth in the gospel;