§ 1. An Objection answered: All are not Good, though all are lighted. § 2. Another Objection answered, That Gospel truths were known before Christ's Coming. § 3. Another: The Gentiles had the same Light, though not with those Advantages: Proved by Scripture.
§ 1. BUT some may yet say, If it be as you declare, how comes it, that all who are enlightened, are not so good as they should be; or, as you say, this would make them?
Answ. Because people don't receive and obey it: all men have reason, but all men are not reasonable. Is it the fault of the grain, in the granary, that it yields no increase, or of the talent in the napkin, that it is not improved? It is plain a talent was given ; and as plain that it was improveable; both because the like talents were actually improved by others, and, that the just Judge expected his talent with advantage; which else, to be sure, he would never have done. Now when our objectors will tell us, whose fault it was the talent was not improved, we shall be ready to tell them, why the unprofitable servant was not so good as he should have been. The blind must not blame the sun, nor sinners tax the grace of insufficiency. It is sin that darkens the eye, and hardens the heart, and that hinders good things from the sons of men. If we do his will, we shall know of his divine doctrine, so Christ tells us. Men not living to what they know, cannot blame God, that they know no more. The unfruitfulnessis is in us, not in the talent. 'Twere well indeed, that this were laid to heart. But, alas ! men are too apt to follow their sensual appetites, rather than their reasonable mind, which renders them brutal instead of rational. For the reasonable part in man, is his spiritual part, and that guided by the divine Logos, or Word, which Tertullian interprets reason in the most excellent sense, makes man truly reasonable; and then it is that man comes to offer up himself to God a reasonable sacrifice. Then a man indeed; a complete man; such a man as God made, when he made man in his own image, and gave him Paradise for his habitation.
§ 2. Obj. But some yet object, If mankind had always this principle, how comes it that gospel-truths were not so fully known before the coming of Christ, to those that were obedient to it.
Answ. Because a child is not a grown man, nor the beginning the end; and yet he that is the beginning, is also the end: the principle is the same, though not the manifestation. As the world has many steps and periods of time towards its end, so hath man to his perfection. They that are faithful to what they know of the dispensation of their own day, shall hear the happy welcome, of Well done, good and faithful servant. And yet many of God's people in those days, had a prospect of the glory of the latter times, the improvement of religion, the happiness of the church of God.
This we see in the prophecy of Jacob and Moses, concerning the restoration of Israel by Christ. Gen. xlix. 10 : "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."
Deut. xviii. 15, 18. "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him."
So David, in many of his excellent Psalms, expressing most sensible and extraordinary enjoyments, as well as Prophecies; particularly his 2, 15, 18, 22, 23, 25, 27, 32, 36, 37, 42, 43, 45, 51, 84, &c. The Prophets are full of it, and for that reason have their name; particularly Isaiah, chap. 2, 9,11, 25, 28, 32, 35, 42, 49,50,51,52,53, 54, 59, 60, 61, 63, 65, 66. Jeremiah also, chap. 23, 30, 31, 33. Ezekiel, chap. 20, 34, 36, 37. Daniel, chap. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Hosea, chap. I, 3. Joel, chap. 2, 3. Amos, chap. 9. Micah, chap. 4, 5. Zachariah, chap. 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14. Malachi, chap. 3, 4. This was not another principle, though another manifestation of the same principle, nor was it common, but particular and extraordinary in the reason of it.
It was the same Spirit that came upon Moses, which came upon John the Baptist, and it was also the same Spirit that came upon Gideon and Samson, that fell upon Peter and Paul; but it was not the same dispensation of that Spirit. It hath been the way of God, to visit and appear to men, according to their states and conditions, and as they have been prepared to receive him, be it more outwardly or inwardly, sensibly or spiritually. There is no capacity too low, or too high, for this divine principle: for as it made and knows all, so it reaches unto all people. It extends to the meanest, and the highest cannot subsist without it. Which made David break forth in his expostulations with God, Psalm cxxxix. 7, 8, 9, 10. "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence ? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there : if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." Implying it was everywhere, though not everywhere, not at every time alike. If I go to heaven, to hell, or beyond the seas, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. That is, there will this divine Word, this Light of men, this Spirit of God, find me, lead me, help me, and comfort me. For it is with me wherever I am, and wherever I go, in one respect or other; Prov. vi. 22: "When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee:" and I can no more get rid of it, if I would, than of myself, or my own nature ; so present is it with me, and so close it sticks unto me. Isa. xliii. 2: " When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." David knew it, and therefore had a great value for it. "In thy light shall we see light," or we shall be enlightened by thy light. "Thou wilt light my candle; the Lord my God will lighten my darkness." Again, "The Lord is my Light, whom shall I fear." It was his armour against all danger. It took fear away from him, and he was undaunted, because he was safe in the way of it. Of the same blessed word he says elsewhere, "It is a lamp unto my feet, and a lanthorn to my paths." In short, a light to him in his way to blessedness.
§ 3. Obj. But if the Jews had this light, it does not follow that the Gentiles had it also; but by your doctrine all have it.
Answ. Yes, and it is the glory of this doctrine which we profess, that God's love is therein held forth to all. And besides the texts cited in general, and that are as full and positive as can be expressed, the apostle is very particular in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, verse 7 : "To them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life:
"But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath. Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good: to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. For there is no respect of persons with God.
"For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law ; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law. (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." [Rom. ii. 8-16]
That is, they had not an outward law, circumstanced as the Jews had; but they had the work of the law written in their hearts, and therefore might well be a law to themselves, that had the law in themselves. And so had the Jews too, but then they had greater outward helps to quicken their obedience to it; such as God afforded not unto any other nation: and therefore the obedience of the Gentiles, or uncircumcision, is said to be by nature, or naturally, because it was without those additional, external, and extraordinary ministers and helps which the Jews had to provoke them to duty. Which is so far from lessening the obedient Gentiles, that it exalts them in the apostle's judgment; because though they had less advantages than the Jews, yet the work of the law written in their hearts, was made so much the more evident by the good life they lived in the world. He adds, " their consciences bearing witness (or as it may be rendered, witnessing with them) and their thoughts, meanwhile, accusing, or else excusing one another, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of all hearts by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel." Which presents us with four things to our point, and worth our serious reflection. First, That the Gentiles had the law written in their hearts. Secondly, That their conscience was an allowed witness or evidence about duty. Thirdly, That the judgment made thereby shall be confirmed by the apostle's gospel at the great day, and therefore valid and irreversible. Fourthly, That this could not be, if the light of this conscience were not a divine and sufficient light: for conscience truly speaking, is no other than the sense a man hath, or judgment he maketh of his duty to God, according to the understanding God gives him of his will. And that no ill, but a true and scriptural use may be made of this word conscience, I limit it to duty, and to a virtuous and holy life, as the apostle evidently doth, about which we cannot miss, or dispute; read verses 7, 8 and 9: "To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile." It was to that therefore the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ desired to be made manifest, for they dared to stand the judgment of conscience, in reference to the doctrine they preached and pressed upon men. The beloved disciple also makes it a judge of man's present and future state, under the term heart. 1 John iii. 20, 21: "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." Plain and strong words: and what were they about, but whether we love God, in deed and in truth: and how must that appear ? Why, in keeping his commandments, which is living up to what we know. And if any desire to satisfy themselves farther of the divinity of the Gentiles, let them read Plato, Seneca, Plutarch, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and the Gentile writers. They will also find many of their sayings, collected in the first part of a book, called The Christian Quaker, and compared with the testimonies of Scriptures, not for their authority, but agreeableness. In them they may discern many excellent truths, and taste great love and devotion to virtue: a fruit that grows upon no tree, but that of life, in no age or nation. Some of the most eminent writers of the first ages, such as Justin Martyr, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, &c., bore them great respect, and thought it no lessening to the reputation of Christianity, that it was defended in many Gentile authors, as well as that they used and urged them, to engage their followers to the faith, as Paul did the Athenians with their own poets.
[Continued, Chapter VII.]