Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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Moreover, these things will again occur in his 15th section, where he
expressly takes the Scripture to task, as to its pleas for judging of
and settling men in the truth.
Ftoceed we to his next section, p. 12&



CHAPTER VIL

Use of]



Sect xL This section is set apart for the cashiering of reason from
having any hand in the business we deal about; and the truth is, if
our author can persuade us first to throw away our Bibles, and then
to lay aside the use of our reason, I suppose there is no doubt but
we shall become Roman Catholics. TUs work, it seems, cannot be
effected unless men are contented to part with Scripture and reason;
all that whereby they are Christians and men. But unless our author
have emptied Circe's box of ointment, whereby she transformed men
into swine, he will confess it somewhat a difficult task that he hath
undertaken, liethinks one of these demands might suffice at once.
But he presumes he hath put his countrjonen into a good humour,
and, knowing them free and opeh-hearted, he plies them whilst they
are warm.

We have indeed in this section as fSEur a flourish of words as in any
other; but there can be but little reason in the words that men make
use of to plead against reason itself And yet I am persuaded most
readers think as well of this section as any in the book. To whom
the unreasonableness of this is evident, that of the others is so also;
and those who willingly imbibe the other parts of his discourse, will
little strain at thia Nothmg is to be tru£rt;ed unto prejudice; nor, if
we will learn, are we to think strange of any thing. Let us, then,
weigh impartially what is of reason in this discourse against the use
of reason. Whatever he pretends, he knows frill well that he hath no
difference with any sort of Protestants about '' finding out a religion
by reason," and adhering only to its dictates in the worship of God.



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74! ANIMABVEBSIONS ON A TREATISE

All the world of Protestants profess that they receive their religion
wholly by revelation from God, and no otherwise. Nor is it about
ascribing a sovereignty to reason to judge of the particulars of re-
ligion so revealed, to accept or refuse them, according as that shall
judge them suitable or not to its principles and liking. This is the
sovereign dictate of reason, — ^that whatever Qod reveals to be beUeved
is true, and as such must be embraced, though the bottom of it can-
not be sounded by reason's line; and that because the reason of a
man is not absolutely reason, but, being the reason of a man, is
variously limited, boimded, and made defective in its ratiocinations
An objective truth our reason supposes: all that it hath to do is but
to judge of what is proposed to it, according to the best principles
that it hath ; which is all that Ood in that kind requires of us, unless
in that work wherein he intends to make us more than men, that is
Christians, he would have us make ourselves less than men, even as
bnites. That in our whole obedience to God we are to use our reason,
Protestants say indeed, and, moreover, that what is not done reason-
ably is not obedience. The Scripture is the rule of all our obedience,
grace the principle enabling us to perform it; but the manner of its
performance must be rational, or it is not the supposition of rule or
principle that will render any act of a man obedience. Religion, say
Protestants, is revealed in the Scripture, proposed to the minds and
wills of men for its entertainment by the ministry of the church;
grace to believe and obey is supematurally from God. But as to the
proposals of religion from Scripture, they aver that men ought to
admit and receive them as men ; that is, judge of the sense and mean-
ing of them, discover their truth, and, finding them revealed, acquiesce
in the authority of him by whom they are first revealed. So far as
men, in any things of their concernments that have a moral good or
evil in them, do refuse, in the choice or refusal of them, to exercise
that judging and discerning which is the proper work of reason, they
unman themselves, and invert the order of nature; dethroning the
rh fiy€/j,o¥tx,hv of the soul, and causing it to follow the faculties that
have no light but what they receive by and from it. It is tnie, all
our carnal reasonings against Scripture mysteries are to be captivated
to the obedience of faith ; and this is highly reasonable, making only
the less, particular, defective collections of reason give place to the
more noble, general, and universal principles of it Nor is the deny-
ing of our reason anywhere required as to the sense and meaning
of the words of the Scripture, but as to the things and matter signi-
fied by them. The former, reason must judge of, if we are men ; the
latter, if, in conjunction with unbelief and carnal lusts, it tumultuate
against, it is to be subdued to the obedience of faitL All that Pro-
testants, in the business of religion, ascribe unto men is but this, that
in the business of religion they are, and ought to be, men; that is,



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ENTITLED FIAT LUX. 76

judge of the sense and truth of what is spoken to them, according to
that rule which they have received for the measure and guide of
their understandings in these things: If this may not be allowed^
you may make a herd of them, but a church never.

Let us now consider what is offered in this section about reason,
wherein the concernment of any Protestants may lia As the matter
is stated about any " one's setting up himself to be a new and extra-
ordinary director unto men in religion, upon the account of the irre-
futable reason he brings along with him, which is the spring and
source of that religion which he tenders unto them," I very much
question whether any instance can be given of any such thing from
tiie foundation of the world, lien have so set up, indeed, sometimes,
as that good Catholic Yanini^ did, not long since, in France, to draw
men from all religions; but to give a new reUgion unto men, that this
pretension was ever solely made use of, I much question. As true
religion came by inspiration from Qod, so all authors of that which is
fSfidse have pretended to revelation. Such were the pretensions of
Minos, Lycurgus, and Numa of old, of Mohammed of late, and gene-
rally of the first founders of religious orders in the Roman church;
all in imitation of real divine revelation, and in answer to indelible
impressions on the minds of all men, that religion must come from
God. To what purpose, then, the first part of his discourse, about the
" coining of religion from reason," or the firaming of religion by reason,
is, I know not; unless it be to cast a blind before his unwary reader,
whilst he steals away from him his treasure, — that is, his reason, as to
its use in its proper placa Though, therefore, there be many things
spoken unduly, and, because it must be said, untruly also, in this first
part of his discourse, until toward the end of p. 131, which deserve
to be animadverted on ; yet, because they are such as no sort of Pro-
testants hath any concernment in, I ^all pass them over. That
wherein he seems to reflect any thing upon our principles, is in a
supposed reply to what he had before deUvered; wherexmto, indeed,
it hath no respect or relation, being the assertion of a principle utterly
distant from that imaginary one, which he had timely set up, and

1 Owen most probftbly alludes to a weak enthusiast of the name of John Baptist
Vanini. He was bom at Tanrosano, in the kingdom of Naples, in 1585. He published
at Lyons, in 1615, a work entitled *' Amphitheatrum setemse ProYidentise," etc; and in
the following year another, entitled " De Adminmdis Naturo, BeginsB Deeaque mortalium
Arcanis." He was accused of atheism, and his book was burnt by a decree of the Sor-
bonne. To judge from the title of the last work, and the common accoiints of his views,
he seems to have deified the powers of nature. He was prosecuted on a charge of atheism
at Toulouse, and burnt in 1619, under circumstances of gross brutality, though there is
some dispute whether the charge of atheism was well founded. At his trial, he picked
up a straw and declared it to be sufficient evidence to him that Qod existed. He was
at one time in England, and held di^utations in support of popish tenets; for which
offence he suffered imprisonment for forty-nine days. After the publication of his
second work, he offered his services to the papal nuncio at Paris, to write in defence of
the Council of Trent Hence the edge of Owen's sarcasm, — ** That good Catholic" — ^Ed.



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76 ANIMADTEBSIONS OH A TREATISE

stouily east down before. It is this, '* That we must take the words
from Christ and his gospel; but the proper sense, which the words of
themselyes cannot cany with them, our own reason must make out"
If it be the doctrine of Protestants which he intendeth in these
words, it is most disadvantageoualy and uncandkUy represented;
which becomes not an ingenimis and learned person. This is that
which Protestants afBrm: — ^religion is revealed in the Scripture; that
revelation is delivered and contained in propositions of truth. Of the
sense oi those wcnrds that cany their sense with them, reason j udgeth,
and must do so, or we are brutes; and that every one's reason, so £ur
as his concernment lies in what is proposed to Urn.

Neither doth this at all exclude the ministry or authcnity of tiid
church, both which are intrusted with it by Christ, to propose the
rules contained in his w<»:d unto rational creatures, thi^ they may
imderstand, believe, k)ve, and obey ihem. To cast out this use oi
reason, with pret^Ace of an oMcieni $ense of the wonk, which yet we
know they have not about them, is as vain as any thing in this sec-
tion, and that is vain «[iou^ If any such cmcient sense can be made
ou t or produced, — ^that is, a meaning of any text that was known to be
so from their explication who gave that text, — ^it is by reason to be
acquiesced in; neither is this to make a man a bishop, much less a
chief bishop, to himself I never heard that it was the office of a
bishop to know, believe, or understand for any man but for himself.
It is his office, indeed, to instruct and teach men; but they are to
learn and understand for themselves, and so to use their reason in
their learning. Nor doth the variableness of men's thoughts and
reasonings 4nfer any variableness in religion to follow; whose stability
and sameness depends on its first revelation, not our manner of re-
ception. Nor doth any thing asserted by Protestants, about the use
of reason in the budness of religion interii^re with the rule of the
apostle about " captivating our understandings to the obedience of
faith," much less to his assertion that Christians " walk by faith, and
not by sight," seeing that without it we can do neither the one nor the
other: for I can neither submit to the truth of things to be believed,
nor live upon them or according unto them, unless I understand the
proportions wherein they are expressed ; which is the work we assign
to reason. For those who would resolve their fiuth into reason, we
confess that they overthrow not only faith but reason itself; there
being nothing more irrational than that belief should be the product
of reason, being properly an assent resolved into authority ; which, if
not divine, is so also. I shall, then, desire no more of our author nor
his readers as to this section but only this, that they would believe
that no Protestant is at all concerned in it; and so I shall not far-
ther interpose as to any cwitentment they may find in its review or
perusal



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ENTITLED BIAT LUX. 77

CHAPTEE VIIL

Jews' objections.

The title of this third chapter ia^ that '^ No xeligioii, or sect, or
way, hafcfa any advantage <yver another, nor all of them over Popery/"
To this we excepted before, in general, that that way which hatii the
truth with it, hath, in that wherein it hath the tni^ the advs^tage
against all othar& Truth turns the scales in this baaineis^ wharever
and with whomsoerer it be found ; and if it lie in any way distant
from Popery, it gives all the advantage against it that need be desired.
And wiUi tJiis cmly inquiiy, ^' With whom the truth abides?" is this
disquisition, " What ways in rdigion have advantage against others?''
to be resolved. But this course and jHOcedure, for some reasons
which he knows, and we may easily guess at, o]ur author liked not;
and it is now too late for us to walk ia any path but what he has
trodden before us, thoi^ it seem rather a maze than a way for tra-
v^ers to walk in that would all pass on in their journey.

His first section is oititled, "Light and Spirit," the pretence
whereof he treats after his manner, and cashiers from giving any
such advantage as is inquired after. But neither yet are we arrived
to any concemment of Protestants. That which they plead as their
advantage is not the empty names of light and ^irit, but the truth
of Christ revealed in the Scr^uie. I Imorw IJiere are not a few who
have impertinently used these good words and Scdpture expressions,
which yet ought no moie to be sooffed at by others than abused by
them; but that any have made the plea here pretended as to tbeir
settlement in religion, I know not The truth is, if they have, it is
no other upon the matter but what our author calk them unta To a
naked " Qcedo" he would reduce them; and that diffiars only from
what seems to be the mind of them that {dead light and spirit [in
this], that he would have them resolve their faith irrationally into ibe
authority of the church ; they pretend to do it into the Scriptura

But what he aims to bring men unto, he jnstififs from the ex-
amples of Christians in ancient times, " who had to deal with Jews
and Pagans, whose disputes were rational and weighty, and puzzled
tiie wisest of the dergy to answer. 3o that after all their ratiocina-
tion ended, whether it sufficed or no, they still concluded with this
one word, 'Credo;' which in logic and philosophy was a weak answer,
but in religion the best and only one to be mada^' What could be
^>oken more untruly, more contumeliously, or more to the reproach
of Christian religion, I cannot imagina It is true, indeed, ^t as
to the resolution, satisfaction, and settlement of their own souls. Chris-
tians always built their faith [on], and resolved it into, the authority
of God in his word; but that they opposed their naked *' Gcado" ta



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78 ANIMADVEBSI017S ON A TREATISE

the disputes of Jews or Pagans, or rested in that for a solution of their
objections, is heavenly-wide, — as far from truth i»g oupavSg i(fr d^rh yaim.
I wonder any man who hath ever seen, or almost heard, of the dis-
putes and discourses of Justin Martyr, Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen,
Theophilus Antiochenus, Athenagoras, TertulUan, Lactantius, Chry-
sostom, Austin, Theodoret, and innumerable others, proving the faith
of the Christian religion agamst the Jews from Scripture, and the
reasonableness of it against the Pagans, with the folly and foppery of
theirs, could on any account be induced to cast out such a reproach
against them. But it seems " jacta est alea," and we must go on;
and, therefore, to carry on the design of bringing us all to a naked
" Credo," resolved into the authority of the present church, — a thing
never heard of, spoken of, nor, that it appears, dreamed of, by any of
the ancient Christians, — the objections of the Jews against the Chris-
tian religion are brought on the stage, and an inquiry made how they
can be satisfactorily answered. His words are, p. 142, " In any
age of the Christian church a Jew might say thus to the Christians
then living,/ Your Lord and Master was bom a Jew, and under the
jurisdiction of the high priests; these he opposed, and taught a reli-
gion contrary to Moses (otherwise how comes there to be a faction?)
But how could he justly do it? no human power is of force against
Gk>d's, who spake (as you also grant) by Moses and the prophets; and
divine power it could not be, for (Jod is not contrary to himself And
although your Lord might say, as indeed he did, that Moses spake of
him as of a prophet to come, greater than himself, yet who shall
judge that such a thing was meant of his person ? For since that
prophet is neither specified by his name nor characteristical pro-
perties' (well said, Jew), 'who could say it was he more than any other
to come? And if there were a greater to come than Moses were,
surely bom a Jew, he would, being come into the world, rather exalt
that law to more ample glory than diminish it And if you will
farther contest that such a prophet was to abrogate the first law and
bring in a new one, who shall judge in this case? — the whole church
of the Hebrews, who never dreamed of any such thing? or one mem-
ber thereof who was bom a subject to their judgments?' This," saith
he, "is the great oecumenical difficulty; and he that in any age of Chris-
tianity could either answer it, or find any bulwark to set against it,
so that it should do no harm, would easily either salve or prevent all
other difficulties," eta

The difficulty, as is evident, lay in this, that the authority and
judgment of the whole church of the Hebrews lay against Christ and
the gospel That church, when Christ conversed on earth, was a
tme church of Gbd, the only church on earth, and had been so for
two thousand years, without intermption in itself, without competi-
tion from any other. It had its high priest, confessedly instituted by



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ENTITLED. FIAT LUX. 79

Gkxi himself, in on orderly succession to those days. The interpreta-
tion of Scripture, it pretended, was trusted with it alone; and tradi-
tions they had good store, whose original they pleaded from Moses
himself, directing them in that interpretation. Christ and his apos-
tles, whom they looked upon as poor, ignorant, contemptible persons,
came and preached a doctrine which that church determined utterly
contrary to the Scripture and their traditions. What shall now be
answered to their authority, which was imquestionably all that ever
was, or shall be, intrusted with any church on the earth? Our au-
thor tells us that this great " argument of the Jews could not be any
way warded or put by, but by recourse imto the church's infallibility,"
p. 146; which, " sit verbo venia,'' is so ridiculous a pretence, as I
wonder how any block in his way could cause him to stumble upon
it What church, I pray? — the church of Christians? When that
argument was first used by the Jews against Christ himself, it was
not yet founded; and if an absolute infallibility be supposed in the
church, without respect to her adherence to the rule of infallibility,
I dare boldly pronounce that argument indissoluble, and that all
Christian religion must be thereon discarded. If the Jewish church, —
which had at that day as great church power and prerogative as any
church hath or can have, — were infallible in her judgment that she
made of Christ and his doctrine, there remains nothing but that we
renounce both him and*it, and turn either Jews or Pagans, as we were
of old. Here, then, by our author s confession, lies a plain judgment
and definition of the only church of God in the world against Christ
and his doctrine; and it is certainly incumbent on us to see how it
may be waived. And this, I suppose, we cannot better be instructed
in than by considering what was answered imto it by Christ himself,
his apostles, and those that succeeded them in the profession of the
feith of the gospel 1. For Christ himself: it is certain he pleaded
his miracles, the works which he wrought, and the doctrine that he
revealed ; but withal, as to the Jews, with whom he had to do, he
pleads the Scriptmres, Moses and the prophets, and offers himself and
his doctrine to be tried, to stand or fall by their verdict, John v. 39,
46; Matt xxiL 43; Luke xxiv. 27. I say, besides the testimony of
his works and doctrine, to their authority of the church he opposeth
that of the Scripture, which he knew the other ought to give place
unto. And it is most vainly pretended by our author, in the behalf
of the Jews, that the Messiah, or great prophet to come, was not in
the Scripture specified by such characteristical properties as made it
evident that Jesus was the Messiah; all the descriptions given of the
one, and they innumerable, undeniably centring in the other. 2, The
same course steered the apostle Peter, Acts ii iil, and expressly in
his second epistle, chap. L 17-19; and Paul, Acts xiiL 16, 17, eta
And of Apollos^ who openly disputed with the Jews upon this argu-



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80 AKIMAi>7VB8I0]fS OK X TBEATTSE

ment, it is aaid that he *^ mightily oonvinoed the Jews, publicly^
showing by the Scripturee that Jesus is the Christ," Acts xviiL 28.
And Paul persuaded the Jewv concerning Jesus at Borne, ** both out
of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till even-
ing/' A6ts zxviiL 23; concerning which labour and disputation the
censure of our author, p. 14>9, is very remarkable. " There can be
no hope," saith he, '^ of satisfying a quesent, or convincing an oppo-
nent, in any pcnnt of Christianity, unless he will submit to the splen-
dour of Christ 8 authority in his own person, and the church descended
from him; which I take to be the reason why some of the Jews in
Borne, when St Paul laboured so much to persuade Christ out of
Moses and the prophets, believed in him, and some did not" Both the
coherence of the words and des^ of the preface, and his whole scope,
manifest his meaning to be, '^ That no more believed on him, or that
some di£ft)e1ieved," notwithstanding all the pains he took with them.
And what was the reason of this failure? Why, St Paul fixed on
an unsuitable means of persuading them, — ^namely, Moses and the
prophets, — when he should have made use of the authority of the
church. Vain and bold man, that dares oppose his prejudices to the
Spirit and wisdom of Christ in that great and holy apo^e, and that
in a way and work wherein he had the express pattern and example
of his Master! If this be the spirit that rules in the Boman S3rna-
gogue, that so pufis up men in their fleshly minds as to make them
think themselves wiser than Christ and his apostles, I doubt not but
men will every day find cause to rejoice that it is cast out of them,
^ and be watchful that it returns to possess them no more. But this
is that which galls the man: the difficulty which he proposeth as in-
soluble by any ways but an acquiescing in the authority of the pre-
sent church, he finds assoiled in S(^pture on otha: jmnciples. This
makes him foil foul on St Paul, whom he finds most firequent in an-
swering it from Scripture; not conridering that at the same time he
accuseth St Peter of the like folly, though he pretend for him a
greater reverence. However, this may be said in defence of St Paul,
that by his arguments about Christ and the gospel from Moses and
the prophets, many thousands of Jews, all the world over, were con-
verted to the faith ; when it is hard to meet with an instance of one
in an age that will any way take notice of the authority of the Bo-
man church. But to return. This was ihe constant way used by
the i^ostles of answering that great difficulty pleaded by our author
from the authority of the Hebrew church: They called the Jews to
the Scripture, the plain texts and contexts of Moses and the prophets,
opposing them to all Uieir church's real or pretended authority, and
all her interpretations pretended to be received by tradition from of
old: eo fixing this for a perpetual standing rule to all generations, —
That tiie doctrine of the church is to be examined by the Scripture;



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ENTITLED FIAT LUX 81

and where it is found contradictory of it, bar authority is of no value
at all, it being annexed unto her attendance on that rule. But
it may be replied, that '' the church in the days of the apostles was
not yet settled, nor made firm enough to bear the weight that now
may be laid upon it, as our authcnr affirms, p. 149 ; so that now the
great resolve of all doubts must be immediately upon the authority
of the present church: after that was once well cleared, the fathers
of old pleaded that only in this case, and removed the objections of
the Jews by that alone.'' I am persuaded, though our aulkhor be a
great admirer of the present chuich, he is not such a stranger to an-



Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 10 of 67)