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have been set in a clear and convincing light, even by learned men themselves: and since it has been done, there never were fewer thorough believers, among those who have been educated in the true religion; infidelity never prevailed so much, in any age, as in this, wherein these arguments are handled to the greatest advantage.
The true martyrs of Jesus Christ, are not those who have only been strong in opinion that the gospel of Christ is true, but those that have seen the truth of it; as the very name of martyrs or witnesses (by which they are called in scripture) implies.Those are very improperly called witnesses of the truth of any thing, who only declare they are very much of opinion that such a thing is true. Those only are proper witnesses, who can, and do testify that they have seen the truth of the thing they assert; John iii. 11. We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen. John i. 34. And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God. 1 John iv. 14. And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Acts xxii. 14, 15. The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldst know his will, and see that just One, and should hear the voice of his mouth; for thou shalt be his witness unto all men, of what thou hast seen and heard. But the true martyrs of Jesus Christ are called his witnesses: and all the saints, who by their holy practice under great trials declare that faith which is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, and the EVIDENCE of things not seen, are called witnesses, (Heb. xi. 1. and xii. 1.) By their profession and practice they declare their assurance of the truth and divinity of the gospel, having had the eyes of their minds enlightened to see divinity in the gospel, or to behold that unparalleled, ineffably excellent, and truly divine glory shining in it, which is altogether distinguishing, evidential, and convincing: so that they may truly be said to have seen God in it, to have seen that it is indeed divine; and so can speak in the style of witnesses. They can not only say, that they think the gospel is divine, but that it is divine, giving it in as their testimony, because they have seen it to be so. Doubtless, Peter, James, and John, after they had seen that excellent glory of Christ in the mount, would have been ready, when they came down, to speak in the language of witnesses, and to say positively that Jesus is the Son of God; as Peter says, they were eye-witnesses, 2 Pet. i. 16. And so all nations will be ready positively to say this, when they shall behold his glory at the day of judgment; though that will be universally seen, will be only his natural glory, and not his moral and spiritual glory, which is much more distinguishing.
But yet, it must be noted, that among those who have a spiritual sight of the divine glory of the gospel, there is a great va
riety in degrees of strength of faith, as there is a vast variety of the degrees of clearness of views of this glory: but there is no true and saving faith, or spiritual conviction of the judgment, of the truth of the gospel, that has nothing in it, of this manifestation of its internal evidence, in some degree. The gospel of the blessed God does not go abroad a begging for its evidence, so much as some think it has its highest and most proper evidence in itself. Though great use may be made of external arguments, they are not to be neglected, but highly prized and valued; for they may be greatly serviceable to awaken unbelievers, and bring them to serious consideration, and to confirm the faith of true saints; yea, they may be in some respects subservient to the begetting of a saving faith in men. Though what was said before remains true, that there is no spiritual conviction of the judgment, but what arises from an apprehension of the spiritual beauty and glory of divine things: for, as has been observed, this apprehension or view has a tendency to convince the mind of the truth of the gospel, two ways; either directly or indirectly.— Having therefore already observed how it does this directly, I proceed now,
II. To observe how a view of this divine glory convinces the mind of the truth of Christianity, more indirectly.
First, It doth so, as prejudices of the heart against the truth of divine things are hereby removed, so that the mind thereby lies open to the force of the reasons which are offered. The mind of man is naturally full of enmity against the doctrines of the gospel; which is a disadvantage to those arguments that prove their truth, and causes them to lose their force upon the mind; but when a person has discovered to him the divine excellency of Christian doctrines, this destroys that enmity, and removes the prejudices, and sanctifies the reason, and causes it to be open and free. Hence is a vast difference, as to the force that arguments have to convince the mind. Hence was the very different effect which Christ's miracles had to convince the disciples, from what they had to convince the Scribes and Pharisees: not that they had a stronger reason, or had their reason more improved, but their reason was sanctified, and those blinding prejudices, which the Scribes and Pharisees were under, were removed, by the sense they had of the excellency of Christ and his doctrine.
Secondly, It not only removes the hinderances of reason, but positively helps reason. It makes even the speculative notions more lively. It assists and engages the attention of the mind to that kind of objects, which causes it to have a clearer view of them, and more clearly to see their mutual relations. The ideas themselves, which otherwise are dim and obscure, by this means have light cast upon them, and are impressed with greater strength,
so that the mind can better judge of them; as he that beholds the objects on the face of the earth, when the light of the sun is cast upon them, is under greater advantage to discern them in their true forms and mutual relations, and to see the evidences of divine wisdom and skill in their contrivance, than he that sees them in a dim star-light, or twilight.
What has been said, may serve in some measure to shew the nature of a spiritual conviction of the truth and reality of divine things; and so to distinguish truly gracious affections from others; for gracious affections are evermore attended with such a conviction of the judgment. But before I dismiss this head, it will be needful to observe the ways whereby some are deceived, with respect to this matter; and take notice of several things that are sometimes taken for a spiritual and saving belief of the truth, which are indeed very diverse from it.
1. There is a degree of conviction of the truth of the great things of religion, that arises from the common enlightenings of the Spirit of God. The more lively and sensible apprehension of the things of religion, with respect to what is natural in them -such as natural men have who are under awakenings and common illuminations-will give some degree of conviction of the truth, beyond what they had before they were thus enlightened. For hereby they see the manifestations made in the holy scriptures, of the natural perfections of God; such as his greatness, power, and awful majesty; which tends to convince the mind, that this is the word of a great and terrible God. From the tokens there are of God's greatness and majesty in his word and works, of which they have a great sense, from the common influence of the Spirit of God, they may have a much greater conviction that these are indeed the word and works of a very great invisible Being. And the lively apprehension of the greatness of God, which natural men may have, tends to make them sensible of the great guilt, which sin against such a God brings, and the dreadfulness of his wrath for sin. And this tends to cause them more easily and fully to believe the revelation the scripture makes of another world, and of the extreme misery it threatens, there to be inflicted on sinners. And so from that sense of the great natural good there is in the things of religion, which is sometimes given in common illuminations, men may be the more induced to believe the truth of religion. These things persons may have, and yet have no sense of the beauty and amiableness of the moral and holy excellency of religion; and therefore no spiritual conviction of their truth. But yet such convictions are sometimes mistaken for saving convictions, and the affections flowing from them, for saving affections.
2. The extraordinary impressions which are made on the imaginations of some persons, in visions, and immediate strong impulses and suggestions, as though they saw sights, and had words spoken to them, may, and often do beget a strong persuasion of the truth of invisible things. Though the general tendency of such things, in their final issue, is to draw men off from the word of God, and to cause them to reject the gospel, and to establish unbelief and Atheism; yet for the present, they may, and often do beget a confident persuasion of the truth of some things that are revealed in the scriptures; however their confidence is founded in delusion, and so nothing worth. As for instance, if a person has by some invisible agent, immediately and strongly impressed on his imagination, the appearance of a bright light, and glorious form of a person seated on a throne, with great external majesty and beauty, uttering some remarkable words, with great force and energy; the person who is the subject of such an operation, may be from hence confident, that there are invisible agents, spiritual beings, from what he has experienced, knowing that he had no hand himself in this extraordinary effect, which he has experienced. He may also be confident, that this is Christ whom he saw and heard speaking; and this may make him confident that there is a Christ, and that Christ reigns on a throne in heaven, as he saw him; and may be confident that the words which he heard him speak are true, &c. in the same manner as the lying miracles of the Papists, may for the present beget in the minds of the ignorant, deluded people, a strong persuasion of the truth of many things declared in the New Testament. Thus when the images of Christ, in Popish churches, are on some extraordinary occasions, made by priestcraft to appear to the people as if they wept, and shed fresh blood, and moved, and uttered such and such words; the people may be verily persuaded that it is a miracle wrought by Christ himself; and from thence may be confident there is a Christ, and that what they are told of his death and sufferings, resurrection and ascension, and present government of the world, is true; for they may look upon this miracle, as a certain evidence of all these things, and a kind of ocular demonstration of them. This may be the influence of these lying wonders for the present, though the general tendency of them is not to convince that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, but finally to promote Atheism. Even the intercourse which Satan has with witches, and their often experiencing his immediate power, has a tendency to convince them of the truth of some of the doctrines of religion; as particularly the reality of an invisible world, or world of spirits, contrary to the doctrine of the Sadducees. The general tendency of Satan's influences is delusion; but yet he
may mix some truth with his lies, that his lies may not be so easily discovered.
Multitudes are deluded with a counterfeit faith, from impressions on their imagination, in the manner now mentioned. They say they know that there is a God, for they have seen him; they know that Christ is the Son of God, for they have seen him in his glory; they know that Christ died for sinners, for they have seen him hanging on the cross, and his blood running from his wounds; they know there is a heaven and a hell, for they have seen the misery of the damned souls in hell, and the glory of saints and angels in heaven, (meaning some external representations, strongly impressed 'on their imagination;) they know that the scriptures are the word of God, and that such and such promises in particular are his word, for they have heard him speak them to them, they came to their minds suddenly and immediately from God, without their having any hand in it.
3. Persons may seem to have their belief of the truth greatly increased, when the foundation of it is only a persuasion of their interest in them. They first, by some means or other, take up a confidence, that if there be a Christ and a heaven, they are theirs; and this prejudices them more in favour of their truth. When they hear of the great and glorious things of religion, it is with this notion, that all these things belong to them; and hence easily become confident that they are true; they look upon it to be greatly for their interest that they should be true. It is very obvious what a strong influence men's interest and inclinations have on their judgments. While a natural man thinks, that if there be a heaven and a hell, the latter and not the former belongs to him; then he will be hardly persuaded that there is a heaven or hell. But when he comes to be persuaded, that hell belongs only to others and not to him, then he can easily allow the reality of hell, and exclaim against the senselessness and sottishness of others in neglecting means of escape from it: and being confident that he is a child of God, and that God has promised heaven to him, he may seem strong in the faith of its reality, and may have a great zeal against that infidelity which denies it. But I proceed to another distinguishing sign of gracious affections.