Practice of Christianity, Herman Witsius, Chap 1


Wes White, fellow Michigander, MARS graduate, and Presbyterian pastor is translating a French translation of Herman Witsius’ book: Practice of Christianity.  The work is so excellent that I’d like to repost portions of it here. For the original post go HERE

 

 


Chapter 1 – On Holy Scripture

Rule of Faith
  1. What is the sole and perfect rule of our faith and conduct? It is the Word of God which is now contained in Holy Scripture, that is, in the canonical books of the Old and New Testament. This is the rule to which God Himself sends us in the Old Testament, “To the law and to the testimony” (Is. 8:20). Our Lord Jesus Christ does the same thing in the New Testament, “Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39). Besides, we find in Holy Scripture all the promises of God concerning our salvation and everything that relates to that salvation. Saving faith holds onto these promises without going any further (Jn. 20:31). We also find there the commandments of God, which serve as a rule of our conduct (Ps. 147:19). We can do nothing beyond these (Mt. 22:37) and we ought to do nothing without them (Mt. 15:9), for the law of the Lord is perfect (Ps. 19:8).
  2. Scripture is the Word of God
  3. How are you assured that Scripture is the Word of God and that it is truly from heaven? It is not only because Holy Scripture says this about itself, “All Scripture is divinely inspired” (2 Tim. 3:16). “Prophecy did not come about in former times by the will of man, but it is by the movement of the Holy Spirit that holy men of God spoke” (2 Pet. 1:21). We also believe this because Scripture contains such evident marks of its divine inspiration that whoever pays attention to them will find himself powerfully convinced and persuaded of this divine inspiration. But ultimately we believe because the Holy Spirit clearly testifies to it in our hearts. “The Spirit (who speaks in the heart of believers) is the one who witnesses (also in my heart) that the Spirit (who speaks in Scripture) is the truth” (1 Jn. 5:6).
  4. Marks of Divine Inspiration
  5. What are the principal marks of divine inspiration that are so clear and evident in Holy Scripture?
    • First, there are a great number of definite predictions of things that were quite uncertain (in relation to second causes) and depended on the free will of men, which after many years happened exactly as predicted in Holy Scripture in all their circumstances. This is something that everyone regards with good reason as a proof of its divine inspiration. God Himself also mocks the idols of the pagans who cannot predict or announce anything that is going to happen. “Let them come near and tells us the things that are going to happen. What happened in the past? Teach us, and we will pay attention and know their outcome. Or make us understand what will happen. Tell us what is going to happen in the future, and then we will know that you are gods” (Is. 41:22-23). Also, in Is. 46:10, God attributes to Himself alone the power to tell what things are going to happen, saying, “I announce from the beginning the things that will follow, and in advance I announce things that have not yet happened.”
    • The second mark is the perfect holiness and excellence of the commandments which are contained in it. “The law is spiritual. The commandment is holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). For these commandments forbid the least lust or movement that tends toward evil, even those things that precede man’s will. This is something that no man would have known without the revelation of Holy Scripture. That is, he would not have known that these sorts of inclinations are sins. This is clear from what Saint Paul says in Rom. 7, “I would not have known covetousness (that is, that it is a sin), unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’” These laws of God call mean to an angelic perfection (Mt. 6:10) and even a divine perfection (Mt. 5:48). They make someone “perfect, capable of doing every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
    • The third mark is the profound and marvelous mysteries that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and which have not entered into the mind of man” (1 Cor. 2:9). They are explained so clearly in Holy Scripture, even painted, so to speak, before our eyes (Gal. 3:1). These mysteries include the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and others which no human wisdom or reason could have been able to imagine or discover if God had not revealed them in Holy Scripture.
    • The fourth mark is the simple and yet powerful and touching way in which it explains things so that it penetrates the heart of an attentive reader (Heb. 4:12) and causes him to see the finger of God in them just as much as in the miracles that were performed to confirm Holy Scripture. This is an effect that no human word could have produced, at least in the same way.
    • The fifth mark is the beautiful harmony and agreement of the diverse parts and teachings that compose Holy Scripture, even though they were written by various authors in different languages, places, and times. This is a clear and infallible proof that there is one and the same Spirit of God who has inspired it.

    Persuasion of the Holy Spirit
  6. Why, then, is the persuasion of the Holy Spirit necessary, and how does He produce it in the hearts of His elect? The proofs that we have just recounted have their own strength to produce a bare persuasion and an historical faith in the inspiration of Scripture, but they can do nothing more. In order for them to be received with a saving faith, the Holy Spirit must bring the power of these proofs to life in the soul by working with these proofs. He must illuminate the elect for them to see properly in a spiritual manner the perfect holiness of Scripture (Ps. 119:18), taste their inexpressible sweetness (Ps. 39:9), and understand clearly and distinctly the doctrines that have a particular connection with salvation so that they see them, as it were, before their eyes. When the Holy Spirit works in this way, they are firmly resolved to take them for divine rules of their faith and conduct.
  7. Sin Still Works in the Hearts of Believers
  8. But can’t it happen that even in true believers who already have the Holy Spirit that there may be some doubts and disquieting thoughts about the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture? Sadly, it is only too possible. For since even the holiest among us carry with them the remnants of the corruption of the flesh during this life, there is no sin to which they cannot be induced except the sin against the Holy Spirit and an obstinate hardening. Thus, it can easily happen that a certain internal resistance gives place to some doubts about the sublime mysteries of the Word of God which are above reason. This is because we all have the fault that we are inclined in this life to love to walk more by sight than by faith. And Satan sometimes lights this fire when the Lord permits him to do so for His own good and just reasons. And even then, the Lord also directs the whole affair according to His wisdom.
  9. How to Handle Doubt
  10. How should a Christian conduct himself on such an occasion? He should not be too surprised as if something extraordinary were happening to him. He should not for that reason question the truth and sincerity of his faith that he founded at one time on Holy Scripture, since he has also resolved to hold onto this faith firmly. For doubts are not his faith but a type of smoke which obscures somewhat the brightness of his faith and thus can certainly exist with a true faith just as smoke can exist with an ardent fire. But in this case, he must renounce his understanding and his will and push down the doubts as soon as they arise without giving them much attention or examining them with anxiety. He must remember that he has been in the past so powerfully persuaded of the divine inspiration of the whole of Holy Scripture, that he should not in the future have any commerce with the world which might be capable of making him doubt that all of it is good. And if the doubts still return, he must regard them as a rod of the Lord and must use these doubts to learn humility.
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  2. Pingback: Practice of Christianity, Herman Witsius, Chap 1 (part 2) « Abraham's Seed

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