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
- Are those who are of the world and unregenerate incapable of understanding Holy Scripture? They can understand it to a certain point, as the Apostle demonstrates when he says concerning the Jewish hypocrite: “You know the will of God and examine the things that are difficult, being instructed by the law” (Rom. 2:18). But they can never understand the spiritual sense of Holy Scripture in a spiritual and saving manner as the regenerate can.
How far can the unregenerate advance in the knowledge of Scripture? They can understand clearly and distinctly the literal sense and the meaning of the words which speak of the mysteries of the law and the Gospel and even teach them to others in such a way that they might have the gift of prophecy and be able to know all the mysteries of knowledge and speak in the tongues of men and angels (1 Cor. 13:1-2).
They can also understand the meaning of these truths clearly enough to be persuaded to receive them as truth and even for divine truth, for Simon the Magician also believed (Acts 8:13). And those who sin against the Holy Spirit renounce, blaspheme, curse and persecute the truth that they know to be divine truth.
They can have this knowledge not only by their own efforts as one understands what one has learned but also by a general illumination of the Holy Spirit who persuades them internally and brings with Him such rays of His divinity that He makes them receive it as from God. That’s how Scripture can speak of the unregenerate as those who have been illuminated, have been made participants in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God (Heb. 6:4-5). That’s what we see in Balaam who received from God such magnificent prophecies and revelations and who pronounced such beautiful benedictions because God opened his mouth and enlightened his understanding, although his heart was never sanctified (Num. 24:3-4, 15-16). This knowledge can also produce a joy and satisfaction of short duration in the soul. For God says of hypocrites that “they take pleasure at the knowledge of My ways” (Is. 58:2). And it’s also a very natural thing that the mind of man would find pleasure in discovering some truth, just as the heart finds this in enjoying some good. This satisfaction is that much greater when the truth is an excellent and hidden one.
- How is the knowledge of the regenerate superior to that of the unregenerate? This advantage is great in every way. For all the knowledge of the unregenerate touches merely the external crust without penetrating to the heart. It is only “an appearance of knowledge and truth in the law” (Rom. 2:20). Their faith is only historical faith or for a time. Their illumination is like the light of lightning which is useful to convince them that “they are inexcusable” (Rom. 1:20). Their joy is only a natural movement. It is quite short and passes easily. All their wisdom is “earthly, human, and of the devil” (Jas. 3:15). On the other hand, a regenerate person does not only understand the literal sense but also the spiritual. He does not only understand the meaning of the words but he also feels the power or the reality of these matters. He feels and tastes the sweetness of this precious food, which is good for strengthening the heart and restoring the soul (Ps. 19:12) and is presented to him in Holy Scripture; whereas, the unregenerate only see these things on the table from afar. Thus, the believer receives the Word with a firm confidence of heart and dares to rest on it in the adversities that he experiences. That’s why David says, “If your law had not been my consolation, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92). Thus, he does not only believe in general that Jesus Christ is God and the Savior of the elect, but he also considers Him in particular as his God and His Savior (Jn. 20:28). And that excites in him marvelous sentiments of reverence, desire, and love for Jesus Christ and an ardent desire to be more and more like Him. That’s what it is “to know the truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). This should not astonish us. He at the same time receives this knowledge from the Holy Spirit who sanctifies him and is a seal of his inheritance, and he is taught by Jesus Christ. And that’s what produces an inexpressible sweetness in the heart of believers, such that “they take pleasure in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2, cf. Ps. 119:97, 103).
Do the regenerate always take pleasure in Holy Scripture? We can consider a regenerate person in two ways, either insofar as he is regenerated, when he is in his true state, or insofar as he is still carnal and sometimes able to fall into spiritual desertion and violent temptation. If one considers the regenerate person insofar as he is regenerate and is in the state in which he should be, he certainly takes pleasure in reading the Word of God. For all Scripture is spiritual, and he is too. Consequently, this conformity cannot but give him satisfaction. In all that he finds in Holy Scripture, he sees divine truth and heavenly wisdom, and that cannot fail to rejoice his spirit. He sees that all that is in the law is conducive to holiness, and all that is in the Gospel he finds to be full of consolation. And these two things give a great contentment of heart insofar as it is sanctified and expects salvation.
Unregenerate Cannot Love the Word of God
But if we consider the regenerate insofar as he is still in part carnal, the remnants of the corruption of the flesh which are in him can so obscure for a time his understanding and so powerfully disturb the movements of his will, that he does not feel much of the sweetness of the Scripture. This happens all the more when he falls into some spiritual malady where stupidity and disgust enter in. For then he loses courage and the much of his soul (so to speak) is so infected by evil fumes or by a nasty air that what is sweet and delicious appears to him to be tasteless and even bitter. In cases of this nature, it can happen that the soul does not find any taste for some parts of Scripture and is even alarmed by them as if he found in them the decree of his damnation.