Observations Against the Principal Popish Errors, Charles Drelincourt - Part 1- Holy Scripture and T
In this second instalment from Drelincourt’s Observations Against the Principal Popish Errors we continue his defence of Sola Scriptura. Having in the first part shown the sufficiency of Scripture and the deficiencies of Tradition, Drelincourt now turns to proving two further limbs of Sola Scriptura, namely:
1. The clearness or perspicuity of Scripture, which is affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith: "those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other..." (WCF Ch I Sec VII); and
2. That all kinds of people may read the Scriptures, which is again affirmed by the Westminster Confession "...that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them." (WCF Ch 1 Sec VII).
That the Holy Scripture is dark and obscure. Bellarm. de Verbo Dei. lib. 3. cap. 5.
Upon this ground it is, that they withhold the Scripture from the common people, pretending that they are not capable judges of the sense of it; and if they should read it, more prejudice than benefit would arise to them from it.
But this is contrary to that which is written, Psal. 19:7, 8. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The commandment of the Lord is pure or clear, enlightning the eyes. Can darkness enlighten men's eyes? or can it make wise the simple, if it be not intelligible by them?
Psal. 119:105. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. And vers. 130. The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. When a man has but begun to read or make inquiry into the Word, it affords him a great deal of light and understanding. Unless the light be obscure then, the Scripture is not obscure. If men don't turn their backs to this lamp, they may perceive the light thereof. See how the Psalmist profited in wisdom by meditating therein, ver. 98, 99, 100.
Deut. 30:11, 14. This commandment, which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off, &c. but the Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. Where the plainness of the command is asserted, and that in order to the performance of it. For a rule that is not understood, can never be observed. And this perspicuity and intelligibleness of the commands given by Moses, the Apostle applies to the Gospel, Rom. 10:6, 7, 8.
2 Cor. 4:3, 4. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the God of this World hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them. The Gospel is plain enough of itself then, and easy to be understood by any, but obdurate and unbelieving sinners. For therein we all with open fact, behold as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, Chap. 3:18.
2 Tim. 3:15. The, holy scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation. But how can that be, if they be so dark that they cannot be understood? Can we be wise without understanding? Or are they so difficult to be known, which Timothy knew from a child?
2 Pet. 1:19. The Apostle calls the prophecies of the Old Testament, a sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-spring arise in your hearts. And if there be such clearness in them, what clearness think you is there in the doctrine of the Apostles? There is a greater degree of light, and plainness, and intelligibleness promised under the Gospel, than what was under the Law, Heb. 8:11. And if the Old Testament be so plain and intelligible, the New much more.
Yet note that it is granted, that there are many dark things and hard to be understood in the Scripture, and which are so to the learned as well as to the unlearned, which may arise from several causes. But whatever things are necessary, are plain, saith St. Chrysostom. All things which concern faith and a good life, are plainly contained in Scripture, saith St. Austin. The doctrine concerning God, his Being, Attributes, and Providence; of Christ's being the Son of God, his becoming man, his dying and rising again; The precepts, promises, and threatenings, &c. For how are they necessary to be believed, if they be not plainly revealed? Or are the unlearned excused from believing them, because they cannot understand them?
Did not Christ himself preach, and order his Apostles to preach to the unlearned as well as to the learned? And did he and they preach intelligibly to them, or no? If they did not, to what purpose did they preach at all? or how was the World converted by them? Were there none converted but the learned priests and wise men? plainly the contrary rather, Matt. 11:25, and 1 Cor. 1:26. If they did preach intelligibly, then it seems their doctrine was plain enough. And is it not the same doctrine that is written in the Scriptures which they preach? How came the same doctrine then so dark when it was writ, which was so plain when it was preached? Does the putting it down in writing make it hard to be understood? And was it not writ to distinct persons and places, and for the use of all, as shall appear in the next Chapter? Therefore I conclude it was written intelligibly to all, in all things necessary, or else the Holy Ghost would be wanting to his own design; and his writing for the use of all, could not answer the end for which it is written.
That it is not for the Common People to read the Scripture; and if they should, more prejudice than benefit would arise to them from the reading of it. Council of Trent. Sess. 4. decret. de Can. scrip. Index lib. prohib. regula 4.
Contrary to that which is written, Deut. 6:7, 8, 9. These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart. And thou shalt teach them dili∣gently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes; and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thine house, and on thy gates. This is spoken to persons of all sorts, qualities, and conditions in Israel. And how should they do all this, without a particular and diligent perusal of the Law? Josephus tells us, that the Jewish Children were so well versed in it, that they could repeat the Law without book.
Thus, Josh. 1:8. God commanded Joshua, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night; then shalt thou make thy way prosperous. See a general of an army obliged by an express command to read and meditate in the Holy Scriptures, and not to depend upon the Priest's instruction alone. So, Deut. 17, 18, 19. the King was to write him a copy of the law and to meditate therein all the days of his Life.
Isa. 34:16. Seek ye out the book of the Lord, and read. The prophet speaks to all people upon earth, as may be seen in the beginning of the Chapter.
We have many such directions and commands from our Saviour and his Apostles in the New Testament.
John 5:39. Search the Scripture; our Saviour speaks not only to doctors or teachers, but also to the people: And he exhorts not only to read, but to search them diligently.
So the Apostle, Ephes. 6:17. Take unto you the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. By which we are enabled to repel the temptations, and to resist the assaults of the Devil, and to drive him from us, as our Saviour himself did.
Col. 3:16. And let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. If the doctrine or Word of Christ be contained in the Holy Scriptures, then here is an obligation to a di∣ligent and serious study of them.
Luke 11:28. Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it. And why not then, blessed are they that read and observe it? Why should men be hindered from reading these sermons of our Saviour and his Apostles, which then there was a blessing upon man for hearing? Are they more dangerous now they are writ, than they were when they were preached?
2 Pet. 1:19. We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well to take heed. St. Peter praises those that read the prophets; and why should men he blamed then for reading the Apostles and Evangelists? Note, whereas he says, vers. 20. That no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. He doth not speak it to deter private men from the reading or judging of the sense of it; but to show the sureness of their rule, that it was not first interpreted or written by the fancy or will of private men, but it came by the will of God, and holy men of God spake therein, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, ver. 21.
Acts 8:27, 28. Behold a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch, of great authority and power under Candace the Queen, who had the charge of all her treasure, as he was returning from Jerusalem, and fitting in his chariot, read Esaias the prophet. Observe, that this person was not a church-man, but a Treasurer or Minister of State to the Queen. And Philip was sent to him by the Spirit, to help him to understand the prophecy he was reading. Which is a clear testimony of the Holy Spirit's approbation of his practice, and is a great encouragement to others to do the like; and in doing so, to hope for the divine direction and blessing.
Acts 17:11. it is said, The Bereans therefore were more noble than than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily, to know whether these things were so. It is noted as an instance of an excellent spirit in them, that they searched the Scriptures for their satisfaction, about what was delivered by the Apostles.
So, 2 Tim. 3:15. From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures. See here a child exercised in the Holy Scriptures: And this is noted by the Apostle as an excellent and praise-worthy thing in him.
Observe, that the Apostle St. Paul addresses the most part of his Epistles, not to the Priests or Bishops, but to the churches of God, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and to all that call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; see Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1, Gal. 1:2, and Eph. 1:1.
And to shew clearly that he wrote to the people, as well as to the pastors, he distinguishes them in his Epistle to the Philippians, Paul and Timotheus the Servants of Jesus Christ, to all the Saints that are at Philippi, with the Bishops and Deacons.
So likewise St. James addresses his Epistle to the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad.
And St. Peter his first Epistle, To the Strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. His second Epistle is yet more general, To all those that have obtained like precious faith with us, through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
St. John writes to fathers, to young men, and to children. Now what colour can there be to hinder those persons from reading those epistles that were sent and addrest to them?
Add to this, that the Apostles did formally and expresly command and require persons to read their epistles. Thus, Col. 4:16. When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. So, 1 Thess. 5:27. I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.
And note, that for this end they were writ in a language best known to the generality of people. As also all the Holy Scripture besides was writ in a language that was best understood by the people for whom it was written. The Old Testament in Hebrew for the use of the Jews; The New Testament in Greek, that being the language then most generally used. And for this end there were translations made of the Scriptures into the languages of several nations, that people of all sorts might read them.
As to what is said, 2 Pet. 3:16. That in the Scriptures there are some things hard to be understood, which many do wrest to their own destruction. It is from the vice and rashness of men, that they do so wrest them; which if they were of humble and teachable spirits, they might avoid. And therefore to prevent this wresting of them, the Apostle doth not prohibit the people the reading of them; but only cautions them, that they be not led away with these errors of the wicked, and directs them to grow more in knowledge: the way to attain unto which is, to peruse them with greater care and diligence. And it is an unreasonable thing to build a prohibition of reading the Scriptures upon a far-fetched consequence from this text, against so many express commands to the contrary.
Yet see moreover, Rev. 1:3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein. Note, here the most difficult Book of Scripture is commended to men's reading; and the Spirit of God calls those blessed that read and keep it. And what reason can there be then, to deter men from reading the Gospels and Epistles of the Apostles, which contain things much more familiar and easy to be understood?