and How God May Be Known (2)
Rev H M Cartwright
2. The answer to this question to which Halyburton was led by his study of the Bible and by his own experience of the power of the truth.
Sinners cannot come to know God by the exercise of reason. His experience taught him that he “had need of some further evidence and establishment about the truths of religion than hitherto” he “had either attained or knew how to attain”. Reason cannot lead man to the knowledge of God, or solve all the problems connected with that knowledge. Those who make reason their ultimate guide end up in atheism, scepticism or rationalism. Even before he was graciously enlightened, Halyburton was brought to what he calls “a deep rational conviction of the shortness of human knowledge, and that there is no truth we receive whether upon the evidence of metaphysical, mathematical or moral principles, or even on the evidence of our senses against which there lay not insoluble objections, on which no man yet thought it reasonable to question these truths. . . . It was reasonable to expect more inextricable difficulties about truths supernaturally revealed than about others, because they lie further out of our reach. . . . When difficulties occurred, I was led rather to suspect myself of ignorance than the truths of God.” As he puts it elsewhere, “Our short line cannot measure God”.
Reason cannot lead man to the knowledge of God even with the light of revelation shining around him, much less with the light of nature alone. Halyburton makes this point thus: “Let us view men living under the gospel, embracing it in profession, but unacquainted with that Spirit that gives life and power to its doctrines, precepts, promises, threats and ordinances. They, besides that they are possessed of all the advantages of natures light, have moreover the superadded advantages of revelation and its institutions. They have ministers and parents instructing them, and discipline to restrain them; they are trained up in the faith of future rewards and instructed in the nature and excellency of them for their encouragement; they have punishments proposed to them to deter them from sin, which they profess to believe; yet if we consider the practice of the generality of such persons, it gives a sufficient evidence that all this is not enough. Who but a man blind or foolish can then dote so far as to pretend the light of nature alone sufficient when it is not so, even when helped by so many accessory improvements?”
He looks at this also from the standpoint of the experience of those who “have received the gospel in truth and felt its power. . . . What is their sense of the sufficiency of the light of nature? . . . [If you were to listen, probably] you should hear heavy outcries of their own darkness, weakness and wickedness; you may hear serious prayers for divine light, and life to quicken them, strengthen and incline them to follow duty and support them in it against the power of temptations, which they own themselves unable to master without the powerful aids of divine grace.”
That reason cannot lead man to the knowledge of God even with the light of revelation shining around him, much less with the light of nature alone, was not simply a conclusion drawn by Halyburton from his own experience. The Scriptures testify that this is the universal experience of fallen mankind: “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:19-21). Certainly, as we have it in Romans 1:19,20: “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” But the reason they need an excuse which they do not have is “that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”
Sinners come to know God by being enabled by divine grace to receive the revelation which God has given of Himself in His Word, and to receive it only because it is His Word. Halyburton explains that “that which brought” him “to a soul-satisfying assent, and repelled all temptations against the being of a God, was the view of Him in His glory. . . . All the mountains of opposition, the bulky arguments that appeared like rocks and hills, shook at the presence of the Lord and were carried into the midst of the sea.” He lays stress upon three basic elements in his coming to know God: the Word of God, faith, and enlightenment by the Spirit of God.
The Word of God. He tells us: “That which yielded me relief was a discovery of the Lord, as manifested in the Word“. By the Word, God conveyed into his soul “sweet and satisfying evidence as to His being satisfying, consistent and some way God-becoming notions of His nature”. What he has to say on the subject is along the lines of the Westminster Confession of Faith 1:1: “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scriptures to be most necessary; those former ways of Gods revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.”
Faith is knowledge which depends upon the testimony of a credible witness. Saving faith rests upon the witness of God in His Word. Faith is not unreasonable. It has the most firm reason in the Word itself and it fits in with all known facts. “It neither leans upon the eloquence nor reasonings of man, but upon the powerful evidence of the Spirits demonstration.” “However they may be relieved against the objections and capacitated to deal with adversaries by other arguments and means, yet that whereon believers of all sorts, learned and unlearned, lean is the Word of God evidencing itself unto their faith by its own light and power.” In a sermon, Halyburton says that “to believe is to credit the Word, not because of any suitableness in the things to our thoughts, or probabilities, or feasible means of the Lords accomplishing what is promised therein . . . but faith looks only at the Lords authority . . . it leans only on the testimony of God, approving itself such to the souls of believers by its own glorious power, whereby, without borrowing help from any other signs, it evidences itself to be the Lords Word, with a light so strong as carries the soul into an assent; this is, we conceive, the meaning of the passage, 1 Corinthians 2:52“.
Faith may be called supernatural “because the power or ability for it is supernaturally given, and the evidence whereon it rests is supernatural”. “It is faith alone that . . . reproves contrary arguings and plants in the soul an abiding light that keeps the soul firm in its adherence to truth.” “The Scriptures demand our assent, and offer no evidence but this of Gods authority.” The Bible was written to be believed. Sin has rendered man culpably unable to believe, and “light, however clear, cannot of itself supply the defect of the discerning power”. “All our faculties have suffered a dreadful shock and are mightily impaired by the entrance of sin and corruption of our natures thereon ensuing; and particularly our understandings are so disabled, especially in things pertaining unto God, that we cannot in a due manner perceive, discern or entertain divine revelations upon their proper evidence, unto the glory of God and our own advantage, unless our natures are supernaturally renewed.” The absence of faith is not due to any defect in the Word, which has to be supplied from some other source. In the Word, faith finds an altogether adequate basis.
Enlightenment by the Spirit of God. Halyburton explains that, when he came to know the Lord, “it was not the Word alone that conveyed the discovery; for most of the passages by which I was relieved I had formerly in my distress read and thought upon without finding any relief in them. But now the Lord shined into my mind by them (2 Cor 4:6)3. . . . It was not a spark kindled by my own endeavours. . . . It came by the Word of God. . . . It opened heaven, and discovered heavenly things the glory of God. . . . It was a true light (John 1:9), giving true manifestations of God, even the one true God, and the one mediator between God and man. . . . No words can convey a true notion of light to the blind; and he that has eyes, at least while he sees it, will need no words to describe it.” “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thess 1:5).
Halyburton discusses the connection between the Word and gracious enlightenment and faith in bringing men to the knowledge of God. He does so by enquiring as to “the ground whereon the mind thus subjectively enlightened, or by the Spirit of God disposed, fitted and enabled to discern and assent to divine revelations, builds its assent, and wherein it rests satisfied or acquiesces. . . . What is that ground whereon our reason moves and determines us to receive the Scriptures as the Word of God? . . . What is that evidence of God speaking or giving testimony to truths supernaturally revealed, whereby the mind is satisfied that God is the revealer?” Of course he rejects what he calls the Socinian view that mans understanding is capable of seeing the truth so long as it is presented to him. And he rejects what he calls the rationalist view that something other than the Word is necessary to confirm the Word and to require belief.
He is strong on the point that “we are not to believe the Scriptures upon the authority of any man or church”. While rational arguments for the truth of Christianity have their uses, they are not the ground upon which men are required or enabled to receive the Scriptures as the Word of God, or to receive the testimony which they bear to God. The fact that writers of Scripture performed miracles is not the basis upon which we receive the Scriptures as from God. Neither is the ground of faith any private voice separate from the Word saying to us that this is the Word of God. This faith is not even brought about by any word of scripture bearing testimony to the divine origin of the Bible, as 2 Timothy 3:164. We do not receive Scripture as Gods Word because it fits in with our own ideas or our own needs. Many of these things have a place in the experience of individual Christians, but “this faith builds its persuasion on the testimony of God evidencing itself such unto the mind, and not on human testimony”. He writes of a “God-becoming impress of majesty, sovereignty, omniscience, independence, holiness, justice, goodness, wisdom and power” which “is not only a sufficient and real, but in very deed the greatest objective light and evidence imaginable” and which secures an assent founded on the impress of God in His own Word.
He develops this theme at length. Here are a few extracts from what he has to say: “The formal reason or ground whereon I assent to, or receive, the whole Scriptures, and every particular truth in them, and am obliged in duty so to do, is the authority and truth of God speaking in them, and speaking every truth they contain, evidencing itself to my faith, when duly exercised about them, and attending to them, by their own divine and distinguishing light and power. . . . I do believe them because they carry in them, to my faith, an evidence of God, or do evidence themselves by their own light and power, to my faith duly exercised about them, that they are the Word of God and not of man. . . . The Word, by a God-becoming manifestation of the truth . . . dives into the souls of men, into all the secret recesses of their hearts, guides, teaches, directs, determines and judges in them and upon them in the name, majesty and authority of God. And when it enters thus into the soul, it fills it with the light of the glory of the beamings of those perfections upon it, whereby it is made to cry out, The voice of God and not of man”. “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). “But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Cor 14:24).
God becomes known by the Holy Spirit giving the soul the gracious capacity to receive by faith the testimony to Himself which God has given in His word, and to receive it, not on the basis of something external to the Word itself, but on the basis of the testimony itself. As James Hog of Carnock puts it in his preface to Halyburtons work: “No demonstration can vie with this, inasmuch as the authority of the God of truth, that conveys His own testimony into the heart with a strong hand, has a glory and evidence peculiar to itself; and though well known to those who enjoy it, yet of a beauty great and mysterious, such as the tongues of men and angels could not suffice to describe”. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess 2:13).
The result of being brought by faith to receive the revelation of God given in His Word and conveyed to his soul by the power of the Holy Spirit is described by him at some length in his Memoirs: “I saw the glory of God, as represented in the Word, shining with the clearest lustre, that satisfied me it was truth, and no lie (2 Cor 3:18). The glory was so great that it not only let me see and convinced me of its reality, but really convinced me in some measure that nothing else is real. The sight gave me more consistent, God-becoming notions of Him, His nature and attributes than I ever attained before, which shook the foundation of many of my former scruples, which proceeded only from my ignorance and darkness about the nature of God. . . . I heard Him speak, not to my bodily ears, but to my soul; and His voice did sufficiently distinguish itself from the voice of any creature. . . . His words had light and power peculiar to a God going along with them, both when He spoke for me and against me. . . . I had likewise a feeling of His power . . . casting me down and raising me up again. . . . I was now made to taste and see that the Lord is good. . . . I was made to feel the savour, and relish a fragrant sweetness in His Word, works and ways. . . . Hereby all my objections were solved. Faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1); it not only satisfies the soul about them by the clearest evidence, but it reproves contrary objections”. What broke the force of all his temptations was “seeing the truths of God in His own light”.
Throughout his life his desire was to know the Lord. On his deathbed, as he reflected on his experience, we find him saying: “The God of glory appeared to me; and the first sight I got of Him was such as it won my heart to Him, so as it was never loosed. Though I have had many wanderings, yet I can say I was never myself till I won back to the centre again.” The God whom he had come to know was also a present reality and at the centre of his prospects for the future as he looked forward to leaving this world: “Shortly I shall get another sight of God than ever I had and be more meet to praise Him than ever. O the thoughts of an incarnate God are sweet and ravishing! And O how I wonder at myself that I do not love Him more that I do not admire Him more! O that I could honour Him! . . . The little acquaintance I have had with God within these two days has been better than ten thousand times the pains I have all my life been at about religion. It is good to have Him to go to when we are turning our face to the wall”.
Coming to know God is by a direct act of faith upon the revelation God has given of Himself in His Word for which we are enabled by His Holy Spirit.