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The possibility, expediency, and necessity of divine revelation a sermon preached at St. Martins in the Fields, Jan. 7. 1694/5 : at the beginning of the lecture for the ensuing year, founded by the honourable Robert Boyle, Esquire / by John Williams ...
Williams, John, 1636?-1709.; Boyle, Robert, 1627-1691.
Wing W2718; ESTC R2129
D r. WILLIAMS's FIRST SERMON AT M r. BOYLE'S Lecture 1695. IMPRIMATUR Jan. 26. 1694 5 Guil. Lancaster THE remaining Sermons for this Year will be Preach'd at St. Martins the First Mondays of February March April May September October and November The Possibility Expediency and Necessity of Divine Revelation A SERMON Preached at St. Martins in the Fields Jan. 7. 1694 5. AT THE Beginning of the LECTURE For the Ensuing YEAR Founded by the Honourable ROBERT BOYLE Esquire By JOHN WILLIAMS D. D. Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty LONDON Printed for Ric. Chiswell at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church-Yard And Tho. Cockerill at the Three Legs in the Poultrey M DC XC V. TO THE Most Reverend Father in God THOMAS Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Sir HENRY ASHHURST Knight and Baronet Sir JOHN ROTHERAM Serjeant at Law JOHN EVELYN Senior Esquire TRUSTEES by the Appointment of the Honourable Robert Boyle Esquire MOST HONOURED HAving by your Generous Election entred this Year upon the Lecture founded by the Honourable Robert Boyle the Great Encourager of Piety and Learning it becomes me in Obedience to your Order and according to the Intent of the Deceased to Present You with the First-fruits of my Labour The Subject I treat of is of Vniversal Concernment to the Christian World and is to be handled with Reverence and Care The former I shall all along keep in my eye and the latter I shall not neglect as far as in me lies But whatever Defects your Better Judgments shall espy throughout these Composures I hope the same Goodness that disposed you to place me in this Sphere will incline you to overlook and to accept of the Sincere Endeavours of MOST HONOURED Your most Faithful and Humble Servant JOHN WILLIAMS HEB. I. 1 2. God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the Fathers by the Prophets hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son THERE are Two ways by which Mankind may attain to the Knowledge of Divine Things namely Natural or Supernatural Natural is what we have springing up with our Faculties or what we attain by Natural means by Sight Observation and Experience by Tradition which is the History of others Knowledge and Experience and lastly by Reason and Argument deducing Effects from their proper Causes or finding out the Cause by its Effects As for instance Thus we come to the Knowledge of God by observing the Frame of the World by the Series Order and Course of Things which could never be without some Cause to produce them and that Cause no less than One Infinitely Powerful and Wise Thus we Argue That there is a Soul in Man distinct from the Body and surviving a Separation from it forasmuch as there are such Operations as are not Competent to Matter and that there is such a desire of Immortality placed in Mankind as would make the Flower and Choicest part of the Visible Creation the most Miserable if there was no Capacity in the Soul for such a State or no such State for a Soul capable of it Such Inferences as these are as Natural to a Reasonable Mind as those Observations are which we make from the reports of Sense and are therefore deservedly accounted Branches of Natural Religion Now this kind of Knowledge is more or less evident is stronger or weaker according to the capacities and dispositions of Mankind and according to the opportunities and means they have of Information And therefore a Philosopher that sets himself to enquire into the Mysteries of Nature and to observe the Curiosity Order and Beauty of its Fabrick may in Reason be supposed to be more confirmed in the Belief of a God and more disposed to Serve and Adore him than he that is ignorant as he that understands Painting or Carving can more observe and applaud the Ingenuity and Skill of the Artist than he that is unacquainted with it But after all so much is the Subject above our reach and so dark and intricate are all our Reasonings upon it that the Sagest Philosopher in the conclusion is left as unsatisfied as the meanest Peasant and perhaps more unsatisfied with his Knowledge and the deep and unfathomable Abyss he sees before him than the other is with his Ignorance so far making good what Solomon observes He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow Eccles 1. 18. So that there needs some brighter Light than that of Nature to conduct us to Happiness and bring us to a compleat and entire Satisfaction and that is a Supernatural Knowledge a Knowledge that is not to be obtained by the ways aforesaid by Enquiry and Observation but by inspiration and Revelation from Almighty God And this is the Subject of the Text. God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past by the Prophets hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son In which Words we have 1. A Description given of Revelation it 's God's speaking to the Fathers c. that is it is God's delivering his Mind to Mankind by Persons chosen for that purpose and peculiarly fitted for it by Inspiration Such were the Prophets in time past and the Son in the last days 2. The certainty of it it is by way of Declaration God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake c. The Apostle takes this for granted as having been sufficiently proved and so needs no farther confirmation So it was in times past when God spake by the Prophets and so it was in the last days in the Revelation of the Gospel which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord and was saith our Apostle confirmed unto us by them that heard him God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost Chap. 2. 3 4. And therefore as Moses did not think himself obliged at the entrance into his Divine Work to prove there is a God and that God made the World when there is such an inbred knowledge of a Deity implanted in human Nature and such clear and undoubted evidences of it throughout the Universe but supposes and asserts it In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth c. So after such manifest proofs of the Divine Authority of both the Prophetical and Evangelical Revelation the Apostle would not so much as suppose any doubt in the minds of those he wrote to but begins his Epistle with a certain Majesty becoming an Inspired Author God who at sundry times c. 3. The Order observed in delivering that Revelation it was at sundry times and in divers manners At sundry times ãâã ãâã ãâã ãâã ãâã or in several parts which may refer either to the several Ages and Periods viz. The Patriarchal Mosaical and Prophetical or to the several Manifestations of Divine Revelation through those Ages and Periods from the first Embryo of it in Adam to the close of it in John the Baptist in
a Parity of Reason as sure that there is such a Revelation by which such things are made known and in confirmation of which such mighty Works are done 3. If this be questioned it must be from a deficiency in God to impart such a Revelation to man or that there is an incapacity in man to receive it But how can God's Power herein be questioned that he can Operate thus on the Soul when he both Created it and is thoroughly acquainted with all the secret springs of Motion all the tendencies and inclinations all the thoughts and desires of it and consequently must be supposed to have a Power of directing it as he pleases And how can there be any incapacity in man when as to the matter he can both receive it and deliver it as he received and as to the manner it 's in a way suitable to his Faculties and is therefore call'd here God's speaking to the Prophets which is so as the other may understand This is a matter so evident that it has been generally believed throughout the world among the Heathens and therefore nothing more common than to have Oracles Places where they were wont to consult their Deities as well as the Jews had theirs A Subject I am not at present concerned in but it 's sufficient to shew what has been the sense of all Ages in this case And which even those that would call this in question in part consent to while they grant somewhat equivalent to it if not a branch of it I mean Prophecy which when it falls not within the Power of any Natural Causes is the product of what is Supernatural and what the Prophet must then receive from a higher hand God Grant this and the whole will follow for if it be possible in one case it 's possible in all to one and the same Infinite Power 3. I am to Consider the Expedience Usefulness and Necessity of a Revelation for that is here supposed when it 's said God spake in time past and in these last days that is from the beginning of the world to that time Now Revelation is a means extraordinary as has been shewed and consequently such as the means are such must the case be extraordinary for God not doing any thing in vain cannot be supposed to use extraordinary means where the case is ordinary and may as well be served by ordinary means Thus it is in Miracles which are acts above the common standard of Nature and are then only exerted when nothing less will engage the Attention of Faith of Mankind And so it is in Revelation which is to the Light of Reason what Miracles are to the common Law of Nature Supernatural and Extraordinary and consequently where Almighty God takes that course for the Information of Mankind it shews that there is some deficiency or corruption that calls for it and makes it expedient and necessary As it was with Adam at his first Creation who being an utter stranger to himself and the world he was at once brought into without some further kind of Information instead of a pleasure he might have taken in viewing the glorious Fabrick of the Heavens and the variety of Creatures in the Earth must have been full of Amazement and Confusion For in so wide a Scene as was before him Where must he begin or where could he hope to end How divided must he be in his own Mind What a cold and dry Speculation would it have been if he had hit upon it to have concluded with that Modern Philosopher Cogito ergo sum I think therefore I am He indeed felt himself to be but how he came to be he knew not for he saw nothing about him that could either be supposed to have given him that Being or could tell him how he came by it He saw he had a Body and a Body that obsequiously moved as he pleased to direct and determine but what that Body was originally made of he could not possibly tell For how could he suppose such warm soft and tender Flesh those firm and well compacted Joynts those radiant and sparkling Eyes which he had as other living Creatures that moveable and limber and well-complexioned matter of which his Body consisted should be formed out of cold moveless crumbling and shapeless Earth He felt his Body move and pliable in all its motions to his Will and quick as Thought to answer his Mind but what that inward Principle was that moved it he was wholly ignorant nor could he possibly of himself at that instant conceive that there was an inward Immaterial Spirit that was vitally United to a Gross and Material Body that was the Principle of all and was as distinct from the Body in it's Nature and Subsistence as if it were not United at all to it He might observe the Creatures about him of different sorts that there were certain Notes that each Kind had and all were known and understood among themselves but that notwithstanding they were all dumb to him and he to them and what it was that made the difference he could not understand When he pleased himself in the Contemplation of the Heavens above and that glorious Luminary that gave as he perceived Light to all about him he could not tell whether it was an intelligent Being and that as it gave Light to all so it was Superior to them And when that set he knew not but he was to be inclosed in perpetual Darkness When a heavy Stupidness began to seize himself and he was forced to submit to the power of it he knew not but it was to end that Life which was that day began and that he was to close his Eyes and conclude his Life together So that though he had what we call Reason and suppose it as his Body in its prime yet even that Reason must have been his Torment for a while when it made him inquisitive but could not give him satisfaction To prevent which disorder and confusion he would otherwise be in at the first opening of his Eyes and his Mind together as it was necessary that he that was to begin the world should be Created in a full Age and Strength and that he that was alone should have a present power and faculty of Elocution and forming of Words for the Conversation he was to have with the Help designed for him so it was requisite that he should have some immediate Inspiration to inform him of what was necessary for him to know as to God himself and the World and which he could not have known without such Inspiration or the slow and tedious compass of Observation and so must have waited for satisfaction till time and experience had formed his Judgment and made him a wise Philosopher But this Adam was at the first and so forthwith knew whom it was that he was to own as the Author of his Being and of what his Body was made and by what means an Intelligent Spirit came to
be inclosed in a Material Body and could as soon resolve all those perplexing doubts which otherwise he would have been assaulted with as he understood at first sight that Eve was bone of his bone and knew how to give Names to the Creatures suitable to their Natures Gen. 2. 19 23. But now the reasons for such an Inspiration to Adam were personal belonging to him alone but after what manner the Divine Wisdom would have imparted the Knowledge of it self to Adam's Posterity if he and they had stood and continued in a state of Primogenial Innocency or whether there would in those Circumstances have been any need of a Supernatural Inspiration after the Revelation made to Adam from whom they might have Infallibly received it no more concerns us than it doth to know how Mankind would then have been disposed of when they were not to Dye but to have subsisted in the same State Body and Soul inseparably United Those are among the secret things which belong unto God but things revealed belong unto us We must therefore alter the Scene and consider Mankind in a State of Imperfection and Depravation and there we shall find Revelation absolutely necessary as a remedy against a fourfold Mischief which without it would unavoidably ensue As with respect to the Confusion Adam was in by reason of Guilt The Danger he was in from his Enemy The Subtile and Malicious Serpent The Ruin that threatned him from the impotency and disorder he found in his Faculties which like a Dislocation in the Limbs though fit in themselves for Action yet being removed out of their Sockets are not capable of discharging their Functions This being the State of Fallen Man there was need of a Supervenient Revelation to recover him as well as it was the determination of the Divine Goodness to design it There was need of this to comfort him under the sense of his Apostacy and the Guilt he had contracted to prevent his Despair To fortify him against the power of his insolent and triumphant Adversary and to aid him under his contracted disability for preventing his Discouragement And to caution him against the sad effects of his Depravation or the falling into a repetition of a new disobedience for preventing his Presumption For these Reasons Almighty God so soon interposed in the Garden by a new Revelation of Himself and Instructed him in his gracious design to restore him to Favour and in the method he would observe for that purpose inwhat he saith to the Serpent Gen. 3. 15. I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel Thus the Gospel was Preached to Adam who was the first Prophet to whom the Mystery of Salvation was revealed to which those places in the New Testament seem to refer Luke 1. 70. As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets since the world began ãâã ãâã ãâã ãâã ãâã from the beginning so Acts 3. 21. This was the case of Adam and the exigence he would have been in without this immediate and comfortable Revelation And the Condition of his Posterity would have been worse than his without a Revelation had this Revelation died with this their Progenitor and not have been transmitted to them For besides the state of Guilt which must equally have invaded them as it did him and what Conscience in them could no more quietly digest than in him there were several disadvantages they laboured under which he did not As if we consider Adam in a bare State of Nature without any Supernatural provision he had this advantage above his Posterity that being Created in a full Age he was free from all prepossessions of Sense or Education and in the first moment of his Being had his Reason clear in the fountain of it like the Sun in its Meridian Glory and all his Faculties bright and as ripe at once for Observation and Reflection as his Body was for Action But his Posterity growing up from their Infancy among sensible Objects from thence would in a meer course of Nature have received all their Information and by slow degrees from things Visible must have argued themselves into the Belief of things Invisible and from the Effects of a Supreme Cause to the Supreme Cause it self which in the Apostle's Words Acts 17. 27. would be to seek the Lord if haply they might feel after him ãâã ãâã ãâã ãâã ãâã as men blundering in the dark and find him In such danger would the fundamental Principles of Natural Religion have been if there had been no Revelation to prevent it And this was the reason of such a provision by Inspired Persons to preserve those Principles alive and safe of the number of whom Abel is accounted and therefore called a Prophet Luke 11. 50. and Enoch Jude 14. and Noah 2 Pet. 2. 5. But now as the Rays of the Sun the farther they are projected grow weaker and weaker so it was in the derivation of these Principles which lost very much of their primitive lustre and notwithstanding the certainty of the evidence the credibility and authority of those Holy Patriarchs Vice like a deluge broke in upon the world so that every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts generally speaking was only evil continually Gen. 6. 5. And if now when there was a Revelation and a Revelation seconded by the Authority of such Eminent Persons the World so soon grew Corrupted What would it not have been if there had been no such Revelation or no such Curators of it And this the World was soon sensible of after the Flood for notwithstanding so late and astonishing an instance of the Divine Vengeance yet in their several Dispersions for want of a Revelation they lost the sense of the true and great Principles of Religion some as the Chaldeans turning it into a vain Inquiry into the Influences of the Heavenly Bodies others placing their Religion in ridiculous and opprobrious Superstitions as the Egyptians others pleasing themselves in nice Disputations and the Vanity of new-discovered Deities and Religions as the Greeks And all acting in Divine matters as if they were in inextricable Labyrinths being distracted and eternally divided about the Origine of the World whether it were Eternal or Accidental or the Product of a Divine Power about the Origine of Evil about the Government of the World whether it be by different Deities Good or Evil or whether by none but be wholly Acted by the levity of Chance or the immutable Law of Destiny and Fate So that in process of time the World was brought into the condition of Elymas Acts 13. 8 11. that once had the advantage and pleasure of Sight but upon the opposition made to St. Paul immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness that he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand Too close a Representation of the condition of Mankind in that Degenerate