by Herman Witsius
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I SHALL not trespass on your patience, CANDID READER, by a tedious preamble, but will show you, in a few words, the design and scope of the following work. It seems proper to apprize you, first of all, that it is not intended for the learned, or for such as have been long engaged in sacred studies, but only for learners, and my own Pupils, whom I wished to furnish with a light to direct them to the proper improvement of our holy Religion. It appeared to me extremely undesirable, that those with whose education for the sacred office we are intrusted, should at length ascend the pulpit to entertain the Christian people with frigid, though perhaps sublime, discourses, or with unprofitable, though sufficiently warm, discussions; neglecting, in the mean time, to inspire their minds with any relish for heavenly objects, with any desire for divine consolations, with any love for genuine piety. I daily urged them to consider that Religion is not seated in the tongue, but in the mind; that it consists not in words, but in deeds; not in the subtlety of speculations, but in purity of heart; not in the affectation of new discoveries, but in the prosecution of a new life. They were frequently reminded, that he alone is a true Theologian, who adds the practical to the theoretical part of Religion—who combines exhortation to duty with the elucidation of doctrine. They were told, also, that this is not to be done merely in a superficial, formal, and customary manner, at the conclusion of a sermon; but that the whole discourse should be so framed, that the soul, fixed in earnest and adoring contemplation of astonishing truths, may feel itself inflamed with a heavenly zeal to regulate the life in a manner becoming the knowledge and the faith of those glorious realities. I inculcated, further, that the minds of the hearers must be so instructed, that they may attempt a careful examination of themselves, and be able to ascertain by infallible marks, whether they have a personal interest in the promises of the Gospel:—and that this must be so strongly and pathetically urged, that the most secure may be roused from their fatal lethargy, and every hearer induced to inquire, with eager solicitude, into the state of his own soul. I added, that there is not a single article of our Religion which is not mightily adapted to accomplish this purpose, and proceeded to confirm the truth of this remark by several examples. Some of my Students then began moat earnestly to request me to favour them with my thoughts in writing; and such is the origin of these Dissertations.
I intended, in the first instance, that what relates to the Theory should be supposed to be sufficiently known already, from Catechetical Institutes, Systems of Theology, and what are called Common-place books; and that my only business should be to point out the application of the doctrines of faith to Christian practice. But at the very commencement of the undertaking, my Pupils expressed a strong desire to learn, also, what appeared to me to be the best method of illustrating, and the most eligible arguments for defending, the doctrines themselves; and this part of their request, too, I was unwilling to refuse. Hence I have sometimes stated those doctrines, from the Scriptures, at considerable length; and when the occasion required, have refuted the objections and cavils of adversaries.
In the selection of the arguments, however, and in the manner of treating them, I have used my own liberty;—a liberty of which I think no one ought to be deprived, who is sincerely desirous that all those truths, by the profession of which the Church of Christ is distinguished from erroneous societies of every sort, may be preserved pure and entire; and to whom nothing in his whole life affords greater pleasure than exerting his utmost efforts to illustrate and confirm these doctrines, and to apply them to their legitimate use. We are Christians. We have one infallible Master and Teacher, Jesus Christ. When we recur to men, "to follow constantly the sentiments of one individual," as Seneca somewhere elegantly says, "is to act not as a member of the commonwealth, but as an abettor of a party."* Such conduct I utterly detest, and trust that I shall always avoid. "I am the servile follower of no man; I bear no man's name; I show great respect for the judgment of eminent men; I claim permission, also, in some degree, to respect my own."
As I grudge no one this innocent liberty, so I supposed that no one would have grudged it to me. There were not wanting several persons, however, whom it displeased. Some apprehend that I have not every where expressed myself in a manner sufficiently conformable to old opinions; whilst others are still more highly offended, because I have not always acquiesced in new doctrines, and in periodical interpretations of the prophecies. To make no mention of others, with whom I shall never be disposed to have any altercation;—the celebrated JOHN VAN DER WAEYEN, once my Colleague, friend, and familiar acquaintance, after he began to differ from himself, also deserted and opposed his friends. Although, formerly, his opinion of me was not very unfavourable; yet, having altered his procedure, he has thought proper, in most of his writings, both in the Latin and in our vernacular tongue, not only to censure and expose my publications; but, likewise, to attack and traduce my character, with such violence, haughtiness, and arrogance, with such daring falsehood, such unbounded licentiousness of calumny, and such wanton scurrility; that he seems either not to have known, or, at least, to have, in this instance, forgotten alike all the rules of politeness, and all the laws of equity and probity.
What, after all, is the crime of which I have been guilty? None whatever, except that, in conformity to my duty as a Professor of Theology, neither attaching myself to parties nor indulging in invectives, I have calmly expressed my sentiments in relation to those topics, which, during these years, have been disputed among the learned; and that, being a person of a weak capacity and timid disposition, I entertained apprehensions in my own mind, and gave warning to several men of distinction, of those disorders by which the peace of the Churches of Friesland has now, for some time past, been disturbed.
This obloquy would have given me more uneasiness, had I not seen others treated in the same manner, whose names are venerable in the Church; and, in particular, that eminent individual, who is so distinguished for his extensive and correct acquaintance with every department of sacred learning, that he has, perhaps, no superior in the Reformed Churches; and whose hearer, pupil, and admirer, not his colleague, VAN DER WAEYEN himself once was.
If the great man thinks proper to treat his Brethren in this manner, he shall gratify his inclination without any interruption from me, provided he can justify his conduct to God and to the Churches. Far be it from me, ever to follow his example. I leave his expressions with himself, determined to answer his revilings with perpetual silence; and to endeavour, through the grace of God, to refute them, not by words, but by actions. I do not think so highly of him, or so meanly of myself, or so unjustly of his readers, as to fear that prudent and impartial men will form their judgment respecting me, according to his reproaches. If, in the mean time, he shall throw out any suggestion which may prove conducive to a more clear and distinct knowledge of divine truth, whatever be the manner in which it is propounded, I will accept of it with gratitude. I am one of those who are solicitous to make daily advances, and who refuse sound and salutary instruction from no man. It would have sincerely rejoiced me, to have been able to receive information from the SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY which he published lately: nor, although I found myself repeatedly censured in it at great length, should I have thought that any cause of displeasure was given me, if the censure had been accompanied with arguments sufficient to establish the charge of inaccurate conceptions or unfair reasoning. I now clearly perceive, that, owing either to multiplicity of business, or to precipitation, he has not sufficiently understood me in some places, and has, consequently, imputed to me absurdities, which I am far from maintaining. In other points, it is a great consolation to me, that if I do err, I hold errors in common with the most excellent, and even the greater part of the doctors of our Church; nor can I be accused of any fault, but that of defending sentiments which are generally received. Whether I act considerately or otherwise, this celebrated man must forgive me, if I prefer the sentiments of others, who apply to these sacred studies with a more calm and unbiassed mind, and give less indulgence to their passions. "A violent spirit conducts every thing improperly."*
As, however, I do not consider myself faultless, so I would not have my mistakes to prove injurious to the truth. With respect to that want of candour with which he often upbraids me, I know not in what way it is possible for any man to vindicate himself from this aspersion, except by a confident protestation of sincerity, and by discovering it in his conduct when he is convinced of an error. To judge the inward disposition, is the prerogative of Him who alone searches the reins and the hearts. The God of heaven has reserved to himself, the secrets of all minds; and he only who formed the recesses of the breast, is able to unlock and disclose them. Yet I aver that I have never attributed any sentiment to any person, but what I believed he had expressed by word or writing. If I have misrepresented any one's opinion, I have not done this intentionally, but inadvertently; and when informed of my mistake, I will so correct it that no further cause of complaint shall remain. I cheerfully offer "the sponge, to rectify the slips of the pen."*
I have only to request, that others would exercise the same candour, and that they would not conceal, by a studied obscurity of language, sentiments, which, when they have a convenient opportunity, they deliver more explicitly to their friends. My manner of teaching was never of that kind; but, neither courting the favour, nor dreading the displeasure of any man, I have always expressed, as distinctly as I could, what appeared to me, to be true and just, and consonant to the word of God.
I must beware, however, of exhausting the patience of the reader, by an odious dispute about what does not immediately belong to the present design. The topic to which I refer, will be discussed in its proper place in the third Edition of the books which I have written on the Economy of the Divine Covenants; where, having examined the whole subject with great care, and in the fear of God, I will show that I have received further instruction, and mention those to whom I am indebted, and at the same time discreetly defend what had been justly expressed.
In compliance with the solicitations of my friends, I wrote thus in the year 1689, lest, as usually happens, a wrong interpretation should be put on my silence. Agreeably to my expectation, the third Edition of the Treatise on the Economy of the Covenants, was subsequently published: and in that Edition I have performed what I had intended, with all that reverence for holy writ, with all that candour, moderation, and gentleness, and with all that mildness towards persons of opposite sentiments, which it was possible for me to manifest Let the pious, judicious, and impartial reader judge; and let him unite with me in prayer to God, that his good Spirit may lead us in the paths of righteousness and truth.
Table of Contents
Memoir of Witsius
The Author's Dedication
The Author's Preface
DISSERTATION I: On the Authors, and the Authority of the Apostles' Creed
DISSERTATION II: On Fundamental Articles
DISSERTATION III: On Saving Faith
DISSERTATION IV: On the Faith of the Existence of God
DISSERTATION V: On Faith IN GOD
DISSERTATION VI: On Faith in a THREE-ONE GOD
DISSERTATION VII: On Faith in GOD THE FATHER
DISSERTATION VIII: On the Creation
DISSERTATION IX: On the Name JESUS
DISSERTATION X: On the Name CHRIST
DISSERTATION XI: On the name CHRISTIANS
DISSERTATION XII: On Jesus Christ, the ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD
DISSERTATION XIII: On Jesus Christ, OUR LORD
DISSERTATION XIV: On Jesus Christ, CONCEIVED OF THE HOLY GHOST, AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY
DISSERTATION XV: On Christ's Suffering under Pontius Pilate
DISSERTATION XVI: On the Crucifixion and Death of Christ
DISSERTATION XVII: On the Burial of Christ
DISSERTATION XVIII: On Christ's Descent into Hell
DISSERTATION XIX: On the Resurrection of Christ
DISSERTATION XX: On Christ's Ascension into Heaven
DISSERTATION XXI: On Christ's Sitting at the Right Hand of God the Father
DISSERTATION XXII: On Christ's coming again to Judgment
DISSERTATION XXIII: On the Holy Ghost
DISSERTATION XXIV: On the Church, and the Communion of Saints, and the Operation of our Faith with regard to both
DISSERTATION XXV:On the Forgiveness of Sins
DISSERTATION XXVI: On the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting
NOTES: Critical and Explanatory