“By a divine, I mean one who, imbued with a substantial knowledge of divine things derived from the teaching of God Himself, declares and extols, not in words only, but by the whole course of his life, the wonderful excellencies of God, and thus lives entirely for His glory.
Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we denominate fathers, the widely resplendent luminaries of the primitive Church. The knowledge of these men did not lie in the wire-drawn subtleties of curious questions, but in the devout contemplation of God and His Christ.
Their plain and chaste mode of teaching did not soothe itching ears, but impressing upon the mind an exact representation of sacred things, inflamed the soul with their love, while their praiseworthy innocence of behaviour, in harmony with their profession, and unimpeached by their enemies, supported their teaching by an evidence that was irresistible, and formed a clear proof of their having familiar intercourse with the most holy God.
Let the divine rise to the higher fields of Scripture study, and sitting humbly before God, let him learn from His mouth the hidden mysteries of salvation, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,—which none of the princes of this world knew,—which no power of reason, however well trained, could discover, and which the angelic hosts above, although beholding continually the face of God, do yet with profoundest earnestness investigate.
In the richly stored books of Scripture, and nowhere else, are laid open to our view the secrets of this more sacred wisdom. Whatever is not drawn from the Scriptures,—whatever is not built upon them,—whatever does not exactly accord with them, however much it may recommend itself by assuming the guise of superior wisdom, or be upheld by ancient tradition, by the consent of the learned, or by dint of plausible arguments, is vain, futile,—in short, a mere falsehood.
TO THE LAW AND TO THE TESTIMONY, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Let the divine be ravished with these heavenly oracles,—let him be occupied with them day and night,—let him meditate in them, let him live in them, let him draw his wisdom from them, let him compare all his thoughts with them, let him embrace nothing in religion which he does not find there.
Let him not tie his faith to any one, not to prophet, apostle, or even an angel, as if the dicta of any man or angel could be the rule of faith. In God, in God alone, let his faith rest.
For it is not a human, but emphatically a divine faith which we learn and teach; and so discriminating is it, that it reckons no foundation sufficiently firm, but that afforded by the authority of him who cannot lie, who never deceives.
The Word of God, moreover, when studied attentively, has also an indescribable power of attraction. It fills the mind with the clearest ideas of heavenly truth.
Its method of teaching is distinguished by purity, solidity, certainty, and the absence of the least mixture of error.
It soothes the mind with an ineffable sweetness.
It satisfies the hunger and thirst of sacred knowledge with flowing brooks of honey and butter.
It penetrates, by its irresistible power, into the inmost recesses of the heart.
It imprints its testimony on the mind so firmly and immoveably, that the believing soul rests upon it with as much security as if it had been carried up to the third heaven, and had heard it directly from God’s mouth.
It moves all the affections, and, exhaling in every line the most delightful odour of sanctity, breathes it into the soul of the pious reader, even although he perhaps does not reach the full meaning of all that he peruses.
I cannot find words to express how much we injure ourselves by an unnatural method of study, which, alas! has too much prevailed amongst us,—that method, I mean, which leads us first to form our conceptions of Divine things from human writings, and then to attempt to confirm these, either by passages of Scripture, sought out by ourselves, or by catching, without farther examination, at those adduced by others, as bearing on the point in hand, when we ought to draw our views of Divine truth directly from the Scriptures themselves, and to employ human writings not otherwise than as pointers, indicating to us, under the different topics of theology, those passages of Scripture by which we may be instructed in the mind of the Lord.
All that I have now said may be summed up thus:—THE TRUE DIVINE is a humble disciple of the Scriptures.
But as the Word of God is the only rule of Faith, so it is also necessary that our divine, in order to understand it in a spiritual and saving manner, give himself up to the internal teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, he who is a disciple of the Scriptures, must also be a disciple of the Spirit. He who looks at heavenly things with the blind eyes of nature, does not see their native splendour and beauty, but only a kind of false image of them, for the appearance which is proper to them is very different from that which is impressed upon the minds of those before whose eyes they so dimly hover.
In order to understand spiritual things, we must have a spiritual mind. The hidden things of Scripture elude the penetration of the merely human intellect, however acute; nor is the natural mind better able to perceive these, than are the organs of smell to judge of the nature of sounds, or those of hearing that of odours.
Here, therefore, the Spirit, the great teacher of souls, in order to come to the aid of such helplessness, bestows upon His pupils a new and spiritual mind, which He himself illuminates with the purest light, that they may be able to discern the most heavenly mysteries in their own proper brightness.
Along with Divine things, He gives, in large measure, a mind by which they can be relished and understood. He imparts the mind of Christ along with the things of Christ.
Hence the divine who has been instructed in this spiritual and heavenly school, not only learns to form in his mind genuine ideas of Divine things, but—inestimable treasure!—receives these things themselves.
For the Spirit, the teacher, presents not were words or downright figments—not vain dreams or empty phantoms, but, as it were, what is solid and enduring, and, if I may so express myself, the very substances of things. These are introduced into the soul of him who has a true knowledge of them, and are embraced by the whole affections, and with the utmost strength of the heart.
He who is a student in this heavenly school, not only knows and believes, but has also sensible experience of, the forgiveness of sins, and the privilege of adoption and intimate communion with God, and the grace of the indwelling Spirit, and the hidden manna, and the sweet love of Christ,—the earnest and pledge, in short, of perfect happiness.
Many things there are in this hidden wisdom which cannot be learned but by possessing, feeling, and tasting them. The new name is not known by any man, saving he that receiveth it. The Spirit thus works, that His disciples may taste and see how good the Lord is. He brings them into the banqueting-house, while his banner over them is love.
“Eat,” he says, “O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved!” and thus made to partake liberally of the wine of the Saviour, they acquire a power of discerning heavenly objects, far surpassing that which Jonathan of old attained after he had tasted the honeycomb.
And that which any one has learned by this tasting, is fixed so immoveably in his soul, that no subtleties of argument, no sudden assaults of temptation, will avail to obliterate the impress of this seal. He is prepared to neutralize all objections by this one reply: It is vain to dispute against experience.
We have not, will such persons say—we have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we believed the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty; and we cannot but believe those things which we have heard with our ears, which our hands have handled, and our mouth hath tasted of the word of life.
Since these things are learned in a way so clear, holy, and saving, in the school of the Spirit alone, who does not see how absolutely necessary it is that our divine give himself up to be trained by this Master? In order that he may be thus instructed, let him heartily renounce his own wisdom, let him become a fool that he may be wise.
The new world of Divine knowledge is created by God, as was the old world itself, out of nothing. In the exercise of love, the student of Divine truth may make a near approach to God, and elicit the knowledge of His counsels.
The faithful and true Witness has declared, “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
Let our divine carefully lay up in his heart the sayings of the Holy Spirit, and by frequent meditation, set them again and again before his mind. In studying, let him not only read but pray; let him commune not with man alone, but with God in prayer, with himself in meditation.
The soul of a holy man is like a little sanctuary, in which God dwells by his Spirit, and where that Spirit, devoutly consulted in prayer, often reveals things of which the princes of this world can never by any study acquire such a knowledge.
In fine, let him see to it, that the mirror of his mind be so spiritually pure and unclouded, as to be suited to receive the Spirit of purity, together with those spiritual images which He presents. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
And to close all, the divine, by these steps, and under the teaching of the Spirit, will reach such a degree of knowledge, as to see, in his own light, God the fountain of light, and to rejoice in Him, and in the knowledge of Him, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
–Herman Witsius, On the Character of the True Divine: An Inaugural Oration, Delivered at Franeker, April 16, 1675 (Edinburgh: James Wood, 1856), 12–13, 17–20, 24–28.