Henry Venn, 1763, on the Futility of External Evidence to Move the Will to Accept the Authority of Holy Scripture

Whenever we open the sacred book of God, we should lift up our hearts to him, to teach us the true meaning of what we are going to read. This is necessary, because those doctrines, which are its very glory, offend our natural pride, and its precepts contradict our dearest lusts. To receive the one, therefore, with humility and thankfulness, and to submit to be governed by the other, requires assistance from heaven, and a blessing from the Father and Fountain of lights. Accordingly, in the Bible we are frequently taught that we cannot know the excellency of its doctrines, nor rely on them, with such a persuasion as to honor God by it, unless he opens our understandings; for “no man,” saith St Paul, “can say that Jesus Christ is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” And when the apostle speaks of those believers in Christ who knew the things which were freely given of God to them, he declares, they received ” the Spirit which is of God, that they might know them.” So deeply sensible were the holy men of old, of their own natural incapacity of reaping any profitable knowledge from the Scripture without the teachings of God, obtained by prayer, that with the Bible open before them they continually made request for illumination of their minds to understand it aright. “l am a stranger upon earth, O hide not thy commandments from me.—I am thy servant, give me understanding that I may know thy statutes. Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” These blessed servants of God we must imitate, and depend on the Spirit for light and instruction when we read God’s word. Not, indeed, expecting a new light, that is, any new doctrine, either distinct from the Scripture rule, or supplemental to it; nor laying aside our reason and understanding, relying upon an immediate inspiration to interpret Scripture. Either of these things is weak enthusiasm. But with the greatest sobriety we may expect, and ought to pray for the Spirit’s help, to give us real advantage and improvement whilst we are reading the word of God. Because the Spirit is promised to abide with the Church for ever, as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the things of God, nor shall we ever know them so as to feel their power and authority on the heart, without internal illumination. There is, I readily grant, a knowledge of Scripture truths, which men of parts and penetration attain at once, upon turning their attention to them; so that they can talk and preach about them without detection amongst the multitude, whilst they themselves are workers of iniquity, blind and dead in their sins. But then this knowledge is speculative, worthless, resting in the head, and never changing the heart. And so must all knowledge of divine things be, unless the influence of the Spirit of God give it power to command and sway the soul. Because, by whatever method we attain the knowledge of any thing contrary to the bent of our own wicked hearts, we need much more than the most convincing external evidence of the truth of the thing, to determine our will against its own strong and corrupt propensity. If you demand a proof of this, consider the remarkable case of the Jews at Mount Horeb. Could any one of them doubt that the authority, which avouched the law given to them, was decisive. Nevertheless, how daringly did they rush into idolatry! They did it not only against the express letter of the law, but whilst the terrible voice, in which it was delivered, one would think, was still sounding in their ears. And though they could not doubt the authority of God, yet their rebellions are imputed to their infidelity. ” How long,” saith the Lord God, ” will this people provoke me? how long will it be ere they believe me?” Num. 14: 11. The very same is the case with ourselves. We turn aside from the known commandments of our God ; we prefer the service of some vile lust to our bounden duty, though we allow the Scripture to be a divine revelation, and read it as such; till we read it with prayer, imploring the God whose word it is, to grant, by the illumination of his Spirit, that his word may be put into our mind and exert a sovereign sway over it. This doctrine is of the utmost importance; for, if you take away the influence of the Holy Spirit from the members of the church, then the very Gospel of Christ will be no more than a sublime speculation, as ineffectual to change the heart or reform the world as the pagan philosophy. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is the inestimable promise made to the church; if therefore we would read the Bible for our reproof, our correction, our instruction in righteousness, we must before, and as we read, pray to God for his influence and teaching.  (Italics added) Henry Venn, The Complete Duty of Man, or A System of Doctrinal and Practical Christianity designed for the use of families, 1763, Revised and Corrected by H. Venn, (New York: American Tract Society, 1838), 389-391.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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