Thomas Jackson, (1579-1640) Bachelor of Divinity, and Fellow of Corpus Christi College in Oxford deals in this excerpt with the authority of Scripture in relation to our teachers. As you read, please note that a foundation to accept or reject the teaching is known bv the believing student through the God’s word “immediately in it self and for it self.” If the self-authenticating Word does not ground the student in the Christian Faith, the expositor alone knowing God’s word will become “a God to all other men.” Written in 1613, Jackson could not have grasped the prophetic significance of his observations for the contemporary Church and Academy. He writes,
“Our younger students are bound to yield their absolute assent unto Aristotle’s authority in matters of logic: but not unto any interpreter that shall pretend it save only when he shall make evident unto them that was Aristotle’s meaning. And while they so only, and no otherwise yield their assent, they yield it wholly and immediately unto Aristotle and not to the interpreter, although by his means they came to know Aristotle’s meaning, which once known, without any further confirmation of other testimony or authority, commands their obedience and assent. But ere they can fully assent unto this great Master, or thoroughly perceive his meaning, they must continually assent unto their private tutors, or other expositors, and take his sense and meaning upon their trust and credit. In like manner (say we) in all matters, doctrines, or controversies of faith and Christian obedience, we are bound to yield our assent, directly, absolutely, and finally unto the authority of Scripture’s only, not unto any Doctor, Expositors, or other whosoever he be, that shall pretend authority out of Scripture over our faith, save only when he shall make it clear, and evident unto us, that his opinion is the true meaning of the Scripture. And thus, yielding our absolute assent unto the truth explained by him, we yield it not to him, but unto the Author of truth, whose words we hold to be infallible in whose mouths soever. And once known to be his words, they need not be the testimony or authority of him, that did bring us to the true knowledge of them. And before we be brought to see their truth with our own eyes, and feel it by our own sense, (by the effects or experiments of it upon our own souls) we are to limit our assent and obedience (as it is set down before) according to the probabilities, or impartial inducements, which we have of the Expositor’s skill and sincerity, must be framed according to the rules and precepts of Scripture, not according to our affections or humors. We may not think of him most to be believed, that is in the highest place, or hath he the greatest stroke in other affairs. For as the faith of Christ, so must our persuasion of the faithful dispensers, or skillful seeds-men of faith, be had without respect of persons.
If we yield assent or obedience unto any Expositor, or any other, otherwise than upon these conditions and limitations, then we as said before, whilst we yield absolute obedience unto his doctrine that persuaded us to true belief, because we perceive that which he spake to be the word of God, we did not yield it unto him, but unto God’s word, delivered and made known unto us by him. So here again by the same reason (only inverted) it will evidently follow that if we believe any man’s doctrines or decisions to be the word of God, because he speaks it, or because we hold his words to be infallible, we do not truly and properly believe the word of God, (suppose his doctrine were the word of God), but his words and infallibility only. Hence again it follows, that if we yield the same absolute and undoubted assent unto his authority, which we would do unto God’s word immediately known it it self, and for it self, or rely upon his infallibility in expounding God’s word, as fully as he doth upon the word, (which it is supposed he knows immediately in it self), and unto man which is only due unto him. For the infallibility of this teacher hath the same proportion to all that thus absolutely believe him, as the infallibility of the Godhead hath unto him; his words the same proportion to all other men’s faith that God’s word hath unto his. God’s word is the rule of his, and his words must be the rule of other men’s faith. Or, to speak more properly, God must be God only to him, and he a God to all other men.”
When you hear your professor’s lectures, do you look beyond the professor to the Author of Scripture, and hear in the lecture the viva Vox Dei, the living voice of God, or is he your final authority?
Thomas Jackson, The Eternal Truths of Scriptures, and Christian Belief Thereon Wholly Depending, Manifested by its Own Light. Delivered in Two Books of Commentary upon the Apostles Creed: The Former, Containing the positive grounds of Christian Religion in general, cleared from all exceptions of Atheists or Infidels. The later, Manifesting the Grounds of Reformed Religion to be so firm and sure, that the Romanist cannot oppugn them, but with the utter overthrow of the Romanish Church, Religion, and Faith. (London: Printed by William Stansby by Elizabeth Crosley, 1613), 305-307. 479 pages.