In this episode of Warrior Theology Podcast, Dr.’s Van Kleeck continue there discussion on the Preservation and Collation of the text of the Scripture. It is important to note that if the believing community by the Holy Spirit is the ultimate arbitrator of what is or is not a book of the canon of Scripture, then it also stands to reason that the believing community by the Holy Spirit is the ultimate arbitrator of what is or is not a canonical word of a given canonical book of Scripture.
Ask any modern textual critic, “Given the current manuscript data, how do you know you have all the pertinent manuscript data?” Be shrewd with them and even pedantic if necessary and they will finally confess, “We know we have all the manuscript data because the current manuscript data has all the manuscript data.” And based on this confession they are able to claim when speaking of the Ethiopian Eunuch like,
“There is every reason to believe that a scribe added this clarification, because without it the story never explicitly indicates that the eunuch has come to believe.”Craig Blomberg, Can We Believe The Bible, 24.
Or this concerning the long ending in Mark’s Gospel,
“The open end of a scroll was the most vulnerable part of a manuscript for damage perhaps Mark literally got ‘ripped off’! More likely, he intended to end with the fear and failure of the women.”Craig Blomberg, Can We Believe The Bible, 20.
Blomberg assumes that the manuscript evidence current in hand is all that has been or could be considered. And by assuming the current manuscript evidence is all that has been or could be considered the conclusions which follow can only be all that has been or could be considered.
Put simply, their argument is,
We have the best conclusions about manuscript data because we have the best manuscript data.
We have the best manuscript data because we have the best conclusions about manuscript data.
You see the first proposition [We have the best conclusions about manuscript data ] in CT advocates’ insistence upon abandoning the TR and starting fresh with Alexandrian priority. You see the second proposition [we have the best manuscript data] in CT advocates’ regular appeal to number and age of manuscripts compared to those supposedly had by our Reformation era forefathers and before.
In the end though, if the New Testament manuscript tradition were a tree, historically blind modern evangelical textual critics are wholly unable to tell whether the manuscript tradition they have a hold of is the trunk or a very large branch or even a twig when in the end they are looking for the root and don’t know it.
In sum, while the CT academic is intellectually blind and reasoning in a circle he compels us to join him because all the smart kids are doing it. I simply haven’t the intellectual inner ear to join them.
Introductory note on Stock’s study with Master William Whitaker at Cambridge
Turning to Cambridge again, the dates remind us (in the words of the loveable Author of the Thirty-two Lives’) that “at this time Doctor Whitaker was Master of St John’s,” who, Clarke says, “favored” Master Stock very much “for his ingenuity (=ingenuousnesss), industry, and proficiency in his studies,” and under whom “a younger brother had a sizar’s place.” Whitaker had succeeded John Still and Richard Howland, who were as sternly Anti-Puritan as he was Pro-Puritan, and brought with him at once the learning, the piety, and the zeal of their predecessors, Thomas Lever and James Pilkington. Dr. Whitaker’s “Mastership” is admitted by those who had no love for him or his doctrines, to have been “the most flourishing and remarkable period in the history of St John’s College” To have won and retained the regard of that foremost “Master in Israel,” not less erudite as a scholar than winsome as a man, argues not a little in favor of Master Richard Stock, more especially as at the time, the venerable man had much of the contradiction of sinners against himself to contend with. (vii)
Commentary on Malachi 2:6
The law of truth was in his month. He taught the truth and word of God, and nothing but that, and that wholly.
Doctrine. The minister of God must deliver to his people the law of truth, and it only ; only the word of God and nothing else : Rev. ii. 7, “Hear what the Spirit saith.” The law of truth was in his mouth. He taught the truth, and nothing else but the truth, and the whole truth, all the truth, not keeping anything from them.
Doctrine. The minister must deliver to his people the whole truth of God, all his will and counsel, whatsoever he hath commanded and revealed: Lev. x. 11, Deut. v. 27, Mat. xxviii. 20, Acts x. 33, and xx. 27, 35.
Reason 1. Because else he cannot be free from the blood of his flock, that is, the perishing or slaughtering of them, sanguinis, i.e. caeslis, saith Chrysostom, upon Acts xx. 26. For if Paul be free from their blood and from their murder, because, as he said, Acts xx. 26, 27, “I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have kept nothing back but have shewed you all the counsel of God;” then will this by the contrary follow.
Reason 2. Because else they should not be faithful, neither to him that sent them, nor to them over whom they are set; for what fidelity can there be, when, for their own pleasures or respects, they shall not deliver the whole he commanded, and might be profitable to them. 1 Cor. iv. 2, “And as for the rest, it is required of the disposers that everyone be found faithful.”
Richard Stock, A Commentary on the Prophecy of Malachi, 1651, (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1865), 138.
The work of New Testament textual criticism is broadly a work of abduction centered on the particular evidence known the New Testament manuscript tradition. Put another way, NT textual criticism seeks to arrive at an inference to the best explanation by examining the textual evidence.
One gapping hole in their evidential argument is the fact that they don’t have the originals. Nor do they have the copies of the originals nor do they have the copies of the copies. Some would say that we don’t even have the copies of the copies of the copies of the original. Rather, we have at best credit card sized scraps of copies of copies of copies and a few mostly complete papyri. From an evidential standpoint this is a significant and currently insurmountable issue. This issue is so insurmountable that many prominent NT textual critics have left of the quest for the original and have begun a quest for the “initial text” which in most cases does not mean “original”.
In his book, Can We Trust the Gospels, Peter J. Williams attempts to put his reader’s mind to rest given this absence of ancient evidence. According to the book cover, Williams is “the principal of Tyndale House, Cambridge, one of the world’s leading institutes for biblical research. Previously a senior lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, he is the chair of the International Greek New Testament Project and a member of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee.” A truly accomplished scholar and worthy of professional respect, though questions remain outstanding given his answer below.
In making this attempt to put he readers at ease he offers four responses to the question, Could the Text [of Scripture] Have Been Changed Early On? Here Williams does not invoke providential preservation or divine oversight of God’s words and God’s people. Rather, he offers distinctively evidential answers which by our lights do not withstand even minimal scrutiny.
First, to set the stage. Bart Ehrman writes regarding the state of the manuscript evidence,
“Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later – much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later.”Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 10.
And this is not merely the opinion of Ehrman. On this point, Wallace concurs when he writes,
“the vast majority of NT MSS are over a millennium removed from the autographs.”Wallace, Inerrancy and the Text, sec. 2.
In sum, “in most instances” and “the vast majority of” NT manuscripts are copies which are many centuries or over a thousand years after the writing of the originals. The total number of very old manuscripts which are not mere scraps is actually very small in comparison with the total number of NT manuscripts. With this understanding let us now look to Williams and see how he answers the question, Could the Text Have Been Changed Early On?
“First, remember that this book is not about proving that the Gospels are true but about demonstrating that they can be rationally trusted.”Williams, Can We Trust, 120.
Unfortunately, William’s first argument is fraught with trouble. First, it is unclear what Williams means by “the Gospels are true.” Does he mean with regard to their content, “What the Gospels teach is true” or does he mean the Gospels are truly the Gospels of the first century. I tend to think it is the latter and if it is then Williams has allowed via inference that we very well may not have the Gospels of the first century, but by his lights they can nevertheless be trusted.
Regarding what he means by “rationally trusted” his troubles continue. At the first page of the introduction Williams writes concerning today’s common understanding of faith,
“Faith is seen as a non-rational belief – something not based on evidence. However, that is not what faith originally meant for Christians. Coming from the Latin word fides, the word faith used to mean something closer to our word trust.”Williams, Can We Trust, 15.
Of course there are theologically obvious questions here which Williams seems to overlook. First, note that Williams equates non-rational belief with something not based on evidence by his use of a hyphen. And there is no indication here that Williams has in mind things like properly basic beliefs and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. I take it that Williams definition of evidence has something to do with the “objectively” measurable and testable kind of evidence. Except, the Bible is clear that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
Indeed, Christians originally took evidence to robustly include those things which were not seen, those things which are not “objectively” measurable and testable. Furthermore, faith is not mere trust, but is a divine gift imparted to the Christian alone. On this point, not only is Williams’ definition of faith absent necessary biblical support is also theologically bereft. Williams on this point is baffling to say the least.
William second argument to the question, “Could the Text Have Been Corrupted Early On?” is,
“Second, to prove that something has not changed would be to prove a negative. Proving negatives is often impossible.”Williams, Can We Trust, 120.
Williams is correct. Proving negatives is often impossible. That said, his formulation of the question is easily rephrased, and one wonders why it was not given Williams intellectual acumen. Williams could have simply phrased his statement in the positive. Instead of asking Williams to prove the Gospels have not changed; to satisfy this second argument one could simply ask Williams to prove the Gospels are the same, word for word, as those in the first century. The negative is gone and the thrust of the question remains the same. Again, I am baffled as to why Williams was not more thorough given the gravity of the question and the ease whereby the purported negative could be turned to a positive.
Williams third argument is perhaps his weakest. He writes,
“Third, it is possible to demonstrate that there is no good reason to think that the text has changed.”Williams, Can We Trust, 120.
Possibility is perhaps the weakest ground upon which to formulate a position. It it weaker than impossibility in that at least we are able to strike all scenarios which are not possible though we may not have a positive place upon which to predicate our own argument. Possibility is less in certainty than feasibility which is less than probability which is less then certitude which is less than certainty which is less than mathematical certainty which is less than metaphysical certainty. So of course Williams third argument is possible, but so is argument that aliens seeded Earth with life and the flew off.
Finally, we come to Williams fourth argument which is summed up as, if the present is any indication of the future then we shouldn’t expect any major changes. Which of course points in the wrong direction of his question. The question is, “Could the Text Have Been Changed Early On?” The past is what is in view not the future. Still, Williams writes,
“Fourth, based on the facts I have laid out above, we can see that there are good reasons to think it has not changed. That is, if past discoveries are any indication of future discoveries, and if what we currently know about scribes and manuscripts is any guide to what we will find out in the future, we do not expect to find evidence of significant change.”Williams, Can We Trust, 120.
Beside the fact that Williams’ answer is almost wholly future looking, he has not taken into account the fact that the vast majority of what we have in the NT textual tradition was copied over a thousand years from the original. In the end, he has failed to answer the most important and crucial element regarding the question, Could the Text Have Been Changed Early On?
We don’t have the originals. We don’t have the copies of the originals. We don’t have the copies of the copies of the originals. We don’t have the copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. And the vast majority of the copies we do have were copied over a thousand years from the writing of the originals.
None of Williams’ arguments overcome this evidential reality and seeing he does not employ an exegetical/theological solution, Williams seems compelled to conclude that the text of Scripture could have been changed early on, and that maybe Bart Ehrman is right. Christians are misquoting Jesus.
The following excerpts are from William Tyndale’s An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, The Supper of the Lord after the True Meaning of John VI. and 1 Cor. XI and WM. Tracy’s Testament Expounded edited by Henry Walter and printed by Cambridge University Press in 1850.
Here Tyndale makes a distinction between a faith anchored in history and a faith anchored in genuine experience. In our current day, it seems that history and historical evidence are the prime means of knowing and understanding what is or is not the New Testament. Faith is somewhere on the value side of the fact/value divide. Tyndale would have us consider a different anchor point than historical evidence and that anchor point for our faith is the Spirit of God speaking through the Scriptures in the heart of the believer. In the last excerpt Tyndale says of this experiential or feeling anchored faith that it is so robust that “if all the preachers of the world would go about to persuade the contrary, it would not prevail; no more than though they would make me believe the fire were cold, after that I had put my finger therein.”
Consider Tyndale’s word below.
“I answer, ‘That there are two manners of faiths, an historical faith, and a feeling faith.’ The historical faith hangeth of the truth and honesty of the teller, or of the common fame and consent of many: as if one told me that the Turk had won a city, and I believed it, moved with the honesty of the man; now if there come another that seemeth more honest, or that hath better persuasions that it is not so, I think immediately that he lied, and lose my faith again. And feeling faith is as if a man were there present when it was won, and there was wounded, and had there lost all that he had, and was taken prisoner there also: that man should believe, that all the world could not turn him from his faith.” p. 51
“So now with an historical faith I may believe that the scripture is God’s, by the teaching of them; and so I should have done, though they had told me that Robin Hood had been the scripture of God: which faith is but an opinion, and therefore abideth ever fruitless; and falleth away, if a more glorious reason be made unto me, or if the preacher live contrary.” p. 51
“But a feeling faith it is written (John vi.) ‘They shall be all taught of God.’ That is, God shall write it in their hearts with his Holy Spirit.” p. 51
“And this faith is none opinion; but a sure feeling, and therefore ever fruitful. Neither hangeth it of the honesty of the preacher, but of the power of God, and of the Spirit: and, therefore, if all the preachers of the world would go about to persuade the contrary, it would not prevail; no more than though they would make me believe the fire were cold, after that I had put my finger therein.” p. 51
And so in this same vein we have argued for properly basic belief in one’s Bible without appeal to the historical evidence. Why? Because a Christian can know their Bible is indeed the word of God and not men to the exclusion of all others without appeal to the evidence. How is this so? Because God Himself writes it in the heart of the Christian by His Holy Spirit.
David C. Parker [aka D.C. Parker] is the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. For today’s “In Their Own Words” we will look into Parker’s Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament published by Oxford University Press in 2014. The reason for this series is simply to show that modern evangelical textual criticism is not some orthodox bastion set for the defense of Scripture. In fact, it seems the desired affect is quite the opposite.
Around 2009 and between my time at Westminster and Calvin, I spent a year and a half at Capital Bible Seminary in Washington D.C. During one of the classes the professor had mentioned that we are continually finding new manuscripts which means that the search for the original words of God is an ongoing process. After class I asked the professor if he knew when that ongoing process would come to an end. With a kind of nonchalance he replied, “For the foreseeable future.” Five years later Parker published Textual Scholarship, and it is to Parker’s words that we now turn as they touch the theme of process.
“We will attempt to examine the texts and the works of the New Testament with the scribes and the manuscripts always in our minds. In order to achieve this, I propose the following dictum, That every written work is a process and not an object.”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 20-21.
Here of course the Bible is not excluded from “every written work” as if it were unique in human history. Rather, every written work, including the Bible, is a process and not an object. Thusly construed a standard sacred text is impossible. As a kind of Zeno’s paradox the textual arrow is forever flying never able to reach the target.
Parker continues in this vein,
“Moreover, our research, of whatever kind it may be, whether it is as exegete, bibliographer, or palaeographer is itself a part of that process. We do not stand above it. In its text and in its format, the work will continue to change, just as it has done throughout its history hitherto.”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 21.
And what form did this change take in history hitherto? Parker would have his reader believe that such a changing form has been with the New Testament since the first copies. He writes,
“With regard to the Gospels, for example, I have suggested that in the earliest period of their transmission the individuals and communities who read them and passed them on considered themselves free to adapt the wording, the letter, to bring out the meaning, the spirit.”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 24.
From the very earliest of New Testament transmission the copyists have been “adapting” the words even of the original in order to better bring out the meaning of the text. “And why not?”, Parker asks. Didn’t the original writers of the originals do the same? According to Parker,
“The evangelists themselves, who evidently felt comfortable about adapting the tradition quite substantially, cannot but have reckoned with their own work being similarly treated in due course.”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 24.
That is, if Paul felt free to or was comfortable with adapting the OT or the LXX so as to “bring out the meaning” why would he not expect the same to happen to his work? What is more, why not do it now? Indeed, Parker would advocate that we do as much. As a result he is almost compelled to assert that,
“the modern concept of a single authoritative ‘original’ text was a hopeless anachronism, foisting on early Christianity something that can only exist as a result of modern concepts of textual production.”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 24.
For Parker it is certain that a standard sacred translation of the Bible is impossible, but so is a standard sacred Greek NT because a standard sacred original is a “hopeless anachronism.” And why? Because all texts are a process and not an object as was noted above. Parker then concludes,
“If early Christians were prepared to change the text in order to bring out what they believed to be its true meaning, what are doing if we try to exchange that pluriformity for a single critical text? Should we not be embracing the multiformity of the text?”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 25.
This of course is the conclusion of most evangelicals in 2022 regarding the version issue. We are often asked in so many words, Why should we exchange the pluriformity [i.e. variety of forms] of versions for a single sacred version? While Parker as an evangelical is bold enough to take the same argument regarding plurformity and apply it toward the Greek copies of the New Testament.
In order to do embrace said pluriformity Parker proposes that “the philologist’s task is to recover the form of text from which the surviving copies are descended.”  We currently call this “form of the text” the initial text which is famously said to have multiple referents. Parker, understanding that “initial text” has multiple referents, makes it clear that
“The New Testament philologist’s task is not to recover an original authorial text…because philology is not able to make a pronouncement as to whether or not there was such an authorial text. The best it can do with regard to the New Testament is to use the evidence derived from our study of the extant tradition to present a model of the problems with the concept of the author.”Parker, Textual Scholarship, 26-27.
On this point we agree with Parker. The philologist is incapable of determining if there was indeed an original authorial text, so the best they can do is present a model. If only the rest of our interlocutors were as honest, then perhaps they would be open to a robust exegetical and theological grounding for a standard sacred text.
If you live long enough you will most likely enter a contract with someone. Perhaps it will be in the purchase of your first home or a student loan. Maybe you will contract someone to remodel your bathroom or put in new kitchen cabinets. Whatever contract you enter into it will not be done alone. There are at least two parties. All parties involved have a responsibility to uphold their end of the contract. And those that do not hold up there end can find themselves in front of Judge Judy.
One element of a contract is that it is not subject to one-sided modification. That is, the person buying the house cannot modify the contracted price of the house without the sellers consent in writing. In other words, all parties engaged in the contract must agree to make said change.
“When negotiating a contract, or after a contract has been signed, you may want to modify, or change, the contract. For the most part, all parties to the contract have to agree to modifications.”https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/business-law/business-law-basics/contract-modification.html
The Scriptures are a form of contract in that they are called the Old and New Testament or Covenant. Jesus as the testator of that Testament/Covenant says at the Last Supper,
“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”Matthew 26:27-28
Paul writes in Hebrews 9:15-16 concerning Christ and this New Testament,
“And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.Hebrews 9:15-16
In like manner the potency and efficacy of the canonical New Testament is made, enacted, and confirmed as a testament through the death of Jesus Christ, the Testator of a new and better covenant. And in being confirmed, the apostle Paul tells us via an illustration that
“…Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.”Galatians 3:15
The New Testament is confirmed. That we have established. Men neither disannul nor add to a testament/covenant once it is confirmed and certainly not by themselves They must seek approval from the other parties before adding or subtracting from the covenant. Should their be a call to disannul or add to that Testament it seems all parties would have to agree to proceed with such a disannulment or addition.
We exist in an ecclesiastical climate where men, lost and saved alike, are at the ready to disannul or add but without agreement from the other parties, from Christ and the Holy Spirit through Christ’s bride. In fact, the religious and transcendent has been entirely, or quite near it, been omitted and/or ignored in the practice of modern textual criticism.
The New Testament is not merely a book, but a confirmed covenant between Christ and His bride. If some third party wishes to add or omit from that Testament properly so called they must necessarily in all and every circumstance receive the consent of all parties involved. Those parties being Christ and the Holy Spirit through Christ’s bride.
The continual insistence on the part of our Critical Text brothers to add or subtract every other year from the covenant of the New Testament confirmed in Christ’s blood for His bride can be none other than a violation of that covenant established in Christ in that such additions and/or omissions are done without the consent of Christ and His bride. In point of fact, modern evangelical textual critics readily and unashamedly admit that their Christian faith and thus the primacy of Christ and His bride must be and are set aside in the work of textual criticism in order to avoid undue Christian bias in the text-critical enterprise.
“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”Matthew 19:6b
God has joined man and woman in a marriage covenant, therefore no man, not even the greatness and power of government can divide or separate that covenantal bond. God has joined together Christ and His bride in the covenant of the New Testament sealed in Christ’s blood, therefore the work of the modern evangelical text-critic ought to include Christ and His bride as equal, indeed greater, parties in the text-critical enterprise.
To this very day, God has joined together a certain set of inspired words in the Hebrew and Greek, and these words comprise the Old and New Testaments of that same God. Let no man or group of editors divide them without the approval of Christ and His bride.
Willian Bucanus observes that it takes more than a keen mind to understand Scripture. In the following three quotes taken from his Body of Divinity, Bucanus accents regeneration as the essential element to understanding that Scripture comes from God, that it is clear to the elect, and that it is the Authority standing above the Church and men.
- Regeneration and God’s Truth
What is the true infallible note, whereby all men of sound judgment do acknowledge doctrine to be the doctrine of the true God?
Because that doctrine which doth teach us to seek the glory of the one God and of him alone and everywhere to cleave unto him, out of all doubt that the doctrine is the doctrine of the true God. But only the regenerate do rest in it, as that that bringeth salvation and the doctrine of God, with full assurance to their heart. 48-49
- Regeneration and Scripture’s Obscurity
Is the Scripture manifest, or is it obscure?
It is manifest if you regard the foundation of the doctrine of salvation; as the Articles of faith, the precepts of the Decalogue hence it is called a Lantern to those whose minds God doth open: but it is obscure to those which be blind, and to all that perish, whose minds the god of this world hath blinded.
But is not always obscure to the Elect, and only in part, 1. That they should not too much rely upon their own wit but should seek understanding of at the hands of Gid by prayer. 2. That they might be stirred up to a more careful study of the same. 3. That they might make more account of the ministry of the word whereby they are taught, and therefore stand in need to have it expounded, by the example of Christ and of Philip. 50-51
- Regeneration and the Question of Scriptural Authority
What shall we answer to that saying of Augustine: I would not believe the Gospel, unless the authority of the Church moved me?
That Augustine speaketh of himself, as yet not converted unto the faith. Neither is it any marvel that those which are not as yet converted , are moved with the consent of the Church, and the authority of men. Therefore his meaning is, that the Church is as it were an introduction (eisagoga, eisagwgh), whereby we are prepared to give credit to Scripture. 51-52
Such writing on the part of our 17th c. Protestant forefathers sounds quite unsettling to the modern reader, protesting, “Let’s keep this born again experience out of our theological formulation and discourse.” Bucanus argues that the acceptance of Scripture’s doctrine being from God, its perspicuity, and the superiority of Scriptural authority to ecclesiastical or external authorities come from the reasoning of a regenerate man. Not believing the Scripture came from God, finding its meaning totally obscured, and subjugating the Scripture to the authority of men, according to Bucanus, is not the practice of born-again saints. The spiritual condition of the speaker, scholar, writer, accordingly, has a direct impact on whether or not he has any assurance it is God’s Word at all, whether he is spiritually blinded to the meaning of the Word, or whether he holds other authorities above Scripture’s authority.
William Bucanus, Body of Divinity or Institutions of the Christian Religion; framed out of the Word of God, and the writings of the best divines, methodically handled by was of questions and answers, fit for all such as desire to know and practice the will of God. Written in Latin. Translated into English by Robert Hill and Fellow at St. Johns College in Cambridge, for the benefit of the English Nation. (London: Printed for Daniel Pakeman, Abel Roper and Richard Tomlins, and are to be sold in Fleet-street, and at the Sun and Bible near Py-corner, 1659), 48-52.
In this episode of Warrior Theology Podcast, we continue our discussion with Taylor DeSoto regarding the CBGM. Part 1 can be found here.
“Nearly allied to this careful meditation on the word of God is another important rule, which we must observe when we read any principal part of it; that is, to exact of ourselves correspondent affections and if we do not experience them, to lament and bewail the poverty and misery of our condition. For instance, when the character of God is before us; when we are reading such passages as describe him infinite in power, glorious in holiness, continually adored by the host of heaven, yet more tender and affectionate than any father to the faithful in Christ Jesus, and interesting himself in all the most minute circumstances that can affect the welfare of those that love him: to read such descriptions of God will be to very little purpose, unless we pause and ask ourselves;—whether we in this manner really behold the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God ;—whether we have such views of him who is thus represented, as to make him indeed our delight; as to satisfy us of his good and gracious intentions towards ourselves in particular, and to lead us with comfort to rely on him for all we want. In like manner, when we read the scripture representations of the glory, the offices, and the character of the Redeemer, with the inestimable promises he makes to them who trust in his name; little will it profit us unless we also at the same time search and try our souls, whether these representations make us eager to embrace a Savior thus altogether lovely; —unfeignedly thankful to God for this unspeakable gift ; —and able, without doubt or wavering, to yield ourselves up to his service, and to trust him as the guardian of our eternal interests. When we meet with Scripture assertions of the weakness, blindness, guilt, and depravity of fallen man; in vain shall we assent to them, because found in the book of God, if we do not trace each of these branches of natural corruption as they have discovered themselves in our behavior, and behold some remains of them still in ourselves. When the self-denying tempers of the faithful in Christ, their deliverance from the dominion of worldly hopes and fears, their unfeigned love to God and man, and their real imitation of Jesus in the abhorrence of all evil, is the subject before us; —in vain shall we read of these spiritual attainments, unless we examine in what degree the infinitely desirable transformation has taken place in our own hearts. Unless we thus read all Scripture with self-application, we shall do just enough to flatter and deceive ourselves that we are something, when we are nothing enough to make us imagine we have a great regard to Scripture, when in fact it has no weight at all with us to form our judgment, or to determine us in the grand object of our pursuit. It is our duty, therefore, not only to read the word of God with frequency; but like men in earnest, who know that everything is to be determined by its declarations;—like men who know that he only is blessed whom that word blesses; and that he is most assuredly cursed whom that word curses. It is our duty to labor and pray, that we may have the lively signatures of Scripture impressed in all our sentiments, breathing in all our desires, realized in all our conduct; so that all may see, and we ourselves most delightfully prove, that the word of the Lord is pure, converting our souls.”
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), 392-394.