Conscience; Infidelity; Philosophy and Religion; False Principle of All Human Philosophy; Popery; Authority of the Word

Genesis 3:22-24; John 4:19; John 6:45
I feel it is a great undertaking. Strange to say, I feel less horror of infidelity than of Popery. My tendency is to despise their reasonings, which always seem to me shallow and despicable morally. Still, I admit it is all right to meet them, and seek to guard, or, if possible, deliver souls; but this is very difficult, and sovereign grace, revealing what the soul does not know before as truth, has its own power on the soul. The false principle of all human philosophy is, that the powers of the mind of man are the measure of that which he can know or acquire. This is based on the utterly false thought that he cannot be acted on; that there is no superior power capable of acting on him; that susceptibility of impressions, or receptivity, is measured by active power, which is wholly false. And if the superior power be good, that receptivity is a surer way of truth than mental power, because will does not, per se, mix itself with it. Now, this thought of philosophy is merely the pride of self-importance, which will take itself, that is, its own mind, as the measure of everything. It is a departure from the subject state which is the only right creature state—the subjecta veritas quasi materia of Cicero, which must be false as to everything above us, and absolutely of God. It makes me the superior measure of everything which is supreme, which is morally despicable folly. And this is man's mind always now as departed from God, because he is so departed; and philosophy, which may be entertaining as to what is subject to man, or even the investigation of faculties—though here man is capable of very little [and] as always, false; for if it leaves God out, its measure is false: if it bring Him in—it is religion—the principle is wholly changed; man receives, and does not give or measure. Hence the profound truth of the Lord's remark—for He was the truth—"Whosoever receiveth not the kingdom of God as a little child, cannot enter therein." This is so in the very nature of things.
But there is another point arising from your friend's letter, `approaching the word of God under certain influences, such as christian education.' Does he dream man does not undergo influences? He is always, and must be brought up, under some, and through his life they are acting—are there to act on him. Does he fancy his German associations have not acted on him? He told me these thoughts were working before. I do not doubt unbelief was. Where mind works it is always the case, for in itself it is always unbelief, because it is my mind away from God or against Him; but this is educated, nourished, pabulum supplied to it, by the questions and difficulties suggested. But a child always undergoes influences, is meant to do it; and if the influences are true and good, or, as far as they are, true and good, it is a great mercy. There are always, and even in manhood, influences—why, the very state of the atmosphere affects my mind—acting on us. They cannot give true, that is, divine faith, but they remove or anticipate obstacles, and put me, without a positive hindrance from false influences, or natural working of unbelief, in presence of revelation. My conscience and His work have to do with one another, as if God spoke there; and if He has spoken there that is a great mercy. It is not divine faith, but it puts me with right human thoughts—rather with conscience instead of thoughts—in presence of the object of faith; and conscience only (and the heart) is receptive of divine truth; not mind, because mind actively judges, and that in its nature puts God out of His place. Conscience may so far give me a right thought of God, for it holds out to me evil and good—good so far as the nature (not the rule) of the faculty goes, and that is like God. "The man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." But the moment man begins to reason therefrom he is in error, because be cannot measure God rightly, for He is supreme, and man subject. Conscience refers to Him as above it, as under obligation: mind does not, cannot. It has things subject, quasi materia, and is at once false, for God is above us, not subject, and if subject, not God. The word of God acts on conscience which is in man, and allows no reasoning—judges man, is not judged by him—must take that ground if it be God's word, or it would not be in its place—may reason in grace, and does, for God is love, and shows Himself so, but never gives up His claim—it would not be grace or truth; but there is no rest except in conscience, for there the true relationship is established. "Come, see a man that told me all that ever I did," gave intelligence to the woman, and that only. "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." The word of the Convincer of conscience has, all of it, divine authority over the soul. It is not, You have now told the truth, but, You are a prophet. So it always is.
As to your friend—mine too, if he will allow me—he speaks of the particular passage acting. He does not know yet, because it has not acted, and his will has not bowed to God. Conscience, reached with adverse will, gnashes with its teeth—does not repel the particular word, but stones the object of it. Conscience reached and will bowed, bows to God and His word—may inquire as to the details, if all be genuinely so, but believes God has spoken in men and in His Son, and bows to the revelation given. It is a state of soul, not a subject settled—a state of soul flowing from the power of the word brought home to the conscience by the Spirit of God. He says, I am receiving the Bible because of what it says, not what it says because it says it. He is a little mistaken, because there is still the power of early influences—a very gracious provision of God, as I have said; but it is another thing. My answer is, he cannot tell what the effect will be of this reception by simple faith of the revelation of God; till he has so received it, he is reasoning without knowing what the effect will be; but his reasoning is wrong, as is evident, because if he receives the Bible because of what it says, that is, as a revelation of God, he must then receive what it says because it says it, unless he make God a liar. But this reasoning I well know will not give him faith. He says it is only the particular passage which he receives which acts on him. I assume he cannot tell till he has. In fact, it is never so, because the speaker or vessel is authenticated by it. I may fairly inquire whether such or such are really His words, but He had authority in the revelation He has given and in the Christ who is revealed. I may detect an interpolation in my father's will, but that does not destroy its authority by which I inherit his estate, once it is owned his will. And God's providence has watched around His word, with His saving grace behind it, though man's mischief has been there as in everything which was left to his responsibility, as everything religiously has.
To a spiritually intelligent mind, the word of God carries an authority beyond all cavils; and a poor, unintelligent man would pass over what is contrary to the mind generated by it, as evidently false, or as unable to understand it, so that he escapes what is false inserted by men in it. They shall be all taught of God; and when the conscience is reached, and the will subject, and therefore the mind silent, we have the peace which certainty gives (and uncertainty as to what is all-important is misery), and blessed growth in what God Himself has revealed for divine blessing and joy. I do not receive the Bible, that is, a revelation of God from the hands of men. I receive paper and ink. The revelation I receive from God directly—" They shall be all taught of God." The revelation is a divinely-wrought conviction, and, I repeat, in the conscience. I know I have done what is wrong: your friend knows it of himself; he knows he is responsible to God. Where is what meets it? The Holy Ghost always produces a want when He acts—answers the want in Christ revealed in the word, but produces one always. This brought Nicodemus by night, when his mind was exactly on the same ground as the others, who got nothing There was all the difference: thus it always is.
I hope the will of our friend is not wrong, though it may not have bowed; and hence he should be treated with all kindness and patience. He has been mischievously set wrong in his mind. It is possible the grace of Christianity, and his need of that grace may, as acting upon another part of his soul, clear away the mists which surround it. The population of England could hardly clear away two inches of snow—the sun arises and it is gone.
Yours sincerely in the Lord.
London
[1874].