Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the perspicuity of Scripture

Benedict Pictet

 

Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724), professor of theology at Geneva, discusses the perspicuity of Scripture in his Theologia Christiana, Book I, Chapter XIII:

Scripture not only perfectly contains all things necessary to salvation, but also contains them in such a clear and perspicuous way, that they may be discovered and known by any man whose eyes have not been plainly blinded by the god of this world.

This we may prove by various arguments. Firstly, since Scripture itself in many places bears testimony to its own perspicuity and clarity, both in respect to the law given to the ancient people [of God], and in respect to the Gospel, by which is comprehended the new covenant. This commandment, which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven? Etc. But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart. (Deut. 30:11). Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105). We have most sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19). But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost (2 Cor. 4:2-3).

Secondly, since Scripture would have been given in vain, if it were obscure; for Scripture had been given so that it may teach us, and so that it may be a rule of faith, as Paul observes: Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). But how could it teach us, if it surpassed or equalled to Delphic oracles of Apollo in obscurity? And how could its decisions, if they were obscure, be the rule of faith and morals?

Thirdly, either God was not able to reveal himself clearly to men, or he did would not. No one would say that he was not able to, and that he would not is most absurd. For who could believe that God our great Father was unwilling to reveal his will to his children, when this was necessary, so that men might obey it more easily?

A fourth argument is deduced from the examination of all things necessary for salvation, which have perspicuously been delivered unto us. For what is clearer than those things which are contained in the Decalogue, and which Christ reduces to two precepts (Matt. 22)? And who will deny that those dogmas which are read in the Apostles’ Creed, are clearly inculcated, explained, and taught throughout the whole of Scripture?

But here we must observe a few things. Firstly, we concede that some things are obscure and hard to understand, not only in Paul’s epistles, as Peter declares, but also in other books. God has so willed it that the diligence of the faithful should be stirred up and increased, that the pride of others should be subdued, and to remove any disdain which may arise from much easiness, for the human mind is accustomed to slighting and despising such things as are common and easily attainable; but we deny that such are the things which are necessary for salvation. But even if some of them are necessary, we maintain that they are explained in other parts [of Scripture], as we will say below: Scripture, as Gregory says (praef. in Jobum), holds forth in public what may nourish the weak, just as in private it stores up what may suspend the minds of the astute in wonder: it is, as it were, a river both shallow and deep, in which both a lamb may wade, and an elephant may swim. In Scripture, as in nature, there are three kinds of things: some are evident to all, some are known only by the learned, and others are not penetrable to even the learned themselves.

Secondly, we readily admit that there are mysteries in Scripture which surpass our comprehension, and which we shall not understand perfectly even in heaven; but at the same time we maintain that we are taught as much of these mysteries as are useful and necessary for us to know. For example, we do not comprehend the mystery of the trinity or of the incarnation of Christ, namely, how it could be that in in one essence there are three persons, and that God could assume unto himself a human nature. But even though we may be ignorant of the manner, yet we assert that the thing itself is clearly taught, which is all that is necessary to be known for salvation.

Thirdly, while we believe that the Scriptures are perspicuous in things necessary for salvation, yet we admit that these things are not taught clearly every passage, although we add that there is nothing in the obscurer places which is not found elsewhere where it is stated very plainly.

Fourthly, we observe that Scripture is perspicuous, not to all people whatsoever, and to those who read and hear it of whatsoever disposition they may be, but only to those who prove themselves teachable (provided they are in possession of their reason, and implore the light of divine grace), and who are not negligent and slothful, nor blinded by preconceived opinions, nor carried away by their passions, nor perverted by their wickedness, for these are all very great obstacles to the understanding of the Scriptures.

Fifthly, we hold that the Scripture of the Old Testament was less clear than that of the New, for it was clouded by various types, figures, and shadows, but nevertheless was more than clear enough on the things which the fathers [i.e. Old Testament believers] were not to be ignorant of.

Sixthly, we do not deny that we shall know divine things far more clearly in heaven; for there we shall no longer see God through a glass darkly, but face to face, as Scripture teaches. Still, those divine things are more than enough unfolded to us on earth, and therefore, even though it is through a glass, yet we behold the glory of the Lord with an open face, as Paul teaches (2 Cor. 3).

Seventhly, we defend such a perspicuity of Scripture as does not exclude either attention of mind or the necessary assistance of God (hence David prays that his eyes may be opened, so that he may see wondrous things out of the law), or the voice and ministry of the Church, or the reading of commentaries, but the only obscurity which we explode, is that which would drive the people away from the pure fountain of Scripture, and which forces them to have recourse to polluted streams of human tradition.

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Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the unity, holiness, and catholicity of the Church

Benedict Pictet

 

The Swiss Reformed theologian Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) discusses the unity, holiness, and catholicity of the Church in his Theologia Christiana, Book XIII, Chapter III. Below is my own translation:

1. Among the attributes of the Church, the first is its unity. For since it is a sacred society comprehending all the elect, it is necessary to have some  unity by which all those elect may be connected with one another; and this unity consists in those bonds which unite the members with one another.

2. Now as the Church may be considered in reference to either its external or internal state, so the bonds are of two kinds: some are internal, and others external; additionally, some bonds are essential, and others accidental.

3. The internal bonds are: (1) the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit is the soul of the Church; by this unity of the Spirit two [or more] societies, which are animated by this same Spirit, constitute one body, even though they may be entirely unknown to one another. Thus we constitute the true body together with the churches in distant parts of the world. (2) The unity of faith (Eph. 4:4), that is, one doctrine of salvation set forth in the Gospel, which is embraced by faith. (3) The unity of love [charitatis], which follows the unity of faith, and by which the faithful who are united to Christ by faith should be gathered among themselves in love, so that the unity of the Spirit may be kept by the bonds of peace (Eph. 4:3), wherefore love is called the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14). (4) The unity of hope (Eph. 4:4); that is, of the thing hoped for and of the heavenly inheritance to which we are all equally called.

4. The external bonds are: (1) the unity of sacraments, as the unity of baptism (Eph. 4:4); and (2) the unity of ministries.

5. These are essential bonds, but there are others which are accidental, which are: (1) agreement in all dogmas; (2) unity of the form of [ecclesiastical] government; (3) unity of the same [ecclesiastical] laws; and (4) unity of the same [ecclesiastical] discipline.

6. Schism is the rupture of the bonds which constitute the unity of the Church, but schism is to be distinguished in a twofold manner: as either universal schism, by which the general truths which constitute the foundation of Christianity are renounced, or as particular schism, by which [some] truths are renounced which are of great moment, but not those general truths [which constitute the foundation of Christianity].

7. Every separation is not schism, although every schism is separation; still, every unjust separation is schism. [Note: For more on schism, see these posts by Johannes Wollebius, Heinrich von Diest, Johann Heinrich Alsted, Pierre Jurieu, and Matthew Poole]

8. The Church is called holy, (1) because God has separated it from the world to be a peculiar people (Tit. 2:14); (2) because it devotes itself to holiness, not the shadowy kind of holiness as was the holiness of the Jewish nation; and (3) because it is purified and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. It may also be called holy with respect to the doctrine which it teaches, in that the purity of its dogmas and the holiness of its precepts surpass whatever is read in legislators, hierophants, and philosophers, laudable as these may be.

9. It is called catholic, not only because of its orthodoxy, in which sense the Fathers employed the term catholic […], but (1) because it is dispersed throughout the whole world and is not affixed to a certain place, in contrast to the Old Testament Church which was confined within the narrow limits of Judea; (2) because it is read that in it there is no distinction of the race, order, or status of men, for there is no difference between Jew and Greek (Rom. 10:12; Acts 10:35); and (3) because it is bound to endure through all ages unto the consummation of the world.

Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the assurance of election

Benedict Pictet

In addition to previous posts on the assurance of election from Heinrich Bullinger and Joseph Alleine, this is my translation of Book VII, Chapter III of the Theologia Christiana of Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724), who served as professor of theology at Geneva and was the nephew of Francis Turretin.

1. Not only is the election of believers certain and immutable, but they can also be certain that they are elected; of course not by ascending into heaven to unfold the book of life, but by descending into themselves, as it were, paging through the book of conscience, and observing in themselves the fruits of election.

2. For firstly and truly, if believers can know that they have faith, they can be certain of their election, because faith is the effect of election; yet they can know that they possess faith, as is sufficiently proved by that passage of Paul, in which he commands believers to examine ‘whether they be in the faith,’ (2 Cor. 13:5) for in vain would the apostle command this, if it were impossible to know it.

3. Secondly, if believers can know that they are the children of God, then it follows that they can be certain of their election. For verily it is clear that all the children of God are elected, and so beyond controversy it is affirmed, since Paul teaches that ‘the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God,’ (Rom. 8:16). [So it comes down to] whether or not a believer believes the testimony of the Spirit, and if he believes the testimony of the Spirit, he knows that he is a child of God, and if he knows he is a child, he is therefore certain of his election.

4. We are likewise said to be ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption,’ (Eph. 4:30). For how could this take place, that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, unless we perceive it? Indeed the operation of the Holy Spirit imbues souls with such sweetness and joy, that it cannot be hidden from a believer; hence John says, ‘hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.’ (1 Jn. 4:13). Now how can it be possible that we know that the Holy Spirit has been given to us, and yet be ignorant of our election, since the Holy Spirit is given to none other than the elect?

5. Not least do the examples of the saints establish this truth, who, being sure of their salvation and election, asserted boldly and with the greatest confidence that no created thing, not even death itself, could separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:38).

6. But here various things are to be noted. Firstly, the believer is not always certain of his election, nor equally so at all times, for this assurance is often shaken by the cross [i.e. afflictions] or violent temptations; hence the complaining voices of the saints toward God, as if he had completely deserted them, and ‘the right hand of the Most High had been changed.’

Secondly, many in the church tend to wrongly boast of this assurance with usurped confidence, greatly abusing it; hence it is sometimes better to hear the groans of a mourning believer, than the exultations of one who rejoices, not through faith, but of self-opinion. And it often happens that those who presume deceive themselves. But those who groan and, with the publican, dare not lift up their eyes, nevertheless possess the very thing which they sense they do not have, while others shall discover afterwards, by the just judgment of God, to be deprived of what they by vain presumption supposed they possessed.

7. Thirdly, one should not immediately despair of a believer, even though at individual moments he may not sense the testimony of the Holy Spirit, because the divine Spirit conducts himself with believers in such a way, that he rather often deprives them of the sense of his love for a number of intervals, in order that they, thinking humbly of themselves, may begin to grieve over the sins they have committed.

8. Fourthly, there is no true believer that is not sometimes certain of his election and salvation, for although the sense of present grace and the hope of the future may for a time be laid asleep in the children of God, yet the believing soul breaks out of that abyss when God restores to it the joy of his salvation. Hence, if sometimes the soul groans, struggles, sighs, is agitated, and fears, yet shortly afterwards it sings, trusts, rejoices, and triumphs, as if over a conquered enemy; as is seen in the cases of David, Asaph, Paul, and others. At any rate we believe that it is very rare that true believers die having doubts about their salvation.

9. Fifthly, this assurance cannot become effective apart from the pursuit of holiness; for a man who persists in sin and yet persuades himself that he is elected to eternal life and will be certainly saved – he who thinks such of himself would rather deceive himself with a vain hope. Indeed, on the contrary, a man who should indulge his carnal lusts, and rush headlong into sin, should be persuaded that he is in a state of damnation, and that eternal destruction hangs over him, unless he immediately turns and amends his ways.

10. Sixthly, this assurance is not incompatible with that fear and trembling, with which we are commanded to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12). For this fear is not serviledistrustful, and despairing, but filial, humble, reverential, and of pious solicitude.

11. There are two diseases of the mind, which tend to corrupt faith: carnal security, and pride of heart. For both these evils, the remedy is fear: for pride, a humble and reverential fear; for security, a solicitous fear, that we should make use of all the necessary means. From the former the believer learns to think humbly of himself and highly of God; from the latter he learns that he must not be slothful in the way of salvation.

12. Seventhly, this doctrine of the assurance of election must be set forth cautiously and prudently, for the solace of afflicted consciences, not for the security of the profane. Nor should it ever be enforced without constantly requiring the pursuit of sanctification and repentance. If anyone should ask how he may obtain certainty regarding his election, let him have this answer: God has given him two books by which he may attain this knowledge – the book of scripture and the book of conscience. In the book of scripture the marks of election are delineated; in the book of conscience he can read and discover whether he has these [marks] in himself. These are 1) true faith, 2) hatred of and fleeing from sin, 3) a sincere pursuit after holiness, 4) unfeigned love to God, even in the midst of afflictions, 5) love to our neighbours and even our enemies, 6) and a heart disdaining the world, and panting after heaven.