Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Chapter XXXVI

Of the Word of God, and of Prophets

WHEN there is mention of the word of God, or of man, it doth not signify a part of speech, such as grammarians call a noun or a verb, or any simple voice, without a contexture with other words to make it significative; but a perfect speech or discourse, whereby the speaker affirmeth, denieth, commandeth, promiseth, threateneth, wisheth, or interrogateth. In which sense it is not vocabulum that signifies a word, but sermo (in Greek logos) that is, some speech, discourse, or saying.

Again, if we say the word of God, or of man, it may be understood sometimes of the speaker: as the words that God hath spoken, or that a man hath spoken; in which sense, when we say the Gospel of St. Matthew, we understand St. Matthew to be the writer of it: and sometimes of the subject; in which sense, when we read in the Bible, "The words of the days of the kings of Israel, or Judah," it is meant the acts that were done in those days were the subject of those words; and in the Greek, which, in the Scripture, retaineth many Hebraisms, by the word of God is oftentimes meant, not that which is spoken by God, but concerning God and His government; that is to say, the doctrine of religion: insomuch as it is all one to say logos theou, and theologia; which is that doctrine which we usually call divinity, as is manifest by the places following: "The Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you, but seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles."103 That which is here called the word of God was the doctrine of Christian religion; as it appears evidently by that which goes before. And where it is said to the Apostles by an angel, "Go stand and speak in the Temple, all the words of this life";104 by the words of this life is meant the doctrine of the Gospel, as is evident by what they did in the Temple, and is expressed in the last verse of the same chapter. "Daily in the Temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Christ Jesus":105 in which place it is manifest that Jesus Christ was the subject of this "word of life"; or, which is all one, the subject of the "words of this life eternal" that our Saviour offered them. So the word of God is called the word of the Gospel, because it containeth the doctrine of the kingdom of Christ; and the same word is called the word of faith;106 that is, as is there expressed, the doctrine of Christ come and raised from the dead. Also, "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom";107 that is the doctrine of the kingdom taught by Christ. Again, the same word is said "to grow and to be multiplied";108 which to understand of the evangelical doctrine is easy, but of the voice or speech of God, hard and strange. In the same sense the doctrine of devils109 signifieth not the words of any devil, but the doctrine of heathen men concerning demons, and those phantasms which they worshipped as gods.

103 Acts, 13. 46

104 Ibid., 5. 20

105 Ibid., 15. 7

106 Romans, 10. 8, 9

107 Matthew, 13. 19

108 Acts, 12. 24

109 I Timothy, 4. 1

Considering these two significations of the word of God, as it is taken in Scripture, it is manifest in this latter sense (where it is taken for the doctrine of Christian religion) that the whole Scripture is the word of God: but in the former sense, not so. For example, though these words, "I am the Lord thy God," etc., to the end of the Ten Commandments, were spoken by God to Moses; yet the preface, "God spake these words and said," is to be understood for the words of him that wrote the holy history. The word of God, as it is taken for that which He hath spoken, is understood sometimes properly, sometimes metaphorically. Properly, as the words He hath spoken to His prophets: metaphorically, for His wisdom, power, and eternal decree, in making the world; in which sense, those fiats, "Let their be light, Let there be a firmament, Let us make man," etc.110 are the word of God. And in the same sense it is said, "All things were made by it, and without it was nothing made that was made":111 and "He upholdeth all things by the word of His power";112 that is, by the power of His word; that is, by His power: and "The worlds were framed by the word of God";113 and many other places to the same sense: as also amongst the Latins, the name of fate, which signifieth properly the word spoken, is taken in the same sense.

110 Genesis, 1

111 John, 1. 3

112 Hebrews, 1. 3

113 Ibid., 11. 3

Secondly, for the effect of His word; that is to say, for the thing itself, which by His word is affirmed, commanded, threatened, or promised; as where Joseph is said to have been kept in prison, "till his word was come";114 that is, till that was come to pass which he had foretold to Pharoah's butler concerning his being restored to his office:115 for there, by his word was come, is meant the thing itself was come to pass. So also, Elijah saith to God, "I have done all these thy words,"116 instead of "I have done all these things at thy word," or commandment. And, "Where is the word of the Lord"117 is put for "Where is the evil He threatened." And, "There shall none of my words be prolonged any more";118 by words are understood those things which God promised to His people. And in the New Testament, "heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away";119 that is, there is nothing that I have promised or foretold that shall not come to pass. And in this sense it is that St. John the Evangelist, and, I think, St. John only, calleth our Saviour Himself as in the flesh the Word of God, "And the Word was made flesh";120 that is to say, the word, or promise, that Christ should come into the world, "who in the beginning was with God": that is to say, it was in the purpose of God the Father to send God the Son into the world to enlighten men in the way of eternal life; but it was not till then put in execution, and actually incarnate; so that our Saviour is there called the Word, not because he was the promise, but the thing promised. They that taking occasion from this place do commonly call him the Verb of God do but render the text more obscure. They might as well term him the Noun of God: for as by noun, so also by verb, men understand nothing but a part of speech, a voice, a sound, that neither affirms, nor denies, nor commands, nor promiseth, nor is any substance corporeal or spiritual; and therefore it cannot be said to be either God or man; whereas our Saviour is both. And this Word which St. John in his Gospel saith was with God is, in his first Epistle, called the "Word of life";121 and "the Eternal Life, which was with the Father":122 so that he can be in no other sense called the Word than in that wherein He is called Eternal Life; that is, he that hath procured us eternal life by his coming in the flesh. So also the Apostle, speaking of Christ clothed in a garment dipped in blood, saith his name is "the Word of God,"123 which is to be understood as if he had said his name had been "He that was come according to the purpose of God from the beginning, and according to His word and promises delivered by the prophets." So that there is nothing here of the incarnation of a word, but of the incarnation of God the Son, therefore called the Word, because his incarnation was the performance of the promise; in like manner as the Holy Ghost is called the Promise.124

114 Psalms, 105. 19

115 Genesis, 11. 13

116 I Kings, 18. 36

117 Jeremiah, 17. 15

118 Ezekiel, 12. 28

119 Matthew, 24. 35

120 John, 1. 14

121 Ibid., 1. 1

122 Ibid., 1. 2

123 Apocalypse, 19. 13

124 Acts, 1. 4; Luke, 24. 49

There are also places of the Scripture where by the Word of God is signified such words as are consonant to reason and equity, though spoken sometimes neither by prophet nor by a holy man. For Pharaoh Necho was an idolater, yet his words to the good King Josiah, in which he advised him by messengers not to oppose him in his march against Carchemish, are said to have proceeded from the mouth of God; and that Josiah, not hearkening to them, was slain in the battle; as is to be read II Chronicles, 35. 21, 22, 23. It is true that as the same history is related in the first Book of Esdras, not Pharaoh, but Jeremiah, spake these words to Josiah from the mouth of the Lord. But we are to give credit to the canonical Scripture whatsoever be written in the Apocrypha.

The Word of God is then also to be taken for the dictates of reason and equity, when the same is said in the Scriptures to be written in man's heart; as Psalms, 37. 31; Jeremiah, 31. 33; Deuteronomy, 30. 11, 14, and many other like places.

The name of prophet signifieth in Scripture sometimes prolocutor; that is, he that speaketh from God to man, or from man to God: and sometimes predictor, or a foreteller of things to come: and sometimes one that speaketh incoherently, as men that are distracted. It is most frequently used in the sense speaking from God to the people. So Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others were prophets. And in this sense the high priest was a prophet, for he only went into the sanctum sanctorum to enquire of God, and was to declare his answer to the people. And therefore when Caiaphas said it was expedient that one man should die for the people, St. John saith that "He spake not this of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that one man should die for the nation."125 Also they that in Christian congregations taught the people are said to prophesy.126 In the like sense it is that God saith to Moses concerning Aaron, "He shall be thy spokesman to the people; and he shall be to thee a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God":127 that which here is spokesman is, Exodus, 7. 1, interpreted prophet: "See," saith God, "I have made thee a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet." In the sense of speaking from man to God, Abraham is called a prophet where God in a dream speaketh to Abimelech in this manner, "Now therefore restore the man his wife, for he is a prophet, and shall pray for thee";128 whereby may be also gathered that the name of prophet may be given not unproperly to them that in Christian churches have a calling to say public prayers for the congregation. In the same sense, the prophets that came down from the high place, or hill of god, with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, Saul amongst them, are said to prophesy, in that they praised God in that manner publicly.129 In the like sense is Miriam called a prophetess.130 So is it also to be taken where St. Paul saith, "Every man that prayeth or prophesieth with his head covered," etc., and every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered":131 for prophecy in that place signifieth no more but praising God in psalms and holy songs, which women might do in the church, though it were not lawful for them to speak to the congregation. And in this signification it is that the poets of the heathen, that composed hymns and other sorts of poems in the honor of their gods, were called vates, prophets, as is well enough known by all that are versed in the books of the Gentiles, and as is evident where St. Paul saith of the Cretans that a prophet of their own said they were liars;132 not that St. Paul held their poets for poets for prophets, but acknowledgeth that the word prophet was commonly used to signify them that celebrated the honour of God in verse.

125 John, 11. 51

126 I Corinthians, 14. 3

127 Exodus, 4. 16

128 Genesis, 20. 7

129 I Samuel, 10. 5, 6, 10

130 Exodus, 15. 20

131 I Corinthians, 11. 4, 5

132 Titus, 1. 12

When by prophecy is meant prediction, or foretelling of future contingents, not only they were prophets who were God's spokesmen, and foretold those things to others which God had foretold to them; but also all those impostors that pretend by the help familiar spirits, or by superstitious divination of events past, from false causes, to foretell the like events in time to come: of which (as I have declared already in the twelfth Chapter of this discourse) there be many kinds who gain in the opinion of the common sort of men a greater reputation of prophecy by one casual event that may be but wrested to their purpose, than can be lost again by never so many failings. Prophecy is not an art, nor, when it is taken for prediction, a constant vocation, but an extraordinary and temporary employment from God, most often of good men, but sometimes also of the wicked. The woman of Endor, who is said to have had a familiar spirit, and thereby to have raised a phantasm of Samuel, and foretold Saul his death, was not therefore a prophetess; for neither had she any science whereby she could raise such a phantasm, nor does it appear that God commanded the raising of it, but only guided that imposture to be a means of Saul's terror and discouragement, and by consequent, of the discomfiture by which he fell. And for incoherent speech, it was amongst the Gentiles taken for one sort of prophecy, because the prophets of their oracles, intoxicated with a spirit or vapor from the cave of the Pythian Oracle at Delphi, were for the time really mad, and spake like madmen; of whose loose words a sense might be made to fit any event, in such sort as all bodies are said to be made of materia prima. In the Scripture I find it also so taken in these words, "And the evil spirit came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house."133

133 I Samuel, 18. 10

And although there be so many significations in Scripture of the word prophet; yet is that the most frequent in which it is taken for him to whom God speaketh immediately that which the prophet is to say from Him to some other man, or to the people. And hereupon a question may be asked, in what manner God speaketh to such a prophet. Can it, may some say, be properly said that God hath voice and language, when it cannot be properly said He hath a tongue or other organs as a man? The Prophet David argueth thus, "Shall He that made the eye, not see? or He that made the ear, not hear?"134 But this may be spoken, not, as usually, to signify God's nature, but to signify our intention to honour Him. For to see and hear are honourable attributes, and may be given to God to declare as far as capacity can conceive His almighty power. But if it were to be taken in the strict and proper sense, one might argue from his making of all other parts of man's body that he had also the same use of them which we have; which would be many of them so uncomely as it would be the greatest contumely in the world to ascribe them to Him. Therefore we are to interpret God's speaking to men immediately for that way, whatsoever it be, by which God makes them understand His will: and the ways whereby He doth this are many, and to be sought only in the Holy Scripture; where though many times it be said that God spake to this and that person, without declaring in what manner, yet there be again many places that deliver also the signs by which they were to acknowledge His presence and commandment; and by these may be understood how He spake to many of the rest.

134 Psalms, 94. 9

In what manner God spake to Adam, and Eve, and Cain, and Noah is not expressed; nor how he spake to Abraham, till such time as he came out of his own country to Sichem in the land of Canaan, and then God is said to have appeared to him.135 So there is one way whereby God made His presence manifest; that is, by an apparition, or vision. And again, the word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision";136 that is to say, somewhat, as a sign of God's presence, appeared as God's messenger to speak to him. Again, the Lord appeared to Abraham by an apparition of three angels;137 and to Abimelech in a dream;138 to Lot by an apparition of two angels;139 and to Hagar by the apparition of one angel;140 and to Abraham again by the apparition of a voice from heaven;141 and to Isaac in the night142 (that is, in his sleep, or by dream); and to Jacob in a dream;143 that is to say (as are the words of the text), "Jacob dreamed that he saw a ladder," etc. And in a vision of angels;144 and to Moses in the apparition of a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush;145 and after the time of Moses, where the manner how God spake immediately to man in the Old Testament is expressed, He spake always by a vision, or by a dream; as to Gideon, Samuel, Eliah, Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets; and often in the New Testament, as to Joseph, to St. Peter, to St. Paul, and to St. John the Evangelist in the Apocalypse.

135 Genesis, 12. 7

136 Ibid., 15. 1

137 Ibid., 18. 1

138 Ibid., 20. 3

139 Ibid., 19. 1

140 Ibid., 21. 17

141 Ibid., 22. 11

142 Ibid., 26. 24

143 Ibid., 28. 12

144 Ibid., 32. 1

145 Exodus, 3. 2

Only to Moses He spake in a more extraordinary manner in Mount Sinai, and in the Tabernacle; and to the high priest in the Tabernacle, and in the sanctum sanctorum of the Temple. But Moses, and after him the high priests, were prophets of a more eminent place and degree in God's favour; and God Himself in express words declareth that to other prophets He spake in dreams and visions, but to His servant Moses in such manner as a man speaketh to his friend. The words are these: "If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known to him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house; with him I will speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold."146 And, "The Lord spake to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend."147 And yet this speaking of God to Moses was by mediation of an angel, or angels, as appears expressly, Acts 7. 35 and 53, and Galatians, 3. 19, and was therefore a vision, though a more clear vision than was given to other prophets. And conformable hereunto, where God saith, "If there arise amongst you a prophet, or dreamer of dreams,"148 the latter word is but the interpretation of the former. And, "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions":149 where again, the word prophesy is expounded by dream and vision. And in the same manner it was that God spake to Solomon, promising him wisdom, riches, and honour; for the text saith, "And Solomon awoke, and behold it was a dream":150 so that generally the prophets extraordinary in the Old Testament took notice of the word of God no otherwise than from their dreams or visions that is to say, from the imaginations which they had in their sleep or in an ecstasy: which imaginations in every true prophet were supernatural, but in false prophets were either natural or feigned.

146 Numbers, 12. 6, 7, 8

147 Exodus, 33. 11

148 Deuteronomy, 13. 1

149 Joel, 2. 28

150 I Kings, 3. 15

The same prophets were nevertheless said to speak by the spirit; as where the prophet, speaking of the Jews, saith, "They made their hearts hard as adamant, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of Hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets."151 By which it is manifest that speaking by the spirit or inspiration was not a particular manner of God's speaking, different from vision, when they that were said to speak by the Spirit were extraordinary prophets, such as for every new message were to have a particular commission or, which is all one, a new dream or vision.

151 Zechariah, 7. 12

Of prophets that were so by a perpetual calling in the Old Testament, some were supreme and some subordinate: supreme were first Moses, and after him the high priests, every one for his time, as long the priesthood was royal; and after the people of the Jews had rejected God, that He should no more reign over them, those kings which submitted themselves to God's government were also his chief prophets; and the high priest's office became ministerial. And when God was to be consulted, they put on the holy vestments, and enquired of the Lord as the king commanded them, and were deprived of their office when the king thought fit. For King Saul commanded the burnt offering to be brought;152 and he commands the priest to bring the Ark near him;153 and, again, to let it alone, because he saw an advantage upon his enemies.154 And in the same chapter Saul asketh counsel of God. In like manner King David, after his being anointed, though before he had possession of the kingdom, is said to "enquire of the Lord" whether he should fight against the Philistines at Keilah;155 and David commandeth the priest to bring him the ephod, to enquire whether he should stay in Keilah or not.156 And King Solomon took the priesthood from Abiathar,157 and gave it to Zadok.158 Therefore Moses, and the high priests, and the pious kings, who enquired of God on all extraordinary occasions how they were to carry themselves, or what event they were to have, were all sovereign prophets. But in what manner God spake unto them is not manifest. To say that when Moses went up to God in Mount Sinai it was a dream, or vision, such as other prophets had, is contrary to that distinction which God made between Moses and other prophets.159 To say God spake or appeared as He is in His own nature is to deny His infiniteness, invisibility, incomprehensibility. To say he spake by inspiration, or infusion of the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit signifieth the Deity, is to make Moses equal with Christ, in whom only the Godhead, as St. Paul speaketh, dwelleth bodily.160 And lastly, to say he spake by the Holy Spirit, as it signifieth the graces or gifts of the Holy Spirit, is to attribute nothing to him supernatural. For God disposeth men to piety, justice, mercy, truth, faith, and all manner of virtue, both moral and intellectual, by doctrine, example, and by several occasions, natural and ordinary.

152 I Samuel, 13. 9

153 Ibid., 14. 18

154 Ibid., 14. 19

155 Ibid., 23. 2

156 Ibid., 23. 9

157 I Kings, 2. 27

158 Ibid., 2. 35

159 Numbers, 12. 6, 7, 8

160 Colossians, 2. 9

And as these ways cannot be applied to God, in His speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai; so also they cannot be applied to Him in His speaking to the high priests from the mercy-seat. Therefore in what manner God spake to those sovereign prophets of the Old Testament, whose office it was to enquire of Him, is not intelligible. In the time of the New Testament there was no sovereign prophet but our Saviour, who was both God that spake, and the prophet to whom He spake.

To subordinate prophets of perpetual calling, I find not any place that proveth God spake to them supernaturally, but only in such manner as naturally He inclineth men to piety, to belief, to righteousness, and to other virtues all other Christian men. Which way, though it consist in constitution, instruction, education, and the occasions and invitements men have to Christian virtues, yet it is truly attributed to the operation of the Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit, which we in our language call the Holy Ghost: for there is no good inclination that is not of the operation of God. But these operations are not always supernatural. When therefore a prophet is said to speak in the spirit, or by the Spirit of God, we are to understand no more but that he speaks according to God's will, declared by the supreme prophet. For the most common acceptation of the word spirit is in the signification of a man's intention, mind, or disposition.

In the time of Moses, there were seventy men besides himself that prophesied in the camp of the Israelites. In what manner God spake to them is declared in the eleventh Chapter of Numbers, verse 25: "The Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto Moses, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it to the seventy elders. And it came to pass, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease." By which it is manifest, first, that their prophesying to the people was subservient and subordinate to the prophesying of Moses; for that God took of the spirit of Moses put upon them; so that they prophesied as Moses would have them: otherwise they had not been suffered to prophesy at all. For there was a complaint made against them to Moses;161 and Joshua would have Moses to have forbidden them; which he did not, but said to Joshua "Be not jealous in my behalf." Secondly, that the Spirit of God in that place signifieth nothing but the mind and disposition to obey and assist Moses in the administration of the government. For if it were meant they had the substantial Spirit of God; that is, the divine nature, inspired into them, then they had it in no less manner than Christ himself, in whom only the Spirit of God dwelt bodily. It is meant therefore of the gift and grace of God, that guided them to co-operate with Moses, from whom their spirit was derived. And it appeareth that they were such as Moses himself should appoint for elders and officers of the people:162 for the words are, "Gather unto me seventy men, whom thou knowest to be elders and officers of the people": where, thou knowest is the same with thou appointest, or hast appointed to be such. For we are told before that Moses, following the counsel of Jethro his father-in-law, did appoint judges and officers over the people such as feared God;163 and of these were those seventy whom God, by putting upon them Moses' spirit, inclined to aid Moses in the administration of the kingdom: and in this sense the spirit of God is said presently upon the anointing of David to have come upon David, and left Saul;164 God giving His graces to him He chose to govern His people, and taking them away from him He rejected. So that by the spirit is meant inclination to God's service, and not any supernatural revelation.

161 Numbers, 11. 27

162 Ibid., 11. 16

163 Exodus, 18

164 I Samuel, 16. 13, 14

God spake also many times by the event of lots, which were ordered by such as He had put in authority over His people. So we read that God manifested by the lots which Saul caused to be drawn the fault that Jonathan had committed in eating a honeycomb, contrary to the oath taken by the people.165 And God divided the land of Canaan amongst the Israelites by the "lots that Joshua did cast before the Lord in Shiloh."166 In the same manner it seemeth to be that God discovered the crime of Achan.167 And these are the ways whereby God declared His will in the Old Testament.

165 I Samuel, 14. 43

166 Joshua, 18. 10

167 Ibid., 7. 16, etc.

All which ways He used also in the New Testament. To the Virgin Mary, by a vision of an angel; to Joseph, in a dream; again to Paul, in the way to Damascus in a vision of our Saviour; and to Peter in the vision of a sheet let down from heaven with diverse sorts of flesh of clean and unclean beasts; and in prison, by vision of an angel; and to all the Apostles and writers of the New Testament, by the graces of His Spirit; and to the Apostles again, at the choosing of Matthias in the place of Judas Iscariot, by lot.

Seeing then all prophecy supposeth vision or dream (which two, when they be natural, are the same), or some especial gift of God so rarely observed in mankind as to be admired where observed; and seeing as well such gifts as the most extraordinary dreams and visions may proceed from God, not only by His supernatural and immediate, but also by his natural operation, and by mediation of second causes; there is need of reason and judgement to discern between natural and supernatural gifts, and between natural and supernatural visions or dreams. And consequently men had need to be very circumspect, and wary, in obeying the voice of man that, pretending himself to be a prophet, requires us to obey God in that way which he in God's name telleth us to be the way to happiness. For he that pretends to teach men the way of so great felicity pretends to govern them; that is to say, rule and reign over them; which is a thing that all men naturally desire, and is therefore worthy to be suspected of ambition and imposture; and consequently ought be examined and tried by every man before he yield them obedience, unless he have yielded it them already in the institution of a Commonwealth; as when the prophet is the civil sovereign, or by the civil sovereign authorized. And if this examination of prophets and spirits were not allowed to every one of the people, it had been to no purpose to set out the marks by which every man might be able to distinguish between those whom they ought, and those whom they ought not to follow. Seeing therefore such marks are set out to know a prophet by,168 and to know a spirit by;169 and seeing there is so much prophesying in the Old Testament, and so much preaching in the New Testament against prophets, and so much greater a number ordinarily of false prophets than of true; every one is to beware of obeying their directions at their own peril. And first, that there were many more false than true prophets appears by this, that when Ahab consulted four hundred prophets, they were all false impostors, but only one Micaiah.170 And a little before the time of the Captivity the prophets were generally liars. "The prophets," saith the Lord by Jeremiah, "prophesy lies in my name. I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, nor spake unto them: they prophesy to you a false vision, a thing of naught, and the deceit of their heart."171 Insomuch as God commanded the people by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah not to obey them. "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy to you. They make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord."172

168 Deuteronomy, 13. 1, etc.

169 I John, 4. 1, etc.

170 I Kings, 22

171 Jeremiah, 14. 14

172 Ibid., 23. 16

Seeing then there was in the time of the Old Testament such quarrels amongst the visionary prophets, one contesting with another, and asking, "When departed the spirit from me, to go to thee?" as between Micaiah and the rest of the four hundred; and such giving of the lie to one another, as in Jeremiah, 14. 14, and such controversies in the new Testament this day amongst the spiritual prophets: every man then was, and now is, bound to make use of his natural reason to apply to all prophecy those rules which God hath given us to discern the true from the false. Of which rules, in the Old Testament, one was conformable doctrine to that which Moses the sovereign prophet had taught them; and the other, the miraculous power of foretelling what God would bring to pass, as I have already shown out of Deuteronomy, 13. 1, etc. And in the New Testament there was but one only mark, and that was the preaching of this doctrine that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the King of the Jews, promised in the Old Testament. Whosoever denied that article, he was a false prophet, whatsoever miracles he might seem to work; and he that taught it was a true prophet. For St. John, speaking expressly of the means to examine spirits, whether they be of God or not, after he had told them that there would arise false prophets, saith thus, "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God. Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God";173 that is, is approved and allowed as a prophet of God: not that he is a godly man, or one of the elect for this that he confesseth, professeth, or preacheth Jesus to be the Christ, but for that he is a prophet avowed. For God sometimes speaketh by prophets whose persons He hath not accepted; as He did by Baalam, and as He foretold Saul of his death by the Witch of Endor. Again in the next verse, "Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of Christ. And this is the spirit of Antichrist." So that the rule is perfect rule is perfect on both sides: that he is a true prophet which preacheth the Messiah already come, in the person of Jesus; and he a false one that denieth him come, and looketh for him in some future impostor that shall take upon him that honour falsely, whom the Apostle there properly calleth Antichrist. Every man therefore ought to consider who is the sovereign prophet; that is to say, who it is that is God's vicegerent on earth, and hath next under God the authority of governing Christian men; and to observe for a rule that doctrine which in the name of God he hath commanded to be taught, and thereby to examine and try out the truth of those doctrines which pretended prophets, with miracle or without, shall at any time advance: and if they find it contrary to that rule, to do as they did that came to Moses and complained that there were some that prophesied in the camp whose authority so to do they doubted of; and leave to the sovereign, as they did to Moses, to uphold or to forbid them, as he should see cause; and if he disavow them, then no more to obey their voice, or if he approve them, then to obey them as men to whom God hath given a part of the spirit of their sovereign. For when Christian men take not their Christian sovereign for God's prophet, they must either take their own dreams for the prophecy they mean to be governed by, and the tumour of their own hearts for the Spirit of God; or they must suffer themselves to be lead by some strange prince, or by some of their fellow subjects that can bewitch them by slander of the government into rebellion, without other miracle to confirm their calling than sometimes an extraordinary success and impunity; and by this means destroying all laws, both divine and human, reduce all order, government, and society to the first chaos of violence and civil war.

173 I John, 4. 2, etc.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38